Lectionary Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 14:23-29

What do we take for granted? Who do we take for granted? The foundation for taking something for granted is a belief that something does not need attention, that it is fine just as it is. It is something that we do not need to think about. We take things for granted, like breathing, until something happens that makes breathing difficult. Then it gets our attention. We can take eating for granted until there is no food. We can take relationships for granted until we lose them. We can take God for granted until we come to find out we need God.

I am afraid too many people take God for granted. I am afraid too many people do not realize that they have done this until a disaster strikes or they die and discover with horror and regret we should not have taken God for granted.

How do you avoid taking God for granted? We can avoid it by reflecting and acting on what Jesus says. Jesus gives us an important insight here. If we love Jesus, we will obey God’s commands? Ok, good, what is it that Jesus commands? Do you know?

Bible tells us of a young man who comes to Jesus and asked what is required for eternal life. Jesus replied, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ” (Mk. 10:19 NIV) The young man agreed and says that he has done this since he was young. At least he through he had kept them. However, Jesus tells him to give to the poor and follow him. The young man cannot do this and walks away sad.

Jesus tells us, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

The question for us in reflection is a simple one, “Have I done what God expects? Do I care what God expects? Do I simply try to ignore the spiritual requirements of life, taking them for granted and hoping everything will work?

God does want us to understand that while grace is free and that God loves us unconditionally, God does not force love or obedience. We do not have to choose God. We can choose our own will if we want. We had just better not make the mistake of taking God for granted and believe there will be no consequences for doing so. We cannot take our eternal state or our relationship with Jesus for granted. Relationships are a two-way affair. Yes, God gives and gives and gives. Yes, God is forgiving, merciful, and loving. But God will not force us. If we know God, love God, and desire to honor God we must keep God’s desires first and foremost in our minds. To not do so is to take them for granted. The Christian faith is not about cheap grace. It is a faith of relational connection and relational responsibility. It is not a take-it-for-granted relationship. If we understood the opposition to the true faith, the deceptions, delusions, and diabolical lies we will face we would not take our faith for granted.

Jesus gives us insight into the challenge we face, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:14 NIV) And, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:13-14 NIV) Jesus tried to make it clear, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Lk. 12:5 NIV)

We are continually struggling whether we know it or not against not only our own willfulness to choose the way we want but also, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12 NIV)

Jesus knows how difficult our spiritual struggle is. Jesus knows that we can easily fall victim. Jesus knows how we can be used by evil. Jesus knows how we often willingly follow lies. Jesus came to show and teach humanity how easily we can be deceived. Jesus wants the disciples to know this. Jesus wants us to know this.

Jesus then tells the disciples, “All this I have spoken while still with you.”

Jesus was aware that even in his death, the enemy would not give up. The enemy wants to lead every human being astray. The enemy wants to see us suffer and die. The enemy wants us in hell and will do whatever it can to destroy us. Jesus will not leave us to fight this fight by ourselves. Jesus wants to give us a helper, a comforter, an advocate, and the very presence of God in our lives to stand with us, strengthen us, and empower us. This help is going to be the Holy Spirit.

This is what Jesus tells his disciples, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

A relationship with Jesus is always about faith. Jesus did not come to bring certainty but an opportunity to believe and trust based on the revelation God gives to us. Then. The disciples could see Jesus but that was going to change. Jesus became one of us because faith had descended into legalism and ritual without relationship. Jesus gave us an understanding of God that transcends certainty and instead gives us a connection to the mystery that is much deeper and far more real than certainty. Death is a certainty. The promises of God go beyond death to all of eternity. Jesus was God with us, and he still is God with us, not by sight but by faith. It is the Holy Spirit that enables faith and sustains faith. It is the Holy Spirit that comes and dwells with us when we turn to faith in Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit that works in us to make us more like our Lord and to give us assurance and hope beyond certainty.

To confirm what Jesus says, Jesus tells his disciples, “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. Jesus then goes on to say, “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (Jn. 14:28-29 NIV)

Jesus says he will come back. Jesus keeps his word. Our faith believes in this promise. Jesus will return.

