A Moment of Silence – Prayerful Tuesday

Numbers 23:9a for from the top of the mountains I see him, from the hills I behold him;

Mt. Baker, 9/15/14
Mt. Baker, 9/15/14

On this beautiful Tuesday I ask only that you take a moment of silence. Hold in your hearts, the pain, suffering and loss from the deaths in Charleston North Carolina, Chattanooga TN.  To remember the loss of so many who have needlessly died from Sandy Hook, to Marysville.  As we lift up our eyes to the mountains open our hearts to those who suffer; the victims, the families. Hold the perpetrators in your heart as well, pray that light will enter the dark well they live in and bring them out of the darkness of their own making.   Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©July 21, 2015

Prayerful Tuesday, August 20, 2013

She Danced
She Danced

Luke 13: 11-13 11.And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12.When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ 13.When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. (NRSV)

She Danced

She entered, bent over
bound by pain
all she could see
was the ground at her feet

“Come to me” He said
“I will set you free”
She stood, straight and tall
a smile on her face

With a cry of joy
She danced

Ruth Jewell ©August 19, 2013

Today‘s prayer is to look up from your smart phone, iPad® or tablet and look around you. Reach your arms to the sky, feeling the warm sun on your face. Offer the following prayer Celtic prayer by John Phillip Newell (Celtic Treasure, Daily scriptures and Prayer, Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005) or one of your own to celebrate the joy of being able to dance:

The blessings of heaven,
the blessings of earth,
the blessings of sea and of sky.
On those we love this day
and on every human family
the gifts of heaven,
the gifts of earth,
the gifts of sea and sky.

May your day be a blessed one and may you be a prayer to all you meet.

Ruth Jewell

Thunder Storm

 

Thunderstorm Picture by NOAA
Thunderstorm Picture by NOAA

A mountain moves toward me
white and gray, filled with rain
suddenly a flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three
one thousand four
one thousand five, Boom, Crash
five miles,
the storm is five miles away
the air is heavy, the first scent of ozone reaches me

Hurry gather the chickens into their coop
the normally combative rooster runs in first
with clucks and cheeps the hens settle on
their roosts and nests
the now brave rooster hurry’s me out
A flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three, Boom, Crash
three miles
the storm is moving quickly
the light is fading

Run to the barn and open the gate
to the lounging area
the cows already are waiting to be let in
horses move toward the opening
one recalcitrant pony stands in the middle of the pasture
yelling at the storm, “I command you to stay away”
the wind blows his black main and tail back, the storm moves
closer . . . a flash of light, and the brave soul runs for the barn
hooves flashing, neck stretched out and ears flat
as the first big drops of rain fall on his back he darts into the barn
the other animals look at him
“Didn’t work did it”, a flash of light
one thousand one, Boom, Crash,
one mile
I climb the steps to the hay loft with the dog and cat
and throw biscuits of hay down to the animals, Flash
one thou…. Boom, Crash
the storm is on me,
too late to reach the house

I settle down into the hay loft
dog and cat curl up beside me
rain pounds the tin roof
in a symphony to put Beethoven to shame
lightening and thunder come together now
flashing light and sound through and around the barn
rain rushes and pours off the roof,
the old pine and maple trees bend and sway in the wind and water
rivulets of water run down into the pasture
making ponds and small streams
the smell of wet earth, rain, and ozone fills the troubled air

the horses and cattle mill around down below
the scent of their warm bodies drift up to me
I hear a rustle in the beams of the barn and
Pigeons and sparrows settle in to share my shelter
in a corner, far from the barn owl, who also lives here
a meadow mouse sits and nibbles a bit of grain
sharing my space in companionable silence
many call this barn home, cattle, horses, owls,
pigeons, sparrows, mice and rabbits
it is a sanctuary, a safe place
a place where all live in harmony
at least until they leave its safe walls

The loft is warm, the hay sweetly scented
Using the dog as a pillow I lay down to wait out the storm
I listen to the horses and cattle talk
the pigeons rustle and coo
slowly the rain and thunder lulls me into a place of calm
time stops and I drift into creation

Ruth Jewell ©May 4, 2013

a bit of gardening

ROSEMARYThis past week John and I did a bit of gardening.  We had a rosemary bush being shaded by another bush and I wanted to move it.  So we prepared the new spot where it was to go, dug the new hole and went over to our lovely rosemary bush.  Now you should know I planted this bush 6 or 7 years ago and I haven’t touched it to really prune it in 5 years.  That means it wasn’t a small bush.  For the last 5 years it has been doing a wonderful job of growing as it now stood nearly 5 feet tall and had a spread of closer to 6 feet.  But, we started pruning and pruning, and pruning.  Some of the branches were more than an inch thick and really woody (great in our fireplace though).  After being prickled and rosemary scented by our bush we got down to digging the roots up.  I never knew this about rosemary but it puts down ROOTS, not little roots, big ones and deep.  Also, they extended farther than the drip line of the bush which made finding the ends of the plant actually very difficult.  We ended up cutting a lot of roots because we couldn’t find where they stopped.  But we moved our tenacious plant and got it planted in its new home and it is doing well enjoying all the sun it wants and lots of water.

After we were finished and cleaning up I remembered something about rosemary.  First of all rosemary, in flower language, means remembrance and that sweet, huge, tough bush reminded me of just how persistent our memories are.  Deep within each of us lives a world that was.  Sometimes it surfaces when we least expect it whether we want it to or not.  But our past makes us who we are and embracing the happy, the sad, the good with the bad memories helps balance our present. Learning from my past mistakes and successes provides me with a road map for my way forward.  All of those memories connect me to something greater than just this single moment in time.  It is also the memories of those who modeled the best of their lives which have led me to being a better person in my own life.

It is the memory of my parents and how they loved and cared for me that has taught me to be a more loving and caring wife, friend, and grandmother.  It was my parent’s determination to model a life that included people of all backgrounds, races, genders, and abilities that has given me a passion for my openness to those who are different from me.  It was my father’s love of creation and prayer and silence that has been my model for my spiritual growth throughout my life.  It was a first grade teacher’s kindness to this wounded child that taught me anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

The memories I have of wandering open fields, lying in new mown grass, making storybook figures out clouds, and reading a book while I sat in the crook of an old apple tree gave me a love of open spaces.  I have precious memories of  being awakened at midnight to watch the Aurora Borealis with my father, or going out to our barn to watch as calves or puppies were born that hold a special place in my heart.  It is remembering thunder storms roll across our fields and listening as the rain pummeled the tin roof of our barn, or rushed through the branches of the huge pine tree that was just outside my bedroom window that draws me into a place of contemplation and peace like nothing else can.

It is the memory of pulling a deep fat fryer full of hot grease down on top of me that reminds me that accidents happen but I am not alone even in the worst of times.  It is the memory of a child in the hospital bed next to me who died during the night that taught me that fresh grief is always inconsolable.  It is the memory of uncaring questions by adults and taunts of other children that taught me that sometimes people can be cruel.  The memory of my father’s death from cancer keeps me asking “why” questions of God and doubting the fairness of life the Scripture tells me is good. It was being laid off for a year that taught me to let go of my fears, face them, then hand them over to the all surrounding presence that has always been in my life.  It is the memory of my discovery of how much I have been surrounded by the Spirit that has changed me from who I was into the person I am today. Memories are the soil of our lives; mine goes deep with plenty of memory leaf compost and with each day. With each new memory made the soil gets deeper and richer.

The best part is that each of us has our own bed of memories to draw upon.  Some are wonderful, insightful memories, some are horrid memories we would rather forget entirely, but by facing them we turn those bad memories into rich memory compost.  Even the memories of death and destruction have a place in our lives, just as the memories of our mother’s arms around us does.  Each memory adds to who we are and allows us to see who we were. Memories are the mirrors of our soul and how our soul has grown into who we are.  For the good and bad memories are who we are.  In learning to live with what we remember gives us the skills we need to live in the world we share with all of creation.

