Tomorrow, November 8th, is election day and I am becoming increasingly concerned about what will happen tomorrow and in the days and months that follow. This campaign has been so very divisive, hateful, and acrimonious that I fear for the safety of whoever wins and for our own. The name calling on both sides and the call to kill a candidate, the call to commit treason, and murder goes beyond anything we have seen before. We are in a difficult time where we need to step back and rethink our and way forward.
It will not be easy to heal the wounds opened in this election cycle to much hatred and anger has been spewed into our air to make this a comfortable process but we must begin to forgive each other if we are to be the people we profess to be. The spiritual practice of prayer, individual and corporate, helps us focus on each other rather our own selfish interests. Prayer can awaken our concern for the welfare of all and quiet our fears that we are threatened by forces we cannot control. Prayer gives us the courage and strength to take control of who we are as spiritual beings.
To begin I offer a prayer written by the Rev. Kara Markel, a pastor friend of mine, for the Council on Christian Unity, to begin our election day and post-election spiritual practice. As we offer our prayers may we remember Jesus cared for all of us; poor and rich, Christian and non-Christian, Male, female, and differently gendered, and peoples from all cultures and ethnicities. Let us open our hearts to reconciling with each other in prayer.
An Election Prayer
Let us be a people at prayer in these days of waiting:
We pray for our president elect, that they will lead our country with strength and compassion; that they may represent the very best of the United States around the globe; that they may be committed to justice and peace, and bringing our nation together to address our challenges.
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for our governors and legislators, that they will be responsive to their whole constituency and enact laws that ensure the wellbeing of all the people they represent.
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for all others elected to public office, that their service to their people would be just and beyond reproach; that where ever they serve in local government, schools, or law enforcement, they would treat all people with dignity and serve the common good.
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for our nation, our cities, and our neighborhoods, that together we can create a place where all people are respected and safe, where difference of opinion does not lead to violence, and where our combined creativity heals brokenness of all kinds.
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray also that regardless of the outcome of this Election Day, we would remember that we are called by Christ to care for our neighbor, pursue peace and work for justice in our communities. Inspire us to work together, across divisions and difference, to create beloved community where ever we can.
Lord, hear our prayer.
From the Council on Christian Unity
written by The Rev. Kara Markell, Pastor
Lake Washington Christian Church
Luke 10:33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’ The Message)
I have watched the news media’s reports on desperate flights of Syrian’s and Iraqi’s to Europe with a breaking heart. I have donated funds to the Week of Compassion for their relief drive but it hasn’t helped the pain in my chest. This morning’s meditation scripture was the Good Samaritan and it seeded so appropriate for me right now as I am trying to discern what else I can do for people half the world away. So today my prayer practice for you is to sit down with this painting and this scripture and let God speak to you maybe together we can find our way on this difficult road.
Directions for Lectio Divina
Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Focus for a few moments on their breathing; or use a “prayer word” or “prayer phrase” you gently recite to gradually center your thoughts. Use whatever method is best for you and allow yourself to enjoy silence for a few moments.
Turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In Lectio Divina, God is teaching us to listen to him, to seek him in silence. He does not reach out and grab us; rather, he gently invites us ever more deeply into his presence.
Take the word or phrase into you center. Hold it in your thoughts and slowly repeat it to yourself, allowing it to interact with your inner world of concerns, memories, and ideas. Do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, Allow this inner pondering, this rumination, to invite you into dialogue with God.
Speak to God. Whether you use words, ideas, or images–or all three–is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. And give to him what you have discovered during your experience of meditation. Experience God by using the word or phrase he has given you as a means of blessing and of transforming the ideas and memories that your reflection on his word has awakened. Give to God what you have found within your heart.
Rest in God’s embrace. And when he invites you to return to your contemplation of his word or to your inner dialogue with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary. Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.
Sometimes in Lectio Divina, you may return several times to the printed text, either to savor the literary context of the word or phrase that God has given or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the whole time set aside for Lectio Divina. It is not necessary to assess anxiously the quality of your Lectio Divina, as if you were “performing” or seeking some goal. Lectio Divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures.
