Prayer for Sixth Sunday of Easter

Miners Singing by Josef Herman, 1951.

Faithful God, make our hearts bold with love for one another. Pour out your Spirit upon all people, that we may live your justice and sing in praise the new song of your marvelous victory. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Prayer for Fifth Sunday of Easter

Kiwi vine stretching upward toward the sky.

Mighty God, in whom we know the power of redemption, you stand among us in the shadows of our time. As we move through every sorrow and trial of this life, uphold us with knowledge of the final morning when, in the glorious presence of your risen Son, we will share in his resurrection, redeemed and restored to the fullness of life and forever freed to be your people. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

A New Table is Set (Reflection on Psalm 23)

The Dinner Table by Henri Matisse, 1897.

 

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—they protect me.
You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live.
Psalm 23 (CEB)

Psalm 23 could be one of the most recognized verses in the whole of Scripture. Definitely up there with the ranks of John 3:16. The issue with these familiar verses is that they can become overly sentimentalized and domesticated. Or, in other words, they stop shaking us up. While I’m okay with the Bible being used to help and give comfort in times of need, I am much more of a fan when it forces us to see the world in a new way. I find myself to be much more inspired by its words when it challenges my perceptions and pushes me to try and see the world from God’s perspective not my own, limited and admittedly selfish perspective. With that said, one line in this Psalm today shined through in a way that I had not considered before.

You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.

Whenever I heard this verse talked or preached about, I felt like it was always taught with a twinge of gloating. Like, “Look at this beautiful table God sets in spite of being surrounded by enemies.” Or, even as a triumphal table set in front of defeated enemies. Those images just did not jive for me as I read it this time through. I started to think about various tables elsewhere in the Bible to see if I could let the Bible lead me to an image. What tables set with food are important in the Bible? Especially those that happened to be set near some enemies. It did not take long before my mind began imaging the Passover tables of the Israelites set in Egypt. On the eve of their deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites eat a humble meal of roast lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The blood of the lamb was painted on their doorposts to mark houses that the Lord would “pass over”.

I’ll pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I’ll strike down every oldest child in the land of Egypt, both humans and animals. I’ll impose judgments on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be your sign on the houses where you live. Whenever I see the blood, I’ll pass over you. No plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
Exodus 12:12-13 (CEB)

The Passover table was one set in the midst of enemies. It was not a table of gloating or victory, but it was probably set with a bit of fear and humility. It was a table set to signify the freedom from slavery God was about to lead his chosen people into. Even today, Passover celebrations are typically marked by solemn reflection on the memory of the first Passover. There are no fireworks like July 4th. There are no rousing nationalistic hymns or songs. Just the foundational phrase…

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord, our God, took us out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm.

From thinking about the Passover meal, I also began thinking about Jesus with his disciples at the Lord’s Supper. This was the last meal he was to eat with them and by all accounts, it was most likely the Passover meal. Here, there is definitely a table set in the presence of enemies. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem were outside conspiring how they might kill Jesus. The Roman authorities were warily watching all the Passover celebrations, expecting an uprising. And, right there in the room with Jesus, is his betrayer. This is a table truly set in the presence of enemies. However, this is not a triumphal table for boasting. Instead, it’s the table where Jesus proclaims.

“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me…This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Luke 22:19-20 (CEB)

It’s at this table where Jesus points to the sacrifice he is about to make. It is at this table where the salvation of the cosmos is brought into focus and opened up to all. The bread and wine are offered to all around the table.

Betrayers, deniers, boasters, sinners and deserters one and all.

The Passover table Jesus sets in the presence of his enemies is one of sacrifice, not glory. The table is one of community not division. The table is set for all regardless of who they are, what they have done, where they are from and where they are going. At the first Passover, one did not necessarily have to be Jewish to be “passed over.” They just had to be around a table, in a house signified by the blood of the lamb.

In this Psalm today, “You set a table for me right in front of my enemies,” does not have to mean God sets us a table to gloat over our enemies. Maybe it means that God has set us a table so that we might invite our enemies to sit with us. Maybe the table is set not for exclusion but for inclusion? At God’s table, there is always an open chair which we might invite someone to join. Jesus demonstrates that the table is set and offered to enemies just as much as to friends.

The broken bread and common cup are shared with all who are willing to take a seat.

This podcast/sermon by Jonathan Martin definitely helped inspire my blog post today. I recommend you take some time to listen to it.
Everyone is Welcome at the Table

Walking with Zoey, Living with Grace

Mementos

This upcoming Thursday, April 23rd was the official due date of our daughter Zoey Grace. As many of you may have read in previous blog posts, Zoey Grace’s little heart stopped beating at around the 20 week point in her incomprehensibly short, yet extremely well-loved, life. This has been a life-altering and soul-shattering event in our life and every day. This Thursday will be one of many milestones that we have and have yet to cross. Milestones for us can simply be dates passing, watching a family member open presents at a baby shower, or watching a friend’s newborn get baptized. These milestones give us opportunities to discover something about ourselves and how deeply Zoey Grace has touched our lives.

