Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Wednesday

St. Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne

Read: Isaiah 55:6-12, Psalm 85:8-13, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, and Matthew 19:27-30

Very little is known of Aidan’s childhood. He was from Ireland, possibly Connacht, but we don’t know when he was born. He became a monk at the monastery on the Island of Iona in what is now Scotland. It was there he met Oswald, the exiled king of Northumbria (modern-day northeast England and southeastern Scotland). In 634, Oswald managed to regain his throne, and decided to use the opportunity to bring Christianity to his mostly pagan subjects.

He asked the Iona community to send missionaries. The first bishop was Cormán, but he met with no success and soon returned to Iona, reporting that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan criticized Cormán's methods and was sent as a replacement in 635.

Because Aidan and his monks didn’t speak English at first, the king often had to translate for them. They placed their base of operations on the island of Lindisfarne, because it was so similar to Iona and it was close to the royal fortress of Bamburgh. After Oswald died in 642, Aidan began to work closely with King Oswine of Deira and the two became close friends.

Aidan would walk from one village to another, politely conversing with the people he saw and slowly interesting them in Christianity. According to legend, the king gave Aidan a horse so that he wouldn't have to walk, but Aidan gave the horse to the first beggar he met. By patiently talking to the people on their own level Aidan and his monks slowly brought Christianity to the Northumbrian communities. Aidan also took in twelve English boys to train at the monastery, to ensure that the area’s future religious leadership would be English.

King Oswine was murdered in 651. Aidan died twelve days later, on August 31, in the 17th year of his episcopate. He had become ill while at the Bamburgh castle and died leaning against the buttress of a church on a royal estate near Bamburgh. A boy on a hillside nearby was out tending sheep and had a vision of angels carrying Aidan to heaven at the time that he died. The boy, Cuthbert, went to the monastery and became a monk, later reaching sainthood himself.

Aidan worked hard to bring the people of Northumbria to Jesus. He didn’t try to force them, but to show them that walking with Jesus was better than the alternatives. How can we use Aidan’s example today? What about his life speaks to you? Will you work as hard as Aidan did wherever you may find yourself? Take a few moments to pray about this. You may find the following prayer helpful:

O loving God, who called your servant Aidan from the peace of a cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and gave him the gifts of gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Tuesday

Read: Jeremiah 17:5-18 and Psalm 17

Take a few minutes to read and consider today’s passage. How does it speak to you? What can you draw from it? Pray about this, and write your own prayer.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Monday

Read: 2 Samuel 11:2-26 and Psalm 17

Today’s reading is the story of David and Uriah. David did a shameful thing before God. He had an affair with a married woman and then tried to cover it up. When he couldn’t, he had her husband killed – sending Uriah’s death warrant by his own hand.
Sometimes we mess up big. We follow our own lusts and desires, never considering how it will cost us. Never considering how it will cost others. Never considering that perhaps we’re about to do something that’s wrong and unhealthy.

God forgave David, but he punished him. Read further on in the text to see the rest of the story. God will forgive us when we confess, but we still have to live with the consequences. You may find the following prayer helpful:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to Your promises declared unto us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name. Amen.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Saturday

Read: Matthew 8:14-17 and Psalm 26:1-8

Today’s reading helps to show that Jesus was the Messiah. Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would heal us of our sicknesses and infirmities. Jesus did this. He brought people back to life, he healed leprosy, blindness, deafness, and lameness, he cast out demons and set people free. He did all the signs that the people had long heard that the Messiah would do. He fulfilled prophesies just as he fulfilled the Law.

The wonderful thing is that this hasn’t ended. Some think the age of miracles is over, but they are wrong. When Jesus ascended into heaven, he divested himself and his ministry to us. We are to be his representatives in the world, acting on his behalf. This includes being agents of healing and wholeness.

In order to do that, however, we need to have a depth of relationship with him. Being a disciple is far more than going to Sunday School and then singing a few favorite songs about going to heaven someday and hearing a sermon that talks about being glad we’re saved. Instead, being a disciple is about growth in difficult times. It is about doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. It is about being faithful even in the face of unspeakable horror and torture. Being a disciple is hard. But the reward is better than we can imagine.

