Let us Run

A prayer for Sunday Worship on the road.

As the sun rises and the crowd gathers, let us run

Let us run with the joy of toddlers whose feet are learning to explore

Let us run with the abandon of children not yet frightened by what-ifs

Let us run with the courage born of trials overcome and injuries healed

Let us run with the confidence of preparation

Let us run with with the knowledge that you are here in the very air we breathe
and in the water that refreshes along the way.

You are here in the voice of the random stranger and the familiar voice in our heads

You are here in the high fives and posters and “Almost there”

Let us run until we finish,
whether first, last or middle of the pack

And then let us rest in the knowledge that you are in the resting, too



Prayers of the People

For worship at the Fall Stated Meeting of the Central Florida Presbytery.

God of justice and mercy,

We come to you, fully aware that you are so far above us, so great that our words truly fail to express who you are, what you are capable of, and even what you are doing among us here today.

We give thanks for the many gifts you have given us, and for the opportunity to mirror your generosity in our own giving today. Bless these gifts and all of our siblings in Christ who will know freedom through the work of the Bail Project.

On this day of meetings and business

On this day when we remember the tragedy of terrorist attacks and the impact of hurricane Irma

On this day when the mid-Atlantic is facing down Florence and her sibling storms form off the coast of Africa

On this day when we in this room carry the weight of quotidian sorrow and pain, grief and anxiety

On this day, as we do every day, we need you.

We need your comfort
We need your wisdom
We need your hope
We need your strength

And so we come, asking, seeking, knocking. Some of us knocking awfully loud.

Not only for ourselves
Not only for our congregations
Not only for our families

But for the communities we represent.
The neighborhoods we know.
And the neighborhoods we avoid.

We come to you, asking, seeking and knocking for all who are in captivity today
Those in jails and prisons
Those trapped by addiction
Those humbled by oppression and poverty

And those of us who are unwittingly or willingly bound
by the systems and structures of privilege we enjoy

Give us strength to stand,
courage to speak,
and faith to believe that you are already where you call us to be and
will indeed be with us to the end of the age.

We pray this in the name of the One who came to set all your children free,

An Invocation for a New Mayor & Commissioners

Today, I had the honor of opening with prayer the ceremony at which the newly-elected mayor and city council members were sworn in.  I can’t say that before this invitation I had given much thought to what one might pray for on such an occasion.  But as I thought about the work they have in front of them and the demands that would be placed on them… here’s what God laid on my heart.  And thus what folks heard me pray this afternoon:

Holy and gracious One, we give you thanks for a moment to pause and reflect on what is a really momentous day.

Looking back, we can see the many ways you have prepared these leaders to answer a call to this work in this city in this moment.  We give you our thanks. 

As we pause, we can begin to see how their work will intersect and weave into the work of all the men and women who have come before, and for all of their efforts and passion, we also give thanks.  

And on this day of official new beginnings, we look forward to the ways you will lead and guide commissioners Smith and Nolan, Bankson and Becker, as well mayor Nelson 

Answering a call to public service, putting your family’s name and reputation out for a vote, braving the fickleness and divisiveness of public discussion of your work…  these things are not easy.  For our leaders or their families.   

We ask then, for you to fill them with the humility, courage, faithfulness, persistence and sense of humor they will desperately need in the days, months and years to come. 

Be with the family members of our commissioners and mayor, as this work means missed mealtimes or ballgames, interrupted and delayed vacations, and errands that take forever between conversations.  

May these leaders never take themselves too seriously; may they never take the work home too consistently, and may they never take the word on the street too personally.  

Instead, give them ears to hear the stories that get to the truth of the needs of our city, and the excitement of the opportunities that the people of Apopka are exploring. 

Give them eyes to see the little things that make the biggest differences in peoples lives, and to look past the distractions that make real progress impossible. 

Give each of them minds that are sharp and eager to learn from one another, as well as the wise counsel you provide in their colleagues, staff and support teams, city employees and outside experts.  

Lord, give them hearts that are full of compassion for those whose voices have too long been silenced and whose access to power has been limited.   

We pray this day for all who work to make Apopka the kind of place you want to raise your kids, open a business, visit for a festival or maybe even retire to.  And we lift up all who live and work in the bounds of the city.

