prayer for the thirteenth Sunday in Pentecost

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

reserving judgment

“In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”

Proverbs 18:17 (NIV)

Although this proverb applies to legal matters, there is a principle we can gather from it for all of life. How often in the course of our lives have we been convinced by a presentation or argument without investigating the matter thoroughly or even at all? We fail to take into consideration other factors which may tip the scales the opposite way. What we’ve heard sounds right and conclusive so that we are taken in.

Wisdom too often gained by failure (I speak for myself) comes into play here. We often need to slow down and even stop. Part of the fallacy is to proceed on. How many times in previous years would I have been better off to at least sleep on something overnight. But the ones who put together or do the presentation know that. So a special deal is offered if you sign now.

The importance of reserving judgment plays across the board in nearly every direction. The one non negotiable for me is the commitment to follow Jesus within the bounds of the orthodox Christian faith. Other matters may or may not become more or less settled over time. So that one can add to their understanding. While other things may by and by become less important or chucked altogether. I want to add here that Christian theology while settled in some ways is a living even growing dynamic.

A humble critical realist approach is really what’s needed. One in which expectations are set according to the weight given quantitatively and qualitatively in the matter. So that for example I can appreciate living in a liberal democracy while not equating it with God’s kingdom come in Jesus.

While appreciating lesser things for what they are, we can go full bore in our calling in faith, confident that what is of God will continue on and bear fruit in this life and the life to come in and through Jesus.

 

the power of prayer

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Prayer is vastly underrated. Yes, simple prayers and continuing in prayer; we need both. We are much blessed to be on the receiving end of such praying. We all know times when we think people must have been praying for us. And I recall the words of our Lord: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” So that we need to make it a priority to be praying for others.

We do well to think of prayer in the terms scripture gives us: We pray to God and the standard Christian prayer is to the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. It should be more and more a regular part of our lives. A good prayer, one we ought pray at least once daily is the prayer our Lord taught us, what is known as the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father prayer. My emphasis in this post is on petitioning and interceding prayer. But we need to be engaged in all kinds of prayers: worship, confession, thanksgiving. We need to keep looking at the psalms, reading them since many of them are prayers.

Liturgical prayers are helpful and of course our own prayers with that. Prayer in the Spirit in various ways, as the Spirit prompts us is vital. And praying whether we feel like it or not.

Like the breaths we take, prayer should become more and more a natural part of our lives. The blessing we give to others during the course of the day. Prayer for ourselves, of course. And again, for others. Spontaneous and planned.

And so we go on in this life, if nothing else at the time continuing in prayer.

when life presents no problems

It is nice to live for a time when problems are relatively few and insignificant. I’ve had seasons of life like that, though it does seem faint in my memory relatively speaking. But sooner or later serious problems or issues arise often with no easy answers if any at all.

That is when we need to look to God in prayer. “Is any one of you in trouble? They should pray” (James 5). What is needed is a dependent, continued look to God. For an instructive, encouraging post related to this see this teaching on Psalm 119 by Scot McKnight.

While stark poverty is a problem in itself with excessive wealth possibly a problem in a different way, trouble knows no bounds. No matter how well situated a person or family can be, trouble of a serious kind can be just around the corner. And the nature of living in this world not only involves inevitable ends of what is good (even if such come in idyllic ways, such as one dying in their sleep, healthy to the end at old age), but is chronic in the sense that time tells on us and on the world around us. Not to mention what we put up with everyday along with those around us.

Of course we need to remain in the word, no matter what we’re up against and how we feel (again, see the post on Psalm 119 linked above). And in the fellowship of God’s people. And again in prayer. We can only find our feet of faith as we walk in the midst of trouble. Looking to God for what God alone can do in and through Jesus.

when in midstream

Oftentimes in life we are betwixt two, in midstream where there is a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty, when for one reason or another we can’t see straight, our focus is not real clear and we can feel more or less unsettled. Usually I partake of a bit of that everyday and there are certain times during which it seems particularly acute.

I seek during such times to remain settled on my feet and resolved in my will, one might say steadfast in mind as in not being moved from truth, especially the truth, Jesus. Standing on God’s promises in and through Jesus found in scripture, whatever may seem most appropriate at the time. One such promise, how that God works in all things for the good of those who love him.

Much of life in one way or another, in either big ways or seemingly small ones is lived in midstream. There is no clear resolution. There is the strong sense that it is ongoing, yes with its successes as well as its troubles. Plenty of issues swirling around to make the whole so that there almost always seems to be a certain amount of ambiguity about it all.

That is where we want to grow as a result, with changes as needed. Even as we seek God’s peace, the settling and tranquility that can come with that. Something not just of the emotions, but deeper than that. To keep us in God’s love in and through Jesus. As we go on in the transient yet sacred existence which is this life.

