Daily Prayer

For those who are unable to view it on Facebook, here the links to our daily prayer from the past week. I will try to put them up daily on this site from now on.

Monday:
https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/262228004794208/

Tuesday:
https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/243798210083657/

Wednesday:
https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/1757423487733824/

Thursday:
https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/551254552188009/

Friday:
https://www.facebook.com/147073089497/videos/631278931052084/

Making the Most of It


So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity…Don’t act thoughtlessly but understand what the Lord wants you to do. – Ephesians 5:15-17

The world is an odd place right now. It is currently being held hostage by an organism that measures between 50-200 nano-meters in diameter and is, as such, completely unseen by the naked eye. Yet, day after, day, we see its effect on the world around us across every culture, demographic, religion, and continent. And as we are held in this way by the viral contagion known are Covid-19, there is little we can do but try to avoid public places and wait for the virus to run its course.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps there is something we can embrace and live into that is ideal for the times and circumstances.

As we read these words from Ephesian letter about making the most of our time, we encounter an opportunity.  Many people, myself included, have begun to engage in something being called the growth mindset. Growth mindset has been around for a while and it is really nothing more than a simple attitudinal adjustment. It is an idea that says, “What can I learn from my present circumstances – good or bad – that will help me grow, learn, or mature as a person. How do I become what I am meant or called by God to be out the present moment?”

The current circumstances in the world are a great opportunity to embrace the growth mindset and as Christians we might think of it as simply sanctification or maturing in the faith. Think of all the things that you have considered doing in your life but the time wasn’t right – be they related to yourself, your family, or your faith – and realize that you now have that time available. All the projects that were shelved for a rainy day are now within your grasp to achieve. All the things you felt a calling to practice or embrace now have a proving ground in the current climate of the world.

Ask yourself, what can I do to make the most of my time? What ministry can I take part in, what life skill can I learn, what opportunity previously missed can I go back to? Each of us has this opportunity. Make the most of it for the Kingdom of God.

The Story: Pilgrims and Wanderers

Photo by Nans 82 on Pexels.com

You can see this sermon and the service on the Zion UMC Facebook page by clicking here.

Pilgrims and strangers

We are pilgrims and the spiritual descendants of pilgrims, carrying on our own tradition of pilgrimage. We are spiritual wanderers from Father Abraham, a Bedouin herdsman to Moses, a wandering statesman to Elijah, a wandering troublemaker, to Jesus himself, an itinerant preacher, healer, and prophet. Jesus even spoke of what may have been his preference for the nomadic lifestyle saying, “The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. The pilgrim life, it seems, is in the DNA of Jesus’ disciples, with the Holy Spirit as our guide and the road under our feet.

While we consider ourselves by scientific definition homo sapiens or thinking man, the truth is, we may do better to call ourselves homo ambulans or walking man as quite often we find ourselves seeking to travel. When things go wrong and we need to sort it out, we go for a walk to clear our head or we sometimes in moments of stress have to think on our feet. Being on our feet is an extension of our humanity and is a large part of what makes us what we are. Pilgrimage then, is not only in our spiritual blood, it is in the very fabric of our being.

Pilgrimage was also a large part of Israel’s worship traditions. Several times a year, major festivals were held in Jerusalem – Passover, Shauvot, and Sukkot – which required the people to walk in from the countryside and gather for worship and sacrifice in the Temple. Several Psalms, known as the Songs of Ascent, were written as pilgrim chants or sing-a-longs as they climbed from places like Jericho, Emmaus, and Hebron up the 3,000-foot hill that led to the city and the Temple Mount.

This tradition of pilgrimage is one common to the Jewish people: the journey from Egypt to Canaan in Exodus six, the return from Exile in 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and even the Hall of faith chapter, Hebrews 11, refers to those who were our Hebrew spiritual parents as “strangers and pilgrims.” We are by nature and spiritual calling pilgrims and wanderers through this life.

One aspect of pilgrimage that is often overlooked is that of sacrifice. This wasn’t a frivolous, spur of the moment decision to wander off for a few weeks or months, this was a well-planned, thought out process of preparation and cost. For those who go on a pilgrimage, there is a great deal time and resources that must be given up in order to travel these great distances. For those in ancient times, others may have to be paid to watch over their lands and protect their homes and farms. Not to mention the possibility of being on the open road exposed to bandits, adverse weather, wild animals, and other dangers. Pilgrimage was not something to be undertaken lightly.

