Thursday, March 15, 2012

Holden reflection for the week...

Here are the thoughts I shared last night.  The story about Lamont, Iowa came from a book I'm reading called Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment by L. Shannon Jung. 

Psalm 84
1How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
2My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
4Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
5Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
7They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
8O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
10For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
11For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

Holden Evening Prayer
March 14, 2012
Psalm 84

Our Psalmist this day talks about God providing for us, God nurturing us…and God providing a place for all of God’s creation.

1How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
2My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

How we all long for such belonging, for such a home, for the place where we feel loved and nurtured, cared and provided for. 

“Thus it was in Lamont, Iowa.  The good citizens and church members of Lamont had lost the last café in their town.  Mabel and Sam had decided they were just too old to carry on, and no one was interested in buying their place.  The café was where the townspeople, local farmers, and anybody else in town got together in the morning for a cup of coffee and maybe a doughnut and shoot the breeze.  Most heavy decisions got made there.  Lunch was when you could count on some of the older townspeople and maybe some others coming in to get a bite to eat. 

Supper was sometimes heavy, sometimes light.  But the fact remained that the last café in Lamont had closed.  The only other place to be served something to eat without going out of town was the tavern. Now taverns come in all stripes and dispositions, but this one was not a community sort of place.  People felt uncomfortable going in to the tavern to eat.

What had become evident to the good people of Lamont was that they needed a place to share a meal, share their news, and build community.  The need for such a place had become evident through its absence.  I am happy to report that the church, with the help of an inventive and outgoing United Methodist pastor, got together and decided to open such a place.  It is called Common Grounds, and it is a simple coffee-and-sandwiches café- nothing very complicated, but it is volunteer rich, has strong grassroots support, and is a place for community building.  On Sunday mornings the high school groups of all the churches gather there.  Throughout the week members of the community gather for breakfast, coffee, and other meals.  People recognized that it was important to have a place in town to share food.” (p.38-39)

We were blessed this past week to share in worship and a meal with people from our community.  As contemporary worship ended, youth from our community traveled from the sanctuary to the social hall and joined us for a meal.  We had plenty of food, plenty of space and lots of good conversations. 

A well-known Lutheran Theologian, and one of my favorite seminary professors, Dr. Timothy Wengert, began class each day with prayer.  One day he began this way… “Dear Lord, your hold us in the palm of your hands….”  And then he completely forgot what he was going to say next.  As he gently paused….and thought….and breathed…he found the words to continue.  “Don’t drop us. Amen.”

That was it.  As he shared this experience with others, he said he had this great train of thought that he just lost….and he was left with this simple, yet all-encompassing prayer.

Because that is all we ask…the God hold us and never let us go. 
And God will hold us, God will provide for us…and God will never, ever let us go.

God continues to hold us and to provide for us in abundance through family, food, shelter this place of worship, just to name a few.  How do you see that abundance around you…and see the needs of others, too? 

How are you able to share that abundance with others? 
May our words and actions spring forth from God’s abundance and show and share that abundance with others. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Holden Evening Prayer - Reflection

What Do You Pray For? 

An excerpt from The Magic Word, Stirrings and Stories of Faith and Minstry by Frederick Houk Borsch, (Cathedral Center Press, 2001, p. 233-235)

What do you pray for?  I find this one of the most interesting and revealing questions about the spiritual life. Sometimes, the question produces guilt.  Gee, I don’t pray enough.  Or, I don’t think much of what I pray about. 

                But those are just preliminary responses, perhaps in part defensive gestures to avoid talking about what may seem too intimate.  We may also suppose that what we pray for isn’t important enough, or that it is too mundane or trivial or even wrong.  Lord, I pray to win the lotto on this once.  It should solve almost everything, and then I’ll be better able to serve you.  One remembers the joke:  “When I was little and didn’t know any better, I prayed for a new bicycle.  Now that I’m more mature, I pray for a Mercedes.”

                I have, however, learned something important about prayer – and that is not to leave out the things one really wants.  Prayer cannot be honest if love is on my lips and the lotto in my heart.  One of the things I have always valued in the Psalms is the way the Psalmist lets it all hang out – including getting even with one’s enemies. 

                Such honest prayer may help us to gain a greater perspective on our deepest hopes and fears – what we most need and want.  But it also brings up another problem.  What do we really think God will do – or God can do – about our prayers?  Scripture tells us that God is better than all earthly parents and will give good things to those who ask.  That may often seem true, but we know, too, of prayers that do not seem to be answered.  Sometimes they are the most desperate pleas to spare a loved one.  And we may imagine all the prayers cried out in the midst of the Holocaust.  Do we believe that God can or will intervene in the world of automobile crashes, AIDS, poverty and Intifada to answer our prayers for safety and cure, justice and peace?  These are hard and perhaps confusing questions.  We know that no squad of angels came to rescue Jesus from the cross.  We hear his cry of forsakenness.  Yet still he prayed. 