 

the degree of doctorate

If there’s one thing I regret academically, it is that I did not pursue a doctorate a couple decades ago or before. I pooh poohed the idea of the need for that years back. Now I see the value in terms of opening doors and also in terms of thinking through one subject, issue or area well. I did not see a lot in those days. And no one saw that possibility in me, either. I really didn’t hang out with people in academic circles, but preferred the simple folk. In many ways I’m one of them myself, so I felt at home there and still do. But I enjoy interacting with academics.

While I respect and appreciate the degree of doctorate, I do find it a bit discouraging that so much weight is put on it. I don’t understand the ins and outs of it, what it takes to do a dissertation, though I have what I think is a good notion of it from the academic studies I have undertaken (I happen to have a Bachelor of Theology and a Masters of Divinity). Perceptions matter. I find myself to be an academic at heart. But as a late bloomer who did not see many possibilities, well very few, I see myself in many ways as one who fell through the cracks.

The degree of doctorate does not make someone. It ends up being part of the package. Sometimes I have thought that it was all about the degree so that simply by that degree the person had respect and was listened to, even esteemed. Even if they really didn’t deserve that attention. Now I respect the degree to the point that I would simply be focusing on rooting for the recipient to do well with it given the work they undertook and the hoops they jumped through to accomplish it. I would still love to do it myself, but my age and our finances make that out of the question.

I don’t see myself as an intellectual, but more like an intellectual enthusiast. I love the effort of  loving God with all of one’s mind along with all of the rest of one’s being and doing. The attempt to do that. I have often wanted to know what one field I could pursue academically to get a doctorate without ruining the rest of my life in the process. Ha.

I used to think I have something just as important to contribute. I think in terms of the Spirit’s working and as a member of Christ’s body the church, I do, and so does everyone else. That is gold and even the most humble servant can teach the most learned academic something if that academic has ears to hear. I still believe that is so, but I value in ways I did not before the doctorate and I’m happy for those who are younger who have the opportunity to pursue it.

Jesus had no doctorate and in his case we can see why that was necessarily the case. He spoke with unique authority not only as a prophet with the very words of God, but as the Word of God himself. If he would have had letters from some institution in his day, people would have chalked up his authority as deriving from that. But his authority was from the Father and in his own person as well as by the Spirit. Unique then and now, even if in him we partake in something of that.

Along came Paul with all the letters so to speak, having been taught by a renowned authority of that time, Gamaliel. The brilliance, surely sheer genius of Paul is seen in his letters we have in the New Testament (as N. T. Wright has pointed out), all of that a gift from God, but developed well by him in his reading and study which was ongoing to the end of his days. In the church some traditions have upheld the value of the work of the intellect, while others have downplayed or even downgraded it.

While a doctorate does not necessarily impart wisdom along with all of the knowledge or make one a better person in and of itself, we should appreciate the value of rigorous intellectual activity.

In the end it is what we do with what we have from God which matters. We want to hear the words from the Master, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things. I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into your Master’s happiness.”

 

politics in the pulpit

The gospel of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus has both direct and indirect implications for every aspect of life, including political life. I refer to politics here in terms of the order of societies and what goes into that. Whatever one’s political persuasion might be for example in the United States, that does not equate to the kingdom of God come in Jesus. That kingdom is not from this world though it is certainly for it.

There is no doubt that there happens to be some incidental overlap in details though never in quality. It is not that God’s hand in some provisional sense can’t be on nations and states for good as well as for judgment. But there remains only one holy nation, the church of the Lord Jesus the Messiah. So that there is one politic, agenda and platform we should buy fully into: that of God’s kingdom come and present now in Jesus in the church. A king with subjects destined to take over the world. That reign already present by the Spirit, but not yet reaching its fulfillment to take place when Jesus returns and heaven and earth becomes one in him in the final judgment and the new creation.

Does that mean we shouldn’t have political views now in terms of the politics of this world? Or that we should never speak out on political issues from the pulpit? I don’t think so. But we must hold up everything to the light of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, the reality present now in him and the vision that casts for the future. But with the realization that governments cannot live out the agenda of God’s kingdom in Jesus now. So that our expectations for them should never be that they can. Where that is to be lived out is in the church, the new or renewed Israel, the light of the world in and through Jesus. A light for the nations indeed, even now. By which they can seek to do better as well as be judged when they do badly.

What in part I’m trying to say, the main point is that we need to beware of seeing politics in terms of left, right, center, or whatever possible position in this world- as something we are to push, even in the pulpit (and unwisely alienate people sold out on one side or the other in the process). We need instead to press home the need for people, for all of us in light of God’s kingdom come in Jesus to repent of other agendas and receive that good news. And live accordingly even in this world as well as for it in and through Jesus.