Rowboats and Sailboats

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of imagehosts.                                           Zechariah 4:6b

Are you a rowboat or a sailboat?  I recently read a description of churches distinguishing between rowboat churches and sailboat churches, and I think the analogy can be applied to people as well as congregations.*

A rowboat person takes stock of the gifts and talents God has provided, rolls up their sleeves, and says, okay, it’s time for me to get to work.  They are grateful for what God has provided, offer thanks, and then step forward to add their contributions.  They assess, can I do this.  If the answer is yes, They work hard, stay focused and get the job done.

A sailboat person, however, has a different approach.  They don’t pick up the paddle and start moving the boat forward under their own power in the direction their paddling takes them.  No, they set their sails to catch the wind of God’s Spirit.  Yes, they have to put up the sails and tend the tiller, but they leave room throughout their life for God’s Spirit to be present.  With God involved, they are always attentive to the way God is setting the direction of the wind and providing for forward momentum on God’s path, because when they move with the wind, they go farther and faster.

Sometimes, we get caught up in acting like rowboats, choosing the direction, working up a sweat trying to get where we want to go.  We listen for God’s call, and then decide if we’re equipped to do that.  If we decide to move forward, we’re grateful for the boat and our strength, give thanks to the Lord, and then forget about God as we start rowing.  Prayer becomes the bookends of our lives – maybe a short morning prayer or devotion, then a day of hard work followed by a short prayer at bedtime.  God set a direction, we waved goodbye, and headed out from port.

But God wants more for us.  God’s desire is to be in communion with us, to share the load in all we do, to fill our sails and help us set a direction by which we can go farther.  To become a sailboat, however, we have to be attentive to the wind throughout our journey, sensitive to shifts in the wind, looking for the new things God is doing, and always seeking to be faithful.  Prayer is no longer reciting words – it is seeking God and resting in God’s presence, doing our part but always aware of God’s leading, trusting the Lord.

Who will you be today?  A rowboat, thanking God and then intent on getting through the day by yourself?  Or a sailboat, tacking as needed to keep God’s Spirit filling your life and sending you forward?

Prayer:  Spirit of God, fill my life today.  Keep me always running before the wind, depending on you for direction and looking to stay focused on your presence every moment of my day.  Remind me again and again that apart from you, my accomplishments are empty.  With your power in my life, however, I can be an on-going  witness for the love and grace of God.  This I ask through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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*The analogy comes from Joan S. Gray’s book, Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers, Geneva Press, 2009.

 

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Praying for Clinton and Trump?

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First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

                                                                                                1 Timothy 2:1-2

 

In 1981, James Hinkley, Jr., attempted to assassinate President Reagan in an effort to impress Jodie Foster, the actress about whom Hinkley was obsessed.  Although Reagan survived, his Press Secretary, James Brady, was shot and paralyzed.  In 2014, he died from causes related to the shooting over thirty years prior.  After the shooting, Brady and his wife became activists for gun control.  At one point, Brady’s wife was struggling with her anger at the press for what she was as mistreatment of her husband in newspaper articles.  She struggled with her anger, not knowing how to get over it.  A wise pastor counseled her to begin praying for reporters, and not just praying for some amorphous group, but to pray for one or two by name as individuals.

In the beginning Mrs. Brady struggled to pray anything meaningful, but she kept at it. Day after day, she asked God to bless and support specific reporters who had been especially harsh in their words about her husband.  Her prayers were half-hearted at first, praying because she had to, not because she truly wanted the object of her prayers to be blessed.  She reports that it took quite a while, but at last she began to pray in a new way.  She discovered that the act of praying for someone had, over time, opened her heart to care about them and to want what was best for them.  Her prayers became genuine expressions of care and concern.

