Message the Sunday following the State Track Meet

Following is the message that was heard in our church the day after the State Track Meet, on May 28, 2017. The scriptures used were: John 17:1-11, I Peter 4:12-14 & 5:6-11 and Acts 1:6-14. The title was “That They May Be One.”

Today it is really the beginning of summer in our house. The track season is over, and we are as some would say, finally free of meets and practices. I am thinking that it might even be time to put out the garden one day this week. As I said in the newsletter, it is my favorite time and my least favorite time. I have so enjoyed this season even for as tightly crammed as it was and even for the way I felt so tired sometimes. As I sat down on Friday night to put together this message, I couldn’t help but think of the scriptures a few weeks ago that pointed us to the message of “Life Here, too,” which was based off a podcast from the National website called “Enjoy this life.”

I have tried to use that whole concept of enjoying the life you are given as a jumping off board, a focus of a way to think of things, and to that I have been trying to add the idea of living in the moment. That thought of being present in what is happening in your life at the time and enjoying it has really been gnawing on me. I tried hard to put that into play this weekend, and for the most part it seemed to work. Maybe we will take a little time out here to give you the grumps of the weekend, just to get them out of the way so that the rest of this message will really have a turned up, happy note to it.

Ok, so the down side was really limited to a couple of things and mainly it boils down to only one thing and that is the attitude of entitlement. In North Dakota we only have a Class A and a Class B, and it gets really tiresome to learn that rules are being changed because certain things don’t seem to suit the important people in Class A. It is also annoying to have certain people on the team end up always doing the heavy lifting, and I do mean heavy in terms of setting up and taking down while others seem to skate by, always, even when duties have been assigned. And mostly working with youngsters is emotionally draining because they have this awful tendency to grow up and graduate and move on, and that is just way too hard for some of us. So, my warning to you is that no one here is allowed to move away, even if you get some notion that you want to be closer to children or other family or whatever the excuse is. I just won’t have it.

The entire group heading to state.

Ok, grumpy piece over, now for the good part. I ended up driving a mini-van on our trip, and instead of putting the older students in it, we left them with Mr. Haak on the mini-bus where there was more leg room, and I took the youngest group, the 7th graders. Let me just say that I have not heard so much giggling in a very long time, and I think that a few of them might have had stomach aches from laughing. It was a wonderful sound even somewhat musical and as I listened to them, I could feel their complete, absolute and pure joy. There was nothing better, even when they were giggling because they were making fun of my driving. So understand that it was this last story, this young childlike joy that was in my mind as I did a reread of the scripture lessons for this week.

As we start with the lesson in Acts, we find a story very similar to the one at the end of Luke in terms of the ascension of Jesus. Although in Luke it flat out uses the phrase “great joy,” I also get the impression of joy from the accounting of the event in this passage in Acts. We don’t see the word joy or exultation or anything on that line, but we also do not read anything that might indicate fear or alarm or sadness or gloom. These verses tell about how Jesus talks to his disciple, basically giving them their final instructions before he leaves them. In some of the other gospels we are told that this is when he is taken to his rightful place at the right hand of God. To me that idea alone should give us the image of an unimaginable joy that Christ is able to experience.

The other joy and the part I want us to concentrate on is the feelings of the disciples and what feelings that should give us. When Christ is taken away, according to the story in Acts, the disciples are visited by two men in white, two angels we presume. They tell the disciples to stop looking, or staring up looking for Jesus, because he will come again. Now the disciples had been told earlier to return to Jerusalem. They know he wants them to stay there waiting for the Holy Spirit to come to them, and so they go, and I will bet it wasn’t with dread or sadness over the past, but with joyful anticipation for what is next. Of course they were grown men, so it might not have been with giggles, but I kind of believe that they were on their way with smiles, even though Jesus had just left them.

If we look at the words from I Peter we read that Peter told the early Christians to rejoice that they were sharing in the suffering of Christ because they would then be able to shout for joy when he returns. Nothing could be truer than that statement. Think about it, no matter how bad things get, and I suppose the worse they get, the more we will shout in for the return of Christ to end the suffering and the agony. And this is true if we actually live to the age of his return or if it is the day that he comes for us alone. In truth, that day will be one of great joy for us as Christians.