Directions for Visio Divina
Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, places and things. Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.
May compassion fill our hearts and like the Good Samaritan care for our fellow travelers in the world.
For the Celtic Christian their religious life and their everyday life were tightly bound together. They filled their days with prayer beginning with prayers of thanksgiving for waking up and continuing on to making the fire and milking the cow, all the way to prayers of thanks for the day as they went to their rest. Today we call their life style of acknowledging the Presence of the Divine the Spiritual Practice of Presence. This is probably one of the easiest of the spiritual practices because all you have to do is remember to pause when you begin and end a task and pay attention to your surroundings, letting your thoughts travel to God, breathing in grace and breathing out gratitude. The whole exercise may take no longer than one minute to re-member yourself to the Holy Spirit.
Here are a few examples of when you might mentally pause and turn your thoughts to God.
Before you even rise from your night’s sleep, thank God for a restful night and a new day to be in the presence of the Holy.
As you walk into your place of business, offer a prayer for the people you will meet and work with, asking God for patience and kindness when interact with others.
As you prepare breakfast give thanks for the abundance God has graced you with and offer gratitude for the opportunity to share it with your family or friends.
During your day occasionally pause, breathe deeply and extend gratitude toward God
Before you go to sleep offer a prayer of thanks for a day spent with the Spirit and if there are difficulties during the day (I mean who doesn’t have those rough spots) ask for guidance for the coming day.
Those are just a few of the times you might briefly stop and re-member your place alongside the creator. I am sure you could name many more.
One of the early prayers of the Celtic people was offered as they laid the morning fire to begin the day and the one below is one of my favorites for it has a double meaning. It prays not just for lighting the homes hearth, but also the lighting of the hearts’ fire. Today this is my prayer for each and everyone one of you.
Kindling the Morning Fire
This morning, as I kindle the fire upon my
hearth, I pray that the flame of God’s
love may burn in my heart, and the
heart of all I meet today.
I pray that no envy and malice, no hatred,
or fear, may smother the flame.
I pray that indifference and apathy,
contempt and pride, may no pour
like cold water on the fire.
Instead, may the spark of God’s love light
the love in my heart, that it may burn
brightly through the day.
And may I warm those that are lonely,
whose hearts are cold and lifeless,
so that all may know the comfort of God’s love.
“Do not urge me to leave you,
to turn back from following you.
Wherever you go, I will go;
and wherever you stay, I will stay.
Your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God. 17Wherever you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried.
May the Lord do this to me
and more so,
if even death separates me from you!”
Just over 13 years ago these beautiful words from scripture were read at my wedding. I have always loved the book of Ruth, and yes one reason is because I was named for her, but, primarily I love it because Ruth took her destiny into her own hands and made a place for herself among strangers. Like the biblical Ruth my own life has been one of making my place in strange places and with strangers all around me. My wedding was just one of the many steps along my journey to find the face of God.
Now I really don’t want this rambling to be about John and me rather I want to tell you the best part of my marriage, our grandchildren. Ok, so they are John’s grandchildren not mine, but the youngest ones have known only me as Grammy Ruth and I love them and their parents as much as if they were my blood relations. And, I have watched with great joy as the two older ones Granddaughter S and Grandson A grow into loving adults.
Recently John, me and our little Chihuahua Suzie spent a joyous week in Boston with John’s son M and daughter-in-law LB and the littlest grandchildren, Grandson L and Granddaughter A. John’s birthday is January 17th and he shares it with L who turned 7 this year, so for the first time they decided to celebrate their birthdays together. Watching L as he opened gifts, as he gently held our little dog Suzie, and talked excitedly about everything was a pleasure all its own. Holding little A and reading a story to her, playing games, watching as she and her brother played, and squabbled, and listening to giggles, laughter and tears put me in a place of bliss that I can’t really describe to you.