It goes without saying that aligning all the wants, needs, expectations, hopes, and dreams of those who voted to bring this group together…. is nigh unto impossible.   Mixing in the reality of time and budgets and process… it would be more than one miracle to make everyone happy.  

Rather than ask for that particular miracle, God, I offer up a simpler request…

May grace abound from above and below
May grace abound from within and without
May grace abound from this moment onward
In ways that offer healing, reconciliation, inclusion, empowerment and unity.

May our mayor and commissioners remember always that
it is in your children coming together and working to make the world and its people whole that the desires of your heart and the truth of your glory are revealed.  

May that be true of this council, of this city and all who call on your name, this day and always, Amen. 

Lead Us, Deliver Us

I don’t know how anyone could approach this prayer as a whole, but especially this petition without the context and insights offered by John Dominic Crossan in his brilliant book The Greatest Prayer (Harper One, 2010). 

Primary Text: Matthew 6:7-15  Also Matthew 3:16-4:11

And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Or as the more familiar King James version reads:
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

This section is probably the most perplexing of the petitions in Jesus’ model prayer.  

Much of the rest of the prayer can be understood with a very surface level reading, or at least makes sense in light of teachings we are more familiar with in the gospels.

When we pray this prayer together, we call out to God as our shared Father, a reminder that we are brothers and sisters of Jesus the Christ.  We remember that we have a relationship with God, on a first-name basis, so to speak. But we also remember that God is God – holy, set apart. That while we are welcome to call on God by name, we are not to take that relationship lightly, nor to use God’s name flippantly.

In our prayer, we seek from God an experience of creation as it was meant to be, a peaceable kingdom under the rule of the one who Created and then set the world in motion, a Kingdom under the care of the Prince of Peace.

As we go deeper into the prayer, we ask God for the food we need, trusting that God will provide for our physical needs here and now, and that we will be fed spiritually as we learn to forgive others in the same way that God offers grace to us.

And then we come to this petition: Do not bring us to the time of trial. Rescue us from the evil one.

It’s a little tricky, risky even, to bring the words of Jesus, a Jewish rabbi who walked the earth 20 centuries ago up to current times. We’re already taking them from an ancient Greek text and translating them into English, which has its limitations as a language. Then there are the geographic and technological differences.

Most of us -including me – aren’t familiar enough with the Jewish traditions in which Jesus was raised to pick up on the nuances of the theological shifts he was making in his teachings, at least not without doing some research.

Our individually-focused American culture makes it hard to understand the collective language and community-oriented culture that permeates the commands and expectations of the faithful that we receive through scriptures.

And, we generally read our history from the perspective of the victor, the dominant force.

For instance, the history of the western world generally starts with the Roman Empire, definitely not that of the people who were subjugated by Rome in the Mediterranean or across Europe and northern Africa. In fact, it always catches me by surprise to think of the Apostles going to Rome… seeing the aqueducts, traveling on the Roman roads that I read so much about…  But the truth is that Rome wasn’t some far-off concept for first-century Jews.

The empire was about the business of keeping people under their thumb by whatever means were necessary, including the people in the region where Jesus was born, grew up, taught and was executed.

I offer all this by way of introduction today because unless we improve the lens through which we read this portion of Jesus’ model prayer, unless we have at least some sense of the historical and cultural context in which Jesus offered these words, our modern applications of its teachings become so shallow as to be meaningless.

If we could jump into a time machine, a faith-powered TARDIS, if you will, and point it to the decade or so before the birth of Jesus in Nazareth, we would be landing in a very dangerous time. Following the death of Herod the Great, bands of rebels had taken up arms and were engaging in small battles across the region.

There was a significant Roman presence in the capital city of the Galilee, Sepphoris.  A rebel named Judas gathered a large number of men and led an assault on the royal palace in Sepphoris, where they took weapons and stole back all sorts of seized property which they then redistributed – Robin Hood-like to other rebels.  

There was no permanent military presence in Israel at the time, so to quash the rebellion, Rome would have to make a calculated risk, pulling men from their posts on another border.  If you’re thinking Rome would need to work quickly in Galilee to avoid tempting enemies on the border, you get bonus points.  

Two legions arrived, ready for a campaign of “shock and awe” or Sword and Blood. The leaders of this massive army made clear that they would teach the rebels and the whole region that produced them a lesson that would last at least 2 generations.  