Creation, life, isn’t always fair or beautiful to our eyes. But, we don’t see the big picture; we see only our very small portion. Like an ant on a forest floor the view of our individual world of reality is very small.  What we remember of our past helps us see the greater picture. Memories give us a wider view of the life that lies before us and behind us. Our memories connect us to those we have loved, and hated, giving us a past to live from.

Not having a past cuts us off from our life today.  It is the reason those with Alzheimer’s, dementia or traumatic brain injuries that affects memory feel so cut off from the world around them.  They have nothing to compare today with so how do they know what today means; how do they relate to people and the world around them.  The greatest gift we can give those who cannot remember is to give them a piece of their past to ground them in the now moment of their lives and to do it every moment, every hour, every day we are with them.  The joy of someone who discovers their own past is amazing and life giving.

Memories are the soil we stand on, the ground of our lives that allows us to live better lives today and tomorrow.  Rosemary, the plant of remembrance, is tough, strong, and sweet and I want to remember my yesterdays to make my tomorrows tough, strong, and sweet.

Ruth Jewell ©April 30, 2013

HOME

Ruth 1:16-17

16But Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”

John 14:23
23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

2 Corinthians 5:6-9
6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Our book group has been reading and discussing Diana Butler Bass’ book, Christianity After Religion, and in Chapter 6 Bass discusses home and identity.  I actually had trouble with this section because I’m not sure what is home for me.  I mean I have a home; I live in a house, with my husband, one dog, 2 parrots and a seminary student so that isn’t the issue.  What is my question is “what does home mean?” 

I grew up in Ohio and moved to a farm when I was 5 years old so for the next 19 years of my life my “home” was this wonderland place chock full of discoveries, and sadness.  When I was 24 I moved from the farm and began a kind of nomadic life.  I moved every couple of years from home to apartment, state to state, city to city, and moving many times within cities.  My latest move was in 2000, when I was married, and moved into the house I am now living.  When I moved into this house I told John, this was my last move and I would be carried out of here feet first because I wasn’t going to pack up all my “stuff” again!  But, given my past history that may be a wish made on sand and someday I will have to, reluctantly, move from this house. 

When we discussed what was home in our book group I realized I was the only one who had no clear sense of home.  In fact I have no sense of a home town, or place of origin at all.  All of the places I have lived are really far in the past and clouded with time. Does that sound strange to you?  It didn’t to me until I began to listen to the stories of home from others.  For instance my husband can identify one spot as his hometown, St. Charles Iowa.  That is where he was born and grew up and despite not living there for 50 some years he still calls it home. 

I can’t do that; there is no one place I would call home.  Heck, there are times when I drive up my own driveway that I have to remind myself this is my “home” and I belong here.  For me where I am is home.  As long as I have my friends, companion critters and now the family I married into I’m home.  I don’t have relatives to speak of.  My parents have passed on; I haven’t seen any of my family of origin in 40 some years.  The family I have is the family I have created around me, a group of individuals, couples, and families I feel strong connections with.  Not one of them is a blood relative and that is fine with me.  Yet I feel closer to this group than I ever did to my blood relations. 

It is not that they all think like I do because they don’t.  In fact, my guess is we have become friends because we think differently.  But they share something with me that my “own family” never did and that is themselves.  If I need a shoulder to cry on I can count on one of them showing up at my door saying, “Ruth, I had a feeling you needed a friend today.”   Even when great distance separates us I can sense when a good friend needs me to call and talk.  The conversation may be nothing important at all but it means something to my friend and me. I can’t say my own family would ever feel that connected to me.

For me home is where I am, right now, in this place, at this time.  It means for me being with God, family, companions, friends, creation in whatever place or time I am in.  If I had to suddenly leave the place I currently shelter in I can do it.  I would grab what is important: my husband, my companion critters, my backpack throw in my bible and a change of clothes (my vanity wouldn’t let me wear the same underwear two days in a row, I’d add soap as well for cleanliness is next to Godliness),and walk out closing the door behind me.  The stuff in the building is just stuff and can be replaced, none of it is important.  As long as I have those that I love (and a change of underwear) I’m good to go.  Were I end up I’d be HOME.

