Thursday, November 24, 2011

Prayer for Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, 
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks 
for all your goodness and loving-kindness 
to us and to all whom you have made. 
We bless you for our creation, preservation, 
and all the blessings of this life; 
but above all for your immeasurable love 
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; 
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. 
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, 
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, 
not only with our lips, but in our lives, 
by giving up our selves to your service, 
and by walking before you 
in holiness and righteousness all our days; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, 
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

God isn't like me

Yesterday evening, during the time in evening prayer that begins our Sabbath day, my wife and I read aloud the appointed Psalm for the evening, and it contains the following words:  "By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host."  (Ps 33:6)  

For years this verse has been a key to open my heart in worship toward God.  When I consider the impact of this statement, it causes me to see how great a Being the true God must be.  Consider that it was simply by his words alone that God made the universe (or perhaps the multiverse).  In this case, we are not pressing  an overly literalistic reading of the text; Genesis 1 corroborates this sense of "the word of LORD."  For in Genesis 1 we are told that God said a sentence (i.e. "Let there be light"), and, in the ultimate in Hebraic understatement, "it was so."  It was the decree of God, anthropomorphically described as his voice, that was his instrument of creation.  The analogy God is using here tells us that it was as easy for God to create the universe as it is for us to speak a single word.  Think about it:  how hard is it for a healthy, normally developed adult to speak a word?  We do it with barely a thought, don't we?  We do it without exerting any noticeable effort, do we not?  This is how it was for God to create the ever expanding vastness of space with everything the floats around it.  God made the wonders that Hubble sees (and more!) with as little exertion as a "hello."

Is it any wonder then, that we don't "get" Him?  Is it any wonder that, if our own nature is a mystery to us, that His Nature as Triune, doesn't make sense to us?  Should it surprise us that He can simultaneously hear all the prayers of all time?  Indeed, if He created like the Bible describes, should it surprise us if He does anything, such as speaking through frail, evil men or even raising the dead?

Two somewhat recent movies come to mind when I think about these things.  One is Bill Maher's Religulous.  In this film Maher mocks the idea that God could possibly hear all mumblings (prayers) of so many people.  Maher would be right if God were like us, but the vision of God given to us in the Scriptures shows us a God for whom such listening isn't ridiculous.  (Indeed, does a brilliant author have any trouble keeping track of what his characters have said and are saying, even though, in the world of the story they are speaking at the same time? How much more so the 'brilliant' God?)  

I think Maher would do well to consider something Dr. Manhattan says in Watchmen.  After being asked if he is God, Dr. Manhattan, the god-like super man of Alan Moore's nihilistic masterpiece, states that he doesn't think there is a God, but if God exists he is "nothing like me."  The latter part of this statement, found in a work of art that is no friend to the Christian worldview, is profoundly true.  God is not just some super man.  He is not, like the Graeco-Roman gods, some projection of human perfection into an ideal or infinite state.  He is qualitatively other.   He isn't like me or you, not in an ontological sense.  He may reveal Himself to us, as He speaks of his "voice" or "hand," but these descriptions do not contain Him.  His act of creating all things of nothing through a word is a wonder, but He Himself is a wonder beyond words.  

In light of all this, we may also marvel at what the Psalmist says elsewhere:  "When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Ps 8:3-4)  The greatest wonder is that God cares for us, that somehow, with an mind that is beyond our comprehension, He not only sustains the whole universe with every unpredictable atom, but he also is mindful of us.  So mindful that He, the ineffable God, became a man that He might bring mankind into the very mystery of God's own life.  (More on this during Christmas!)

Season after Pentecost 2011, Proper 28

Friday, November 18, 2011

I am the 1% (but not in the way you think)

Either because of oppression from the law, disunity from within, or the advent of the winter's cold, the Occupy Wall Street movement has begun to peter out.  Expressing discontentment with an elitist monopoly on power and wealth, the Occupy Wall Street movement has brought together a surprisingly diverse group and has received ample media coverage.   The battle cry has been "We are the 99%."  The implication being that only 1% holds the keys to the kingdom: the keys of wealth, power, and privilege.  

