Sunday, July 15, 2018

Children in the Bible Sermon Series: "The Little girl Who Got Up"

Mark 5:21-43

            There’s a little Lutheran church in Cusco, Peru which is called “Talitha Cum.”  
            I thought it was an unusual name for a church --  in fact, I’ve never heard of a church with this name before, in the United States or anywhere else.  
            Why did they decide to call themselves “Talitha Cum”?  What were they thinking about?  What was their story?  
            These are the words – in Aramaic – that Jesus spoke to Jairus’ daughter when he raised her from the dead. 
             “Little Girl, Get up!” – And she got up.  And she was twelve years old.  

            What do we know about her, this little girl  in the Bible? 
            Not much, actually. Just a little.  We know her father’s name, but not hers  Her father was important; he appealed to Jesus to heal his daughter.  
            And Jesus was on his way to do just that when he was interrupted by another person – a woman – who needed healing
            Afterwards, everyone thought it was too late.  
            Jesus’ delay had cost this little girl her life.   When Jesus said, “she’s just sleeping”, they laughed at him.  
            But he went in and took the little girl by the hand, and said “Little Girl, get up!” – And she got up. She got up.

             So we don’t know much about the little girl.  Except that she was 12 years old, except that her father was important; except that she got up when Jesus said the word.  
            So what can we learn from her?  Can we learn anything about ourselves, about Jesus, from this little girl?

            Lately I’m thinking about children – a lot.  
            Maybe it’s the story about the boys in Thailand trapped in a cave with their coach.
            And waiting to be rescued.  And how they were rescued – and how that took the efforts of so many other people – to be rescued.  
            Or maybe it’s because of the children who were separated from their parents – and now being reunited
            In both cases -- they couldn’t help themselves, they had to rely on other people.  
            The children in the cave had to wait for help – they couldn’t rescue themselves.  The children on the border need help to find their parents or guardians again.  
            And the little girl needed Jesus – to take her hand and say the words – “Talitha com!”  “Little Girl, get up.”  She couldn’t raise herself.  She couldn’t rescue herself.   

            And you know – in so many ways – that is often the position we find ourselves in, before God. 
            We like to think that we can control everything – or most everything – or perhaps the most important things – but many times the most important things are beyond our control.  
            The most important things –  are in God’s hands.  Salvation – is in God’s hands.   
            And Jesus comes into our lives, and takes us by the hand and says the words that are life for us. “Talitha cum!”  Get up – and live.  

            The other thing we can learn from the little girl – and the two stories here – is that there is always enough – mercy and healing – to go around.  
            At the beginning, Jairus is desperate for Jesus to come right away.             And when he stops – to show mercy and healing to another – nameless – woman – it seems like his compassion is going to be at the expense of the little girl.  
            If he is going to be compassionate to this nameless woman, who had been suffering for twelve years – then the little girl will die.
             It seems like the lesson here is one familiar to all of us – there is not enough to go around – not enough resources, not enough mercy, not enough love – if you reach out to one person, you will have to leave out someone else.  

            Is that what we think? 
            Is compassion a sort-of zero-sum game?  
            I remember reading a story about a man who was stopped at the mall by a kindly woman who offered to pray for him and his children.
            He gladly agreed and asked if he could pray for her and her children as well.
            Then he asked if they could pray for the children at the border.
            She recoiled.  “But – their parents brought them here!”
            She could not afford to be compassionate.  – even in prayer.  

            Perhaps that’s just how Jairus felt.  If Jesus healed the poor woman, his daughter would be left behind.  It would be too late.  

            But that’s not what happened.  It wasn’t too late.  
            Jesus could heal the woman and he could heal the little girl too.     There was more than enough to go around, for those of us who need life and healing and mercy.