The remaining verses in Peter give us some advice for the in-between time. Two things stand out for me. The first is the idea that we should cast all of our cares, all of our anxieties on Christ, and the second is that we should keep ourselves alert for the evil powers which exist in that world that would keep us from what is right, from what Christ wants of us. I love that image of the devil prowling the earth around looking for someone to devour, as if he were some giant swamp creature or the abominable snowman. Maybe it is those sorts of images that make us think there is no such evil power in the world. Perhaps if we thought more of a cunning and conniving con-artist sort of creature, maybe then we would be more likely to believe that there is a power that works to perpetuate evil in the world. Peter’s point in essence is that we need to keep our faith and trust in Christ and God will take care of us.

Exactly! For God to take care of us is just what Jesus prays for in the verses that we read in John 17. This passage is known as Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. It is his prayer for the disciples and his prayer for us. He offers it to God shortly before he is betrayed and crucified. In it, Jesus asks for God to take care of his disciples and give them the task of completing the work he has started so that his work will not have been in vain. I know we can all understand that concept of hoping that what we do is not in vain, I can’t imagine how much Jesus felt the need to make sure his work would be finished by faithful disciples. And in many ways that means us as much as the original 12.

Tomorrow many of the communities in our country will be celebrating Memorial Day. We will gather to honor the men and women who served in our military and especially those who died while in service to secure and protect the freedoms that we have. As much as some of us might disagree about which freedoms we should embrace or exercise and how much we should value any or all of them, if we were to give up any bit of those freedoms, we would be essentially telling those who served and sacrificed especially those who died that what they gave up was not important. We would be telling them that their sacrifice no matter how big or small was really all in vain. I know that I couldn’t do it, and I am pretty sure none of you would be able to do it either, to tell a Veteran that their service was worthless.

I know that what Christ did for all of us was so much more than any of us could do for another, yet isn’t it written that the greatest love a person can have is to lay down their life for another? Each Memorial Day as we gather to honor our country’s fallen soldiers, we do that to ensure that none of them died in vain, that none of them sacrificed their lives or physical or mental well being or even their time without it being worth something.

Jesus in his final prayer to his Father in heaven, as he is about to leave his human existence, asks that his work, his time on earth not be without meaning. His prayer is that God look after the disciples that were given to him, so that they will be able not just to fulfill the work Jesus started, but that they will complete it and in doing that they will also experience the joy that Jesus knew while being about that work.

Of course we also read this to refer to us as believers and disciples in our own way and time. Jesus wants us to continue his mission of spreading his gospel, his love all the way to the ends of the earth, and while we do that he wants us to have the same rewards of knowing him and knowing the joy of eternity that he asked God to give to the original disciples.

At the end of the gospel lesson we read for today, we come across the words: “that they may be one.” A bit further into the chapter in verse 21, we see those words again with just a little twist. In verse 21 it is written, “That they may all be one.” That is the verse picked to be the motto of our wider church. Jesus wants that for us, that we would be one with each other as he and the Father are one, united and working together as soldiers in the trenches, and perhaps to put it in language I understand better, as members of a team, who all have the same goal. That they may all be one.

Jesus asks God to protect his disciples, the 12 that were closest to him, and all who have come to believe in him. He also asks that all his disciples could be one as he and the father are one. To me that means we should learn to love each other in a deep, intensely joyful, Christian love. This love is not restricted by family or gender or skin color or culture or economic status, but it is a love as Christ loves. Christ wants us to be one, to be open and accepting and caring for each other in the same way that Christ and God love each other.

I really believe that when we are willing to open ourselves up to that attitude and when we are willing to take up the task of helping the gospel to spread to the ends of the earth, we will know the love and peace and joy of Christ, and when we do, we will also be able to experience the kind of happiness that makes our sides hurt from laughing. Go this week living in the moment and experiencing the joy of Christ. Amen!

Life Here, too

Message of this past Sunday was based on: Acts: 2: 42-47, I Peter 2:19-25 and mostly the last verse of John 10:1-10. I used the following as the title, “Life Here, too.”

Our gospel lesson and our Psalm today are the comparisons of Jesus and God to a shepherd. We read the Psalm as our call to worship, and we just heard the words of the gospel of John where Jesus tells the disciples all about how the good shepherd goes in through the gate and how the sheep know the voice of the shepherd who watches over them and protects them and all of that is well and good, but the focus of what we will discuss today is that last verse, the one where it says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Our other two lessons support this, but we will get to them a bit later.