They marched into Sepphoris with at least 12,000 troops – ELITE troops- along 2000 cavalry soldiers and 1500 infantry.  An Arab ally arrived with additional resources. Varus, the commander, split his forces, knowing they would still overpower everyone they encountered. Half of his men went to Jerusalem, with the others fighting against the rural Galileans.

They were relentless, gutting the capital city of Sepphoris and razing the surrounding villages. Nazareth – where Joseph worked as a carpenter – was a tiny village about 4-5 miles away. While Nazareth is not mentioned by name in the surviving documents containing Roman and Jewish historical accounts, we know the fate of other villages of similar size in the region.  

Here’s an excerpt from one such collection called Jewish Antiquities.

They [the Romans and their Arab allies] encamped near a village called Arous sacked by the Arabs. Thence Varus advanced to Sappho [in Judea], another fortified village, which they likewise sacked, as well as the neighboring villages which they encountered on their march. The whole district became a scene of fire and blood and nothing was safe against the ravage of the Arabs. Emmaus, the inhabitants of which had fled, was burnt to the ground by the orders of Varus.

Whether overrun by Romans or Arabs, the sacking was complete
Grain, produce and livestock – Taken
Houses, farms, fruit trees – destroyed
Men were killed, women raped and young people enslaved.

Those who survived and somehow fled found themselves living as refugees of political violence.  Those who stayed – they gathered what little was left, bringing home as many extended family members as were nearby and grafting in those who were widowed, orphaned or otherwise left behind.  

Children like Jesus, born into this region in the years after the occupation would surely have heard the stories being told and retold. It would have become part of the local language and lore.

As my friends in New Orleans and around the gulf coast would attest, traumatic events can cause a shift in the way we mark time. For them, every life event is placed in relation to Katrina. For New York City especially, September 11, 2001, marks the beginning and end of an era.  No doubt, Jesus would have heard elders in his community telling stories that used the sacking of Nazareth or Sepphoris as the time stamp.

Zealots remained active, though not nearly as boldly or broadly as before. The Military incursion had done its job, it would be another 60 years before an invasion of this size would be necessary to tamp down violent resistors.

In the meantime, the Jews would engage in non-violent resistance.

Leaders of the synagogues and temples aligned themselves with Roman leaders, hoping to influence them, align them, “change things from the inside” as much as any outsider could. Communities rebuilt and redoubled their efforts to be unified, watching out for one another, sharing what little resources they still had. And they focused on being a distinct culture that was in opposition to the culture of Rome.  Not just in protest, but truly being the opposite of the Empire. The laws of the Torah, the calls to justice and mercy, the commands to forgive… all set the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob apart.

It was into this culture, this history, that Jesus was born
It was among these rabbis, in this extended family that Jesus was raised to manhood in faith.
It was into this culture, where the laws of God were enforced by men who counted on the law to save them from harm in this life, that the fully divine Jesus taught the people about the heart behind the rules.

Jesus teaches his people to pray lead us not into temptation.

But more specifically, he is teaching them  to pray
Lead us not into the temptation of violent resistance to Rome’s oppression.
Deliver us from the acts of the evil one

The one on the throne who seeks to do us evil
The evil one who would have us join in the chaos by repaying evil for evil

This feels to me like the best explanation for something that makes very little sense on the surface.  It seems odd that God would lead us into temptation… so why would we need to ask God not to?

We see God leading people from so very early on in the relationship between humans and God- God leads us with words, just as clearly as with clouds of fire, God leads with prophets, kings and teachers. It’s not as if God is in the business of leading people into temptation.

Except that one time… Listen to these words from a little earlier in Matthew’s Gospel…
16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

God is pleased with Jesus getting baptized in obedience to God’s call. Now listen closely to what happens next:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Biblical Scholar John Dominic Crossan points out the importance of this sentence that lays out the  sequence of events.  Notice…, he says, that Jesus is “led by the Spirit – to be tempted – by the devil. It is God, as in the Abba Prayer, who brings Jesus to the time of trial. (CrossanThe Greatest Prayer, 170)

God brings Jesus to the time of trial, of temptations, so that as we face our own times of trial, we have an advocate who understands and speaks to God on our behalf, inhabiting our own prayers.  

