Lenten Prayer for Today

My prayer is that the Body of Christ finds renewal in its ability to worship and work together, as in its earliest beginning: different voices, different perspectives, different gifts, but the same Jesus of Nazareth.

My prayer is for a miracle of unity in the God-made wonderfully diverse body of Christ, not sameness but diversity, not uniformity of ways to love and live and be in our families but the matchless power of love for neighbor (“other”) as self.

My prayer is that we do not give up on that, no matter what. We can do it, by God’s grace. Yes, we can. Let’s remember God’s original promise. That’s the promise to keep! No division! No confusion! What’s not to understand? No, it isn’t easy. It never was. It’s sacrificial.

“And so I am giving a new commandment to you now—love each other just as much as I love you. Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

A Hindu Peace Prayer

I desire neither earthly kingdom, nor even freedom

from birth and death.

I desire only the deliverance from grief of all those

afflicted by misery.

Oh Lord, lead us from the unreal to the real; from

darkness to light; from death to immortality.

May there be peace in celestial regions.

May there be peace on earth.

May the waters be appeasing.

May herbs be wholesome and may trees and plants

bring peace to all.

May all beneficent beings bring peace to us.

May your wisdom spread peace all through the world.

May all things be a source of peace to all and to me.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (Peace, Peace, Peace).

          –M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence

The Greatest Love of All: A Sermon

A Sermon: The Greatest Love of All

Webster defines sermon as religious discourse delivered by clergy, and Dictionary.com includes in its listing a modern take on it: long, tedious speech.

Are sermons helpful? Is a sermon a show or a teaching? Is it useful teaching? Or is it typically a soon-forgot distraction for declining numbers of us, a familiar entertainment which might just cause us to nap like we do during our favorite weekly television show?

To avoid tedium, sometimes today’s sermons are dramatic productions that include video clips, the preacher singing, shouting, or even engaging in some athletics.

The ancient sermons of Jesus were far from tedious, though I don’t think he jumped around, sang, or whooped. Yet his teachings were rousers that unnerved listeners, made some angry, and never put anyone to sleep, as Apostle Paul’s did, as far we know.

What I admire most about the teachings of Jesus is their freshness, their newness. They never fail to give hearers fresh new ways to think about whatever they’re thinking about, new ways to understand and respond to traditions, fresh takes on avoiding divisive cultures.

My favorite is his sermon on the greatest commandments. I’m awakened by his insight that while we’re not God, we’re made like God and can (must!) love thusly. And I’m taken aback by the starkness of his clarification on how we can measure our love for God.

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great, first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

In our contemporary vernacular, like is not a compelling word. Indeed, it’s a rather weak word: I like frozen yogurt. Susan likes to go swimming. Your brother, Fred, looks like my cousin Henry. A sermon is like a weekly television show.

But, on the contrary, Jesus used the word like to illustrate critical concepts. He used like to break down something he really wants us to get: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31). The kingdom of heaven is like leaven (Matthew 13:33). The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44). Using their everyday language and familiar experiences, Jesus helped his first-century listeners perceive truth.

What is that truth?

The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed which, when planted by a farmer, can grow to be the biggest of plants, even a tree, that will be a place where birds can live!

What is that truth?

The kingdom of heaven is like the smallest bit of yeast which, when a baker mixes it with a large amount of flour, will cause it all to rise!

What is that truth?

The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure! Like a young sheepherder whose own family doesn’t see his king potential. Like a child, born in a barn, whose vast greatest is yet to be known.

What is that truth?

We are all made by God to be lovers of God; yes, we can! But the only true measure of our success at that is the measure of our God-like love for all others: our inclusive love of all our neighbors, a love as deep as the love we have for ourselves, our own families, our own countries. Yes, we can, and we must! All right theology, all purposes of God, every aspect of obedience and honor we show to God rest on that.

A Blog from November 1, 2020: Thinking of My Mother Today and Missing Her…

This morning when I was going through some bibles, notes, and other such worship materials belonging to my mother (who died in 2014), I noticed a well-worn pamphlet her lifelong best friend gave her more than forty years ago when she was facing difficulties. My mom faced and overcame many difficulties. The pamphlet is titled, Scripture Confessions for Healing: Life-Changing Words of Faith for Every Day.

I’d like to share one page from it with you:

I Will Not Give Up

“Even though I may be surrounded by oppressors, I am never smothered or crushed by them. I may suffer embarrassments and become perplexed, and it may seem that there is no way out, but I still will not be driven to despair. Even though I may be pursued, persecuted, and hard driven, God will never desert me and make me stand alone. Even though I may be struck down to the ground, I will never be struck out or destroyed. No matter what difficulties or obstacles may come my way, I will never, never, never quit!I will not faint in the time of adversity because God is with me. I am strong and very courageous. I am persistent and undaunted in my faith. I shall never quit, and I will not yield. I will not bow my knee to sickness. I am steadfast and unmovable. I am valiant and fearless, determined and resolute in my faith. I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. No weapon formed against me shall prosper. I will not lose heart; I will not weaken or cave in. Victory is mine. I am relentless in my pursuit of total and complete wellness and wholeness for my body.”

Scripture references: Joshua 1:9, Hebrews 13:5, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Shielded By Love, Be Encouraged!

A sermon by Valarie Kaur presented at Middle Church on April 28, 2017

Can Racism End with Education? Then, Let’s Educate Ourselves…

Looking for a book about racism for your teen?

