Thoughts and Prayers

praying hands in light

We are once again sending out our thoughts and prayers to victims of senseless, horrific violence. Some people have expressed their impatience with the seeming uselessness of prayers. I have colleagues who have expressed how tired they are of vigils, how they feel too discouraged and disheartened to pray.

But that is exactly when we most need to pray.  Prayer is how we make space in our hearts for the spirit to be at work. Prayer is how we welcome Jesus into our midst.  Prayer opens our hearts to our neighbors and to those who are suffering, so that we will be moved to seek how to help, how to bring change, how to reach out.

Prayer is how we make space for God in the midst of the pain, and confusion, and chaos in our lives and in our world. God certainly doesn’t need our prayers. God knows what is in our hearts even before we do. But we need to pray, because prayer shapes us and molds us.

Praying orients our attention and our focus on God.  Just as flowers always orient on the sun – stretching and bending in order to grow in the direction of the light – prayer helps us to stretch and bend so that we grow in the direction of God’s light.

In his book, “Living Prayer,” Robert Benson writes, “It is prayer that can change us, make no mistake about it. The changes may go unnoticed for a long time, but they will come.”

Let us never cease offering our thoughts and prayers to each other and for each other, or ignorance, fear, and hopelessness will win. Change takes time, but change is always possible.

So, let us pray!

Let us pray without ceasing!

Let us pray,

Together!

 

For Our Muslim Friends and Neighbors

(Many thanks to Rabbi Ron Fish of Temple Israel of Sharon for so beautifully articulating what so many of us cannot put into words.  It is my privilege to serve and minister in a community with such a close and caring Interfaith Clergy group.)

Dear members of the Muslim community of Sharon,

In the name of all that is good and merciful,

Our diverse interfaith community is shaken by the scenes of murder and terror directed at the Muslim community of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Worshipers gathered in fellowship and community at the al Noor and Linwood Mosques during Friday prayers. These houses of worship, like our own religious communities, were filled with people who had come from diverse backgrounds. Their prayers called for a world united in peace and justice, reflecting the brotherhood and sisterhood which exists within the walls of all of our sanctuaries. Yet they were met with murderous rage and racist hatred. A place and time of peace inexplicably became a blood stained killing field. For them, and for our broken world, we weep with you.

The terrorists who seek to disrupt the ties which bind the human family together can murder innocents. But they cannot divide us. Whatever our background or religious faith, we are all brothers and sisters. We grieve with you. We join you in our prayers for peace. We raise our voices with you in the demand that leaders must protect every house of prayer and every innocent human life. We call upon all human beings to expand the circle of human compassion and love, rather than fear and suspicion.

May the Source of life and peace bless you, and all our brothers and sisters.
Inshallah.

Your loving friends of the Sharon interfaith clergy

I Lift You Up

praying-man-hands_cropped

On the night that would be his last, Jesus prayed for those who had shared his journey, who would now be journeying on without him, “O God, I lift up to You those You have given me.”

One of our greatest gifts in life are the people God gives us as we journey along the Way. The people we cherish, the people we worry about, and even the people who annoy us. But the even greater gifts are the people who cherish us, the people who worry about us, and the people we ultimately annoy that still put up with us.

We have embarked on our Lenten journey into the wilderness. When Jesus sent his disciples out, he instructed them to bring nothing except a journey companion. Jesus sends them out in twos so that they will have to depend upon each other, and upon the kindness and generosity of strangers for a meal, for a drink of water, for a place to stay, for whatever they might need along the Way.

Jesus sends them out in pairs, so that when one falters, the other can help. When one is lost, the other can seek the way. When one is discouraged, the other can hold faith for both of them for a while. That’s what the company of believers does – we hold onto each other, console each other, encourage and embolden each other, and sometimes, we even believe for each other. There is one more thing we do that sets us apart as people of faith, we pray for each other.

I am re-reading a favorite book, called “Living Prayer,” by Robert Benson. In it, he talks about our occasional difficulty and discomfort with praying. What are the “right” words? What is the “right” thing to pray for? What is the “right” way to pray? He shares this story of one man’s answer to those questions.

