The Blessings

The crowd must have been intrigued when Jesus started speaking words of blessing. Many of them had come to know of a God that is all condemning.  Grace and mercy were in short supply in the 1st century. Rhetoric and false proclamations were rampant.  Fear, greed, and the need to be in “control”, were everywhere.  

In the middle of great tension and chaos – Jesus, the Messiah, shows up with a different message. He, himself, shows up with an attitude and countenance that people have not seen or experienced.  Jesus shows up with good news for many who are ready and in need of good news. The Christ comes to offer truth: 

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

– Matthew 5:3-11

These blessings are still true today. Where mercy is given, mercy will be received. The hunger and thirst for holiness, will be filled. Where grief is heavy and raw, the Lord will bring comfort in just the way it is needed. When a person comes with peace among you, they are present as a child of God. Even when insults and falseness are spread about those following Christ, these words are no hindrance to the fulfillment of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  

Where do you find yourself today? As one in need of a blessing, or one who is equipped to offer it to someone else? Perhaps both; or maybe to simply remember these words that Jesus wanted the people to hear.  Words of truth and blessing that Christ wants us to hear again today. 

Lord, we forget how different your ways are in our world. The other voices around us are so loud! Thank you for speaking into our lives with truth that brings peace. Thank you for reminding us of how you bring grace and justice; it is so different from the ways we expect it to come. Today, where there is need of blessing, please bring it with abundance.  Enter into those crevices and corners of our pain and despair; make yourself known to the brokenhearted.  And Father, where you have equipped us to be an avenue of your blessing, we surrender ourselves into your hands for that purpose and for your glory. We love you Lord, and we trust you completely. Thank you for the blessings that Jesus continues to offer our lives. Amen. 

Prayer for Tonight

I call on the Lord in my distress,
    and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,
    from lying lips
    and from deceitful tongues.

What will he do to you,
    and what more besides,
    you deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
    with burning coals of the broom bush.

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
    that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived
    among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;
    but when I speak, they are for war. – Psalm 120 (NIV)

Sometimes the Psalms give us words to offer when we have none. They give us voice in prayer, lament and hope. The prayers of the people all over the world are what unite us tonight. We are calling on our Creator God for divine help; for peace that only God can bring.

Holy God, for all who are in need of your peace tonight, please rush in closely and quickly to each one. We ask humbly and boldly for the resurrected Christ to stand in the midst of people seeking shelter; in the middle of streets where war is raging. We pray the resurrected Christ is standing near each leader and decision maker giving them wisdom and discernment; correcting when it is needed and giving courage that is beyond anything we can create. We pray that our own hearts and spirits remain steadfast, humble and faithful in all the ways you call us to be present in this time. And we ask, Holy God, that you help us to always be instruments of your peace in every place we are right now. We are not people who wage war. Amen.

Statue of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. @ Abbey of Gethsemane in KY.

PRAYER OF ST FRANCIS – Sarah McLachlan

Lunes por la Mañana en Guatemala

Rooster calls across the dark morning tell me to rise, a new day has come. Before the people move or I can launch my mind to the work ahead, every bird, animal and plant is making a clear claim of praise for the faithful rise of the son. Villancico; song of praise. Santa Maria is invisible; the clouds shield any human sight of her presence.  Nublado.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 
This is what the ancients were commended for. – Hebrews 11:1

Morning Prayer
God, thank you for the creation that never ceases to praise you for the morning’s arrival. You have ordained another day; you speak it into being for all creatures.  And whether we wake with heaviness or joy – you are here with us. Please walk with us wherever our steps trod today, we need you. Clear our minds of fear and shame. Remove the weight of worry. Fill our spirits with your grace and mercy. Remind us that we were created with your love, and we cannot destroy what you are making whole. Where we are broken – keep mending and restoring. When we are moving too fast – redeem within us your pace. Wherever love needs to pour over our wounds, we welcome your presence however you come. We trust you completely. Let it be. Amen. 

The Morning Peace

I don’t know what it is that
rushes me
But sometimes yes, it rushes me,
and hurls me into a day where
I begin already behind
not quite ready
and concerned….
sometimes about something
I can’t even name.

