I walked our church’s new labyrinth this morning after church. I think it is the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen and am so grateful to those who worked to build it. I know it’s true of all labyrinths, but I was struck again today by how close one gets to the cross in the center on numerous occasions only to turn away and double back in the other direction. Isn’t that true of our faith journey? We feel especially close to God one minute, and the very next life hits us with a body blow we didn’t see coming; and all of a sudden God seems so distant that we feel lost and confused. That’s when spiritual discipline is needed to stay the course and trust that road less travelled will eventually lead us back to the cross.
There are no short cuts in our faith journey, only perseverance and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us home. If you notice in the picture the entry path very quickly takes you within a few feet of the cross before it takes a sharp left turn that leads to the far side of the labyrinth. It would be so easy to step right over that blue line and in two steps be right at the foot of the cross. No one else was there to see if I cheated when I took my walk, but I knew that those who promise a short easy way to salvation are false prophets. To take a short cut would have robbed me of precious time for communion with God and defeated the whole purpose of being there.
O God! We have added Austin to our awful litany of mass shootings. I pray for the victims, the first responders, the survivors, and for whatever demons the shooter or shooters are dealing with. I also pray for our society where this tragedy barely makes a blip on the radar of our consciousness. We are so numb to this senselessness that it has become a ho hum normal occurrence. Please shock us into caring again, to mourning again, and revive our consciences and our desire for peace. Trouble our souls deep in denial. Call us to compassion for victims and passion for doing our part to create your peaceable kin-dom here on earth as it is in heaven.
The alarm is ringing again. It is not good to keep hitting the snooze button. It is not OK to pull up the covers and pretend this is just a bad dream. Wake us, give us ears to hear the cries of your children and the clarion call for all people of faith to put prayers and thoughts into action. Hear our prayer and disrupt our false sense of security. Make our fear a motivation for change and not an excuse to avoid the cold, harsh truth. Christ have mercy. Amen
O great comforter, we are a nation in mourning. On Valentine’s Day when we celebrate the gift of love we were devastated by yet another senseless violent act at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Words are simply inadequate to express the pain and grief we feel and we can only imagine how much all of those directly impacted are suffering.
It was also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season of repentance. With the funerals for two police officers in our own community and the tragedy in Florida our Lenten theme of being in the wilderness seems all too real just now. This is one of those times when we are so grateful for the Scripture’s assurance that you “help us in our weakness so when we don’t know how to pray the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
We humbly ask O God that you will grant healing mercies to those physically and emotionally wounded by these tragedies. And we pray also that our time in the wilderness will help us draw closer to you that we might be agents of healing and comfort to any we meet who are hurting. And please O Holy One show our leaders and all of us how to live according to your will that our broken nation might come together in peace and cooperation that benefits all.
We pray for those named in our own prayer concerns this day with the assurance that you know our needs even before we ask. Our needs are many but today we especially pray that those who mourn will be comforted as we name those who died on Wednesday in Parkland:
Carmen Schentrup, Meadow Pollack, Peter Wang, Nicholas Dworet, Christopher Hixon, Aaron Feis, Luke Hoyer, Alaina Petty, Jaime Guttenberg, Martin Duque, Alyssa Alhadeff, Helena Ramsey, Scott Beigel, Joaquin Oliver, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, and Alexander Schachter.
Lord, in your mercy hear our prayers in the name of Christ who taught us to pray…..
[As we sang “God of Grace and God of Glory” at an alum gathering at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio last week I was impressed with how prayerful those lyrics by Harry Emerson Fosdick are; and those lyrics inspired my pastoral prayer for today.]
God of Grace and Glory, please listen to your people praying. Pour your power upon us as we pray for the healing of brokenness and suffering everywhere – in our own hearts and minds and in relationships interpersonal and international in scale. You have planted the seeds of love in every human heart, but those seeds are threatened by draught, wild fire, earthquake and the ravages of unbelievable storms.
Please let our time of worship nourish the one true seed of your loving presence in us and in those we hold up in prayer. We feel surrounded by the forces of evil and long to be free from fears that shake the foundations of our faith. Send your Holy Spirit here to the church on the hill to free our hearts to praise you and serve you. Giving you the glory, let us not hide the Good News of your Salvation under a bushel, but let this congregation on the banks of the Scioto be a beacon of hope to a broken and discouraged world.
Lord listen to your people praying. Empower us to set an example as peacemakers to a world too long enslaved to war and violence as our only response to conflict and threat. Let us be leaders in finding ways to beat our guns into plowshares and our nuclear weapons into technologies to feed the starving masses and to power our planet with clean renewable energy. Instead of rattling our sabers let us put on the whole armor of God – righteousness, truth, peace, faith, and salvation to win the struggles within us and around us with selfishness, greed, injustice, and all that divides the very oneness of creation.
Strengthen us please, O God within each of us, to not lose hope when illness or despair sap our human energy. Remind us again that we can flip a switch with a simple word of prayer to connect to the one true source of hope that never fails us.
Lord, listen to your people praying and grant us wisdom and courage for the living of these days. We humbly ask these things in the name of the one who is the way and truth and life as we unite in one voice to pray the prayer he gave us……
“Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.
They will collapse and fall,
but we shall rise and stand upright.” Psalms 20:7-8
I don’t have time to write much today but feel an urgency to respond to the disheartening news coming out of the UK this week. ISIS must be dancing in the streets. Their epidemic of fear has toppled the British Prime Minister and dealt a terrible blow to European unity. I find it very ironic and sad that it was the older population in Britain who voted in favor of leaving the EU. They should be the ones who remember how well Nationalism worked for Europe throughout history and most recently in the 20th Century.
European Nationalism engulfed the entire planet in two horrible world wars and left a trail of death and destruction throughout European history. Why would we want to try it again? Fear does terrible things to the human mind, and there is much to fear in this rapidly changing world we inhabit. But putting our trust in chariots and horses, i.e. strength and force and defensive isolation that turns its back on millions of refugees is not the answer. To resort to abandoning the most hopeful effort at unity and cooperation the world has seen in centuries because of current fear and hardship is short-sighted and tragic.
Those who put their faith in chariots and horses will collapse and fall, but those who put their pride in the peaceful, loving, cooperative ways of the Lord will rise and stand upright. It takes faith and a lot of it to believe that, but the alternative is to try and return to methods that have proven hundreds of times to fail. Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe courage and faith into every trembling heart.
Post Script: I went out to mow my grass after writing the above. I do some of my best thinking on the lawn tractor. Today I had one mowing meditation I want to add. It may be because I am neither young nor fearless, although it was a favorite of mine even when I was young and fearful, but a line from a great old hymn came to mind as I reflected more on the rise of nationalism in both Europe and here in the U.S. It was written in 1931 as nationalism was raising its ugly head in Germany. I’ve never served a church where it is a popular hymn because it is too challenging and uncomfortable, but I think it’s time we listen. The whole hymn is profound, but what echoed in my mind today is the third verse:
“O help us stand unswerving
against war’s bloody way,
where hate and lust and falsehood
hold back Christ’s holy sway;
forbid false love of country
that blinds us to his call,
who lifts above the nations
the unity of all.” “O Young and Fearless Prophet,” by S. Ralph Harlow