The coherence of this movement's goals aside, it proclaims a compelling narrative:  a few receive special attention while so many are at risk and left out.  Almost anyone can relate to and become emotionally involved in this story.  It's the 1 vs. the 99.

The elitism that Occupy protests seems to go against every foundational pillar of our popular understanding of democracy: where's the equality in this kind of math?  A few are privileged with so many are seemingly left out, and neither group seems to get what it truly deserves.    (See To Change the World by James D. Hunter, p. 101ff)

Jesus too offered a narrative with the same mathematical tension, but Jesus' story turns the Occupy narrative on it's head.  Though I would not want to force an untenable allegory between the Occupy movement and this parable, there are striking points of connection and contrast.  This parable comes to us this morning as a part of the daily readings from the Book of Common Prayer's daily lectionary:  

Jesus offers the crowds a parable: "What do you think? If a man has a 100 sheep, and 1 of them has gone astray, does he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go in search of the 1 that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the 99 that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that 1 of these little ones should perish."  (Matt 18:12-14) 

In Jesus' story, the focus is not on the 99, but the 1.  And in Jesus' story the 1% does not have the privilege of food, shelter, and comfort, but rather the 1% has none of these things.  In fact, the 1% is a lost sheep, wandering aimlessly in a hostile world.  In a sheep's economy, being away from the flock and away from the shepherd has a very low standard of living, indeed.

In Jesus' story, the privilege of the 1% is only that he or she has been sought out by the Shepherd.  To be the privileged in God's Kingdom is to not get what you deserve, to be an object of grace.  

It is here where Jesus inverts the Occupy narrative and the narrative of the American Dream that Occupy movement and its detractors lift up. The narrative of Occupy (and our culture) seems to assume the supremacy of equity.  Everyone deserves a portion of what the 1% has.  But in Jesus' economy and in Christian narrative no one deserves what the 1% has, even the 1% who get it.  In Jesus' parable the division between the 99 and the 1 collapses because in Christ's Kingdom, we are all the 1%.  We are all the lost sheep who have gone astray, who did not get what was deserved, and who have been brought into a different social contract, one we could have never found or chosen.  By being Jesus' 1%, we are brought into an Occupation that will never end, never peter out, and ultimately, that will bring us to the fulfillment desired by our hungry souls, namely, a deep relationship with the Triune God who seeks and saves us wayward little creatures. 

I am humbled to be Jesus' lost sheep, the 1% of the Kingdom of God.  Are you this 1%? 

(Pardon typos, I had to write this in a hurry!)

Season after Pentecost 2011, Proper 28

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A Prayer for Being a Disciple of Jesus

And now, beloved, let us bind ourselves with willing bonds to our covenant God, and take the yoke of Christ upon us. This taking of his yoke upon us means that we are heartily content that he appoint us our place and work, and that he alone be our reward. Christ has many services to be done; some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honor, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations, and temporal interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is assuredly given us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Therefore let us make the covenant of God our own. Let us engage our heart to the Lord, and resolve in his strength never to go back. Being thus prepared, let us now, in sincere dependence on his grace and trusting in his promises, yield ourselves anew to him:

    I am no longer my own, but thine.
    Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
    Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
    Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
    exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
    Let me be full, let me be empty.
    Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
    I freely and heartily yield all things
    to thy pleasure and disposal.
    And now, O glorious and blessed God,
    Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
    thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
    And the covenant which I have made on earth,
    let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Prayers for the Sabbath

Collects for Saturday Evenings
O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth your unending 
day upon us who watch for you, that our lips may praise you, 
our lives may bless you, and our worship on the morrow give
you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

We give you thanks, O God, for revealing your Son Jesus Christ to us by the light of his resurrection: Grant that as we sing your glory at the close of this day, our joy may abound in the morning as we celebrate the Paschal mystery; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Collect for Sunday Mornings
O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of
the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this
day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week
to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our
Lord. Amen.

A Collect for Sunday Evenings
Lord God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ triumphed over 
the powers of death and prepared for us our place in the new
Jerusalem: Grant that we, who have this day given thanks for 
his resurrection, may praise you in that City of which he is the 
light, and where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen