Monthly Archives: July 2019

Teach Us to Pray

11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father,[a] hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.[b]
Give us each day our daily bread.[c]
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”[d]

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”  ( Luke 11:1-13 NRSV)

I’m not sure what Jesus did the most: eat or pray.  He certainly understood sustenance gained from a good meal with good friends.  And he spent much time in sustaining prayer.

When he taught his disciples to pray, he kept it simple.  He told them not to fear intimacy with God while remembering that God is holy.  Seek basic needs.  That while God releases us from our sins, we pay it forward and show our gratitude to God when we forgive others.  Most of all, we pray for God to keep us near when we feel ourselves entering trials that have the potential to damage our faith rather than build it.

Jesus encouraged persistence.  In persistent prayer we can gain understanding about our situation.  We can ask questions over and over again: “Why are you silent?” “Why are you saying no?” “I don’t understand what’s happening.”  Jesus prayed like this from the cross when he cried out the words from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Persistence in prayer isn’t nagging God until God relents.  Persistence in prayer offers you opportunity to understand your particular situation.  It’s a place where you can go to dig deeper and see the bigger picture.

Perhaps you’ve experienced prayer and almost missed God’s comforting presence.  Perhaps you’ve realized the help you’ve received from others.  Even, grace in the darkness.

Keep asking.  Keep seeking.  Keep pounding on the door.  The light of wisdom will eventually shine.

What’s on your mind right now?  What keeps you awake at night?  What wonderful things occur in your life?  What questions do you have?  Take them all to God.

Don’t worry if you think you’re being too intimate with God or not intimate enough.  Go ahead and express your anger, wrestle, listen, wrestle some more.  As you repeat your petitions listen for wisdom to slip in and enlighten you.  Your prayer will change or become more focused.

This prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is loaded.  It reminds us of the transcendence of God, the holy otherness of God; that God is sovereign;  that we are human in need of this God over all other gods in our lives.

It points us to our human needs: give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.  We are wonderful creations of God.  We’re in need of of God’s sustenance and we fall short all too often.  We get lost at times and our vulnerability leads us to places we don’t want to go.

We pray for what we need and get what we really need.  We pray for sustenance and find it unusual places.  We pray and God says, “no.”  We pray and get what we prayed for.  The deeper we go in prayer, the more we realize how hard it is to be human.  The deeper we go in prayer, the closer we are to God.  The more we pray, the more time we spend in prayer.

God takes you seriously.  God can be depended upon.  God takes care of you.  But, let’s be very clear: God isn’t Santa Claus or the tooth fairy.  Perhaps the reason God appears to be silent is that you need time in prayer to understand that need.  We don’t simply bang on the door until God gives us what we ask for.  We ask and seek for wisdom and understanding.  We knock on the door because we know that what’s behind the door is more valuable than anything else in this world.

It’s okay to be presumptuous in prayer.  It’s okay to be yourself in prayer.  Pray that God’s ultimate reign will come.  Know that God is eager to be in relationship with you.  Yes, even you!  Pray for what breaks your heart.  Give thanks for what brings you joy.  Seek forgiveness for falling into the enticements of evil.

All glory and honor be to God.


Can We Have It Both Ways?

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42 NRSV)

On the third Sunday of each month our congregation hosts a Community Dinner.  All are welcome to enjoy a free meal, most of it fresh from the farm.  We host those who can well afford a meal but enjoy the fellowship and we host those who are getting the first decent meal since last month.

About 3:30 on the afternoon of this event, the cooks trickle in and begin to prepare the meal.  Bread must be sliced and heated; butter cut into cubes, the tables set, the desserts cut into portions, vegetables cut and arranged on platters, the beverages and ice table set.

They work side by side, each one knowing what needs to be done next.  I remain in my office for awhile longer because, quite frankly, I haven’t any sense when it comes to the kitchen.  About all I’m good for is washing dishes and even then, I’ve been known to wash the wrong ones.

They prepare the food, talking quietly.  The conversation is sprinkled with laughter.  They love each other and what they’re doing.  They’re excited to see who will show up this evening.  It’s a scene I hope never to forget: peace filled, loving, companionable.  Men and women have taken time out of their Sunday evening for the “stranger in our midst.”

Would we call these folks, “Martha”?  After all, they’re working to get ready for our guests.  Some have been preparing for this all week.  Should we tell them that only one thing is needful and working in the kitchen isn’t it?