There are days when we are grateful to have words for our prayers.  I am particularly grateful to have the Lord’s Prayer: to know that I do not pray alone when, by myself or with the community of faith, I ask for God’s kingdom and God’s will – God’s ways – to come on earth as in heaven.  We pray for life’s daily bread and the true bread of life; that we may be forgiven as we are given grace to forgive others; that we will not fall in the great temptation to give up on God’s Spirit or to give in to evil.  We can be grateful for other prayers that help us to offer thanksgiving and love, to pray for forgiveness and courage and strength better to serve, to pray for others and for ourselves. 

There will be times, however, when we are beyond the understanding that shapes our words.  We are not sure what to pray for.  Then we yearn for “the Spirit that helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” George Herbert says that “prayer is God’s breath in man” – God’s breath in us, yearning with our spirits. 

When in Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells us that God knows how to give gifts better than earthly parents, the gift the heavenly Father offers “is the Holy spirit to those who ask.”  What better gift for myself and for whom I pray than the divine Awareness as the context for their awareness in life, for God’s Spirit with theirs, for Presence in the valleys, with the thorns and crosses and the sacraments and joys of life. 

Sometimes, when I am praying for others, a curious thing happens.  They begin to levitate in my prayers.  They come up off the ground.  And I imagine I see them with their legs sort of dangling and their jacket flapping – in all their vulnerability.  I can see them, as it were, all around, and I imagine that this is something like God sees them and holds them up.  The author of the 14th century The Cloud of Unknowing tells us that “God, with the all-merciful eyes, sees not only who we are and who we have been but who we will be.”  Without knowing what other things to pray for others or for myself, I ask for us and all people to be held in that Spirit.


What do you pray for?

Wednesday's Noontime Homily

A reading from the gospel of John, the 12th chapter:
36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.37Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.38This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”39And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,40“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.”41Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke about him.  42Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue;43for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

Midweek Lenten Service
March 7, 2012
John 12:36-43

 Please pray with me,

Lord God, you kept Abraham and Sarah in safety throughout the days of their pilgrimage, you led the children of Israel through the midst of the sea, and by a star you led the Wise Men to the infant Jesus.  Protect and guide us now in this time as we travel through the season of Lent.  Make our ways safe and our homecomings joyful, and bring us at last to our heavenly home where you dwell in glory with your son and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.  Amen. 

Growing up I remember listening to the story called The Point.  Back in the day, we would listen to it on a record….now, it’s on my iPod.  Well, the story is about a boy named Oblio and he is the only round headed person who lives in the land of Point, everyone else has points on their heads, so he is banished to the pointless forest, but here’s the thing….all the trees have points on them….and all the branches on the trees have points….so Oblio is confused….how can this be the pointless forest if there are points all around us? 

Luckily, he runs into the rockman, who, in his infinite wisdom says, “You see what you wanna see.  And you hear what you wanna hear.” 

He asks Oblio, “Did you ever see Paris?”
“Well, did you ever see New Dehli?” 
"Well that’s it….You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear…."

How true is that in our lives today?  That we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear?

As we heard in our gospel passage today, that people were able to see Jesus in their midst, to see the healing, hear his teaching….and have their hearts and eyes opened to see Jesus as the Messiah….yet, they struggled with believing or telling others about it because of the laws of the land and the synagogue. 

The passage quoted from Isaiah says their hearts were hardened…

What hardens our hearts…

When we see God at work in our midst and in the world around us, what keeps us from seeing those amazing moments? 
Is it the sin in our hearts, that turns us in on ourselves? 
Is it the self-centeredness that causes us just to focus on our own selves? 
Is it the worry of what friends or neighbors will say if we talk about our congregation or our faith? 
Is it our quest for human glory?  For our own needs and desires…?  For our own glory? 

God is constantly at work in the world around us….in the joys and celebrations and in the struggles, sickness and pain that we face. 

How are we being turned this season…turned away from ourselves to see God at work in our world here and now. 

How are we being turned from living in fear, sickness, and scarcity, so see the abundant love, hope and trust in our midst here and now? 

Listen to something I read this week:

“The good news involves both the transformation of the mind and the healing
of the body. It also involves the leaving behind of some cherished traditions;
often the greatest force of opposition to renewal is not the evils of this world
but a clinging to past goods. It has been said that the good is often the worst
enemy of the best, and it is so in this case.” [Witherington, The Gospel of Mark, pp. 250-1]

Now, where we go from here?

Do we allow ourselves to get caught up in the ways things have always been
Do we fall into the trap of sin and focus just on our individual needs?

Or are we turned…even just for the moment…outside of ourselves, to see the
needs of others, to see that the mission of God is at work in the world…and
that we are all connected and dependent upon one another…?

Or are we able to see the transformation of our minds and the healing of our bodies…as the presence of God in our world and in our lives? 

I pray that this Lent is a time for us all to be turned away from ourselves and towards others. To see the freedom we have from sin and death…to love and serve our neighbors. And to claim the cross…not as our own burden, but as the way God has shown and continues to show and unending love and forgiveness for each and every one of us.

May our eyes be opened to see that transformation.

May we see Christ in our midst here and now.

May we share this abundant love and grace with others as it has already been shared with us.
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.