Jesus was weak – or at the very least must have been getting hangry –  as the temptations come at him.
He [Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

This was a personal temptation – literally saying, you have more than enough power, miraculous power, to take care of your own hunger.  Why not? And yet, Jesus knows that his divine power was not to be used for personal comfort, but for the work of God among the people of God. So he responds using the words in Deuteronomy 8:3
But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The tempter builds on Jesus’ response, going to Scripture himself.  He cites Psalm 91:11-12, tempting Jesus with a public display of God’s power, since the personal display was not enough to draw him in.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus sees that this situation goes beyond him to test God – Would God protect Jesus, if the Son were to take this opportunity to prove his identity in a public way?
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

The third temptation starts with the assumption that Jesus is who he claims to be.  No longer will the challenge be about his identity as the Son of God.   And there is no pretense of religiosity here, no scripture quoted.

The tempter goes straight to the desires of most human hearts – and right to the antithesis of Jesus’ purpose here on Earth.
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Jesus has been offered all the glory and power of the Kingdoms of the World.   All in exchange for worship. This rule, this domination over multiple peoples and lands, is precisely the sort of rule that the Roman Emperors had built over the years, expanding their borders ever farther, sending legions of soldiers to defend those borders.

But this gathering, compiling of power and glory that comes of ruling worldly kingdoms has no appeal. Not to the Son of God who was with God from the beginning of all creation.  The Word who spoke all creation into being.

God alone is worthy of worship.  And so,
10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

I suspect he wasn’t hangry for much longer.

The violent world that we call the civilized world
The world of war and invasions and revolutions
The world of systemic imbalances and oppression based on ethnicity and country of origin
That is world of the now, the world that is not yet as it will be.

That is the world in which sinful humanity rules, and not particularly well
The nonviolent world of creation
The world of innocence and intimacy with God that we read of in Genesis
The world of worship and unity we read of in Revelation
That is the world in which God rules with mercy and lovingkindness

The tempter may lay claim to have the authority to give away the violence of human kingdoms, but only God may offer that world to the healing work of Christ

And God did just that. All because of love.

God so loved the world that God sent Jesus to redeem the world, to begin the long process of reconciling us to God, not with a sword and flames, not with miracles devised to terrify and terrorize.

God sent Jesus to draw humankind back to God by becoming a living, breathing portrait of God’s love…
Jesus fed the hungry, healed the lame, gave water to the thirsty and clothes to the naked.
Jesus gave sight to the blind and set captives free.  

It seems silly, really, to think that Jesus would have succumbed to the temptation to worship Satan in hopes of gaining power or glory. Especially knowing that he gave it all up to be here among us. Using violence to gain power or influence, inciting violence to gain fame or notoriety, winking at the violence of others on your behalf as you seek honor and authority… that right there is worshiping Satan.  

But [for Jesus] to obtain and possess the kingdom the power and the glory by [means of] nonviolent justice is to worship God.  (Crossan, The Greatest Prayer, 173)

As our divine proxy, Jesus declines the opportunity to use violence to establish the Kingdom of God, recognizing it could only bring more of the same pain, despair, mourning and isolation that marked life under the Empire.

Time after time, empire after empire, nation after nation (including our own) has fallen prey to this temptation.  Has chosen to engage the pursuit of power by way of violence. All too often in the name of God.

We have done violence to other peoples
By signing treaties that remove entire nations from their homelands and any hope of a future
By participating in genocide on our soil and on other continents
By kidnapping, enslaving and subjugating generations of Africans
By developing and using weapons of mass destruction
By deporting immigrant women and children to nations at war
By closing our borders to refugees

And then we claim to be followers of Jesus, the Christ.
Who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:6-11)

The Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted, just God tests us and leads us to times of trial. Not because God is fickle, but because we are… God’s stamina within our covenant relationship is astounding. God is unshakable.

We humans, however…  well, we have integrity issues. God must check in with us regularly to see that we are still serious about following, trusting, and worshiping God alone.

Jesus was tempted in all the ways that we are tempted to turn from the commandments of God
By feeding ourselves as others go without
By wielding and displaying our power in order to intimidate others
By bowing down to and placing our earthly kingdoms in a position of power at the expense of others’ agency, culture, health and livelihoods

We can and must call upon his power, his capacity for love and mercy to overcome our own capacity for fear and hatred.

Our Father in Heaven is holy, and wholly beyond our imaginings
Our Father’s kingdom is one where all are welcome, all are fed, all are heard
Our Father’s grace and forgiveness is so abundant that we are filled to overflowing and splash them onto others with abandon
All of which assures us that when we worship God and God alone, we will see God’s kingdom of justice breaking into this world of violence, and God will no longer need to test us.

