Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter Services

March 27, 2016

John 21:4-17        

Easter Sunrise Meditation

Many years ago, when I taught junior and senior high Sunday school, I invited the students to follow Jesus through Holy Week.  I told them that they would want Jesus—expect Jesus—to be with them in their times of difficulty and challenge.  When they prayed, they would want to know they had been heard.  That’s great, but discipleship is a like a two-way street.  Jesus told his disciples that if they loved him, they would follow him.  Holy Week is not an easy journey.  For my students, who had already studied the first part of a gospel, it involved lots of time and was pretty inconvenient:  Palm Sunday worship, a meal on Maundy Thursday followed by worship and a long period of silent prayer, worship on Friday afternoon or evening, and Easter sunrise service.  I drove all over our neighborhood picking up kids throughout the week.  I was most surprised to find them dressed and ready to go before dawn on Easter.  Today, three are pastors, one of whom was just appointed a District Superintendent, and many of the others continue to participate in the life of the Church.  They are disciples.  
     Here we are this Easter morning, out as the sun comes up on the shore waiting to hear those words the first disciples heard, “He is risen!”  I like meeting Jesus this way.  When I was a teenager, Easter sunrise was celebrated in a football stadium with canon fire—honest!  That’s some form of triumphalism!  But that wasn’t his disciples’ experience.  On an early morning, they found an empty tomb.  They were astonished by a sudden appearance in a locked room where they huddled in fear for their lives.  They met Jesus on the shore one morning where he had prepared a breakfast of fish.  And Peter, the disciple that had denied that he knew Jesus three times as Jesus was being tried and beaten had to face Jesus’ questions.  Three times, “Do you love me?”  One for each denial.  And with those three questions, Jesus wiped the slate clean.  “Now go and feed my sheep.”  “Have some breakfast, you have work to do.”  Discipleship is a job.

This has been kind of a Peter week for me—the kind of week when I was a little more than grumpy when Jesus showed up in the guise of several persons needing help.  I hope I wasn’t as rude as I felt inside.  Each time I was grumbling and figuring a way to dodge ministry because I had a lot of work to do.  And every time, I heard Jesus’ voice, “When you did that for the least of these. . .”  But I didn’t want to see Jesus in any of those folks.  And when I got to the prayer of confession on Maundy Thursday, just hours after my last attempted denial, it was as if a cock crowed.  Is it ever that way for you?  I come here in the cool of the morning because, if I’m going to be a disciple, I need to hear Jesus ask me over and over again if I love him.  I need to start with a clean slate.  The miracle of Easter is that Jesus always meets me with kind eyes and a loving heart.  And this morning there is even a bit of fish on the fire to feed us before sending us out to feed his sheep.  And, by the way, that’s our job when we leave here.  Feed someone else.  That’s what disciples do.  They share God’s love with the next person in whatever form that person needs.  So have some fish this morning and share some love.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
Luke 24:1-12