In the letter to Timothy, Paul reminds us that we are not invited to pick and choose for whom we will pray.  God expects us to offer prayer support to all of our leaders.  If you’re a Republican, that means praying for President Obama and Hillary Clinton; if you’re a Democrat, it means offering prayers for Donald Trump and Paul Ryan.  At first those prayers may be half-hearted and elementary, but if you stick with it, praying regularly for the leaders with whom you disagree as well as those you support, you may find, over time, that your heart opens to care for them as God cares for them.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with their policies or support their positions, but it does mean that you and I can learn to exercise that love for one another that is God’s expectation for all people.

When we move beyond simplistic prayers to truly seeking the good for another person, we discover that they are a whole person, not just some demagogue.  We are reminded that each of us needs forgiveness, grace and love.  And we may learn that the ones we like are as flawed as those with whom we disagree.  Furthermore, whether we support a particular leader or not, they are often in a position where their words and actions can have tremendous influence in our world.  Should we not keep them in prayer, asking God to help their words and actions build people up rather than tearing down and destroying?

So I invite you in the campaign season to begin a discipline of prayer, asking God’s blessing not only on the candidates you support, but on those with whom you disagree.  Let us love one another, showing that caring spirit in our prayers, as we lift before the Lord all “who are in high positions.”

Prayer:   Gracious God, you have called us to love one another and to seek the good for each other.  And so today I lift up to you (name of politician you do not support).  I pray that you will bless them in their life.  In this campaign season, give them strength and stamina, clarity of thought and insight into the needs of your people.  Help me to care about them as an individual even when I disagree with their policies.  Open their heart to your love, that they may lead in ways that offer life and love to the world.  For I pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

All Right or All Wrong?

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.                              image

                                 Romans 3:23

I wasn’t really aware of Gold Star families until the controversy between Donald Trump and the Khan family.  Hearing several of the families discuss the loss of loved ones in active duty, I gained an appreciation for the sacrifice these families gave tad to make for our nation.  So earlier this week, when I found myself behind a car with a license plate indicating they were a Gold Star family, I was immediately predisposed to feel good about them.  That lasted about three minutes!

We were exiting Route 202 and approaching the traffic light where the ramp met the main road.  I watched as the Gold Star family car slowed as the light changed to yellow and then to red.  With his left turn blinker on, the driver had ample time to stop, but after slowing briefly, he seemed to change his mind.  Stepping on the gas, he blew through the red light, careening around the corner as the cars on the main road began to move.

I was reminded that none of us is perfect.  As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, the line between good and evil runs through the center of the human heart.  Most of us are a combination of the two.  We are honorable in some areas, and scoundrels in others.  Even Hillary and Donald have good points and bad ones.

Seeing people in terms of absolutes is one way to demonize a person, to steal their humanity away.  It is important not to idealize people as if they had no faults, nor to condemn them as if they had no value as persons.  We are all a mixture of self-interest and self-sacrifice, a melange of greed and generosity.  Too much of our contemporary debate ignores that.  We paint people in monochrome – all good or all bad – whether in political debate or ecclesiastical debate.  When we demonize or idealize people, we structure disagreements in ways that preclude any reasonable discussion.  After all, if they are evil, so is every idea they have and I can dismiss everything they say. 

When we are tempted to dismiss someone’s words, we need to stop and ask ourselves, have I given thought to this idea, or am I dismissing it because of who it came from?  And when we find ourselves painting someone with that monochromatic paintbrush, we can stop and take stock of both the good and the bad they represent.  Most of all, we can pray for those with whom we disagree, asking God’s blessing for them.  In that way, we can move ourselves a little more to the good side of the line through our own heart.

Prayer:  Gracious Lord, through Jesus Christ you came to a people mired in sin and affirmed the  good within us.  Help me to see others in that same way – to recognize the sinfulness and evil while still affirming the good and righteous.  Keep me from reducing people to two dimensional figures who exist only in my imagination.  Show me once more how to love even the unlovely, and to challenge those I admire.  Most of all, remind me that I am a mixture of admirable traits and dishonorable qualities.   Forgive my failures to live in imitation of Christ.  Empower me anew to live in response to your call to my better self.  Amen.

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WHO YOU GONNA CALL?

