Morning Prayer, 3.30.14, Lent 4

Job 38

God –

Answer us out of the whirlwind – speak to us.

Out of the whirlwind of unknown futures, uncertain prognoses, maddening and overwhelming responsibilities speak peace.illusion-of-reality

Out of the whirlwind of questions that seem bigger than our feeble certitude, of fears that threaten to swallow us whole, when it all seems so huge  – remind us that you are bigger than all our fears and worry and darkness.

It seems easy, God, to read the story of Job with distance – detached and maybe a little judgmental. Or maybe we read the story and slowly let out our sigh of relief that at least things aren’t that bad.

Out of the whirlwind give us wisdom to our core.

We profess that you are the Creator – you laid the earth’s foundations and determined its measurements. It was you, God, who laid the world’s cornerstone. You were there when the morning stars sang together and all of heaven shouted for Joy.

You have commanded the morning for each of our days, and for days upon days before we opened our eyes, and gasped our first breath.

It is your Spirit, God, who inhabits every corner of the world. You know our inmost parts just as you have entered the sea and walked the recesses of the deep. You know the expanse of the earth, the sea, the skies – heaven and earth are yours, God. We can hardly comprehend our place in this universe among universes.

You lift your voice to the clouds – you bring all things into being. Without you nothing is made.

Grant us wisdom. Out of the whirlwind speak your love into our hearts and our minds.

We profess all this in the name of your Son, who taught us to pray, Our Father…

Morning Prayer, 3.23.14, Lent 3

God –

We believe, help our unbelief.

We believe that you are the Creator. Help our unbelief when we attempt to hold things in our hands. Forgive our feeble attempts and manipulation and control.brokencall1

We believe that you call your Creation Good. Help our unbelief when we mistake our call to dominion for freedom to destroy and abuse the world.  Teach us to see the world with your sight – finding beauty and goodness in all of creation.

We believe that we are broken. Help our unbelief – when we trust in ourselves only, when we believe that we can make ourselves whole. Meet us in our brokenness; teach us how to love ourselves and one another in the midst of pain, hurt, and misunderstanding.

We believe you created us to be in community with one another. Help our unbelief when we think we can go it alone, when we put ourselves first at the expense of the needs and desires and wellbeing of one another. Teach us once again the difficult truth of sacrifice and vulnerability to be your kind of community.

We believe that you intend us for wholeness. Help our unbelief when we cling to our fears or our anxiety instead of choosing the risk of your healing. When we choose to call our brokenness whole, meet us and heal us.

We believe that you call us to new life. Help our unbelief when we remain complacent or unmoved. Open us up to your future and your abundant life of grace and love.

We believe in the hope and promise of resurrection and re-creation. Help our unbelief when we turn to powers of death instead. When we choose to meet violence with violence, or abuse with abuser, or when we choose to remain complicit in unjust systems and structures, grant us courage to seek life in the midst of forces that push us to death.

We believe that love is more powerful than the forces of death and despair. Help our unbelief when it seems easier to choose fear, darkness, dimness or worry. Moment by moment light our ways with your light.

God, we believe. Help our unbelief.

We pray all these things in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray…

Morning Prayer, 3.16.14, Lent 2

From where does our help come?

We look to the hills. We lift our eyes to the sky – wide before us.13293_587265398282_7243462_n

We cry out – we echo the voice of Job – How long, O Lord?

How long will we fight and battle? How long until we lay our weapons of war at your feet? How long until we beat and bend our swords into pruning hooks?

How long will we hoard and fear scarcity? How long until we share and cooperate? How long until we seek food enough for all our neighbors?

We cry out – we wonder How Long?

We look to the hills and seek help – from our disease, from our pain and affliction, from shattered pieces of dreams, hopes, worries, fears.

How long until we are no long under the sway of hate? How long until we choose the way of your love? How long until we call all persons brother and sister? How long until we can see your image in the eyes of all people?