            “Talitha Cum.”  
            These are Jesus’ words of resurrection to a little girl.  
            And it’s also the name of a little Lutheran church in Cusco Peru.     And I discovered that the pastor who founded the congregation a few years ago – it began with a Bible study, and this was one of the gospel stories that they studied together.  
            When they decided they wanted to be a congregation, there were just a few people – and they were all – women and girls.  
            So they thought of the story they had studied about how Jesus had taken a little girl by the hand and raised her to life.  
            And they thought – that is who we are, too.  The women and girls Jesus has raised to life.

            And they got up.  

            What do we know about this little girl?  What can we learn from her?
            That by the mercy and love of Jesus, she got up.  
            And so can we.  So do we.   
            There is enough mercy – there is enough healing – to go around.  AMEN

*photo is from Peru, but is not from Talitha Cum, in Cusco.

Saturday, July 7, 2018


I have been told by at least one person that I don't preach on Generosity enough.  I think that this person means, in particular, that I don't preach about financial generosity enough, about how to use financial resources for the glory of God.  It is possible that he is correct, for all of the predictable reasons:  1) urging people to give feels a lot like nagging when I imagine it, 2) I don't want people to think I need them to give so that I can get paid, and 3) I love preaching grace.  I confess that when I look at a scripture passage, for some reason, my mind does not go to financial generosity first -- even though I have studied and know that Jesus spoke about our money, and our relationship with it, far more than he spoke about other things that we may be more concerned about.

So I have been thinking about how to be more intentional in that regard, and I marked one Sunday of my sermon series, "Children in the Bible," to specifically address generosity.  It's the story about the little boy and his loaves and fishes.  This story is about generosity, isn't it?  The little boy didn't have money, but he did have a lunch, and that's almost the same thing.

But a funny thing happened on the way to preparing this sermon on generosity.  Children began to be separated from their parents at our southern border.  That did not seem to me in any way about the story of the loaves and fishes and the boy's generosity, until early this week, when I read a story about a woman from Guatemala who has just been re-united with her seven year old daughter after they were separated for two months.  The woman had advice for people who might be coming to the United States seeking asylum:

"If you are coming here to seek asylum, choose another country.  The laws here are harsh.  And the people don't have hearts."

The woman and her infant son had come here just before the zero tolerance policy took effect.  After they left her husband started receiving more death threats from the gangs, so he decided to take his daughter and flee.  They were separated at the border and her husband will be deported back to Guatemala.

Suddenly, when I looked at the story of the feeding of the five thousand, I saw something different than I had before.  I saw the people who are coming over our border, fleeing violence or hunger.  I heard the voices of the disciples, saying, "Send them away," because they were certain that there was not enough to go around.  And I thought of generosity, although a different kind of generosity.

It's not a generosity of material things:  money or food or possessions.   It's a generosity of heart, of what we are willing to believe about people, people we don't know.  Are most of them criminals, with just a few possible "good people"?  Or are most of them looking for the things we all look for:  freedom from fear and want, freedom of expression and worship?  I know that immigration is a complicated issue, and I absolutely know that not everyone who wants to come here will be able to come here, and I know that our borders aren't and can't be completely open.   But there absolutely is a legitimate humanitarian crisis going on in Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala.  What are we going to believe about the people who are coming here?  Can we be both strong and compassionate?

I have seen things on the internet that accuse people who are coming here of "demanding citizenship."  I know this is not true.  Asking for asylum is not the same as demanding citizenship.  Citizenship is a long process that immigrants can only enter after several years.  It takes a long time to study, to learn the history of the United States.   I want to be generous with those who write these things, and believe that they have been misinformed, and if only they knew -- their hearts would be open.

Lately,  when I read the story of the feeding of the 5,000, I think that it's about a God who doesn't want to send anyone away, a God who is generous.  That's what Jesus wanted to show his disciples.  He wanted to show them a God who is big enough, and who has love enough to feed all who come to him, to save all who come to him, to welcome all who come to him.

Monday, June 18, 2018

House Blessing

I presided at my first ever house blessing last weekend, after church.  A member of my congregation contacted me and asked if I would come out sometime in June and bless her home, and all of the rooms.  She said that a former pastor had done it for her once, many years ago.  This time she wanted her house blessed because it had been damaged in the hurricane last August.  They had spent the past nine months repairing and painting and decorating:  just she and her son, and a few of his friends.  It wasn't quite done, but she felt that it was time to celebrate their hard work.  It was time to celebrate her home.

