Prayer for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

I am the Good ShepherdGracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Martyr of the Week: John Wycliffe & Jan Hus

So during Lent I’m turning my weekly saint reflection into a weekly martyr reflection. To turn up the heat a bit I’ll only be looking at Christian martyrs who were killed by, or on account of, other Christians. We’ve already looked at Priscillian of Avila and Eastern Christians killed during the Crusades. Again, the inspiration behind this is the self-reflective theme of Lent along with the following statement of Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.”
Matthew 5:21-22 (CEB)

John Wycliffe

John Wycliffe

Today we’re going to turn the pages of history and end up on the preface of the reformation. We’re going to look at two martyrs today because they were similar in their thoughts and passions and mainly because I missed the post last week.

We’ll begin with John Wycliffe who was born in England around the mid-1320s.  He studied at Oxford where he would ultimately get a Doctorate of Divintiy and began lecturing there. John Wycliffe began to speak and write against the authority the Church held above the civil authorities at the time. He would also confront the practice of collecting indulgences and considered them a form of simony. Wycliffe’s most divisive idea was his concept of the “invisible church of the elect”. This idea confronted the “visible” Catholic Church by saying that the true church was the invisible collection of the elect and saved rather than the visible structures and hierarchy of the Catholic church at the time. To help understand Wycliffe’s issues with the church it’s important to know that during this time the Pope lived in Avignon, not Rome, and struggles between Avignon and Rome will eventually lead to the Western Schism.  These struggles would be almost purely political and have nothing to do with theology. Wycliffe also taught against the idea of transubstantiation saying that the Eucharistic elements were “an effectual sign.” Most famously, John Wycliffe considered Scripture as the basis against which all Christian ideas and works should be measured. To this end he was a big proponent in getting the Bible translated into English so that people could read and understand for themselves.

“Even though there were a hundred popes and though every mendicant monk were a cardinal, they would be entitled to confidence only insofar as they accorded with the Bible.”
John Wycliffe

Even though John Wycliffe conflicted with the Roman Catholic Church at the time and there were many confrontations and struggles, he was allowed to live out his days and died of a stroke in December 1384. This would not be the end of the story for John Wycliffe however, but lets turn to Jan Hus who was inspired by much of what John Wycliffe wrote and preached.

Jan Hus

Jan Hus

Jan Hus (or John Huss) was born in 1369 and traveled to Prague early in life. He served and studied in churches for most of his early life and ultimately got his Bachelor’s and Master’s from the University of Prague by 1396. Shortly after he would be ordained and installed as a preacher at the Bethlehem chapel in Prague.  He began to be influenced by the writings of John Wycliffe and even translated some of Wycliffe’s writings into Czech.

Hus was well aware of the simony and corruption of the Catholic clergy at the time. In Bohemia the Roman Catholic Church owned about one-half of the land and much of it stayed within the hands (and pockets) of the higher clergy.  Much of the lower level priests, which included Jan Hus, along with the peasants resented this and the high taxes that were levied. To further increase Hus’s issue with the Catholic Clergy, the previously mentioned Western Schism was in full swing. There was a Pope in Rome, a Pope in Avignon and various countries and kings backing their chosen Pope. Hus and much of Boehmia vowed neutrality as they had issue with the whole kerfuffle anyways. Further complicating rather than solving the issue, a council in 1409 elected a third Pope but the two current Pope’s refused to step down.

For those counting, there was a time when the world had three popes.

This third pope, Alexander V, condemned the teachings of Wycliffe and ordered that all his writings be surrendered. Hus and his followers tried to resist but that only led to their excommunication. Bohemia and Prauge fell into disorder and riots as people rose up in support of Hus who continued to preach (against papal order) in Bethlehem chapel. Hus would preach against the indulgences and a current crusade that was called, further increasing the papal ire against him.

In response to the growing kerfuffle (I love that word), The Council of Constance was called in 1414 to try and solve the multiple pope problem along with addressing issues raised by Wycliffe (who died in 1384) in England and Hus in Bohemia and Prague. Hus wanted to try put an end to the dissensions and agreed to attend the council. He arrived at the council under the promise of safe conduct from the king. However, once in attendance he was imprisoned because there was a rumor Hus would try to escape. Hus remained imprisoned and on trial for 73 days. Charges were brought against Hus on June 8 1415 who said he would gladly submit if he could be convinced of his errors. He was never convinced and never submitted or recanted.