10 a.m. Worship: We Are an Easter People

We are a people shaped by the resurrection—not the crucifixion, but the resurrection.  Did you know that images of the crucifixion, or the death of Jesus, did not appear in churches until the 10th century?  Almost a thousand years after Jesus.  Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock have written a brilliant book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.  I suggest you read it.  For those of you who may not know, Rebecca Parker was pastor of this church from 1987-89 and has been until very recently the president of the Starr King School in Berkley.  Rebecca and Rita searched for early images of the crucifixion through the Mediterranean, but found none earlier than the 10th century.  In fact, in the Italian city of Ravenna, they discovered a 26 panel depiction of Jesus’ life in a 6th century church.  The Last Supper was in the middle beginning the Passion narrative.  On the 10th panel of the Passion, Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus’ cross.  They expected the crucifixion to fill the next panel, but it did not.  Instead there is the scene from this morning’s gospel reading.  Two women are leaning forward in astonishment where an angel is speaking to them from an empty tomb.  The final panels show the risen Christ with Thomas and the other disciples and on the road to Emmaus.  The authors write:
We found no Crucifixions in any of Ravenna’s early churches.  The death of Jesus, it seemed, was not a key to meaning, not an image of devotion, not a ritual symbol of faith for the Christians who worshipped among the churches’ glittering mosaics.  The Christ they saw was the incarnate, risen Christ, the child of baptism, the healer of the sick, the teacher of his friends, and the one who defeated death and transfigured the world with the Spirit of life.
No death, only life.  But not just ordinary life—a return to Paradise.  Not heaven after death, but Paradise restored here and now.  What an amazing concept!
The early Church understood the day of Resurrection to be the restoration of Paradise and the beginning of Eternity.  Baptism in the name of Jesus was an entrance to new life, eternal life in Paradise.  I love this story from Janet Wolf, a United Methodist pastor in the deep South, that illustrates how powerful that new life can be.
In a world that pronounces so many of us “not good enough,” what might it mean to believe that we really are chosen, precious, and beloved?  In a new members’ class we talked about baptism: this holy moment when we are named by God’s grace with such power it won’t come undone.
Fayette was there—a woman living on the streets, struggling with mental illness and lupus.  She loved the part about baptism and would ask over and over, “And when I’m baptized, I am . . .?”  We soon learned to respond, “Beloved, precious child of God and beautiful to behold.”  “Oh, yes!” she’d say, and then we could go back to our discussion.
The big day came.  Fayette went under, came up spluttering, and cried, “And now I am . . .?”  And we all sang, “Beloved, precious child of God and beautiful to behold.”  “Oh, yes!” she shouted as she danced all around the fellowship hall.
Two months later I got a call.  Fayette had been beaten and raped and was at the county hospital.  So I went.  I could see her from a distance, pacing back and forth.  When I got to the door, I heard, “I am beloved . . .”  She turned, saw me, and said, “I am beloved, precious child of God, and. . . .”  Catching sight of herself in the mirror—hair sticking up, blood and tears streaking her face, dress torn, dirty, and rebuttoned askew, she started again, “I am beloved, precious child of God, and. . . .”  She looked in the mirror again and declared, “. . . and God is still working on me.  If you come back tomorrow, I’ll be so beautiful I’ll take your breath away!”

Fayette was counting on resurrection.  How like Paradise would it be to know that no matter what others may say or do to you, or what you may see in the mirror, you know deep in your bones that you are a beloved, precious child of God?  
How like Paradise would it have been in the early Church to have eaten the Lord’s Supper together around a table with men and women, with slaves alongside masters?  With rich and poor?  How like Paradise to receive gifts from a sister Church when times were difficult and food was scarce?  I was in a large gathering of island neighbors yesterday.  We were members of the same political party.  We shared many of the same values.  But it wasn’t Paradise.  Here with you this morning is like Paradise.  I know how you take care of one another.  I have seen you sign up for shifts to be with someone who has just returned from surgery.  I have received your kindness in the form of meals when I was sick.  I know how many rides you offer, chores you do, invitations to fellowship, check-in calls you make, cookies you bake, dishes you do.  I’ve discovered you cleaning up someone else’s kitchen, mowing someone else’s lawn.  I know you share vegetables and wood and tools, and a listening ear.  I know how much pastoral care happens when you say you’re having coffee.  I know how you pray for one another.  I’ve heard you ask how you can help.  Do you know how like Paradise this is compared with the world outside?  There is life here because there is love here.
We are by no means perfect, but we do love one another the best that we can.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we care for one another and for our neighbors.  So if you’re struggling to find a way forward today, know that you will find a loving and supportive community here.  I won’t and can’t promise that God will rescue you, but God will hold you, I can promise that, and we will walk with you.  We will listen to you and encourage you because we have all been in a dark place and have found new life.  We have learned that we do not have to be afraid because God’s love is all about life, and life is all about how we love one another.
I believe with Jesus that God’s love cannot be defeated and that God’s love will continue to work miracles through us when we share that love in community.  New life can be ours every day when we follow Jesus.  Paradise is ours to discover right here and right now. We are an Easter people, fully alive.  Alleluia is our song!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Extravagant Love