As children of God, we can call upon our Father with a sense of trust and hope
Giving all the glory and honor to our Creator, Savior and Helper
Now and forevermore

Forgive Us As We Forgive

Primary Texts: Psalm 32, Luke 11:1-5  With gratitude and credit to Gord Waldie for his inspirational musings on forgiveness and the great reference to Miroslav Volf’s ideas in Free of Charge

The last couple of weeks, we’ve been digging into the Lord’s Prayer, taking a closer look at what we say every week as we pray it together. Like everything we do as a ritual, whether once a day, once a week, once a month, there is the danger of the prayer becoming another habit.  The danger of words becoming so ingrained in our memories that prayer is an act of rote recitation.  

We can get distracted or rush through the words, instead of knowing and re-claiming a prayer that speaks from the heart. And so this month, my goal has been to slow us down a bit.  To take time to remember what we learned about this prayer when we were young – or at least young in our faith.  

Jesus was giving his followers – then and now – words to pray that also remind us how to live.  

We remind ourselves first that God is our Father –
The one who claims and adopts us
The one who provides for us
The one in whose image we are created

We remind ourselves that our Father is God
The one who is Holy and set apart,
The one who is worthy of our worship

We remind ourselves that our Father God is our Provider
The one who sends the bread we need each day
The one whose Kingdom has come and is coming
The one whose will we are part of making known in the world

And then we remind ourselves that God’s grace is the source of  what we all so desperately need: forgiveness.

This petition about forgiveness is in the next to the last segment in both Matthew and Luke’s records of the prayer, though the words differ.  In Luke we read: And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Depending on what tradition you grew up in, you might have learned that portion of our liturgical prayer as debts and debtors, trespasses and those trespass against us, or even sins and those who sin against us

Regardless of which terms you usually think of within those phrases, the underlying meaning is clear.
First – We are sinful humans; we need forgiveness for the ways we fall short in our attempts to follow God’s commandments.
Second – we are not the only sinful humans in the world, and we will be called upon to forgive others.

We are indebted to God’s mercy and grace. All the love and care in the universe is extended to us, with only the expectation being that we love God in return and love our neighbors as God’s image-bearers in this earthly realm.

Forgive us, Lord. As we, in turn, forgive others.
It seems pretty simple, at least on paper.

I don’t know about you, but in real life, in the real world, I find forgiveness to be incredibly challenging. If I’m being absolutely honest, I have a hard time believing that I am worthy of being forgiven.

I understand and – by faith – continue living into the truth that there is not a thing I can do in this life that is beyond the power of the living God to forgive.  I can stand here and say that with confidence to each of you, looking you straight in the eye. I can believe it on your behalf.  

I can say it and believe it on behalf of the people who have confessed committing awful crimes in their past.  

I can even say it and believe it on behalf of the people who have committed those awful crimes against me.

Because I honest and truly believe
God’s grace is bigger than the circumstances in which we find ourselves struggling to find the next right thing to do.
that God’s grace is deeper than the depths of our despair over our own failings.
that God’s grace is wider than the gulf between perfection and our very very messy inner lives.

I believe all of those things.  

And yet, there are moments when I desperately need a brother or sister in Christ to stand right in front of me,  look me square  in the eye and say it:
Yes, Laura, God’s grace is big enough and real enough to cover your sins, too.

I wonder sometimes if the difficulty I experience in receiving forgiveness from God is the risk involved in being honest about who I am, with myself before I go to God, and then again as I approach the one who loved me before I understood what sin and love are.   

So much of what we are taught about sin has to do with condemnation and eternal damnation, mostly as a means of moving us to choose salvation.

So much of what we are taught about how to behave, how to move through this world – even when we are just talking about manners and etiquette – is tied to shame, often using sin language.

We are judged by our actions, dragging our families or other social groupings along for the condemnation. We are trained then, to judge and condemn ourselves, regardless of what God might have to say about it.   Can you see why Jesus, when he talked about his work here on Earth, spoke about releasing the captives?  

A big part of that bondage existed and still exists in the form of laws that keep us tied up emotionally, and relationally, the customs and traditions that keep us from seeing one another – and even ourselves – as loved and lovable children of God, worthy of a second, third or 500th chance.