This week, which has been a month long in case anyone wants to know how it went, this week began with that trip to Eagle Pass Lodge on Monday. Monday is normally when I first look at what we are to study this week, and so as I headed here to pick up Mary Lou and then we traveled on to Bowdle where we met up with Faye Jackman from Mobridge, who leads the church in McLaughlin, I had these lessons in the back of my mind. Jesus came so that we can have life, and have it abundantly. The trip was great, we had enough time to stop in Highmore and have lunch and visit even more than during the trip, and we made it to the place in plenty of time with very little difficulty. We were greeted very warmly, there was one more licensed minister there, a woman from Clark, and we all met in a large room with the Committee on Ministry and the Conference Minister, and it was great!!

I am not just saying this, it was a wonderful meeting and we talked about all sorts of things, what is going well, what is hard for us, what we feel confident in doing and what we would like some assistance with which was mostly resources, and we even shared some ideas of where we get our resources. And we even felt so comfortable that we shared why we were a little put out about having to come there and meet with them. And we talked about this business with the change of how clergy are given their status, and I think we will all be fine. And it made me want to come today with a message about how Jesus came to make sure that we have life and have it abundantly, and I was thinking about just how great life is and so I was really ready to put together this super great and happy message for all of us to share.

And Tuesday was anther fun day in most ways. We hopped on the bus for that conference meet in Ellendale, and except for the porta-potties and the non computer way of doing results, it was pretty good, but the ride was long and it got fairly late and we read some of the news events of the day, and that wonderful happy cheer was starting to fade a bit. Then Wednesday there was Bible study, which was good and nearly brought me back to sanity, but later after practice James and I quick ran to Bismarck and picked up the iPads that he was supposed to buy for the team, and we ended up getting two and seeing Jess, Tony and Lily and it was good, but we got home late and we were tired and things were getting a little testier. Then Thursday there was another track meet in Underwood and we had a couple of qualifying events including a girls’ relay and we were so happy, ….but we bought two iPads and there are 3 coaches and though it is true and I said, I can’t time and record at the same time, so I don’t want one, when we got home and I was extra tired and wanted to stay up to do statistics, but I was too tired and instead I turned on the news and learned some more about what is going on in the world that I can’t change, and then I realized that I never got to record anything on that iPad let alone even touch it or look at what was on it and, well….happy was flying right out the window….

I didn’t intend to go into a boring rendition of my week, but the point is that while I was thinking about talking about this great abundant life, I knew that I could never do it with that sweet and sticky oo/aa sort of voice of sheer happiness that I suspect to be fake anyway, and my tiredness kicked in and the crabbiness took over and I wondered how on earth I could have even considered speaking about it in the first place.

And then on Friday morning as I tried to get myself back into the focus of the scriptures, I took a time out to read some of the skipped pages of The Upper Room and there I found the words from Wednesday, the verse in Isaiah 60:20, “Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” And the comment near the end of the page said, God is the wind at your back, not the rain in your face.” During the storms God is there helping you through, not making it harder.

So, as I read the scripture passages again for this week it occurred to me that in the past few years, passages like this would make me focus on the life that God gives to us when we leave this earth. The message was always centered around the idea of eternity, the happiness of the life to come, the reuniting with those who have gone on before, but not a lot of hope for the here and the now. And the truth is that every morning when we wake up, we are all one day closer to the day when we find eternity and meet Christ. That thought used to really depress me. I remember thinking about that so often when I was visiting my mother, and I knew that she wouldn’t always be with me. Our mortality is a fact we carry with us every day, but that is not what Jesus wants us to focus on.

On Friday morning, as I looked at those words that Jesus left us I saw more clearly than ever that our focus needs to be more about this life, this wonderful—joyous life that God has given us to live, this great opportunity to be about the business of living and sharing and spreading the message of the love that Jesus has for all of us perhaps not quite like the apostles did in the lessons we read in Acts and I Peter, but sharing none the less.

Those passages tell us the stories of the disciples in the days after Jesus has ascended into heaven. The faithful worked together sharing their possessions, their treasures, their means so that they could spread the gospel the good news, so that everyone around them could learn about Jesus and the life that he wanted for all of us. He wanted/he wants us to have a life of happiness and goodness and days free of sorrow and strife, and I believe that, but sometimes when you look at the world around us and some of the antics of those in charge you wonder. I get one tangent and I promise I won’t go too far, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if our elected officials or those in power (even at the levels of the city or county or state and some school) would adopt the idea that their purpose was to make sure that every one of their constituents would be able to have life and have it abundantly. Wouldn’t it be nice if their bottom line wasn’t to advance their own agenda? Just saying!