“I remember Charles saying…that he hardly knew how to pray for himself, much less anyone else. ‘So I just say their names,’ he said, ‘and sort of picture them in the last place I saw them. Then I am quiet for as long as I can be, just sort of lifting them up in my mind, looking at their face, trying to see what it holds. And, for a while, it seems that I am carrying a part of whatever they are having to carry.’”

Let us lift up in our prayers those who have been given to us, and to whom we have been given. Each time we reach out our hands to each other, or lean on each other, or cry on each other’s shoulders, or carry each other in prayer…the kingdom of God is at hand.

“O God, I lift up to You those You have given me.”

Breaking Down the Barriers

 

Berlin wall 2

Ephesians 2:11 – 22

How many of you remember the Berlin wall being torn down in 1989?

I remember being glued to my television set as that symbol of division and isolation came down. I remember people swarming the wall, climbing up on it and dancing along the top. Some of them jumped down into the arms of the crowd waiting on the other side.

I sat enthralled watching the reunions of families and neighbors that had been cut off from each other without warning, that hadn’t seen each other in decades, that were now rushing into one another’s embrace.

I saw soldiers that the day before had been enemies patrolling the wall with guns, smiling as they joined together with citizens of both sides in the work of tearing it down. It was a giddy, exhilarating experience of freedom and re-union unfolding before me.

That’s the level of celebration, triumph, and reunion, that the author of Ephesians is trying to convey in this letter – the idea that through Jesus Christ there are no more dividing walls.  That we can all unite as one family, that we can meet and embrace one another because Christ is the bridge across the barriers that separate us.

Christ has come to “create in himself one new humanity…, thus making peace.” A person can’t be at peace with God if they are not at peace with their neighbor.
We are a collective entity – like the Quaking Aspen trees in Colorado.  They appear to be separate trees but their roots are completely connected making them a single organism –

It is the same with us, a treasure of individual uniqueness with roots that are deeply interconnected – what impacts one, impacts all.

Unfortunately, our world is full of walls. Everywhere we go, there are fences, gates, and partitions…all aimed at keeping something or someone in and keeping something or someone out.

Don’t get me wrong, some walls can be very useful: the walls in our homes protect us against wind and rain, walls keep livestock safely in and predators out; walls help us separate spaces and improve organization and efficiency.

But we all know that walls, both literal and spiritual, can lead to grief, division and even violence and war. Kevin Baker, in an article called “Wrecking Crew” says, “All walls serve a purpose, but not all walls serve the purposes of God.”

That is the promise and challenge for us today. The more closely we follow Jesus, the more we turn our lives toward God, the more we have to ask ourselves, “what walls need to be torn down in order to re-unite us all as one people? To see ourselves as one humanity? To join together as the brothers and sisters that we are?”

Where are the walls in your life? Where does something need to be torn down to make way for reconciliation and peace? Who is standing on the outside of our walls, looking in?

If we look at the world with God’s eyes, we won’t see state or town lines, or countries, or property lines, or plot plans. We won’t hear dialects, or different languages, or see different races, or kingdoms, or political parties.

If we look at the world with God’s eyes, we will see only one creation, filled with creatures that are interdependent, that are connected by spirit, that are beautiful in their incredible diversity.

This letter to the Ephesians concludes, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

“Built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

What does God’s dwelling place look like?

I suggest when you get home, you look in the mirror…then look at your neighbor, look at your spouse, your parent, your child, and every stranger on the street.

Look at the world around you, the creatures that delight and amaze us, the plants that astound and sustain us – that is where God dwells. We are God’s dwelling place and our dwelling place is in God.

God’s dwelling place is not a building made with human hands, God’s dwelling place is created within human hearts united in love, united in peace, and united through Christ.  Christ tears down our walls and builds us up by reminding us we are all valued and loved by God. We are all related in and through the Holy Spirit.