I did not grow up hearing about a custom called "House Blessings".  We didn't study it in seminary either.  But somewhere in the past few years, something must have made me curious, because I have a distinct memory of googling "house blessings", and of asking a friend of mine who is Episcopalian to send me a copy of a house blessing from his Occasional Services Book.  I kept that for a long time.  Perhaps I just wanted to be ready, just in case someone asked me.

So when this woman called me, I was eager to come.  And I discovered that my denomination's new Occasional Services Book now had an order for the Blessing of a Dwelling.  I asked my church member if I needed to bring anything.  "No," she said, "but bring a few people from the church.  I want to celebrate with them."  I told he that the service called for the lighting of a candle.  She said that she would purchase one.

She also told me that she would serve us a special meal at the close of the blessing.

I checked my Occasional Services Book, and guess what?  The order of worship says that "a meal may be shared."

I had never been to this woman's house before.  So, on the day of the blessing, I turned on my trusty GPS and we set out.  It was not far, but the house was off the beaten path.  We turned on a couple of gravel roads.  I was afraid I might be lost, but I was not.

The house was modest and beautiful, each room painted in bright colors.  Everything said "celebration" to me.   There were friends from the church, and a friend of her teenage daughter.  We discussed briefly which rooms she wanted me to bless.  At the right time, I stood in the middle of the living area, and we lit the candle and began.  We took the candle from room to room, reading scripture and praying in each area:  the entrance, the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, the place where pets were kept.  There was even a special scripture and prayer for a teenager's room.  I asked her daughter which Scripture verse she wanted me to use (there were two choices).  She chose this one:

"It is in vain to raise so early and go to bed so late.  You, Lord, give sleep to your beloved."  (Psalm 127:2)

Near the end, there was a suggestion for everyone to remember the promise given to them in baptism, to serve everywhere in Christ's name.  And the rubrics said, "Water may be sprinkled on the people in thanksgiving for the gift of baptism."  I wasn't sure what to do, but it seemed like a good idea.

Her teenage daughter said "Wait a minute," and came out with a water bottle.   I sprayed everyone's hands with the water bottle, and we laughed.

Then we prayed the Lord's prayer, and we sat down to the feast prepared for us.

It was my first house blessing.

And I was blessed.

I think how at the end of the service at church I give the benediction:  the blessing.  Why should it stop there?  Why shouldn't it extend into homes and neighborhoods, among friends and neighbors, along gravel roads and at meals, and where people are weeping and where people are rejoicing?  Why shouldn't it extend even farther out, beyond the boundaries to the outcasts and the hungry and the lonely and the desperate?

We have forgotten our mission.  It is blessing.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Sunday Sermon: Isaac the Questioner

Isaiah 22:1-19

            Children ask questions, that’s the truth  They ask innocent questions, they ask annoying questions, they ask the same question over and over again.  They even ask theological questions. 
            I remember getting a phone call one day from a young mother in our congregation.  She was looking for advice:  theological advice.  
            Her three year old was asking questions.  Well, one specific question, actually, and she didn’t know how to answer:  “Where Is God?”  What do you say to a three-year-old? She asked, when they ask this question.  
            What’s the best answer? She wanted to know.  
            Now I knew this woman pretty well, and knew she knew the answer to that question – for herself. 
            She was a woman of deep faith – faith which had already been tested.
            But she took  her daughter’s question seriously, and she wanted the right question – for her child

            What do you say to a three year old?  Or to a five year old or a twelve year old, for that matter?

            I am reminded of this question when I think about the story of Isaac today – because the story itself raises a lot of questions that demand answers.  
            For example:  What kind of God asks a father to sacrifice his son?
            Why would God do such a thing, ask such a thing? 
             We think religions that demand child sacrifice barbaric. And here is God, testing Abraham. 
             You can say, after the fact, that God did not end up requiring it, but while it is happening, it’s still pretty horrific to think about.  
            What  is God thinking?  
            And even though these questions seem important to us, they are apparently not important to Abraham. 
            He’s not asking any questions.  He’s just obeying.  At least this time.