The Jerusalem pilgrimage

If you go to Israel today, you can walk on the paths Jesus took as recorded in the gospels, something called The Jesus Trail. The hiking path follows similar routes that Jesus may well have taken as he crisscrossed the Galilean landscape. As we watch the drama of Mark unfold, we have been on pilgrimage with Jesus and his disciples through their three-year journey together. And it has been quite a journey. From the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River to graveyard of Gennesaret to the shores of the Galilean Sea and all points from Nazareth to Jerusalem, Mark’s story has been one of physical and spiritual journeying. At each turn, each juncture, the disciples are taught a little more and sometimes, they actually learn a little as they try to wrap their heads around this new way of living and being, this new message from the Nazarene prophet.

In Mark 10, Jesus turns toward Jerusalem and the part of the pilgrimage that leads to his death. Three times, once each in chapters eight through ten, Jesus speaks of his suffering and dying to the unhearing ears of his disciples who can’t wrap their heads around a Messiah who loses to win. All they can see is Jesus’ unearthly wisdom, miraculous power, divine glory, and the return of Israel to an independent, sovereign nation. While they look in the wrong direction for the wrong thing, Jesus is looking at an impending date with a cross and a tomb.

Jesus journey with his disciples has led them all to a bittersweet place: a parade. Bitter because Jesus knows that this parade coming in from the east, rather than the Roman parade from the west, is as much funerary as celebratory. The Romans coming from the west bring the might of Caesar to keep the unruly Jews of Judea in line at what is usually one of their most unruly times historically speaking. And this is not without good reason and precedent. Less than forty years before, a riot turned into an uprising in Jerusalem and had to be put down, thus the yearly pilgrimage of the Roman military from Caesarea Maritima in the west.

In fact, this very celebration of these pilgrims in Mark 10 has an air of revolution to it. The branches and cloaks spread on the ground assume Jesus comes to confront the power of Rome with his own revolutionary uprising. The meaning of their shouts of joy and acclamation in Aramaic would properly be translated, “Welcome in the name of the Lord! Welcome to the kingdom of our ancestor David!” These are shouts for Jesus to be the military leader of earthly power and might who will return Judea and all of Israel to its rightful owners. The pilgrims with Jesus misunderstand the Kingdom of God as something of this world and the world systems. It is a parade of the blind in celebration of the wrong kingdom for the wrong reasons.

But it also a sweet celebration, Consider the joy of the people as they lift their hands and voices along the road, a moving party with singing and dancing. The people, friends and families, have been gathering from the towns and villages of the countryside, making the three-thousand-foot climb and singing the old songs and old hymns of their people. These songs speak of God’s love, faithfulness, and care for his people. They are songs of hope: hope vested in the season of deliverance known as Passover, hope in a potential deliverer in Jesus. They see this man, this Galilean carpenter, this itinerant preacher/prophet/healer/miracle worker as Elijah and Moses all rolled into one. And to them, he has come to Jerusalem to face down Rome and deliver them from foreign tyrants.

What they didn’t see was that this is the sacrificial part of Jesus’ journey. This was the part where Jesus had to stare into the face of death, sure of his trust in God but unsure of what that might look like or what he might experience. Consider his words in the garden later in the week,

“Abba, father, for you all things are possible, remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”

Jesus was no fool and very much human. He knew that the price of his pilgrimage was going to be costly and painfully so. He knew the pilgrimage would travel to places that no one in their right mind would want to go and yet it was part of the journey, difficult though it may be. Despite this, he kept walking, kept carrying on with his voyage of faith with trust in the Father to help him see it through.

As we look at this moment from the vantage point of history, we are looking at a myriad of pilgrimages with a myriad of reasons for being on them, each from different places, each with differing experiences. In the same way that Peter, John, Judas, and Levi all had different experiences with Jesus, each other, and the people they encountered, we too have our experiences on the journey with Jesus and those around us, our own pilgrimages. My pilgrimage of faith has taken me on a journey across the United States over the course of thirty years. Like everyone else, and our friends in the story, I have seen much, learned some, failed to learn some, and became someone completely different than the person I was when I started. The fifteen-year-old teenager is in no way the forty-seven-year-old man. If we truly seek to be a pilgrim, truly work to live into the Kingdom way of life, we will be changed, transformed. Each of us, sometimes in great ways, sometimes small, is affected by the road and what we encounter. And the paths we choose as we attempt to follow the Spirit of God or sometimes not so much have a profound effect on the people we are becoming.