And then –
I catch you in the periphery
a glance across the room.
Where light is changing, even rising
and I have to pause and see.

It was a fleeting moment
impossible to hold
A glance to remind me I am loved
and you are still creating days
of grace for us to discover together.
You are here.

God, help us pause long enough to
catch your glance from across
whatever distance you come today. Amen.

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob in our fortress.

Psalm 46:10-11

The Night Mercy

Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.

Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 9:29

Two blind men start following Jesus and just as soon as he goes inside they present themselves to him. They ask for mercy…neither of them can see; they are blind. They knew Jesus could restore what they had lost. They were confident that mercy was available. So they humbled themselves enough to ask for what they needed.

We don’t know exactly why, but the way Matthew tells the story, Jesus warned them not to tell anyone. He may have hoped to stay under the radar a little longer. But they couldn’t hold it in; they told everyone in the area. It was not the discreet healing Jesus may have hoped it would be. Getting free of something that is holding you back from seeing is pretty awesome; of course they wanted to tell!

We can lose sight in a lot of ways. Sometimes we have blind spots that prevent us from moving in the direction we need to go. Maybe we can’t see our way out of a situation or just simply don’t know how to take a step into the unknown. The mercy of Christ is present; we need only ask.

The night is a good time to ask for God’s mercy. The day rolls back through our minds and occasionally lingers in moments of regret or worry. We don’t have to carry it into our sleep. It’s OK to ask for what we need. We can trust the Spirit to sort out the details. Ask for mercy. Name what’s weighing on your heart and mind. Trust that everything is going to be OK, because God is holding you in the asking. God really is holding you. God is holding us.

Lord, have mercy on me.
For the moments I didn’t pause to see you…
restore my sight and sense of your presence.
For the words said too harshly, or words not said at all…
Lord, bring grace to cover the gaps.
For the worries stacking up on my shoulders and the situations I can’t fix…
Lord, please take it all into your hands.
You are our Peace. Amen.

Moments of Faithful Risk

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. “ – Matthew 26:6-7

Bethany is the town where Lazarus and his sisters lived, but in this situation, the meal is at Simon’s house. It is the most unexpected house to host a meal. Simon was known as a “leper” until he was healed by Christ. Now he is hosting a meal for Jesus.

The woman that comes with the expensive perfume is named as “Mary” when John writes his account of this story (John 12:3). She must have been saving this perfume for just the right situation and time. It is valuable. Somehow she knew (by God’s grace and a nudge of the Spirit?) that this is the time, this is the moment, for her to give it. She chooses to give it all to Jesus. She doesn’t know why, she just knows she is supposed to offer it.

The disciples – the followers of Jesus – are appalled. It is too extravagant; a waste. Jesus is pleased; she obeyed the nudge of the Spirit and did something that involved her in his story of redemption. God’s plans are fulfilled. This woman’s offer of love and devotion prepares Jesus to offer his greatest gift of love: to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13)

We know Christ’s sacrifice is near; and we know resurrection is coming. His preparation and her involvement in his journey of obedience…these are moments of faithful risk. In the kingdom of God we take risks to love across societal norms, boundaries that limit access to Christ, and even fears whether they are real or imagined.

We return to the neighborhood today and knock on doors to invite the children to come out for “Bible Club”. Some will say yes. Some will wait for another day. We will teach the Bible stories, play games and sing. Love, friendship and joy will be shared, if even for a few short hours of the day.

I do wonder… Is it possible that we, who are so deeply distracted with our busy lives, are bringing “perfume” to the neighborhood? Or is it much more likely that Jesus finds us in Simon, the Leper, and asks us to come into the neighborhood and be healed so we can serve others with him?

Jesus is grateful for the woman’s lavish love. He says this moment is so important that every time this story is told, her act of faith and love will be shared. He wanted us to know this. She took the risk of walking into a setting where women were not typically welcomed. She gave her greatest gift and it prepared him for his. How are you giving your best for Christ?

Prayer
God help us to walk humbly as we go through your neighborhoods today. Heal in us whatever keeps us from loving and serving you freely. We have no good apart from you so please come near. We love you. We trust you completely. Thank you for trusting and loving us enough to bring us here with you.