            But there is someone asking a question.  Isaac, the child.  
            And his question is central to the story, but perhaps not so important to us, who ask adult questions, and seek adult answers.  
            This is the question of a child.  
            And like the mom who came to me for help, Abraham the parent wants to give him the best answer he can.  “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Isaac asks. 
             Abraham listens to his son’s question.  He takes it seriously.  “God himself will provide the lamb,” he replies.

            There are a couple of pieces of this story that might seem like details, but I think are important. 
            The first is this: that three times Abraham hears a call. The first and the third time it is God calling.  
            Abraham answers God: “Here I am!”  
            The second time, the middle time, it is his son, Isaac, calling.  Abraham answers his son the same way he answers God, with the words “Here I am!”  
            He really listens to the voice of his son, and he takes Isaac’s words, and his question, seriously. 

            The second piece of the story is the element of trust:  Abraham trusts God, and Isaac trusts his father.  
            Why do I believe this? I believe that Isaac question is a sign that he trusts his father – he trusts him enough to ask a question. 
             His question is innocent:  the idea that he himself might be the sacrifice does not seem to occur to him. 
            And Abraham trusts God – I believe ultimately, and even while he is getting ready to sacrifice his son, he really hopes that there is a way out, that God will not require this. 
             When he tells his servant they are going ahead, he says, “the boy and I will worship, and then WE will come back to you.”  
            His words to his son also indicate this trust, “God himself will provide the lamb….”

            Children ask questions, that’s the truth.  
            They ask innocent questions, they ask annoying questions, they ask the same question over and over again. 
            They ask questions until we stop listening, because we can’t take it any more.  
            Children ask questions, and those questions are more important than we often think.  
            For one thing, before you can find the right answer, you have to ask the right question. 
             For another thing, a good question is a sign of trust, not doubt. Children ask us questions because they trust us.  
            Children trust us. And when I think of the world as it is today, I think that we are not always worthy of that trust. 

            This week I saw a snippet of one of the presidential press conferences.  
            Sarah Sanders was answering questions, and she saw a young reporter – and when I say young, I mean he was a child – and she smiled and said she would take his question. 
             I think as a mom herself she felt a warmth and thought he would not ask a hard question.  
            But the young reporter told her about the fear he and some of his classmates have when they go to school, and asked what the president and what the government was going to do to help them feel safe. 
             And when Ms. Sanders responded, I could tell that she had really listened to him, because for a few moments she teared up, and she had a hard time responding.  
            It felt like a genuine moment, so rare in our hyper-partisan time.  It felt like a moment of real listening.

            Children ask questions, that’s the truth.  (
            They ask innocent questions, they ask annoying questions, they ask hard questions.  
            It was perhaps the hardest question Abraham ever heard, “Father, here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

             And when Abraham answered with the words, “God himself will provide the lamb” he opened up a way not only for himself, not only for Isaac, but for all of us.   
            He spoke out of his deepest trust, his deepest hope, that God would provide a way through a hopeless situation.  
            And he was right. There was the ram in the thicket. There all along.   
            There was the offering. God will provide.   In our deepest questions.  In our deepest need.  
            Not an answer, but a lamb.   
            The lamb of God. Jesus.  
            Not just for Abraham. Not just for Isaac.  For us.
            When we are cut to the quick, when we are sinking in despair, when we are asking “why?”, when we are dying to live.  
            When we have tears in our eyes because we don’t know the answers to our children’s questions.
            When our tears are because we know the answer – and we fear it.
            When we know our failure.
            When we know our grief, too deep to bear.
            There is the lamb of God. There is the lamb of God.    When we are broken.  When we have failed.   When we have failed to protect our children.  

            There is the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  There is the lamb of God, walking with us, taking seriously all of our questions, loving us, healing us, drawing us again to him.  
            Children ask questions, that’s the truth.   Holy questions.  And so do we – all of us children of God.  May we listen, and may those questions draw us closer to the lamb of God who provides a way for us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Children in Worship

One of my best memories from early in my ministry is of the Sunday when two little girls decided they wanted to sit in the front row.  Without their parents.

They weren't sisters, they were friends.  Both sets of parents were in the building, sitting discreetly just a few rows behind them.  The opening hymn was from a supplemental hymnal.  If I recall correctly, it was a rousing contemporary song called "We Are the Church."

We all stood up, including these two young girls, and we all opened our supplemental hymnal.  And they held their hymnals high, singing at the top of their lungs:  "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together".

Yes, we were.

Now granted, this was sort of a special scenario.  This was not "Beautiful Savior" or "A Mighty Fortress is our God" or "Now Thank We All our God."  This was sort of a child-friendly hymn, something we included once in awhile if it fit the theme of the day.  And this was one of those congregations where the children were in worship (all of it, including the sermon) every single week.  This has become rare, for a lot of reasons:  families are busier, and a lot of churches are holding education hour and worship at the same time.  Even more, I hear that there are some churches that hold separate worship services for children and adults.  You walk in, and the children go one direction, for "children's church", and the adults go another direction, for adult worship and teaching.

On one level, I suppose this makes sense. Children and adults need different things.  Children can get bored in an adult-oriented worship service.  And adults can be distracted by the presence of children.  Children don't always behave perfectly.  Sometimes they cry.  Sometimes they fidget.

Yet I think about those two girls, sitting in the front row of their small congregation, singing at the top of their lungs.  And I think about the congregation who was fortunate enough to experience their presence at worship.

It is my conviction that we worship best when we worship together.  And children benefit by being with us.  Even more, we benefit by being with them.

My current congregation went through a long spell when the presence of children in worship was rare.  But in the last two years, a few families with children have arrived, and we have done some things to intentionally involve them in worship.  Some of the children help usher with their parents.  Some of them read a lesson out of a children's Bible.  A few older children help with the Call to Worship.  Occasionally one of the children has provided a drawing to go along with the scripture or sermon theme.  And sometimes we get out a basket of rhythm instruments, and invite the children to play along.  I sometimes feel that I have just scratched the surface of how children can be active participants in worship, and help us remember that we are all active participants in worship.  We do more than sit still and listen.  We sing and we pray, we stand and we sit.  But we do even more than that.

Sometimes, I think, it takes children to help us remember.  One Maundy Thursday I invited people to come up and have their feet washed.  The only people to come forward?  The children.  The next year I decided to make it a little more user friendly, and I invited everyone to come up and have their hands washed instead.  Who came forward?  Again, the children.  And when the children came forward, a few brave adults followed them.

And then there are the unscripted moments that children provide.  These help us remember that although liturgy has a flow and a proper order, it is never JUST proper.  There have been times when a few young girls spontaneously started dancing in the aisle during the final hymn.  And a small child often says, "yay!" at the end of a song she likes.   Once, during a children's message, when I told the children that Jesus was going to die, a little girl gasped!  The news of it broke her heart, and our hearts broke a little, too.

Children also belong in church because they are watching us.  When we worship together, they are finding out what is important to us.  I remember standing next to my dad every week in church.  I still can hear, in my mind, my dad singing harmony on the hymns.  He loved to sing.  I do too.

Some people will tell me that they want children to be in worship so that they will learn to "behave" in church.  But, as for me, I want children to be in worship because they are part of the body of Christ, and their presence enriches me.  I want children to be in worship because they sing loud, say "yay!", share the peace with enthusiasm, and play the rhythm instruments.  I want children to be in worship so that they will know Jesus, and know the people of God, and know that every single one of us, all ages, has a place here.  I want children to be in worship so that they know they belong.   I want children to be in worship because they bring joy, and honesty, and their true selves.