One milestone moment that wrecked us both recently happened as we were cleaning and packing up our house in preparation to move. I stumbled across a small rock stashed in a desk. While storing a rock in a desk seems odd, I recalled that this rock was given to us at the end of a marriage retreat we attended at Hume Lake in September 2013. The marriage retreat was a great time for my wife and I to get away during the first year of our first daughter’s life. At the end of the retreat, they handed out these rocks as a physical reminder of the time spent as a couple and the things we learned together. I do not remember the exact reason, or if it was prompted by the retreat leaders, but my wife and I chose to write on the rock something that we wanted more of in our marriage. A word that would encompass things we had learned from the retreat about each other, about our marriage and how we wanted to move forward in our relationship towards each other. That word was…

Grace.

When I looked at the word we had written on the rock, my heart swelled in the way you might feel when finding an heirloom that has been lost for a long time. Something that has deep, personal and spiritual meaning that you thought was lost but you suddenly found again. Written on this rock was a word that we wanted to define our marriage and little did we know how much grace would invade our life together in a few short years after we wrote those words. I showed it to my wife a few days later (who had forgotten about the rock entirely) but when she saw it and remembered the moment we wrote it, she crumbled under the cosmic weight of the small letters on that tiny rock. This stone was a milestone we had set as a reminder to ourselves, but it came to mean something completely different when Zoey Grace came into our lives.

In the Bible, stones and milestones are very important to telling the story of Israel and helping people remember. In the opening pages of the book of Joshua there is a story where the Israelites cross the Jordan river as they entered into the Promised Land. In response to crossing the river, Joshua instructs the Israelites to go back and set stones in the river as a reminder of their crossing.

This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you will tell them that the water of the Jordan was cut off before the Lord’s covenant chest. When it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. These stones will be an enduring memorial for the Israelites.
Joshua 4:6-7 (CEB)

In honor of Zoey Grace, and as a sort of milestone moment as we pass the official due date of her birth, on Saturday, my wife and I will be walking in the March for Babies in Sacramento. In a way, this is a sort of “crossing the Jordan” moment for us as we step further into this new life and cross another milestone in our journey. We’re setting another stone down as we walk with Zoey in our life. Each new milestone, real or symbolic, is another way we can remember Zoey Grace and tell her story when people ask “What do these stones mean to you?” We have also started a team with the goal to raise $1000 for March of Dimes as we walk on Saturday. If you want to join our team and support the cause of bringing life to healthy babies you can join our team and donate at our page in honor of Zoey Grace. By joining our team you can help us tell Zoey’s story and be a part of our milestones along our journey.

Jesus Wins…So We Don’t Have To

Christ shows himself to Thomas, mosaic in Washington Cathedral by Rowan and Irene LeCompte, n.d.

My posts are going to be pretty spotty for the next few weeks. We’ve sold our house, we’ll be moving to a new house soon and I’ll be starting a new job so my attention will be elsewhere. Such is the life of a part-time/hobby blogger. For those who look forward to my posts, I appreciate your patience. Hopefully things will return to more regularity in May. I intended to get this post up closer to Easter, but things being as they are…this will have to suffice.

Lent concluded just over a week ago now with the celebration of Easter. For Christians, this is the biggest day of the year. On it we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, upending expectations, breaking the grip of death, the salvation of the cosmos and the inauguration of Kingdom of God on the Earth as it is in Heaven.

In simpler words, we celebrate and remember the day that everything changed.

Of all the things that I heard on Easter Sunday, and through all the food I ate, one truth bubbled up in my head and refused to dissipate. I think I was actually driving down the road when this thought hit me.

Jesus Wins…So We Don’t Have To.

In Easter we remind ourselves of Jesus victory over death first discovered by the women heading to the tomb early in the morning. The Jesus they thought was dead and buried had risen and left the tomb. The movement Jesus’ followers thought had ended was suddenly revived with Jesus and given new meaning.

Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?
Luke 24:31-32 (CEB)

Through Jesus, sin, death and the powers of this world are put on notice. Victory was not gained through power and oppression but through weakness and death. The ascension of Jesus as Lord was not earned by the sharpness of his sword but by the piercing of his body. Judgement and vengeance against his torturers, accusers and murders is replaced by his pronouncement of Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34 CEB). Through those words and triumph of the resurrection, the path to forgiveness, sanctification and peace with God and the world opens up for all.

Typically we, in Evangelical Protestantism, focus on the forgiveness offered to ourselves so that individually we might be reconciled to God. But Jesus request of forgiveness was for the multitude crying out against him. The resurrection was not just for the faithful disciples who stuck by his side (even though they really didn’t), but so that they might be empowered in their weakness by the authority demonstrated in Jesus to, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19 CEB).

Jesus Wins…So We Don’t Have To.