We cry out – we wonder if it’s too late. We see the destruction, We see the spoils of war. We see the irreparable hurt and grief and pain all around us. We wonder if it’s too late for You.

We lift our eyes – we look to the hills, we look to the sky.

Come among us, God. As sure as you will not slumber, rise us from our sleep. Meet us in our wondering; meet us in our longing.

Help us find anew our trust in you. May our confession echo the Psalmist this morning, knowing that you will keep our life. You will keep our going out and our coming in – this day and forever.

We cry out, we pray, we hope – all these things in Jesus’ name.

(with thanks to Over the Rhine for this song)

Ash Wednesday Prayer

Yes, I know. Ash Wednesday was a week ago. Better late than never?

God –

We do not know what to do with this day. We do not like to focus on our mortality, our fragility. We prefer not to remember that nothing is permanent, not our lives, not our bodies.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.ash-wednesday1

God you made us out of dust. You call us out of ashes. You call us to live, to breathe, to seek life. Remind us this day of the ashes and death around us. Call us to life out of the death of busyness, the ashes of anxiety and comparison and jealousy and boastfulness.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

You, O God, are the eternal One. Your steadfast love is forever. You created us – fearfully, wonderfully made us. You knit us together, and call us to deep and abiding relationship with you. Out of our fragility, out of our ashes, call us to what is eternal – your hope, your peace, your love.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

As we receive the ashes – as we are marked and marred by dust – keep us mindful of our fragility. May we find freedom in our humanness, knowing that all of life is moving, changing, temporary. Catch us with glimpses of your eternal life and spirit. Grant us patience and perseverance with the brokenness is all we see and feel.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

We seek forgiveness for the ashes we create, for the dust at our feet of our own making: the ashes of warfare, the dust of oppression and injustice. Forgive us the burdens we create for others. Out of our ashes grant us courage and wisdom to build communities of peace and freedom. Out of our fragility, may we speak words of your steadfast and eternal presence.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Thank you that you love us, that you create and re-create us. Thank you for your eternal life breathed ever new in us each day.

In your son’s name we pray all these things, Amen.

“Bring Your Crash Helmet,” Sermon, Transfiguration Sunday

Matthew 17.1-9

It was a perfectly lovely Spring day. The sky was clear—clear enough for an afternoon hike.  Crisp air, cool andTransfiguration dry enough not to break too much of a sweat.   We don’t know what the rest of the followers were doing on this particular day. They could have been visiting with others in the surrounding towns. Or maybe in the market. Perhaps they were taking some time to rest.  What we are told is that Jesus goes for a hike with Peter, James and John, up to a high mountain.  Though we don’t know which mountain it was—likely either Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon, though for what it’s worth, Mount Tabor seems to be the winner, today boasting two monasteries and the Church of the Transfiguration. It stands about 1800 feet above sea level; mountain paths twist and turn. Assuming this is the mountain in this story, what seems certain, is this was not a leisurely stroll.

They had been told many things.

They had seen Jesus feed thousands with food enough for a young man’s lunch.  They had witnessed the healing of crowds of people afflicted with leprosy, demons, blindness, deafness.

They had watched as the woman who bled touched Jesus to receive her healing.

They had seen Jesus walk on water, and heard his parables of faith.

They had heard his warnings against false piety. All these things were still fresh in their minds, crowding their thoughts with more questions than answers.

Their journey brought them to Philippi, where Jesus had foreshadowed the persecution and suffering that would come.  And in the days prior, Peter offered the messianic confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And yet.

Yet they remained puzzled by what all this could mean.

By our modern hearing and telling, it seems absurd that the disciples could still miss so much.

When Jesus invited these three on a walk I imagine them scurrying to their feet, eager for a chance to talk—really talk—with Jesus about everything they had witnessed in the recent days, especially their bewilderment over the morbid shift in Jesus’ tone. And when he told them they were going up to the mountain, they likely expected something.