Almighty God, who sent our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to be our example and guide: Grant us grace that we might follow him all the days of our lives. Grant us strength that we might follow him through all difficulties and dangers. Grant us peace that we might face death with the calm assurance of knowing you are there. We pray these things through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Friday

Read: Matthew 26:6-13 and Psalm 26:1-8

Sometimes someone with a past will find Jesus. Those nearby who see this will sometimes make snide comments, and sometimes will be outright mean about it. We talk big about wanting to bring people to Jesus, but apparently that only applies to people who look like us, dress like us, live like us, and vote like us. If you have an alternative lifestyle, or have tattoos and crazy hair, or wear clothing that seems strange or inappropriate, or vote for the other party (or vote against the church boss), then there’s no place in the Church for you. That’s the message we give out, and it has been believed wholeheartedly by those who are not disciples.
The woman in today’s passage was one of those with a past. She was a prostitute, actually. She came into Simon’s house and poured out her fragrant oil on Jesus’ head. That oil was the sign of her trade; it marked her as a prostitute as surely as Jesus’ robes marked him as a rabbi. She was giving Jesus every thing she had. Her livelihood depended on that oil, and here she is, pouring it out on this guy from Nazareth. Jesus is going to smell like he’s been to see her for other reasons. People are going to know what’s happened. They’re going to gossip. They’re going to judge. Only they’re going to be wrong.

Jesus quickly forgave her. After all, she was trying to show him that despite the fact that she was now financially ruined, she was going to put all aside to do the right thing. But at the same table, Jesus’ own disciples are sitting and judging. “You should have sold that and given the money to the poor.” This was probably Judas Iscariot, who was the treasurer. He was more interested in the money than the poor.

Jesus’ response is interesting. “You’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to doing good toward the poor, but my bodily presence is about to end soon. She’s pouring this out for my burial, and wherever the Gospel is preached, this woman will be remembered.”

Take some time to pray about this. How do you react when people come into your church? Are you more concerned with their outward appearance and lifestyle than you are with showing them who Jesus is? Do you gossip about them behind their backs? Or do you show them the grace and love that God has extended to everyone? Are you Jesus to them? Or are you Judas?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A bit of poetry...

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose heards with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix'd; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me dye;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lye.

Ode on Solitude, by Alexander Pope

Liturgical Musings

A common misconception about the liturgical year is that it's dull. Observing the same rituals year after year is dull. Following a set pattern is dull. Prioritizing the liturgical kalendar above the Hallmark calendar is dull. But in my experience, the kalendar is far from boring; in fact I find new depth and meaning every year that I observe it. A wonderful example of how rich and powerful yearly rituals can be is the observance of Holy Week.

Lent is a time for contemplation. For repentance. For finding out where we are and where we need to be. It isn't a time for celebration; if anything, it is our time to mourn and be sober. As Lent progresses, we see glimpses of hope, but we also plunge deeper into despair. The Gospel texts highlight the occurrences leading up to Christs' crucifixion. We know something is coming, but we have to wait for it. Time passes slowly.

Holy Week leads up to the final climax in the story as we follow Christ. First we are surprised by an unexpected sense of triumph as Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey and the people wave their palm branches and shout "Hosanna." We think that perhaps this foreshadowing means that our sorrow is over, that this man is here to relieve our suffering. Our excitement is beginning to build as we anticipate what's going to happen next.

Then, on Maundy Thursday we go to the Passover Seder where Jesus shocks his disciples by interrupting the traditional Passover liturgy to insert the troubling words, "this is my body," and "this is my blood." What is Jesus doing? What is he leading up to? We place ourselves in the moment, into the shoes of the disciples gathered around the table. We are waiting for Jesus to explain, but he doesn't. It feels like an anti-climax; this wasn't what we were anticipating. Instead of explaining, Jesus goes away to pray. Before we know it, the story goes terribly wrong as soldiers come in the dark and take Jesus away. The man that we depended on is now helpless. And so are we. The triumph of Sunday is forgotten while we wait and watch for what is going to happen next.

Good Friday brings the climax of despair. We've given up all hope. Jesus, our Savior, is dying on a tree and the disciples are numb with shock. They gather enough wits to quickly return to their dark quarters where they wait. What are they waiting for? Isn't that the end of the story? They sit in the dark, remembering all that has occurred. Something is going to happen, but no one knows what.

Holy Saturday is silent. We're still waiting. Jesus is dead in the tomb. We're almost ready to give up hope, yet there's that lingering whisper that it isn't over yet. We have a little more patience left, so we wait.

And then ... comes Sunday morning. With it comes joy and celebration that we have never known before. Was it worth the wait? There's no doubt about that. More about Easter later.

Holy Week is one of the most dramatic observances of the liturgical year. Is it dull? Far from it. It is an emotional roller coaster of expectation, excitement, confusion, betrayal, agony, mourning, despair, waiting, hopelessness ... and finally, sublime joy. When we place ourselves into the story, when we live the liturgy, we realize how meaningful it truly is.