The other thing I found on Friday morning was Jeremiah 29:11. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.” And it hit me, that even as I was going through this goofy, overtired week, and I was taking too many things to heart, God hit me on the head with a simple verse in a devotional booklet, “I know the plans I have for you.” Even when we can’t seem to understand where the happy is going to come from because everything around us seems to be falling apart or there is something holding us down or holding us back, God comes to us and says, “I know the plans I have for you. I am the good shepherd, and I came so that you could have life and have it abundantly.”

Were those words there accidentally? Did I read something into them because I wanted to see something? Maybe, or maybe it is the workings of the Holy Spirit. In our denomination, we are not such good spirit believers, though there are some who acknowledge it more than others. I think our Bible study group has an openness to it. I was amazed at the discussion we had on Monday at the Committee on Ministry meeting. It started when we were talking about renewal classes and we 4 licensed women said we haven’t all done any formal training this year, but we have been fairly diligent in our own devotional and Bible study. In fact the more we as licensed ministers shared, the more we saw reaction from the members of the committee, and one of the long seasoned clergy even made the comment that perhaps it might be time to begin a more faithful time of devotions.

I really and truly believe that as we take the time to spend time with God in any number of ways, as we do that, we open ourselves to the workings of the spirit inside of us and when we do that, we begin to recognize the awe and the wonder of this life we have been give. It isn’t always going to be easy, it isn’t always going to be perfect or trouble free, but when we accept Christ who came to earth so that we could have not just life, but life abundantly and when we walk with the God who really only wants good for us, we will enjoy that wind on our back even if the rain is hitting us in the face, and we will know the true joy of a life that is filled with the Holy Spirit guiding us through all things, even hot coals on occasion. Go today, and this week with the confidence that whatever comes your way, you can get through it because God loves you and wants you to enjoy this life.  Amen!

Recognizing Jesus

This was my message last Sunday. The scriptures used were: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, I Peter 1:17-23 and Luke 24:13-35. The title was as posted above, and the message was about the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and how we meet Jesus on the roads of our lives. Below is the script of what was presented, though I can’t guarantee that at times I was off a bit.

Some of you are aware that tomorrow, I am headed to a place called Ree Heights, SD. [Grrrrr, why didn’t I take a picture to add to this post?] According to the email directions that I received it is some place on Highway 14 between Highmore and Miller. Great! Not a problem, I have been on that road in the past, and the way roads are marked in South Dakota, this should be easy. But the hitch is that the meeting is not in Ree Heights. The meeting is in the country at Eagle Pass Lodge some 2.1 miles off the highway on a non-paved surface north of Highway 14 going north and curving east and following along and the other piece of information that Marva was able to glean off the internet for me was that there are NO road signs for this place, so keep close track of your mileage. As much as I use the internet to find songs or search out the answer to my questions, I don’t use GPS. I guess, sadly, in this day and age, I am just so old fashioned that I still believe in road maps.

Speaking of road maps, I have a quick story. About 10 years ago when Jessica was interning in Washington DC, she had to come home in the middle of the summer for a wedding.  So because of the cost of the trip, she decided to fly into the airport in Minneapolis, and she thought Victoria (who was maybe 19) should come and get her, alone. Well, I went along. The short version is we missed the exit for the airport and ended up in some little tiny out of the way area. The business section had boarded up gas stations and the restaurants were brick buildings with no windows and let’s just say none were familiar chain restaurants or anything to do with sausage or Knepfla and sauerkraut. We were in some really unfamiliar territory and didn’t know how to start finding our way back. We had a cell phone and I called my brother-in-law, Bruce for help. He knew Minneapolis fairly well, and with his knowledge and an internet search he was able to get us turned around and to the airport in time to meet her plane. Let’s just say it was scary, and I am pretty sure this trip tomorrow will be nothing like that one.

Our gospel lesson today is also about a trip. It is about a couple of disciples or the term should probably be followers because these two were not part of the inner circle of 12 which is now 11. They were on a trip on the third day after the death of Jesus, the same day that his tomb has been found empty. Unlike the two trips that I mentioned, they are going to a place they know. They are headed to Emmaus, which interestingly is one of those cities that the “experts” have not exactly located. I say interesting because when you study literature when a place is not specifically on the map it can translate to be Anyplace.

