Sunday Evening Prayer

white dove in flight.jpg

Come by here, O God.

Where it’s still and quiet,

peaceful and dark.

Come by here.

 

Come by here, O God.

Where it’s loud and chaotic,

messy and unhinged.

Come by here.

 

Come by here, O God.

When we know we need you,

when we don’t know we need you,

when we search,

when we question,

when we struggle,

when we rage on.

 

Come by here,

to be our Redeemer,

our Light,

our Shade,

our Everything.

Amen.

Mid-Week Meditation: Turn Aside

fire .jpg

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”         ~ Exodus 3:1-3; Good News Translation

When God presented Moses with the burning bush, Moses had a choice: he could ignore the bush and go on with life as usual, or he could stop, turn his head, and venture out onto hallowed ground. Something made him turn aside to see the bush that was burning, and yet not consumed.  Something made him pause and listen as God called out to him, prompting him to pay attention to the sound of his own name on the lips of the divine, and to hide his face in the presence of glory.

And thank God Moses did stop what he was doing, in lieu of something much more profound.  Because as he was out on that mundane day, tending some ordinary sheep, the world around him was decidedly not mundane.  His sisters and brothers were suffering in the midst of slavery in Egypt, crying out into the ear of God, tugging on God’s heartstrings to be free.  Had Moses not stopped what he was doing to behold the place where God so obviously was, he couldn’t have been the one through whom God would work to let God’s people go.  Moses was astute enough to realize when he’d set foot on holy ground.

Ever wonder how many times you’ve passed by something that should’ve stopped you dead in your tracks, or how many times a sacred moment has passed you by?  How many times does God call to us to step out from the ordinariness of our own lives and into the larger world of which we are a part… this place, held in God’s care, which pines after wholeness and freedom?  Burning bushes are all over the place.  We just have to pay attention long enough to notice them.

I remember the so-called burning bush that used to stand in the yard of our old house.  It was enormous, reaching up way beyond the first story of the house, its width equally expansive.  It was gorgeous in the fall, living up to its name as it turned a stunning shade of red.  I understand that in some places, burning bushes are considered invasive plants, and I can believe it.  Our burning bush was massive, dominating everything around it.

The day came when we decided to redo the landscaping around the house, and yes- that bush was one of the first things to go.  Only its root system was so expansive and intricate we couldn’t pull the roots up.  So we settled for simply cutting it down, while the roots remained in the ground.

Then again, it makes sense that a burning bush would prove almost impossible to completely remove.  It’s not in its nature.  Its whole purpose is to stick around, to get in the way, to refuse to be ignored.

What’s your burning bush?  What in your life refuses to be ignored, nudging you ever so persistently, summoning you to step outside of yourself long enough to behold the vast, intricate world God has so carefully crafted?

Regardless of what your burning bush turns out to be, one thing is for sure… it’s not going to go away simply by virtue of you ignoring it.  We can turn aside, we can recognize that we are, in fact, standing on holy ground.  And when we take the first step, and the second, and each step after that, towards the burning bush, we might just discover what it is to glorify God in all that we do.

Let’s pray together:

God of the Burning Bush,

So often we stand on holy ground, yet don’t even realize it.  As you prompted Moses to turn his gaze to that which burned, so cause us to turn aside and pay attention to that which burns in our midst.  Make us courageous to step out onto hallowed ground.  Amen.

Sunday Evening Prayer

10603587_720499557986921_5815082670617578187_n

Sitting in the stillness of a sanctuary,

watching a gorgeous sunrise usher in a new day,

holding a beautiful new baby,

listening to the glorious harmony of music,

watching as a flock of birds gracefully take to the air,

your presence is easy to sense.

 

Oh, how we wish it could be this simple all the time.

Oh, that we could exist only in stillness,

in harmony,

in grace,

in beauty.

But life’s a lot more complicated than that.

Life pushes and pulls and nudges.

There are decisions to be made,

responsibilities to take care of,

relationships to mend,

struggles to endure.

 

But you’re a God of the chaos just as much

as you’re a God of the stillness.

You don’t shy away from messiness-

never did and never will.

You’re a God for all times,

and seasons,

and questions,

and doubts.

 

So meet us in all our moments this week-

at our best

and at our worst,

when we know we need you

and when we don’t.

Be the God of our messy lives

and messed up world.

Amen.

Mid-Week Meditation: The Problem with Gates

Mysterious gate entrance.  New life or beginning conceptHappy Friday, everyone!  Yes, we have more of a late-week meditation this time around!  The following are some of my musings as I prepare this Sunday’s sermon.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.        ~ John 10:7-10

At first glance, this scripture is soothing and bucolic.  It conjures up feelings of security and safety.  Our ears perk up as we listen for the Shepherd who calls each of us by name, this One whom we instinctively follow in our quest for life abundant.

