Wednesday, May 24, 2023

I Wonder--May 24

As I was getting ready for the graduation program at the Bethesda CDC, I re-read some portion of Heidi Nuemark's book Breathing Space. I was introduced to this book during my doctoral work and over the years I return Heidi's painful, yet powerful, stories from her time serving as a Lutheran pastor in the South Bronx. Her ability to navigate the cultural challenges with grace and love resonate each time I read the stories. 

The story that caught my attention this time was how she lovingly cared for a burned man. He was traumatically injured in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. His injuries were so severe that he was unable to speak. Burns covered the majority of his body. 

After failing in all the of the 'traditional' ways to care for this man, Heidi tried something different. Because she knew he and his children adored music and singing together she went to his home. Sitting down with his daughter Heidi recorded her singing to her father. It would be a tape she could play for him in the burn unit. 

Yet overcome with 'stage fright' the little girl could not sing. Gently Heidi coaxed the girl's voice out. Eventually the young girl was able to sing the following song: "a, b, c, d, e, f, g. . . " It wasn't much. But Heidi played it over and over for the man, and through broken, bleeding lips, he mouthed 'thank you.' 

God asks each of us to be present for our communities. When we hear those words often we think of majestic, massive, transformation moments. We feel an expectation to do great things; to be great disciples. Change many lives.  

But maybe, just maybe, as we pray and as we listen to the Holy Spirit speak to us, we might just be able to find a way pray as simply as that little girls singing: 'a, b, c, d, e, f, g. . . ' It was a simple song--perhaps the simplest--yet it changed and touched her father. 

The simple prayers and simple acts can have profound impacts on others. I wonder how might you simply pray today? 

Monday, May 22, 2023

I Wonder--May 22

I just completed the weekly prayer email that gets sent to the church--and the list was long. Very long. I had notes on 3 separate pages that I shared in worship with the church. And every prayer request seemed more serious than the previous one. 

Then last night at session during our Elder Enrichment I spoke about how it seems that there is tension which is being ratcheted up around us; the spiritual pressure is growing. People are getting sick. Friends and family members of the church are dying or being hospitalized. 

In the midst of a growing prayer list, and the pressure that places upon the soul, I am reminded of something that Anne Lamott once wrote as she struggled with how to pray. In her book, Help, Thanks, Wow, she writes this: 

"But we can be big in prayer, and trust that God's won't mind if we pray about the cat (who is dying) and about Jax's (her grandson's) tender heart. Is God going to say, 'Sorry, we don't have enough for the cat?' I don' think so." (clarification added by me).  

For the last two weeks I have been thinking and preaching about how there is enough of God to go around for us. Over and over I stated that God is not tight-fisted. That graciousness extends to when our prayer list grows and we need a touch of God's presence and hand. 

I wonder what might happen in your faith walk with God when you let the honesty and fullness of your need be expressed to God openly and totally? How might your prayers be different? 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

I Wonder--May 18

Today I have been thinking a lot about unexpected acts that bring joy into the life another person and wondering how we might practice this--even in our prayer times. 

After receiving an update on a prayer need at the church, I decided to go on some pastoral visits. As I headed out of the driveway, I made a quick decision: I needed some coffee; I needed to stop at Dunkin. And while I was there I would pick up something for Jennifer and deliver it to her. The plan went smoothly. . . well kinda. 

Pulling up to the window I met a woman whose eyes said, 'you are not going to be happy, sir.' I smiled back and told her I had a mobile order for "Derek." Taking a deep breath she explained that they ran out of the size of cup that I ordered--they had a solution. They would fix that by giving me a medium and a small drink to compensate--4 drinks not 2. 

I said that would not work. I told her that I was off to the hospital to visit parishioners and I did not have the ability to hold and manage 4 drinks. As she offered me a drink carrier for my extra drinks, I said, 'it's no big deal. I will take the medium and not worry about it.' 

Over her shoulder the manager looked surprised at me. They got to making my drinks and I sat there and chatted with the woman at the window about the church. She clearly expected an angry customer and I was not angry.

She expected push back. I was not going to push back. The 50 cents that I would lose on the order was inconsequential. And what followed was a small conversation based on my faith even though I did not have to mention much about the Lord for her to start offering me her own story.

Smiling I drove off and the day continued normally. 

Now I wonder about the small bit of joy I brought to the staff at Dunkin? 

They were clearly bracing for me to be upset and yell at them. They even had excuses in hand (the truck was late). But that did not matter to me; I was not upset. Because of my choice to be grace-filled and kind, I found myself thinking about them later in the day and offering a small prayer of blessing in their life because I know they face tough customers often throughout the day. 

Perhaps today, and the rest of this week, you might find the chance to offer a similar grace-filled prayer for someone who needs a little touch of God's hand. I wonder what might happen if you did? 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

I Wonder--May 16

I just returned from visiting a parishioner. While on the surface the task seems to carry with it a definite meaning and purpose, I find something deeper happens during these times, and I wonder. . .  

