Our Kind Of Story

I found myself talking with someone last week about stories, good stories, the kind we want to tell, and more importantly, the kind we want to live.

That’s the thing about stories – all of us have one, all of us are part of one, and stories, whether we like it or not, actually run our lives.

Today, we return again to the most intense part of the story we tell and try to live by. We call this part of the story Holy Week, and one way to tell it is as a story bookended by two crowds; two mobs with things to say and demands to make. But this story isn’t really about those crowds, because the wisdom we are looking for can’t be found in a crowd.

And so here we are, once again heeding Jesus’ instructions and preparing to make our way to a room to eat a meal and hear again what it is he would have us do. We are here once again, because even if we can’t remember all the details, we know a bit about trying to live out our faith in a new way and in the process getting a whole lot more wrong than right.

And that’s why we keep coming back to this story, because it is a story that is true in more ways than one. In it we discover what God is really like and in it we remember that we are a whole lot more than the dark details of our worst failures.

We follow the disciples to a table because we too know what it is like to misunderstand who Jesus is and what he is all about. We listen to Jesus teach about love because we know what it is to be in desperate need of it.

We walk behind Jesus on the road because we know what it is like to have tried to follow him and failed spectacularly. We stand outside by the fire with Peter because we know what it is like to disappoint those we care about most.

We follow Jesus up the hill because we know what it is like to stumble underneath the weight of carrying our own cross. We follow him all the way there and see it all again for ourselves because we know, that in the end, all of this is for us.

We are drawn to this story because it has become our story.

It reminds us that all of this is about God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. It reminds us that God is willing to help us – even us. It reminds us that the road to our freedom is a road of suffering that we cannot walk for ourselves, but it is a road that Jesus walks for us.

That’s what Love does, it does the things we need that we can’t do for ourselves.

And so, this story is for those who know what it is like to be called a loser while the winners celebrate.

This story is for those who desperately want to fix a broken relationship but who haven’t yet found the path to healing.

This story is for those who know all too well what it is like to find yourself on the outside and away from Jesus.

This story is for all of us who know that something is broken but that the healing is going to have to come from someone else.

That’s why if you find yourself at church this weekend you are likely to see something interesting.

Because the people who are there aren’t there because they have it all figured out. And they aren’t there because they know every part of it beyond a reasonable doubt. They are there for the same reason you are – they know what it is like to need help and they know this is a story about One who gives it.

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Prayers For the Path: The Prayer of the Cross

There are some stories we want to change, that we need to change. There are endings we would love to switch and details we would love to erase.

This is one of those stories.

Because it would be so much easier if we could tear this one up and write a different one.

We would do anything to break out our pens and mark this one up. We would love to find a way to detour around the Upper Room and discover a way to turn the page on everything that happens between now and Sunday morning. We would enjoy it so much more without the cheap betrayals and costly silence. We want to believe we aren’t the ones who deny and then run away.

We’d like to rewrite this story because we would like to avoid the truth we know about ourselves. We want to tell a different story this Holy Week, one that doesn’t require blood and sacrifice. Sure, we wish there was a better ending in it for Jesus, but what we really crave is a way to avoid facing ourselves in all our sin-stained glory. What we really want is a story that will allow us to justify ourselves.

That’s the thing about the truth, though – you can’t erase it no matter how big your eraser or how short your memory. And while we are pretty good at avoiding it the rest of the year, tonight and tomorrow we can’t.

As we make our way to the Upper Room we realize that all the things we have counted on to save us have fallen away. As we listen to the questions and answers of a trial we realize our need to have all the answers doesn’t satisfy the questions that really matter today. As we walk the final road with Jesus to the darkness of Good Friday, we realize the things we thought were significant – our bank accounts, our waist size, our last name – have disappeared in the shadow of the Cross.

We realize this week what we try to avoid every other one – that our rush to status and our desire for acclaim won’t give us what we need. We come to grips with the truth that there are problems beyond our capacity to solve them. We have to admit that we can’t provide what we truly need; absolution and redemption and the only status that matters come from somewhere else.

We all receive hope in the same way – by allowing the One with the towel and the water to cleanse us. No matter what we have searched for we find what we need in the One who was declared guilty. In the dark reality of the Cross all any of us can do is go to Dark Gethsemane and beg for mercy from the One who received none from us.

We can’t rewrite this story because its truth won’t be denied. We try to cover it up but the harsh reality won’t be silenced. We try to keep it hidden but it always finds us.

Truth and grace are persistent that way.

And so tonight and tomorrow we’ll tell this story again, to remind ourselves how they fit together. We’ll tell it to anyone who will listen and we’ll tell it to ourselves. That when everything falls apart, all isn’t lost. That when everyone else has left, we aren’t alone. That when all we’ve counted on has vanished, hope can still find us.