Not the best road, but a typical road here in the winter.

So these two followers of Jesus are traveling a road, well walking actually, on a road they have been on before to a place they have been before, but the difference for them is that they are going this time with a very different frame of mind. This time they are traveling with great sorrow in their heart and probably a bit of fear for their own lives. I will admit that during that drive into unknown territory in Minneapolis, I was more than a little scared. Victoria was driving and I just kept telling her where to turn and, I pretty much remember, saying don’t stop, don’t pull over just keep driving. These two men are walking along and recounting the events of the past few days, the past week, maybe especially the news from early this morning when their leader’s tomb has been found empty and they are wondering what is to happen next, and they meet up with a stranger.

Even stranger to their ears is the notion that this person has no idea of what they are discussing. This stranger seems to them to be the only person in existence who has no knowledge of the drama they are discussing. How can someone be in this vicinity and be so clueless? How can anyone possibly be on this road and not know that Jesus was crucified and now he is missing? As the story goes the three men travel along together until evening and then the stranger wants to go on his own way, but the two disciples insist that he stay and eat with them and that is where they recognize Jesus.

The point of this story for us today is not so much about the journey and knowing where we are going, or not know where we going as was the case in either of the two stories I mentioned in the beginning. The point for us is about recognizing Jesus, about recognizing the opportunities to be present with Christ in our everyday lives. Where is it in our lives that we have the occurrence, to be on this road with Jesus?

This feels like one of those tough, open-ended essay questions where the answer key says, “Answers will vary.” And the joke goes that the new teacher counts everyone’s wrong because she is expecting them all to write, “Answers will vary.”

How do we recognize Jesus when we are out walking the road of our lives? The truth is that Jesus is all around us, all the time. He comes and meets us on our road to Emmaus just as he met the disciples. It is a road we know, but it is also a road that holds lots of emotions. It varies from day to day. One day it is a road on which we are struggling, maybe in sorrow, maybe in frustration because things are not going as we think they should be. Some days it might be a road where we are rejoicing because of any number of blessings in our lives. The fact is that when Jesus meets us, he reassures us, he builds us up, and he gives us purpose, and rejoices with us. And we recognize Christ when we have a relationship with him. We recognize him when we take the time to let ourselves be drawn closer to Christ in prayer, in worship, in song and in the way we live our lives.

And hopefully we come to know that the encounter with Jesus is not really all about us, though sometimes when we are hurting that is what we need it to be. But the deeper the relationship we have, the more we begin to realize that looking outside of ourselves is really how we find Christ. I am not quite sure how to put this, but it seems to me that the more we come to know Christ and the more we travel with him, the more we realize that the journey should never end with it being about us. The time we spend together is about listening and learning so that we can be built up, and can be strengthen so that we are able to continue Christ’s message of love for this world.

We see from reading to the end of the gospels that Jesus did not stay with the disciples after the resurrection. He didn’t come back to be with them and continue their ministry physically, but he stayed with them and stays with us spiritually, and he continues on the journey with us as we meet others. That spirit that has been left with us is there to empower us as we encounter others. What is the line?…When you did it to the least of these, so you did it to me.

As we are strengthened by a closer relationship with Christ, we begin to recognize the needs around us. And did you notice where they were when the disciples realized who Jesus was? It was when they were sitting down to a meal that their eyes were opened to who he was. One interpretation of that might be that it is in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that we find Christ. And another idea might be that it is in simple ordinary, everyday tasks when we encounter Christ. Did we offer someone a glass of water, a cup of coffee, to join us in a meal? Did we open someone’s door or help them with a task they couldn’t do alone? Did we listen to a friend in need? I am so starting to understand the importance of that simple deed of listening, even and especially when we think we are way too busy doing something of great importance.

The last thing I want to mention today is the text from the book of Peter. In this passage Peter is trying to explain to the early Christians the importance of treating each other up with the same love that Christ had for them. The churches were facing conflicts both from inside themselves and from outside of their circle of Christians. Historically I can understand the conflict that the early church faced from outsiders, but I always had this notion of them being really together as a group. Yet I suppose they were all looking to take leadership control, and I guess if you consider it, that is how conflicts inside a church can happen.

