Monthly Archives: September 2015

Rich phrases, poignant and powerful

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Yesterday evening’s portion of the Beatitudes has Jesus instructing his listeners how to pray — and how not to.

“Hey, God.”

I’m serving this weekend as spiritual director of a New Beginnings retreat for middle school youth in the Diocese of Fond du Lac.

At events like these, we’re careful to model a very personal, comfortable prayer style. Youth leaders often begin their prayers with “Hey, God.”

That affectionate style of prayer models the intimacy Jesus desires with each of us. It’s no accident that I’ll be using the icon of the Beloved Disciple in reflections and the Eucharist throughout the day today.

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No empty phrases

The prayer Jesus teaches his listeners — what we now call “the Lord’s Prayer” — is not just a lovely model of affectionate prayer, in which we address God as Abba (“daddy”), but it’s also a prayer in which every word counts.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your Name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever. Amen.

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” so you don’t need to wrap your prayer up in “empty phrases.”

Just cut to the chase: God, we praise you, you know what we need, we’re sorry, help us.

Never have to do it alone

I’ve written before about the powerful way my recovery group prays the Lord’s Prayer.

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We stand and gather in a circle, and one of the long timers begins, “We stand here holding hands, knowing that we never have to do this alone. Whose Father?”

“Our Father …”

Far from “empty phrases,” these words speak of grace and power to heal.

The touch of another person’s hand connects me not just to them, but to the Lord himself, who desires to be in relationship with me.

We pray in union with each other, and we pray in words made familiar through long repetition, one day at a time.

Rich phrases, poignant and powerful

In the same way, the Daily Office offers us a chance to pray in union with Christians around the world, and to pray in words made familiar through long repetition.

The Confession, the psalms, the Scripture lessons and canticles, the Apostles’ Creed and the suffrages, the General Thanksgiving and St. Chrysostom’s “golden-tongued” prayer — far from heaped-up words, these are “rich phrases,” poignant and powerful.

There’s not a wasted word in the Daily Office, no needless repetition, no hedging, no hemming or hawing.

We simply pray in the way that our Lord taught us, and his early followers practiced, and the women and men of the desert whetted into sharpness, and the Benedictines rounded and smoothed seven times a day, and the choirs adorned with ravishing melodies, and Archbishop Cranmer organized, and the publishers bound with ribbons between leather covers, and the developers turned into a clean app and website so there’s no barrier to our praying.

So, when you pray … pray like this.

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Feet don’t fail me now | St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:11-15)

Gospel means good news

How often do you hear from Christians about God’s generosity?

How often do you hear from Christians that no one will be put to shame?

How often do you hear from Christians that there is no distinction between people of different cultures and races?

Within the church, I hear about these things a lot. I am fortunate to serve with many generous, empathetic, and open-minded people.

But outside, especially in the world of social media and TV news, not so much. In the popular culture especially, the Christian message too often sounds exclusive, judgmental, and fearful.

Who are you afraid of?

For the LORD spoke thus to me while his hand was strong upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:11-13)

Who do we fear?

Refugees … prisoners … all who are in danger …

The poor and the oppressed, the unemployed and the destitute, prisoners and captives …

Those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit …

Those who do not yet believe, and those who have lost their faith …

Our enemies and those who wish us harm … all whom we have injured or offended …

Who are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of them?

Perhaps more importantly, who tells you to fear them, and why do they do that? Who paints a picture of the world that causes you dread instead of joy?

How beautiful the feet!

Teresa of Ávila said,

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

We are surrounded by stories and images designed to cause us to fear the stranger, the poor, the unbeliever, the other.

But hear the word of God that came to Isaiah: “Do not call conspiracy what this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears.”

And hear the word that Paul preached: “The same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him.”

And hear the collect that we pray every Monday, even on Mondays like today when we remember one like Matthew who preached the good news — the gospel — about Jesus.

Let these words remind you of the good news of God’s generosity and let them guide your feet into the way of peace.

Let them make you a beautiful messenger of the gospel like Matthew.

A Collect for the Renewal of Life

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness while it was day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saving health among all nations | Holy Cross Day

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. (Numbers 21:7-9)

Keep this nation under your care

When Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16), it’s easy for us to forget that he isn’t wearing a rainbow wig and holding up a poster in a football stadium.

Jesus Saves 39014501

Jesus is not addressing American Christians and football fans. He is not suggesting we wear black “John 3:16” eye paint to Lambeau Field.

Instead, Jesus is deep in a private, nighttime conversation with Nicodemus, a “leader of the Jews” who is trying to understand what Jesus is doing and teaching in Jerusalem at the Passover.

Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is from God, though the “cleansing of the Temple” — knocking over the tables of the moneychangers and driving them and the sacrificial animals out with a whip of cords — probably upset Nicodemus’ sense of order and respect.

In their quiet, late night conversation, he struggles with Jesus’ words about seeing and entering the kingdom of God — he is confused by the idea of being “born again” and “born from above” and “born of water and the Spirit.”

Jesus asks, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things?”

Then he continues to teach Nicodemus about the kingdom of God and about salvation.

Let your way be known upon earth

Jesus builds on what he has just said about who can see and who can enter the kingdom of God.

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:13-17).

He uses a strange image for the kingdom, reminding scholarly Nicodemus of a passage from the Book of Numbers about a mysterious cure. The people of Israel in the wilderness were sick, dying from venomous snake bites, but they were cured when they looked at a bronze serpent held up on a pole.

It would have been a particularly odd image, since the bronze serpent had later been destroyed by King Hezekiah (reigned 715-687 BC) during his reforms of the nation and its worship (2 Kings 18:4).

According to the Wikipedia article on him,

Hezekiah purified and repaired the Temple, purged its idols, and reformed the priesthood. In an effort to abolish what he considered idolatry from his kingdom, he destroyed the high places (or bamot) and “bronze serpent” (or “Nehushtan“), recorded as being made by Moses, which became an objects of idolatrous worship. In place of this, he centralized the worship of God at the Jerusalem Temple.

Several hundred years later, having just upset the business of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the kingdom of heaven is like the bronze serpent people used to look to instead of going to the Temple as their leaders said they should.

Your saving health among all nations

In John’s Gospel, Jesus does signs — like the miracle at Cana and the cleansing of the Temple — and teaches about the kingdom of God. “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen,” he says.

When he refers to the bronze serpent, he makes a point to describe it being lifted up, just as the Son of Man will be lifted up.

Jesus is describing another sign — the ultimate sign — that will testify to his identity and open the kingdom of God to those who believe.

Like the bronze serpent brought healing (salvation) to those poisoned by snakebites, the sign of the Cross will bring eternal life and saving health to all who suffer.

No longer is the healing work of God limited to the people of Israel, no longer is salvation contained in the Temple at Jerusalem, but rather saving health is available to all who look on the Son of Man lifted up.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.