Lord, In Your Mercy…A Prayer for a Hurting People

What a week it has been. Churches burned and violated. More people fleeing their native lands for safer territory out of fear, and even in our own country, several children shot in the head by someone they did not know in the presumed safety of their parents’ custody (better question, is there ever a reason for anyone, child or adult to be shot or maimed?). What a week it has been.

With this in mind, and under the purview of the Twelve Blog, I decided to lift up a Prayer for a Hurting People, asking for God’s Grace, for God to hear Our Prayers.

Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayers.
What a week it has been.
With shootings, deaths, continued uncertainty
and periods of wandering in the desert
with many searching for a more permanent-temporary home,
This week has brought it all.
It has brought the final roll call of brothers in blue,
more raising of arms and words between your sons and daughters,
and even the burning of another one of your gathering places in St. Louis,
a sanctuary for all those in need.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear the cries of your children,
brokenhearted on bended knee.
Merciful father-mother,
Draw close to your creation
Wrap your protecting and guiding arms around it,
As only you know what is just and right in such a time as this.
Give us grace and discernment,
Vision to truth and wisdom,
Words to comfort,
Presence to nurture and cultivate where bonds are broken.
God of the Resurrection,
Hear our prayers for reconciliation and peace.
Soften our hearts to love the beauty in our brothers and sisters,
As we are all created in your image,
And you called each and every one of us Good.
Help us to love gently,
Show mercy first and foremost,
And stand up against injustice.
Lord of Liberation,
Lord who mends broken bodies,
Lord who weeps with his broken and wounded communities,
In your mercy,
Hear our prayers.
Amen.

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Mark 10: What Happens If (and when) We Get It Wrong

[Read the Original Version of this post on The Twelve: http://blog.perspectivesjournal.org/2015/10/18/what-happens-if-and-when-we-get-it-wrong/    where I am a guest blogger every Sunday for the next few months!]

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Mark 10:35-45

Today’s Gospel text, from Mark 10, focuses on an interaction between Jesus and two of his disciples, James and John. The text picks up without any preface or appropriate introduction, with John and James approaching Jesus with a very particular request: “Teacher Jesus, we want you to do everything and anything we ask you to do.”

I find the request of the two disciples to be blunt and, shall we say, bold. Yet the pastor in me understands them, and apparently so does Jesus. “You do not know what you are asking,” he responds. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

Jesus tries to fill the two men in on the fact that their request is not his to grant. But their persistence is admirable. Perhaps in the end, what they ask of their humanly divine teacher is off base. Still, Christ refuses to give up, on James and John, and on us.

What happens if, and when, we get it wrong like James and John? We are human, after all. It is normal to get it wrong every now and again. Barbara Brown Taylor put it perfectly,

Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure. When we fall ill, lose our jobs, wreck our marriages, or alienate our children, most of us are left alone to pick up the pieces. Even those of us who are ministered to by brave friends can find it hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives…We spend so much of our time protecting ourselves from this exposure that a weird kind of relief can result when we fail. To lie flat on the ground with the breath knocked out of you is to find a solid resting place. This is as low as you can go. You told yourself you would die if it ever came to this, but here you are. You cannot help yourself and yet you live.” (An Altar in the World, 78)

Jesus does not wipe away his disciples’ desire to draw near to him, despite the fact that their means are less than praiseworthy. Instead, he aims to teach them, allowing for a sigh of relief and a moment to pick up the pieces. In other words, Christ is not the “lesson-teacher”, but rather is in the midst of the lesson, and is the one who draws near to pick up the pieces with us when we get the message wrong. Jesus does not wipe away the other ten disciples’ anger, but dwells in the midst of it. In my chaplain opinion, Jesus lies flat on the ground in it, rather than ignoring the humanity of the response. In Christ’s own humanity, he recognizes the eagerness of his disciples and shares with them his purpose…again. What he shares with them is that greatness is honed less through work, and more through servitude and humility, through getting it wrong, through the scraped knees, picking yourself up, and listening for the still small voice of God.