Hope is still here because he is still here. He is up there and what he has to offer is enough. It’s the only thing that is.

 

Note: This is the fourth post in a series, Prayers for the Path, prayers that keep us rooted and close to Jesus as we follow him this season to Jerusalem.

Prayers For the Path: 

The Prayer of Silence 

The Prayer of Gratitude

The Prayer of Lament

 

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Prayers For the Path: The Prayer of Lament

Things are not as they should be. That’s more than just how those of us who are trying to follow Jesus understand the world.

It’s something most of us see and experience every day.

That’s unfortunately obvious again this morning as we try to make sense of the senseless violence in Syria. Friends who have been to South Sudan are heartbroken over the events in that country as well. Our own city is still reeling over another shooting in a part of town that’s already suffered too much.

Each morning, it seems, brings another burst of darkness, another event that overwhelms our senses. We can’t go a day without wondering how the gap between the ways things are and the way they should be will ever shrink.

It isn’t just the news and it isn’t just on TV. We’ve felt the pain in the deterioration of relationships that leaves us asking what happened. We’ve felt stuck in our work and buried in the darkness of depression. We’ve walked under a burden that is so heavy and been filled with so much pain that we would give anything to find a load that is easy and a burden that is light.

It wasn’t too long ago that I found myself flipping through the Bible I read in college. It was then when I started actually reading the Bible seriously, if not always intelligently. This particular Bible is beaten up, its corners are rounded, and it is falling apart. It has seen better days.

One of the sections that is the most marked up in that Bible is a small book, sandwiched between Jeremiah and Ezekiel – the book of Lamentations.

I’m not exactly sure how I found it, but in the midst of hurt and struggles I was dealing with at the time I found in those pages what I desperately needed.

It was there I discovered I wasn’t the first one to feel like things were falling apart. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to experience how plans could be foiled. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to get knocked down without much of an idea of how to get back up. It was there I found I wasn’t the first one to convince myself I was all alone facing a world that wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

As I opened my Bible I read the prayers of people who were angry with God. I paid attention to people trying to hold it all together while everything else was trying to pull them apart. I listened to the suffering of families in a world that was a long way from Eden. Mostly, I studied the prayers of people who were hoping and willing God to act.

At the heart of Lamentations is the belief that even in the dark places God is still there. The people crying out to God put their hope in the promise that even in their suffering God still remembered them. They still prayed because they still trusted in a God who would act on their behalf.

The language is jarring and the images stretch us. And yet, Lamentations 3 reveals the heart of the Gospel and the core of faith and trust:

 “So I say, God is my glory and all that I had hoped for from the Lord…But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never end.”

We have a hard time praying prayers of lament. We don’t want to bother God with our problems. We feel guilty complaining to God that things aren’t perfect when we are all too aware of our own imperfections. We would rather sing with joy than deal with our pain.

But what Lamentations teaches us about prayer, and really about God, is that just because things aren’t the way they should be doesn’t mean they’ll always be that way. They, and we, become different when we remember that even in the midst of darkness and heartbreak God hasn’t abandoned us. We offer to God our pain that comes from the way the world is and our dreams for how the world might one day be because we have come to believe that the most powerful force in the world isn’t a nation with an army or a corporation that’s too big to fail but the God who has promised to never abandon us regardless of the cost.

We remember that especially this week. As we get ready to walk the lonesome road with Jesus, we know we are on the path to night and betrayal, long days of darkness where you will have to strain to glimpse even a shadow of light.

It is true that the world isn’t how it should be. What keeps us walking is that we know it won’t always be this way.

 

 

Note: This is the third post in a series, Prayers for the Path, prayers that keep us rooted and close to Jesus as we follow him this season to Jerusalem.

Prayers For the Path: 

The Prayer of Silence 

The Prayer of Gratitude

 

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Prayers For The Path: The Prayer of Gratitude

We have been conditioned to understand Lent as a season full of darkness.

After all, this is the time in the church year when we pay particular attention to the gaps our sin has created in our relationship with God. These are the days when we are invited to come to grips with the idols that have pulled us away from the path of Jesus. These are the nights when we contemplate how for all of us both our origins and our endings include dust.

But that’s not all God is up to during these forty days. If we do Lent right, our season of preparation will include much more than wallowing in hues of dark purple and black. Instead, Lent can be a great teacher of gratitude.

The season teaches us that confessing the sins that weigh us down reminds us of the depths of God’s mercy for us. Realizing the idolatries within us leads us to remember all the ways we depend on God’s forgiveness. Acknowledging the power of temptation invites us to give thanks for the God who is showing us a better way.