So I guess I am saying I am “home” wherever I am, I don’t need a specific location to call “home” I just need to feel close to what is important and what is important is love and companionship with those who I love and who love me.  God will not abandon me, where I am God is because I experience God in the love I give and receive.  What else is needed?  Someone once said “home is where your heart is” and maybe what that means is my heart is my home, the ultimate shelter, the ultimate place I meet and live with Love.  I am Home.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 12, 2013

Come Follow Me

Matthew 19:16, 21

16 Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’

21Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’

This scripture has its roots deep in mosaic history, for it is Moses who tells the children of Israel to choose life over death (Deuteronomy 30:19).  Jesus is also asking the rich young man, and me, to choose life over death and as the sadness of the rich young man demonstrates that choice is a lot harder than what it seems. 

Choose life or come follow me, same request different words and the rich young man had as much difficulty with that choice as the children of Israel did.  One important question left unspoken is “if I choose a life in which I use the best of who I am, will my choices ask a lot of me?”  Ah, now I’ve stated the real question and have come to the hard part; if I choose to follow Jesus, and as a result choose life, what do I have to give up?  I ask myself will what I choose be what I want or what the Spirit wants.  And, if I choose the Spirits path will I have to work hard at it?  You see we humans, no matter who we are, will nearly always choose the easy route and the easiest path isn’t always the best one to take if we want to be the best we can be.

I have had two angels who have followed me every day of my life, often sitting on opposite shoulders whispering in my ear.  The Angel Ego always tells me take the easy path, why work hard when you don’t have to.  “See there are no rocks in this path and you don’t have to expend much energy to be happy.”  On the other shoulder sits Angel True Self who is also whispering in my ear and that one asks me what really makes me satisfied an easy life or one that challenges me and leaves me honored to have lived it?  Do you see the difference between the two angels, Ego is telling me what to do and I don’t have to think about what my actions will be.  True self asks me what I think and leaves the choice up to me. I have to choose, to make a decision and decisions take work, just like taking the path that is difficult.  I have to choose what is rewarding and what is not; life over death. 

Jesus doesn’t tell the rich young man which is easier rather he offers the hard choice “if you wish to be perfect …,” to have eternal life, this is what will help you reach your goal.  It’s a simple statement but the choice is left up to the young man.  We don’t know what he chooses in the end, I am hoping that life was his choice and he sold his belongings and followed in Jesus footsteps, but I will never know. 

That’s what makes this scripture so important and why, I think Matthew left me hanging.  I too have asked Jesus what I must do to have eternal life and Jesus has given me the same answer.  Choosing to give up all that you have to follow the life of Jesus in today’s world is never easy.  All of us are inundated with advertisements and peer pressure to be some kind of plastic person that has the latest everything.  Having ‘stuff’ and being ‘young’ is more important than being a person of integrity.  All of us are susceptible to the junk that bombards us daily. 

I have had to develop questions to ask myself before I buy anything; is this necessary, do I really need it to live, and the two most important, how much space will this take up in my life and do I have to dust it.  I can tell you right now if I have to dust it, it ain’t coming home with me! 

My one truly great weakness is books.  Not e-books (I still don’t know how people can read on a tiny lighted screen, the light hurts my eyes) but real books, paper or hardbound, I can hold in my hand and feel the weight of.  I love the smell of books, the way they feel when I hold them as I curl up in front of the fire place and the connection I feel with the author as I read the printed word.  E-readers simply leave me cold and yes I know I’m in the minority but that is OK with me. So I have been known to buy a few books, Ok, a lot of books, and now that I’ve made my confession to my addiction I am at peace and I can continue to buy books.

So we all have our weaknesses and I admit If I had to choose between life and books I would be hard pressed (sorry for the pun) to choose.  Think of it this way Jesus isn’t asking us to give up our lives (well he is but not in the way you think) rather he is asking us to make careful choices that enrich our lives and allow us to be open to giving compassion, doing kindness, and working for justice and peace. 