Morning Prayer Guide - Thursday

Read: Ephesians 5:1-6 and Psalm 26:1-8

St. Paul gives us a few things to consider. We are to imitate God. We are to walk in love. We are to avoid sins, including those that harm ourselves or others. Our selfishness often provides idols, but those will prevent us from finding God. Don’t take things too far, by course jesting, by idle words, or by foolishness.

Are you guilty of any of these things? What idols has your selfishness given you? What have you done to harm yourself or others? What are you going to do about it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Wednesday

St. Bartholomew the Apostle

Read: Deuteronomy 18:15-18, Psalm 91, 1 Corinthians 4:9-15, and Luke 22:24-30

Bartholomew was one of the Twelve. In the Gospel of John, he’s known as Nathanael, which means “God has given.”. Nathanael is introduced as a friend of Philip. He is described as initially being skeptical about the Messiah coming from Nazareth, saying: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, but nonetheless, follows Philip’ invitation. Jesus immediately characterizes him as “Here is a man in whom there is no deception.” Some scholars hold that Jesus’ quote “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”, is based on a Jewish figure of speech referring to studying the Torah. Nathanael recognizes Jesus as “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel”.

We know little about Bartholomew’s work beyond a few verses in the Gospels. Tradition holds that after the ascension, Bartholomew, visited India and left behind a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Later on, he is said to have visited Ethiopia, Parthia (in modern-day Iran), and Lyconium (in modern-day Turkey). Toward the end of his life, Bartholomew and Jude went to Armenia, which is located between the Caspian, Black, and Mediterranean seas, just east of Turkey. He was martyred brutally, but not before converting the king, Polymius, to Christianity. He is one of the patron saints of the Arminian Apostolic Church.

Bartholomew never wavered. Even in the face of the worst torture imaginable, Bartholomew never turned away from Jesus. He never used the excuse that he wanted to stay close to home and family, but put all aside to carry the Gospel to people of other nations and cultures. He worked tirelessly to bring people who had never heard about God the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Would you be willing to follow Jesus to death? Would you remain faithful even during the worst torment imaginable? Would you leave home and family to go to strange nations to tell others about Jesus? Will you work as hard as Bartholomew did even in your own home town? Take a few moments to pray about this. You may find the following prayer helpful:

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A bit of poetry...

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

God Moves In A Mysterious Way, by William Cowper

Morning Prayer Guide - Tuesday

Read: Romans 11:33-36 and Psalm 18:1-3, 20-32

God’s wisdom and knowledge are deeper than we can imagine. We cannot fathom them. Take a few moments to ask God to grant you his wisdom. Write your own prayer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Monday

Read: Romans 2:1-11 and Psalm 18:1-3, 20-32

Jesus told us, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Mt. 7:1) St. Paul writes a wonderful followup to this. Who are we to bring judgement on others? Are not we all guilty of the same things? Who gave us the right to talk then?

One of the biggest things Jesus can not abide is hypocrisy. He went out of his way to point out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He wants us to be true to ourselves, to do what we profess, to be who we say we are. He doesn’t like fence sitting. He doesn’t want us to say one thing and then do another.

Do you judge? Do you say one thing but do another? Pray about this. Ask God to help you be forgiving, to reflect his grace to others. Ask him to help you to put aside hypocrisy and to do as you say you do. Write your own prayer.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A bit of poetry...

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
the frumious Bandersnatch!"
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the maxome foe he sought-
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.
As in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came.
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack.
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
"Has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Calloh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll

Morning Prayer Guide - Saturday

Read: Matthew 16:5-12 and Psalm 138

Today’s reading fits in perfectly with yesterday’s and Thursday’s. The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees was pride, hypocrisy, and worldly-mindedness. They had gotten to the point that they couldn’t even recognize the Messiah. Jesus warned his disciples to not become like they were.

What can you learn from this? Take some time to pray about this, and then write your prayer.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Friday

Read: 2 Corinthians 10:12-18 and Psalm 138

St. Paul is writing in response to someone else who has come along, claiming to be better than Paul and causing trouble for Paul and for the church, and all the while not having any sort of authority to do as he does. It’s possible he even reported Paul as being a draft dodger, which was a serious crime in those days.