What about all those times that Jesus tells us to “go and do.”  Just a few verses before this, a man encounters Jesus and asks him about salvation.  Jesus advises that loving neighbor is important.  He even delivers a lengthy parable about who our neighbor is before telling the man to “go and do.”  That is, to care for our neighbor.

Today’s scripture has Jesus saying, “only one thing is needful.”  In other words, “sit and listen.”

So which is it?  Go and do or sit and listen?  Prepare for a feast or sit at Jesus’ feet?

We need Martha.  We need her list-making, her organization skills, her cooking talent, her love and compassion for the other.  We need lots of Martha’s and their counterpart, Marty to serve in the kingdom.  We don’t need to denigrate them; we need to tell them, “thank you” and “keep up the good work!”

While Martha slaves in the kitchen, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet.  This is the posture of a student with her teacher.  But wait, women aren’t supposed to learn.  They belong in the kitchen serving.  Jesus crosses gender boundaries to teach and discuss scripture with her.  Mary is learning.  She’s a disciple.  That’s almost unheard of outside of Jesus’ circle.

This isn’t a woman sitting at his knee with a dewy-eyed expression on her face.  She isn’t a Jesus “groupie” hanging on his every word.   Rather, Mary is an intelligent, capable woman and Jesus has engaged that mind of hers in serious discussion.

Mary could have gone out to the kitchen and offered to help Martha.  She could have negotiated with her, “I’ll do the clean-up after dinner, Martha, so you can have time to visit with Jesus.”

Martha could have asked Mary to give her a hand.  Better yet, she could have kept the meal simple.  Macaroni salad and potato salad and three-bean salad could have been limited to only one.  Buffet style is always simpler than setting the table.

I don’t believe that this is an either-or situation.  This isn’t about maligning Martha and holding Mary on a pedestal.  I don’t believe Jesus is telling Martha to quit doing what she loves and come listen to him.  If she does, everyone will go hungry!

One word points at the answer.  “Distracted.”  “Martha…you’re worried and distracted by many things.”

In a few days, a close friend of mine will arrive at my home for a visit.  I think it’s a good idea to have a bed ready for her and the house in good order.  What I really want to do is wash the windows, dry clean the curtains, and clean out all my cupboards.  I want my home to look its best for her visit.

But, what good are clean cupboards and windows if I’m too tired to enjoy her visit?  She’s coming to see me, not my house.

Martha is craving to be in the living room with Jesus.  Instead, she’s stuck in the kitchen trying to get a meal on the table that’s suitable for her guest.  She listens to Jesus and Mary talking.  She can’t hear every word, though, and leans closer to the living room in order to pick up more of the conversation.  Every once in a while, one of them chuckles.

She’s hot and tired.  She feels unappreciated.  Where’s Mary to help her?  She needs to get herself out her and peel these potatoes!  Finally, she can take no more.

“Lord, don’t you care?”

He cares very much, Martha.  He cares that you’re so wrapped up in the demands of the kitchen that you can’t take a break to visit with him.

“My sister has left me to do all the work for myself…Tell her to help me!”

Martha, calm down.  We don’t need a ten-course meal.  It doesn’t have to be elegant.  Turn the stove off, get some iced tea and come in and visit.  We’ll help you put dinner on the table in a bit.

Are you Martha?  Getting that lengthy to-do list done before you spend time in meditation?   Do you spend Sunday morning picking up groceries because you ran out of time this week?  Are you wrapped up in cultural rules that demand to be followed, or else?

Our smart phones click and vibrate and ring.  We can watch news 24 hours a day.  We’re drawn away from Sunday morning worship by lists filled with “should” “have to” and “need to.”

Yes, there’s little to compare with coming to the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment.  Especially when the project was a lengthy and complicated one.  My friend likes to scan his to-do list for the one task he simply doesn’t want to do.  Once it’s done, he’s energized to work on more attractive projects.  Yes, completing tasks is exhilarating.

There’s also nothing like time spent in quiet solitude with Jesus.  Reading and/or studying scripture.  Journaling.  Praying.  Sitting quietly and listening to the sounds around you and letting your thoughts take their own path.

Perhaps you can’t begin your day without a time of meditation.  Perhaps it’s at bedtime before you turn out the light and go to sleep.  When you do it matters only to you.

I suspect that each of us tends to be either Mary/Matthew or Martha/Marty.  Each of our personalities tend to be either busy, moving bodies or reflective, and able to sit quietly.

