Friday, February 26, 2010

On Practicing What We Preach

Part of my Lenten examination convicts me to do things I tend to put off for "better reasons."  Like blogging.  I originally started this exercise to be a witness of what God shares with me; however, I have become a bit...well...lazy, even though I hate to admit it.  It is easier to simply link to my podcast sermons each week rather than think of something to write.  And I really like writing, but I tend to put it off, even in my personal journaling.  So, I am planning to have at least one written post a week on my blog.  I am allowing my myself to be held accountable by my readers.  If I do not have at least one written post per week, you can absolutely call me on it.  Now, on to the actual blog...

My sermon series this Lent is on Prayer.  I think God picked this out especially for me.  Oh, I pray, absolutely I pray.  I pray all the time, but I don't necessarily always have what my daughter calls 'God Time.'  God Time is when you are in conversation.  You are in a kairos type of time and space, set apart to speak and listen to what God wants to chat with you about. I have tended to make a bigger deal about this in my personal devotional life than probably needs to be done.  It shouldn't be a formal meeting but a casual conversation.  My daughter gets this perfectly.  She sits down at her computer each night before she goes to bed and types a dialogue.  She types her prayers and she types God's  answers.  I have no idea how many pages this must be by now, but she is faithful to this practice.  We could all learn from her.

I have been seeking this in my own life, but my conversations with God do not really flow the same way hers do.  I would be distracted by spelling, punctuation or grammar; something she doesn't worry about in the slightest. We cannot all be the same.  If this practice works for you (give it a try for a week and see how it goes), you may have discovered something helpful to not only hear God speaking to you, but to record it for future reference.  If not, I have learned of something new, which I am trying out and it tends to go more with my need to be more passive, with as little of me as possible.  Now, that doesn't mean that I am only sitting there waiting for God to speak, but something that I can be still (really, no writing, no typing, etc.) and know that God is there.  This is more of a submissive passiveness than a lazy passiveness. 

After my post on "Lord Teach Us to Pray" a friend responded with her own struggles in having that meaningful quiet time.  She shared with me a podcast that has been helpful for her.  It is on the Jesuit web site Pray-as-you-go...daily prayer for your MP3 playerYou can download the podcasts on a MP3 player, or you can listen to them online.  They have podcasts for devotionals Monday thru Friday, with music, scripture, guided meditation, all the stuff that resonates with me.  They even have podcasts for breathing and body exercises to help you prepare to be in prayer. 

My friend combines these devotionals with an order for morning prayer from the Upper Room Worshipbook.  Beginning with the order for morning prayer, she inserts the pray-as-you-go devotional in place of the scripture reading and message or meditation.  She keeps a notebook nearby to write down anything she feels a need to, things God is speaking to her, things brought to mind, people to pray for, etc.  I thank her for sharing this with me.

I am still working on getting this more a part of my life.  The questions now are: is it better in the morning?  Or the evening?  How does this work with or incorporate with the daily devotional I read from Upper Room Ministries?  I haven't necessarily settled on any answers on these questions, but I am, as always, a work in progress.  I'll let you know how it is going next week.

A Time of Self-Examination

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish knight who, after being seriously injured in battle, underwent a spiritual conversion during recovery.  He was inspired to live a life of labor for God, and became a priest.  He began the Jesuit religious order in which education and self-examination were central to the followers.  The men of this order were to observe the Spiritual Exercises, a process originally designed to take place in a retreat setting over a four week period.  During this time, you were to focus on nothing other than the exercises as a way to understand living in relationship with God through four major themes:  Sin; the life of Jesus; the Passion of Jesus; and the Resurrection of Jesus.  There are still retreats that follow the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  The Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola is said occasionally in worship, but it is a good prayer to make a daily prayer throughout the season of Lent:

Teach us, good Lord,
   to serve you as you deserve;
   to give and not to count the cost;
   to fight and not to heed the wounds;
   to toil and not to seek for rest;
   to labor and not to ask for any reward,
      except that of knowing that we do your will;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.


Spiritual examination and accountability were instrumental to the beginning of the Methodist movement as well.  John and Charles Wesley’s mother, Susanna, would sit down weekly with her children and ask them a question; “how is it with your soul?”  For those of us ‘modern’ mothers who think that back in the 1700s there was more time to spend with your children in such exercises might keep in mind that Susanna didn’t have the convenience of time saving devises like dishwashers and clothes washers and dryers, and to top it all off, she had 19 children!  And yet she made time every week not only to teach her children that their faith and relationship with God are important to her and should be to them, but also held them accountable in their relationship with God.  

During this season of Lent I invite you to a Time of Self-Examination and reflection on your relationship with God.  This should take no more than 15 minutes and be done morning and evening.  First begin by thanking God for the blessings in your life.  Then you ask for the grace to recognize and rid yourself of your sins.  Next, reflect on your soul from the time of your last time of prayer.  Then you will ask for a pardon of your faults.  And finally, ask for God’s help to transform your life into what God would have it to be.  You then might pray the prayer of St. Ignatius. 