But instead of arguing or demanding their behavior to be a certain way, Peter simply reminded them all to love as Christ loved them, and he said they were to love, deeply. The real meaning of the Greek word at this point is not deep as like a deep hole, but instead the word is more like strenuous or sustained, like a long distance run. Peter is talking about a persistent love, a love that will not let go. Peter reminds us that Christ wants us to keep on loving even when it seems that there is no hope. Peter told the believers and us when we see situations of conflict that we are to love because God is at work in the situation, and we are not to be discouraged or drug in other directions.

This week as we set out on our journey to wherever Emmaus is for us, I pray we are able to carry the spirit of Christ with us and recognize the needs Christ sets before us to be filled, and mostly I pray that we be filled with the deep love that God gives us, so we are able to share that love with those we meet. Let’s go today with our eyes opened wide to see the risen Christ in our world. Amen!

And for an update, the trip was wonderful! Three of us traveled together and shared information and stories on the way there and back. The meeting was uplifting and supportive and we were approved for another year, and so all was good. For those of you who took the time to stop and read through this message, I pray God’s blessing on you!!

Prayers

Here is the message we had in church today. The Bible I used was the NRSV, and the story I quoted was written by Mark Twain and published after he died, “The War Prayer.” The scripture used today were: Genesis 9:8-17, I Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15 and Psalm 25:1-10. The title in the bulletin was “Cleansing Water.”

Some years ago, in fact it was nearly a decade ago, I was in charge of an oral interpretation team. I was quite fortunate to have one outstanding student in the group, though I can’t take any credit for coaching him. I merely did the paper work to enter the meets, drove the van to get us there, and gave him motivational support. The young man with the help of his father worked and earned many places and medals including two at state. One of the pieces he did was always a bone of contention because it was a humorous in the oratory category that everyone thought should be serious, but there was no rule stating that. The other was a straight out serious in the serious category, and though it was an unusual piece he did it so well.

The reason I say it was an unusual piece is because it was a serious story written by the great humorist, Mark Twain. It wasn’t published until after he died as his publishers convinced him it would cause him too much bad publicity, and they didn’t want it to hurt his income. It was titled “The War Prayer” and is set in a church on a Sunday morning and the preacher has just prayed for a group of young soldiers who are heading off to war. He is asking for their safety and for victory for their efforts. As soon as the preacher finished his prayer an elderly man enters the church saying he is sent from God to offer another prayer. Here is a bit of that counter prayer.

The gentleman begins by saying, “When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it.” …he tells the congregation that “the unspoken part of the [preacher’s] prayer” is… “O Lord our Father, … help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander … in rags and hunger and thirst, … broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, …water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that … seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

Having heard that reading over and over for an entire speech season, I am now more conscious of what a prayer is really asking. I am more aware of how I choose my words when imploring God for help. Is the issue in my heart to prevail or is it for the good of all involved. Is what I am asking of God only for my benefit, or is it for what is right and good and best for those around me and is it only for those I love, or is it for everyone and everything that God loves? These are questions that I have learned to ask from hearing a reading about prayer in an unlikely place from an unlikely writer.

Now prayer is not mentioned directly in any of the passages we read for today, but seriously, prayer has to be a given in these stories. The Genesis reading about the great flood in the days of Noah does not includes the information that many of the people in that day were wild and wonton to the point that God was sorry for creating the human race. You have to read a couple of chapters earlier to get that background.  But we know that part of the story from our youth. We also know that Noah was God fearing and obedient and I would bet someone who spent time in prayer, and God saved him and all who were with him. And, after the flood because Noah and his family were obedient to God, he made a covenant with them not to destroy humankind or the earth in such a manner ever again.

Jesus disciple, Peter mentions the days of the flood as he writes of how Christ suffered for the sins of all humans when he was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” Peter writes of the flood as cleansing the earth of the sins in the days of old, but now because of Christ our cleansing comes through baptism just as Christ was baptized by John. Yet Peter makes it clear that baptism in itself does not cleanse us or wash away any of the dirt from our sinful body, but it is an “appeal to God for a good conscience.” What is prayer other than an appeal to God?

The passage in Mark today is again three different events put together in one reading. Mark is nothing if not efficient with his words. He would never get docked by an English professor for being too verbose, too wordy in an essay. The opening three verses are Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John. Mark mentions the proclamation by God that Jesus is his Son and the Spirit descending onto Jesus.

