Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pastoral Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

We praise you, O God our Creator.
You made us and you provide us
with both daily bread and living water.
Like a shepherd you guide us along the right paths.
Forgive us when we go astray,
and bring us back to the way.

We praise you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Whether we go down the right paths or the wrong,
you do not leave our side.
When the road we follow leads us through the shadows,
when we must face challenge or pain or even death,
we need not fear, for you are with us:
the wood of your cross lifted high above us,
we know that there is nothing you have not yourself faced,
no place where you are unprepared to defend us.

We praise, O Holy Spirit.
You unify us around your table,
freeing us to include both friend and foe
in our perception of your infinite love.
You anoint us to be children of the Most High;
our lives overflow with your good gifts.

We praise you, O God, Three-in-One.
Just as you lead us,
your goodness and your forgiving love follow us wherever we go.
Thank you that in you we are at home forever more. Amen.

Draw Me Out

The sorrows of mine heart are enlarged: draw me out of my troubles.
—Psalm 25:17 (Geneva Bible 1560)

It's nice to read the scriptures in a variety of translations. Sometimes it's not so much about which translation is truest to Hebrew or Greek idioms, but which one can help me understand things in a way that I can relate to. I am especially fond of Psalm 25:17 in the old Geneva Bible (the translation the Pilgrims brought with them on the Mayflower). For in my own life, the roots of distress usually lie not with exterior causes, but with my own tendency to worry. Yes, there are genuine sorrows in my life, but they too often become bigger in my heart than they should. I feel cornered, or I flee (usually emotionally, not physically) to a place of safety.

And safety's great, but I can't always function from such a place, and I can almost never grow when I'm unchallenged.

And so like a frightened dog cowering under a bed, I need to be drawn out by a loving Master. That's what it's like sometimes when I let God help us deal with my troubles: God often does it bit by bit so that I don't even realize what's happening. But in the end, I find that I've been drawn beyond my preoccupations—maybe even drawn beyond our own selves—into a broad place of safety and freedom.

My worries have been magnified until I feel that I am in trouble, Lord: Draw me out of my trouble; grant me safety; grant me freedom, in Jesus' Name. Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Friendship of the Lord is for Those Who Fear Him

For your Name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who are they that fear the Lord? He will teach them the way that they should choose.
They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
—Psalm 25:11-15

Fearing God, as theologian Rob Bell once noted, is like sitting on a surfboard just offshore and finding a huge whale surfacing beneath you. The immensity of the event causes awe and respect and, yes, a certain fear as you are lifted. Whales are gentle but still wild, and in the vastness of the sea, encountering such a giant can’t but leave you breathless. And you love it.

That’s fearing and loving God.

Fearing God is like listening to the quiet after a large snowfall. Everything has changed and there is immense power in that. And yet, everything is more beautiful—even if it’s all just a little more complex. And you love it.

That’s fearing and loving God.
—Tim Brown, Living Lutheran

Imprint upon my heart, O God, that because I belong to you no one can pluck me from your hand, and because I fear you I need fear no other. Amen.
A New Zealand Prayer Book

Friday, April 20, 2018

Mickey Making Coffee

All the Paths of the Lord

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
—Psalm 25:8-10

If it is the humble that God leads in the right direction, then is it possible to extrapolate? Can we assume that those who are characterized by extreme pride—those who utterly reject humility—are being led astray? The real problem here, of course, is that the proud often end up in positions of leadership and are endowed with the power to lead others (sometimes entire nations!) along the wrong path.

Those who genuinely pray to be led down what Psalm 23 calls the paths of righteousness cannot simply be silent bystanders as many so-called Christians endorse both prideful disobedience and complete disregard for the downtrodden. Whether anyone will listen or not, we are called to bear witness to the Crucified One who was willing to pay the price rather than place himself above God's own word.

Forgive my silent complicity in my nation's situation, O God: teach me both humility and courage, and show me how the two are not mutually exclusive; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

To Whom Does Tomorrow Belong?

I'm intentionally posting this video (from the 1972 musical Cabaret) today to ask to whom tomorrow (April 20) belongs. It portrays what appears to be a lovely song sung by an innocent boy. But we are quickly disabused of the notion of the boy's innocence, and soon thereafter learn the sense of the song. As chilling as the boy's singing is, the response of the audience is the truly frightening part.

This notion of false innocence is even more pronounced, for we have seen and continue to see the same thing happening in our own country: A perception of ethnic nationhood losing its integrity in order to embrace the promise of power—the hope for redemption from a source that cannot redeem, only destroy.

We know where Germany's ultra-nationalism led and what it took to destroy it. Has the United States learned that lesson? The stakes in the 21st century are much higher than they were 75 years ago, and the destruction that can be wrought is much greater than we can imagine. We have seen how diversity and understanding can lift up. Are we really that desperate to tear it down?

The Sins of My Youth

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
—Psalm 25:6-7

Once God has forgiven a past transgression, it is forgiven. But sometimes old sins arise in my mind and threaten its peace. Psalm 25 reminds me that if I have to dwell on the past, then it is God's forgiving love, and not my own inadequacy, that I should remember.

