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August 8, 2019

On Wednesday morning I was praying Morning Prayer as part of my personal prayer practice, and I had one of the moments when the discipline of the pre-set readings for the Daily Office intersected with what was going on around me in an unexpected way.  One of the canticles assigned for Wednesdays is the Benedictus Dominus Deus - the Song of Zechariah.  These are the words of the prophet Zechariah after his son, John the Baptist, was born.  He says that John will be the one who prepares the way for the Messiah by proclaiming a message of salvation and forgiveness.  And it ends by saying: 

"by the tender mercy of our God,  the dawn from on high will break upon us,  to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,  to guide our feet into the way of peace." I often fall into the trap of thinking that peace is a destination.   That someday, we will get there.  That we will arrive at that moment in our nation and in our world and we will know peace. But the Song of Zechariah called me back from that trap.  Peace is not a destination.  It is not a state we will achieve and then effortlessly remain in.  Zechariah does not prophecy that our feet will be guided into peace, but rather, our feet will be guided into the way of peace. Peace.  Shalom (which is so much more than the absence of conflict, but rather the presence of harmony, wholeness, and welfare), is not a state we achieve.  It is a way we choose to live.  It is not a journey that ends, but rather our responses to the choices that we are presented with each day.  Are we choosing harmony, wholeness, and welfare?  Not just for ourselves and our own, but are we making the choices that lead to harmony, wholeness, and welfare for others too? And furthermore, Zechariah does not prophecy that we are on the way of peace, but rather that our feet will be guided there.  This, too, sounds right to me...because when I look around our world, it is clear to me that we are not already on the way of shalom, that we still need our feet need to be guided to that way. It has been a brutal week in the news.  Again.  Mass shootings have ripped through the heart of our nation.  Again.   Xenophobia and white nationalism were motives for one of the crimes.  Again.   As a nation, we sit in darkness and the shadow of death.  Again.  We pray for those who have died.  We pray for those who mourn.  We pray for those who fear that their ethnicity or religion make them targets of this violence. I've heard from many of you that you are angry.  I've heard from some of you that you feel uncomfortably numb.  From others that you have a sense of helplessness at the scope of the problem of gun violence in America.  There are a multitude of reactions that we might have to this news, and all of them are real. But we must know that peace is not a destination.  Shalom is not something that will passively happen to us some day.  If we want to achieve harmony, wholeness, and welfare for ourselves and others, then we will have to work for it.  We will have to walk toward it.  We will have to make hard choices, faithful choices, if we want to walk the way of peace.  And then we will have to keep making hard and faithful choices if we want to stay on the way of peace. May God give us the will to do so.

See you on Sunday, Kelly

August 1, 2019

One of the things that John Ohmer and I like to nerd out about together is productivity systems.  We joke about how we're one good productivity system away from having our entire lives running flawlessly...we just need to find the right one!  Of course, we also know that's exactly the myth upon which a multi-million-dollar productivity industry is built.  But we love to compare tips and tricks anyway. I recently got a new planner that was designed by Michael Hyatt, and like all such planners, it has its good points and its bad points.  But one of my favorite things about it is the "Weekend Optimizer." Hyatt suggests that we should be just as intentional about how we spend our leisure time as we are about our working hours.  He suggests 7 areas where we should be deliberate in our choices: sleep, eat, move, connect, play, reflect, and unplug.  He offers questions we might ask ourselves to help us be intentional about leisure time, like "how will you rejuvenate your mind and heart?" and "what does quality time look like?" and "what steps will you follow to ensure you truly disconnect from work?"

I like this approach for several reasons.  One is that I am someone who can easily lapse into wasting free time on social media or Netflix...not that those are inherently bad things, it's just that I'm not intentional about it.   The weekend optimizer gently pushes me to be more thoughtful about that time. But the biggest reason I like this approach is that built into this "productivity system" is the inherent understanding that our worth is not found in what we produce. That our "non-productive time" is just as worthy of our attention as our working time.  And that understanding is deeply scriptural, whether we are considering God's creation of the Sabbath rest or Jesus' reminder that our loving God knows each hair on our heads.  Our worthiness of love and belonging comes from nothing more and nothing less than our status as beloved children of God.  We don't have to work for it.  We don't have to earn it. It happened quickly, but somehow, it's now August.  Many of you will be heading on vacation, or perhaps trying to soak up what you can from these last summer weekends.  For some of us, disconnecting from the busyness of every day life will be hard. When I was on vacation these past few weeks, I took those Weekend Optimizer questions and turned them into "Vacation Optimizer" questions to keep me thoughtful about my time.  And I prayed this prayer - the Collect for the Good Use of Leisure - found on pg. 825 of the Book of Common Prayer: O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. I love that prayer because it doesn't suggest that we have leisure time in order to be more productive with our other time.  Rather, we rest in order to be open to the goodness of God's creation. It's August.  Take a break.  Sleep, eat, move, connect, play, reflect, unplug.   You're worth it. See you on Sunday, Kelly

July 24, 2019

There's an expression, "You can't bargain with God."

Biblically speaking: baloney.

In Sunday's Gospel passage, Jesus' disciples ask him to teach them to pray, and Jesus gives them what's now known as "The Lord's Prayer."

The very next thing he does, he tells them a couple stories.

The first story is about the value of persistence in prayer (using an example of someone going to their friend, not getting what they want initially, but persevering in asking until the friend yields).

We can bargain with God.

I'm not questioning God's sovereignty (a theological term for God's independence, or self-rule). But here's the thing: the very fact that God is sovereign means God can do whatever God wants! And apparently part of what God wants is to listen to, and respond to, human beings who earnestly and repeatedly keep sharing, with God, their deepest desires.

Just read this remarkable story we'll be hearing Sunday from the Old Testament, where Abraham bargains with God.

What's mind-boggling is that those stories aren't even outliers. Read the story of the persistent widow. Read about Nineveh, Jonah chapter 3, where God changes his mind. (God is God, after all...why wouldn't God have this ability?)

So what does this have to do with perseverance in prayer?

What's the point in persevering (in prayer, or in anything) if there's no hope of change?

Don't take my word for it: listen to Jesus, the Living Son of the Living God: 

"For everyone who asks receives,  and everyone who searches finds,  and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." As I hope to explore more in my sermon Sunday, our reluctance to believe this is rooted in our reluctance to trust God -- really trust God...that God is for us and not against us. That's part of the reason Jesus tells the second story after teaching the Lord's prayer. That story is about God's goodness. About how God wants, really wants, like a good parent, to give good things to us. The point in both stories is that it is appropriate that we human beings engage God... ...there is a give and take with God... ...there is conversation with God...and conversation is by definition two ways. Jesus teaching us to pray. And prayer is engaging -- really engaging -- God in a give and take, in two-way conversation. We're not praying to a brick wall. We're praying to God who is alive...and dynamic...and listening...and caring, and constantlycreating and re-creating. See you Sunday, 


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