Common Prayer for an Ordinary Wednesday in October

Madonna and Child, Burgaw United Methodist Church

Gracious God,

Hear our prayers,

They are sometimes muffled, silent, and nonexistent.

Yet, we come before you today, taking one step into the next moment.

In this moment, we embrace the dignity you give us as children of God.

In this instance, we stand as forgiven people.

We acknowledge we are no different, no better, and no worse than all of the redeemed who we encounter each day.

Wipe the stain of righteous indignation from our hearts.

Forgive us of choosing one sin to love and another to hate.

Forgive us from doing church yet forgetting Jesus.

Heal those who are broken in body, mind, and spirit.  You know their needs in ways greater than we can express.  Where ever they are, in homes, Hospices, Hospitals, offices, cars, schools, or churches; send your spirit.

O Lord, hear our prayers,

Amen

Richard Bryant

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

Things That Just Happen Which Aren’t God’s Will

God’s will doesn’t factor into the life of wooden birds.

Things that are NOT God’s will:

  1. Hurricanes
  2. Cancer
  3. Suicide
  4. Alzheimer’s and Dementia
  5. The loss of a job / obtaining a job
  6. Finding a parking space at the mall
  7. The purchase of a new home
  8. An accident of any kind
  9. War
  10. Anything that hurts vulnerable people (like children)

*A note to readers.  This list is far from conclusive.

Some Christians have a flawed understanding of “God’s will” and what it means to pray, within the context of the Lord’s Prayer “Thy will be done on Earth as it Heaven”.  God’s will does not mean we as humanity must find ways to fit the square God peg into the circular human hole as a means of making the wrong seem, right.  Sometimes bad things happen for no reason and we can’t squeeze God into the picture, no matter how hard we try.  Have you ever noticed how God resists relationships with evil?  It’s not God’s will for people to suffer, or be blessed in one extreme way over another. God wants us all blessed and happy.  It is God’s will for us to be there for one another in the good times and bad.  We don’t have to offer explanations.  All we need do is mirror the love of Christ.  That’s God’s will.

Richard Lowell 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

How Methodist Is Jesus

Boxes from which Jesus escaped

Jesus is a great Christ. In fact, he’s the best Christ.  However, I think he would be a horrible Methodist.  By today’s evangelical standards, Jesus wouldn’t be “church” leadership material. He’s a little squishy on the crucial theological issues of the day. Jesus doesn’t love the sinner and hate the sin. He loves unconditionally.  I’ve never seen Jesus forward a meme asking anyone to type “Amen”.  Truly, the man is not a distinction drawer. This would make some people uncomfortable.  People like his disciples.

Mark 9:38-41 illustrates how poorly Jesus would fit in with contemporary Methodists. The disciples have come to Jesus with a complaint. “We’ve seen others doing things in your name, people casting out demons. But here’s the thing, Jesus. We don’t know the guy. He doesn’t hang around with us. He seems to be someone who’s heard about you and is now off doing is own thing.” Speaking like keepers of the institutional flame, the disciples want to know why this man is doing Jesus-like things without going through an official board or a litmus test of theological orthodoxy.

Jesus’ answer gives him away. It tells me he wouldn’t be a “good” United Methodist. (Official Methodism has structures designed to limit people from operating outside the system.) Jesus says, “Don’t stop him.” Not only does Jesus want the disciples to refrain from hindering this man, he reminds them, “whoever isn’t against us is for us.” The apathetic masses, Jesus says, those millions who don’t go to church or do church differently are actually for us.

The disciples are wondering: How can those who are indifferent to us do any tangible good (for the kingdom) in the long run? People who aren’t against us may be for us, yet they don’t pay our apportionments. The disciples want to know how Jesus would report this at Charge Conference.  Jesus certainly isn’t a United Methodist.

No, Jesus doesn’t sound like a Christian, United Methodist, Evangelical, or anything else. He’s none of those things. Jesus is Jesus. He is the Christ. He will not fit into the boxes we’ve built.  Thank God. That’s the way it should be. Now, more than ever, we need to work with people who are different from us and realize the guy working in Jesus’ name who makes us uncomfortable IS Jesus.

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