As we deal with current challenges before us and consider the story of Palm Sunday, ask yourself a few questions: How has my journey changed me? Has it really changed me? If it’s been a true pilgrimage, it should have. If not, why not? What were the wrong turns in the road? Where might I have gone differently, done differently? The wonderful thing about pilgrimage is it is never too late to change direction – the truest definition of repentance that I can think of. You may find yourself being led to greener pastures, harder climbs, or most likely both. Whatever the journey, you’ll be better in the long run, especially if you take to it as a wanderer and face life as it comes.

Find you path. Walk your path. Be a pilgrim.

The Story: Vision

Photo by Naveen Annam on Pexels.com

For the video click here.

Let’s step into a story.

The sun has not yet come up, but you know it is morning. You know it the way you know a storm is coming or the way you feel a person walking into the room when your back is to them. Maybe you feel the warmth of the sun through a window. Maybe you hear birds outside greeting the day. You know it, you just can’t see it.

You’re blind.

In a day and age where the worth of a man is based either on wealth he was born into, wealth he earned, or the work he does everyday to support himself, you are in a difficult situation. There are no options for employment, and you’re left with only one option: the charity of others.

So, maybe you have friends help to guide you to a place on the road where people travel in and out of town easily. Maybe you’ve learned to use a walking stick and can make the way alone. Either way, you go to the spot you go to everyday and get to work as a beggar. Since Jericho is usually a temperate place, you take off your cloak and spread it on the ground so you can feel when people drop coins and things in front of you. You spend your day begging passersby for a few coins, a meager bit of food and hope that you get enough to survive or that friends look in on you if you don’t.

But today something feels different. You can hear the buzz of the crowd nearby and people shouting a name, trying to get a man’s attention. In the noise you hear the name, Jesus. You remember snatches of conversation about a Kingdom of God and teachings that are revolutionary and life changing. You remember stories you have heard, stories about Jairus’ daughter who was dead but brought back to the living, stories of evil spirits cast out of those who were possessed, stories of thousands of people being fed with little more than person’s lunch. You even remember hearing about another blind man who was given back his sight.

This is the Messiah, the one chosen and anointed of God, the restorer of hearts, minds, hopes, dreams, and even bodies. This is Yeshua, God’s salvation. Maybe your salvation? If this Jesus will just come your way, if he will just get close enough to hear you, to touch you, you might, you just might, be healed. So, you start shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The people in the crowd are trying to get you be quiet. With all the clamoring no one can hear Jesus speaking but you won’t let it go, you say again and louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Suddenly, you hear a hush as the crowd stops and you hear a voice say, “Tell him to come here.”

A person grabs your shoulder and the people around you say, ““Cheer up. Come on, he’s calling you!” You jump to your feet, shaking, unsure of what to expect but certain that if you can just get to Jesus, you can be healed. The crowd opens and people guide you in the direction of the voice, murmurs and whispering as you go until finally you stop and hear a voice say, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Your mind races, reels in the moment. Your entire life what have you wanted, what have you always wanted. There is no equivocation, no wondering about the answer. In fact, you don’t even think as the words come tumbling out of your mouth, “Teacher, I want to see.”

There is a slight pause and then you hear, “Go, your faith has healed you.” For the first time you blink, and light connects with your eyes in a new way. At first nothing but brightness but then, images, shapes, things that begin to sharpen into people, things, and as you look and really see for the first time with eyes that have never focused on anything, you see the healer, Jesus of Nazareth.

There is no second thought, no question in your mind as to what to do now. Jesus begins to walk away with his disciples in tow and fall in line, thanking and praising God for what he has done through this anointed one of Israel.

§

We’ve read this story many times probably as children in Sunday school and all the way through to our adulthood. It’s a great story and a great illustration of having vision. I think the idea of vision goes beyond sight. Sight is simply being able to see, to physically convert light waves to images in the brain. Vision is something else. Vision is being able to see beyond sight, to see with soul and spirit and understand more than the images playing on the great screen in your brain. It is a form of wisdom that allows a person to gain meaning from the experiences of life.

I’ll illustrate this with the previous story in Mark: the disciples could see, but Bartimaeus had vision. In the previous story, the one we talked about last week, James and John are asking Jesus for seats on his right and left when God ushers in the kingdom. What they could see was their present but in the future. They were with Jesus as two of his closest disciples and they wanted to remain that way. In a world of patronage, where who you know and who you are close to can change your world, James and John were trying to play the game well. By asking Jesus for places close to him in the Kingdom they were asking for places of authority and privilege, something the other disciples balked at.