March 13, 2016

Isaiah 43:16-21
John 12:1-8

     Every year when the Southeast Seattle Clergy Association gathered to plan our joint ecumenical worship service for Good Friday, our colleague and friend Jeff Barker always asked if we could sing one of his favorite songs, “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley.”  And every year before she retired, another dear colleague Pat Taylor argued that the song is theologically incorrect.  We never walk alone through any trial.  God is always with us.  And Jeff would argue that although that may be true, it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time.  The biblical record indicates that for Jesus, his walk through several trials, beatings, and crucifixion was indeed a lonesome valley.  No one, at least no human walked that path with him.  
     Except that we do have this lovely story from the gospel of John in which six days before the Passover—that would be five days before his death—Jesus ate in the home of his dear friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Even while they were still celebrating Lazarus’ return to their lives, the storm was gathering around Jesus.  Jesus and his disciples had heard the death threats.  They knew that Herod had people looking for him.  Jesus’ felt fairly certain that this would be his last time in Jerusalem.  He had tried to prepare his disciples for what he expected to happen, but they were in denial.  That’s not so hard to understand.  We have a hard time preparing for death.  It is much more common for family members and friends to continue to press for a cure than to enter the valley with someone who is dying.  Hospice workers have begun to change the dynamics surrounding death, but conscious companioning through the process of dying is still rare.  
    Mary is one of those rare companions.  As the storm darkened around Jesus, she listened to what he was saying.  Maybe it is because her own experience of grief was still so fresh that she was attuned to what was under Jesus’ feeling of impending doom.  Instead of imposing her own wishes, she gently entered his vision of the future.  Setting her own fear aside, she was present to his fear.  She took a pound of very expensive perfume, the kind you would use to anoint a dead body, and knelt down in front of him.  She tenderly bathed his feet with the perfume, and then she did something very unusual.  She wiped his feet with her long hair.  Now this is pure speculation, because the scriptures don’t tell us, but I think there must have been a towel nearby.  I don’t think she wiped his feet with her hair because that’s all she had to use.  I think she wiped his feet with her hair because she wanted the smell of the perfume to cling to her as well.  She told him without words that she believed what he said, that she understood the gravity of the coming days, and that when he caught a whiff of that scent from his own body, he would know that one person was with him.  Scientists tell us that the sense that triggers the most emotionally potent memories is the sense of smell.  Normal hygiene in Jesus’ day would have ensured that the fragrance that filled the room as Mary anointed Jesus’ feet would still have lingered on his skin and in her hair throughout his ordeal.  It would have reminded them both of her spirit’s presence even when he had to walk alone.
     After the perfume is poured out, Jesus quiets the argument among his disciples over the waste of the expensive perfume which could have been sold to benefit the poor, by saying that Mary bought the perfume so that she might keep it for the day of his burial.  An odd thing to say after it is gone.
This does not diminish Jesus’ love for the poor or concern for their well-being.  Jesus himself is poor.  He owns nothing.  He simply will not let Mary’s act of extravagant love be tarnished, nor her acknowledgment of his anticipated death be diverted.  Maybe what he is really saying is that on the day he is buried, the fragrance in her hair will remind her not only of his death, but also of his belief in resurrection.  Just as she was present to him in the only way she could be during his pain and suffering, he will be present to her in her grief.  She is the first disciple to follow the path of the cross.  And in John’s gospel, Mary’s gesture is intended to remind us of the anointing of kings in the history of Israel.  Mary has anointed Jesus as king.  And by anointing the king, Mary has become the first female prophet.  She does not deny Jesus’ vision.  She enters that vision with him in the full love and sadness of her heart.  She knows his agony.  This is extravagant love.
Presence.  It’s the most precious gift we have to give when someone we love enters the valley of the shadow of death.  Acceptance, listening, entering the other’s vision of the future with integrity and love.  Setting aside our own fears to be present to the reality of the other is holy work.  Jan Richardson, in The Painted Prayer Book, writes,
When we see the body of Christ
still broken in this world,
may we meet it with lavish grace
and pour ourselves out
with extravagant love
(the quote on the cover of your bulletin).
We can start with the question, “How can I, or we, support you?”  That’s such a good question.  It does not presuppose anything.  It gives the other person the opportunity to guide the ministry that comes to them so that it will be the most meaningful and least intrusive.  It indicates a desire to be authentically present to the pain of another.  
     And the remembrance of presence—the presence of another’s spirit—is all that we can take with us as we walk our own lonesome valleys.  Author and educator, Parker Palmer, describes a time when he sank into a deep depression.  Well-meaning friends offered advice and tried to cheer him up which only intensified his feeling of isolation.  He writes:
Blessedly, there were several people, family and friends, who had the courage to stand with me in a simple and healing way.  One of them was a man who, having asked my permission to do so, stopped by late every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet.  He found the only place in my body where I could still experience bodily feeling—and feel connected with the human race.
    He rarely spoke a word, and when he did, he never gave advice but simply mirrored my condition.  He would say, “I can sense your struggle today,” or, “It feels like you are getting stronger.”  I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: They reassured me that I could still be seen by at least on person, life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible.  It is almost impossible to put into words what my friend's ministry meant to me.  Perhaps it is enough to say that I now understand the Biblical stories of Jesus and his foot washings at new depth.