I watched as M and LB did a ballet of sorts as they prepared breakfast and got the kids ready for school. As I listened I realized just how much M and John sound alike and how much grandson L is growing into a young man so like his father and grandfather. Granddaughter A has inherited her mother’s artistic talents which she combines with her father’s and Papa John’s determination to succeed and do it well. Even though she is only 4½ she is determined to dance and draw her life in her own way.
I said my journey was to find the face of God and I do, in all of creation including people. The most important Faces of God I see is when I look at John early in the morning just before rising, in the faces of M and LB when I spot them waiting for us to come from the plane. I see God’s face in the sleeping, laughing, crying, and determined faces of Grandson L and Granddaughter A. I hear God laugh and giggle when Granddaughter A dances and runs in play. I hear God’s voice when I listen to LB and John talk in the kitchen doing clean up from dinner. I hear God’s voice as Grandson L talks with so much certainty about how something works in his 7 year old world and see God at work as he figures out how to build a new structure of some sort.
This is the wedding gift that never stops giving. I have found a place here in the midst of strangers. I have found people I love. After much searching I have found where I belong. I have been welcomed and accepted as family and been blessed with the love from John’s 3 sons and 4 grandchildren. I have watched the two oldest grow into strong adults where a future of unknown adventures lies before them. I have held in my arms Grandson L and Granddaughter A as newborns and offered my blessings and prayers for God to watch over them.
I have watched each of the grandchildren grow into people I want know. All of them are young people who question everything and when no one can give them an answer they go in search for it. Even if Grandson L and Granddaughter A might not believe in a Divine force, they know they have a Grammy who sees that Divine force whenever she looks into their eyes. It is in the question of why does Grammy believes what she does that opens a door to their own journey of discovery of who they are and where they fit in.
My blessed babies, who are babies no longer, have begun their own journeys. Someday they too will say “wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay.” That day lies long in the future but time passes quickly and before you know it they will be searching for what they believe. My prayer for all four of the Grandchildren is they find what feeds their souls with love, compassion, mercy and a passion for justice. I pray they build a life that gives more than it takes, a life open to the blessings of God whether they call Her God or not.
Sermon – Epiphany Sunday
January 5, 2014
Queen Anne Christian Church Seattle, WA
Matthew 2:1-12 (Common English Bible [CEB])
Coming of the magi
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Greek derivation of Magi, (Strongs Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek Dictionary)
3097.magos mag’-os (of foreign origin (7248); a Magian, i.e. Oriental scientist; by implication, a magician:–sorcerer, wise man, [interpreter of dreams, prophet]. (plural, could refer to a male or female wise person)
The story of the Magi is such a familiar story. We have heard this story so many times before and I am sure all of us are able to repeat it without difficulty, at least the surface story. I was confronted with this simple story, which is anything but simple, when I chose to meditate on it for Epiphany Sunday’s Sermon. Sitting in silence, letting the words of Matthew settle into my subconscious I realized there is so much more to this tale than I first believed. There are also way too many questions to address in a single sermon. If you ever wanted to experience an abundance of graces just read this story carefully. I could go into the fact that the gender and number of the Magi is never mentioned in the scripture and that the Magi were gentiles; or the Magi don’t visit the stable, they come to the home of Joseph and Mary; and because the story of the killing of the Bethlehem’s children that follows the Magi’s visit lead scholars to believe Jesus could have been as old as 2. And, that’s just few of the questions I found in these 12 verses of Matthew Chapter 2. What did intrigue me, and what I will discuss, was never addressed by all of the learned theologians I perused. What I wanted to know was the reason these learned gentiles come in search of a child, a child born to a carpenter and his wife. And, what unknown gifts still hides in this story for me, and all of us, beyond the pretty tale of rich strangers visiting a destitute baby?
