June 26, 2020
God’s Abiding Presence
Romans 6:4 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized (NRSVA)
4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
The first spring I was in my house, this appeared in front of the dining room window.
That spring was an exciting adventure for me in the yard and gardens as surprises appeared around every turn. Though I had the plan of the plantings, nothing was supposed to be in this one’s place. I watched as its spears pierced through the soil seeming to grow at an alarming rate. It grew taller and taller until finally its leaves unfurled. It had come from a few modest shoots to form a large and robust bush. I had no idea what to expect. Then, one day, these beautiful spikes of blooms resembling sweet peas appeared. I immediately fell in love with them as they resembled the blooms of lupines, though lighter and much more fragile. I remained ignorant as to what my new friend’s name was.
The following spring, I made my usual pilgrimage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green. Though my family had been there several times while I was in graduate school in Belgium, I did not discover it until my first fall here in 2017. My first visit was the day after our Celebration of New Ministry at St. Paul’s. It was a sacred journey. Taliesin was a great love of my mother’s and to be able to return to a place where I knew her spirit felt so at home was a sacramental way to experience her presence in the celebration of my new call. I knew I would return again and again. I have made that pilgrimage at least twice a year since then.
It was not until that spring that I saw the surprise planting at home there in the gardens of Taliesin. I inquired of a gardener what I was looking at and she said: “Baptisia.” Of course, I thought, “Baptize.” What an appropriate name for this companion who had appeared from the dead frozen earth of winter to be so resplendent in the new life of spring. What a sacramental name for this plant that links my gardens to those my mother loved so much. What a fitting name for a present reminder of the covenant I am to practice all the moments of my life.
This year there is no pilgrimage to Taliesin. That is a difficult reality for me. Yet, I can sit on the front porch wall and look down at that old friend and go back to that sacred place in my mind’s eye. Though its blooms have since passed, its presence continues to grow as if to say: “even in this stationary state in which you have been called to remain, God’s presence will uphold you and bring you new life day-by-day.”
What are the sacraments of God’s presence that are holding you these days?
June 25, 2020
The Armour of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our* struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these,* take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Ephesians is the great Pauline letter about the church. It deals, however, not so much with a congregation in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor as with the worlwide church, the head of which is Christ (4:15), the purpose of which is to be the instrument for making God’s plan of salvation known throughout the universe (3:9-10).
The majestic chapters of Ephesians emphasize the unity in the church of Christ that has come about for both Jews and Gentiles within God’s household and the “seven unities” of church: Spirit, hope; one Lord, faith, and baptism; and the one God. Yet the concern is not with the church for its own sake buth rather as the means for mission in the world (3:1-4,24). The gifts Christ gives its members are to lead to growth and renewal.
What a fitting reminder for us especially these days. The work of the Church goes on whether the doors of any church are open. In these trying times and circumstances, our identity and call are always before us. Today we celebrate the witness of James Weldon Johnson whose life work and sacrifice inspires us to continue. As Paul tells us, God clothes us in safety to endure all things. May that armour be your integrity and protection as we reach out to the world offering God’s love and acceptance.
JAMES WELDON JOHNSON POET, 1938
James Weldon Johnson (June 17, 1871 – June 26, 1938) was an American author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, and early civil rights activist. Johnson is remembered best for his writing, which includes novels, poems, and collections of folklore. He was also one of the first African-American professors at New York University. Later in life he was a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University.
He was born in Jacksonville, Florida, into a middle-class black family of Bahamian ancestry. He graduated from Atlanta University and became the first African-American admitted to the Florida bar. From 1906 to 1913 he was Consul in Venezuela and then Nicaragua; during this period he wrote the fictional Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.
In 1913 he returned to the U. S., lived in New York, and engaged initially in songwriting and the theater with his brother, but then became involved in political activism.
In the fall of 1916, because Johnson excelled as a reconciler of differences among those whose ideological agendas seemed to preclude unified, cooperative action, he was asked to become the national organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Opposing race riots in northern cities and the lynchings that pervaded the South during and immediately after the end of World War I, Johnson engaged the NAACP in mass tactics, such as a silent protest parade down New York’s Fifth Avenue in which ten thousand African Americans took part on July 28, 1917. In 1920 Johnson was elected to manage the NAACP, the first African American to hold this position. While serving the NAACP from 1914 through 1930 Johnson started as an organizer and eventually became the first black male secretary in the organization’s history. Throughout the 1920s he was one of the major inspirations and promoters of the Harlem Renaissance trying to refute condescending white criticism and helping young black authors to get published. While serving in the NAACP Johnson was involved in sparking the drive behind the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill of 1921.
By the 1930’s, he had tired of politics, and “retired” as Professor of Creative Literature and Writing at Fisk University. He died in an automobile accident in Maine in 1938.
Eternal God, who gave your servant James Weldon Johnson a heart and voice to praise your Name in verse: As he gave us powerful words to glorify you, may we also speak with joy and boldness to banish hatred from your creation; in the Name of Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(This commemoration appears in A Great Cloud of Witnesses)
June 24, 2020
We Must Decrease
Luke 1:57-80 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
The Birth of John the Baptist
57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61 They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
68 ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty saviour[a] for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon[b] us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.
Today is the feast day of The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. Luke’s account places John and Jesus in the same lineage. It is a powerful image. I think not so much because it emphasizes their blood relationship as it links them in a common family of faith. John is perhaps most known for his unusual appearance and lifestyle (something many can relate to in these times of closure!). Mark describes him as “clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.” His diet being locusts and wild honey. But, his self-understanding is really what set him apart. From the beginning, he proclaimed that one mightier than he was coming. That is a difficult enough realisation for anyone in a blood family to make. Many of us know the reality of sibling rivalry and competition that exists even in extended families. Yet, John, because of his spiritual practice and humility, can step aside to let Jesus pass before him. It is that humility that Jesus too will exercise. I believe it was a characteristic Jesus learned from John.
Matthew reports that Jesus came to John to be baptized by him but John insisted that it should be Jesus who baptize him (3: 13-14). This is the Christian witness, each deferring to the other. Each placing the other above self. That orientation and action is what makes any relationship important and relevant; kinship or not.
In these days of honoring social distance and changes in lifestyle, John and Jesus demonstrate to us what family is really about: the honoring of the other so that God may proclaim “this is my beloved [one], with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17)
May we hold John as our model as we move through these days and proclaim: “[You] must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30).
The Nativity of John the Baptist
John the Baptist, the prophet, and forerunner of Jesus, was the son of elderly parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and was related to Jesus on his mother’s side. His birth is celebrated six months before Christmas Day, since, according to Luke, Elizabeth became pregnant six months before the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.
John figures prominently in all four Gospels, but the account of his birth is given only in the Gospel according to Luke. His father, Zechariah, a priest of the Temple at Jerusalem, was struck speechless because he doubted a vision foretelling John’s birth. When his speech was restored, Zechariah uttered a canticle of praise, the Benedictus, which is one of the canticles in the Daily Office.
John lived ascetically in the desert. He was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt, and ate locusts and wild honey. He preached repentance, and called upon people to prepare for the coming of the Kingdom and of the Messiah, baptizing his followers to signify their repentance and new life. Jesus himself was baptized by John in the Jordan.
John had many followers, some of whom became Jesus’ disciples. Because of his denunciation of the sins of Herod, especially Herod’s incestuous marriage, John incurred the enmity of Herodias, Herod’s wife, and was put in prison. Through Herodias’ plotting with Salome, her daughter, Herod was led to promise a gift to Salome, who demanded John’s head. John was thereupon executed.
John is remembered during Advent as a prophet, and at Epiphany as the baptizer of Jesus. The Gospel according to John quotes the Baptist as saying to his followers that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and prophesying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
June 11, 2020
Our Second Patron Saint
Matthew 10:7-16 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized (NRSVA)
7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”[a] 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,[b] cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
16 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Today is the feast day of St. Barnabas. He should be profoundly dear to us, since without his witness and leadership, Paul would have never been introduced to the Apostles. Both St. Paul and St. Barnabas embodied the instruction of Jesus in today’s gospel that we are called to model. That instruction is so important we will hear it again on Sunday. Jesus commissions us to proclaim the Gospel, heal illness, give life to the dying, bring back into community the outcast and rid fellow human beings of their ill spirit. We are told we need no provisions for our mission – all we must do is live in radical trust and dependence upon God. Jesus further specified that our mission is not to be about ourselves, but the other. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” In other words, get over yourself and move one – do not be self-absorbed as if you must fix everything, as if you are the center of attention. Take your message of God’s kingdom to the next person so that God’s way of justice may be the center of another’s life and being. Jesus reminds us that this will be no easy task as we enter a violent and angry world. And while we are to remain innocent of violent means of coercion, he encourages us to use our cunning sense of wisdom in dealing with evil and the exclusion of the marginalized
While the Apostles commissioned in today’s gospel were content to minister to the “chosen people” in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul set out for the synagogue communities in Asia Minor encountering Jews and Gentiles. It was this movement in radical and dependence upon God that enabled Barnabas and Paul to incarnate Jesus’ command in today’s gospel. Acts tells us that they were received well be the Gentile community, but the Jews – a reference to the “insider” community – stirred up a persecution against them and expelled them from the territory. Paul and Barnabas “shook the dust from their feet” and moved on. Though they continued to encounter opposition, they remained faithful in proclaiming the Gospel. Even when success was achieved to such a degree that the people attempted to deify them calling Barnabas “Zeus” and Paul “Hermes,” scripture says they tore their garment in non-violent protest and humbly proclaimed their mere humanity and God’s greatness. This was no small gesture on either’s part, but Barnabas being identified with the Olympian “father of gods” and Paul being named a “son of Zeus” indicates the character and appeal especially of Barnabas. And finally, when disagreement developed between the two regarding their future mission, Barnabas did not exercise authority over Paul, but rather stepped aside and allowed Paul to continue to increase and become the forerunner of the Christian mission.
I trust you will continue to be a Barnabas to a suffering world that needs you; to a live-giving Gospel that would not be proclaimed without you; and to a Christ that would not be known with your presence.
Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Saint Barnabas the Apostle
“Joseph, a Levite born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles” (Acts 4:36–37). This first reference in the New Testament to Barnabas introduces one whose missionary efforts would cause him to be called, like the Twelve, an apostle. As a Jew of the Dispersion, he had much in common with Paul. When Paul came to Jerusalem after his conversion, the disciples were afraid to receive him. It was Barnabas who brought Paul to the apostles, and declared to them how, on the road to Damascus, Paul had seen the Lord, and had preached boldly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27). Later, Barnabas, having settled in Antioch, sent for Paul to join him in leading the Christian Church in that city.
Barnabas and Paul were sent by the disciples in Antioch to carry famine relief to the Church in Jerusalem. Upon their return, the Church in Antioch sent them on their first missionary journey beginning at Cyprus. At Lystra in Asia Minor, the superstitious people took them to be gods, supposing the eloquent Paul to be Mercury, the messenger of the gods, and Barnabas to be Jupiter, the chief of the gods, a testimony to the commanding presence of Barnabas. The association of Barnabas and Paul was broken, after their journey, by a disagreement about Mark, who had left the mission to return to Jerusalem. After attending the Council of Jerusalem with Barnabas, Paul made a return visit to the Churches he and Barnabas had founded in Asia Minor. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, where Barnabas is traditionally honored as the founder of the Church.
It seems that Barnabas continued his journeys for the Gospel, because Paul mentions him several times in his letters to the Galatians, the Corinthians, and the Colossians. Tradition has it that he was martyred at Salamis in Cyprus.
June 10, 2020
The Other Side
John 6:1-3 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized (NRSVA)
Feeding the Five Thousand
6 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.[a] 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.
Peonies have always been a favorite of mine. When I was a child, they bloomed in May around my mother’s birthday. She loved them too and they always graced our lawn and gardens. It was the rare year that they could withstand the inevitable thunderstorm that would smash them to the ground in full bloom. It was a special surprise this year to find boxes of peonies tealights the week of my birthday. That subtle and comforting scent has been wafting through the living room since February. It was a way of keeping vigil for the return of summer. Yesterday morning, while standing on the front porch, I spotted the first bloom. When I returned to my perch this morning, it was gone. I assumed that obviously last evening’s storm had blown it away. Later, as I went down to see “this thing which had come to pass,” I walked around the trinity of bushes to find it hanging down and out of sight because of the weight it bore.
It was a gentle reminder to me that in these times especially, there while there is much that remains out of sight, it only takes a few steps to find it. As scripture so often reminds us, it is usually on the other side: a miraculous feeding, a miraculous catch of fish, a respite with Jesus, a vast crowd hungering for the justice and equality that is rightfully theirs,…What can you add to the list?
The other side is not out of sight. It simply invites us to move to the right side to find it.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart and especially the hearts of the
people of this land, that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
June 9, 2020
Born From Above
John 3 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized (NRSVA)
Nicodemus Visits Jesus
3 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3 Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’[b] 4 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You[d] must be born from above.”[e] 8 The wind[f] blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10 Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you[g] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[h] 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.[i]
16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Nicodemus is like so many of us. He is a very good person, a faithful leader of the people. Even his name Nicodemus (“victory” of the people) testifies that he is one in whom people have placed their approval and trust. Yet, even as a man of faith, he asks questions of “how” rather than deeper ponderings of “why.” For him to understand and come to full faith in Jesus, he must acquire a knowledge that fits with his method of thinking. “To be born again” locks him in a conundrum from which his knowledge offers no escape. Jesus encourages him to think beyond his limitation and control and believe that one can be born from above, to be give the fullness of life in relationship with God. That is Jesus’ invitation to us all. It is one that encourages us to not become weighed down with endless argument and mental conflict in understanding with that which threatens and frightens us, but to believe (“belove”) God’s invitation and presence with us at all times and in all situations. That is God’s invitation to eternal life.
We accept that invitation through baptism and the covenant we commit ourselves to living out:
+To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
+To persevere in resisting evil, to repent and return to the Lord.
+To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
+To seek and serve Christ in all persons and love our neighbor as ourselves.
