An Ordinary Prayer for an Ordinary Day

It’s All About Perspective

God, you are good.
We pretend to be Holy.
We confuse church with the kingdom.
May we break down the barriers to make them the same.
On our best days, we try to live up to the potential you’ve instilled within us.
Despite our strenuous efforts, our lives get in the way.
We want to be our free-will loving selves.
We love the lives we’ve created for ourselves.
We are comfortable people.
You call us to be less comfortable and a little less proud of our accomplishments. We didn’t do this alone. You helped us.  We know there are no self-made people in the Kingdom of Heaven.
You live, all the time, with those who are uncomfortable, unknown, and unrecognizable. Forgive us for confusing encountering the Gospel in comfort with being in ministry.
It’s easier to view the world from the top of the Temple than it is through your compassion.
Help us stop seeing our neighbors as the representation of someone else’s fears and doubts.
Give us the strength to take one step forward to ask our neighbors their names, hurts, cares, and concerns.
Help us to create a community in the distance between people who only nod to say hello or look the other way when crossing the street.
You know the needs surrounding us. You are present as people try to make Food Stamps work to feed many mouths, in Social Service waiting rooms, WIC offices, in Hospice care, and prisons. You know we don’t see half of the hurt among your kingdom. Open our eyes and loosen our feet.
You know the joy in our hearts. Let that joy be opened and shared with a world waiting for the Good News. The world is listening. Will we speak?

For now, we say Amen.

Richard Bryant

More God, Less Us

A couch big enough for an entire denomination’s therapy session?

The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I’ve never been entirely comfortable with some of the implications within the United Methodist mission statement. I believe that it gives too much responsibility to people, sinners like you and me rather than God. I think we place the cart before the horse. Our misspoken mission statement has contributed, in one form or another, to our current predicament. We sit on the edge of schism because we don’t know who makes disciples. We honestly believe that the power to make people into disciples of Jesus Christ comes from within us and not from God. I think the potential to transform the world and make new disciples comes from God and God alone. We’ve been worshipping our abilities or at the least, an imagined power within us to do more than we capable of achieving.

I can hear it now. “Of course, we don’t transform the world alone. We make disciples with the help of Jesus. We’re only borrowing these words from scripture.” The problem is we don’t say what we mean. If you were to survey the average church member, they’d claim responsibility for making new disciples.  Why? This is what we teach. I think we’re wrong. God is making disciples and we’re taking credit at charge conferences.  That’s not cool.

If we don’t say it, we don’t mean it. We could reword and rephrase our mission statement to emphasize a divine-human partnership or place the totality of someone’s spiritual transformation on their encounter with God. We choose not to do this. We continue to claim that Methodists and Methodist churches make disciples. United Methodists have a difficult enough time making decisions about paint colors and changing light bulbs. Jesus makes disciples in personal interactions with people. We have a hard time finding the time for committees to meet. It seems so pretentious of us to grant ourselves the authority of world transformation and disciple making. That level of narcissism scares me when a parishioner comes into my office in need of a mental health referral. Do we need a denominational therapist?  Should we be facilitating God’s good work, not claiming credit for all God has done?

“Hi, we’re an aging mainline denomination with delusions of grandeur. We think we have greater spiritual authority and powers than we do. We want to serve God and help others do the same. Do you know a good therapist?”

Imagine asking that question instead of trying to figure out how we implement the trust clause and keeping the mission statement we’ve got?

I vote, “more God, less us”.  How about that for a mission statement?

Richard Lowell Bryant

Increase Our Faith (and other stories from the Road) Luke 17


It is the second stage of Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. Jesus tells the disciples of an easily ignored idea in scripture: forgiveness is endless, and causing someone else to sin is about as bad as it gets. Forgive those who’ve wronged you and repented into a seven-time seven multiple of infinite forgiveness; that’s a mind-blowing proposition. Consider the implications; we are to forgive others as God forgives us. (Lord’s Prayer, anyone?)

How can one not cause others to sin if we’ve decided (contrary to Jesus’ teaching) that grace and forgiveness will end with us? How is “sin” not the inevitable next step if you’re going to play God (at the micro-level) and decide whose repentance is worthy of acceptance? Causing others to sin is part and parcel of living in a world where we ration forgiveness and carry grudges from now until the time we die. Jesus’ point seems to be this: if you want a sin strategy, we need a forgiveness plan. Forgiveness takes on many names, “repair, restoration, healing,” and so on. However, you can’t spell forgiveness without love. I know there’s no “l.” I dare you though, to do it any other way.

Out of this critical conversation, the disciples pose a question only the disciples of Jesus Christ could ask, “Increase our faith!” It’s not even a question; it’s an imperative demand like a child having a tantrum. (The Greek is downright ugly.) You want Jesus to increase your faith? Does Jesus utter a secret “faith” phrase? How does one “increase” an abstract quality unique to any given individual? Have you thought this through?

Faith comes by lived experience with the resurrected Christ, not by someone waving a magic wand and turning us into more faithful Christians. Would that kind of Christianity even be fun?  (Remind me again how faith grew on the road to Emmaus? Was it by scripture study and breaking bread? Did Jesus push the secret faith button to make them believe?)

Faith is intensely personal. However, if our faith only grows from external sources, how committed are we? Once the music fads change, we lose the wristbands, and the fashionable Christian t-shirts no longer fit; where is our faith? Maybe we weren’t that faithful in the first place. We might have been religious. Were we faithful?

Our faith grows, over time. We don’t make imperative tantrums to demand Jesus give us our way. Instead, faith is lived and practiced every day in a relationship with Jesus. Faith is a together proposition. It always has been.

Faith needs forgiveness. Faithful people forgive people. If we want more faith, be more forgiving. Oh, but that’s hard. It involves loving our enemies, being uncomfortable, and living by the Beatitudes. As we see in Luke 17, we’d prefer to tell Jesus what we demand, stomp our feet, and wait on him to say the magic words. Let me know how that goes.

Richard Lowell Bryant