Tuesday, October 23, 2018

What is Appropriate Prayer?

For the past month, Milwaukee has been buzzing. Our local Major League team, the Brewers, was on a tear. They finished with the best record in the National League, made the playoffs for the first time in seven years, and won twelve in a row to win the NL Central title and sweep the first round of the playoffs. It has seemed like everyone was wearing Brewers gear and talking baseball in our area.

On Saturday, the Brewers hosted game 7 of the NL Championship against the LA Dodgers with a chance to go to the World Series for the first time since 1982 and the city was electric.

But they lost. No World Series. No more season. There was no joy in Mudville, for mighty Casey had struck out...

The next morning, during the late worship service at my church, the assisting minister added an impromptu petition to the prayers that was something like: "Lord, help us in our grief over our baseball team losing. We wanted to go to the World Series and it hurts. Help us get over it and look forward to next season."

In the moment, I didn't know exactly what to think about the prayer. I wondered if some would be offended by including something like a sports team in the prayers. Would some feel it wasn't appropriate for the prayers in church? Did I?

As I continued to think about it, I remembered that I myself often tell people there is no bad prayer. "Prayer," I say, "is just speaking honestly with God." I sometimes use the examples of Psalm 137 or Psalm 109, where the writers pray for God to bring suffering to their enemies. I also use them as examples of the truth that God is with us in times of pain and suffering. If those bitter songs are saved as examples of prayer in the Bible, we can be honest with our own pain, anger, or whatever we feel.

As I thought about it, I realized this prayer was speaking honestly with God. She was saying, "Sure, it's just a baseball team, but a lot of us here are hurting today. If you're with us in any suffering, please be with us in this time of pain." In a different situation, it might have been silly or frivolous, but on that morning, it was true and sincere. That, I believe is God's hope for our prayers, because when we are honest about ourselves, we can be more open to what God has to say to us.

May we all be reminded that there is no part of our lives that is beyond God and nothing that God doesn't want to hear from us. 

From the Gray,

Pastor Ari

“I’m-a say all the words inside my head.” -Imagine Dragons, “Believer”

Friday, October 5, 2018

Improper Amputations

"[Jesus said,] 'If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire'" (Mark 9:43).

Last Sunday, the assigned gospel lesson in the Revised Common Lectionary included this happy line along with orders to remove your feet and eyes if they cause you to sin, as well. Jesus is commanding his followers to remove sources of sin and evil in their lives, but as far as I know, no one has ever taken this passage literally and maimed themselves in the name of holiness. (Which is good!) 

But the more I thought about this passage, the more I think we carry that out in ways that may not be literal, but are still destructive and unhealthy. 

I was thinking about it while watching the news of our politicians belittling each other or calling each other unAmerican, hateful, or even evil. 

I was thinking about it in Bible study where people shared stories of being rejected or shamed by someone in the Church sometime in their past. 

I was thinking about it in conversations where people talk about unfriending loved ones or removing themselves from from a social circle because of a disagreement about politics or religion.

And I was thinking that far too often (especially in this divided age of history), we see the sources of sin and evil in our lives as other people. Jesus warns about the evils within ourselves, but instead, we attempt to amputate the people we think are problems. 

This is the very problem Jesus is addressing in this passage, which begins with his disciples saying, "There was someone healing in your name, but he wasn't one of us, so we told him to get lost." That person was different. He was a problem. We had to get rid of him. 

But Jesus says, "No." And then he talks about hands and feet and eyes as a way of saying, "Don't look for evil in other people without seeing it in yourself, too." Whenever we silence, ignore, cast off, or dehumanize others because of differences, we fail to be faithful to Jesus. Whenever we see people as bad instead of their actions or words, we are likely ignoring the faults within ourselves. 

Sadly, history is filled with examples of people attempting to cut off those they saw as a problem by silencing, alienating, or even killing them. We've seen it done to monarchies and peasants, Jews and Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, foreigners and minorities, political radicals and moderates, leftists and right wingers, communists and capitalists, and on and on... All of these efforts have involved hatred or violence and are rarely remembered as high points in human story. 

In this era of division, Jesus' words here and to love my enemies challenge me that we can disagree but not dehumanize, we can be different but not belittle.

And if we seek to reduce evil in the world, we may need to start by removing our hatred, our prejudice, and our own pointing fingers. 

From the Gray,
Pastor Ari

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose.” -Goo Goo Dolls, “Name”