+To strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
We are so blessed to be able to live out that covenant in the faith community of St. Paul’s. May it offer you new birth in these days and life from above always. The seventh gift for a new Spirit: Commitment.
Commitment. When we are more oriented to the WHY (the deeper meaning that a challenge holds for us), we are more willing and open to dealing with the WHAT and the HOW. You feel it yourself when you really care about some purpose or goal greater than yourself.
Resilience reflection: Boost your own sense of WHY in a difficult situation by asking yourself, “What is my bigger-than-self goal here? How might I act here in a way that aligns with my strongest, most positive values?”
Seven Cs: Calm, Compassion, Challenge, Capabilities, Connection, Control, Commitment
Applying the seven Cs in your own life. Life presents myriad ongoing opportunities to deal with change and adversity. Experiment. Play with different resilience reflections when facing adversity. See what works for you. And while we might find these challenges at times overwhelming and frustrating, in the long run it’s through facing and surmounting these challenges that we grow in our capacity, our capabilities, our connections and our character.
Resilience reflections reminder card. You can post the following questions where you will see them regularly. You can also trim and fold the sheet of questions to fit inside a wallet or purse, ready to remind you of these positive reflections in the heat of your next overwhelming problem, change or challenge.
Calm • What’s going on in my physical body right now? • What’s going on around me? • What are my thoughts and feelings about this?
Compassion • What would I say to (or how would I treat) my best friend in this situation? • How might I be kinder and gentler with myself here?
Challenge • How can I be my best in this situation? • What is the hidden gift or opportunity here? • What’s “good” about this problem?
Capabilities • What might I need to learn here to better deal with this situation? • And how might I go about learning that? • What strengths do I have that I might put to good use?
Connection • To whom might I reach out for support? Who are my supporters and allies? • What can I do to help strengthen and support my team (group or community of people) that’s impacted by this situation?
Control • What do I have control over? What might I influence? What is out of my control in this situation? • What is one totally achievable thing that I can do here right now to begin taking positive action?
Commitment • What is my bigger-than-self goal? • How might I act here in a way that aligns with my strongest, most positive values?
A Prayer for those about to be Baptized or to renew their Baptismal Covenant
O God, you prepared your disciples for the coming of the
Spirit through the teaching of your Son Jesus Christ: Make
the hearts and minds of your servants ready to receive the
blessing of the Holy Spirit, that they may be filled with the
strength of his presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
June 8, 2020
Matthew 26:36-46 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized (NRSVA)
Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[a] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’
This scriptural passage may be the only one I know of that reveals Jesus’ experience of vulnerability. It is paralleled in Mark (14:32-42) and Luke (22:40-46). John’s Gospel includes Jesus’ prayer (14:1-17:24) but does not speak of having the cup removed from him. In John, Jesus’ prayer is completely focused on God’s care for the disciples. Even though in the synoptic accounts, Jesus prays for escape from the situation at hand, he quickly accepts that God is in control of it and accepts that that outcome has a greater purpose than his desire and preference. What is most stricking to me is that in the midst of that fear, he returns each time to the disciples for support and finds them asleep. Rather than loose heart in their “abandonment,” he returns to prayer. As a result of that unceasing acceptance of fear and prayer, he is able to go forward into a situation that is clearly beyond his control and desire. Yet, he moves graciously from that point on toward his suffering and death. As we know, that is not the end result. God raises him to new and transformed life. That whole process of fear, acceptance, prayer and the ability to go on becomes the model for all Jesus’ followers until the end of the ages.
This past week we have witnessed very much a replay of that scene on a much larger scale. In protests that were peaceful, in protests turned violent, in events that expressed the most admirable of human responses and the worst, what was not missing by and large was prayer. Many involved expressed the same sentiment as Jesus: “I do not want to be here, but I must be here.” And they prayed. That experience is not restricted to protests these days, but is the reality we are all living in during a pandemic that has only begun to affect the normalcy of life as we have come to expect it. I doubt that a prayer for it to go away will have much effect. I know that a prayer for center and discernment, such as Jesus prayer, will affect us with new insights, more calm, and some experience of escape from anxiety that can paralyze us. May that prayer allow you to move, as Jesus does, to new and transformed life. The sixth word for a new Spirit: Control.
Control. Mastering change and adversity require us to understand and act upon what we have control over and what we can influence while also letting go of those things out of our control or influence. And even when we think we have no control in a given situation, we can still control our attitudes and our interpretations.
Resilience reflection: When facing some stressful challenge, try asking yourself these questions: “What do I have control over? What might I influence? What is out of my control in this situation?” Then ask yourself “What is one totally achievable thing that I can do here right now to begin taking positive action?”
A Prayer for the Future of the Human Race
O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us
dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before
the mystery of life; and give us new insight into your purposes
for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in
making provision for its future in accordance with your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.