Bible Club lot #streetreach
Bible Club lot #streetreach

Serving with our youth group in Memphis. The joy of witnessing what God is doing in our teenagers is a gift. Being with children in the neighborhood is just finding where Jesus is already and joining the miracle. Grateful.

Downtime

Our Dads

I was blessed with two of them. My “Dad”, is the one who raised me and taught me to love animals, take risks and that you don’t have to answer every question.  I learned unconditional love from him because God showed me how to love when it made no sense.  I would not be the person I am today if Dad had not been who he was.  

Over time I realized that my dad’s suffering was what helped teach me unconditional love. And boundaries. And some stuff I’d rather not have learned.  But there is so much more that I am so grateful to have learned! Things like: It is OK to bite if you get backed into a corner.  You can always drive in snow; go slow and watch out for the other guy. If you want to eat you better damn well make sure you have a job. And sometimes your dreams get fulfilled in ways you didn’t expect, but that is OK, just go with it. 

My amazing Dad!

My second blessing was my stepfather, who married my mom many years after I was an adult. He fell in love. She fell in love. They decided to make a life together. For all the years of their marriage (20+) he loved her so well. She loved him so well. I suppose without the stresses of raising children or paying mortgages, their marriage was truly a refuge and delight for later years. He was the most gracious man I’ve ever known. Never in a hurry. Always interested in what was going on in our lives. And he loved our mom.

Their marriage blessed me with extra siblings, and most of all it blessed me to experience what joy and delight can come when you least expect it. In the last year of his life there were a few health challenges. I was in their home for an overnight visit once when I woke up to someone singing. It was my mom. She was serving him breakfast on a tray, and she was singing to him as she entered the room, “Good morning! Good morning!” I could hear the love in her voice. I could see the appreciation and love on his face. They did their last season together so very well.

Mom and Dick, my amazing stepfather

I think dads have a tough job. When I finally “grew up” and experienced some big falls myself, I realized that my dad did the very best he could with his life.  He was a very tough man. And broken, like all of us.  His heartaches and life griefs were overwhelming. But he continued. It wasn’t always smooth or what he imagined, but he persisted until he took his very last breath. And then he was free. 

I know Dad could have given up and stopped living at many different points in his life. But he didn’t. He kept going. And because he kept going, we did too. We kept learning about love and mercy and grace. We kept asking God to show us how to navigate the days, and God was faithful to help us. We all just kept living and doing the very best we could with what we had to live with – including our broken selves!  

Both of my fathers are in heaven tonight. They have no pain or sorrow. And anything that was not resolved on earth for either of them, has been completely resolved in heaven. I’m so grateful they were both chosen to be my dad and stepfather. I’m so glad we lived all the way until their very last breath, and we lived fully. It is a gift I always cherish, and a gift that never stops bearing fruit. 

A Night Prayer on Father’s Day
Holy God, thank you for our dads. We never need them to be perfect, we just need them to be our dads. So please give all fathers an extra measure of your love, wisdom and care. Please remind them of your mercy and grace that is always available and give them courage to ask you for it. Most of all, as this day comes to an end, please cover all dads with your great compassion, and please cover all of their children with your steadfast love. Thank you, gracious God, for being our perfect father, and for giving us our imperfect and amazing dads. Amen.

It’s Always Been You – Phil Wickham

Come Quickly to Help Us

Our nation, and perhaps others in the world, watch and wait today for the verdict coming out of Minneapolis. It is a heavy day.  Trials and verdicts are our meager means of order and justice.  They serve us well and they serve us imperfectly, but they are the best we have established so far to help us as a nation.  The hope is that over time and history our practice of justice, law and order is likely to improve as long as we keep learning and working on it. I pray that will never end for our nation.   I am grateful to live in a country where a democracy and order for justice is in place. It is far from perfect; it is, however, what we created and in many places of the world, this does not exist. 