Jan Hus at the Stake

Jan Hus at the Stake

Thus, Hus was condemned to execution. Hus was condemned to be burned at the stake and when the day came they ushered him out with a paper crown on his head. He was tied to the stake, asked to recant again and he denied. When the fires were lit, Jan sang psalms until he died. His ashes where then thrown into the Rhine river. Bringing this all back around to John Wycliffe, at the same council they also condemned him as a heretic posthumously along with banning his writings. A decade or so later, in 1428, Wyclife’s body was exhumed, burned and thrown into the river in similar fashion as Hus.

What are your thoughts on these two being excommunicated and burned as heretics, even posthumously? What connections can we make (if any) to current Church issues?

More Information
Wikipedia – John Wycliffe
Wycliffe Bible Translators – John Wycliffe
New Advent – John Wycliffe
Wikipedia – Jan Hus
New Advent – Jan Hus
Columbia University – The Execution of Jan Hus

Lenten Lectio: Reflection for the Third Week in Lent

Moses Striking Water from the Rock by Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Moses Striking Water from the Rock by Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Buckle your seat belts, we’re about to Tarantino this Lenten Lectio series a bit. Back on the reflection for the first week in Lent we talked about the temptation of Jesus. In that passage, Jesus references the story that will be the focus of this week’s reflection.  When tempted to throw himself off the Temple so that angels might catch him, Jesus responds with, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God .”  The “it’s written” part is reference to a passage in Deuteronomy 6:16 that remembers and reminds the people of the following story in Exodus.

The whole Israelite community broke camp and set out from the Sin desert to continue their journey, as the Lord commanded. They set up their camp at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people argued with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

Moses said to them, “Why are you arguing with me? Why are you testing the Lord?”

But the people were very thirsty for water there, and they complained to Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?”

So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with this people? They are getting ready to stone me.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of Israel’s elders with you. Take in your hand the shepherd’s rod that you used to strike the Nile River, and go. I’ll be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Hit the rock. Water will come out of it, and the people will be able to drink.” Moses did so while Israel’s elders watched. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites argued with and tested the Lord, asking, “Is the Lord really with us or not?”
Exodus 17:1-7 (CEB)

What I want to zoom in on in this passage is that last line.

“Is the Lord really with us or not?”

That was the question behind the temptation of Jesus, it was the question asked by the thirsty Israelites wandering in the wilderness, it is the question we probably ask on an almost daily basis.  Especially in Lent when we have chosen to give something up in hopes of improving our relationship with God and others around us, sometimes the results are not soon apparent. Lent, and life in general for that matter, can sometimes feel like we’re just wandering around in the wilderness.  We feel like we have followed God out in the middle of nowhere with little to no direction. We may even start to feel like God has abandoned us.

“Is the Lord really with us or not?”

For the Israelites, that was a time of testing and trial. I think we focus a lot on the development and change that the Israelites go through in the wilderness. God wanted to use that time to form them into the people he knew they needed to be in order to enter into the Promised Land. A whole generation died off before God saw fit to actually lead them to the doorsteps of Canaan. They were transformed from disjointed and scattered slaves in Egypt to a (generally) unified people with a common goal and a common God. They were no longer Hebrew slaves, but they were now Israelites. They had struggled with God and had become a people of God.

While that’s all well and good, there is a flip-side to this story. Not only was God testing and forming the Israelites, but the Israelites were testing God. This is typically considered a “negative” part of the story. Jesus’ temptation narrative and the recounting in Deuteronomy makes that clear. The place is named Massah (meaning testing, temptation, or trial) and Meribah (meaning strife, contention, or argument) as a reminder for what happened there. These tend to be negative ideas when we talk about a relationship with God. But, if you read the Old Testament closely, you’ll see that almost every major story has someone contesting, arguing or contending with God.  The people of the Old Testament are constantly asking…

“Is the Lord really with us or not?”

A few examples: Abraham challenges God with destroying Sodom, Jacob wrestles with God and demands a blessing, Joseph endures years of imprisonment, Moses argues at the Burning Bush, Gideon gives God all sorts of tests, Jonah runs and then argues with God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego step into the furnace whether God will save them or not, and on and on. All the stories we are familiar with essentially demand that God answer the question of the day,

“Is the Lord really with us or not?”

Lent is the time when we are challenged to enter into the story. We each ask in our own way “Is the Lord really with us or not?” by giving something up and entering into the darkness, wilderness and suffering of Lent. This is so that we might make space for God to show up.

Sometimes the ultimate act of faith is not just believing regardless of the situation, but actually putting God to the test.  Entering into a relationship and seeing if God is who he really says he is, if his promises are true, if his character stands the test and if he shows up.

Hit the rock, see if some water comes out.

Do you believe God is with you? Have you tested and asked him? Would you feel less faithful if you did? When have you felt like God is not with you? When has God confirmed that he is with you and for you?

Prayer for the Third Sunday in Lent

I am the Good ShepherdAlmighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. .

Lenten Lectio: Reflection for the Second Week in Lent

Three Peasants Travelling by Rembrandt, 1652.

Three Peasants Travelling by Rembrandt, 1652.

I have had the pleasure of taking a few road trips with my family and traveling through Europe with my wife.  I enjoy going places, seeing new things, trying new foods and having some adventures. However, after having those adventures, I typically like to come home and return to where I came from.  There’s a comfort and and safety in the familiarity in home.  Just as often as we like to get away from home we like to return to it. Today’s reading features God calling Abram to leave his home and never return.  To go to a new land where God is going to do something great and new with Abram.

The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of the earth will be blessed because of you.” Abram left just as the Lord told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran.
Genesis 12:1-4 (CEB)

Abram was 75 years old and God told him to move everything he had to a new country and a place Abram was not familiar with. This would be quite an undertaking as leaving the familiar and friendly lands of ones family in the ancient world was practically unheard of, not recommended and potentially disastrous. It’s hard to make a modern day equivalent but it might be something like cutting up a social security card, medical insurance card, withdrawing everything from your bank accounts, 401k and moving to a foreign country.

Essentially, Abram was leaving his safety net for an far away country all on the promise that God would make his family into something great. This would be a good time to remind you that Abram was 75 years old and he had no children.  Sarai his wife was barren and God is promising to make them a great nation in an unknown, possibly unfriendly country.

This does not sound like a safe bet.

But, God is in the business of keeping promises and rewarding faithfulness.

Lent is a time in which we are called to venture to the far away, unknown and possibly unfriendly country.  We are called to fast and leave behind something we thought might be necessary for our survival and happiness. In giving something up we are challenged to rely more on God, less on ourselves, and rest in the promises He’s given us. This can take many forms and might not necessarily just be in the fast we’ve chosen.

Take for example the church my family recently moved to.  We had no idea what God had in store for the church when we moved but things began to change very quickly.  They were already in the process of reevaluating the church’s mission and vision and how to grow the church into the future.  Within two months after we arrived, their worship director stepped down and the founding pastor of 25 years announced he was leaving.  While this might have given some new visitors pause or encouragement to seek a more “stable” environment, we had already decided that our move to this church would be one of faith and reliance on God. We knew our family was going into foreign territory with this move but we did not imagine that the church we had moved to would also be joining us on that journey. It seemed (to me) that we had all heard God’s call into a new land and were stepping out in faith, hoping in God’s promises and relying on Him in ways we had never previously imagined.

This is just my example, your journey probably looks very different this Lent but God has called us all out of somewhere to a place where he can further fulfill his promises to us.

Maybe you’re leaving a relationship to learn to rely on God and be less codependent.

Maybe you’re leaving food to learn to see yourself as God sees you and to be more healthy.

Maybe you’re leaving an unsafe, hurtful and abusive environment to learn how God can heal you and build you up.

Maybe you’re leaving some kind of media to hear God better and to reduce the noise and mental clutter.

Maybe you’re cleaning out some shelves and closets to learn that God will provide for you as you provide for others in need.

Maybe you’re changing jobs to follow a dream that God has planted in your heart and so you can learn who he really created and empowered you to be.

All our Lenten journeys, fasts and experiences are different. What is common though is that God is constantly calling us towards him, to his land for us, to the better place he has prepared for us and wants to show us. Like Abram we will probably have to leave behind what feels comfortable and safe and choose to live into the life and promise God has given us. The path of Lent is not always easy. As Abram’s journey was fraught with trouble and questions so too will our journeys hit bumps and snags. But, as with Abram, our faithfulness and trust in God along the way is what counts.