There are the usual 'housekeeping' tasks to be done first in any of these visits. Questions like, "How are you feeling?" or "What have we heard so far?" are part of the normal discourse. I try and get up to date as quickly as I can about the overall health of the person that I am visiting before moving on and pressing in with them . . . 

Once those questions are out of the way, it is time to notice where is God in the room? What is God doing in this person's life? How might the presence of their minister remind them of the primary promise of the Bible: "I will never leave or forsake you"?  

Sometimes that act or the answer is deliberate. The person knows that God is with them or they will state that God seems far off. Either way a conversation takes place next and often it blesses me as much as it blesses them. 

I did all of that today. 

But driving home, I reflected on the visit that I just completed. I did what I was supposed to do--what I was taught to do when I visit someone in the hospital. But the more I thought about it, I began to wonder if the true transformational moment was not in what was said, but perhaps the transformational moment was that I (or you) took the time and came to visit?

During those moments or those visits we have the chance again to silently trust that the Holy Spirit is assisting us in prayer. We have the chance to listen deeply and notice the subtle movement of God in that person's life. Often times we do not have to do any more than just show up--we can leave the traditional language behind and trust God to be with this person whom we love and whom we see needs a touch of God's hand. 

And so I wonder. . . When was the last time you just showed up in the life of another person and let the Holy Spirit guide and direct you? Perhaps your attention was just what that person was needed. . .  

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

I Wonder--May 10

As I prepare for worship on this upcoming Sunday, I want to share with you some words from Dr. M. Craig Barnes, the President of Princeton Seminary. They spoke to my soul and challenged me. These words helped me to frame what I am thinking about as I consider Sunday's text from Acts.

I hope they will speak to your heart as well as you continue to seek to live faithfully in your local community.  

In his book, Searching for Home: Spirituality for the Restless Soul, he wrote: 

"Today the serpent whispers in our ears that we have a right--one of our favorite words in contemporary society--to live without loneliness, yearning, or confusion about the future. "Take control," it hisses in our ears. "You won't get kicked out of the garden or end up like your parents." The lie always appeals to our deepest anxiety, and it's too appealing to resist."

As God's children, I believe that there is something deep in our very beings, our essence, that calls out to the Creator. Even if are completely and fully estranged from God, I believe that being made in God's "image and likeness" means that we are reaching out for communion with our Creator--seeking to live in harmony as God lives in harmony in heaven with the Persons of the Trinity. 

But there is the great lie that draws us away. 

It makes us wonder about being a little less faithful; a little less committed to the Word. We sacrifice just a little bit of what we know to be true so that we can fit in and not be alone. The serpent reminds us that this choice is fine and it won't come with consequences.

I wonder how being in union with God, if seeking and living faithfully, can help us? I wonder if you can locate in your life some area, some part of your life practices, that could be drawn back to God? What would that look like and how might it help you address the great lie the serpent hisses at you?  

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

I Wonder--May 9

Yesterday I received a text message from my sister that troubled me. 

For a number of years I have been aware of a legal case taking place at my former high school. The case dated back to the time when I attended that school. While at the time I had absolutely no idea about what would take place in the future, I did become aware of the case several years ago and was upset by what I read. 

I remember shaking my head in a mixture of confusion and sadness; I did not understand. My little hometown has seen its share of suffering over the years and this just added to it. 

Closing the message from my sister I finished making supper and thought nothing more about her message--until this morning. I followed the link that Meleny sent me and I read the story. As I 'clicked' out of my web browser I reached for my devotional, I began to read. While there was nothing I could do about the news story, I felt some time with the Lord would help. 

The reading for today is taken from Ezekiel 33. Rather than comment on the text directly, I invite you to read it yourself. It is self-explanatory. 

Ezekiel 33 tells me that I have a responsibility as a Christian to my sisters and brothers. I can proclaim the Gospel faithfully and truly, but I am also called in the text to be and to do more. Pressing outward from the text I wonder how we might be called to be present in difficult situations and with difficult people? 

Now take the story that I began with: the suffering in my hometown and hold it up. . . 

I do not live there. I will likely not be back any time soon. I do not know the people involved directly and I have no sphere of influence in their lives. Even from York any angry words I offer would just be noise on social media and nothing more. But yet I am called by God to do something when injustice is present. 

I remember the words of Henri Nouwen, a teacher and writer who has offered me so much truth and learning in my faith journey. He wrote: 

"When I pray for the world, I become the world; when I pray for the endless needs of millions, my soul expands and wants to embrace them all and bring them into the presence of God."

As I think on those words, and reflect on my role as a herald from Ezekiel 33, I find a way to reach out and support the suffering in my hometown even though I do not live there any longer. I can expand my heart and lift this painful, tragic, situation up to the Lord. I wonder if this is example is also that we can follow when suffering comes into our world? 