Jesus has left us as far as his incarnate presence as a human being on Earth. We are the ones who now must fully live by faith and trust. In this, we are blessed. For Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (Jn. 20:29 NIV)

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:8-9 NIV)

It is a dangerous thing to take God for granted. It is a positive thing to seek the assurance Jesus offers us. How often do we cheat ourselves from the blessing because we are not active in our faith and belief? We too often choose the path of the world rather than the way of the Lord. I hope each of us takes time to reflect, repent, and return to seeking to do the will of God in all things.

Lectionary Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 13:31-35 The Path to Glory

The disciples had joined Jesus for what would be his last supper on earth. It was a time of celebration, but there was a cloud, a darkness, an uncertainty that seemed to blanket the time. Jesus had done some strange things. He had washed their feet. This particularly bothered Peter. Then Jesus said some strange things about the bread and wine comparing them to his body and blood. Jesus had told them one of them would betray him. And then Jesus said to Judas, go do what you must do. Judas had just left to go and betray Jesus.  Now Jesus turns to the other disciples and says, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him.” What does Jesus mean? The disciples did not have a clue.

What does it mean to glorify someone? The word translated glorify is a word meaning putting into a position of power and great honor, especially in the future life glorify. Jesus was about to be betrayed, abused, falsely accused, beaten, mocked, spat on, tortured, and then executed on a cross made of wood. This was going to be an extremely painful death. How does this glorify him?

All the things that are soon to happen to Jesus seem so negative, so victimizing. Yet Jesus is going to use them to bring about the life-giving resurrection and ascension. Jesus is glorified, given the most exalted position any human being could ever be given, Savior of humanity for all eternity. Jesus is glorified by the Father and by the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s death, there is life. In Jesus’s suffering, there is love, love for us that is unconditional. This is the glory of Jesus.

There are some things we need to remember. Jesus, the Son of God, God in Trinity, became a human being knowing this is where the incarnation would lead. Human beings die, Human beings do violence to one another. In Jesus, deity became humanity. To me, the act of leaving the prefect presence of the Triune unity to become human is beyond comprehension. To know one is about to rejoin that blessed community would certainly be a reason for expecting glory, even if the path was certainly going to be the way of suffering.

“If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” Jesus knew this is true. Jesus knew this was the plan and purpose of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

We, today, have the gift of reflection concerning this event. We read the Gospel and so know what Jesus is going to go through. We know that Jesus surrenders himself completely to what was coming his way. We do not have to live with questions about what was going to happen. We are allowed to know how things turn out.

These next words, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Wow, such powerful words of endearment, ‘my children come from Jesus. Clearly, Jesus cares about the disciples. He knows it is going to be hard on them. Jesus knows his time is short. Jesus is the only person who can go where he is going. Jesus is going to die a horrible death and then descend into hell itself. Jesus would return and then ascend to the Father. No other human being would ever be able to do this on their own. Through death, Jesus takes those of us who are his into the eternal Kingdom. Those who go to hell will not come back. This is the eternal danger every human being faces. As the Scripture says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23 NIV) and the consequences of sin separate us from God. Only Jesus can breach that divide. We cannot go where Jesus goes but we can listen to his voice as he calls us to the flock of God.

Then Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment. Jesus gives us the summary of all the commandments, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

The word translated love is a subjunctive. The subjunctive is generally used when talking about something that may or may not happen; it could be something that the speaker wants, hopes for, expects, or imagines. Jesus deeply desires this for his disciples, but it must be their choice. They can reject this commandment. To do so however, would be to reject Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:15 ESV) If you love Jesus you will seek to do what Jesus expects of us. However, Jesus will not force us to love. You cannot force love.

I hope you are aware that the word love can be one of the most misused words in the English language. It is used to justify lust. It is used to manipulate and control, to hurt and deceive, and distract and possess. This is not the love that is the very nature of God.

The love commandment Jesus gives is one that calls his disciples to be servants of one another, of being willing to lie down one’s life, and of living out of the depth of compassion that Jesus did. This kind of love Jesus tells us will identify us as true believers, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:31-35 NIV)

As I look back over my 40 years of ministry in churches, I served I must say I saw very little of this kind of love. If asked if I will see the people who attended these churches in heaven, I must honestly say I only know a few. I have seen people play at being good and then do some of the most unlove acts I have ever known. I think the pandemic has shown how little people care for others in how they responded to masks and vaccines. I believe the church’s involvement in politics has shown the lack of love and the abundance of hate. I believe churches today are not known for their love but for their marketing, entertainment, and fundraising.

I believe Jesus knew how hard this would be. I have no doubt Jesus understood that the road to love is narrow, rocky, steep, and hard. The way of the world is wide, deceptive, and seemingly easy. The road of love abandons judgment while the way of the world is always judging.

There is an exercise we can do to help us stay on track and live up to Jesus’s expectations. And what is this exercise? It is an examination of the actions in our lives as to whether we are loving others or are a stumbling block to others. We need to examine our relationships. How am I at loving others? How am I Jesus to others? How is the Holy Spirit guiding me to love others? After doing this then reflect on those who have not been loving toward. Who have I not listened to? Who have I not shown care? And perhaps the most important reflection of all, “Will I see the people I come into contact with in heaven?” 

Jesus is still with us. The Holy Spirit is constantly trying to lead us to love. We must respond. It is a choice. How will we choose?

A Confession and Hope

I have written about my suicide before but I feel compelled to do so again. I do not remember the gun going off. I do not remember what it felt like as the bullet ripped through my tongue and teeth. I do not remember it destroying my left eye. I do not remember when the bullet, now separating into fragments, entered my brain. In fact, all I can really remember is saying to myself, “There is no hope,” as I put the barrel of the gun under my chin and pulled the trigger. I do remember floating over my dead body as I was being transported to the hospital. I was told that I passed out due to a lack of blood. This caused my heart to fail. I vaguely remember the emergency personnel bringing me back to life only to slip away again. This time, I was taken to a place where I was with others who had died. Strangely, I was not afraid.

I remember there was an accuser, I do not know if it were the demon who had tormented me for two years or whether Satan was there to accuse me. I remember that the evil entity, whoever it was, said, “He killed himself. Church law says that he now belongs to me.” Then another voice spoke up. Was it an angel of was it the Lord, I am not sure, however, the angel, or the Lord, said to the evil presence, “God grace trumps Church law, he belongs to us. His price has been paid.”

Then the one speaking turned to me and asked, “Do you want to go back?” I knew I had a choice, but I also knew I needed to say yes. I was aware there were others there as well. Some of them were in a state of being beyond horror, terror, pain, and fear. They reflected the hopelessness and true suffering of a regret that will never go away. There were others who seemed to be in a state of bliss that was far greater than happiness, pleasure, joy, and peace. However, once I said yes, I awoke in the intensive care unit. I had been unconscious for eleven days, hooked up to a ventilator, feeding tube, monitors, wires, and tubes. I was alive.

At first, I did not know what had happened. While I was being moved from intensive care to a room I asked the nurse, “What happened to me?” The nurse replied, “You were shot.” I then asked, “Who shot me?” The nurse replied, “Do you know who shot you?” I answered no. The nurse then told me, “I have been told the shot was self-inflicted.” My mind took this bit of information and began racing. “What was the caliber of the gun?” I asked. In my mind, I wonder if it had been an accident. If I had been shot with the 9mm then I could believe it was an accident. If it was the .45 then I knew I had decided to kill myself. The nurse did not know. It took two days to find out that it was the .45. Yes, I had intended to kill myself.

Why, why did I do this? What finally brought me to seek to end my life? I had lost hope. I felt that I was a total failure. I had been pushed out of a church, forced to retire, and had done irreparable damage to my lower back. I was in constant, chronic pain. I had just moved from a small town to a larger city. Covid had struck and I could not get a job. I had turned to self-medicating to try and ease my physical pain. This did not really help. Mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck. I had no friends to support me. My dear wife tried her best to help me, but I resisted her and felt I had been abandoned by God. In my insanity, I believed my only choice was to die. And so, in a drug-induced state in total despair I killed myself. I did not think of what I was going to say to God, or how I was going to try and rationalize what I had done. Selfish, that is what I was selfish.