It is important for us participate in knocking down all the walls that divide us. The walls that are not serving God’s purposes. So that we will no longer be strangers and aliens, locking ourselves in …

…locking each other out…

And we will finally see the world with God’s eyes… one creation, interdependent, connected by the spirit, all equal, all beloved citizen’s and members of the household of God…

Built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

 

Additional note: As I was writing this, I kept hearing these words of Sir Elton John from his song titled, “Breaking Down Barriers,”

I recall how it used to be
In my younger days
I built a wall all around my heart
To keep the pain away
I built it tall and I built it wide
I left no room for doubt
Your love still found its way inside
And couldn’t get back out

I’m breaking down the barriers
Making up my mind
I’m breaking down the barriers of time
I’m taking down the barriers
And loving what I find
I’m breaking down the barriers that lie
Between your love and mine

For my colleague and neighbor, Imam Abdul Rahman Ahmed

From the Sharon Interfaith Clergy Association

 

June 27, 2018

 

Imam Abdul Rahman Ahmed
Islamic Center of New England
74 Chase Road
Sharon, MA 02067

Dear Imam Ahmed,

We, your colleagues on the Sharon Interfaith Clergy Association, are writing this public letter to you and your community to express our friendship and deep distress in the wake of the US Supreme Court Decision, Trump v. Hawaii, of June 26, 2018. We share our grave fear that this decision, and the policy it affirms, does nothing to increase the safety of our nation while it delays, sometimes permanently, the reunification of Muslim families who are escaping persecution and violence in their home countries.

We affirm that you, our Muslim neighbors, are valued citizens and an indivisible part of the fabric of Sharon. You can count on us to stand with you in our common fight for dignity and for a country that recognizes that its strength is in its diversity.

With great respect and solidarity,

Rev. Lois K. Adams, First Baptist Church Sharon

Rev. Francis Balla, Hope Church Sharon

The Rev’d Jennifer D. Beal, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sharon

Rev. Wendy L. Bell, Interim Minister, Unitarian Church of Sharon

Rabbi Noah Cheses, Young Israel of Sharon

Rev. Francis J. Daly, Pastor, Our Lady of Sorrows

Rabbi Ron Fish, Temple Israel of Sharon

Rabbi David Jaffe, Kirva Institute and Sharon Interfaith Action

Rabbi Randy Kafka, Temple Kol Tikvah & Sharon Interfaith Action

Rev. Bill Kondrath

Rabbi Joseph Meszler, Temple Sinai of Sharon

Rabbi Rachel Silverman, Temple Israel of Sharon

Rev. Carol Steinbrecher, First Congregational Church of Sharon

*A few words of my own:  One of the most basic Christian teachings is this, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  Throughout the Bible, God’s most repeated instruction is variations on protecting widows, orphans, and sojourners – another word for refugees and migrants.

In Deuteronomy it says, “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge…you shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the refugees who are in your land within your towns.”

First John puts it most succinctly, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”

*These are excerpts from my Sunday sermon.  To read more, see my post titled, “Law and Order.”

 

Law and Order

legal-broken-gavel

Matthew 5: 17 – 26

I enjoy watching mysteries and courtroom dramas, but one of my greatest pet peeves is when a white-collar villain gets caught red-handed in some malicious financial scheme and says to the hero, “You will find that what I’ve done is perfectly legal.”

I always shout, “just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s RIGHT!”

Jesus knew that it was possible to abide by the letter of the law, like the Pharisees and Scribes, and still wreak havoc on the lives of others. Jesus knew because he watched rich, foreign lenders come in and capture the ancestral lands of his people when the farmers had to default on their loans during bad growing years.

Jesus knew that the “might” of the “law” didn’t mean “right” as he watched agrarian families drown under the burden of Roman taxation and mandatory temple tithing that made the rich more powerful, and made the poor indentured servants on their own land.

Jesus knew the law could be cold-hearted. He knew that it could be used to demean and oppress. He knew that a law that was left in the realm of letters and court rooms could often be used to accomplish the exact opposite of what it was originally intended for.

This is certainly still true today! We can do business in ways that are completely legal that leave workers destitute, can put their lives and health at risk, and that can ravage our environment without constraints.

It is getting easier and easier to brandish the law as a weapon, to use it with lethal accuracy to manipulate the world to benefit a few at the expense of far too many.

Jesus knew that when we do this, and when we allow this to be done, the law becomes incomplete, broken, a shadow of the glorious social-glue that it was meant to be.

Jesus knew that no matter what laws we write, no matter how well-intentioned, they can be twisted and manipulated, and that there is almost always some loophole to be found.

Jesus knew that we can NOT legislate integrity or a moral compass.

Jesus knew.

That is why Jesus moves the law from the realm of the letter, to the realm of the heart. Jesus was living the words of the prophet Jeremiah who said,“this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put My instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.”