Often we get so full of pride in ourselves that we end up acting foolishly. We think we’ve arrived, that we have all the answers. The worst part is when we’re right, even when we’re wrong. In other words, we don’t admit that we might not be right about a situation, even in the face of evidence. Instead, we’re so convinced of our own rightness that we reject contrary evidence and insist that our version is the correct one. At that point, no one can reason with us. We become so proud of ourselves that we fail to see people avoiding us because of our haughtiness.

Take some time to pray about this. Are you full of yourself? Are you always right? Do people dislike you or avoid you because you never admit to being wrong? Ask God to show you. Then, ask for his forgiveness. Finally, ask him to help you avoid this trap in the future.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A bit of poetry...

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

She Walks In Beauty, by Lord Byron

Morning Prayer Guide - Thursday

Read: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 and Psalm 138

St. Paul writes a scathing admonishment to those who sue other believers. We aren’t supposed to treat each other in a way that would cause us to want to go to court. But even if someone does mess up and treat us that way, we should go about fixing it in a Biblical way. It takes more maturity to do it that way, but we don’t need to be using the judicial system to iron out our differences. In Paul’s day, and even now, many people are hostile to Christianity. Why would we want them to judge between us if they don’t even like the way we choose to follow Jesus?

Jesus tells us how to handle such cases in Matthew 18:15-17. He tells us first to go to the person who has wronged us and try to work it out with them. If that doesn’t work, then take one or two with you and try again. If that still doesn’t work, take them before the rest of the church. If that fails, then the person at fault should be “as a heathen and tax collector”. In other words, they should not be allowed to be a member of the church or have any responsibility or power until they repent of their actions.

Have you ever sued another believer? Did you try resolving the conflict Jesus’ way? Note that no where does Jesus give us permission to gossip or feud. He expects us to work to resolve the issue, not prolong it. When someone has done us wrong, our first instinct is to get them back, and to talk about them, and fight with them. Even if they come to apologize, we often want to keep the war going.

Forgive. Jesus forgave you. He expects you to forgive others.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A bit of poetry...

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, by William Wordsworth

Morning Prayer Guide - Tuesday

Read: Romans 11:13-29 and Psalm 87

St. Paul compares the Kingdom to an olive tree. God cut off the natural branches, that is, the Jews, and then grafted in wild branches (the Gentiles). But we don’t rest on our laurels, because if God can graft in wild branches, he can graft the natural ones back in as well.

And then, the very last verse catches our attention: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” While this may have application to us personally, the main emphasis is in relation to the Jews. God has given them the gift of being his people, and he has called them to be his children. God will not repent (change his mind) from that decision.

Some will see this as proof of predestination, that the Jews are all predestined to heaven. As Methodists, however, we do recognize that everyone has the free will to choose God or reject him. But while individual Jews may choose to reject God, God does have a plan for the nation as a whole, and has invited them to be a part of the Kingdom.

This is one passage that may have little personal application. It is still important. St. Paul does write that we should not swell up in pride that God has chosen to graft in Gentiles, because he can cut us right back off again if he chooses. Take a moment to examine yourself for pride, and to ask God’s forgiveness. Write your own prayer.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Monday

St. Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Read: Isaiah 61:10-11, Psalm 34, Galatians 4:4-7, and Luke 1:46-55

Today is one of several days that the Church celebrates the life and ministry of the blessed Virgin Mary. The Gospel reading is her song, called the Magnificat (the first word of the passage in Latin).

We’ve had the Magnificat several times this year, and each time our emphasis has been to try to memorize it and then use it as our prayer. If you haven’t yet done so, today is a great opportunity. If you have memorized it, then recite it now. Use it as your song of praise to God. You may also find the following prayer helpful:

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A bit of poetry...

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas

Morning Prayer Guide - Saturday

Read: Matthew 14:34-36 and Psalm 67

Here is the corollary to Wednesday’s reading. The people who found Jesus in today’s reading had faith. They recognized that he had healing power, that he was the Son of God. They knew that just touching the hem of his prayer shawl would be enough to find healing. As a result, they were healed. Instead of reacting in self-pity and anger, they responded in obedience and faith. As a result, they found the solutions to their problems.

What can you learn from this? Take some time to pray about this, and then write your prayer.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Friday

Read: Isaiah 63:15-19 and Psalm 67

It seems pretty obvious that being killed by people throwing huge rocks at you is not pleasant. St. Paul is stoned and left for dead. But then he gets up and goes right back into the city, right back to the very people who tried to kill him.
Imagine what he must have looked like, bruised and broken and bleeding. Imagine how it must have felt, how much pain he must have been dealing with. We don’t know how many bones were broken, or how many cuts he had, or whether he had a concussion. But we can safely assume that if his attackers thought he was dead, he must have looked and felt pretty awful. For all we know, he may have had complications from this for the rest of his life. At least we have modern health care. He didn’t. He just had to live with it.