I want children to be in worship because we are not complete without them.   We need all the voices, including theirs.  Especially when they say "Yay!"

Monday, May 7, 2018

Sermon: Faith5: Live to Bless -- Bless to Live

Numbers 6:24-26/Psalm 103 portions
John 15:9-17
            When I was a little girl, I used to go and play at a friends house sometimes after school.  
            We both liked to sing and to pretend, and so sometimes we would spend all afternoon putting on records and singing along, and making up stories that went with the songs.  
            My friends’ mom would check on us sometimes.  She liked me, I remember.  She would see that I was reading a big book one day – I was trying to read “Little Women” – and it was pretty thick – and she would tell me how great that was, and how smart I was.  
            And then she would say, “I wish Cindy would read like you.”  She would say, “Cindy, you should read more like Diane.”  
            Or maybe I had some notebooks, because I liked to write stories, and my friend’s mom would ask about them. 
             And she would say, “Good for you!”  But then she would say, “Cindy, you should write more stories, like Diane.”  
            And it felt good that she thought I was smart – but I always felt bad for her daughter, who never measured up.

            So – Blessing – blessing is the final step of the faith5.   
            And it might feel like an add-on.  If you Share, Read, Talk, and Pray, why do you have to bless?  Blessing seems extra.  
            And in fact, if you just think of bless as the gesture – you know – making the sign of the cross or a fist bump and saying something like ‘Jesus loves you’ – then maybe it’s not so important.  
            Although it CAN be a good ritual in families.  
             To bless each other with simple words.  
            To make blessing a habit in our relationships.

            But Blessing is more than that.  
            The little ritual we can practice is part of something much larger – something I think about when I think back on my friend and her mom.       Those experiences made me realize how important our words are – the things we say to one another --  words aren’t “just words”:  they have power.

            The people of Israel thought that.  
            They thought that words had power.  God’s words, in particular, had power. 
             If God said, “let there be light” – well then, there was light. 
             If God told Abraham, I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… that was going to happen.  
            If God gave Aaron words, “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you….”  
             Those words were binding, and God would bless them and turn is face to them, and grant them favor, and grant them peace, that is, shalom. God’s words have power to create reality – and our words have power too.  
            That’s why, in the book of James, the author criticizes the people.  “out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing.”  He says.  “This should not be so.” 

            So the last step in the Faith 5 is to do what God has instructed us to do – to bless each other. 
            And to bless each other with both a word and a gesture, and I think that is important, too.  
            Whether that gesture is to say “Jesus loves you and so do I” with the mark of the cross on a forehead – or the gesture is a fist bump or a hug or a high five – to put a word and a gesture together – helps us to remember that our words and our actions TOGETHER have power.  
            And it’s what we talked about in confirmation last Monday night.  The word “Integrity”  -- means that our words and our actions match each other,  that we say what we do, and we do what we say. 

             It’s the final step in the Faith 5, but it’s much more than that.  And there are two things about blessing that I want to highlight right now.        
            The first is from those words that Moses gave Aaron – “The Lord bless you and keep you….” There’s a phrase in this benediction that you may not notice.  I’ve heard it in different ways. 
             “The Lord make his face shine on you… the Lord lift up his countenance to you… the Lord turn his face to you….”  
            The Lord turn his face to you.  
            For God to turn God’s face to us – is to bless us.  For God to look upon us, is to look upon us with favor.   
             Think about that.  That God turns TOWARD us, instead of away – is part of the blessing.  
            And that means that part of what it means for us to bless each other – is to turn toward each other – instead of away.    
            It’s a word – and a gesture – and so I’d like us to bless each other now – turn toward someone near you, and make the sign of the cross in the palm of their hand, and say, “May God bless you and protect you.  You are a blessing.”  

            There’s a marriage counselor, John Gottman, who says he can observe a couple over a weekend and he can predict whether they will stay married or not – by observing one simple action – how often they turn toward one another rather than away. 
             He says it’s a matter of the ratio of positive to negative interactions, and he says it is the small and simple things that are the glue – just whether we turn toward each other, in simple words and gestures. Blessing.  

