A prayer on the third Sunday of Easter

Merciful God, 

It is so hard to trust in you sometimes. Our needs and our fears and our anxieties seem so immediate and so real. We worry about having enough money to last us through the month or through our retirement. We worry about what’s happening to our kids and our community and this country and this world that we live in. We worry about bombs and guns, we worry about our jobs and our schoolwork, and we worry about people that we love – and we wonder how we can go on in light of loved ones that we have lost. 

God, it is so hard to trust you sometimes. Yet you tell us to cast our burdens on you, you tell us to lean not on our own understandings, you tell us to follow you, you tell us that you have overcome the world, you tell us that you are with us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you tell us your yoke is easy, and you tell us that your burden is light.

God, it is so hard to trust you sometimes. But we are a people gathered together in this place because we believe that two thousand years ago you raised a crucified Jewish Rabbi up from the dead. So help us to know your resurrection New Life more intimately, help us to take your power and your grace and your perfect love more seriously than our need and our fear and our anxiety, and help us to lean more intently into your everlasting embrace. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, and in the power of your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

A prayer for Saving Daylight

Merciful God,

This morning a lot of us are tired. We’d like to think that’s just because Daylight Saving Time took an hour of sleep from us last night, but if we’re honest, we’re tired a lot of the time. We’re tired because we give so much of our time to being busy. We’re busy with our jobs, we’re busy with homework and with housework and with hobbies and goals and all kinds of other activities. 

God, you invented work and creativity and order, and you created us to take part in working and creating and ordering. But you also invented Sabbath rest. Help us to find space in our busy lives to rest so that we can focus on the fact that the value of our lives is not about what we do or what we produce; the value of our life comes from the fact that it is a gift from you. 

God we are tired and we are busy. Help us to be still so that we can connect more deeply with our families. Help us to be still so that we can be more present in the moment with our friends. We are busy, but you are the God who fights for us; help us to be still and know that you are God. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, and in the power of your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen

A Pastoral Prayer for the week of Super Tuesday

Prayed this morning at Montgomery United Methodist Church, Montgomery, TX

Merciful God,

We approach your throne in worship this morning, aware that a lot of our neighbors seem anxious. They’re anxious about an uncertain economy, they’re anxious about things that are happening across the world, they’re anxious about things that are happening with our children, and they’re anxious about the results of an election this Tuesday and next November.

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A lot of our neighbors are anxious about these things. God, we know in our heads that because we fear you we have nothing else to fear. But God, if we’re honest, we’re kind of anxious about some of these things too.

Help us to remember – especially this week – that although worldly powers rise and fall, you are still Lord over them all. Help us to remember that since we are a people of hope, we don’t have to take despair seriously. Help us to remember that since we are a people of light even the deepest darkness is no big deal when viewed with the eyes of eternity.

Some trust in chariots, and some trust in horses. Some trust in tanks, some trust in banks, some trust in candidates, and some trust in caliphates. But we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

In the name of Jesus Christ, and in the power of your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

Isaiah 40

Wisdom on Isaiah 40:1-11 from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture:

The Lord wants to find in you a path by which he can enter into your souls and make his journey. Prepare for him the path of which it is said, “Make straight his path.” “The voice of one crying in the desert”—the voice cries, “prepare the way.” (Origen)

They were not reborn, those who were baptized by John’s baptism, by which Christ himself was baptized. Rather, they were “prepared” by the ministry of a forerunner, who said, “Prepare a way for the Lord”—for him in whom alone they could be reborn. (Augustine)

The book of Ezra describes the laying of the found...

The book of Ezra describes the laying of the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem:

"But many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families, who had seen the first house, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this house, although many others shouted loudly with joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance." (Ezra 3:12-13 CEB)

John Wesley, commenting on this passage:

"The mixture of sorrow and joy here, is a representation of this world. In heaven all are singing and none sighing; in hell all are wailing, and none rejoicing: but here on earth we can scarce discern the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping, let us learn to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Meantime let us ourselves rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and weep as though we wept not."