Can we expand our hearts? Can we pray? Can we follow Ezekiel 33's example and serve God faithfully? 

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

I Wonder--May 3

A short time ago I took a needed break from the office to head back to the house for a moment. 

As spring continues to blossom here in York, I notice that my allergies are flaring up. I sneeze more than normal and feel my sinuses fill up and the pressure building in them. I am not uncomfortable or suffering in any way; I need to pay better attention to my symptoms and manage them. 

So I told Pat that I would be back in a moment; I was heading home to take an allergy pill (and maybe grab some OJ). 

On my way over (and back) I listened to a podcast from the Surgeon General. His weekly talk this week was about loneliness, and as I walked, he said that we often do not need major changes in our day to resolve our feelings of loneliness. Rather small incremental moments or choices can help move us as individuals away from feelings of isolation and help us build community with each other. He said, a small wave, or a nod, might just do the trick and help begin a practice that helps us re-connect with each other. 

Walking back into the office I nodded in approval at what he was saying, and then, looking at the book I was working through, a book on prayer, and I wondered. . . Maybe we do not need a formal space, formal time, or formal words to help us pray for effectively to God? I wondered what it would look like to pray in small snippets--maybe micro-prayers. How might those help change and shape us as the church?  

And so for the next couple of minutes I tried the practice. I thought about the Day Care children who I read a Bible story with--and I said a single sentence prayer. I thought about some work I have to attend to at the presbytery level--and I said a single sentence prayer. 

This practice went on for a few moments, and then, I was drawn back to the task of the day. 

Perhaps this is something that you too could try as you seek to pray as God taught you? Perhaps a micro-prayer might be all that is needed in the life of someone you care about? Give it a try and let me know how it goes. . . . 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

I Wonder--May 2

Several years ago I completed the requirements for my Doctorate of Ministry in Missional Leadership. The three years it took me to finalize my paper, and research, were some of the most challenging, and yet meaningful, times that I have experienced as a pastor. 

The lesson that I learned from my research and practice was that a ministry of presence, of story-sharing and listening, is a more effective methodology of encountering the community in which God places us. Time and again I have witnessed this process working. 

Today let me share you with my morning. . . 

Jennifer and I scheduled to have our couch professional cleaned today at 8am. Having never scheduled this work I wondered how it would go and what the results would be. Shortly after 8am a white van pulled up and a local husband and wife came to the door and began unpacking and preparing to clean the couch. 

They were friendly and very professional. While I sipped a cup of coffee I learned about their family. I learned about the faith in God and where they go to church. They shared joys with me and some of the struggles which they face. On and on our conversation flowed back and forth with them doing most of the talking. . . most of the story-telling. 

A little before 10 they finished up and pulled their van out of the driveway and off to the next appointment. 

It was a deep conversation that took place while the cushions of my couch were cleaned. It was unscripted and informal. And as they left I knew how I could pray for them and I felt called to pray for them. Listening is not a hard thing to do. Just taking note of where God is in the life of another person is easier than it sounds. It just takes time and patience. 

I wonder today if you could find someone to listen to, and take what you hear back to the Lord in prayer? 

Monday, May 1, 2023

I Wonder--May 1

Over the weekend Jennifer, Emma, and I did a lot of work around the manse here at Bethesda. We had bushes to trim and some to remove, there was weeding to do, and grass that needed re-seeding in some places. Completing a task only meant we found two more that needed our attention. 

There was so much work that after 3 full days I have not even begun to work in the backyard. 

While it was a joy to work together as a family, it was also exhausting. 

Muscles all over my body are aching. Friday, as I fell into my chair, I needed help to get my shoes off because my back hurt so much and I could not make a fist with my left hand because of the machines I was working with. In Sunday School I let my left arm dangle because it was 'tingling' from all the work. 

But again, we were together as a family, and I thank God for the ability to work outside with the people who I love so deeply. 

But the by-product of this work has been unrestful sleep. It has been hard to find a comfortable position to alleviate the pain in my neck, back, and shoulders. I often have a headache as I lay down and need some ice and Advil to help me fall asleep. But while Jennifer and I have struggled to find restful sleep this weekend, I often found myself, at odd intervals, in the dark. . . praying. 

As I think back to my weekend of night-time prayers, I remember something that Harry Fosdick wrote. He said that "Mankind never outgrows prayer." 

Whether I am with someone at the church who is suffering, or whether I cannot sleep because of pain, I have the chance to speak with God consistency. I may read my Bible differently from when I was in high school. I may serve at church differently from how I started 20 years ago. Yet my need to pray and my words of prayer have not changed that much. 

I have not out-grown it. . . 

Since I believe that Fosdick is correct in his assertion, I wonder about your prayer time? As you return to it, as you practice praying, maybe today notice how the act of bowing your head, and folding your hands, and closing your eyes has remained the same for a long time. Perhaps in that realization there is something that you and God can talk about? 

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met?  Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...