When Satan tempts me to despair 
and tells me of my guilt within, 
upward I look and see him there 
who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
my sinful soul is counted free,
for  God  the  just  is  satisfied 
to look on him and pardon me.
—Charitie Lees Bancroft
When I lie awake at night remembering my past wrongs, O God, remind me that you love me still, and that when you forgive you also forget; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Can You Picnic?

Can you surry, can you picnic?
—Laura Nyro

Teach Me Your Paths

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
—Psalm 25:4

If the scriptures are to be taken literally, why is the prayer to be taught God's ways so frequent in the psalms? If I can simply read the words and know that they mean what they say, why not a frequent prayer for the strength to follow the path that I can see so clearly because I take the words of the Bible literally? 

The Bible is not a book simply to be taken literally, but collection of books written by a community and interpreted by and in a community. To imply that we can read its messages in privacy and out of their context and be blessed with knowledge of the mind of God is both dishonest and a disservice to persons seeking faith.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Amen.
—Psalm 25:5

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I Lift Up My Soul

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
—Psalm 25:1-3

What's it mean to "lift up my soul"? My soul is what makes me human. It is that part of me which lives on, even after my body has become dust. Lifting it up to another being (or Being) is an act of offering my entire and eternal self. It is the ultimate act of vulnerability. 

In the 25th Psalm, the writer is clearly already feeling quite vulnerable. I don't know who their foes are, but they're beset. But in their danger, they make a choice: If I am to be exposed, then I will open myself up to God; if I belong to God, then those who mean me harm cannot take possession of me.

I offer myself to you, O God; let those of ill will say or do what they want. As long as I am yours, nothing else can overtake me or take me over. Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Strong in the Struggle

Lift up your heads ye gates, and be ye lifted up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? the Lord, strong and mighty, even the Lord mighty in battle.
—Psalm 24:7-8 (Geneva Bible 1560)
It's a common belief among biblical scholars that the God of Israel, Yahweh, was originally one of many near eastern gods acknowledged by the people that later became the Hebrews, and that he was the one who led them in battle. It wasn't until later that Yahweh was thought of as the Creator of the universe, and even later that the existence of all other gods was denied.

In our current way of thinking, God is the God of peace, and so it's not en vogue to think of God as a warrior. But sometimes I like to think of God that way, and my own personal paraphrase of this part of Psalm 24 refers to God as "strong in the struggle," because when people of faith have battles to fight, it's good to know that God is there in the thick of things.

When the storms of life are raging, Lord, stand by me. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


There once was a man on a witness stand who kept shaking his head No and nodding for yes—responses which the court reporter couldn’t record, of course. And so the judge instructed him quite firmly, “Sir, all your answers must be oral.” So then, when the prosecuting attorney asked him, “Mr. Smith, were you at home the night of the burglary?” He answered, very distinctly, “Oral.”
Speaking of court reporters, one once recorded the following exchange between a defense attorney and a coroner:
  • Dr. Jones, when you performed the autopsy on the patient in question, did you check for a pulse?
  • Yes, sir, I did.
  • Did you check to see if she was breathing?
  • Yes, I did.
  • And did you check for any muscle reflexes?
  • Yes.
  • But is it possible that the patient was still alive when you began the autopsy?
  • No.
  • And how can you make that determination?
  • Because her brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
  • I see. But could the patient have been alive nevertheless?
  • Well, I suppose she might have been alive and practicing law in this courtroom.
On another occasion, in a paternity case, one of the lawyers involved asked the mother, “Ma’am, what was the date of conception.”
“October 15, 2015,” she said.

Come and Dine

Though this song is based more on John 21:9, it also reminds me of today's gospel reading (see Luke 24:41-42). I first learned it in Vanceburg, where we sang from the little Ruggles song book on Sunday nights.

Your Only Comfort

The earth is the Lord’s, and all that therein is; the world and they that dwell therein.
—Psalm 24:1 (Geneva Bible 1560)
What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
—Heidelberg Catechism  (Lord's Day 1, Question 1)

I thank you, God, that I am not my own, but that I belong to you, now and forever. Amen.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Heaven & Hell...

According to Grace & Frankie*

*or at least according to an ex-priest who knows their ex-husbands.

Guide Me Through

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
—Psalm 23:4-6

Until we have reached that haven, the slightest breeze will make us tremble; but as long as the Lord is our Shepherd, we shall walk without fear in the valley of the shadow of death.
❦ John Calvin

As you are with me in the sunshine, be with me in the shadows, Lord. Guide me through and bring me home, in Jesus' Name. Amen.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Not for Ease That Prayer Shall Be

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
—Psalm 23:1-3

Hear, O God, the prayer we offer—
not for ease that prayer shall be,
but for strength, that we may ever
live our lives courageously.

Not forever in green pastures
do we ask our way to be,
but the steep and rugged pathway
may we tread rejoicingly.

Not forever by still waters
would we idly rest and stay,
but would smite the living fountains
from the rocks along our way.

Be our strength in hours of weakness,
in our wanderings be our guide;
through endeavor, failure, danger,
be the shepherd at our side.
✙ Love M. Willis, 1859 (adapted by SG)

I prefer this tune adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams for this hymn. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

If you voted for Trump..

You knew this is what you were voting for. 
So why did you?