When we realize the redemption demonstrated and offered through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has also been offered to our neighbor we no longer have to “win” anymore. As the disciples who deserted Jesus are welcomed back in and empowered, we are shown an example, in Jesus, that forgiving our neighbors (accusers, deserters, liars, etc.) is the real way to win.

There is no punishment to be exacted.

There is no tribute to be demanded.

There is no sacrifice to pay.

There are no castles to defend.

Our life is given to lay down in service to others.

Our blessings are to be used to bless others.

Our authority is to be shared by disciple-ing others.

Our walls are to be broken down and the doors and gates flung open.

Jesus Wins…So We Don’t Have To.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad every day that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection lead to my redemption and sanctification as an individual. But, the more I can understand the truth of that in my neighbor, the less I need to fight for some temporary position over and against my neighbor. The more I realize Jesus has opened up the way of forgiveness to them, the less I need my needs met against theirs.

I no longer need to be right, I just need to remember and pray as Jesus taught us to, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.” (Matthew 6:12 CEB)

Prayer for Easter Sunday

The Risen Christ Appears by He Qi, 2001.

Creator of the universe, you made the world in beauty, and restore all things in glory through the victory of Jesus Christ. We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured by poverty, sickness, selfishness, war and greed, the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace, to the glory of your name. Amen.

 

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Honesty in the Silence (Lenten Lectio Reflection for Holy Saturday – Psalm 31:9-14)

Mourning of Jesus, by Jacques Le Breton, & Jean Gaudin. Stained glass at Cathédrale d’Amiens, Amiens, France.

Have mercy on me, Lord, because I’m depressed.
My vision fails because of my grief, as do my spirit and my body.
My life is consumed with sadness; my years are consumed with groaning.
Strength fails me because of my suffering; my bones dry up.
I’m a joke to all my enemies, still worse to my neighbors.
I scare my friends, and whoever sees me in the street runs away!
I am forgotten, like I’m dead, completely out of mind;
I am like a piece of pottery, destroyed.
Yes, I’ve heard all the gossiping, terror all around;
so many gang up together against me, they plan to take my life!
But me? I trust you, Lord! I affirm, “You are my God.”
Psalm 31:9-14 (CEB)

This might seem a little macabre for some of you, but I confess that Holy Saturday has become my favorite day in Lent. Not because it is the last day of Lent and tomorrow the fasting and introspection is over. But because it is the most emotionally raw and potentially honest day of the Lenten season. Holy Saturday recognizes the day that Jesus laid in the tomb and nothing happened. Holy Saturday is the day when it seems like all hope is lost and all the miracles and work of Jesus were for naught.

Jesus is dead.

God never seemed to show up.

The Roman authorities are still in power.

Nothing changed.

Holy Saturday is an emotionally awkward day. There is a temptation to not think about it and jump to the hope and resurrection of Easter. But, if we’re really honest with ourselves, that is never how our lives work. Personally, this has been one hell of a year for me and I could have tried to ignore the pain and run away from the emotions. First, my father died back in July and then my family was rocked by the miscarriage of our second daughter, Zoey Grace, in December. Couple with that a lack of movement in my career goals and dreams and there was a big temptation to just accept the easy answers and move on. As I wrote about a few times, I’ve felt a bit like being in the wilderness. I could have parroted the easy answers that, “everything happens for a reason” or “God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.” But, that would not have been emotionally honest. Like this Psalmist writes, “My vision fails because of my grief, as do my spirit and my body. My life is consumed with sadness; my years are consumed with groaning.” The Psalmist does not ignore his true feelings. Rather, he lets them be known to God and to anyone listening to the song. He does not jump to leaning on his trust in God until all the emotions are out. He acknowledges his pain before the reminder comes that “I trust you, Lord! I affirm, ‘You are my God.'”

There is no healing before the pain.

There is no resurrection without the cross.

There is no Easter without Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

I couldn’t accept the easy answers. I dove in head first and embraced the pain, awkwardness and disorientation of the whole mess. Like a good relationship, it’s never good to ignore the elephant in the room. Communication is key and when it comes to things like this, communication and interaction with one’s emotions is key to getting through reasonably unscathed.

My father died.

Our daughter died.

God never seemed to show up.

Nothing is changing.

This is the lesson of Holy Saturday. There is something to be learned in the honesty of the silence. This is especially true now as we in the present time sit between the resurrection of Christ and his redemption and resolution of all things. There is a spiritual awkwardness as we live in the already and not yet of the Kingdom of God. Like the disciples probably wondering what the heck happened on Holy Saturday, we can listen to the news and wonder the same thing.

Jesus is dead.

God never seems to show up.

Sin and death are still in power.

Evil people still get their way.

There is a deep honesty in feeling the silence of Holy Saturday. It is good to feel the pain and awkwardness. It’s only after doing those things that Easter and the resurrection can be experienced in their full weight and glory. Not just as another day of the year, or simply a day for feasting and family.

But as a day when something happened.