My poor wife was in the next room when I pulled the trigger. Selfishly I did not think of what my actions might do to her. I did not think of my daughters, grandchildren, or anyone. I did not think of what I was about to do to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I just wanted to end the pain. It was a very selfish act. I am sure the Lord wondered watched me with sadness. Why could I not depend on God to help? Why had I become so willful?

It has been two years since the event. I lost my left eye and most of my teeth. My vocal cords were damaged. The amount of brain damage has not been too extensive as far as we can tell. Mostly I cannot remember how to do some of the physical things I had participated in and taught. I cannot tolerate a lot of stress. I have panic attacks when I am in a situation that is stressful. I use a cane to help with balance issues.

I spend most of my time now studying and seeking. I thought that the Lord was calling me back into the church as a pastor. I even tried sending out resumes. I had some responses that made me hopeful. I have been able to accept the lack of responses and the responses that were rejections without experiencing emotional or mental pain. I do not blame God. I do not blame the churches that are not interested. After all, I am a 67-year-old man who may be qualified in every sense and have experiences that could be very helpful to others, but I am not the image most churches look for in a pastor. I am okay with this. There is no person to blame for any of this except myself.

I am now seeking to be accepting of my situation. Willingness is the answer to willfulness. I am entering into the physical, economic state of poverty. I have controlled the back pain to the point of being able to do some physical work for about thirty minutes before I must sit down so I cannot find a job. I am too old to file for disability. I am dependent upon my wife to be the true breadwinner even though she is 66 years old. She truly is a servant of the Lord.

I am learning to deal with regret. I am learning to deal with my self-caused handicaps. I am constantly reading and studying spiritual direction and discernment. God is very good to me. Pray is becoming more meaningful and intimate for me. I have peace, a peace that does surpass anything the world has offered me. I am seeking about all else to live in the reality of the repetend prayer I turn to every day, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk. 22:42 NIV)

I have no idea, yet, of the reason, the Lord sent me back. I feel it largely had to do with the prayers of my wife and children. I do believe God has a purpose for me. I am more than willing (not willfully but willingly) to be whomever the Lord wants to shape me into being. I am amazed at how God can still love me, use me, affirm me, and bless me despite continual sinfulness and stupidity. I have come to know the hope expressed in Jesus’s parable, “”Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” (Lk. 18:10-13 NIV)

Another repetend prayer, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

Lectionary Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:22-30 The Responsibility is Ours

Many, many years ago when I was a very young teenager our family moved to a city in Texas. The neighborhood we settled in has a lot of other young teens as well. This group of neighborhood teens had a special way of treating new commers. What they would do is get you into a discussion about your physical abilities. In the process of talking the subject would come up, “Who do you think you could beat in a fight?”  They would then go to the person you said you might be able to win against and tell them that you said you could beat them. This little game got me into fights on a regular basis until I figured out what was going on.

I understand how teenagers could do something like this, but sadly, some of this type of behavior follows them into adulthood. One of the places I see evidence of this is how they use social media.  I do not use major social media platforms. The reason I do not is because I see so much hostility, so much stirring the pot of controversy, and so many hurtful words that I just felt this is something that I, myself could not do without being tempted to respond. Responding would only feed the beast. Each of us must respond to how the Holy Spirit leads us in matters of life and living. The responsibility is ours.

The Festival of Dedication (we know today as Hanukkah), is the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is celebrated during the Hebrew month of Kislev (late November or early December), beginning on day 25 of Kislev and continuing for eight days and nights. It celebrates the Maccabees’ victory over Greek oppression and the rededication of the Temple.

In the passage, we are told that some religious individuals approached Jesus and tried to manipulate him into saying something that could be used against him. It was an attempt to draw Jesus into a fight. They want Jesus to make a public declaration. They want Jesus to say he is the Messiah.

What is the big deal about this? Why does it seem so important that Jesus make this declaration public? In the days of Jesus, the term Messiah was viewed as more political than spiritual. Several charismatic rebel leaders had used the title in their revolt against Roman rule. The Romans had a way of quickly eliminating such rebels. Those who were pushing Jesus to publicly declare himself to be the Messiah were hoping the same thing would happen to him.

Jesus was on to their scheme. Jesus’s answer, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” Jesus does not want to play their games. Jesus knows their motives and designs. Jesus sees into the depth of a human soul.