But I’ll be honest… the fact that there’s a gate in this equation almost ruins it for me.  Because anytime there’s a gate it means there are some who will be gathered together inside that gate, and others who will be left outside.  There are the haves and the have-nots.  Some make the cut… and others don’t.   It feels very exclusive and, to be blunt, pretty off-putting.

Do you imagine that you’re inside the gate, safe in the midst of the sheepfold?   Being inside the sheepfold is like finally making it home, even as a storm thrashes about outside.  The door closes behind you, blocking out all that might bring harm.  You’re warm and content.  Faith can make us feel this way, reminding us again and again that we’ve been found.  Faith can be a tremendous source of fulfillment and security.

Then again, you might not see yourself as being inside the gate, but rather on the outside, looking in.  You’re out in the middle of the storm, spinning in the midst of the struggles that consume you.  Faith can also make us feel this way, confronting us with many more questions than answers.  Religion can plop you down in the middle of a minefield, where you never feel worthy.  You’re perpetually lacking and your best efforts never seem like enough.

Ultimately, though, maybe the question isn’t whether we’re in or we’re out.  Maybe instead of being gathered safely inside, or left outside, we linger at the door, partly inside, partly outside, partly fulfilled, partly conflicted.

In the end, maybe what it comes down to is how willing we are to surrender and to trust the Shepherd.  After all, isn’t his hand always outstretched?  Isn’t his voice the one that speaks into the chaos, re-ordering our lives?  Ultimately, it’s not so much about what we’ve done right or wrong, where we’ve succeeded or failed, as it is about our ability to be vulnerable and to put all of our ambitions and fears in the Shepherd’s hands.

No matter who we are, or what we’ve done or left undone, the Shepherd’s hand will always be outstretched.  The door is always open.  There’s always redemption on the horizon.

Let’s pray together:

Loving Shepherd,

So much of the time, we teeter on the edge of faith and doubt.  We linger at the door to the gate, hoping we’ll be found worthy to enter.  Remind us, though, that it’s not about being found worthy.  Help us to lean into you, to place into your hands all of who we are.  In you we are whole, in you we are found.  Amen.

 

 

Sunday Evening Prayer

dancer sillouette .jpg

Dancing God,[1]

who danced when the world was begun,

in the moon and the stars and the sun,

blanket us in stillness as night falls

and we are at rest.

 

Dancing God,

who danced for the fishermen,

for James and John,

wake us with the dawn of a new day

with resolve to do the work to which

you call us.

 

Dancing God,

who leads us in the dance,

who tells us to dance wherever we may be,

wave your healing presence over us

as we rest,

as we work,

as we dance to the tune of redemption,

the harmony of grace.

Amen.

 

 

[1] Inspired by “Lord of the Dance” by Sydney Carter; 1963.

Mid-Week Meditation: The Giving Tree

big tree

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; NRSV

1 Corinthians 13 is an exquisite portrait of love at its best.  Love that’s more significant than anything else, exuding virtues like patience and kindness, and enduring, hoping, and believing.

If you’ve ever tried to love someone in this way, you might realize just how hard it really is.  Love isn’t always picturesque, and lots of times it’s not even remotely pretty.  When it comes down to it, love isn’t an ideal- it doesn’t embrace something or someone who’s invisible, but real, flesh-and-blood people with all of our imperfections and mistakes.

The children’s book “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein, points to the depth and complexity of love- it’s loyalty, devotion, and sacrifice.[1]  In this story, a tree loves a little boy.  As the story begins, the boy comes to the tree every day, gathering up her leaves and making them into crowns, and playing king of the forest.  He climbs up her trunk, swings from her branches, and eats her apples.  He sleeps in her shade, and he loves the tree.  And because of this, the tree is happy.

But as time goes by, the boy grows older.  He’s gone a lot, and when he comes back it’s only because he wants something.  He wants money, so the tree gives him her apples.  He wants a house, so the tree gives him her branches.  He wants a boat, so the tree gives him her trunk.  Finally, at long last, the boy has become old and the tree gives him what’s left of her- just the old stump she’s become- so he can sit and rest.

When in your life have you been a giving tree?  When have you loved unconditionally?  When have you given anything and everything to someone else so that person would be happy, and would thrive?