After all, mountains are where great and marvelous encounters with the divine happen.  Far above the land of houses, and palaces, above the markets and the temples, mountaintops touched the clouds, the very dwelling place of the Most High.

It was on a mountain that Moses spoke with God, where Moses saw God’s face and lived.  Elijah emerged on a mountain to hear God’s voice in the thundering silence.

We, too, talk about our own “mountaintop experiences,” times when we felt so close to God that we couldn’t imagine the mundane, ordinariness of our real lives.

And to this mountain Peter, James and John followed Jesus, likely unsure of what to expect, but perhaps expecting something, and no doubt profoundly curious.

The Gospel doesn’t give us any detail between their ascent up the mountain and what happened next.  We don’t know what sorts of conversation happened as they followed the path to the peak.  Maybe the three disciples trailed Jesus asking questions of him the whole way.  Maybe Jesus answered, maybe he didn’t.  Maybe they remained in silence throughout their climb.  I like to imagine them telling jokes, or recounting favorite memories from their journeys.

What we are told is that something profoundly unearthly happened when they had reached the top. The narration we have sounds so thoroughly ordinary: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”  They had just rested their feet under the olive trees, and Jesus changed before their eyes.  He shone, and dazzled, and was bright white.

Whoa.

Had he become an angel?  Is this who he was all along? How did his feet get so clean?

No sooner had they adjusted their eyes to the bright light, than Jesus was accompanied by both Moses and Elijah.  The passage tells us that they appeared and were talking with Jesus.  Again we do not have a record of this conversation among prophets.

And what does Peter want to do?  He makes a very generous offer, though perhaps somewhat impractical: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He wants to stay here on the mountain, in the moment.

Forget that they likely brought nothing with them.  This is too good to let go of, too good to walk away from.  This is holy.  We should stay.  Imagine all they could learn by staying on the mountain surrounded by Moses, the lawgiver, Elijah, the prophet, and Jesus, the Christ.

It’s really quite understandable: Let’s sit tight. We could even move in. So what if we didn’t bring anything with us—who needs stuff when we have this view, this is a perfectly lovely place to make a home, settle in, raise a family. We don’t need to descend and risk ridicule, reputation or death.  Jesus had foreshadowed enough for them to feel quite confident that the mountaintop was a pretty safe place to stay.

Among all this fearful chatter, God breaks though repeating the proclamation at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  The things Jesus had said he would do are true. Listen to what he must do—what he will do.  He is here to confront the power and principalities that deal in fear, injustice, and hate.

trans_apstls04And it’s this—the voice of God that does them in.

Do you blame them?

The disciples, the story says, are “overcome with fear.”  And who could blame them, really? They’ve climbed up this mountain with their teacher, no doubt a grueling feat in itself.

It would have been enough to be alone with him on the mountain.

It would have been enough to see him transformed and aglow before their eyes.  It would have even been enough to stand in the presence of Moses and Elijah.

All these things would have been enough to send any one of us stammering, shuddering, wilting in fear. And then heaven itself descends even closer than it already seemed.

The voice of God sends them cowering. And it is Jesus’ own voice and human touch that rouses them, speaking words of assurance: “Get up and do not be afraid.”  How often we have heard these words throughout scripture.  Fear Not. Be not afraid. The words are not “there is nothing to be afraid of,” but the instruction “do not fear.”  The words again are disturbing in their impossibility: “Do not fear.”

I’ve preached on Matthew’s Gospel three times in as many weeks – each time the words I am tasked with presenting as good news are couched in the impossible: Be salt; be light. Be perfect. Love your enemies. Jesus’ words are full of plain-spoken impossibility that maybe we would rather believe Jesus is full of it. Full stop.

What does this story have to do with us—this miraculous, mysterious story filled with light and sound and transformation?  When I first read these verses, I sighed. This is just a little too sci-fi for my taste.  I’d almost rather plow ahead and jump into Job ahead of Lent, because lamenting and putting God on trial sounds a lot easier, and quite frankly more read than a story of mysterious transformation.