What fills your soul?  The activity of Martha or the quiet solitude of Mary?  There’s no right answer.  We’re wired differently, thanks be to God.

When are you Martha/Marty?  In what way does this give you joy?  When has it sapped your energy and your joy?

When have you been more like Mary/Matthew?  How do you feel when you spend time with the Master?

The kingdom needs our gifts and talents. The kingdom needs our focused attention as we “go and do” the work of serving others.  Our focus comes from “sitting and listening” to the Master, learning and discerning.

Are you  Martha?  Sit and listen for awhile.

Are you Mary? Where is Jesus calling you to serve?

All glory and honor be to God.


Holding on to the Experiences of Life

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
    and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
    restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.[a]

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
    his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
    you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
    I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cried,
    and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
    O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul[b] may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. 

(Psalm 30 NRSV)

Whew!  That was rough.  I never saw it coming.  One minute I’m happy, fancy-free and having mountain-top experiences.  Before I knew it, I was in a pit unable to get out.

I tried, though.  God knows I tried.  I dug and dug and couldn’t get out.  The more I tried, the worse it became.  On top of that, God was silent.  Looking back I think God had decided to let me have my own control until I was ready to listen.

Was God angry at me?  Perhaps.  Disappointed? Undoubtedly.  I can’t blame God, though.  I was so wrapped up in myself and getting out of that hole, that I hardly noticed.

That’s when I cried out.  Loud.  Noisy.  Gut-wrenching cries.  God held me as I cried out my pain.  Heartsick, disappointed in myself and angry.  Angry with God.  Angry more with myself.  God held me through the night.

It was a long night.  I still had to dig out, but this time I had wisdom from God.  This time, I thought things through and found myself looking for grace in the turmoil.  I began to realize that some of what happened was for my benefit.  In the long run, the digging was a bit easier.

I discovered help was available.  I couldn’t depend only on me, but I needed the help of others.  Friends showed up with shovels and pickaxes.  Others showed up with food and water.  Everywhere I turned, I saw God’s acts of saving and providing.

My situation didn’t turn out like I thought it would.  In the end, it was better.

What I learned this time, was that I’m not in control.  I need God and I need my community of church and friends and even strangers.  I needed the prayers and the actions of those who are in my life.

I also learned that I don’t always get it right.  I may want to be in control, but there are times when I take that control too far and turn my back on God.  As the Psalmist says, “For his anger is but for a moment, his favor is for a lifetime.” (verse 5a.)

I also learned that when I cried out to God, I was beginning to put my trust where it belonged.  Like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) I guess when you reach rock bottom it’s easier to trust in God than yourself.

Eventually, the morning arrived with the sun and a freshness I’d forgotten existed.  I could dance again and sing.  I praised God’s name, remembered God’s mighty acts of the the past.  God hadn’t left me.  Not really.  I suppose it was I who had left God.

Sometimes life is overwhelming.  It’s when we feel fragile that we tend to fight back and try to gain control.  That’s probably the best time to turn to God.  It would have saved me a lot of time and effort if I’d done that in the first place!

And so, I invite you to join me in my dance of gratitude.  Celebrate my return to my place with God.  And while we do that, perhaps we can remember those who are struggling:

  • the victims of an unnecessary house fire
  • those battling illness and disease
  • your loved ones who will go home to God soon
  • those who are grieving loss of any kind
  • the food deprived

There are many folks who live in that dark night of the soul.  We can pray that God will hold them through the night, ever so gently.  We can pray that though their weeping may linger for the night, that joy will come with the morning.

We can also celebrate with those who have returned from the dark valley:

  • those coming out of their grief and loss
  • those whose bodies are healing
  • those accomplishing life’s dreams and ambitions
  • those who have turned away from anger and hate to the bright light of love and acceptance

I know you can add to either of these lists and I so hope you will.

We can’t always get it right.  Some days our trust is in God and we live in that vulnerability.  Other days we grab for control until we can’t handle the overwhelming, overpowering pressures.  In our prayer for help, God sees our trust and in a way, that is praise.

Is God angry?  Perhaps.  But, it lasts a moment.  Love and compassion win the day and we are united with our God who saves, provides for us and, most of all, listens to us.

And that’s when our joy returns: unbelievable, exhilarating, almost giddy joy that we haven’t known for awhile.

But, first we have to come down from that mountain built of our own sense of independence.  God will help with that as well.

All glory and honor be to God.


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