Author Miroslav Volf once described forgiveness as choosing “To condemn the fault but to spare the doer”.  Volf’s argument is that this is what God does.  God recognizes the fault – the wrong that is done – and condemns it.  But then God chooses to spare the wrong-doer from the punishment that is deserved and could rightly be given.

This, my friends is mercy.     

This is God sending Nathan the prophet to David so that David might come to understand the lengthy list of sins he had committed while making Bathsheba his queen. Rather than strike David down, or even remove him from his seat of power, which God certainly could easily have done. God chose to spare David.

Oh, there were consequences, echoes of those choice made, as we see in the lives of his children. But God’s forgiveness and forbearance left space for change, for restitution and reformation. A chance for David to repent and become again the man after God’s own heart.  A chance for David to experience the joy of forgiveness.

Now, here’s where Volf’s idea goes from teaching to meddling. What if, as we live into our roles as image-bearers of God, as ambassadors for Christ, God wants us to go and do likewise?

Yes… God expects us to forgive one another in the same way we are forgiven.   

We are to acknowledge the wrong-doing, but rather than seek retribution or revenge, rather than holding a grudge, or even just keeping a tally…
We are to erase it.  
Tear up the tab.  
Forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

Yeah…  I know.

It is hard.  Really hard.  Really really for real hard. And it’s not like this is logical at all.  It’s pretty much the opposite of human nature. We are hard-wired and then loaded with software that moves us to protect ourselves and whatever we’ve gathered as ours.  We build fences and install locks.  We back away from dangerous situations.  We filter our words and are aware of our actions, in hopes that we can move through the world without attracting the wrong kind of attention. We even erect unseen barriers around our hearts to reduce the risk of pain and sorrow.

Walking through the world in a way that invites people to apologize and believes the best about their intentions when they do…  and asking others to do likewise for us… that is a very vulnerable, risky way to live. Especially when you start talking about forgiving people for BIG stuff, stuff that seems impossible to forgive. The stuff that you find it really hard to forgive in yourself.

But that is what we are called to do
That is who we are called to be.

Luke’s gospel is chock full of discussions around forgiveness.  But perhaps the most salient passage for this discussion comes from Luke 6.  This is at the start of Luke’s equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount that Matthew records. But instead of going up onto the mountain to teach, Jesus has just come down to the plains from praying up in the hills. He stands and looks out on a huge crowd that includes his close followers, as well as gobs of people from all over the region…

They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you  on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors  did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now,
   for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now,
   for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

You see, forgiveness comes when mercy is offered where condemnation is expected.
Forgiveness comes when grace is extended.  When lovingkindness has no strings attached.
Forgiveness is good news to the one who has red in his ledger, whether financial, emotional, or relational
Forgiveness is the first stop on our way to shalom, balance, peace, health.

If we speak at all of our faith, we do so in the language of forgiveness, of grace. We proclaim it together, week after week, in our assurance of pardon.  The words we read with Marianne this morning at the end of the assurance of forgiveness:
“Friends, hear and believe the good news…  in Jesus Christ you are forgiven.
In Jesus Christ we are forgiven, Alleluia! Amen.”

Every time we eat and drink our holy meal at the Lord’s Table, we proclaim Christ’s saving (forgiving!) death until he comes. The body of Christ is broken; the blood of Christ poured out as a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins.

As forgiven people, we are challenged to go out and offer that same forgiveness to others. Just as we love because God first loved us, we draw our capacity to forgive from God’s deep well of forgiveness.

It is a choice we make, each and every day, to live and love and forgive… to bear witness to the life, love and grace of God in Jesus.

Perhaps you are familiar with the an old proverb that says “holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.

But forgiveness – Forgiveness is like cold water on a god-awful hot August day in Florida.

When we are unable to forgive we are holding on to anger and hurt.  And we all know that hurt people, hurt other people. To be the people God created us to be, we need to forgive ourselves, we need to forgive each other, and we need to accept forgiveness from others.

All so that we can be healthy. So that our families and friends and neighbors can be healthy; so that our community and city can be healthy.  We ask for forgiveness, even as we offer it to others…because God is ALWAYS at work in us.

And so we must pray, over and over and over again…
Forgive us our sins, even as we forgive those who are indebted to us.