When have you received love from a giving tree?  Who is it that will always be there for you?  Even when you’re selfish, or uncaring, no matter how many times you make a mistake, or miss the mark, or fall short, you’ll always have a strong trunk to lean into.

When it comes down to it, what really matters is love.  Following in the example of the God who has embraced us with boundless devotion, and who’s made known to us in the person of Jesus.  This love is complicated, it’s perfection towards which we strive.

In your life, whomever it is that you love, and however difficult it may be at times to persevere and to continue on, hold on to the portrait of love crafted by Paul long ago for the church in Corinth.

Let’s pray together:

God our Anchor and Refuge, we lift our hearts in gratitude for the giving trees in our lives.  Give us strength and perseverance to love, even when it’s really difficult, looking to you as our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

[1] Silverstein, Shel. (1964) “The Giving Tree.” New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Sunday Evening Prayer

sunrise with rainbow on a summer day

In-Between God,

Here we are-

between what has been and what will be,

between longing and contentment,

between grief and joy.

We turn our gaze in two directions,

impacted by the past and yet reaching for the future.

Wherever we are, or we’ve been, or we’re headed,

be with us here and now,

as only you can.

Amen.

Mid-Week Meditation: Wilting Flowers… Wilting Alleluias

Withered roses

“I am the first and the last,” says the Lord God Almighty, “who is, who was, and who is to come.”    ~ Revelation 1:8; Good News Translation

So, here we are.  It’s the Thursday after Easter.

On Easter Sunday, there’s such joy, such hope.  Streams of “alleluias” resound as we declare Christ is risen.  We point to the tomb that’s empty, to grave clothes that lay discarded in a corner.  Maybe you managed to internalize some of this last Sunday.  But now, the big shebang is over and done with.  The Easter lilies have begun to wilt, and it’s possible we’re also wilting a little.

It might not be all that difficult for you to embrace Easter’s “alleluias.”  You could be beginning a new chapter of your life.  The beginning of a new relationship, the birth of a new baby, starting a new job, starting over again.  You might feel as though you have a new lease on life.  Easter’s joy really does describe your outlook right now.

But, for others, the reality is that after last Sunday, Monday came and life returned to normal.  On Monday, you went back to work.  Or on Tuesday, you went back to school.  Spring break came to an end, and there you were, back again.

Maybe work is hectic right now, pressure-filled, backbreaking even.  Maybe you have a stressful situation going on at home.  You’re the primary caregiver for a family member.  Or, you’re recovering from surgery.  Or, you’re on the brink of a major transition.  You’re trying to make difficult decisions.  You’re overwhelmed.  You’re worn out.

To be in this time after Easter is to live with tension.  It’s being caught in between the glory and tremendous hope of Christ’s resurrection, on the one hand, and the lingering, sometimes difficult realities of this life.  It’s realizing that long ago, something truly miraculous happened when Christ was raised from death, and, at the same time, it’s wondering and questioning how Easter’s miracle is tangible for you, in your own life.

And I’d wager a guess it’s not just the Thursday after Easter when we wrestle with this.  Truly, whether the daffodils are in bloom in April, or it’s a crisp autumn night in late October, or there’s three feet of snow on the ground in mid- January, there’s always the tension between hope and doubt, between that which is seen and unseen, between promise and reality.

Constantly we choose what will be the stronghold of our lives.  With Easter’s alleluias still echoing, we have a choice as to how we perceive what we see in front of us, how we interpret what happens in life.  There’s something in the human spirit that needs to lean into redemption’s assurances and hope, to seek deeper, more enduring truth in the midst of life’s challenges.

Easter isn’t just a day, it’s a reality.  Easter is transformation in our lives.

Let’s pray together:

God of Wilting Easter Lilies,

So many times, our faith wilts.  The road is long, and the journey often challenging.  Give us energy, strength, and courage.  After all, we are children of the resurrection and ultimately, nothing holds us back.  Amen.

Mid-Week Meditation: When Rubber Meets Road

Lent 1 .jpg Jesus said to them, “All of you will run away and leave me, for the scripture says, ‘God will kill the shepherd, and the sheep will all be scattered.’ But after I am raised to life, I will go to Galilee ahead of you.”

Peter answered, “I will never leave you, even though all the rest do!”

Jesus said to Peter, “I tell you that before the rooster crows two times tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.”

Peter answered even more strongly, “I will never say that, even if I have to die with you!”

And all the other disciples said the same thing.

~ Mark 14:27-31; Good News Translation

(What follows is an excerpt from my sermon delivered this past Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017.)