But he got right back up and kept on preaching. He and Barnabas got up the next morning and went on to the next place. He didn’t allow his injuries to stop him. He didn’t allow his adversaries to win. He didn’t give up.

Be like Paul. When life throws rocks at you, get up and keep going. When faced with pain and adversity, keep going. Paul didn’t complain about his pain. He didn’t gripe to anyone who would even pretend to listen. He kept doing what God wanted him to do. Be like Paul. Write your own prayer.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A bit of poetry...

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes

Morning Prayer Guide - Thursday

Read: Revelation 15:1-4 and Psalm 67

The final two verses of today’s reading make up one of the classic canticles of the Church. Memorize it, if you can. Then, pray it as your own prayer. At the end, add the Lesser Doxology: Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Liturgical Musings


The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday, which is one of my most favorite days of the whole entire year, and the start of my most favorite season.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a journey. It is a chance for me to stop, look within myself, and determine where I am on my faith journey and where I need to be. It’s a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal.

The season of Lent has been around for quite a while. In the early Church, not just anyone could come down front and join. Christianity was illegal, and very dangerous. There were spies who would try to infiltrate the faith community and report to the government. Becoming a Christian was a long process of learning what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. During that time, the postulants were not allowed to receive Communion. Instead, they would go to another place during that part of the service and receive instruction from someone who was already baptized. This was a three-year process, and was designed to weed out those who didn’t truly have a heart for God.

The final forty days were an intense time of learning and showing the elders that the candidates for baptism were ready to accept the weight of being a full member of the local church. It was a time of fasting, of repentance, of penitence.

The candidates were baptized on the night before Easter Sunday, and received Holy Communion as full members of the Church. It was a joyous time of celebration, both of the resurrection of Jesus, and of those who had been dead to sin but were now alive in Christ.

Today, Lent carries a different, though similar, meaning. It is a time when disciples can focus on how to be better. It is a time to assess where we stand, and where we need to be. It is a time to search for and admit wrongdoings, and a time to ask God’s forgiveness. It is a time when we look within ourselves and question why we believe what we believe.

The primary color of Lent is purple. It is a somber color, and it reminds us of penitence. Many churches use burlap or unbleached muslin for paraments and decorations, which remind us of the sack cloth and ashes that we see so often in the Bible as the garb of sorrow and repentance. At Robertson Chapel, the paraments are unbleached muslin embroidered with purple. The brass cross, candlesticks, and offering plates are taken away and replaced with wood and other rough textures. A banner is hung that has the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Outside, the large cross on the lawn has a purple cloth draped around it.

One of my favorite hymns for Lent is Charles Wesley's And Can it Be?:

Lent reminds us that it’s not about you.

It’s about what God can do in you and through you.

Morning Prayer Guide - Wednesday

Read: Matthew 8:23-27 and Psalm 18:1-19

There is a great lesson in these few verses. Jesus got on to the disciples because of their lack of faith. They, in their fear, didn’t stop to think about what they should do. They ran to Jesus instead.

That’s not to say that running to Jesus is wrong. We should do it more often. But Jesus expects us to mature to the point that we take things on for ourselves. Here’s the perfect case. Jesus, asleep in the boat, was obviously unconcerned by the storm. He wanted the disciples to respond to the storm by rebuking it for themselves. They had the power. They just didn’t recognize it. They didn’t have the faith.

Remember, faith is looking into the spiritual dimension and seeing what God wants us to do about a situation, and then doing our part to bring it about. Faith equals obedience. God wanted them to be able to say “Peace, be still” to the storm. But in their moment of fear they didn’t recognize that. Instead, they wanted to include the only calm person on the boat in their anxiety. Anxiety spreads faster than any flu epidemic. It causes us to stop thinking and start reacting, often with bad results.
How often have we been faced with something, a defining moment of growth, only to flub it? Certainly, God’s grace and forgiveness covers us. But what if we’d responded differently? What might we have learned? What situations might we have avoided?

How is your faith? When faced with a storm, do you respond with prayer and action, or do you freeze in fear and reaction? Take a few moments to pray about this. Then, write your own prayer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A bit of poetry...

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you'd be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place--
be glad your nose is on your face!

Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face, by Jack Prelutsky

Morning Prayer Guide - Tuesday

Read: Romans 9:14-29 and Psalm 18:1-19

Sometimes we look at people around us and come to the conclusion that God must be blessing them more than he blesses us. Sometimes we decided we’re more blessed than those we’re observing. At first glance, this seems unjust, unfair.
Except that God isn’t unjust.

How can a just God bless people differently? Why do some people never seem to catch a break, while others seem to blissfully float through life? Why do some people have trial after trial happen to them while others seem to have it easy? God must have a funny definition of justice.

Except that we’re human. We are the ones with a funny idea of justice. God’s not bound to our definitions. God’s not bound to limit how he blesses some people, or increase how he blesses others. And not all blessings are visible to the naked eye. Sure, this guy may make six figures, live in a huge house, and drive one of several nice cars. But that doesn’t guarantee he’s happy. And this other lady may live out on the street with only a cardboard box and a stolen shopping cart as her only possessions, but how can we say she’s unhappy? Some people actually do choose that lifestyle over one of wealth.

Remember the parable about the man who hired people to work in his vineyard? He hired the first people for a day’s wage. Through the day he kept going back to the marketplace (which back then served as the unemployment office) and hiring people to work in the vineyard. At the end of the day he started paying his workers. The ones he’d hired last received a full day’s wage. Those who had worked all day long then expected to get even more, and when they didn’t, were upset. But the man’s response was that they had hired on expecting a certain wage, and he was paying it. He couldn’t be accused for being generous to the ones who had worked fewer hours, because it was his money to do with as the pleased.

We don’t want to be like the men in the parable who grumbled because the owner was generous to those who came in later. We want to be thankful that God has done what he promised. If we follow Jesus and do his commandments, we will find life. The rest is just gravy.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Monday

Read: 2 Peter 2:4-10 and Psalm 18:1-19

St. Peter writes his final letter in the dark days leading up to his death. Time is short, and there is much to be said. The Church is heading into a time of trial and difficulty and persecution at the hands of the Roman government. But there is hope, because God has brought his people through trying times in the past.

We sometimes feel that what we’re going through is the worst thing that’s ever happened. We feel like we’re alone. We feel like God doesn’t care and that he’s too far away to see what’s happening anyhow. But God does see, and he does care, and there are other people who have experienced the same things, and what we face is rarely the “worst thing that’s ever happened”. It may be the worst that’s happened to any single one of us, but there is always something worse that could happen, and there is always someone else who is arguably worse off than we are.

Instead of focusing on how bad it all is, however, we need to focus on how God can bring us through difficult times and how we can learn and grow through them. Life is tough. There’s no end of things that can go wrong. There’s no end of things that can turn out differently from the way we wanted them to go. But instead of being negative, we need to focus on the positives and the lessons. We should be ever growing, because discipleship is dynamic, not static.

How has God helped you through difficult times in the past? How did you respond to those situations? Did you respond with anger and fear? Or did you find a way to learn and grow through the difficulties? Take a few moments to pray about this. Then, write your own prayer.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A bit of poetry...

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths-for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! My Captain!, by Walt Whitman

Morning Prayer Guide - Saturday

[b]The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ[/b]
Read: Isaiah 61:10-11, Psalm 99, 2 Peter 1:13-21, and Luke 9:28-36

The United Methodist Church, along with several other faith traditions, places the Transfiguration on the last Sunday after Epiphany, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and Lent. But the Church has traditionally celebrated it on August 6th.

The Transfiguration is the climax of Christ’s revealing himself to us. Here we see that this man, human in every way we can define, is also fully divine. It is a tension, a paradox. How can someone who is completely human be completely divine? How can someone who is completely divine be completely human? Yet Christ came and took on our humanness and tabernacled among us, showing us how we should live, and bidding us to put aside our own selves and follow him.

Ask God to reveal Christ to you. You may find the following prayer helpful:

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the uneasiness of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Friday

Read: Matthew 16:1-4 and Psalm 85:8-13

Jesus simply has no patience for Pharisees! The bad part is that we have nearly as many Pharisees in our churches today as he did back then.

We get locked into our own ways of doing things, forgetting that God’s ways are higher than ours. Forgetting that change happens and we don’t get to vote on it. Forgetting that discipleship is dynamic, not static. We miss the signs of the times because we’re too busy buzzing around with our own things that we fail to see what God is plainly doing around us. And then we get self-righteous about it, as though God should cater to what we want, rather than the other way around.

What “signs of the times” might you be missing? Are you a Pharisee? Do you spend more time worrying about the petty details or in following Jesus? Take some time to pray about this. Write your own prayer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A bit of poetry...

Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there in the overstuffed chair,
And the chair is becoming quite mucky and damp.
His workbook is wedged in the window,
His sweater's been thrown on the floor.
His scarf and one ski are beneath the TV,
And his pants have been carelessly hung on the door.
His books are all jammed in the closet,
His vest has been left in the hall.
A lizard named Ed is asleep in his bed,
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or--
Huh? You say it's mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!

Messy Room, by Shel Silverstein



What’s the point? Why do we go to church? Why do we go to this particular church? Why do we like this style or that one? Why do we get so upset when others want to worship in a style different from our own? Why do we care?

Worship. Is worship about us? Or is worship about God? Does God really care what we do in worship, or is he happy to have any attention he can get?

Worship. What is it, anyway?

Worship. If only we could definitively answer all of these questions. If we could just answer one or two we’d be well on our way to finding God. If we could just get a glimpse of how the angels and saints worship around the throne of heaven. If we could just get a glimpse of how worship will be after Christ’s return.

Sadly, we’re not perfect, and we don’t have all the answers. So maybe we should do the best we can with what we have. Only we’re not. We’re fighting instead.

Worship. It raises passions like nothing else can. Mention changing worship in most churches and immediately people are on the war path. Mention that the worship service isn’t that great and suddenly people are looking daggers at you. Suggest that someone’s favorite way of worshiping might not be the only way and you get angry words in return. Why is something that is supposed to be all about love filled with so much hate?

Our preferences and biases get in the way. We, the wonderful creatures of habit that we are, tend to want to do what we remember from our childhood. We also want it to be predictably the same from week to week, season to season, year to year. We get upset when things are not the way we expect them to be.

Worship. It should be a part of us. We give it lip service. We say we truly worship. We say we want to worship the way God wants to be worshiped. But are we telling the truth, or are we lying to ourselves? Do we know how God wants to be worshiped? It is quite interesting that God always seems to want to be worshiped in the manner and style that we ourselves like to worship. As though everyone else has it wrong. And worship as a part of us? Who gives it a second thought outside of Sunday morning?

There are things we can do to make it better. For one thing, we should become aware of the liturgical year. The rhythms of the church year should become the rhythms of our own lives. For another, we should adopt a rhythm of daily prayer and Scripture reading. There are many resources available for this, but the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church is a great place to begin. It’s even available for free online. A third thing we can do is to take some time and question, really question, why we worship the way we do. Begin with the questions above. Struggle with them. Don’t just accept a pat answer from yourself. Argue. Try to see it from the opposite perspective. Find people with other perspectives and discuss it with them. Open your mind to new possibilities. Explore different styles and ways of doing things.

But above all, spend some quality time with God, asking him how he wants to be worshiped. Then hush and listen.

Morning Prayer Guide - Thursday

Read: Acts 17:10-15 and Psalm 85:8-13

St. Paul, St. Silas, and St. Timothy had worked in Thessaloniki, preaching to the Jews about Jesus. They became so angry and worked up that Paul, Silas, and Timothy had to leave town in the middle of the night. They moved on to Berea, and there found people who were a lot calmer and more reasonable. But eventually word got to the Thessalonians that they were there in Berea, so a bunch of them came over to stir up trouble. They weren’t satisfied to cause trouble in their own town, but had to travel a distance to start some more.

Take a few moments to consider this. Are you a troublemaker? Do you kick up a fuss whenever anything is said that you don’t like or that convicts you? Do you keep the fuss going even after it should be over? Ask God to show you. Ask him to forgive you where you’ve caused a ruckus. Write your own prayer.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Liturgical Musings

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood seasons of the year is Epiphany. It sneaks in at the end of Christmas, when most of the world is bemoaning the weight they gained during November and December and the amount of money they’ve spent in the past few months. It gets little notice, even in church, because we’re so worried about everything else that’s going on.

Epiphany falls on January 6th. It is the celebration of the Magi coming to visit Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 2. Epiphany is the celebration of Jesus revealing himself to the Gentiles. The shepherds were the first to know and pay their respects. But God then allowed the Magi to find out, and they also came to worship. Tradition holds that there were three wise men, known as Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.

The first Sunday after the Epiphany is known as “The Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The Gospel readings are from Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3, and deal with Jesus coming down to the Jordan to be baptized by John. It is here that Christ is revealed as the Son of God: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mt. 3:17).

The next few weeks are known as “Ordinary Time”, and the color is green. The time is ordinary, not in the sense of being common or everyday, but in the sense of being counted. There are at least four Sundays and at most nine Sundays after the Epiphany. The number of Sundays varies by year and is dependent on the first day of Lent, called Ash Wednesday, which is in turn dependent on the date of Easter.

