One Pastor’s Prayer for National Day of Prayer

What are you praying for today? It is, of course, the National Day of Prayer. This day was signed into being by Harry S. Truman, originally as a Spring counterpart to Thanksgiving. The idea was that Americans, from all faith backgrounds, would take a day to give thanks and to offer prayers for the United States and her leaders.

 

 

Today I’m struck by how this interfaith and ecumenical celebration has been dominated by more fundamentalist Christian messages. To be fair, those of that ilk of Christianity are great promoters and unashamed about talking about their faith, something others streams of Christianity and other religions don’t do quite as well. It’s not a bad thing that a nation as diverse as the United States comes together to pray to their own understanding of the holy. So what might you pray for today for our nation. Here is my prayer list on this National Day of Prayer

That our nation might honestly deal with both individual and systemic racism. This will require each of us to do honest self-reflection on our complicity in acts of racism.

That the church may be a place where people find the fullness of life. The church holds such promise for being a powerful community in people’s lives. The opportunity is present for us.

That we might pay more attention to those who are marginalized and vulnerable in our midst. I pray that we see the gifts and graces they have to offer and that we might see our collective responsibility to care for those on the margins. 

That we truly follow God’s command to care for creation. Many our actions and policies reflect God’s call to care for creation.  

That people of differing faiths come find common ground so that we can work together to bring God’s shalom to this nation and the world. 

That people of faith be allies to and advocates for those in the LGBTQ community. 

Remembering that Jesus healed those on the margins, let us not forget those on the margins when talking about healthcare. 

May we reclaim what it means to be a neighbor.

Lord, in your mercy, hear your prayer

Thursday- A Difficult but Important Meal

I can’t help but wonder if the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples seems odd to them. In Mark’s Gospel, it is the twelve disciples who seem to be the last to understand what is going on around them. Jesus has been trying to teach them about his upcoming death, but they don’t seem to get it. They are simply relaxing and enjoying a fulfilling meal when Jesus starts to give a speech, telling them that one of them will betray him and that this is his body and sharing a cup that is supposedly a new covenant. I don’r know about you, but after a big meal my attention span is pretty short.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl[with me.  For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 

Mark 14:17-23

Jesus is teaching a lesson about spiritual fullness and what keeps us from being the person God has created us to be. Each of us is held captive by some view of self, neighbor, or the world that cuts us off from the grace of God.

Each of the disciples, like each one of us, are held captive to something that kept them from true discipleship. Jesus knows they will not be at the foot of the cross the next day. They are held captive by their own fears, their own doubts, their own concern for self.

But Jesus invites them to be set free, to be a part of this meal, of this moment. Even Judas is invited, because all are welcome.

Today’s work is to be open to Jesus’ generous invitation to share in the bread and the cup. Partake so that you may be set free.

 

 

Tuesday-Jesus’ Final Exam

 

We come to Tuesday of Jesus’ Final Week. Much of Tuesday will be spent teaching in the courtyard of the temple. Mark’s Narrative of Tuesday covers almost 3 chapters, a total of 115 verses. It is by far the longest of the days in scripture. Almost two-thirds of the time is spent in conflict between Jesus and temple authorities, with the authorities questioning his authority and his knowledge of Jewish Law, on things like resurrection, marriage, and taxes. In many ways, Tuesday is Jesus’ Final Exam before both those who follow him and those who fear him. As things become really heated, a scribe steps up and asks Jesus a question. Here is where we pick up our scripture for today

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34

The truth is that we the most important commandment. Many non-religious people can tell you the most important commandment. We struggle to live this commandment. Let’s be honest, it’s a tough commandment to live up to. Knowing it and living it are two entirely different things. Jesus could not have given a more difficult answer to live up to

I love this interaction between Jesus and the scribe. The scribe is different, he is taken by Jesus and really wants to know what Jesus thinks. I suspect if he has paid close attention that he knows what the answer will be. In some ways, the answer to love God and love our neighbor is so familiar to us that it has become cliché. Jesus is answering this question in the most challenging, yet life-giving way possible.

“You are not far from the kingdom of God” is Jesus’ response to the scribes’ answer. That is his to answer to me and you during this Holy Week, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of the God.” Our challenge is to draw ever closer to living into God’s way each day.

Monday- Turning the Tables

As we begin the second day of Jesus’s Last Week, he has entered into Jerusalem and drawn a big crowd for his parade which proclaims that the kingdom of God, God’s way of life is here. He concluded that day by going into the Temple in Jerusalem and looking around. The temple was the holiest place, it was the place that people believed God on earth. It was the center of both religious and community life.

 

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Mark 11:12-19

What lengths would you go to get people to pay attention? Jesus desired to gain the attention of temple authorities and religious people. So he shuts the temple down. He drives out the buyers and the sellers, overturns the tables of the money changers, overturns the seats of the dove sellers and does not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. All of these are regular daily activities in the temple. If he wanted to get people’s attention, shutting the temple down is a pretty good way to do it.

The temple was intended to be” a place of prayer for all nations.”  Instead, only the few were allowed to come in and do business in the temple. Religious leaders of the day had turned it into a place of commerce for the select few. It hardly resembled what God intended for it to be.A place of justice had been turned into an unjust place. Jesus moves his demonstration and the arrival of the kingdom of God  from the streets of Jerusalem to the temple.

The assumed reality is  the Roman imperial power and the corrupt religious officials have created a power that cannot be broken. The truth is something much greater. The kingdom of God is here. Jesus has spent his first two days in Jerusalem making this truth evident.

“Loving On Each Other” as a Poor Substitute for Real Love

“We just need to love on each other”

I’ve learned that this phrase, used even by a well-meaning person, typically means that we are going to do nothing to improve the individual or collective well-being. Often it is served up with a side dish of judgement, while having an excuse for not leaving one’s comfort zone.

Kentucky Blugegraa

By accounts, yesterday’s tragic school shooting in Kentucky was the 11th school shooting in the United States for 2018. Let that sink in for a moment. We’ve had eleven school shootings in the first 23 days of the calendar year.

The governor of Kentucky released a statement encouraging folks to “love on each other” during this time.” He might as well just have said “we are going to do nothing while I continue to accept large donations from the NRA.” I will give him credit for adding to the standard thoughts and prayers line by calling upon folks “to love on each other” during this time. He sounds like the misguided youth pastor at the local fundamentalist church.

Let me be clear- love is the focus of my ministry- God’s inclusive love for all people. I believe love is at the center of the lives of all who seek to follow Jesus. In no way do I want to diminish the important role love and the sharing of love plays in our lives and in the lives of the church.

My experience is that when someone uses the phrase, “we just need to love on each other” it rarely has much to do with God’s love. It’s a phrase we use to absolve ourselves from acting. It produces the kind of love that is a poor substitute for real love. You can’t claim that Jesus is your source and example of love and then do nothing about the gun violence in our communities.

Real love will create a deep sense of mourning for the loss of life due to senseless gun violence.

Real love asks us to examine what influences us to have such a fear-based world view in which our youth feel they need to bring a gun to school.

Real love calls us to acknowledge the sinful epidemic of gun violence in our land

Real love asks us to examine our own lives and habits.

Real love calls us to do something because one precious life lost to gun violence is one too many.

Real love is more powerful than the NRA and its influence.

Real love moves us to enforce and enact sensible gun laws because life is more important than our right to bear arms at any cost.

The President Who Would Not Welcome Jesus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

liberty3.jpg-550x0

These words have stood through time on the to remind us that all are welcome in the United States. We are, for the most part, people from somewhere else who’ve made this our home. We are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot of culture. These truths make us who we are when we are at our best.

The current President does not embody us at our best, he embodies us at our worst. He intentionally seeks dark places where fear takes over. The President deals in fear, fear rooted in racism and classism.