            And the second thing about blessing?  
            Blessing starts here – among us – and in our relationships and in our families and in our Bible studies and groups.  
             It starts here as we practice blessing each other with words and gestures.  
            But it doesn’t end here. Remember Abraham?  
            God said to Abraham, “I will bless you and I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing.”  
            And that is our purpose as well.  
            We are blessed so that we will go out and be a blessing – to the world.  Our congregation is here – to bless the communities and neighborhoods that surrounds us – to bless the children and the families at the school. 
            It’s why we are here – and I don’t mean just “here” in the world, I mean it’s why we are here in this particular time and place.

            The gospel reading for today helps us to see blessing in this way –Jesus begins by telling his disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  
            Love one another – the blessing goes both ways – parents and children, husbands and wives, friends and congregations – love one another – bless each other – “as I have loved you.” 
             As Jesus has loved us, in both word and action.  Ad we can only do it because of his life in us and our life in him – the vine and the branches, rooted in love.    
            To bless each other is to share the love of God which flows through us – to turn toward one another as God has turned toward us  on the cross – to speak words to each other which set us free.  

            And Jesus speaks those words to his disciples. 
             He says to them, “I call you not longer servants, but friends. Because you know me.  You know the father because of me.” 
             He says to them, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you.” 
            In other words, even if the world tells you, you don’t measure up, in my eyes you do.  Because of my love
            And you know there are so many people who don’t know that, who only hear words of judgment.  
            Who only hear words that tell them, You are not good enough.
            So those words were words of blessing.
            And then he told his disciples to take that blessing, and turn outward, toward the world.   To be a source of blessing in the world.    In words and in actions.  To bear fruit that will last.  

            Blessing.  It’s the fifth step of the Faith5.  It’s sharing a word and a gesture.  And it’s our purpose in life.  To bless each other.   
             And to bless our community.    To be there when the chips are down.  To share our bread with the hungry. 
            To clean up houses after the flood.  To lift up those who are doubting.  
            To tell the children, Jesus loves you – and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads – and to let them do the same to us.  

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Faith 5, Part 4: Praying for one another

Philippians 4:4-7
John 15:1-8

            Here’s a secret for you. The choir – up there in the choir loft – doesn’t just sing.  
            On Wednesday when they come, they do practice the songs and they learn the piece they will sing. But, they do something else, too. They pray.  
            Now sometimes they pray by singing – because some of the songs we sing actually ARE prayers…. Songs like “Spirit of God, Descend upon my Heart” or “Open the Eyes of my Heart Lord” --- actually many of our songs are prayers. 
             But that’s not what I mean.  At the end of our rehearsals, we have a devotion, and we ask for prayer requests, and we pray together.  
            We pray for one another. And – here’s another secret – it’s not just me doing the praying.  
            There’s a small group of us who take turns taking the prayer concerns and praying for each other.  

            So – We are on step four of the Faith 5 – PRAYER.   
            First we learned how important it is to share with one another our highs and lows, to share the concerns of our hearts, to build community in our families and in our congregation.  
            Then in step two, we learned to share scripture, share the Word of God with one another.  A verse a day, a story a week.  The word of God grounds us and helps us remember who we are.  
            Then we talk about it – we talk about Scripture and relate it to our lives.  And then finaly – well, almost finally, because there is one more step after this – finally, we pray together.  We pray for one another.  We pray WITH one another.  

            And prayer is so foundational for us – it’s one of the first things we learn, isn’t it?   
            When we baptize a child, as ask the parents and godparents to teach their children, “The Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.”  
            Prayer is first – not just the Lord’s prayer, but prayer in general.  Prayers at bedtime.  Prayers around the table, before we eat.  And in some ways it’s so easy, and in some ways it’s not.  

