Category Archives: Prayer

Coffee Wars

It does not insist on its own way. I Corinthians 13:5, NRSV

[For the full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]

The coffee pot was moved back to the corner, and thus began the battle…

The church kitchen had been a disorganized mess for years, so the youth group took it on as a way to contribute to the life of the community. Cupboards that hadn’t been opened in years, much less emptied, were given a thorough scrubbing; what was broken or dangerous was removed; what was left was cleaned, organized, and labeled. The walls were degreased and repainted. It took hours, but the transformation was spectacular.

One of the best things: the coffee station had been relocated to a space near the service window. Everything was within easy reach, and it made coffee hour so much easier for hosts and guest alike. The youth group did the honors that first Sunday after the reorganization, hosting the coffee hour and revealing the new kitchen.

The grumbling started within hours. How could the teens change the kitchen without asking (they had permission from the church leaders)? How could they toss things out without permission (only broken and expired things were thrown away)? What right did they have to change anything?

The next Sunday, the coffee pots and machine had been moved back to the corner by persons unknown, recreating the old set-up. The youth, assuming someone didn’t know about the new place, moved it again. The next Sunday, it happened again. And again. And again. Finally, the youth gave up. Their hard work and best intentions had run into a communal unwillingness to change. The coffee making status quo was restored, but the damage was significant: the youth no longer believed that their efforts or their presence were welcome.

I doubt the adults who moved the coffee pots were intentionally causing damage to the teens of the church. I’m almost positive that there wasn’t a conspiracy intent on rejecting and dismantling the gift of time and effort given by the youth. This was just a typical knee-jerk reaction, a reclaiming of turf, an exercise of power. I wish the adults had asked themselves this question:

What is more important: keeping things the way I want them or honoring the gift offered by others?

The true and most disturbing question: what would have been their answer?

I Am Nothing

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

[For full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]

Let’s assume I have good intentions, and my wishes for prophetic powers, perfect understanding and knowledge, and abiding faith are all answered. All I lack is love – meaning good things for others and sacrificing to bring them to fruition. I could still do so much good if I don’t use my gifts to harm, couldn’t I?

Doubtful. Not because I couldn’t accomplish amazing things, but because I’ll miss the point and purpose of those amazing things. Intelligence, knowledge, accurate prediction, and belief aren’t enough. Add them all up, and they still won’t give me the one thing I need: wisdom.

Wisdom assumes love – it’s why there are evil geniuses but no evil wise women and men. If I perform miracles without love for every living thing, I’m likely to manipulate others rather than invest in their uniqueness.

Wisdom recognizes limitations. Amazing abilities take their toll if fueled only from personal resources. The well runs dry eventually because no one is meant to live outside loving relationships with God and others. A car with an empty tank cannot fulfill its potential, even if it’s a top-of-the-line model.

Without love, I would be destroyed by my own abilities, a null and void self – nothing. God being gracious to everyone else, whatever I did manage to accomplish would bring blessing. God being gracious to me, creating me to be something rather than nothing, the wish wouldn’t be granted in the first place.

Love Letters, Old Style

Origami heart, last steps…

Valentine’s Day decorations are still up in windows, on shelves, and in the 75% off aisles of Target and Market Basket. Yet, less than a week beyond the day, it all seems a bit half-hearted and tattered. If love is strong, such things are a nice extra, but not necessary; if love is not strong, even extravagant trimmings can’t fill the void.

It’s a truth we all know but don’t often say aloud: love has to be more than a fleeting feeling and a paper doily heart. It’s time for something constant and substantial, something strong enough to steady our feet and grow us up.

It’s a letter that was never meant to be reduced to romantic love, no matter how often it is read at weddings. It’s Paul’s letter to an entire community that was playing the Whose gift is best? game. As we view Valentine’s Day in the rearview mirror and move forward into Lent, let’s take another look at this old, old-fashioned love letter from Paul…

 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophesies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully even as I have been fully known.

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13, NRSV

That Golden, Gilded Age

Christmas card, 2022

A single gilded word. It shouldn’t be consigned to an Advent or Christmas value. After all, peace something no faith tradition omits, even if none follow through in bringing about its reign.

The golden, gilded age doesn’t usually refer to a reign of peace – it is traditionally mistaken for a time and era filled with seaside mansions and philanthropic achievements. But this card has the truth of it: peace is the substance of a true golden age. No gilding required.

Walls

Readings: Luke 1:46b-55; Micah 4:1-5; Ephesians 2:11-22

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” – a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands – remember the you were at one time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, the he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; In whole you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. NRSV

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.
Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)

The Gentiles, who were at one time welcomed into the temple (I Kings 8: 41-43), are no longer allowed into the temple under penalty of death; the wall of hostility divides the Jews from the non-Jews. The writer of Ephesians proclaims peace and unity are now here through the broken body of Jesus.  

Last Sunday we lit the 4th candle, the candle symbolizing peace—the culmination of our journey to Bethlehem. Peace on earth, goodwill to all. And yet there remains so many walls of hostility.  The Body of Christ introduces a fundamental perspective of community as organic, not structural, organizational or doctrinal—forms of community against which Jesus struggled. These artificial communities, with their rigid systems, were exactly what Jesus sought to replace. He welcomed people into  relationships that allowed for differences, tolerated uncertainties, and respected the dignity of every human being. May we do the same as we pray a prayer for unity from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Offered by Bill Albritton, a light on our path to Bethlehem.

Resistance

Readings: Isaiah 12:2-6; Amos 9:8-15; Luke 1:57-66

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. Luke 1:57-63, NRSV

Elizabeth is the first to resist fitting her son into his expected place; she insists on naming him John – a name no one else in the family had. So the well-meaning relatives and neighbors moved on to Zechariah, figuring he would do what was expected and name his son after himself. They must have been shocked when Zechariah backed Elizabeth’s choice, thwarting their well-meaning but misguided attempt to limit John with expectations of conformity. It’s an often overlooked rebellion, but an important one.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were going to make mistakes, just like all parents. But they based their parenting on the biggest truth there is: our children belong to God first, to us and our extended family second.

[That truth isn’t just about John. It’s about us, our parents, our children, everyone.]

Look Back, Bless Forward, Sing

Readings: Psalm 126; Isaiah 19:18-25; 2 Peter 1:2-15

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. Psalm 126, NRSV

It’s a song of ascent, recited by pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem.

It’s a wistful look back to a grander time, before defeat and a forced evacuation into Babylonian captivity.

It’s a plea for a future of restored joy, a future that takes the tears of the present and grows from them a harvest of laughter.

These words sent up to God as an act of faith ring true today as much as they did over two thousand years ago. So much death has come during this pandemic, and our tears have flowed over loss and loneliness. But those tears can bear good fruit, and the maturity that adversity brings increases our capacity for joy moving forward.

Sing this psalm. Sing for all who have suffered. Sing for new life. Sing for yourself and those you love. Sing for those you don’t love, and those you don’t know.

Sing to God. Expect joy to grow.

Sing.

Hope

Readings: Psalm 126; Isaiah 40:1-11; Romans 8:22-25

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord ha
s spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass
.

The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a]
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b]
    lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”


10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.
Isaiah

The odd thing: the times when good news is most difficult to believe are the times when we most need to hear it. 

When the pandemic goes on and on, when justice continues to be denied, when divisiveness and ego dominate the political arena making genuine governing all but impossible, when so much of what we cherish about the church seems to be unraveling, it is hard to believe there is good news. All seems bleak and hopeless. Isaiah sounds like a cock-eyed optimist, totally oblivious to the realities of our day. We can’t help but ask, “Can anything good come out of this?”  

It’s hard for us, but it was hard for those who first heard Isaiah’s words as well. They had been forced into exile, living in a foreign land for decades. Their temple, which was essential to their faith, had been destroyed. They lived under the rule of an empire that had conquered them. They must have wondered, “Can anything good come out of this?”

And things seemed just as bad for the people of Jesus’ day. They were subjects of the Roman Empire and a puppet king. Their religious leaders seemed more concerned with protecting their power and privilege than anything having to do with genuine faith. They must have wondered, “Can anything good come out of this?”

But to them and to us the words of Isaiah come. They are words for us despite these times—words we need because of these times. Comfort. Speak tenderly. The rough places shall become a plain. The glory of the Lord will be revealed. He will feed his flock like a shepherd.

Something good can and will come out of this because God is always at work to redeem even the most devastating circumstances. Hope is possible not because all is well with the world, but because God is in the world. Hope is possible because God comforts and redeems. That is good news for difficult times. It is good news for us. It comes in a word made flesh to dwell among us. This is the hope we claim each Advent season and this year is no different!

Offered by Jeff Jones, to light our path to Bethlehem.



String of Lights

Readings: Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. Phil. 3:1-11, NRSV

Today, on the second Sunday in Advent, we light the Bethlehem candle, the candle representing faith and Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Last Sunday’s candle was the candle of hope, and next week we’ll light the candle of love. It helps me to be alive in the expectation of the coming of the Messiah to remember what the candles represent, and about their meaning in my life. 

Today’s passages are all about hope, faith and joy. John the baptizer is preaching the words of Isaiah; they resound in Handel’s Messiah, as in Baruch in his apocryphal book. And Philippians is the epistle of joy.

Paul is praying that the church has the true knowledge, knowledge with full insight, to know what is best to do before the Messiah returns. What is knowledge with full insight?I like to think it’s the difference  between knowing about and knowing. I read somewhere that knowing about is like having a string of Christmas lights: Knowing is plugging them in. 

It seems there are lots of folk who know about Jesus but how many of us know him?
O that we would pray the prayer that Paul is praying for each other today with complete faith.Come Lord Jesus, come.

Offered by Bill Albritton, to light our path to Bethlehem.

Light and Joy

Readings: Luke 1:68-79; Malachi 3:13-18; Philippians 1:18b-26

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he as looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people for the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:68-79, NRSV

These days I awake early and find joy in watching the light of day come gradually.  If it is to be a sunny day, the light seems to come more quickly than on cloudy ones. I am patient with this process, confident that light will arrive; however, I am not as patient in my daily life as I wait for the pandemic to end, for peace at home and abroad, for my daughter to find happiness, or for some new spiritual insight. Waiting for dawn and reflecting on this scripture passage reminded me that light usually comes gradually to the dark places in my soul and the belief that God will guide me through the process of healing and growth.  

St. Paul is a good role model for this. In the reading from Philippians, Paul has joy and hope because he knows that all will be well, light will come, no matter what or however long it takes, because he has the prayers of the people and the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within him.  The Holy Spirit guided him to be faithful to his mission.  He chose inner joy, born of faith – the joy that provides light even in times of suffering and darkness.

The Christmas card I will send this year has a wonderful quote– “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.”  How will we find God’s light, peace, joy this Advent/Christmas season?  How can we be the joyful echo of God’s voice for others?  Can we turn away from the voices of “joy marketing” (a real business term designed to lure us into buying stuff that distracts us from the authentic joy Christ promises) and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit that invites us to share the gifts of ourselves, our time, talent and treasure with family, friends and the needy, to help bring light into the darkness.

Offered by Ann Fowler to light our path to Bethlehem.