Prayer for Class of 2016

A prayer for the Baccalaureate Ceremony for the 2016 graduates of Apopka High School

Gracious and loving God,
We praise you for who you are…

The artist who paints sunsets, birds, planets, and fish in vibrant, unforgettable colors.
The healer of bodies and minds.
The parent who nurtures us, sings over us and quiets us with love.
The one who laid down his divinity to become one of us, living among us.
The rabbi who taught fishermen and tax collectors.
The leader who washed the feet of his followers.
The Spirit who enlightens and inspires.
The one who is three – always in community, bound only by love.

And You made humankind in your image…
Creative, passionate, compassionate, intelligent, focused, humble, loving, fun…

You create us to pursue passions and call us to work that can change lives and transform the world…
Musicians, teachers, leaders of cities and nations, doctors, nurses, parents, chefs, lawyers, ministers, farmers, software developers, architects, grocers, soldiers, pilots, artists

We give thanks for the gifts that you have begun to reveal in the Class of 2016.  As you call them into particular vocations and professions, we trust that you will continue to equip and empower them to serve not only in this community, but wherever you send them.

Bless the village that has raised each of these precious young people –
Parents and extended families,
Teachers and coaches,
Faith communities,
Employers and mentors

On the way to this moment, this evening, this week, that in many ways marks the end of childhood, many tears have been shed – in joy and in sorrow – by these students and all who stand behind them.

Hours have been spent at desks, in locker rooms and rehearsal halls, in gyms and on fields, on stages and in classrooms

Many more hours have been spent on couches, in libraries and study halls, heads in books, eyes on the prize.

There have been lectures, and lessons
There have been awards and trophies
There have been failures and fears

There have been goodbyes that ripped hearts wide open
There have been new friendships forged, relationships that blossomed, love unrequited and passions overstated

There have been car pools, bike rides, bus rides, and missed rides

And you were there for all of it.

Before pop quizzes and AP exams, prom invitations and cheerleader tryouts…
You heard every “please…“ ,
every “I promise…”
every “Just this once…”

You heard and answered those cries for help..
Sometimes that meant miraculous success,
Other times, the lessons that follow a spectacular failure.

Thank you for the ways that you have made and continue to make your presence known, whether we are looking for you or not.

Thank you for making good out of our messes, for working in us and through us in every circumstance.

Thank you that even now, as we face the consequences of our choices –good, bad, and in between – you are with us and for us.

Trusting in your lovingkindness,
Trusting in your faithfulness,
We give these graduates to you, dear Lord,
knowing that this commencement week marks a beginning,
a new season of life with new horizons of opportunity.

Give them eyes to see just how much this world needs their tenacity and joy and empathy
Give them hearts that beat with yours
Give them feet that walk steadily on the path you have set before them
Give them hands that reach out to lift up the discarded and arms that embrace the lonely
Give them voices that speak on behalf those who have been silenced   

Above all, give them ears to hear just how deeply and fiercely you love them and the faith to believe it is true, now and to the very end of the age

In the name of Jesus the Christ, the one who came to heal, feed, love, and set us free from all manner of bondage, then taught and commanded us to do likewise, we pray.

For the National Day of Prayer

Many people have gathered for Prayer Breakfasts, others will meet for afternoon prayer huddles or evening prayer services.

Some of us are at offices and other places of work, at school, volunteering, or caring for others in myriad ways. Our calendars are full, too full to make it to a formal prayer gathering.

Know this… Wherever you are today, you can join in prayer for our church, the larger Body of Christ, for our community, the nation and the world.

God already knows that we are overwhelmed with the pain and difficulties in our own lives and in all of those widening circles.  And God knows the many things that bring us joy, which we sometimes forget to include in our Thank You’s.  But when we take a moment to engage our hearts with our Creator’s heart, we are choosing to return the love which God has poured into us.
When you have a moment, step away from your task list and try this breath prayer:
Breathe in deeply, aware of the Spirit filling your heart as the air fills your lungs.
Breathe out slowly, making space for still more.
Breathe in the goodness of God’s grace.  Then breathe out a prayer of gratitude.
Breathe in the wideness of God’s love; breathe out a prayer for the people and places in need of healing.
Breathe in the steadfastness of God’s presence; breathe out a prayer of awe and wonder.
Breathe in, breathe out, and know that you are a beloved Child of God
Breathe in, breathe out, and let the words fall away.

