Jesus Takes All The Fun Out of Being Methodist

Jesus takes all the fun out of being United Methodist and religious. Don’t those two go together?  How are people going to know we are Holy Methodists unless we dress alike (custom UMC t-shirts of some nature), pray in public, make grand displays of our faith in the public sphere, Facebook every mission-related activity, and invoke God in every conversation?  Has Jesus not been an evangelism seminar?  Jesus needs to offer coffee, small groups, and a service for men who can’t tuck their shirts in.  Moms need a morning out and Jesus needs to say more about the sanctity of straight people being married.  What is he, some snowflake libtard?  Public piety and a healthy sense of religiosity define one’s Christianity.

Just kidding!  LOL!  I know they don’t but you’ve got to be honest, even on our best days, it’s a distinction we have trouble making.  Just take a look at this:

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.”  Matthew 6:1-7

If we can’t practice our piety in public to be seen by others, how are we going to recruit (sorry, I mean evangelize) others to join our churches?  Especially when institutional trust in religion is at an all-time low.  Public practices of piety are our stock in trade.  We would collapse and die without publicity.  We give evangelism awards and applaud each other on the back for cookie sales.  Those are public displays of piety.  We brand everything, from disaster relief ministries to youth events.  We have idolized the corporations and corporate practices that are bankrupting our communities.  Yes, we’re giving to the poor but these giving actions are preceded by the trumpet sound of car magnets, t-shirts, and official name badges.  We don’t call “practicing our piety before others”; we’ve cleaned it up and use the term “witnessing”.

Everyone prays differently.  Cokesbury’s catalog is dominated by books on different methods of prayer.  I think Jesus says:  don’t use your prayer time to make other people uncomfortable.  Just as he says don’t make a big deal out of what you do (focus instead on the how-Jesus is big on methodology), the way you communicate to God is intensely personal.  Do what’s right for you but don’t weird other people out with your words or actions when you pray.  Don’t be a spectacle.  Spectacles are for other people to see.  Who is your audience when you talk to God?  Here’s a thought:  give God the privacy and time God deserves.  Keep your password protected, like you would any sensitive communication.

Religious people love clichés.  (If someone tells me they’re going to put a hedge of protection around me I’m going for the weedeater.) Jesus has heard them all.  Be a better speaker and writer by using fewer clichés.  The same thing goes for prayers.  I know it feels fun, especially when you get on a roll and the “father gods, we just wannas, and hosannas” start to roll off your tongue.  Maybe Jesus is burnt out on hearing so many repeated phrases.  Try saying what’s on your mind.  It doesn’t make you any holier, more religious, or smarter.  Talk to Jesus.  Spit it out.  Drop the jargon.  It’s you Jesus wants, not the Dollar Store trinkets you’re bringing along.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Pastoral Prayer for August 19th 2018

Gracious God, Allah, and Yahweh:

Sisters and brothers,

Peace be upon you,

As-Salaam-Alaikum,

Shalom to you,

Gracious God, we place ourselves at your mercy.  In this moment and place, out of options and time, there is nothing else we can do.  Once we’ve made it here, we begin to realize that the ideas of competition, excess, and winning at all costs; are notions we’ve created in our minds.  The ideas we’ve labeled as from God, divine, Holy, and sacred do not come from you but derive from our egos, will, and pride.  We release the hold we retain on our lives, the power we hope to maintain control, so that we may give ourselves (as you made us) to your work and the service of others.

We remember those we have named and those known only to you O God, the sick and lonely, the grieving and lost, those awaiting answers and healing.

We remember those who have lost their homes to forest fires in the western United States and flooding in Southern India.

We remember those who are separated from the children and families due to war and violence.

We remember the religious pilgrims who travel to Mecca and Medina in the millions, attending the Haj, to find greater pathways to holiness and peace.  Keep them safe.

We remember the victims of clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.  We pray for justice, healing, and accountability.

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit may they know they are not alone.

Thank you for the spiritual witness of the music of Aretha Franklin.  Welcome her into the loving arms of your presence.

We acknowledge the blessings in our lives.  So easily taken for granted because of their abundance, clean water, houses, friends, families, health, food, safety; it is easy to forget gifts from God that are only an arm’s length away.  Let us take nothing for granted.  May words of grace mark the beginning and ending of each day, every prayer, examined moment, and life well lived.

Our prayer, O God, is to draw closer to you as you come closer to us.  We pray that we may meet in the middle.  May we move to the place we need to be.

In Jesus name,

Amen

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Mother’s Day Pastoral Prayer

There are too many prayers to name on Mother’s Day.  Our Mothers, Grandmothers, stepmothers, and others who act as mothers play such important roles in our lives.  We are grateful for their love, care, and understanding.  We remember the example of Jesus, even while upon the cross, caring for his mother’s needs.  May we be aware of the needs of our mothers and the women who care for children and families in our community.

