Thursday, April 24, 2008

What an Idea!

Several years ago I was working on the staff of a week-long summer camp. One night, while the children were settling in under the watchful eyes of their counselors, the program staff—a mix of clergy and lay folks—were kibitzing in the staff cabin. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but it most likely had to do with the various and ever-present frustrations inherent in working with kids and faith.

It was late and the evening was coming to a close. Anxieties and frustrations were not going to be solved that night. Just then—out of the blue—one of the staff suggested something that sounded (quite frankly) weird: “Does anyone want to pray?”

Pray? The whole week-long program for the kids consisted of regular intervals for prayer (even a noble effort to instill in them an appreciation for the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer), but that was on the level of camp program. But prayer for us? Unplanned? Spontaneous? What an idea!

It was a valuable lesson for us all, especially for us adults who sometimes expect more from our children than we expect from ourselves. So pray we did (the night prayer called compline) and the evening ended with great peace, having given all our anxieties and frustrations into God’s care.

Does it ever occur to us to pray? I don’t mean at typical times, such as before meals or perhaps as part of a discipline of personal devotion, but right there in the middle of life with its joys and frustrations? In the life of the Church, prayer outside of worship is a matter of common practice, usually at the beginning and the end of a meeting or a bible study. But only once in my time here have I ever had someone suggest—in the heat of disagreement or conflict—“why don’t we pray?” Talk about radical!

Prayers rise up from our hearts quite spontaneously when we face grave danger or crisis, but perhaps less so when faced with the ordinary (and sometimes significant) confusion of life. In the course of our daily life we are bombarded with choices. What would happen if we took the time to sincerely ask, “Which way, Lord?” What would happen if we took the time to listen (in the quiet of our hearts) for the response?

Scripture encourages us over and over again to “pray without ceasing,” to “call upon God in every need,” to “cast all our anxiety on Him.” Notice the sense of the absolute in these verses: all the time; every need; all our anxiety. We, in our shortsightedness, can be pretty picky about what we bother to pray about.

What we need most is to let go of our fear and follow Jesus in the way of prayer. We need it in our homes and also in our church community. At Redeemer, the re:Imagine planning process has led us to a certain point, with a myriad of options and choices; now is the time of discernment. Which way, Lord? Have we taken upon ourselves an attitude and practice of prayer? Do we ask for direction, do we expect a response, and do we listen to hear it?

I am excited about all the possibilities that lie ahead for this congregation, but I am ever more in awe of our reliance on God’s grace to make possibilities realities. I am learning that there is a time for rolling up our sleeves, but not without significant time on our knees.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. –Philippians 4:6

+ tjk

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A People on a Journey

"My feet hurt!" "We're hungry!" "Are we there yet?" Voices on a hiking trip with young children? Maybe. Or maybe voices of people on a journey through a wild place.

It is our story, after all. Consider the people of Israel back in the Old Testament. It's hard to believe that not long after being rescued miraculously through the parted Red Sea they were soon enough grumbling and murmuring and generally just misbehaving. "We had it better back there in Egypt," they said. "At least we knew where our food was coming from!"

When God leads a people into something new, it's not always an easy journey. Feet get tired. People get irritable. Some wrong turns are taken. Faith is tested. Lessons are learned.

Another image comes to mind. Fast forward a couple thousand years later. John the Baptizer, something of a new Moses, telling people to go ahead and get wet and go through the waters of the Jordan into something new. The kingdom of God is near! Prepare the way of the Lord! You would think the religious folk would be leading the way on that trip. Hardly so. The "religious" folk weren't sure what to make of that. It's a dangerous trip. The road appears uncertain. Everything familiar and safe is left behind.

Again, when God lead a people into something new, it's a strange, new journey.

The biblical stories of journeying people are powerful to me, because they speak the truth of our situation. Yes, right here in New Jersey 2008. Because we are God's people, saints all the way, called by name to embody God's life in the world. And (paradoxically) we're sinners all the way, too; stiff-necked and stubborn people who don't necessarily want to go where God might happen to lead. When God leads a people into something new...

Unfortunately, the Church (or at least the institution called the Church) is not always best set up to be led into something new. But newness is a dynamic that is woven throughout the scriptures. It's all about transformation, being led into something new: slavery into freedom; fishermen into apostles; brokenness into wholeness; death into life.

And us? Pity that we in the church often domesticate the Christian message into something merely about my spirituality, or my personal salvation, or my morality. The wild, untamed message of the scriptures is a message of radical transformation. Think of all the images. New life. Resurrection. A new heavens and a new earth. Freedom for the captive. Good news to the poor. Healing for the wounded.

Can we recapture that? Can we allow ourselves to be changed, to go through the water of repentance again, and open ourselves to be led into something new? Something new for our hearts? Something new for our families and our relationships? Something new for our community? Something new for our church? When God leads a people into something new...

Again, we find ourselves on the threshold of another Lent, another springtime. Will we go through the motions? Will we play it safe, journeying only over familiar territory? Or will we listen to the voice of the one who calls us into something new?