First of my questions was what did the Magi expect to find when they arrived in Jerusalem. Since they came to the city of the kings of Judea they must have expected to find the child born there, and to parents with more than a lineage to David. My guess is they had expected to find a somewhat wealthy family, or at least fairly well off. After all they were looking for a King and you normally don’t find one living in the home of working class people. They must also have been confused and terribly disappointed that no one knew what they were talking about. I mean, the birth of a King is big news isn’t. Doesn’t everyone celebrate the birth of a King? It isn’t until King Herod calls them for an audience do they learn that the prophets foretell the birth of “the anointed one,” “the Christ,” was to happen in Bethlehem. I have no doubt they left somewhat confused. But, eventually they find the baby living in the home with his mother and father. They even bring gifts, and while Mary might have preferred diapers, the gifts they gave were costly and fit for a King. (By the way Bethlehem and the gifts are never mentioned again, why? Another question to confound me.)
They were seeking a child, an infant King, someone who would turn the Roman world upside down and I can only imagine their surprise at finding the child in such humble circumstances. They brought gifts Herod would have drooled over, gold, frankincense, myrrh. Wonderful gifts but not really practical for the family they found, well the gold was probably most welcome. But frankincense and myrrh those aren’t baby gifts. Frankincense and myrrh were used to perfume oils and ointments for the purification of worship spaces and the anointing of the dead.
Now I know what Matthew was implying by the gifts: Gold was the symbol of Jesus’ kingship, frankincense the symbol for the priestly role Jesus would be called to live, and myrrh a foretaste of what he would endure at the end of his life. But I think these gentile scholars brought something else and it has been bequeathed to us today and our children. The Magi brought the gift of “seeking God’s face.”
God has always welcomed us and longed for our inquisitive search for the face of the Divine, and She encourages us to reach for her Holy arms. One of David’s Psalms says it well:
30 I will praise God’s name with song;
I will magnify him with thanks 31 because that is more pleasing to the Lord than an ox,
more pleasing than a young bull with full horns and hooves. 32 Let the afflicted see it and be glad!
You who seek God—
let your hearts beat strong again
— Psalm 69:30-32 (CEB)
And in the Book of Acts Paul tells the Athenians “27 God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us.” (Acts 17:27) No God is never far away, we are. And, seeking the face of God is one of the joys of creation we should do more often.
The Magi were the first to seek God’s face in its incarnated form, the face of a child. For Matthew the Magi represent the mission Jesus gives his disciples to reach out to all peoples but especially gentiles, and those born within the great humble mass of humanity, in all its lovely diversity; poor and rich, young and old, all genders, all races, and all people.
For me the Magi represent the longing to see God in the face of my beloved, my grandchildren, best friend, and all creation. I too want to see the incarnated God, I too long to see the ever present being in the first light of dawn, and I do see it in the face of my beloved when he first opens eyes in the morning. The Magi have passed this longing down to us and I am grateful for the gift and grateful to pass it on to the next generation.
The Magi’s gift of presence to a child in a humble home was passed on to us through Jesus’ presence in his life, death and resurrection. Now it is our mission to be present to the incarnated child born to humble parents. To recognize and honor the incarnation born in each of us, through our gifts to the world whatever they may be; caring for each other, the environment, our nation, and our world. It is up to us to be the Magi of today and visit the child in a humble home, to offer the gold of our love, to purify our mistakes with the frankincense of compassion; and to anoint those who pass on to the next world with the myrrh of God’s blessings and praise. In a Judean desert David writes:
God! My God! It’s you—
I search for you!
My whole beingthirsts for you!
My body desires you
in a dry and tired land,
no water anywhere. 2 Yes, I’ve seen you in the sanctuary;
I’ve seen your power and glory. 3 My lips praise you
because your faithful love
is better than life itself! 4 So I will bless you as long as I’m alive;
I will lift up my hands in your name.
— Psalm 63:1-4 (CEB)
So too are we called to offer our praises to God, honor the child that lives today, in each one of us, and in all of creation. Seek the face of God in all you meet, child, adult, male or female, and all of God’s marvelous creation. Look in the eyes of your loved ones, your companion animals, see the face of God looking back. Amen
17When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
19I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20so that all may see and know,
all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Advent, a time of waiting, a gestation time of new beginnings, I have heard those words many times over many Advents. And, while all this waiting is important I have a confession to make, I hate waiting! Yes, my impatience frequently gets me into trouble, with G-d and with those around me. I begin before the preparation has been completed and my task, while not a total failure, does not live up to its potential. Patience is not one of the gifts G-d has seen fit to give me. It is something I have been trying to learn for 66 years and I am still not very good at it.
I admit to being one of those thirsty people in the desert who wants to have water and I want now! If I had been with the Israelites in the Sinai I would have marched right up to Moses and said “I’m thirsty, I need water and I need it now!” And I am sure Moses would have looked at me with a jaundiced eye and said “get a grip; learn some patience for crying out loud. You are out of Egypt so be grateful for what you have and quite complaining!” Yep that would have been me hearing those words. Yet in Isaiah we hear that G-d will provide water and more to those who are poor and in need and it is not lost on me that G-d came through with food and water during the Exodus. So yes I do believe G-d, in Her own good Time and Way, will provide.
The key to this waiting is “in Her own good Time and Way” G-d will offer the drink and food we need and it’s always in that perfect moment. The moment when we not only need it the most but the moment when we are open the widest for hearing G-d’s voice speak the Word we so desperately thirst and hunger for.
For the last two and half years I have been in my own time of Advent, walking in a wilderness of my own making as I waited for G-d to give me a Word I could respond to about where my ministry would take me. And in that time there have been many impatient moments. Many times I have tried to hurry G‑d. I have tried to guess what She will speak and tried starting a task with no direction from Her. It rarely works out because you cannot hurry G-d. G-d will speak when the time is right, when my heart is open the widest to hear G-d speak and not before.
Through out this time G-d has been allowing a ministry to begin gestating within me. To grow in concept piece by piece, step by step while at the same time letting G-d open me up to whom I am and who She is. I am learning that G‑d is my greatest counselor, friend, lover, supporter, confidant, comforter, and confessor. All I have to do is live a life that puts G-d first, keep our relationship strong and allowing the counselor, friend, lover, supporter, confidant, comforter, and confessor work through me in a working partnership with Her.
It seems as if it would be easy to do what G-d asks of us doesn’t it? But it is not. Ask the Israelites how hard it was to follow the path G-d laid before them. Ask the disciples how hard it was to walk the path Jesus laid before them. Each one will tell you it is not easy. Yes G-d will provide for the poor and needy but verse 41:20 of Isaiah says it best. We are to “… see and know … consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” We fail hopelessly in that understanding. All too often we take G-d’s handiwork for granted and do not see what the Lord does for us. I, just like the rest of the human race, all too often think we are entitled to the abundance we see around us. We forget just where and who it comes from, where and from whom we come from. It has taken me a life time to understand in a small way the meaning of verse 20. And, it has only been in the last year and half that I have worked hardest to be patient and to let G-d speak when She is ready and not me.
And now G-d is bringing me closer to an understanding of what my role as Her partner will be. And, somehow I feel it is appropriate that G-d picked Advent for this to happen, the time for me to begin to feel the movement of a baby ministry within me. I am excited and scared about bringing into reality this ministry of my very own. It takes courage for me to step out and claim my role as G-d partner a courage I do not always have. I have many fears; will I be worthy of G-ds trust, will I hurry this up and as a result rush to completion what needed time to grow, will I give up saying “sorry G-d this to hard for me,” will I simply not be enough for the task. There are so many fears, so much excitement, and so many hopes. The future I do not know, only G-d does, so I will keep waiting, and listening, and moving with G-d’s time and moments. Patience is really hard but I continue to learn to lean into the open arms and let G-d teach me.
This Week’s Spiritual Practice
Do you have something waiting to emerge from you? Waiting is hard (just ask any 4 year old) but it can be done. So this week I simply ask that each day you find yourself a quiet place and sit in silence for 5 to 20 minutes. Listen for a Word from G-d. It might be a Word about doing something, or it might be G-d whispering “I love you.” Just remember whatever happens let it happen in G-d’s time not yours and be grateful for the time spent with G-d.