            What is prayer? There are all kinds of methods – and all kinds of ways to pray.  There are written-down prayers like we have in our worship book.  
            And there is the “five finger prayer” that I taught the children this morning.  
            Prayers can be beautiful and poetic, or they can be simple.    Author Anne Lamott said once that she really only knows three prayers – Help – Thanks – and Wow.   
            Every prayer can be reduced to one of these words.  Perhaps.

            At the heart of it, though, prayer is a conversation.  
            It is not a method, not a set of rules, but a relationship.   
            Prayer is sharing our worries, our cares, our thanks,  our joy – everything – with God.  
            And I know that many of us here have deep and rich prayer lives, and that we truly do try to take everything to God in prayer.  We pray for one another.  We pray for our children.  
            We pray for our congregation.  Maybe you even – on occasion – pray for your pastor.  
            But when I’m talking about the faith5, and the fourth step, “Prayer,” there’s this added layer, because we aren’t just praying for each other, privately, to ourselves.  It’s not like when someone says to me, after worship, “Pastor, will you pray for me,” and I promise to pray for them, and then I go home and pray.  
            This is when – as families, or with friends – we don’t just pray for each other, but we pray with each other too.     
            In choir, in our families, parents and children, in Bible study – we listen to one another’s joys and one another’s concerns, and then we pray.  And in that way, prayer binds us to God – and it binds us to one another. 

            Just as it takes trust to share with one another – it also takes trust to pray for one another -- 
            So one of the things I used to do with self-conscious students was to invite them just to say a word, or a name 
            – just to name a name of someone they were concerned about, or to say a word that named something they were thinking about – that’s the way we started, so that we could get used to hearing the sound of our own names, and know it was okay to speak.  
            Later on, we’d share more deeply, and pray more deeply as well – sharing secrets about friends we were concerned about, about the causes that gave our lives meaning.  

            So – right now, I’d like to try something – something small. 
             I’d like everyone here to think of a name.  Think of a name of someone you would like to pray for, for whatever reason.  Close your eyes and say that name to yourself.  
            Does everyone have a name?  Now – we are all going to say our names aloud – at the same time -- .  When I give the cue – Let us pray.  Gracious God, today we pray for…. (say the names.)  Hold them all in the palm of your hands.  Keep them and heal them and guide them, and do for them what is wise and compassionate.  AMEN.

            So – it is part of the forming of community to pray – and to share prayer.  
            To share the intercessions as we do on Sunday morning --  to share prayers of thanksgiving and praise – to share our confessions and failings – the hardest things, perhaps.  
            But it’s part of how we become community, Christian community – not just here, but in our homes, and among our friends, and in the world.   
            And praying together, and praying for one another strengthens our faith, helps our children have confidence in their praying, and strengthens our community too.  

            But I do have to add one thing – I don’t want to sweep anything under the carpet, in order to paint a rosy picture of praying.  
            And that’s the subject of prayers which are not answered, or not in the way we want.  
            And sooner or later, especially if we are learning to pray honestly, sooner or later that is going to happen to us.  And we have to be honest – that prayer is a great and intimate conversation, and that God guides us through prayer, and that we can come to God with anything – ANYTHING 
            – but what do we say when God doesn’t give us the answer – or the answer we want?  Especially, what do we say to a child?  
            But not just children… right?  We can come to God with ANYTHING, but sometimes, even though God loves us, the thing we think is best doesn’t happen, and we can’t understand.  
            We just have to keep believing that God loves us and will be with us, no matter what…. 

            And keep praying.  There’s a promise for us in the gospel reading today, that I think has to do with prayer.  
            Jesus says “I am the vine and you are the branches.” That means that always and always, he is holding on to us.  
             He is holding on to us, and because he is the vine, he is giving us his life.  That means that even our prayers, in the end, come from him.       And because he is the vine, and YOU ALL – are the branches, that means that our relationship with God is never just one to one.   
            We’re always praying together, even when we are alone.  
            Prayer bonds us to the one who has given us life – prayer bonds us to Jesus – but it bonds us to one another in the vine too
             – whether we are certain or doubting, whether we are young or old, no matter where we are in the body, we are bound together in Jesus, the vine.