Today we pray for those in the paths of natural disasters.  We especially remember our sisters and brothers in Hawaii.  Earth is not ours to tame or control.  God of creation, calm the chaos and provide time and space for those who are in danger to be moved to safety.

We pray for those who were injured last evening in attacks on churches in Indonesia and on the streets of Paris.  Hate is not a divine calling.  We pray for the victims of violence everywhere.

For those who suffer, seek medical treatment, and dwell in the thin places of life; we pray for their comfort and healing.  Gracious God, bring peace and assurance to them in moments of uncertainty and pain.  Help us to be ministers of presence and people who listen.  We are not called to have the right answers.  Help us to ask the right questions. Help us remember that we are to be present and aware.  May we become living instruments of your grace and mercy.  In the silence of our hearts, we remember those we have named this morning.

Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Prayer for Today

God,
Save us from ourselves.
Save us from others.
Save us from visions of grandeur.
Save us from the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Save us from seductive lure of apathy and self-righteous indignation.
Save us from our sinfulness.
Forgive us when we speak hollow words dressed in the guise of the prophetic language.
Forgive us so we may forgive others.
Forgive us for seeing the worst in others.
Forgive us for missing your point to focus on our agendas.
May our witness stand in contrast to evil,
May we give until we are empty,
Until we are completely dependently upon you,
For our joy and hope,
Compassion and empathy,
Reason and being,
Vision and movement,
Life and death.
As Resurrection People we pray,
Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

A Palm Sunday Prayer

Gracious God,

I’m not really a “parade person”. Crowds make me nervous and I’m always afraid I’ll mess up the group chant. I never get the “wave” right in stadiums. So Palm Sunday, as you might imagine, makes me a little nervous. Who am I kidding, I’m terrified! I’m not sure when to come in with my, “Hosanna in the Highest, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. As I stand in the crowd on Sunday morning, I ask you to hear my prayers, spoken from the silence of my heart:

Help me, in the days to come, to focus on what matters most,
Help me to see beyond the crowds and look to you,
Help me to find ways to block out the sounds of crowd,
Help me to listen to you when others put words into your mouth,
Help me to offer my heart when others offer their cloaks,
Help me find a place to be where you need me most.

Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Pastoral Prayer – January 28, 2018

Gracious God and Astounding Lord,

You come into our presence with authority.  We are once again amazed by your message.  The things you say and do are like nothing we have seen or heard.  Yet, in our complacency, we still manage to take you for granted.  You do not preach with anger or rage.  You speak with an authenticity that reflects your love for us.  For you the law is not a tool to accomplish some distant political end.  In hearing you, we understand that if scripture does not bring us together as sisters and brothers in the kingdom of God, it is impossible to do it on our own.  O Christ, we need you.  Your words come alive with compassion and hope.  They pull us together when we would prefer to be alone and driven by shallow self-interests.  Your words convict us to act, inspire, and do more than we ever thought possible.  When we are bound routine, the rituals of our lives become acts of service and love.

You have heard the names of the loved ones we have lifted this morning; both those spoken and those shared in silence.  They are near and dear to us.  Some we know by name, some by situation, for others, only you Lord, can truly understand their needs. For those suffering pain, loss, grief, fear, sickness, and addiction, we ask that you draw them close to your heart at this time.  Be with their families, friends, and others who support them.  Give them strength to continue on their journeys of recovery toward wholeness and healing.  You rejoice with us in our celebrations and you walk with us in our sorrows.

Hear us now as we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, who taught us to pray…

Richard Bryant

Veterans Day Pastoral Prayer

Gracious God,

On a day set aside to remember a war to end all wars, we confess that our ideals were not as noble as we once believed. Our brokenness was too great to be healed by treaties, agreements, and standing armies. Forgive us for making death so efficient, killing so easy, and peace so hard.

We pray in hope. As veterans, survivors, and witnesses of war hope for a time when sacrifice is honored, death is no longer glorified, and the grieving are comforted; the church continues to wait for the coming kingdom of God.

We wait in hope. The world does not understand our hope. Those around us grow impatient. We too are mystified by the presence of hope in grief, love in tragedy, faith in sorrow, and kindness in an angry world.

We live in hope. Hope brings that which is formless and void into love and light. Hope creates in the midst of nothingness. As we walk through the shallow steps of sorrow and grief or the highs of joy and celebration; your hope gives us a perspective to understand where we are and where we’re going.

The expectation embodied in the hope of your arrival is not ours to contain but through the Holy Spirit, ours to share. O God, your hope challenges the intricacies of the status quo which we accept without question. Your hope reorients our lives, our vision, our hearing, and our perspective in ways we may barely notice but cannot deny.

Save, heal, and forgive us.

In hope we pray,
through Jesus Christ our Lord

Amen

Richard Bryant