The middle section is about Jesus going into the wilderness and being tempted. Again Mark doesn’t give us any details on this. In fact, he barely uses 40 words to tell us about the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness pondering his ministry and being tempted by Satan. [We will spend time on Wednesday looking at that event in detail by using the words of other gospels. It will be the beginning of our journey with Jesus.]

In the final section of today’s gospel reading Mark tells how Jesus went to Galilee preaching and proclaiming the gospel after the time when John was arrested. This is a time that we know from other readings that Jesus often spent time in prayer. Just two Sundays ago, we read how the disciples went looking for him in the early morning and found him in a secluded place in prayer.

One passage that is in the lectionary for today that I didn’t include in the set of scriptures is Psalm 25:1-10. The lectionary always suggests using the Psalm as the call to worship and so it is rarely read with the scripture. Today and for the next few weeks, the Psalm really should be the message focus. This one is a prayer for guidance and deliverance. It is a prayer attributed to King David. [read it]

As much as Jesus taught us to pray the prayer we recite each Sunday, the prayers of the Psalms are also guidance for us in how we are to petition God. “To you O Lord, I lift up my soul.” As we come before God, we should be humble and open and honest with our feelings. We don’t ask for our enemies to be ripped to shreds or to die as was the case in the unspoken prayer in the Twain story, but we ask just that our enemies are not gloating over us.

In this prayer, David also asks God not to remember the transgressions of his youth. I suspect that may be a good example for a few of us. Instead David asks God simply to remember him. What a good guide for us; we ask God to remember us and those we care about, those we know of who need comforting, or healing, or just the reminder of God’s presence. Mostly this prayer shows we are to ask God to point us in the right way, to lead us to the paths that we are to follow. We are to ask that God teach us what we need to know to obey his laws and his promises to us.

This year, as we come together during the Lenten times of worship, be they Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings after a soup or sandwich meal, let us do so with the attitude that we have come together to worship and to pray in earnest for our families, our friends, our church and ourselves.

We might be on this 40 day journey through the wilderness and around the ancient roads with Jesus, but we are also on a journey of our own, exploring our faith more deeply trying to understand what we are still able to accomplish and how we go about reaching out to others both inside and outside of our own faith community. Our journey may not be as strange as the story of The War Prayer, and it may not be as familiar as the story of Noah and the great flood, but whatever it is for each of us, I hope it is one filled with prayer. Amen!

Peace Be With You!

This was given on the Sunday after Easter with the following scriptures: John 20:19-31, Acts 2:14a & 22-32, and I Peter 1:3-9. I had the title as: Are We Believers or Doubters?, but it really didn’t fit, so that is why I changed it for above.

This past week, I went along to Hazen with James to a track meet. It was a fairly nice day, though the wind was blowing, but then when doesn’t it blow around here? Things were going along pretty well, athletes were performing about where we expected, some a little better, and during the 200 his fastest boy pulled up lame. He tore his hamstring muscle. Not a pull or a strain, he went to a sports medicine doctor the next day, and it is torn. We hope he will be healed enough to play football next fall. Fortunately he is only a freshman, he has years left.

The experience made us stop and ask, “Was it something we did or didn’t do in training? What could we have done differently? What is causing the other aches and pains that some have been verbalizing? Why is it some are hurting, but not others? What can we do? What should we change?

In the meantime, I was hoping that by this morning, I would feel a bit more like I felt last Sunday. It was a beautiful day, the church was pretty full, we had dinner waiting at our house, and company coming, and it was going to be a great day. The truth is that this whole week, I have been feeling like Easter was more like last month or last year than last Sunday. I am not sure if it was a bug, or just circumstances, but I think that I have learned the value of liquids and rest. By the time Tuesday night hit, I wasn’t moving anyplace fast.

I didn’t realize how much I have come to feel the routine of being here on Wednesdays. But it sure made for a strange week when I wasn’t able to get here this week. And now it really feels like Easter was so long ago. I think there was a movie line to the effect of: this morning was one day, and then this afternoon that was another day, and the evening was a day, and on and on. Somehow, I feel like this week has been a month-long.

I wonder how long those three days from the night when Jesus was betrayed to the early morning when his tomb was empty, how long that must have felt to the disciples. And now the scripture we are considering for today is not even that early morning, it isn’t the sunrise when Mary and the others found that stone rolled away from the tomb and the cloths that covered Jesus’ body all laying to the side, and his body is gone.