    The poet Rilke says, “Love . . .consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”   That is the kind of love my friend offered.  He never tried to invade my awful inwardness with false comfort or advice, but simply stood on its boundaries, modeling the respect for me and my journey— and the courage to let it be— that I myself needed if I were to endure.
The fragrance of presence lingers in our spirits and reminds us that we are not alone—another person would walk with us if they could.  It is often impossible for those who suffer to know that God is present even in their suffering except through human touch.  Mary could not rescue Jesus, but she could be present to his suffering.  She lavished grace upon him and her extravagant love touched soothed his aching soul.
When we see the body of Christ
still broken in this world,
may we meet it with lavish grace
and pour ourselves out
with extravagant love

May it be so.

Coming Home

March 6, 2016

Psalm 32
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The story is told in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and the scribes, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

This is a parable for the faith community, Jesus’ faith community and ours.  
There was a man who had two sons . . . .
One son did everything wrong for all the wrong reasons, but came to himself and came home.
One son did everything right for all the wrong reasons, and refused to go into his home.

Both sons were lost—one by his actions, and one by his self-righteousness
Neither one was home.
The younger brother decided to become independent.  He wanted to make his own choices about his life, and what unwise choices he made.  Have you ever made unwise choices?   Do you remember the time when you first understood yourself to be an adult with some freedom about the way you spent your money and your time?   Do you remember the dollar that burned a hole in your pocket?  The freedom to sample activities that are reserved for adults?  Do you remember trusting someone that you shouldn’t have?  Or getting stranded a long way from home?  Or do you remember when your children came of age and did all of those things.   I had a friend whose son was suspended from college because he and his roommate threw a TV out their dorm room window on the fifth floor, just to see what happened.  Do you remember looking for yourself because you knew you didn’t want to be your parents, but you had no idea who you were?  The younger son gets a bad rap.  True, he ran through all of his inheritance, but he took the work he could find and in doing that work, and being genuinely hungry, he “came to himself.”  He remembered or perhaps realized for the first time who he was and what he had lost.  He grew up.  He came home as an adult, ready to take responsibility for his actions and to start at the bottom working for a man he could trust—someone whose love had made him who he was at the center of his being.  
That’s what it means to come home, to find the authentic center of our being where we meet God.  That’s what it means to find our True Selves, not the self we create to fit in and please other people, but the self that understands that we are loved and whole.  The younger son came to himself and went home and he was welcomed with a feast by the father who had scanned the horizon for him every day that he was gone.  
And there was his older brother out working in the field.  There was nothing wrong with the older brother’s faithful obedience and hard work, until he wanted to shut the door in his brother’s face.  Did you notice how he referred to his brother?  “This son of yours.”  He refuses to acknowledge his kinship.  His jealousy over his father’s extravagant welcome blinded him to the love he had received all his life.  He thought he had earned it by his hard work.  He didn’t recognize how his father’s love had surrounded him since birth.  He didn’t realize he couldn’t lose that love no matter how hard he tried.  He couldn’t see that he had eaten a hearty meal at his father’s table every night that his brother had been gone.  He only heard the party noises and felt robbed.  His self-righteousness made him feel cheated.  
At the end of the story we don’t know whether the older brother went in and joined the party or whether he became alienated and stormed off on his own.  We do know that the father’s lavish love fell on both his sons.
In Jesus’ time, the temple had been taken over by older brothers.  Even with this story in our Bibles, the church has gotten really good at telling the first part of this story as the model for repentance.  I have a music planner that suggests hymns to go along with the readings each week.  There were plenty of songs we could have sung today about coming home that are written from the older brother’s viewpoint.  They involve a lot of groveling and name calling.  “Come home, come home . . . oh, sinner, come home.”  But Jesus told this story to the Pharisees and scribes, the older brothers who were angry that Jesus ate with people they looked down on.  Wherever Jesus ate, there was celebration that people were coming home to themselves and to the God who loved them.  And the Pharisees and scribes couldn’t stand that.  They knew a sinner when they saw one.  They didn’t even need to know their particular sins, they could just imagine!  I catch myself doing that.   
There are a couple of things I notice in this story.  The father didn’t chase after his son.  He let him encounter the natural consequences of his actions.  The father didn’t rescue his younger son or provide more than what was legitimately his inheritance.  The father honored his son’s free will and agency.  The father trusted that his son would find himself and his way home.  Then the fatted calf was killed, the celebration began and the son was reinstated to his rightful place in the family.  In the same way, the father didn’t force his older son to go into the party.  He simply reminded his son of his love and his son’s living inheritance and let his son make his own decision.  And when the older son spat the disowning words, “This son of yours . . ,” the father reminded him that, “This brother of yours has come home.  He was as good as dead to us, but now he is alive.”  How respectful the father’s love is!
There are three actors in this story.  There may be times when we see ourselves in the younger son, having made some poor decisions and wondering if we can come home.  There are certainly times when individuals and churches act like the older brother, when our self-righteousness overshadows our compassion and sense of kinship.  But as the Body of Christ, as people who mediate the love of God to the world, we are invited to act on behalf of the father.  We are invited to welcome home all those who have wandered in search of happiness and found only disappointment.  We are invited to welcome home all those whose search for themselves has led down different paths than ours.  We are invited to welcome home all those whom society names as different, less than, or other.  We are invited to welcome home all those who have been called “sinner” instead of “beloved.”
And we are invited to welcome home those who feel they have earned their place in the world and are not obligated to share.  We are invited to welcome home those who feel that they are somehow cheated every time those who they believe are undeserving get a break.  We are invited to welcome home those who have a disparaging name for anyone who is different.  We are invited to welcome home the hard-working and the whiners.  We are invited to welcome home the gatekeepers and snobs.  We are invited to throw out the rules and welcome home our brothers and sisters, to throw a party and rejoice.  We are invited to love as respectfully and as extravagantly as the father.