Bartimaeus couldn’t see but he had vision. He realized that Jesus was more than just your average prophet, more than just a healer. He was the Messiah, the hope of Israel in a world where the Jews were fearful of having hope. He was the one who could not only restore Bartimaeus’ sight but also his direction in life, his way of life. Notice the word choice by the writer of Mark, “Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.” Another word used in many translations for the word road is way. The Way was what the early followers of Jesus called their version of Judaism and for many years after Jesus they were not only called Christians or little imitators of Christ but also followers of the Way. Bartimaeus had vision enough to see that this was more than healing his body, it was healing his way of being, of living.

§

That leaves us with a question, are we people who simply see or are we people with vision. Are we going to be people who are limited to only what is immediately in front of us and our immediate needs and wants or are we going to be people who can see a future? In a time when we deal with so much fear and uncertainty, we as people of faith need to be people of vision, people who see beyond the present to future. People who see past their needs to the needs of others and the needs of the community. People who see themselves as followers in the Way of Jesus, living and being people of the Kingdom.

Now more than ever, we need kingdom people. We need people who live out the Sermon on the Mount, people who live out the Fruit of the Spirit, people who feed the hungry and thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe those who are without, care for the sick and imprisoned. Where you cannot go, send cards, send letters, make phone calls, send texts, whatever you can do with the means you have to share the love of God with those around you.

Be people of vision. Be Kingdom people.

Finding the Annus Mirabilis

The world has faced many disease pandemics from the earliest civilizations to our present day. While most of these have brought chaos and uncertainty, something interesting happened during England’s last modern experience with plague. London’s plague of 1665-16666 was potentially shipped there on cotton barges from Amsterdam in the Netherlands sometime in 1665. As it had before, London once again faced the ravages of a bubonic plague outbreak. And while it would be the last major plague outbreak that London would face in modern times, it would cost the city a quarter of its population in less than 18 months.

Many people who had the means to escape the plague in London moved away to cities and towns in the countryside. One of these was Sir Issac Newton. He fled to his hometown of Woolsthorpe and settled into the relative safety of life in the English countryside. In that quiet, away from his laboratories and classrooms, Newton had time to stop and think, tons of it. With little to no responsibilities at hand, he began to muse on theories, ideas, and other things floating around in his head. According to a Washington Post article,

…Isaac Newton sat at a country estate with an apple tree. His reflections upon the forces between distant bodies, propelling them together and apart, gave us gravity and enfolded the moon and the apple in a shared system of invisible laws. He saw a spider’s web of formulas spinning across untold space, in which the stars hung like dewdrops, and from them beams of light pierced his own seclusion. All kinds of lofty things entered the brain of Isaac Newton, some of them traveling great distances, and when he emerged, science was permanently different. Such was the life of Isaac Newton during the plague year.[1]

That year came to be called Annus Mirabilis, the Year of Wonders. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the modern era had their birth in the fields and the skies above a Woolsthorpe estate during a horrific time of pandemic.

While we are not to fighting off the bubonic plague, we are dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak and all the difficulty that it brings. And one of the things it brings is an unexpected side effect that it brought to Newton in 1665: time. With everyone home from school, sports, and work in some cases, our most common commodity is the time. Think of all the times you have said, “If I had the time, I would…” Now, you can fill in that blank with extra time you have. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about being careful how you lived, to live as wise people who made the most of the time they had.[2]

What can you do with the time you have now? Will this be your own miniature version of Newton’s Year of Wonders? What doors of ministry and personal growth will God open to you and will you walk through them?


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/20/newton-formulated-his-theory-gravity-time-plague-we-need-miracle-too/

[2] Ephesians 5:15-16

The Story: Life and Then Some

It’s not what you think…it’s better.

One of my favorite expressions is ‘adventures in missing the point.’ It’s a fun little phrase used to relay the idea that someone is misinterpreting or misunderstanding a situation. Most of the time people use it when someone does something ridiculously, obviously out of touch with the situation. Kind of like when a supposed ‘great princess’ of France said, “Let them eat brioche/cake” to the starving people of France. Whether the history is accurate or not, the sentiment is definitely out of touch with the reality of the moment.

The stories of a certain rich man and James, John, and the thrones around Jesus give us two such adventures in Mark 10. Oddly enough, they follow Jesus speaking about entering the Kingdom of God as a child would, but we’ll get back to that momentarily.

First, the story of a certain man who turns out to be rich in the end. Most of the time we call this the story of the rich, young ruler. The truth is, in Mark he is only regarded as a certain man. We get the other two descriptive terms from the same story retold in Matthew and Luke. This man came running up to Jesus and knelt down and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This question is one that many people have asked through the years, one fraught with meaning for us and the way we have come to interpret it? But what was the man really asking?

If you dig into this a bit, you find some differences between the way we look at this and the way they did. The question may be better translated as what do I do to become an heir in the coming age? The difference is in how they understood the idea of time in the way we relate to God. We see it as a now and then – now we live physically in something we call life and when we die we’ll live spiritually in something called the afterlife. The people of Jesus day had no concept of that. They thought they lived in a certain age and later, after the coming of the Messiah, another age would come and the world would be remade after the original intent of God. Anyone who died as a follower of Jesus would be resurrected in the next age to live with him and the Kingdom there. So, what the man was really asking was, “What do I need to do to be a part of the next age, after the Messiah?”

Jesus asks the man about whether or not he has kept the law and the man says that he has. Jesus tells him that he is almost there, there’s just one last thing: give up all your wealth – wealth that Jesus earlier hints in the commandments recap might be the result of defrauding people. This call to discipleship becomes a big fail as the man walks away from Jesus sad and disheartened over having to loose his wealth.

Jesus offers an explanation of the difficulties of being part of the Kingdom while at the same time trying to live a life of wealth. The disciples are a bit perplexed at this because most Jews of the time assumed that God must have blessed the wealthy or they wouldn’t be wealthy. Peter, of course, asks Jesus, “Then who in the world can be saved?” or better yet, “Who can be brought safely to the new age of the Kingdom?

Jesus tells him that with God all things are possible and the conversation goes on with Jesus telling them that those who have given up everything, as they have, will receive a place in the Kingdom in the next age and as a little extra extra on the side, persecution. The first will be last, the least will be great, it will be a tipsy-turvy kind of world that makes no sense to the world we live in now.

The second part showcases the same question but from a different angle. James and John want to know if they can have honored seats on either side of Jesus when his crowned king of the new age. Makes sense, right? They are his favorites; they must be, they are always around for the big events: baptism, transfiguration, miracles, teachings, the whole nine yards. Rather than rebuke them outright, Jesus asks them if they can drink the cup he drinks. In other words, can they walk the road he is going to walk, suffer what he will suffer, and still remain committed to the Kingdom and the Kingdom way of life? They answer yes, and it starts a big ruckus with the disciples who begin arguing among themselves.

Jesus, probably exasperated, finally answers them saying,

You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.

And again, we are reminded that greatness isn’t what we think it is. But what ties these stories together is the idea that in both cases – the wealthy man and the disciples – they are missing the point of Jesus ministry and the Way of Jesus. The point of the Kingdom is the transformation of lives and through that the transformation of the world. The point is that if they live into lives of complete humility and service and commitment to the Way of Jesus, they will be part of the next age, the age of God’s Kingdom. Not only will they be part of it, they will help bring it to be.

Because of our cultural influences and changes to the way people have interpreted the Bible through the years, I think the church has lost sight of this in favor of a soft or easy version of Christianity. Just think right and behave right on a personal, individual level and you get to go to heaven. But is don’t think going to heaven was the point. I think bringing heaven to earth – as Jesus prays in the Lord’s Prayer – is the real goal. Notice anywhere in this that Jesus says being part of the Kingdom is easy? Me neither. Kingdom work is hard work and lucky for us, we live in a time when hard work is needed.

The church has at times really lived into the Kingdom Way, especially during times of great trial. They took care of one another and their community, particularly the least and the hurting. They worked hard to provide for those who could not provide for themselves. They were the hands and feet of Jesus, doing the work of Jesus, and being Jesus to those in need.

And so should we be. It is a time for us to live into the old Franciscan idea – preach the gospel; if necessary, use words. So, go and in these difficult times, bring the Kingdom of God to the world, one life at a time, one act at a time, one person at a time.

Help! My Reptile Brain is Eating My Mammal Brain!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Occassionally, but not often, I am a glutton for punishment.

There may be some disagreement on this from people who know me who may say I’m always a glutton for punishment, but I try to think and act otherwise. In this case there was no argument; I was asking for it. It was last Friday. I made a list of things needed from the store, odds and ends really, and for whatever reason¾decided to go to Wal-Mart.

Now, Wal-Mart on a Friday morning in our south of Charlotte suburb is usually fairly quiet, offering little to no major issues. But we normally don’t have a major health crisis in play and we normally don’t have people freaking out over a viral contagion and we normally don’t have, just fill in the blank at this point. There was no bleach, no toilet paper, no paper products of any kind. For those who may think this is a ‘class’ thing, it isn’t. There’s no toilet paper, bleach, or paper products or limited supplies at most every store around from Whole Foods and Harris Teeter to local convenience stations.