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is set up so that each year, if Easter falls early and therefore the Season After Epiphany is short, those readings can be taken in the weeks following Pentecost (since that season will be longer in years when Easter is early). If Easter is later, however, more Sundays will fall between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, and fewer between Pentecost and Christ the King, so the first few readings of the season after Pentecost are used in Epiphany. Confused yet?

Further, the Sunday readings all deal with Christ revealing himself to us. So we read about the wedding at Cana (Jesus revealing himself as the Son of God to his disciples through the miracle of turning water to wine), and so forth. Each Sunday deals with Jesus revealing himself to us as the Savior.

In Anglican, Lutheran, and those Protestant churches which follow the RCL, the final Sunday after Epiphany is known as Transfiguration Sunday. The readings are from Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9, where Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Christ is again revealed as the Son of God: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Mt. 17:5) This is the ultimate revelation, the climax in our discovery of who Christ is. One of my favorite hymns for the day is Charles Wesley’s “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”:

Epiphany is about growth, about Christ revealing himself to us. Christ reveals himself to us as we journey through life. The question is whether we will recognize him and follow him.

Morning Prayer Guide - Wednesday

Read: Matthew 15:32-39 and Psalm 78:1-8, 17-29

Jesus had compassion on the crowd. They had come to listen to him, putting aside their comfort and focusing on him. Certainly there were those present who were merely there to see and be seen. There were those who were there just for a great magic trick. But there were also those who recognized that this rabbi from Capernaum was very different from the rest. There were those who were captivated by his words and his ministry. There were those who had put aside their lives to follow him around and hear what he had to teach.

It’s pretty easy to join a church and be a Christian. It’s a lot like joining the Rotary Club or the garden club. They do some good. They give warm fuzzies. They get to argue about petty things, getting lost in meaningless details (of course no one thinks their own details are meaningless or petty, just the others’ ideas). Churches seem to operate like that. We have wars about whether the flowers should be put on the altar or not (they shouldn’t), or whether or not to use the proper liturgy for Holy Communion (we should), or even what Sister Bertha would want us to do with the money she bequeathed on her deathbed.

But of course it’s deeper than that. God’s agenda is a bit broader than ours. He’s more concerned with having us build the kingdom now. The pettiness and meaningless details will be burned away and lost, but the work we do at God’s command will withstand the test of time and pressure.

Do you get lost in pettiness? Do you lose yourself in meaningless details at the expense of following Jesus? Take a few moments to pray about this. Then, write your own prayer.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Tuesday

Read: Acts 2:37-47 and Psalm 78:1-8, 17-29

After St. Peter’s brilliant sermon on the Day of Pentecost, those who were listening asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (vv. 37-38, alt.) The word repent means “to change your mind”, or “to change the way you think about something”. It is taking a fresh look at what we believe about something and coming to a better understanding about it. When Jesus told us to repent because the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand, he meant that we should re-think all that we do because God’s kingdom is so close we can reach out and touch it.

Ordinary time is about renewal and growth. And growth comes only with repentance. Take a few moments to consider where the Holy Spirit has been convicting you lately. Think about the things you’ve done that have displeased God. Think about the things you’ve failed to do. Then, ask for God’s forgiveness. You may find the following prayer helpful:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Monday

Read: Deuteronomy 8:1-10 and Psalm 78:1-8, 17-29

Deuteronomy is Moses’ last sermon to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the promised land. These are the children of those who came out of Egypt. While they know many things about God’s work to bring them out of bondage, there are still a few things that Moses wants to tell them.

It would be easy to paint a picture of heaven as being our promised land. But that would be wrong. Don’t let your favorite southern gospel song fool you: It’s not about a mansion on the golden street, or even a cabin in the corner of glory-land. It’s not about just hanging on until we die and go to heaven, as though God will allow “being good” as a substitute for following his commands to make disciples and feed the hungry. Those songs are lots of fun to sing, but the theology in them is bad. God is less concerned with the sweet bye-and-bye than we are. We’re going to have to change the way we think about all that, because we’ve confused ourselves and each other for far too long. Our promised land isn’t heaven, but the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells us it’s so close we can reach out and touch it.

Is more of your time spent singing and dreaming about heaven, or actively following Jesus? Do you find yourself thinking in terms of making it to heaven someday, or making heaven happen here and now? Take a few moments to pray about this. You may find the following prayer helpful:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.