The game “who is Jesus” continues today. I have read, set through lectures, and have had conversations with individuals who still say that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah and that this was a title imposed on him by the church. Still today, they ask for evidence that plainly states Jesus was the Messiah.

He is reality. Jesus did claim, plainly, with his words but more so with his actions that Jesus was the Messiah promised by Scripture.

There is an old saying about arrogant and ignorant people, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up. These people who are being so aggressive have already made their minds up about Jesus. They are convinced he is not the type of Messiah they wanted. They were afraid of the trouble Jesus was stirring up among the masses who were beginning to believe Jesus just might be the Messiah.

This is the real issue. It is about accepting the responsibility to understand who Jesus is, what kind of Messiah he is, and what Jesus’s Messiahship means to each and every human being. Jesus was not just a Jewish Messiah; he is the Messiah for all time and space and creation and salvation. Through the words and actions of his life, Jesus proclaimed the reality of the coming Kingdom of God and that it was a Kingdom of grace, love, and reconciliation not a Messiah of nationalism.

I am very troubled about the growing attempt in recent times to try and make Jesus the Messiah of nationalism once again. America is not the Kingdom of God. Israel is not the Kingdom of God. No political entity can ever claim to be the Kingdom of God. Jesus came and preached a message of forgiveness and acceptance without any trace of racial superiority or political alignment. Just as the children’s hymn proclaims, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Jesus tells those who are questioning him that the reason they do not believe is because they do not recognize Jesus as the shepherd. The Messiah will lead those who listen to the reality voiced by Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd. The anointed of God, the savior of humankind is first and foremost a shepherd. He leads the sheep. He does not drive the flock but through his voice, the flock finds trust and assurance.

Jesus makes it clear. It is important to be part of Jesus’s flock. Jesus will lead to green pastures of peace. Jesus will lead to the still waters of grace. Jesus will protect and serve his own with his very life. Satan cannot claim someone who belongs to the flock of God.

How can we know if we belong to the flock of God? How can we know we are hearing Jesus’s voice? The voice of Jesus is not about power, position, profits, or possessions. The voice of Jesus is about being a servant. It is about helping and not hurting. It is about joy and not judgment. It is about freedom, not control. It is about unconditional love.

The sheep know the shepherd’s voice through experience, through a relationship. It is the shepherd who leads them to food and shelter. It is the shepherd who calls them.

 “The modern shepherd has a wonderful memory, which retains the name of every sheep. The flocks sometimes contain several hundred, and yet each one has a name, and the shepherd knows it, and calls every sheep by its proper name. [One observer] tells of watching shepherds with flocks upon the slopes of Mount Hermon: ‘Each shepherd trains his sheep to come at his call, to go in order, in twos or fours, in squares and circles; one from the outer circle in a flock of a thousand will come when its name is called.’ It is the voice of the shepherd that the sheep recognizes.

“A stranger once declared to a Syrian shepherd that the sheep knew the dress and not the voice of their master. The shepherd said it was the voice they knew. To prove this, he exchanged dresses with the stranger, who went among the sheep in the shepherd’s dress, calling the sheep in imitation of the shepherd’s voice, and tried to lead them. They knew not his voice, but when the shepherd called them, though he was disguised, the sheep ran at once at his call.”​[1]

If we want to know if we are in the flock of God the question, “How do we respond to the words of Jesus and how can we trust the word,” needs to be asked. How do we do this? By spending time with the words of the Good Shepherd. By becoming discerning in times of prayer. By seeking to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. God does seek us. God does try to draw us. God will protect us if we are willing to trust.

Final note, Jesus moves the position of Messiah to a new level. Jesus says he and the Father are one. Jesus just states that he is one with God. It is simple logic. If a equals b, and b equals c, then a equals c. If the Father is God, and Jesus claims to be one with the Father, then Jesus states that he is God as well. If this is the truth, then the matter of whose voice we hear is critical to our eternal state. We will not live in this world forever. We do, because of Jesus have the opportunity to live in the presence and pleasure of God forever. Perhaps making sure of whose voice we are listening to is more important than we might realize.

[1] Orientalisms in Bible Lands, by E. W. Rice, pp. 159-161.

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/