The passage in John that we read for today says, it is night, or at least evening. The sun is going down, and the disciples are together in the room. It is the very room where they were all together just a few days ago. They locked the door. They are afraid, maybe not so much afraid because Jesus is dead. They must believe the stories that he is risen. Or do they? Are they sure? Did Mary and Peter and the other disciple really see what they saw? Is Jesus really alive? What does that mean for them? Will the authorities come and try to execute them, to stop them from telling about the resurrection? What could they have done to prevent Jesus’ death? Could they have done something? Should they have done something? I know there is more to the passage than the opening, but I just wonder what was the attitude of the disciples as they were gathering in that room on the evening of what we call Easter Sunday.

On Friday, I substituted for my sister so she could go to Sioux Falls and meet her son. He flew in from Italy where he had been stationed in the army. On the way to school that morning, I had my speech ready for a couple of the characters that she has in class. I was ready to write out papers for them to have detention if they behaved the same way that they had the last time that I was at school. I was putting my foot down. I was ready to take on the fight; I wasn’t going to take it anymore.

Thinking about my attitude that morning, I remembered when my brother made a comment to my mother that stuck in my craw for a long time, yet might have been a good thing for me to hear. His remark was a question about whether I was ever happy. I don’t remember exactly where I was working at the time, but I do remember being cranky quite often, and I know now just how hard it is to deal with someone like that. The issue is I had myself convinced that if you prepared for the worst and always expected the worst, like the bad behavior I was so ready to fight on Friday morning, then when things turn out well, then everything would feel so much better. I thought that I had an “expect the worst,” but “hope for the best” attitude. But the truth is that I just had a bad attitude. I was what you would call a Negative Nelly or maybe a Debbie Downer.

Now I am not so certain that the disciples were having a bad attitude. They were likely pretty nervous about what to do next. They had just spent three-year with Jesus following his every lead, and now they are alone. They know that he had tried to teach them about what would happen, but I am not so sure they were really ready for all of this so fast. It seems that they know Jesus isn’t in the tomb. They know that certain members of the disciples have seen him and talked to him, so he must be alive, but is he really and how do they feel about what happened? And what could they have done to give this a better outcome? I think that maybe Thomas isn’t the only Doubter in this mix, but he might just be the only one who has the courage to say what he is feeling.

This whole idea of Jesus coming into the locked room and spending just short pieces of time with the disciples sort of makes me think of grown children coming home for a visit, even if it is for the summer, or an extended time like when Victoria stayed with us a couple of months last year when they were between houses. It isn’t the same as when they were living at home, growing up, babies then children then teenagers. Once they move out, it is never really the same. Jesus has moved out. Life for the disciples will never be the same. Yes, he came back, and they see him, and they know that he is alive, but he won’t be staying with them in the same way ever again. Those walks from town to town, those boat rides, the late night sessions listening to him teach them things that they couldn’t understand, those times are all over. Life for the disciples has changed.

And though, I sort of want to look at it from their perspective, from the view-point of the disciples, with nostalgia and a bit of sadness, the truth is that for our sakes it is more of a Thank Goodness that it happened moment, and it is a rejoicing that life was and is completely changed for anyone who believes. As soon as God sent Jesus to earth, nothing could be the same. We need to say Hurrah and Hallelujah for that fact. We should be rejoicing and singing and dancing in the streets that the scripture of today is about what it is about.

This scripture has lots of points. We could have focused more on Thomas. We could have talked about the fact that this is in essence the gospel of John’s version of the Pentecost because Jesus seems to give them the spirit as he breathes on them. But for me today, this Sunday a month or two after Easter at least that is how it feels for me, today’s lesson is about the fact that Jesus keeps repeating the phrase, “Peace be with you.” It is in verses 19, 21 and again in 26. Peace what a wonderful concept. What a wonderful attitude. If we all really accepted the peace of Christ and carried it with us in our innermost being, we wouldn’t have all those goofy questions or nagging doubts or snarky attitudes that we sometimes feel and pass on to others.

What if what we passed to others on was the Peace of Christ? Because Jesus died and rose again, we have that opportunity. Because he gives us the same Peace that he offered his disciples, we too can respond as Thomas eventually did by saying and meaning, “My Lord and my God.” Let’s go out this week and pass on the Peace of Christ to someone who really needs it. Amen.

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