James and John’s desire to draw near to Christ resulted in them treating Jesus like a genie who grants three wishes, rather than the Son of God who was there to serve not be served. In the process of missing the mark, they fell down, and likely scraped their knees. This does not constitute failure. They messed up in their eagerness. They gained new insights, both about themselves and about the potential of their God in Christ

You see, failure—if we let it—is never failure, but rather growth in disguise. Because of Christ, we live each and every time as changed people in the New Creation, having gotten it wrong in many different manifestations, permutations, shapes, and forms.

I wonder if all that James and John really wanted was to draw closer to Christ, especially having just come to the realization that their beloved teacher was to be crucified and was soon to be leaving them. But their execution was off. Christ, in his divine patience, saw not their poor execution, but rather the persistence of their faith.

May we, on this Lord’s Day, and in the week to come, feel the grace and closeness of God the Creator, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit moving in and through our daily lives, meeting each and everyone one of us, just where we are, the Divine’s beloved. Amen.

Finding Community after Seminary Through the Theology of the Communion of Saints (Repost from The Twelve)

Preface: I have been guest-blogging on “The Twelve” (find it here…and I recommend you check out all the other awesome bloggers! http://blog.perspectivesjournal.org) each Sunday for the past two Sundays, and will be doing so for the next eight or so…), and this was last Sunday’s blog post. I thought I would share it here for all who may have missed it! 

Confession time: I used to be a very orthodox pastor. And perhaps I still am at my core.

But after working in the midst of suffering, dying and death—truly the definition of theological murkiness, with nothing that I could look up in the index of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion for reference—I decided that, God and I would just have to wing it. Theological themes and terms like, providence, theodicy, and the communion of saints came up, and were embodied, if not clearly defined. I as new pastor and person had to walk with God, patient and family, and rely on knowledge hammered into me over the course of three very dense years of seminary.

But the communion of saints—a theological concept glossed over quickly in systematic theology second semester of first year—became the single most significant term for both pastor and person. Communio sanctorum, in Latin, is the spiritual union of members in the Christian Church, and refers not necessarily to holy persons, but rather to holy things, in particular to the graces and gifts people share with one another.

In times of strife and stress, these holy gifts and graces become particularly marked, whether they are meals, cards, or phone calls. These small gestures become holy, and for the elderly or the young, they are life-changing and even can be called life-saving. One couple, who had been waiting in the hospital for a lung transplant for over nine weeks called a laughter filled phone call from a college roommate life-saving when people around them had been sterilizing their interactions. Truly a sign of holy things, and fruits of the Spirit among them.

Even in the Reformed tradition the Communion of Saints appears and is strongly defended—in the Heidelberg Catechism, citing Hebrews 8, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 John 3. In each of these examples, the Catechism makes the claim that anyone who is united with God is united in Spirit. And if this is such, we are One People, One holy catholic church as the Apostles’ Creed states. Then we must be in fellowship, truly and completely, with one another.

I too had received the holy gifts of the Communion of Saints. As a new resident of California, a recent seminary graduate, newly ordained minister, and 3000 miles away from family, the saints appeared in the form of nurses and physical and occupational therapists on my units. They cooked and prepared meals for me, prayed for me, and checked in on me. O my final days at UCSF, they prepared a progressive potluck in the different nurses stations and an origami chain of love notes to say goodbye. They became my family away from home, prayed for me when I had job interviews, illnesses, joys and crises, and constantly protected me, just as I them.

Confession time: Perhaps I still am a very orthodox pastor. And, orthodoxy looks different on the ground, when things look gray and murky, and theology meets humanity, meets community. If there is one thing the communion of saints has taught me, it was this. It is about the creation of truly holy things out of genuinely ordinary things, and that is precisely what our God does, each and every day, if I just take the time to pause and watch it happen.