I wondered about this and I know, some would say this is ‘prepping’, just in case it gets worse. The truth is, it’s something deeper and more instinctual than that. It is the reptilian brain in overdrive. He’s how it works. There are three parts to the brain¾reptilian (reactive brain), paleomammalian (emotional brain), and neomammalian (thinking brain). Each area does what the description says it does. It reacts or emotes or thinks. In times where we feel stress or crisis, the reactive part of the brain kicks in, tells the emotional part to quit listening to the thinking part and do something to save our collective skin. In a situation like the Coronavirus threat, people can’t really do anything about the virus (very, very few of us are virologists) so we try to think of what we can do to ‘fix it’ or ‘be safe’ or ‘protect ourselves and our loved ones’.

According to Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist,

“It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control,” he said. “More generally, panic buying can be understood as playing to our three fundamental psychology needs.” …Those needs were autonomy, or a need for control, relatedness, which Marsden defined as “we shopping” rather than “me shopping,” and competence, which is achieved when making a purchase gives people a sense that they are “smart shoppers.”

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/11/heres-why-people-are-panic-buying-and-stockpiling-toilet-paper.html

In my sermon yesterday, I talked about the need to avoid being hardhearted toward one another out of fear or apparent loss of control. I talked about how regardless of the situation, we need to be the hands and feet of Christ to one another. In ancient Rome, there were several plagues that wiped out large portions of the population. During these plagues, Christians were not only taking care of one another, but also those who lived in their communities. Their example became the reason that many converted to the Christian faith; it was a real faith, where the people lived out what they preached. As Pope Francis often says, they became the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

But this only works because we are willing to use the thinking part of our brain and allow the Spirit of God to lead us rather than panic. We have people to care for¾our elderly, our shut-ins, others who need us to step in and take care of things that under normal circumstances would be taken care of. Are you willing to be the hands and feet of Christ, acting out of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?” Or will you let fear lead you to hurt yourself and others.

#factsnotfear

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

https://www.scdhec.gov/infectious-diseases/viruses/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

Holy Laughter

Photo by Cleyder Duque on Pexels.com

For the last couple of months, I have been teaching confirmation classes on Sunday evenings. We have a bright group of inquisitive students, interested in learning about God and faithful to be there for the discussions. As with all my classes, I try to be open and honest and give plenty of room for questioning and wondering because I believe that we learn as much from structed lessons as unstructured.

I also believe there are moments when students, no matter how hard they try, remind us of the fact that they are at heart, still kids. Case in point, this past Sunday, we had some boys who just lost it over something they found funny and could not stop laughing. Even during the prayer, they were still fighting-with little to no success-to keep from laughing. I finished the prayer and said something very quick about trying to control the laughing during prayer and dismissed the group.

Some people may have made a big deal out of the kids laughing during a prayer. For some people, prayers must be holy, sanctified, dignified moments of personal address to God. I don’t know that that’s always the case. You should be respectful of others for sure. But I think about moments of frustration in prayer for people like Moses talking to God on Mount Sinai or Job talking to God in his misery. I think about Sarah laughing at God for saying she would have a child in her nineties. I think about Elijah sitting terrified in a cave on a mountainside praying out of his fear. I think David dancing naked through the temple, embarrassing his wife and distressing the priesthood.

When Paul talked about the Fruit of the Spirit, one of things he talked about was joy. The word for joy means, to be delighted in something. The idea here is have great pleasure in something. There are many ways to express delight, sometimes as a sense of peace in difficulty, sometimes as a sense of happiness in the moment, and I think sometimes as the honest laughter of boys who have been cooped up in a classroom for too long with a guy who finds history and theology way more exciting that most people.

Conversation with God, or prayer, is something born out a relationship with God and in response to our life situation. When we are happy or content, I’m sure we pray happy, contented prayers. When we are miserable and despondent, I think we pray miserable, despondent prayers. And when were 11-12-year-old boys who are cracking up over something silly, I think we pray laughing prayers that God is just as happy with as with the other prayers. Not because there is a special formula and it fits but because we are special to God and connecting with God, no matter our mood or circumstance and that fits. The issue is simply coming before God in an honest way that doesn’t avoid the reality of our lives.

So, be honest with God. Pray not only without ceasing, but also without pretending.