As a citizen, his words trouble me on many levels. As a Christian, I find them to be in direct conflict with any teaching or ethic of Jesus. That this President continues to be lifted as a “Christian” example by several Christian leaders is incomprehensible and disgusting to me. It’s proof that a few will go to great lengths to use religion to curry favor and gain power (Yes, I am talking about you Franklin Graham).

If the President’s racism and classism had its way, he would not welcome Jesus into this nation. Jesus was a poor, dark-skinned person from the Middle East. Sounds to me like the kind of person the President loathes. The truth of the Gospel that all are created by God and all are loved by God is a great threat to the President’s worldview. It’s past time for those who believe in the power of God’s inclusive love to speak up. I know I have too often been silent. No more.

This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about human decency. It’s about speaking for the dignity of God’s beloved. It’s about creating a nation that embodies the very words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We are better than this.

Killing Baby Jesus

Today’s post is a guest post by Michael McCluskey. Michael always makes me think deeper about my own faith and  is one of my favorite conversation partners. He is a junior at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and a member of Sandy Springs Christian Church in Atlanta.

Every year as we Disciples celebrate the Advent season, I recall a conversation I once overheard from a congregant as she asked our senior minister why we practice communion, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, during a season where Jesus is but a small child. She didn’t like that we were celebrating the death of the baby as we anticipated his birth. How could we kill an innocent baby?

Baby Jesus

Her concern made sense to me – why should we celebrate death in this joyful season of life? But we forget. We fall victim to our own blissful ignorance of the holiday season. We seek refuge during this season from all the strife and suffering in our lives – the Advent season is our break from the regularly scheduled pain of being a person in the world. We do all we can to preserve the innocence of the season as we cling to the innocence of Baby Jesus. Why would we celebrate the death of the baby? Why would we tarnish the joy of the Advent season?

We are quick to forget why we anticipate the Christ child. The Christ child who we know to be the Liberator, the Peace-maker, the Lamb. Immanuel came as a baby in a manger, but we know that the trough is not all this child is destined for. We know that this child, helpless and innocent lying in the manger, the son of refugees, the brown-skinned Palestinian Jew – he is our Savior. He was anointed to bring the kingdom of heaven to all the nations. This innocent child came to speak truth to power and defend the weak, the poor, and the unloved – those as weak and innocent as that baby lying in the manger.

This congregant wanted to shelter the Christ child from the pain of the world. She did not want to pervert his innocence with the cold light of truth that suffering and death exists in our world. She wanted to hold him in her arms so nothing could ever harm him. She wanted to turn away from the world and give this child the very best she could, just as any mother would. But she forgot that this child was destined for so much more. When we turn away from the cross during the season of Advent to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, that title becomes a platitude – frivolous and devoid of life. When we turn away from the sacrifice, Immanuel becomes a baby to a poor family lying in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Friends, this is no ordinary babe.

This child grew up and became a man. He turned the tables and disrupted familiar injustice. He boldly loved those whom society had forgotten. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and ushered in an era of peace-making where one day the Lamb might lie down the with Wolf. He stuck his hand over the hole of the asp and, while it bit him, he did this knowing that one day a child would be able to do the same and would not be harmed. He shouldered the ridicule of the complacent pious knowing that one day they too would be enlightened by the truth of God’s grace – that all are loved no matter what. He carried his cross up that hill knowing that he did so for the salvation of all of humankind – so that no longer would they have to do the same.

In this Christmas season, may we not be so quick to forget that the Christ child is to lead the calf, the young lion, and the fatling all together in harmonious peace. We are called to be peace-makers in our own lives – to seek justice for the broken and to love the abandoned and forgotten. We are called to hold children that are not our own in the same way that the woman wanted to hold baby Jesus. As the snow falls outside the window pane and a tree stands tall, adorned with Christmons and crowned with a golden star, we are called to look into the eyes of the stranger and offer them bread and cup no matter who they are. In this season of life, we remember not the death, but the triumphant resurrection of a babe lying in a manger.