But the more I read and meditated on the passage the more drawn I was to the story’s power. It’s hard for our post-Enlightenment, thoroughly skeptic ears to know what to do with something so full of magic better left in the world of Harry Potter. Then I re-read these words from author Annie Dillard:

On the whole, I do not find Christians…sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.[1]

Why shouldn’t we believe in a God who transforms, who speaks, who dazzles? What really has changed seems not so much that we have grown smarter than the story, but that we have stopped expecting the mystery and glory of God to actually manifest in our lives.  We are caught up in the ordinariness and perhaps even trapped in our own fears.

It is, after all, Peter’s fear that prompts his suggestion to settle and preserve the security of the mountaintop.  But the message is this:

Fear is profoundly antithetical to the Gospel. Sure, the entire scripture narrative is replete with people—ordinary people—who stand, crawl, cower, duck and cover in fear.  We are afraid of lots of things. Constant worry.

But the Gospel is clear. The way of God is not one of fear. It is one of risk, yes, but the words that ought to ring in our ears most clearly are “fear not!”  Perfect love casts out all fear. Do not be afraid.

A lot of interpreters read the latter part of this story—the exchange between Peter, and well, the voice of God—as a grand indictment of all religious institutions, or institutions at all—seminaries, churches, even non-profits. These institutions, they claim, are our booths in which we wish to enclose ourselves, with Christ, and attempt to prolong our holy moments.

They have a point.

But I also reel a little at this criticism.  Certainly institutions have tendencies toward insulation.  The cause though is not the building of the walls—it is in our staying inside of them.  And moreover, believing we can—our ought—to keep Christ within our self-raised structures.

Most often our walls become fortresses, protective structures to keep us safe, secure, trusting in what we can know for certain, what we can control.  But these efforts are borne of fear. Not the riskiness of radical hospitality and dangerous grace that strikes through the heart of the Gospel.

This story is, in one way—as it fits within the entire Gospel—an indictment of a faith with fear as its foundation—and that is a message we so desperately need to hear in our communities, where policies, talking points, public opinion, even theologies are predicated on fear. Of other people. Of change. Of things we can neither predict nor control. Of losing something.

We know—or we ought to know—that if we live in fear, there is no room to live in love.  If we clutch our anxieties, there is no way to embrace hope.  If we cower in worry, there is no room to welcome others in Christ’s name.  The thing is, as Annie Dillard says, most of us, even if we are able to admit that love is greater than fear, we do not live that way.  We may say we believe that God is more powerful than death, but how do we live that proclamation?  If we really moved about the world carrying with us the audaciousness that love, does in fact, win, Dillard is right, we would come prepped with crash helmets.

So this story is as much about the power of God…the challenge to believe in a God who can and does and will continue to amaze us.

But essentially, it is about the relinquishing of our fear, and the insistence on coming down from the mountain, changed, and renewed, risk all the countercultural grace and hospitality and love of Christ.

Jesus’s words are powerful and they mean as much to us as they did to Peter, James, and John. He “came and touched them and said, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.” He didn’t laugh in the face of their fear. He didn’t dismiss their shuddering. Rather, he comes, comforts and impels them to be not afraid. Do not fear. On the surface, perhaps we have a hard time seeing good news in this. What Jesus doesn’t say here and will not say to us is that we have no reason to fear. He knows deeply the pain of being human – the fears that confront and assail us. He does not tell us that we will not have cause to fear. But his words that he repeats over and over again – and that we hear from angels, and prophets, and from God – do not fear – are full of God’s promise. That God’s light, and hope, and love are bigger and stronger than all our fears. And our fears – even well-founded fears – will only continue to serve as impediments to living fully into the light of God.

The promise is that choosing to get up and choose against fear – first, is a choice, and, second, will give us life.

Hear Jesus’ words to you today – get up and do not be afraid.


[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk.