Willfulness and Willingness

Once again, I got the letter, “We have received a number of great resumes including yours, but we have decided to go a different direction.” In other words, another rejection letter from a church. In fact, I got two in one day.

Was I disappointed I did not get the church? I am not sure, but I don’t think so. In fact, I have more a sense of acceptance and joy in that I am seeking the will of God. I wanted to go to this church very badly. It was my next deepest desire. However, my deepest desire is, “Not my will, but the Lord’s will.” This is the essence of indifference in the spiritual perspective of Ignatius of Loyola.

The reason I started looking for an open door back into the pastorate was because of a strong feeling of consolation when I made this decision. I am assured that this is what God wanted me to do. I feel good because the choice I made came out of discernment.

I know if I get a church, it is because God influenced the call. As far as human standards go, I would never get chosen. I am sixty-seven years old. I do not have a viable network to help me find a place. I have a history with several influential church former leaders who would go out of their way to try and prevent me from serving in a church again.

If I know I am facing such odds, why even try? I try because I feel assured it is the will of the one who called me to ministry in the first place. My heart is not troubled by rejection. My soul is at peace through my desire to be faithful. The challenges I face now are more difficult than I have faced in the past. People would think I am under more pressure now than crushing pressure that led to my not wanting to live. The difference is not my life is one of seeking willingness rather than willfulness. I am not trying through any manipulative efforts of my own. I will continue to do the work needed to be faithful and open to the discernment of spirits that helps me so much now.

The path toward obtaining a “state of indifference” is not an easy effort. There is no place for promoting self-image or believing one can do it by oneself. It takes a good amount of self-reflection and self-surrender but it is worth the peace that one obtains. Of this I give witness.

Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-19  Is It Worth It?

Your teacher has been murdered. You and your friends had been in hiding, fearful of being arrested. Then you find out your teacher had come back to life. You had seen him with your own eyes. Everything seemed to be in turmoil. And what does Peter want to do? Go fishing.

Fishing was what Peter knew how to do. Fishing gave him a purpose, a direction, a bit of stability in a world that Peter or the other disciples had little control. In fishing, he could focus. In fishing, Peter could find solace. The other disciples want to go with him. He is the makeshift leader now and the others are more than glad to let Peter make the decisions. And so off to fishing they go. Great idea right? The fish do not think so. Peter and his friends catch nothing.

Seeking to live a transcendent life, a spiritual life, a life empowered by love and surrender is not an easy thing to do. Why, why is it so hard? We are not in control of the spiritual realm. In fact, all we can do is to respond to God’s initiatives. All we can do is make choices in the face of pain, confusion, sorrow, shame, and anxiety. Peter’s choice, go fishing.

What do you do when you feel you need to make an escape? What do you do when things and situations are so pressure-filled? What do you do to just veg out? I used to play video games or basketball when the stress got difficult. You hope the activity will put you in a different state of mind. But alas, they caught no fish.

And then it happens. Jesus appears.

It was early in the morning, you know, the time of the day in which things smell different. A time in which you deal with residue sleepiness that produces a little less than clear mind and muscle fatigue one must deal with after a time of non-activity. A time in which the senses are waking, seeking to make sense of one’s surroundings.        

Jesus calls out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” As the disciples look to the shore where this voice came from. They can see a figure but cannot make the person out. “No,” they yell back. Then the figure speaks again. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”            

I don’t know how this advice when over. Who was this person? What did this person know about fishing? However, one thing I know about fishermen is when someone tells you where the fish are biting, you pay attention. Fishing takes skill, but it also involves a certain amount of luck. The fact that they had caught no fish means they were likely to be open to this type of advice. In fact, they had listened to a man before, Jesus himself, who had given them some fishing advice and they caught the most fish they had ever caught in their lives.

So, the disciples take the advice and throw their nets over to the other side of the boat.  “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” It was if a light off. They now knew the figure onshore was Jesus. Peter could not wait. Peter jumped into the water and headed for Jesus.

When they get to shore, Jesus has prepared breakfast for them. Why did Jesus do this? This is who Jesus is. This is what Jesus does. This is what Jesus will always do, serve.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45 NIV)

Jesus was always looking out for others. Jesus did not come to condemn the world as the Scripture states, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn. 3:17 NIV)

In Jesus’s behavior, we find an example for ourselves as well. Over and over Jesus emphasized the way to God is the way of a servant. The way to love is the way of a servant. Service to others is at once a means and an end of spiritual growth.

If you want to get closer to God, if you want to understand Jesus better, if you want more than just religion then serve others. Jesus himself stated. These were his words, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt. 25:34-40 NIV)

There are so many things we can do to continue the work of our Lord. There are so many people, needs, and opportunities for us to make a difference in the name of our Lord.

The story does not end there. Jesus then speaks to Simon Peter alone. Jesus asks him the question, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Who are the “these”? Is it the other disciples? Is it the fishing? We are not told. I do not think it is that important to know either. What is important is understanding the relationship between Jesus and Peter. Jesus is confronting Peter. Jesus is making Peter think. Three times Jesus asks Peter about his love.

Love, filial love, the love Jesus asks of Peter can be expressed through concern for another’s physical (spiritual)  and emotional well-being and the actions stemming from such concern can amount to a major force in one’s own spiritual growth. (Jesus is helping Peter to grow) But love for others involves care for their hearts and souls as well as for their bodies and minds. One very important manifestation of love, then, is the nurturance of the spiritual growth of our sisters and brothers. ”[1]

In other words, Jesus is letting Peter know how important a task he has been given is. Three times Peter denied Jesus before the cross and now Peter declares his love for Jesus three times before Peter is left with the other disciples to carry out their mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to fulfill the commandments to love.

Jesus gives Peter a purpose founded upon Peter’s professed love of Jesus. Care for those I care for. Care for those who know my voice. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn. 10:11 NRS) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (Jn. 10:27 NIV)

Then Jesus tells Peter what lies ahead for him. Jesus tells Peter he is going to be at the mercy of others and their actions will not be favorable toward him.

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Now, wait one minute. The whole time Peter has been following Jesus he has faced difficulty and failure. Peter has tried his best (his best usually not working). And now, this person who is normally the take-charge guy is told he will die without being in control. Then Jesus said, “Follow me.”

Even though the way I am leading you will lead to this, “but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  (Jn. 21:1-19 NIV) The question we might ask is, “Was it worth it? Was it worth it Peter?” I believe he would answer, “Yes friend, it was worth it.” Again, was it worth it? Yes. A third time, was it? Yes.

At least with the horrors, trials, temptations, and persecutions, I have experienced. Yes, it is worth it.

[1] Gerald G. May— Will and Spirit

Lectionary Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31 Trust, Truth, Choice, and Belief

The rumors had been flying. Some of Jesus’s followers were saying that Jesus was alive, that he had risen from the grave. Could they dare believe this? I mean it was really a wild rumor. How could Jesus be alive? They had watched him die. The Romans did not fail at executions. The idea of Jesus being alive was just a cruel hoax.

The disciples, except for Thomas, were in hiding together. They were afraid. They were afraid they would be next. When would the religious rulers come after them? They had locked the doors thinking this would help them to be safe.

We like to feel safe. Notice I said feel safe because in a world in which death reigns, nowhere is safe. If nothing else Covid has taught us this. It matters not who you are or where you are, we are always susceptible to dangers.  We can ignore such dangers, and use our finances to try and mitigate the danger by purchasing security devices but in reality, there is no place on this planet that can keep death away forever.

I wonder what they talked about while in hiding. I am sure that Jesus took up most of their conversation, but what were they saying? Did they talk about how they missed him? Did they talk about the violence, the shame, and the injustice? Were they angry? We are not told what they were discussing. We do know that while they were gathered, Jesus appeared. The first words out of his mouth are, “Peace be with you.”

This life is hard. This life is difficult. This life is challenging. If you are not aware of this now you will be. There are so many things that can create the perception of fear, so many things that can make us anxious and afraid, and so many things that can dash our hopes.

The perspective of peace, real peace, the kind of peace that can make even the darkest of situations filled with illumination and joy. Jesus, who was crucified is alive. Jesus who was dead brings the disciples peace by his presence.

Jesus had made a promise, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn. 14:27 NIV) Jesus keeps his word. Jesus comes to his disciples with the gift of peace. The Lord does not abandon his own.

There have been so many times in my life when I have needed this peace. When people I love die, I need this peace. When I find myself in the depths of depression, I need this peace. When I reflect on my life and on how many times I feel I have let God down, let my family down, let friends down, let the church down, and let myself down, I need the peace that only Jesus can give. It is the peace that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This peace, the peace of Jesus, is also the peace that produces perseverance. Jesus comes to his disciples to remind them they have a mission. The disciples are to carry on the work Jesus started. They are to be salt and light. They are to be people of the promise and will do even greater works than have been done. Jesus spoke to them at the Lord’s supper, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father. (Jn. 14:12 ESV) And then, Jesus gives the disciples the Holy Spirit. Jesus gives them all they need to be successful in their mission. Thus, the mission is made possible by the power of the Spirit, who simultaneously represents the continuing presence of the risen Christ with his disciples and the creative power of God always at work to enliven creation itself.

Some would see this as being an inconsistency in the Scripture. Does the Scripture not say in the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit will be given at the time of the baptism of the Holy Spirit that takes place on Pentecost? The event we find here in John is not an inconsistency but a different event. The disciples were going to need to make decisions. Jesus has given them a new means to do so. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift of discernment, it is the means through which we can do the will of God.

I believe if there is one mistake many Christians make today is not allowing the Holy Spirit to be our guide in life. When Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit it is a fulfillment of his promise to be with us always, even to the end of the age. It is the promise that God will live in us, and we will live in God. The Spirit is with us always, but the Holy Spirit will not overpower our wills. If we do not listen, the Holy Spirit will not force us to do anything. Love never forces.

Then comes verse 23. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” How can we forgive sin? Only God can forgive sin. Some view this as the ultimate job description of the church. If we continue the work of Jesus, people will have their sins forgiven and if the church does not do its work, then sins will not be forgiven. The forgiveness of sin is not about power but about grace. Not forgiving sins is about judgment. We have no right to judge.

So, I believe the best way to deal with this passage is to understand it as a call to responsibility and involvement. This is where the mission Jesus assigns to those who have the Holy Spirit comes in. It is about making the reality of the Kingdom of God and the salvation it offers known. It is an awesome God-sized challenge. The issue with Thomas reveals that.

Thomas was not there when Jesus first appeared. Thomas was a skeptic. He had seen Jesus die and no amount of foolish speculation or trickery was going to change what he believed. Thomas needed physical, tangible proof that Jesus was alive.

Thomas gets what he asks for. Jesus once again appears to the disciples in a room with locked doors. Once again Jesus greets them with the presence of peace. Thomas touches Jesus and then declares, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas was fortunate. Thomas is also an example for all of us. Faith is not about physical, provable certainty. In fact, such certainty is the opposite of faith. Certainty does not need faith, it has certainty.

Jesus responds to Thomas’s profession of faith by saying, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I love our Lord’s words, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” I love being told I am blessed. I am so thankful that true faith, confident belief does not require the arrogance of certainty. God does not have to prove the divine self to be known and loved. God does reveal God’s self to us through seeking to influence our decision by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit’s primary purpose.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (Jn. 14:26)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (Jn. 14:26-27 NRS)

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The incarnation and resurrection are not instances of God showing off. These acts were carried out for us. These events are for the purpose of giving us reason enough to chose to have faith in God. Faith is about trusting the truth. Jesus is that truth.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn. 14:6 NRS)

This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (Jn. 14:17 NRS)

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32 NRS)

The choice of life, of hope, of love, comes to us through the Holy Spirit that leads us to believe in Jesus which leads us into the grace, mercy, salvation, and promise of God. The choice is ours.

All Truth is God’s Truth

“You only end up challenging religion if religion bursts forth and says, ‘from our holy books, this is how the universe must be.’ Then you’re kind of setting yourself up for the data to then respond. Modern religious people, like the 21st century- I would call them ‘enlightened religious people’ are not anchoring the truth or falsehood of their religion on what a scientist discovers through their telescopes… Religion for them is a spiritual place of comfort and happiness and relationship,” said deGrasse Tyson.[1]

The above quote comes from an article (Physicists and Theologians Stir as the James Webb Space Telescope Project Advances) that speaks to the possibilities of what the new James Webb telescope may find as it looks back in time. It seems that once again, some in the religious community view the discoveries of science to be a threat. I believe that all truth is God’s truth be it the truth we discover in science and the truth we encounter in our own experiences with God. I am not disturbed by what science uncovers. I am bothered by those who view science as an enemy and who live by the motto, “I know what I believe, don’t try and confuse me with the facts and by those who would ignore Scripture because it did not fit with their “faith.”[2]

I am extremely thankful for my full and diverse theological education. I have experienced the legalism and indoctrination of a fundamentalist perspective, the honest search for answers and assurance from an orthodox but not fundamentalist position, and my exposure to the more esoteric and “progressive” theologies that are currently in vogue. I also pay attention to any scientific studies that have a connection with what I believe about the faith I embrace. What I value more is my experience with God. My experiences give me more than seeming facts. My experiences touch me deeply and support my confidence in God and in the assurance my faith gives me. I have learned the value of paradox, the importance of discernment, and the richness of living a life in search of the truth of God.

I respect scientists and value their work regarding helping us better understand ourselves and our world. I do not panic when a discovery may appear to challenge my faith. Neither do I get too excited when a scientific discovery provides a plausible apologetic. Our knowledge of our world and its surroundings is growing exponentially. I do not allow either end of the spectrum to have too much weight in how I infuse new knowledge with what I already know. I am just grateful to be a being God has created to enjoy the creation and all that God is doing around us. I do, following the advice of Ignatius of Loyola, to seek God in all things for this is exactly where God is to be found regardless of my own ignorance and arrogance.

[1] tps://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/physicists-and-theologians-stir-as-the-james-webb-space-telescope-project-advances/ar-AAWdP0S?ocid=msedgdhp&pc=U531&cvid=bd9f9138c0ed4efb8b41fa2e1cfd075a

[2] As I write this, I am reminded of a modern theologian who says, “If it does not fit with my interpretation of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, then the writers of the Bible got it wrong.

Sermon for Easter Sunday 2022

John 20:1-18 Mary Knows

Mary Magdalene had faced a very hard life. She had been exploited physically, tortured spiritually, and despised socially. We are told she had been possessed or oppressed by seven demons and illnesses. We are told that Jesus healed her. She knew it was Jesus who healed her. She became one of those who followed Jesus, who listened to Jesus teach about the love of God and the Kingdom Jesus came to bring. Jesus had a profound effect on her life.

Then the tragedy came. Jesus was arrested. Mary Magdalene was one of those who waited anxiously while Jesus was in the custody of the temple and Roman guards. She was there as Jesus was marched through the streets of Jerusalem and out to the place of his execution. Mary Magdalene witnessed the horror and abuse that Jesus was forced to endure. For those who have had a loved one endure misery and not be able to do anything about it, you know a little bit of what Mary experienced. She watched Jesus suffer and was there when Jesus died. I am sure she wondered why this was happening. That all took place on Friday. It is now Sunday. Mary is going to the tomb where Jesus was placed to anoint his body for a proper burial. Because of the Sabbath, this could not be done on the day Jesus died. But when she gets to the tomb, something is wrong. The tomb is not sealed, the guards are gone.

Unsure of what is going on, Mary runs back to where the disciples are and tells them Jesus’s body is missing. It is not in the tomb. Mary assumes Jesus’s body has been taken.

The two disciples, Peter and John run to the tomb to see for themselves. (I love how John inserts a little pride by telling us he outran Peter.) When they arrive, they find what Mary said to be true, Jesus’s body is not there.

Mary is crying. She is deeply troubled. And what do the men do? Do they try to comfort her? Do they ask her to join them in a search? Do they give her any hope? No, they leave her there by herself.

So here Mary finds herself. She has seemingly been abandoned. She believes she is alone. What is she to do? She decides to look inside one more time.

Have you ever looked in the same place over and over when you cannot find something? We human beings tend to doubt ourselves and wonder if we could have missed something. Maybe what we are looking for will magically appear if we just look again.

How many times have those of us who follow Jesus heard this story? How many times have we read it, studied it, and heard sermons on it? Yet no matter how many times we hear this story, it seems never to grow old. It is one of those stories that have the power to deeply touch our hearts. It is a story in that the Holy Spirit touches the heart with truth.

Mary looks inside the tomb. Shock, the tomb is not empty. There are two individuals that Mary does not recognize. She assumes they have something to do with the disappearance of Jesus’s body. The individuals ask Mary what she wants? “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

What a place to be in. Confused, afraid, probably a bit of anger has begun to set in. How could anyone play a trick like this? How could anyone be so cruel as to steal Jesus’s body? I think it is fair to say that this experience has brought a lot of stress and anxiety into her life.

But then, Mary feels a presence. She turns and there is another figure behind her. She thinks maybe this person is the gardener. Maybe this person knows where Jesus is. Mary asks, “Sir if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Then the stranger says her name, “Mary.” She knows the voice. It is a voice that brought her freedom. It is the voice that changed her life. It is a voice she did not expect to hear again. Jesus says, “Mary.” I can picture Mary’s change of face when Jesus says her name. A face of surprise, amazement, and perhaps a sudden rush of joy. I don’t know how she stayed on her feet. But she did. The text seems to indicate she sought to grab Jesus and not let go.  The Lord tells her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Jesus then gives her an assignment, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

Mary then becomes the first post-resurrection person to preach the good news. Jesus is alive. Jesus’s work continues. Mary has seen him. The woman who came early in the morning carrying the burden of deep sorrow is not filled with joy and excitement. She has seen the Lord. Jesus is alive. This was more than anything Mary could have wished for. The hope Mary had been carrying as she followed Jesus was now given greater power and intensity. Everything Jesus said was true. Even death could not hold Jesus back.

Have you had an encounter with the resurrected Jesus? Has the Holy Spirit confirmed in your heart that Jesus is alive? Has the Spirit helped you to begin to grasp that God does care about you? God does love us. This is the truth of Easter. It is a truth that Jesus promised. Jesus tells the disciples what was going to happen. The Apostle Matthew tells us, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matt. 16:21 NIV)

A few years back I remember being told a story about a family who owned a Doberman Pincher named Sweetie. Now Sweetie was a big dog. Sweetie was a gentle, family-loving pet who would never hurt a soul. However, the family was aware that some of the people in the neighborhood were scared of Sweetie.

Now the people next door to this family had a pet rabbit. They kept the rabbit in a cage in their backyard. One day, while the neighbors were away the mother of the family who owned Sweetie saw Sweetie in the backyard playing and it had the neighbor’s rabbit in its mouth. The mother was horrified. Sweetie had killed the neighbor’s rabbit. The mother ran outside and yelled at Sweetie, “bad dog.” Sweetie dropped the rabbit and came running with his tail between his legs. Bad, the mother said again, bad dog.

The mother went over to the dead rabbit and picked it up. It was dirty. The mother noticed that there was not much blood. Suddenly a scheme came to her mind. She took the dead rabbit to the kitchen, placed it in the sink, and washed all the dirt off the bunny. She then went to get the hairdryer and dried the rabbit. When she finished, she was proud of her work. The rabbit looked, natural. She then went over to her neighbor’s yard, put the rabbit in the cage, and snuck away. She then went back to her work in the kitchen.

About an hour later her neighbor came home. All seemed fine for about twenty minutes then suddenly there was hysterical screaming. The neighbor next door was screaming, the rabbit, the rabbit. The mother walked out in her best-concerned neighbor manner and said, “What is wrong?” Her neighbor, who had turned deathly pale, kept screaming, “The rabbit, the rabbit.”

The mother, in the most concerned manner she could muster, asked the neighbor, “Oh the rabbit, is it dead?”

The neighbor screamed back, “Yes, it died three days ago. We buried it. Now it is back in its cage?”

Should make for interesting material for discussion for the next neighborhood resolution group.

Why was Jesus’s tomb empty? Where did the body go? Did the disciples take it? No, the disciples ran and hid. The gardener did not move Jesus. His body was not stolen or hidden or lost. Jesus was not in the tomb because God had raised God’s son from the dead. Jesus was not just cleaned up dead. Jesus is fully resurrected life. Jesus was not posed to look alive; Jesus is alive. This is our hope. This is the reason we gather.

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (Jn. 20:1-18 NIV)

Repetend Prayer. Yes, Repetend is a Word: adding a skill in praying

Years ago, when I first began my ministry, I was introduced to a simple prayer. It was called the Jesus Prayer or the Breath prayer and the version I was taught was this, “Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me.” I discovered that when I used this prayer, I found a sense of peace in my soul. I began to teach others the prayer. It was a wonderful prayer to teach to people in the hospital. I would tell them, “As you take a breath in say to yourself, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God,’ and as you breathe out say, ‘Have mercy on Me.” As people would begin to pray this prayer you could almost see the peace that surpasses all understanding begin to help with whatever burden the person was dealing with. This Jesus Prayer was taken from Luke 18:13, and the prayer of the blind men in Luke 18:38-39, and made popular in two books, The Way of the Pilgrim and the Pilgrim, by the Anonymous Pilgrim.

I have been using repetend prayer as a spiritual discipline for many years now. Repetend prayer is a phrase prayer repeated over and over. The prayer Jesus

prayed in the Garden, “Not my will but thine.” This is prayer before the cross. A prayer of pain, uncertainty, and yet, full surrender. In the following passages, we find the account of this simple prayer used in the most intense, anxiety-producing, and faith-challenging experiences a person could face.

Then he (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. “He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matt. 26:38-44 NIV)

The event is also captured in Luke, “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Lk. 22:41-46 NIV) And while it does not explicitly say Jesus prayed the same prayer as it does in Matthew, it does verify where Jesus’s mind was and how committed Jesus was to what the Father wanted, and how it was his choice. (Choice is one of those key actions of life that needs continuing reflection and discernment if we are to avoid being manipulated, deceived, and/or used by evil intent.)

In the Anglican tradition, there is a phrase I have come to deeply respect. Lex orandi lex credenda, loosely translated from the Latin, “the law of prayer is the law of belief,”…….“Praying shapes believing,” is another way to put it.  In a few words, this Latin phrase manages to capture the spirit of traditional Anglican worship; in other words, the idea that how we pray is important to our spirituality and our development as Christians.[1] In times of stress, I believe the simplest, sincerest, honest, emotional prayer we can pray is the best tool we can use for immediate spiritual soul care.

By using a repetend prayer such as the one Jesus used in the garden, “Not my will but thy will,” we can focus attention on a need to believe which has the ability to strengthen our souls during times of potential doubt and fear. It is a way to pray in which we declare our choice to stand firm no matter what comes our way. Not a lot of thought, reasoning, or strategic planning is needed or useful. By following the example of Jesus and repeating a prayer like, “Not my will but Thine,” we are stating a desire. Desire shapes choices. Discernment is always seeking the best choice God allows to come our way.

A man once said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24 NIV) I know this is the type of strength and desire I have needed many times in my life. This man’s very words to Jesus could be used as a repetend prayer. A repeated phrase is spoken as a prayer of faith when we face a situation in which we may feel hopeless or frightened. This prayer is the ground of faith upon which we stand.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, help me overcome my unbelief.

Do, repeat, do, repeat, do, this is the way of using Repetend praying.

[1] https://stgeorgesardmore.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/praying-shapes-believing/

Tenebre:  Service of Darkness

The last 7 sayings of Jesus on the Cross

The service of darkness is a reflection of Jesus’s crucifixion and death. The service begins with the lighting of seven candles. As each of Jesus’s last sayings is read, a candle is put out. The service ends in silence and darkness.

There is a Taize chorus that will be sung before each saying. This chorus should be repeated three times.

Taizé song, Jesus Remember Me

Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom

Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom

Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

This phrase could sum up the human dilemma.  We do not know what we are doing.  Not just then but now as well.  There is a question that is used in helping people to understand what we do.  It has to do with rules and expectations.  If you own something, if it is yours, do you have a right to set the rules for its usage?  If the rules are broken and your property is harmed, do you have a right to be angry?  This is God’s world, and we are God’s creation.  He has set his rules and we break them.  Still, God loves us.  In the OT, the psalmist asks the question, “Who are humans that you are mindful of them?” We are earthen vessels (jars of clay) whom God has chosen to place great treasure. (2 Cor. 4:7)  But we are sinners in need of forgiveness, every single one.

First candle is put out. The chorus is sung.

John 19:26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,”

Even in the pain of dying, Jesus’s concern was not directed just at himself, but at those whom he loved.  He calls on his disciple to care for his mother.  Jesus was always fostering relationships of caring.  Now there are many people who worship Mary, and I believe she should be honored, as the highly favored of God, but honored not in a manner that would distract from her Son.  Perhaps the best way to honor Mary is to honor what she said in John 2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”   He tells us to deny ourselves, take the cross and follow him.

Second candle is put out. The chorus is sung.

Luke 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Two men were crucified with Jesus.  They were both criminals, duly tried and convicted, facing the justice of Rome.  One was hateful and angry.  He would not go gentle into the night.  He cursed and let his passionate poison flow from himself toward the Lord.  You saved others, save us, he sneered in a mocking and vengeful way.  The other thief had come to realize that he reaped what he had sown.  He knew he was about to face God and he was afraid.  He tried to remind the other thief that this was not the time for remonstration but for repentance.  He was looking for hope and he found it right there next to him.  His life was not one of holiness or service.  He had not been a good person.  Surely his fate was sealed, but when he turned to Jesus.  He found not condemnation but comfort.  Not judgment but grace.  Even in his last hour he is snatched from the evil one and given the gift of God. 

Third candle is put out. The chorus is sung.

Matthew 27:46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”– which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

These words are some of the most troubling in Scripture.  How could Jesus feel abandoned?  How could he doubt his father’s love?  We must be reminded that Jesus is human like us.  He had emptied himself of his divine power in order to face all we face, even the dark night of the soul.

Again we see how much Jesus suffered for us.  Did God abandon him?  No, for Jesus and the Father are one.  God’s silence is a part of God’s suffering, suffering from love as humanity is given hope through the agony of his son.

Fourth candle is put out. The chorus is sung.

John 19:28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

Thirst, is a human need.  Again, we are reminded that this is not an act, this is not a shame, this is real suffering, real agony, real pain.  His thirst is not near as great as our thirst would be if he had not gone through this.  For there is a thirst for God within each of us. Only Jesus and his sacrifice can begin to quench this thirst.

Fifth candle is put out. The chorus is sung

John 19:30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It is finished.  Jesus had won the battle.  The temptation to not go through the cross has passed.  He is beyond the pain.  He is facing the final moments.  Finished.  The debt he did not owe is paid; the debt we could not pay is redeemed.  But what a price he paid.  What a work he did. No great love has anyone than to be willing to give up our life for theirs. Jesus did for us.

Sixth candle is put out. The chorus is sung.

Luke 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last

Folks, God has tasted death.  God has gone through the portal.  God has faced humanity’s greatest fear and foe.  Jesus gives up his life.  It has not been taken, for he could have come down from the cross.  With a word, the angels of heaven would have rushed to his aid, but he would not allow it.  He needed to show us how?  He knows what he must do, what he has always done. Jesus will trust the will of the Father.  Darkness now covers the land.  Jesus has descended into death.  He will preach to the captives. He will await the power of God to bring him out of the grave.  But for now, all seems hopeless.  The disciples are defeated, the crowd pacified, and the leaders still have a little apprehension, but the threat seems over.  But it is not.  We await the sequel.  We await the third day. 

Seventh candle is put out. Chorus is sung.

Depart in silence (if with a group). Spend some time in silence if doing this as a personal devotion.

The Clandestine Educator: TV in the Modern World

Since its inception, television has captured the cultural imagination. Outside of work and sleep, it is now the primary preoccupation of most Americans. Individuals consume upward of five hours of TV daily, even more when taking into account viewing done online and on mobile devices. TV is so ingrained in the fabric of everyday life that it can’t help but function as one of the primary means through which we make sense of our lives and the world.[1]

I quit watching my favorite television shows, Big Brother and Survivor. I really did enjoy these “reality TV” shows and that was my problem. I enjoyed watching a program for entertainment that promoted lying, deceiving, and manipulating others in order to win a monetary reward. Now, please do not think that I am judging others who do watch these programs. The Holy Spirit was working on me, and I can only speak to the Spirit’s action in my own life. God does deal with us individually.

But in all honesty, to watch TV is to risk being entertained by a make-believe world in which sin is not often considered and which promotes a worldview that is contrary to the morality that comes from growing in the Christian faith. Cohabitation is taken for granted. Adultery is considered commonplace. Violence is glorified. Lying is an accepted practice. The act of killing another human being is just part of being entertained. Often, the Christian faith is portrayed in a bad light. So why should someone who is serious about their Christian faith not be concerned about how this type of entertainment influences them? This is just a question but a question I believe we should do some serious reflecting on.

We cannot escape TV. Even if we throw our TVs away, we will still encounter the screen that influences so much of our time. We can recognize its influence and we can decide how we will screen the screen.

I have come up with some questions for myself. Perhaps these questions can be helpful to you in deciding what you consider entertainment.

1) Would I watch this show if I was aware that Jesus was sitting beside me?

2) What do I find entertaining about what I watch?

3) How do I feel about the accepting portrayals given to what is taught in Scripture as being immoral?

4) Is my faith being insulted or mocked in the programs I watch?

5) Do I care about who is made the victim or do I ignore victimization on TV?

6) Do I reflect theologically on the programs I watch?

7) What would someone be led to believe about me by the TV I watch?

I am sure you could come up with other questions that would make you a more discerning consumer of television programming. I do believe it is important to our spiritual development to be aware and discerning about this clandestine educator that takes up so much time in our culture.

[1] Watching TV Religiously (Engaging Culture): Television and Theology in Dialogue, Introduction