Jesus is refining and deepening the law to enhance rather than to impede and divide human relationships. Jesus says, “You have heard it said, you shall not murder…but I say to you that If you are angry, you will be judged.”

Jesus preaches that it’s not enough to just physically refrain from killing someone. Jesus is preaching the radical message of the complete law, calling us not just to uphold the letter of the legal code, but to uphold the dignity and humanity of our companions in this world.

It is not enough to avoid killing. We must also avoid the anger that can lead to hatred and violence, the anger that can become spiteful or jealous; the anger that can fester and eat away at us; the anger that can tear down and destroy the dignity and reputation of another. If we seek life and wholeness, we will refuse to degrade others with our angry words – be they insults, gossip, or manipulative “back-stabbing”.

Jesus goes even further and says, “when you are offering your gift at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister.”

Jesus tells us that it is more important to seek reconciliation with our brother or sister, than to seek favor from God, that we should leave our gifts for God before the altar and immediately seek to make amends. Our first and foremost duty to God is to heal our relationships with each other wherever and whenever needed.

Following God’s laws and statutes and the 10 commandments, doesn’t make things better for God, they make the world better for us, for all of us – They make us better human beings and get us closer to God’s vision for a united and harmonious creation.

Following God’s law is not how we win God’s favor, it is how we participate in building God’s kingdom here on earth.

God’s most repeated law is variations on protecting widows, orphans, and sojourners – another word for refugees and migrants.

In Deuteronomy it says, “You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge….You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the refugees who are in your land within your towns.”

Many Psalms echo these sentiments and the prophets repeatedly proclaim them as we hear from Malachi, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.”

First John puts it most succinctly, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”

God expects us to take care of each other, to make room for the refugee, the widow, and the orphan…NOT to reject and arrest refugees, or to make their children orphans, or to create widows by tearing families apart, or denying them entry and sending them back into violence and fear we cannot fathom.

Our modern symbol of justice is blindfolded. This “blind” justice is intended to be unaware of status, fame or economic resources, ensuring that all people are equal under the law. However, that blindness too often includes turning a blind eye to the humanity of those being judged by the law.

Law for law’s sake, can only end up as cold-hearted legalism, and while it may preserve a kind of truce among people, it can never lead society, or the individuals in it, to God’s dream of a creative, connected, glorious wholeness.

The new law that Jesus brought about – or rather the fulfilled law, the complete law – is not blind. Rather it sees with incredible clarity and compassion, right through to the dignity and humanity of all people. Jesus new law, invites us all to release our obsession with the letter of the law, and allow our hearts to be inscribed, to allow our hearts to be the place where God’s law does its work.

If we will follow Jesus into this “living by heart” we will discover that God’s law, in its complete, heart-capturing form, leads us to life, and teaches us to be life-bringers with everyone we encounter.

God’s law will only be complete when it is written on our hearts. It can only give us life and bring people together when it is carved into the very core of our being and becomes who we are and how we are together…

…in compassionate, caring, community, united as one body and one heart, in and through Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Did you hear?

Those who break the commandments shall be called least…

But did you notice one more thing?

They are still in God’s kingdom.

Jesus doesn’t throw anyone out.

Neither should we.

After Everyone Has Gone

candle smoking 2

After everyone has gone
I linger in the dark
like the tendrils of smoke
drifting from the Christ candle
from all those candles
Blown out
but not extinguished

I have collected all the colorful
Christmas Eve programs
strewn like confetti
on the worn wooden pews

I have switched off the lights
balcony, back hall,
front and rear chandeliers
choir loft and cross spotlight

The only light
streams in through the clear glass windows
glowing streaks of starlight, moonlight, ghostlight,
God light

I kneel by the table overflowing with blood red poinsettias
not such a bad place to end my busy days
kneeling here at Jesus table
where all are so warmly welcomed

Kneeling

Is so uncomfortable
I’m never quite sure I will be able to rise again

God chuckles

and lifts me up on eagle’s wings
for one breathless moment
I sail soaked in star shine
Glimpsing
All that has ever been
All that is
And all that will ever be

I blink

I sigh

There is only a toy manger
with a baby doll inside
smiling sweetly at me

Feeling slightly silly

I smile back

For one more stolen moment
I linger in the dark
after everyone has gone

But I am not alone.