Abram believed the Lord, and he [God] credited it to him [Abram] as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 (NIV)

What Lenten journey are you on? How are you having to trust in God more? How has your journey been difficult? What promises of God are you relying on? Do you believe that God will  honor your faithfulness?

Lent and the Feast of St. Patrick

I had written this post about St. Patrick last year, so I thought I would repost it with a few tweaks since today is St. Patrick’s day.  I pray that you find this reflection on the saint we recognize today helpful and inspiring.

St. PatrickToday is St. Patrick’s Day and I am sure there will be a lot of green being worn and Irish delicacies being consumed in our communities. Although, through all this celebrating, eating and general merrymaking that occurs on St. Patrick’s Day it seems the man behind the feast has gotten lost. What started as a day in the Church’s calendar commemorating a great missionary and servant of the Church has slowly been transformed into something completely different. On the good side it is a celebration of Irish culture. However, on the bad side it has quickly become a celebration of excess and over consumption of unnaturally green food and beer. Since St. Patrick’s Day fell right in the middle of Lent this year, let’s take a minute to redeem the day even though it has passed. Let’s commemorate this saint and allow his example and words challenge us during the Lenten season.

The book Common Prayer offers this brief description of Patrick’s life:

Patrick of Ireland (389 – 461)

At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped from his home by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a chieftain and forced to herd livestock. After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped to his native Britain. Because he believed that his captivity and deliverance were ordained by God, Patrick devoted his life to ministry. While studying for the priesthood, he experienced recurring dreams in which he heard voices say, “O holy youth, come back to Erin and walk once more amongst us.” He convinced his superiors to let him return to Ireland in 432, not to seek revenge for injustice but to seek reconciliation and to spread his faith. Over the next thirty years, Patrick established churches and monastic communities across Ireland. When he was not engaged in the work of spreading the Christian faith, Patrick spent his time praying in his favorite places of solitude and retreat.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like for Patrick to be kidnapped and sold into slavery where he was forced to be a shepherd for six years. It is like his life was some bizarre combination of the biblical stories of Joseph and Jacob. What is even more unimaginable is that he escaped and was ultimately moved by God to return to Ireland to be a missionary and seek reconciliation. It is often tough for me to seek reconciliation with those who I have wronged or who have spoken ill of me. Attempting to seek reconciliation with those who captured and enslaved me seems way beyond the limits of my grace. But, today we remember Patrick who was driven by this desire for reconciliation with his fellow man and to spread the Gospel. There were also many legends that sprang up about Patrick that I do not have the time or space to go into here. While they may all be just myths and legends, they all point to the fact that he must have been a great man who affected a lot of people. There is no record of Patrick building anything, he fought in no battles, he did not lead a rebellion, none of his sermons or speeches remain and as far as we know he never healed anyone of sickness.

But, he sought to be reconciled to people.

If there’s a lesson in the life of St. Patrick that we can apply to Lent it is simply this. There is power in reconciliation and considering how we might repair our relationships with other people. Whether the relationship is broken because of our actions or because of the actions of others, we should seek reconciliation. Reconciliation seeks to restore community and can leave an eternal imprint on this world. The big theme in Lent is humble self-examination so we can see where we can make God more present in our lives. A central part in this self-examination should be making sure that others perceive Christ in our actions, and reconciliation is a key to that goal. That is why I was inspired to reflect on St. Patrick. A prayer attributed to him, often called St. Patrick’s Breastplate, has become very special to me.  Here are a few stanzas that are among my favorites:

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
-St. Patrick

The central theme of his prayer is not that Christ is “in” us driving everything we do, but that Christ is perceived by others in everything we do. There are many people who do things in the name of Christ but it is tough to perceive Christ through their actions and intentions. Here’s a tough question to put on your mirror or fridge during Lent.

Can Christ truly be in me if others cannot perceive his spirit through me?

Now it could be true that it is the other person whose perception is clouded and affected, but we ultimately have no control over that. What we do have control over is our own actions, our own words and our own heart.

What is there in your life that might be clouding others perception of Christ through your life? What people may you need to seek reconciliation with in order to remove the veil obscuring Christ working in you and through you?

Prayer for the Second Sunday in Lent

I am the Good ShepherdO God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.