Books add meaning to my life and help me see the world through different eyes.  That different view helps me see injustice and unkindness in new ways, ways that encourages me to be more like my true self.  It is when books become the idol I worship that the problem occurs, then I am blinded to what is wrong in the world and want only to feed my own desires.  I hope if that ever happens to me that someone will intercede and help me see the light. 

Choosing life or following Jesus doesn’t mean we abandon the world around us. Rather it means we embrace and engage the world just as Jesus did. Jesus loved a good party, good food and fine wines and we too are called to share our parties, food and wine with the world, just as Jesus did. It does not mean we are to become paupers, rather it means we are to use what we have for the good of the community.  That is what Jesus meant when he told the young man to sell his goods and give to the poor.  Quit being selfish and share your good fortune with those who are in need.  God gave each of us the gift of grace and God expects us to pass that gift on to those who are in need of comfort.   

It is the concept of “paying it forward.”  If you have received help in any way from someone then you are obligated to give help to someone else.  Jesus wasn’t the first one to propose paying it forward, all of the prophets before and since have done the same, but, I think his was the most eloquent in stating it. 

So what do we do we need to do to have “eternal life?”  Well, we pay our lives forward, care for those in need, fight injustice and work for peace.  It will require us to give up many of our riches. But at the same time we will be enriched, not with stuff, or pride, but, with knowledge that we have passed on the grace we’ve been gifted and multiplying that gift many times over; just like Jesus did when he broke the loaves and fish. To me that feels like eternal life, peace, happiness and joy all wrapped up in one glowing package.  

Ruth Jewell, ©February, 19, 2013

4 Amazing Women, 2 Weddings, 1 Weekend

ML, Aubrey, Heather, Judy
ML, Aubrey, Heather, Judy

Last weekend was a busy one.   I have 4 amazing friends all four who chose that weekend to marry. Not only that but one of the brides from Sunday officiated and married the first two on Saturday.  Just how cool is that!  None of this would have even been possible if R 74 had not passed and it would have been, and it was, a crime that these 4 beautiful, intelligent and loving women were unable to publically celebrate their love just as every other loving couple does.  It is with gratitude and thanks to the people of Washington State who past R 74.  If any of you ask was it worth it?  All you have to do is look at the faces of these 4 beautiful people. 

On January 23 Heather and Aubrey celebrated their commitment and love with great fanfare and joy. On Sunday January 24 ML and Judy celebrated their 19 years together with a joyful ceremony of commitment and love.  So with great love, congratulations and the raising of the wedding cup I congratulate the joining of two couples who belong together. 

Heather and Aubrey may you live long lives together.  May the strength you gain from each other sustain you over the rough places in your journey, and may your hearts soar together when all is smooth sailing. 

ML and Judy, over the last 19 years you have loved each other unconditionally even when our state said you couldn’t.  Such love deserves to be recognized and celebrated. God blessed your union 19 years ago and you have waited long enough to celebrate that blessing.  Thank you for sharing your joy with the rest of us.

As each of you travel together on life’s journey may the Holy Spirit surround you, may Christ lift you up if you stumble, and may God hold you in palm of Her hand whenever you are weary.  Shalom my friends.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 25, 2013

A Prayer for Healing

Holy One, I am racked by pain,
my flesh is set afire, and
my lungs rattle with every breath.

My nights are filled with terror,
my bed soaked with tears,
I turn to You, O LORD, for help in
my trial.

I surrender into your healing arms,
my wretched body, my weary spirit,
seeking rest and comfort.

I lay my head upon your breast,
your breath brushes my cheeks, and
cools my fevered brow.

I am held in the arms of the creator,
surrounded by Holy Mystery,
comforted by the stroke  of a Doves wing.

You, O Comforter of the weak,
are my salvation in my travail,
you pour strength into my bones,
you fill my spirit with health.

My heart leaps for joy,
You fill me with new courage
to carry on in your light. Light of my life,

Heart of my heart,
I kneel before you with joy and gratitude,
for your blessings carry me forward.