On these days, however, – when it feels like the whole nation is holding tension – every part of me turns to prayer. Words fail me, though this morning I am writing.  Something in me requires me to write today.  My spirit hears a voice above the news and tension. It is, by my discernment, the voice of God.  I believe healthy discernment comes in the community of believers, so I say that with the caveat that I can only share what I see; my sight and hearing is always incomplete.  As I came to my Scripture reading today, I let it roll over my mind and help instruct me. The reading is from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica:

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. – I Thessalonians 5:14-22

Give thanks in all circumstances? Even the circumstances we face today? A trial that has the whole nation holding their breath? A pandemic that has changed so much of our ordinary lives and continues to edge us out of our comfort zones and into territory we’ve never before traveled? Grief that runs through communities and families while new life is begging to be acknowledged and allowed to flourish?  Give thanks for those circumstances? 

The message is actually not about circumstances. It is a message about how our lives are ordered and grounded in a way that Christ leads us to show up in all circumstances. With joy, with prayer and with gratitude.  

Our joy does not come from circumstances. It comes, rather, from the experience of love we share with Christ and one another.  That joy cannot be removed from our spirits. It is the presence of love and communion with the God who made us all the time, no matter what is going on in our circumstances.  That supernatural joy is especially helpful when it is embodied by the people around us. But even in the absence of those people, the Lord is faithful to be present.  There is a verse in one of Paul’s letters that expresses this so beautifully:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,  neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  – (Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. He was talking about persecution the Christians were facing at the time. Romans 8:38-39)

Prayer that taps into the power of our Creator to intervene, to shine light, to bring forth wisdom that we do not have – and to bring it into all circumstances, is a way to navigate these tensions and ask for help. We need God’s help in these situations. We have not done well left on our own. And yet, we see hope and something new rising out of the chaos.  Humility helps us ask for divine help.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. – (Jesus’ words to his disciples as recorded in the Gospel of John 15:5-8)

We have gratitude for the unending mercy and steadfast love of our Creator that redeems these impossible situations with justice in ways that may use a court of law but are never limited to a court of law.  Remember that Christ was condemned to die by crucifixion and he was raised from death! We bring gratitude for the way Jesus met the Centurion of the Roman army and the leper who had been isolated from all relationships.  Gratitude for a God that reaches out for the hand of every human being and says, “here, let me pull you out of this pit; there is another way”. 

I’ve been pulled out of that pit many times. Including the pit of my own mindset and the pit of my own choices.  I’ve watched families rescued from their sinking into that pit of destruction. I’ve witnessed organizations and communities restored by the power of God’s grace and mercy embodied in the people. We worship a God that brings justice; a God that redeems; a God that restores life and peace.  Trusting in God’s presence brings gratitude for the kingdom of God that IS being fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven.  The Lord has made that clear; our part is following where God leads us into that unfolding and unveiling. 

Be courageous. Be humble. Be disturbed and be at attention. The way we respond in all circumstances is a reflection of Christ’s presence in our lives.  Remember who and whose you are today. In all things, honor God; there is no better way to walk through these days. If we claim to be children of God, we don’t get a pass for acting without grounding and thought today.  This is how the Scripture says it; may God indeed intervene for us all.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. – Thessalonians 5:23-24

God of heaven, come quickly to help us. You are the God of all people. 
You know our circumstances far better than we do. 
You know what it feels like to be condemned and what it feels like to offer forgiveness. 
You know the power of calming the waves in the ocean and the humility of loving enemies.  
You set the captives free, 
including all of us 
when we are captive to sin and destruction.  
We struggle when our understanding of justice is different than yours. 
We struggle when our perspective of mercy is discounted, dismissed or ignored.  
We depend on earthly bound entities to redeem our world, 
but we know …we know …
you are the only one who can redeem us 
and bring the fullness of justice and mercy 
into our lives and our nation. 
We acknowledge you and our own limited capacities. 
You invite us to call upon you in our time of need; 
you promise to be with us.  So we come and ask. 
You made us, Lord, you know what is in us.  
Please help us today and in the days to come. 
Help us to respond in all circumstances with ways that reflect you 
and lead us to new life.  
We come with joy, prayer and gratitude for your presence among us.
We need you and we trust you completely.  
Come quickly, Lord, to help us. 
Amen.