World War I and the Prophet Micah

Exactly 100 years ago - give or take a few weeks - some men got together and played soccer. But this was no ordinary soccer match; this might be the most interesting soccer game that has ever been played. The players were from England and Germany, but it was not the World Cup or even the Euro Cup.

This soccer game happened during World War I. England and Germany were on opposite sides, dug into trenches in the French country side. Both sides were sustaining heavy losses, but it was only 1914, and the losses were destined to much get heavier.

The things that caused WWI are complicated: an assassination, complex royal family ties, crisscrossed national interests and nationalistic pride, the dying gasp of European colonialism, etc. Whatever the reasons, none of them make a good enough reason in my view for a war that ended with about 17 million people either dead or missing. 

Yet on Christmas Day, 1914, soldiers from both sides set up goals and boundaries in No Man's Land - the area between the two battle lines - and they played soccer. This was a part of what later came to be known as the Christmas Truce of 1914, an informal ceasefire that took place along some sections of the Western Front. In the middle of one of the most violent - and also, pointless - wars in human history, soldiers crossed the supposedly uncrossable lines of conflict to remember things that went even deeper than the conflict. 

Unfortunately the peace didn't last forever. A few days later they went back to killing each other, and the commanding officers on both sides made sure there was no Christmas truce in later years. 

Nonetheless, this story reminds me of one of my favorite passages from the Hebrew Prophet Micah:

     But in the days to come,
               the mountain of the LORD’s house
                    will be the highest of the mountains;
               it will be lifted above the hills;
                    peoples will stream to it.
     Many nations will go and say:
          “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the LORD,
                    to the house of Jacob’s God,
               so that he may teach us his ways
                    and we may walk in God’s paths!”
     Instruction will come from Zion
               and the LORD’s word from Jerusalem.
     God will judge between the nations
               and settle disputes of mighty nations,
                    which are far away.
     They will beat their swords
     into iron plows
               and their spears
               into pruning tools.
     Nation will not take up sword
     against nation;
               they will no longer learn
               how to make war.
     All will sit underneath
     their own grapevines,
               under their own fig trees.
          There will be no one to terrify them;
               for the mouth of the LORD of heavenly forces has spoken. (Micah 4:1–4 CEB)

In Micah 4:1-4 the nations are drawn to God, God judges them and settles their arguments, and fighting and war become obsolete. What a wonderful picture!

But then they respond by doing something incredible. They aren't just drawn to God; their lives are totally changed. Their outlook, their circumstances, the way they see and experience the world have undergone a total transformation. So they take the tools that they used to use to destroy things, and they modify them into tools that foster life. 

They turn their swords into plows. Instead of cutting into peoples’ bodies, instead of killing with swords, they turn them into plows. A plow is also a tool that cuts, but it cuts into the earth in order to bring forth life and food. Then they turn their spears into pruning hooks. Instead of stabbing and killing, these tools will strategically trim a plant in a way that will cause it to live more fully and bear more fruit. 

This is God's plan for war and for all of our fighting: swords into plows; spears into pruning instruments. Our instruments of destruction get turned into instruments of life. But this isn't just God's plan for our tools, this is God's plan for us too.

We are like swords and spears. Our words and our actions destroy, and they cut and stab. We break things, and we mess stuff up, but God wants to make us into plows and pruning tools. God wants to make us new, and God wants to make us into the kind of things that make other things new. God does just that through Christ. In the words of John Calvin, commenting on this passage in Micah 4:

...the fruit of the doctrine of Christ …[is]... that men, who were before like cruel wild beasts, would become gentle and meek. Forge then shall they their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks.

The end result of Christ is that we are totally transformed into something new: God becomes our God, and we become God's people. Which brings us back to the Christmas Truce of 1914. How appropriate that it was at Christmas! Christmas is where God comes down in Christ and crosses all of our battle lines, clearing space in our world and in our lives and in our hearts for peace and joy, clearing a playing field where there once was only a battle field. 

To become this playing field - this space for peace and joy that God clears for the sake of the world through Christ - is the calling of the church. We gather Sunday mornings for worship so that God can reshape us and transform us from instruments of violence into instruments of life.