Promises can be really hard to keep, sometimes.  It’s a lot easier to make a promise- to speak words- than it is to actually do what you’ve promised.  Certainly this is the case with Peter, whose denial of Jesus tells a story of both redemption and failure.  Peter has no intention of denying he knows Jesus, but let’s face it, it gets a lot tougher when the rubber meets the road.  It’s only when dawn is just around the corner, and the rooster crows for the second time, that Peter realizes he’s done the very thing he swore to Jesus he’d never do.

And doesn’t that same rooster crow in your life, and in mine?  The rooster crows every time we fall short and miss the mark.

Ever sung on a Sunday about loving your neighbors, but then failed to show love to your actual neighbor on a Wednesday?  Ever chastised someone for their inability to forgive, dismissing your own torn relationships where forgiveness is very much needed?  Ever overlooked someone for whom Jesus would have stopped to listen, or been so caught up in your own drama you overlooked the crisis breaking forth in someone else’s life?  Ever turned a blind eye to someone else’s suffering, or need?  Ever judged someone you had no right to judge?

The rooster crows all the time in our lives, and so often, as Jesus kneels in Gethsemane, ready to take on the full measure of our guilt, we fail to stay awake, finding it so much easier to take a nap.

But as many times as we fail to follow Jesus, as many times as we deny him, and walk or run away from him, he won’t ever leave us.  While we follow behind him at a distance, he forges on ahead, into that sinister lair where he’ll be blindfolded and beaten.  When we deny him, he still travels the way of suffering, the heavy cross loaded on his back.  And when we desert him completely, he hangs on the cross, even then speaking unbelievable words of forgiveness and love.

No matter how many times we fail Jesus, he won’t ever give up on us.  No matter how many times our actions place us in prisons of our own making, he remains right there with us.

That’s what this week, this holy week, is all about.  It’s about returning to Jesus, grasping the depth of his love.  As Pastor Roddy Hamilton puts it, this week is the story “of one who reached inside himself and took a handful of love, like a pile of stardust, and said: this is for you.  It is all you need, it is all you will ever need.  There is enough here to change the whole world.  Take it.”

Take this passion story- it’s yours for the keeping.

Witness the story unfolding against the backdrop of our failures.

Behold- redeeming grace rises over the horizon.

Love is within our reach.

Redemption is ours for the taking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palm Sunday Evening Prayer

Holy week  - The passion of Jesus Christ with Entry into Jerusalem, Eucharist, washing of the feet, rooster and cross. Modern abstract textured digital illustration made without reference image.

There you come,

riding on a donkey

into the dirt-laden streets,

palm branches spread,

cloaks kicking up dust.

Hope for the hopeless,

love for the unloved.

There you sit,

the jar broken

as she drenches your head

in ointment,

anointing you for burial.

Living sacrifice,

agony foreshadowed.

There you go,

into that upper room

tucked away,

the smell of bread and wine

permeating the air.

Broken in body,

poured out in humility.

Here you remain,

redemption in the flesh.

To kneel,

to wrestle with God,

to persevere.

Abide with us,

beautiful Savior,

now and always.

~ Inspired by Mark 11:7-11 and 14:3-9, 12-25, 32-42

 

 

Mid-Week Meditation: Make a U-Turn

All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem.

He set off. When he got to the outskirts of Damascus, he was suddenly dazed by a blinding flash of light. As he fell to the ground, he heard a voice: “Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?”

He said, “Who are you, Master?”

“I am Jesus, the One you’re hunting down. I want you to get up and enter the city. In the city you’ll be told what to do next.”

His companions stood there dumbstruck—they could hear the sound, but couldn’t see anyone—while Saul, picking himself up off the ground, found himself stone-blind. They had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. He continued blind for three days. He ate nothing, drank nothing.

~ Acts 9:1-9; “The Message” sunshine.jpg

When I became a pastor a little over 10 years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a wonderful gift- a GPS for my car.  It was ideal for someone starting out in ministry, because it would enable me to visit members of my congregation with ease.  Or, to be more accurate, given my terrible sense of direction it would ensure I could find members of my congregation.

But the one time I didn’t care for that GPS was when I decided to go in a direction the GPS deemed incorrect.  The times I actually knew where I was going, but the GPS wanted to take me in a different direction.  Then, it could get pretty annoying.  I’d drive along, and the GPS would repeat “recalculating, recalculating, recalculating…” I’m convinced the voice in the GPS grew more and more annoyed every time it said it.  If it got really bad, the GPS would insist, “As soon as possible, make a u-turn… make a u-turn…”  At that point, I’d press the mute button and fend for myself.