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The new Ghostbusters movie opened this past week across the nation. Thirty years after the original, a new foursome tackles the battle against the supernatural powers of chaos. Some things are different; for example, the main characters are all women this time around. But just like thirty years ago, we’ll be hearing cries of “Who ya gonna call?” all around us. And for the next several weeks, the answer will come, “Ghostbusters!”

But fictional characters in a movie can’t really change the world around us.  In this political season, we need to remember that even the President of the US and other political figures are limited in their impact.  There is only one we can call on who has the power to create in us a new heart, to model absolute love, and to change the world – the God of Jesus Christ. When our lives are out of control, when we worry that we cannot find a way forward, who else would we call but God?

Over the last few weeks we have seen violence in too many places. Shootings by police, shootings of police, nearly one hundred killed in an intentional truck crash in France, the list goes on and on. We look at the conflicts behind these acts of violence, the animosity between people based on race or religion, and we wonder how on earth we can find peaceful resolution and reconciliation. Left to our own devices, the answer is probably that we can’t. But we are not on our own. When the world threatens to overwhelm, when the obstacles seem insurmountable, who are we gonna call? We can call on the name of the Lord in prayer. We have a God who cares about us, listens to us and wants what is best for us.

So as we go forward as a church, as a nation, as a world, let’s remember that there is one we can call on who has already won the battle with sin and death, one we can turn to whose love for us is steadfast and whose power is infinite. The God of Jesus Christ is there for us, waiting for us to turn and reach out in prayer and in love.

Prayer: Almighty God, we look around us and see such overwhelming problems, and we wonder if peace and reconciliation are a possibility in this world. Remind us that we do not tackle these problems alone. You are there for us if we will just call on you. Turning to you in prayer, may we follow your will. Sensing your presence and love, may we live this day with courage and hope. For I ask it in the name of the Lord. Amen.
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The Rev. Dr. Bronwyn Yocum

Call to Prayer for our Nation

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If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, then I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
                                                                               2 Chronicles 7:14

This past week’s events have left many people wondering, what can I do?  Over the months ahead, there will be many suggestions and opportunities to live out our faith as Christians in loving our neighbor, no matter who that might be.  But right now, I want to invite all of my friends to unite in prayer for our nation and her people.

To that end, I invite you to take time each evening this week to pause for a time of prayer and reflection.  A National Week of Prayer began Sunday evening at 9:06 pm.  Perhaps you would pause at 9:06 each night.  If that isn’t a convenient time, select another time and commit to praying each evening.  I invite you to pray for an end to violence in our communities, for safety both for our police and for persons of color.  Ask God to intervene and raise up a way forward through which we can be united as a people.
And you may want to pray for direction from God on how you personally could act to be salt and light to the community around you, helping to find peaceful ways to strengthen community relations and ensure justice for all people.
You are welcome to pray using your own words , but if you would like some direction for your prayer and meditation, the prayers and Scripture below may prove helpful.  Let us unite our hearts and minds together in prayer, knowing that God is present, working in ways seen and unseen, to bring about a world of peace, justice and love.
 
Bron
 
1 Timothy 2:1-4
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
 
Psalm 33 selections
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all humanity;
From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth – 
he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do…
We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
 
From Alan Paton in the midst of Apartheid
O Lord, open my eyes
that I may see the need of others,
open my ears that I may hear their cries,
open my heart so that they need not be without succor.
Let me not be afraid to defend the weak
because of the anger of the strong,
nor afraid to defend the poor
because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use me to bring them to these places.
Open my eyes and ears that I may, this coming day,
be able to do some work of peace for thee.
 
Prayer of St. Francis
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

 
And finally, from Bishop Desmond Tutu – Prayer for South Africa but just as applicable to the United States
Bless our beautiful land, O Lord,
with its wonderful variety of people,
of races, cultures and languages.
May we be a nation of laughter and joy,
of justice and reconciliation,
of peace and unity,
of compassion, caring and sharing.
We pray this prayer for a true patriotism,
in the powerful name of Jesus our Lord. 
 
 
The Rev. Dr. Bronwyn Yocum