Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Commit to being Present

In the spring of 2016, I was fortunate enough to be a chaplain intern at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital as part of the Clinical Pastoral Education program. One of the most important things I learned was the "ministry of presence." Simply being with someone sometimes makes all the difference in the world. I remember meeting someone who did not receive any visitors besides the medical staff. I met others that had many visitors, but felt that no one would listen to them. Still, I met others who were overwhelmed with love and support. Not feeling alone can make all the difference.

This week, I am focusing on two gospel passages: John 1:1-14 and Luke 10: 25-37. Go ahead and read them....

In John 1 verse 1 and 14, we read that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth."

Jesus is the Word, he has been here all along since the creation, and he lived among us. God is committed to being present with us! God is with us. God is in us. So we can share can God with others. When we are present with others, we can share God together. Jesus did it first! He came and lived among the people. Jesus experienced everything it means to be a human being--all of the pain and joy and everything in between. So we are never alone. When you are sick, physically, spiritually, emotionally, God is there. When you are healthy, and feel like you can take on the world, Jesus is there. When you are scared, anxious, excited, tired, angry...God is there, offering you the very presence of God.

That's all well and good, but that's about God! What about us---you and me? It is awesome to feel and know the presence of God. What it means to follow Jesus, though, is to let that assurance lead you to share it with others. That's hard work. That is where Luke 10 comes in, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here is a story about someone who was beat up, left for dead, sick and alone. Now sometimes we do feel like that person on the road. We feel beat up and sick and alone. My prayer is that someone, it may not be the first or second person, or the person you expect, cares for you.

The great thing about parables is that offer timeless teaching and opportunities to learn, grow, and wonder about them. They do not present all of what may have been going on. So, we know a lot about the person on the road--they were beat up, left for dead, sick, and alone. We hardly know anything about anyone who passed them by except there occupation or status. The one who was beat up, and all of the listeners and readers of the parable, would have expected them to stop and help. We do not know much else about the third passerby except that they were a Samaratin, a foreigner who should not have been there, was an outcast in the society, so was not expected to stop and help. We know nothing of these folks' personality, their hobbies, their intentions, nothing!

What is interesting to wonder about is how the passersby felt about stopping to help or not. One could imagine that the first two felt bad, but we do not know that, the mere fact that they passed by might have meant they had to get back to where they were going fast and were only thinking about that. We could also conclude that the Samaratin felt good about they did to help this person, probably because we know what that is like. We know what it means to truly be present with someone, offering them the love of God.

A great author was once asked about one of the characters in the books he wrote about, and when he was done imagining what was happening behind the text, he concluded "but of course none of this is real, so no one can be right wrong in imagining what happened." A parable does not recall something that actually happened, rather, it is a story illustrating certain situations that provide teachable moments. There is always an audience for stories and parables, always people learning from them. As was the case for Jesus that day, and these days, when someone asked him how to inherit eternal life. After telling this parable, and reflecting on it with the questioner and the crowd, discovering the commandments to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself," Jesus concludes: "Go and do likewise.” Be present for your neighbor, offering them the love of God.


Let there be light,
let there be understanding,
let all the nations gather,
let them be face to face.

Open our lips,
open our minds to ponder,
open the door of concord
opening into grace.

Perish the sword,
perish the angry judgment,
perish the bombs and hunger,
perish the fight for gain.

Hallow our love,
hallow the deaths of martyrs,
hallow their holy freedom,
hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,
your Spirit turn to language,
your people speak together,
your Spirit never fade.

Let there be light,
open our hearts to wonder,
perish the way of terror,
hallow the world God made.


*Let There Be Light, United Methodist Hymnal, 440.

In Christ,


Monday, January 8, 2018

Commit to Prayer

Here in Florida I am adept to the feeling that comes after a hurricane passes. The holiday season, even the liturgical seasons that precede the coming of the new year, sometimes feels like a hurricane. You prepare for the storm to come by stalking up on canned foods, making sure you have all the essentials like water, batteries, and the like. This is like Advent, where you anticipate the coming of Christ as Christmas. Then it comes! Bam! The hurricane runs through the town like a bull in a china shop, wrecking and smashing everything in sight. Christmas morning comes, and chaos ensues as family comes, presents are opened, and all you want is a nap and a nice time. All of the recovery and clean up happens by New Year's Eve when you do it all over again....

....and then it's all over. the holidays, the "hurricane," has passed, and you think to yourself, "what just happened...what now?"

United Methodists traditionally mark the coming of the new year with a re-committment to following Christ. We recite a prayer together:

Here at Gray Memorial UMC, we had a service on NYE that offered an opportunity to read this prayer, consider it for own lives, and commit again this year to following Jesus, to trusting God, to loving God and our neighbors.

One of the things I love about being a UM is how we provide ways in which folks can grow in Christ. Offering this prayer is one way, and another is through our membership vows. When someone commits to being a UM, they say yes to the question"

"As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"*

That is how United Methodists follow Jesus, trust God, and worship God and neighbor. That is how United Methodists articulate what being a Christian is.

So, for the next 5 weeks (that will take us to the beginning of Lent), we will explore each component of these vows. And the thing is, I don't necessarily think that living out these vows are what it takes to be a United Methodist, but a Christian. With that said, this time of reflection and engagement with these vows are not intended to be a time of heralding the UMC over and above following Jesus. It does not take being a UM to follow Jesus. These five practices of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness are what it takes to follow Jesus.

The first component is prayer. It is not first by accident. Without prayer, this whole "walking with Jesus, growing in Christ, loving God and neighbor" thing might all crumble. Prayer is the backbone of the Christian life. It keeps an ongoing line of communication with God open and alive. It keeps Christians engaging with God. There are so many ways that we are invited to prayer: in solitude, corporately, by asking God to do things, by asking for healing, forgiveness, or God's presence, through singing, dancing, listening, or walking...you can be prayerful in just about everything you do, if it is done for the desire to be heard and known by God, or listen or engage with God..

The following passages are examples of prayers. They also give some reasons prayer can help us engage with God and trust God.  Go ahead and read them, and maybe jot a few notes down or underline some things in the passage that resonate or impact you...

Psalm 86: 1-13

Mark 9:14-29

Matthew 6:5-13

Prayer is a way of life. A way of life that trusts and expects God to engage with you. A way of life that seeks and engages with God and what God is doing. Long gone are those images and ideas that prayer requires locking yourself in your room and using flowery language so that God can hear you and answer you. No, prayer is a way of life.

And when we don't know what to pray, or where to start, we can follow Jesus by praying possibly the most powerful prayer ever, the one he taught his disciples to say:

*United Methodist Hymnal, 38.

In Christ,