There are times we have a pretty good idea where we’re going.  When we don’t want a voice interrupting and recalculating our steps.  We don’t want anyone to insist we make a u-turn.  This is as true of navigating while you’re driving as it is of life, in general.  We can make our own decisions, we can take care of our own problems.  We don’t need help.  We have it figured out, and we don’t need to be redirected, thank you very much.

This is all well and good, until we come face-to-face with God, who will often insist we recalculate, or that we make a u-turn.  God likes to meddle in our business, and it can be really annoying.  God will whisper in our ear, or tap us on the shoulder, or, when that doesn’t seem to work, knock us off our feet or slam a door in our face.

Take Saul, for instance.  He never would’ve believed he needed a change in direction.  He was just about the most unlikely person to whom Jesus could have appeared.  Up until that moment, when he traveled the road to Damascus, Saul had devoted considerable energy, time, and resources to killing any and every follower Jesus he could get his hands on.  Yet God sent a flash a blinding light, and handpicked Saul to spread the gospel.

Go figure.

God’s presence came at Saul, knocking him off his feet in a flash of blinding light.  Isn’t that often what faith is?  Faith is being knocked off your feet by something irresistible.  It’s being drawn into relationship with a magnet-like force.  Even though you don’t quite know what hit you, you want to change your life.

In its essence, having faith, following Jesus might be nothing more and nothing less than the ability to turn around, to turn toward God.  To move from one place to another, to be regenerated.  Held in the full measure of love’s redeeming grace, we can begin anew, and we can turn around to behold the new road upon which we’re meant to travel.

Let’s pray together:

God of Blinding Lights,

Whether we like to admit it or not, we need you to meddle relentlessly in our lives.  Knock us off our feet with a blinding light, so we’ll truly know you, and understand how fervently you long to know us.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday Evening Prayer

Before I wrote this prayerSilhouette of woman praying to god

I washed the dishes from dinner.

And I remembered

the hands cooking the food we ate,

the conversation we had as we ate,

the blessing we said before we ate.

And I felt grateful.

 

Before I wrote this prayer,

I vacuumed the kitchen floor.

And I remembered

what created the mess I vacuumed-

dogs running around happily with muddy paws,

my son throwing his afternoon snack on the floor,

bits of food falling off the kitchen counter.

And I felt grateful.

 

Before I wrote this prayer

I put our children to bed.

And I remembered

how priceless the gift

of rocking my son to sleep,

of playing a game with my daughter,

of telling our children I love them.

And I felt grateful.

 

Before I wrote this prayer,

I felt grateful

for dishes cluttering the kitchen,

for a mess on the kitchen floor,

for our children warm in their beds.

How grateful I am

for an ordinary evening,

filled with blessings,

filled with grace.

Filled with the goodness of You.

Amen.

 

 

 

Mid-Week Meditation: Shells, Quills, and You

Be prepared.  You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own.  Take all the help you can get… so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet.  Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words.  Learn how to apply them.  You’ll need them throughout your life.    

~ Ephesians 6:13-17; “The Message”

Hawksbill turtle

Hawksbill turtle in red sea

Turtles have shells to protect them.  Porcupines have quills.  Chameleons change colors to blend in.  Skunks can make us stink to high heaven if we get on their bad side.  Nature has given these animals, and so many others, the ability to protect themselves.

People, too, put lots of protective measures in place.  We protect our homes with security systems, our financial well-being with investments and savings accounts, our health with visits to the doctor and health insurance.  It can prove a lot more difficult, however, to protect ourselves against the threats and sources of adversity we can’t see.  Those subtle, systemic, subversive evils that pervade our lives, communities, and the world in which we live.  There’s no shortage of powers that seek to seduce us, promising us happiness if only we’ll buy into them.

The Apostle Paul’s words to the Ephesians utter truth.  We’re up against far more than we can handle on our own.  We need all the help we can get.  Our deepest, most profound source of strength comes when we cling to the living God.  When we pray, time and again, to be renewed, to be transformed.

Let’s pray together:

Bold and Empowering God, help us to realize we’re not o.k. all on our own.  We need you.  Grant us clarity of mind and heart to cling to you, even when we might believe we have it all figured out.  Through Christ, our Rock and Redeemer, we pray.  Amen.

Sunday Evening Prayer

Guardian of Our Lives, Keeper of Our Days,

A new week dawns.

Some of us have much to look forward to… others of us dread what the new day will bring.

In all times,

every place,

as each word is spoken,

every decision made,

every struggle endured,

hold us tightly.

Guide us,

guard us,

inspire us,

move in us.

In you we are found, redeemed, and whole.

Amen.

Beautiful sunset sky over Phoenix