You know you’re a meeting junkie when 

I was asked to offer the invocation at today’s city council meeting. Apparently out church had dropped out of rotation at some point, and someone in the city office noticed last month. I said “of course” since I am always looking for opportunities to connect with the larger community. 

I made my way over to City Hall a little early, met the council members and mayor, got my instructions and found a seat. I offered my prayer (below) and sat down to watch the proceedings. 

There was a long discussion around the city recreation department’s proposed fee structure for youth sports. So long and robust, in fact that I had to leave at the break and didn’t see the vote. 

As I drive back to the church, it struck me. I was really enjoying that meeting. Just like I enjoy a session meeting or a Preabytery meeting. There is something about the energy in a room where people are working to find a solution to a problem that affects a community- whether municipal, ecclesiastical or organizational. Then there is the opportunity to collaborate with people beyond your usual area, like the folks I met today who are leading a task force in a part of town just south of our church. 

Yes, I am that meeting nerd. God help me. 

Anyway, here’s the prayer: 

Gracious God, 

We give thanks today for men and women who answer the call to public service, taking on the mantle of leadership beyond their own families and bearing responsibility for the community at large. 

We give thanks as well for the model of leadership and the teaching that you provided through your own Son, Jesus. 

Throughout his ministry, he made clear that the way of leadership is the way of love, of self-sacrifice, of compassion. Through his teachings, he made clear that your commandment to act justly and love mercy is still very much in effect. Through his obedience, he modeled what it means to walk humbly in your pathways. 

We ask Lord, that you tune the hearts of these leaders to yours, that their eyes would be open to the needs of every neighborhood in this city, and that their ears would hear the voices of all the households they represent, including those at the margins, the youngest, the oldest, and the most vulnerable among us. 

We ask you to pour out your Spirit in this place, drenching us all in your grace, that we might know what it means to love our neighbors in word and deed, even in the process of governing. 

In the name of the one who healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry and set captives free from all manner of bondage, Jesus the Christ, we pray. 


Of Bathrooms and Feet

You gave to us, to me, a new commandment


Love now
Love boldly
Love unconditionally
Love your way out of power and into solidarity
Love your way out of influence and into community

You are already clean
Live into your baptism
Kneel and serve

You are already mine
Live into your baptism
Kneel and serve

You are already powerful
Live into your baptism
Kneel and serve

You are finally awake
Live into your baptism
Kneel and serve


When Maundy Thursday and NC HB2 collide

Going off the Grid

NaBloPoMo while Off the Grid

Today is the day.

Well, kind of.  I am sitting at the keyboard on Sunday, but through the magic of scheduled posts, I get to be a little timey-wimey in my imaginary Tardis and make this post appear on Wednesday.  Which is the day.

If all has gone according to expectations, at 4am eastern time, I will have gathered with 27 other intrepid Presbyterians to head from Tampa to Santa Clara, Cuba.

We’ll be in the central part of Cuba for a week, where we will not be using cell phones or laptops or any of the devices that I have become accustomed to having at my beck and call.  I actually got a camera and a watch to take with me.  I can’t remember the last time I wore a watch. Or carried a camera that wasn’t part of my phone. But I digress…

For the next 7 days, our group will be meeting with pastors and lay leaders of the churches in Central Cuba. My fellow PresbApopkaterian and I will visit two different churches, where we will learn how they are connecting with their communities, serving the people who are not yet members and how they move people into membership.  It’s much more complicated than our American model of church-shopping and church-joining.  But I get a sense that the barriers the churches are required to overcome are actually problems we face for very different reasons.  I suspect we have much to learn from our neighbors.

Since we’re off the grid, I’ll have to post pics and stories after the fact.   Which is probably just as well. The idea of being fully present on this trip is getting more and more appealing.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to get a handful of posts pre-loaded. Because you know, getting ready to leave the household and both jobs for a week while doing both jobs leaves so much time for writing bonus blog posts.  New Procrastination Level unlocked.

If you’re the praying type, I’d sure appreciate them – here are some specifics:

  • Safe travel today, during the week and during our return flight next Wednesday
  • No travel tummy or other health issues among the team members
  • Some recovery of all that Spanish I took in HS and College
  •  That we would be able to rest in strange surroundings
  • No drama on the home front for the Hubs and the Yaya
  • That we would indeed learn from our hosts and discern whether these are places we can partner for the long term.