Here is a highly-recommended title, written especially for teens, by Tiffany Jewell. It has been described as “thoughtful and gentle,” and at the same time “effective in equipping young people with tools they can use to be anti-racist” in conversations with others.  You can help the ministry of The Well of Dyersburg continue if you order this book by clicking on the linked title below to make your purchase. The Well of Dyersburg will receive a small percentage of the price if the purchase is completed when you visit Amazon via this link:

  Click here: This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work 

  You might find other items of interest on the “Donations & Store” page or information of interest on the “Links” page on this website.

Dios Cuidará de Ti. 

Nunca desmayes, que en el afán
Dios cuidará de ti;
sus fuertes alas te cubrirán,
Dios cuidará de ti.

Estribillo:
Dios cuidará de ti 
y por doquier contigo irá;
Dios cuidará de ti,
nada te faltará.

Si desfalleces en tu labor,
Dios cuidará de ti;
si ves peligros en derredor
Dios cuidará de ti. [Estribillo]

Nunca en la prueba sucumbirás,
Dios cuidará de ti;
en su regazo te apoyarás,
Dios cuidará de ti. [Estribillo]

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath his wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you,
through ev’ry day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you. [Refrain]

No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon his breast,
God will take care of you. [Refrain]

Lyricist: Civilla D. Martin, 1866-1948

WWJD? He Would Protest!

  • Today’s post is borrowed from a friend of mine, Pastor Joe Kay. Joe points out that Jesus confronted the powerful leaders of his time, including religious leaders. Jesus spoke truth to power and even went on at least one protest march!

In 2004, Mel Gibson directed a film called “The Passion of the Christ.” Perhaps you’re familiar with it. The movie focuses on Jesus’ final hours, depicting his death in gruesome detail.

The rest of his life is mostly edited out.

Some of us were raised in traditions that focus almost exclusively on Jesus’ suffering and death – referred to as his passion – while skipping what he was passionate about. The lessons he taught, the love he embodied, the relationships he established are relegated to verses recited on Sunday but relegated to the cutting floor the rest of the time.

The truth is that Jesus’ suffering and death weren’t his passion; they were the price he paid for his passion. And there’s a lesson in this story for all of us about living with the same passion.

He was passionate about healing and reconciliation, not only us to God but to one another as well. He passionately announced, embodied and created a sacred space where everyone is welcomed and treated as the beloved child of God that they are.

This alternate kingdom was the antithesis of Caesar’s kingdom, then and now.

The price for living passionately

He preached about God’s deep passion for the needy, the struggling, the oppressed – woe to the rich, blessed are the poor, the least are the greatest, help anyone who is bleeding by the side of the road. He made whole again anyone who came to him for healing.

And justice – he was deeply passionate about justice.

Gospel stories describe him staging a provocative Palm Sunday procession that confronts Caesar’s values of power, wealth, dominance, violence, and militarism.

He was passionately prophetic by overturning the tables of those who misuse religion – then and now – to amass power, preserve the status quo, and ignore the needs of those they are supposed to serve.

This was his passion. He lived it. He paid a price for it. And he invites us – no matter what faith or religious background — to do the same and live in a passionate way that challenges the status quo and heals the world. He challenges us to put our passionate lives on the line for those who are being trampled by the many opportunistic political and religious leaders of our world.

Each of us can, in our own unique way, bring love, healing, reconciliation, restoration and resurrection to our world, our society, our relationships. We’re forced to choose between between living passionately or playing it safe and never truly living at all, which is an even greater price to pay.

Jesus knew there would be a cost for his passion– there always is. He lived it anyway. May we, too, live passionate lives sustained by transformative love and daily resurrection.

A Lenten Prayer

Bread from Heaven

“I will send bread down from heaven like rain. Each day the people can go out and gather only enough for that day. That’s how I will see if they obey me. (Exodus 16:4)

The scripture I chose for this Lenten reflection reminded me of a discussion I had a few days ago with several of my students about Psalm 22. We discussed the verse in which the psalmist declares that, due to Yahweh’s goodness, the poor will not only have just enough to eat but that they will have enough to be fully satisfied (v. 26: “The poor will eat and be full.”).

After the class ended, I recalled former days when I was a poor, self-supporting young student who, though usually able to gather together enough dollar bills and coins to eat a little something at most meals, often needed to restrain herself and save a portion of each small meal, setting aside some for the next morning in order to avoid going to school or work hungry. I was poor. So, I had to intentionally limit my satisfaction. But Psalm 22 reminded me that God wants even the poor to enjoy hearty meals. Exodus 16:16 also makes that clear in God’s instructions regarding the bread from heaven: “Collect as much of it as each of you can eat.”

The scriptures I’ve cited in this post reveal God’s willingness to satisfy us completely as we develop strong, close relationships with God. We don’t have to stay in situations outside God’s will for us simply to have plenty to eat. Instead, we can go wherever God calls us and trust God to provide for us in any wilderness to which God beckons us to live, learn, and serve.

We can freely engage fully in the daily life God destines for us. We can relish the provisions God sends as they come to us each day. We can believe that our God who created us and knows us wants all our needs to be fully satisfied. We can depend on God and on God’s timing.

A Lenten Prayer:   Our dear Holy God, help us focus on living lives that satisfy you. Guide us to be more and more like our brother, Jesus. Grant every desire of our hearts as you align all our hearts’ desires completely with your will. Amen.