The practices of confession and penance don’t leave us trapped in a darkened room with no escape but instead open a door to gratitude that frees us receive the gifts God wants to give us.

That’s one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in praying The Examen. One of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, The Examen invites us to pay attention to the presence of God in the ordinary activities that make up our lives. By providing structure and guidance to my evening prayers, the Examen has directed me to consider all the places and ways I have experienced God’s grace and mercy. It has also revealed plenty of areas of sin to confess, but even those are opportunities for gratitude when contemplated and prayed in the light of God’s ongoing mercy and grace.

This season invites us to live with a particular type of prayer for an extended period of time. The prayer isn’t so much the point – instead it is about allowing the prayer to point us and redirect us back to God.  It’s really about the turning.

The particular turning I’ve been able to experience this Lent has been less about facing my own inadequacies and more about experiencing the generosity of the God who forgives them. I am becoming more grateful not just for isolated moments and encounters but for the consistent love and character of the God who is drawing me deeper into relationship through these prayers.

The closer we get to Jerusalem the more important this is. Because just like those early disciples I am not sure I like exactly where all this is headed. I have my own ideas about who Jesus should be and what he should be about. I have plenty of thoughts about what he should do and what redemption should look like for me – and particularly for those who aren’t me.

And yet living and praying with gratitude is what keeps me going. Thankfulness for all God has done for me is what keeps me from turning back – at least for now.

We need gratitude and thankfulness in order to trust the goodness of God who is taking us somewhere we don’t want to go.

Thank you. This is the prayer I’m praying today.

How about you?  What is is that you are thankful for?  How might you develop gratitude to live with trust in the God who is calling you to something different?  What do you need to return to God with all your heart?

 

Note: This is the second post in a series, Prayers for the Path, prayers that keep us rooted and close to Jesus as we follow him this season to Jerusalem.

Prayers For the Path: 

The Prayer of Silence 

 

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Prayers For The Path: The Prayer of Silence

It is four o’clock in the morning and I’m wide awake. My brain is racing with words demanding to be put into sentences and things needing to be marked as done. There are the things I wish I had said yesterday, and a few words I wish I hadn’t. I can spit out the things that need to get done today, so I can replace them with things tomorrow that are only a little less urgent.

This is no way to begin the day. This is a life, but not life we would call real. This is something less than that.

And so instead of this sprint what I want, maybe more than anything else, is to sit for a minute and remind myself that who I am has nothing to do with this list of things and everything to do with the One who declares I Am. What I’m looking for is a place to hide, if only for a moment, from the demands to go and do. I’m in search of a shelter from the doom and gloom seemingly all around us. I’m trying to find a space not to do but to be.

And so I run, not for the hills, but to the silence, to listen for the words of the God who has something to say to me. Even me. If I can listen. For a moment.

I run to it because, even at this hour I can remember the lesson that so many wise teachers have tried to get into my frazzled and hurried soul – grace doesn’t come from producing words but receiving them. I must decrease, He must increase, John the Baptist said after encountering Jesus.

Sounds about right.

I can’t begin to count all the hours I’ve spent wondering what I should say to God or the best way to approach God in prayer. I’ve struggled my whole life to find the right words to describe my situation and labored to put things in the most appropriate light.

This is how I’m wired. I like words. I read them. I write them. I use them to justify why I’m right and everyone else is wrong. I want to tell God how things need to be and exactly what I need to have happen.

And so it’s humbling to be reminded that the key to receiving the rest God gives begins with me speaking less and listening more. Grace isn’t a great argument to win but a gift spoken to me.

When it comes to prayer, my words are optional. God’s word is essential.

And so I remember the words I need – You were created for more than this. I remember the words that define who I am – You are my child. I remember the words that order my days – Take up your cross and follow me. I remember the words that call me back – You were bought with a price.

Not words that came from me, words that were given, words that changed everything.

And so what I am trying to do right now, in this season of Lent, is to get close enough to Jesus to hear what he has to say. Not from a distance, but up close, where I can see his face and hear the tone in his voice.

That’s what all of this is about. I’m tempted to speak, to tell him what he needs to notice. I want to tell him where to direct his attention. It takes everything I have not to tell him how to solve a particular controversy. It’s on the tip of my tongue how he needs to set this person straight.

The longer I can go without talking, the closer to him I get. The more of his words I hear the easier it is to see what is in front of us. The more I pay attention to him, the more I begin to act like him.

This is why I want to flee the noise. This is why I crave the silence. This is why I run away from the hustle. This is why I want to rest in being present.

To hear his words and to learn his way.

This is the prayer I need.

 

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