Let us practice self-examination together during this season of Lent.  Let us make time to reflect and to grow closer with God as we walk the footsteps of Jesus toward death and resurrection. 

Grace and peace,

Rev. Sonja

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lord Teach us to Pray

Well, as most of you know, I will post a recording of my sermon each Sunday.  However, today we had a technical glitch and the recording doesn't sound very good.  So, I am writing out a post today that has thoughts from my sermon this morning.

My sermon series through Lent is on prayer.  We began at the beginning, how do we pray.  The disciples also really didn't know how to pray.  In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches them about praying with the right heart and spirit.

Verses 9-14 tell us:
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name.
  Your kingdom come.
   Your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven.
  Give us this day our daily bread.
  And forgive us our debts,
     as we also have forgiven our debtors.
   And do not bring us to the time of trial,
     but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.


In Luke, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them.  Neither scripture reading presupposes that we just know how to communicate with God.  We are taught by those who have learned before us.


How did you learn to pray?  Were you taught by a parent or grandparent?  Were you taught by a Sunday school teacher?  Were you young or older?  Most of us learn to pray through rote prayers.  Many of us teach our children prayers for specific situations.  If you having them praying at mealtime, then they may pray, "God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.  Amen."  Perhaps praying before tucking them into bed, you might teach them "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  God bless..." and then they list the family members, friends, and others they wish God to bless.  We do not simply know how to pray.  It is important that we are given an example.  Not only the example of witnessing those pray who guide us in our faith, but also in the example of a prayer we can memorize. 

We learn the Lord's prayer, but we do not stop to think about what we are really praying.  We say the words, but don't give much thought as to what we are really praying for.  Jesus' disciples were familiar with the rites and rituals of the synagogue, but still they wanted to learn how to pray.  Jesus not only taught them how to pray, but also taught them something about relationship.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Do we really praise God's name?  Do we really realize that our prayer brings us into the presence of God, and in that brings us a little closer to the holiness we are called to?

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  God's kingdom isn't a someday, faraway thing that is not relevant in our lives today.  We pray for God's kingdom to be in our midst and for God's will to be done in the world around us, just like in heaven.  But God's kingdom starts in the lives of God's people, and God's will is first carried out in the hearts of God's people.  Do we really try to bring the kingdom of God with us everywhere we go?  Do we really seek to have God's will control our lives and our decisions?

Give us this day our daily bread. This involves not worrying about tomorrow.  Not worrying about whether or not we have saved enough money or hoarded enough stuff.  This is trusting that God will provide what you need today...tomorrow...and always.  If we are living in the moment with God being our guide, we will not worry about tomorrow's bread today.  Do we trust God with our future?

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Do we really forgive?  We say we do, but then we get to talking about someone else and pretty soon our speech betrays our true feelings.  If we live a life of forgiveness constantly, we do not need to worry about if we forgive people for the things they do which offend us, because we never hold these things against them in the first place.  Sometimes we have grievous crimes committed against us, but even then forgiveness brings healing and wholeness to the forgiver and opens the door for God to bring the offender to a place of repentance.  Is there someone you need to forgive, so that God can bring the full effect of God's forgiveness for you to your life?

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  We want God to rescue us from the messes we end up in. We think we can dance near the fire and not get burned.  If there is something in our lives that is a temptation for us, we need to remove ourselves from that temptation.  If we have friends who are a poor influence on us, and lead us away from God, then we need to rethink that friendship.  Often, we rationalize we hang around them so we can be an example of Christ for them, but we are not really staying away from temptation.  We aren't living the example of Christ in their midst.

If we are struggling with something, and God knows what you struggle with, then we need to make sure we do not place ourselves in situations that will bring us temptation.  And we shouldn't want to direct our own lives and ask God to bless it.  We need to be able to follow God as God leads us away from those things that interfere in our relationships with God and God's people.  Do you allow God to change you?

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. This is not in the original prayer of Jesus, but was added later.  In this phrase we are turning over our control to God.  Whatever we have prayed before this, and however it will change us, we are placing ourselves in God's hands to be used for God's glory.  In this we are affirming that we are small by comparison  to God's greatness, and it is arrogance on our part to think we are in control.  Do you snatch control of your life from God?  Have you considered that it is arrogance to think we should decide what we want and ask God to bless it? 

If we pray and our hearts are in the right place, then prayer doesn't change God, or even the situations around us, but prayer changes us.  I want us all to be changed this Lenten season as we learn to pray.

Pray for something you want God to change in you this Lenten season.  Pray for someone who needs to be included in the community of faith, someone you might invite to church on Easter Sunday.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Love Interactions

Sermon January 31, 2010 on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.  Guest preacher, Kaleb Oakleaf, a high school senior.