O Giver of Life, thanks and praise
for your healing touch,
AMEN

Ruth Jewell, ©January 24, 2013

Wounded Child

wounded child
wounded child

in a hidden cave of my heart
crouches a little girl
battered, scared
she sits in fear

humiliation has taught her
she is unworthy of love … success
better to hide …
to stay silent

a light shines at her feet
a hand reaches out
“come, it is safe”
“come, you are loved”

hope grows …
maybe …
“can I really believe”
“are you tricking me  … again”

“come,” says the light
a hand takes a small hand
one step at a time
out of the dark

Ruth Jewell, ©January 18, 2013

It Was In Prayer

Prayer is the KeySermon preached at Queen Anne Christian Church, January 13, 2013

Acts 8:14-17    14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John* laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-22     15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler,* who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

As I was reading the many different stories of Jesus’ baptism this past week I was reminded of my own baptism and the story surrounding it.  I was 10 years old when I attended the class that would prepare me, and my entire Sunday school class, for baptism.  While I had attended church all my young life, for me, this baptism was more about how cool it would be to suddenly become “Holy” and have all my sins forgiven. I mean my thoughts were, “Wow all of my sins were going to be forgiven, even the ones mom and dad didn’t know about, how cool was that.”  

I wasn’t disappointed when the sky didn’t open up and I didn’t hear a voice or see a dove, but I was disappointed that I didn’t “feel” any different. I didn’t feel as if I had been forgiven.  However, knowing, at the wise age of 10, that I should feel something I was afraid to say anything because everyone else seemed so darned happy.  It would be another 20 years before I felt I was beginning to understand what baptism meant and felt a tug to renew that commitment and asked to be re-baptized.  This time I knew that something was different; I just didn’t know what it was. It would take another 20 years of trying to live a good life, failing most times, but, sometimes coming close before I experienced what I call an intervention by the Holy Spirit and had a new enlightenment about what it meant to be part of a faith community. 

At the time this happened I was at a very difficult place in my life and my “ah-ha” moment was the most dramatic event to ever happen to me.  It changed how I viewed myself and everyone and everything around me in relation to how I envisioned my life with God, Spirit and Christ.   Now, events like that do not happen every day or for every person. But, I am grateful for what I experienced and feel blessed to have been given something I feel is special and I try to live into the promise given me that day. 

You are probably calculating in your mind “let see 10+20+20=50, she was fifty when baptism finally made sense!”  All I can say is I’m a really slow learner.  But yes, I didn’t I understand what it meant to be baptized until I was well into my adult years. Your own stories may say you understood before, during or right after you entered and exited the waters of baptism.  Every person is different and the Spirit picks the time it will act, we don’t tell the Holy Spirit.  Nor do we pick the moment when all of it comes together.  In my tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Baptism is believer’s baptism by immersion, just as it was for Jesus.  That means we are supposed to know why we do it and for most part I think most of us do, for some of us it just takes a little longer. As Luke tells the story it didn’t come together even for Jesus until after he was baptized and in prayer.

You know we have heard the stories of Jesus’ baptism so often we don’t actually ‘hear’ it when it is read.  It is actually only in Mark and Matthew where we have a retelling of John baptizing Jesus.  How many of you unconsciously substituted Mark’s or Matthew’s story in the above Luke scripture when you read it and missed the focus of Luke’s telling of the story? 

First of all Luke does tell us Jesus was baptized. He doesn’t actually say it was John the Baptist, although most likely it was. But in Verse 3:21, Luke’s story of Jesus’ baptism is almost an afterthought.  Jesus was baptized with all of those who came to the Jordan River.  He was baptized just like any other person seeking repentance and forgiveness.  Nothing special, it was an act of commitment and faith just like every person coming to John at the Jordan River.  What is highlighted is that sometime after the baptism when Jesus was in prayer the Spirit descends upon him “like a dove” and he hears God’s voice say “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  

Luke doesn’t focus much on the commitment, repentance and forgiveness of the act of baptism.  Instead his focus is on the baptism of the Spirit, just as John tells his audience in Verse 16; “… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Jesus’ baptism is with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit decides when that will happen, and, for Luke prayer plays a huge role in when the Holy Spirit comes. 

