Pray for Me

You might remember a previous article about Ernie.  He’s the exterminator who works to keep our church pest free.  I like Ernie.  On his quarterly visits, our conversations about family, friends, and faith are usually the highlight of my day.  This winter, like last year, we’re having a problem with rodents.  I’ve even had a few in my office.  Though never during the day, they leave tell-tell signs of their nighttime wanderings.  In addition to spraying, Ernie comes and resets large rat and mice traps.  Despite my Christian love for all of God’s creation, I want the rodents gone from my office.

Today, before Ernie left, he stopped at my office door and turned back for a moment and asked,  “Is there anything going on in your life that I can pray about?”  The question threw me for a loop.  Prayer isn’t strange to me.  I’m used to talking about prayer and praying with others.  Did you catch the difference?  I ask the questions.  I can’t remember the last time someone asked me what was going on in my life and if they could pray for me.  My job is to pray for others.  It’s easy to forget that others need and even want to pray for me.

I told Ernie what was going on.  He listened and asked a few perceptive questions.  In those moments, we switched roles.  He was ministering to me.  I wasn’t Pastor Bryant, the preacher with the rodent problem.  I was someone in need of prayer.    Ernie prayed for my family and me.  As I said, I can’t remember the last time someone stopped what they were doing and prayed for me and my life.  I think that says a lot about how people treat preachers.  We are treated like disposable toys.  Place us where you want in the positions you see fit.  If we don’t function properly, bang us until we work again or break from being used in a way God never intended.  If we do not say the right words or go along to get along; then we will be discarded in the name of a righteous God.  When we’re empty, we will be berated for not understanding the word Sabbath.  Our disposal will be our own fault.  No one will ever ask, “Did we ask was there something going on in their life we could pray about?”  No, they will not.  Because that’s not how the world works.

Ernie cared enough about my ministry to minister to me.  He didn’t have to but he did.  Some center, a high priced leadership group for education or ministry needs to invite Ernie to be a speaker.  He gets what none of the ones I see advertised (or have attended) understand.  Empathy works both ways.  If you don’t have that, everything you do, no matter how traditionally you view marriage, is dysfunctional.

Richard Lowell Bryant

Advertisements

Is There Anything That Could Make Me Say “No” To God?

I’ll be the first to admit, I sometimes become frustrated with God. People within our congregation and community are fighting life-threatening cancers. Another friend had his second leg amputated. Diabetes is a vicious disease. They and their families are praying for answers. None are on the horizon. God seems silent. I share their dissatisfaction with God’s lack of attention and feel their sadness. There’s nothing to say.

Are these moments, part and parcel of my pastoral ministry, enough for me to say “no” to God?

It is difficult to tell God “no” when I encounter words such as those in Psalm 72. In the twelfth verse, it begins, “Let it be so, because he delivers the needy who cry out, the poor, and those who have no helper.” How can I say “no” to a God who seeks to help the helpless?

Verse thirteen continues, “He has compassion on the weak and the needy; he saves the lives of those who are in need.” Both compassion and salvation take many forms. Who am I to judge what ways God’s salvation and compassion must be realized? Is it not enough that they are present in the lives of those blessed to meet needs? Who is this God that cannot see beyond the most vulnerable? Perhaps, God is as frustrated and as dissatisfied as I am. God dwells among the weak and the needy.

Verse fourteen says, “He redeems their lives from oppression and violence; their blood is precious in his eyes.” Redemption comes in many forms. Healing is sometimes called death. Either way, God makes our lives holy in unexpected ways. We matter to God, and the world we inhabit is beloved. The violence and oppression which define today are not God’s, and if we take Psalm 72 at face value, we can partner with God to redeem, heal, and help the most vulnerable.

God’s kingdom is not a divided reality. We do not live in a bipolar universe. The Kingdom of Heaven is the world beyond your doorstep. Psalm 72 is asking us to step up and out today. We know the vulnerable, needy, and oppressed in our communities.   While we snipe at each other, fight over Twitter, and watch the power plays gear up for General Conference; how about give Psalm 72 a try?

Richard Lowell Bryant

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

We Need To Stop Praying

We need to stop praying.  It is important, as United Methodists move forward toward the contentious events of February 2019; prayer is no longer something we do.  Instead, prayer is something we become.  Grammatically speaking, we should stop using prayer as a verb.  Prayer needs to become a noun; a part of who we are, our identity, and a defining feature of our interactions with the world.

Traditional notions of prayer, prayer as verb, are passive.  While we are active in listening to the prayer requests of others and ourselves (in worship or elsewhere), our prayer lives serve as conduits to God.  We know of needs, situations, and celebrations which (while God is omniscient and omnipotent) we feel led to bring to God’s attention and seek God’s intervention.  Whether we’re petitioning God in the liturgy or through informal conversation, we’re taking what we’ve felt or heard and passing it along.  We’re laundering prayer and whatever is contained within:  misery, joy, sorrow, or love.  This may happen on Sunday morning or throughout the week. Our prayers go back to God and we wait.

Waiting is hard, especially in times marked by strife and division.  Perhaps this is one of those instances when we need to stop waiting and move beyond our prayer lists.  Are our usual means of transferring concerns and moral discontent sufficient for a time such as this?  I am not certain they are.  We need to become our prayers.  If we’re praying for equality, be equality first.

How do we become prayer?  How do we live as prayer and not simply do prayer as one item on an overwhelmed task list?  Recently, I worked my way through Ephesians again.  I’m always impressed with last third of the 1st chapter, sometimes subtitled Paul’s Prayer.  Paul seems to have the prayer has noun idea, rather than a detached verb concept, down pat.  “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and you love for all the saints and for this reason I do not cease to give thank for you as I remember you in my prayers.”   Listening and love are the two guardrails that keep the “life as prayer” train on track.  Secondly, an outlook grounded in gratitude is the engine with fuels constant (ceaseless) prayer.

That’s how we stop praying and start being prayer.  I do not believe answered prayers are the sole responsibility of the blanks spaces of blue sky or the darkness of a starry night.  We are our own prayers.  May it be so.  Amen.

Richard Lowell Bryant

 

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