How will we welcome all of our brothers and sisters home?

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Philip's Reflection

Jesus chose us to be his family, his brothers and sisters.  He wants us to get in on his inheritance.  He chose at the beginning of time to set his affection on us and he still does today.  He loves us like crazy, and we get the amazing pleasure of loving him back.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Sometimes the refusal to let memories be forgotten and the harsh focus on our won faithlessness causes us to forget the meaning of grace, and what Jesus has done in our lives.  As believers, our faithlessness or self-criticism, be it true, false, or exaggerated, never cancels out Jesus’ faithfulness, his forgiveness and grace always rises higher.  We will fail often, but Jesus never intended for us to focus on our human weakness.  We don’t have to earn enough good points to negate the bad.  Jesus makes all things new.

Irritability or jealousy or self-protection can become treasures I guard at the expense of spiritual, emotional, and relationship blessing.  And then there is fear.  If I allow that to take hold, in essence I’m choosing something lesser above my faith in Jesus.  And how about free will?  If I value that more than Jesus’ truth, I am treasuring something that will not last. 

 When I hold onto anything more than my connection with Jesus, my treasures are misplaced.  Today is the perfect day to purge anything that allows moths to eat our joy and steals our connection with Jesus. That’s why I love Jesus’ words in Matthew.  I catch a humorous tone here, as if he is saying, “Really, you don’t have enough actual challenges to face?!  You have to waste energy mulling over imaginary ones?”  He longs to free us from our need to control each possible eventuality.  He invites us to turn our focus on him.  If the plane goes down, we are in his hands; if society crumbles, he is still our savior.  We don’t have the power to avoid all of life’s troubles, but we face, we can trust that he will be with us.  By entrusting our lives fully to him, we can stop living in fear.

Obedience is not easy.  It takes patience to drive my grandma around town on errands when I would rather be working on my own projects.  It’s difficult trying to calm a newly adopted child who is lashing out.  Following Christ in these ways invites suffering into my desire for a comfortable life.  But isn’t that what we are supposed to do?

1Peter 2:21 says, “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering.”  Christ is your example, and you must follow in his steps.  I wonder what would happen if more Christians obeyed these directives.  Would the watching world be drawn to Christ-in-us in new ways?  Would we stop worrying about being good and, instead, start working at being available?  We have discussed how loving the familiar and stepping into the unknown can be unsettling.

On a positive note, however, change is often necessary to promote personal growth or to spur us on to new ventures.  We might resist change initially, but in the end, we realize it was a good thing.

So long as we are warm and breathing, we will fade change.  We will quit a job to start a different one, welcome new family members and say goodbye to others, move to a different house or city, adapt to life as empty nesters, deal with challenges that health brings and more.  No doubt, like most other people, you have encountered change.  Maybe you, like my friend, find it difficult.  If so, be encouraged today in knowing one thing for certain—Jesus remains the same.  His presence offers stability when circumstances shift.  His peace prevails when we focus on his promises.  And his power undergirds and strengthens us to navigate our changes successfully.  My relationship is not all about what I can get from him, although he overwhelms me with his blessings.  my relationship is also about what I can give him:  my love, my time, my service, my praise, myself.  He of all deserves it.