In the first scripture reading from Acts we read that a Samaritan Community had been baptized but “the Spirit had not yet come upon … them,”  so Peter and John travel to Samaria pray for the Holy Spirit and lay “their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus was in prayer, Peter and John prayed and the Holy Spirit came.    Does this mean that the Spirit will always come in response to prayer … ah … probably not? As I said the Spirit picks the moment when it gives enlightenment, not us.

But Luke’s focus on the act of prayer is the key to our spiritual doors; prayer has a special place in Luke’s Gospel.  The Evangelist tells us Jesus is constantly going away to be in prayer, he prays with his disciples, he prays for the sick, the lame, and the possessed.  Jesus prays in the garden and on the cross. Jesus’ entire life is a model of a life lived in prayer and the relationship with his Abba that prayer fostered.  For Luke the most important thing Jesus taught his disciples was prayer.  The way to talk to and build relationship with God is in prayer.

Luke continues his theme of prayer in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles. Following Jesus’ ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem and devoted their time to prayer.   They prayed when they replaced Judas with Matthias.  When the Holy Spirit descends on them they were all sitting together, my guess is they were praying, as that would have been their practice.  The first converts were taught by the Apostles to pray and when the community became too great to lead by themselves, they appointed Stephen and Philip to do community management, so they, the Apostles, could devote themselves to teaching, baptizing and prayer. 

I am not saying that Luke ranked baptism as second to prayer, for he doesn’t. Baptism is and will always be the first sacrament. For us Disciples baptism is one of only two sacraments we have, the other being the Lord’s Supper.  However, Luke is explaining to his community of Gentile converts that it takes the two together, baptism plus prayer, to fully understand the commitment made in Christ’s name.  He is also trying to explain to his community that the Holy Spirit does not always come in direct response to baptism.  Sometimes it comes before or after baptism, it is the Spirits choice.  Paul experiences Christ and the Spirit on the road to Damascus and is baptized after that dramatic event.  As Luke describes Paul and as Paul writes in his letters the act of prayer is an important part of being in a Christian Faith Community.  Baptism is the commitment to God and community often in response to prayer.  Baptism plus prayer is the key that opens the door of our heart, into that inner place of the Spirit and shows us the way to live a life that is Christ filled, God filled and Spirit filled. 

One isn’t more important than the other, in fact, we need both for the key to work, but some of us have locks where the Spirit connects with us first and then we are baptized, sometimes it’s the other way around and sometimes it’s all at the same moment.  It is a little like an analogy I picked up from my biologist research days using DNA, RNA and enzymes in comparing how they work in our bodies to how our spiritual DNA, RNA and enzymes might work in our spiritual bodies.

Our Spiritual DNA determines the shape of the RNA and how it will fit together with the enzymes in our bodies.  Each has to be a specific shape in order for both to fit together like a lock and key.  The enzyme only fits one way in each person and when it does the two together create something new and important to keep us living.  I don’t know which of the two, baptism or pray, is the RNA and which the enzyme. I do know that how they fit together in each of us is a specific characteristic for each individual.  Both parts are needed in order for the spiritual life to come awake. 

Luke knows baptism is important; everyone who comes to Christ is baptized.  Everyone who is baptized will have their own experience of Spirit, often whether they recognize it as such or not. The Holy Spirit often speaks so quietly that only a quiet new awareness begins to guide us without our knowing why.  Prayer is the tool used by the Spirit to teach us the meaning of baptism and how to be in relationship with God, Christ and Holy Spirit. 

How we respond to baptism will be an individual act, how the Spirit guides us is the result of prayer.   We can’t have one without the other if we are to live into a Faith Filled Community of God.  Baptism is the recognition of our humanness, our humanity and our commitment to something greater than who we are.  Prayer is the part that leads to our understanding of what our humanity and commitment means.  The two together are the Key that unlocks the door to the Kingdom.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 13, 2013