Thursday, March 17, 2011

For a Day, Forever

What keeps you going? Diet Coke? Chocolate? There’s an ad that used to be on TV. A woman was getting overwhelmed by the “The traffic! The boss! The baby! The dog! That does it!! Calgon, take me away!” Each of us has something that keeps us going when the day gets out of control.

For me, when the pile on the desk is rising and the deadlines are coming fast, it’s coffee.

But sometimes the stakes are higher. It’s not enough just to get through the next deadline or the next meeting. Dealing with death or addiction, divorce or loss, or even the paralyzing nuclear meltdown going on in Japan, coffee won’t keep you going. Nor will a nice bath. It takes something more powerful, more permanent.

When Jesus fed the crowds with five barley loaves, it was for the moment. Having their immediate needs met, John says, the crowds wanted to make Jesus their king. They wanted him to keep them going day-to-day. But Jesus wasn’t interested only in that. He offered another sort of bread—not like daily manna that fed the Israelites in the wilderness—the eternal bread of life.

Bread that satisfies forever is no Willie Wonka daydream, but a metaphor of faith and trust in God’s love revealed in Jesus. Yes, we need our daily bread—and we pray for it. But we also need infinitely more. We need someone in whom to place our trust, someone on whose promise we always can rely. To believe in Christ is to stake a claim in God’s coming kingdom. To receive the bread of life is to taste and see that the Lord is forever good.

My prayer for you is that along the way you will have both bread for the day and bread forever. The future calls. We answer in faith. Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lent 1 Prayer

Almighty God, whose love reaches every dark and unforgiving corner of the human heart, whose justice will redeem and save the world, we praise your name this day. We come before you in gratitude. Receive our thanks: for a day bright with possibility, for a friend who reaches out across the lonely, deep divide. Receive our thanks for shelter and sustenance. You clothe us like the lilies of the field. We are grateful for each other, and for eyes and ears to hear and see the signs of your presence in one another’s face.

We remember those whose lives touch ours and realize we do not know them fully. Dissolve the veils of estrangement between us. Fill our hearts each minute “with sixty seconds worth of distance run.” Give us strength to respond to the cries of the injured and the dying, and courage to face our fears of the unknown. Inspire our creative minds with new ways to meet the world’s emergencies. Make us generous in service, passionate and persistent, merciful and kind.

With the people of Japan, we cry to you for healing of communities, of ocean, of livelihood, of land. In the prayers of those in southeast Asia, “We remember, O Lord, those who suffer from any kind of discrimination, your children, and our brothers and sisters, who are humiliated and oppressed. We pray for those who are denied fundamental human rights, for those who are imprisoned, and especially those who are tortured. Our thoughts rest a few moments with them … And we pray that your love and compassion may sustain them always.”

We are grateful for Christ’s presence in our midst. Let the power of his love unite us as one people. Teach us in his name to welcome those on the outside looking in. Strengthen the powerless. Save the lost. Bless us with the coming of your new and renewing kingdom—these things we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Direct quotes are from "If" by Rudyard Kipling and the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle resource for this week, with prayers for Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I don’t like breaking bonds. We are bound to one another, after all, by friendships, marriages, clubs, common interests, common threats, and teams. Bonds of trust and shared experience, both joyful and adverse, cement our relationships. We get energy from being bound together. We are stronger, happier, and more effective at everything we do. “Blessed be the tie that binds,” we sing, because we’d rather be together than apart. Breaking bonds hurts.

But some bond-breaking is good, especially when the bonds are to destructive things. We bind ourselves to bad habits, caustic attitudes, actions that demean or corrode. We may be bound by evil forces outside our control. When we confess our sin and God forgives, the result is absolution (Latin, ab – from, solver – to loosen). We are loosened from our bonds to the “sin that clings so closely” (Hebrews 12.1). We are released from unhealthy attachments that keep us from becoming whole.

Absolution breaks the spiritual bondage at the core of our being. It’s like when molecular bonds are broken and energy is released so atoms are free to combine with one another in new ways. Absolution sets us free to reconnect in news ways with God and one another.

More dramatic still, when atomic bonds are broken in the nucleus of the right atom, chain reactions happen. Imagine the spiritual chain reaction we release when we break our bondage to the evil within us. The power of love will change the world!

My prayers for you along the way are two: first that our bonds of friendship remain strong, and second that our spiritual bondage to evil, sin, and death is broken, generating love to change the world. Amen.


March 11, 2011
“Please forgive me. Can you forgive me? Will you?”
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive...”

Asking forgiveness requires at least two choices. When I ask you to forgive me, I make the first one. I choose to believe that our relationship can be better. I choose not to walk away, not to write you off. I choose to believe you belong in my life and to hope I belong in yours. When I ask you to forgive me, I risk owning fully the wrong I’ve done, but I chose to believe it’s worth the risk because I respect you and value our relationship.

The second choice is yours. It’s the same as mine, and it also involves risk. Do you choose to believe the relationship is worth restoring? Are you willing to work at it with me? The answer might be no. You might not believe I can right the wrong. You don’t have to forgive me. You could walk away. But if you choose to forgive, then we’ve sealed a commitment to make things better. We’ve acted in faith. We’ve said to each other that the relationship is worth more whole than broken.

Thankfully, God’s judgment — sharp in the pit of the stomach — is always mediated by grace. In the Lord’s Prayer lies a challenge. We ask God to forgive us as we forgive each other. I would like to believe God will be better than that, that God will forgive more freely than I do. But in that prayer I accept my challenge: to forgive as freely as I’d like to be forgiven, to work as hard at restoring a broken relationship as I can. And when I fail to meet your expectations or you fail to meet mine, or either of us falls short of God’s expectations, then we throw ourselves together at the feet of God’s grace and mercy.

You can forgive or not. So can I. The power lies within us. My prayer today is that God’s grace will help us to forgive each other, that by God’s mercy all our relationships will be made right. Amen.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Can I share a secret? I’m not a big fan of confession. Oh, I know we need it. I need it. But confessing my sins is not only painful (because it brings up old wounds); it’s also difficult. It requires ruthless self-assessment. To confess my shortcomings and missed chances is to risk feeling like a failure. Why would anyone willingly do that?

Still, there’s confession and there’s confession. Confessing my sins to God—honestly and without artifice—is easier than confessing to someone I know. Perhaps it’s that I trust God to be more forgiving. Indeed, “God is merciful and gracious and abounding in steadfast love.” But confessing to someone else is harder. With my neighbor, there’s give and take, conversation, vulnerability to the unknown and unsuspected. I risk being wounded when I discover I’ve wounded others. I'm obligated then to do something to make things right.

After last night’s Ash Wednesday service, someone joked, “Maybe we need to use the joys and concerns time in worship to confess our sins… and be specific!” Take heart: we won’t be doing that, at least not out loud. But the fact is, we all need to be able to say to God and to our neighbor, “Here’s how I messed up,” to follow it up with, “How can I make things right?” and then to follow through. Reconciliation requires confession. In the end, that keeps me open to it, uncomfortable as it is. Without being able to confess my sins, I can’t make peace with my neighbor. With it, our relationships can grow strong.

My prayer for you along the way is that you will find renewal this season in self-examination and confession that leads to reconciliation with others and reconciliation with God.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ordinary Silence

The priest making the case for Mother Teresa’s sainthood has called her “an apostle of the ordinary.” What an inviting title! To be an apostle is literally to be “sent,” but what made Teresa of Calcutta ordinary was what she was sent to do: one-on-one, she practiced love.

From her journals we have learned other things about her. Perhaps the most intriguing is that after her mystical experiences in the 1940s, she knew a lifetime of darkness and silence, things we never knew while she was engaged in the ministry to which she had been sent. The silence she bore inspired her to serve. Yet she spoke of it only in private. We now know she lived most of her life feeling “bewildering rejection and even complete abandonment,” experiences most of us confess knowing well. Still, she was sent out to change the world, and she did so, one single heart at a time. The business card she handed out to enquiring visitors did not have her name on it. It contained instead the core principles of her spirituality. It began, “The fruit of silence is prayer.” She used to talk about five silences: of the ears, eyes, mouth, mind, and heart.

What silences do you experience? Are there times your ears hear no voice from God, your eyes see no vision, and your mouth does not taste that the Lord is good? Have you known a silent mind, or a heart unable to feel? We tend to mistrust silence. Silence sounds like guilt, ignorance or, worse, rudeness. But silence can be the instrument of our calling. In the absence of God’s voice, not knowing when or even if the Master will return, we love one-on-one. How ordinary!

May you find God’s silence today in ordinary, one-on-one relationships, and in that quiet place discover the strength to carry on. Amen.