A reading from Numbers 6:24-25:  The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make his face shine on you.”  Then he sends us off with his encouragement.  Remember you may be the only Jesus someone sees this week.  We represent Jesus to a world of people suffering from the effects of sin, hungering for acceptance, longing for love.  What a privilege to carry his invitation to find forgiveness of sins and unconditional love through a personal relationship with him.  It is crucial that we represent Christ not just with our words, but through the way we live.  Each of us is surrounded by people watching our attitudes and actions.  They take note of how we respond to negative circumstances, on how we treat others.  Their opinion of Jesus will be influenced by what they see through us.  To be his ambassador means treating others with respect, responding in a spirit of forgiveness and love.  That’s why I need help from an active prayer life, study of the Word, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

For me, the time of business does not differ from the time of prayer, even in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things,  As a youngster, I wanted the approval of others.  I was trying to live up to unrealistic expectations I had set up in my mind.  And I was trying to earn Jesus’ approval.  Instead of understanding what he has already provided through his grace.

If we take our meaning in life from our family, our work, a cause, or some achievement other than God, those things enslave us.  I don’t need the approval of others to be worthy.  I already have Jesus’ approval because of what he has done for me and in me.  God sees me as his child, and he loves me completely.  When I live my life out of these thoughts of approval, everything changes.

When Jesus asks us to follow, he challenges our normal routines.  Some changes may make us or others uncomfortable.  We and those around us may react initially with fear if there is too much change too fast.  But as we tell the good news of what Jesus has done for us, just like the healed man, we will find the moment of change worthwhile—truly a holy moment.  A new life with Jesus is always better than the old.  How many times have I suffered stress and sleepless nights worrying over a problem without seeking divine help!  The bible describes Jesus as the ultimate source of wisdom and knowledge.  I seem to forget how that translates into practical answers for everyday problems.

His Spirit within me helps to apply truth to difficult situations.  Sometimes he connects me with people or resources needed to solve a problem.  Other times he simply opens my eyes to see the circumstances from a new angle.  But it all starts with asking him about it.
Jesus looked up to heaven before he fed the five thousand and when he raised Lazarus from the dead.  Far from hiding it, he made his connection with God obvious.  Jesus always lived like an arrow aimed at the Father’s heart, and he told us to follow him.  Jesus said, “Walk with me and work with me.  Watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”  I want to look to Jesus, not around me or behind me, but with my gaze fixed on him.  By his grace my aim will be straight and true.

Comfort washed over me as I remembered that our Good Shepherd doesn’t prioritize whom he loves the most.  We certainly differ in many ways, and sometimes fill specific roles, but ultimately, we are one in Christ Jesus.  We share equally in his grace and acceptance.  None of us who follow Jesus can feel superior to our siblings, and none of us need to believe we are inferior.  Our ethnicity, or social or vocational standing, our gender, all fade in importance as we follow Jesus.  All are equally loved by the Shepherd of our Souls.
Jesus’ heart toward us is always love.  Jesus’ aim is newness of life and the hope of something better, of growth, of coming to a place of peace and healing.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in everything—I wonder how in the world anyone could fulfill these instructions, especially the one about praying nonstop.  Seriously, I grew up believing that God would hear me only if I assumed the prerequisite body posture—closed eyes and folded hands.  Easier said than done when driving on the freeway of supervising kids on the playground.  Thankfully, scripture’s commands are always doable, and this one is no exception.

So how can we pray continually when we are at work, watching our kids, engaged in a critical conversation, or suffering to the degree that we can scarcely string a sentence together?  Here are six simple suggestions that work for me.  When I am in a difficult situation, I pray, Jesus—wisdom.  When circumstances cause anxiety, I pray, Jesus—peace.  When finances fall short of monthly bills, I pray, Jesus—provision.  When noise and activity surround me, I pray, Jesus—rest.

When a difficult person offends me, I pray, Jesus—love.  When I don’t know what to pray, I pray, Jesus—help.  I find this prayer method helps me maintain awareness of Jesus’ presence and power.  It prompts me to talk with him as with a good friend, not only when I need something, but at all times.  It even helps me obey the other command in today’s verse by saying many times each day, Jesus—thank you.