Sunday, July 28, 2019

Teach us to Pray!

Jesus was praying in a certain place… When you find your sacred space for prayer it will be something you come back to again and again.  It is good to have a certain place…a place that is all your own, a place for just you and God and nothing else…

So today we find ourselves addressing prayer, not practice but prayer. You see prayer is, by definition

noun: prayer; plural noun: prayers
a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship.
"I'll say a prayer for him"
invocation, intercession, devotion; 
"she stood in the chapel listening to the priest's murmured prayers"
a religious service, especially a regular one, at which people gather in order to pray together.
"500 people were detained as they attended Friday prayers"
an earnest hope or wish.
"it is our prayer that the current progress on human rights will be sustained"

Now todays Gospel starts with a particular prayer…the disciples say to Jesus, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples…

The words are famous, to say the least, infamous.  Yet the words in today’s Gospel are not quite the words we pray.  What is taught as the lord’s prayer?

“The Lord's Prayer, our "Our Father," or "Pater Noster," is a prayer found in two occurrences in the New Testament. While often referred to as parallel passages, they are only so in relative content and not in circumstances.  It appears that Jesus taught on prayer at two different times, one recorded in the gospel of Matthew, the other in the gospel of Luke.  Since the focus of both was to teach people how they should pray, without using rote repetition, it makes sense that the principles of the content would be similar in both occurrences, but without a need for them to be perfectly identical in wording.

The passage in Matthew was given in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, starting in Matthew 5:1, and it introduces prayer, starting in 6:5, by emphasizing that prayer is not something to be done for public accolades much less in a manner copying pagan with memorized and repetitious mantras or unintelligible mutterings:

Matthew 6:5-8   "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  (NIV)

The account in Luke was, more simply, in the context of a direct question from Jesus' disciples. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray and they wanted Jesus to do the same for them (Luke 11:1).  Both their question and Jesus' immediate positive response testify to the fact that they already understood the importance of prayer, something that Jesus has clearly modelled in his own prior actions (e.g. Luke 9:18, 28 as well as immediate circumstances of Luke 11:1).  Since knowledge of how John the Baptist's disciples prayed appears to have been common among the public (Luke 5:33), this is likely the circumstance that fueled the disciple’s question to Jesus”[1]

We take our wording and the way we say the lord’s prayer for granite and yet there are probably as many versions as there are nations on this planet.

For example, in the Message 2002 the prayer is written this way;

“Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what's best --
As above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

The New Zealand prayer book has it this way;

Eternal Spirit
Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all.
Loving God, in whom is heaven.
The hallowing of your name echoes through
the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples
of the earth!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth. With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever.

Parker Palmer wrote it this way;

Heavenly Father, heavenly Mother, Holy and blessed is your true name. We pray for your reign of peace to come, we pray that your good will be done, let heaven and earth become one. Give us this day the bread we need, give it to those who have none. Let forgiveness flow like a river between us, From each one to each one. Lead us to holy innocence Beyond the evil of our days — Come swiftly Mother, Father, come. For yours is the power and the glory and the mercy: Forever your name is All in One.

And finally, a retranslation from the Aramaic;

O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere! Release a space to plant your Presence here. Imagine your possibilities now. Embody your desire in every light and form. Grow through us this moment's bread and wisdom. Untie the knots of failure binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others' faults. Help us not forget our
Source, yet free us from not being in the Present. From you arises every Vision, Power and Song from gathering to gathering. Amen - May our future actions grow from here!
**** “[2]

Now the resource I used for these few translations interpretations had 7 typed pages full. 7 pages! why is that? Maybe because the Lord’s prayer was meant to be a framework not a wrote prayer set in stone.

There is a sequence in Terrance McNally’s Play corpus Christi right after Joshua raises Lazarus. Joshua and Lazarus have a conversation and after being told to live life to the fullest and pray Lazarus bows his head and starts grumbling out a prayer of misery.

“Not like that: on your knees, head bowed, your eyes closed! You’re not afraid of God. Like this: standing tall, eyes open, smiling even, your arms open to Gods Love. This is how we talk to God.”[3]

My whole point is that there is no right way and or wrong way to pray, no right way or wrong way to pray the Lord’s prayer. I am sometimes tempted to leave it out of the bulletin to see what would happen if we all prayed it our way.

Some would never use the word father, some may use parent, some may use mother father, creator, Abba, Abba/Amma, great spirit.  Some may use the word trespass others debts others may just ask for forgiveness as we seek to be forgiving. Some people do not like Kingdom for it represents an oppressive society and yet others love kingdom for it represents a just loving world. I guess that depends if you are looking at the kingdom Christ is imagining vs the ancient roman empire.

Prayer and its language should be personal. It is about your relationship with God.  It is about a relationship that can be only defined by you. 

Which is interesting because as we read further in this gospel Jesus tells us a story of the persistent neighbor.  You have a friend show up unexpectedly and so you go to your neighbor’s house and ask for 3 loaves of bread.

Not one but three and he (your neighbor) yells down I am in bed my kids are asleep go away.  But you stay and you knock and you yell and now the neighbors have heard the ruckus, his kids are awake and the dogs in the whole neighborhood are barking and so, according to Jesus, the neighbor will come down and give you the three loaves of bread you asked for…along with the 911 call and the restraining order!

If we can listen with a spiritual ear, we hear Jesus saying to not be afraid to pray and pray often and because God loves you God will answer your prayer.  Now what do I say about that? 

You hear it here every week, you will hear it here again later.  But remember this In Isaiah 55:8-9 it is written, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

God has God’s ways and when we enter into prayer we are reaching out to the other, the sacred, the one whose name is beyond all names and understanding and we leave our cares, our concerns, in that realm.  That is why our prayers may be answered in ways we will never see, comprehend or even venture to recognize.

And again, if we listen to this passage with our spiritual ear, what is the answer to our prayers? Is it literally a loaf of bread?

Let’s hear this from the Message;

“Here’s what I’m saying:
Ask and you’ll get;
Seek and you’ll find;
Knock and the door will open.
10-13 “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?”[4]

What do we get when we pray?  How are our prayers answered?  With the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the adversary.  The answer to your prayers is God sends the Holy Spirit to us.  The spirit is there as our companion, as our gift to guide us.  This is how prayers are answered.

So, if you hear some preacher say ask and it shall be given just send me, dot, dot, dot… If you ever hear someone say I just didn’t pray hard enough, or I was not deserving, or God doesn’t answer prayers…The answer is yes God does! Yet, the answer to our prayers isn’t always what we expect but it is what we need and we all need the Holy Spirit.

Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on me!

Our Loving creator in heaven, holy held is your name, above all others. Grant to me today what I need and not what I want. Please forgive me my short comings and give me a forgiving heart. Give me the heart of Christ. I pray that I am not tested but if I am, I pray to endure with your grace. Amen.

I pray God’s kin-dom come, for we are all of one family in God and the sooner we understand the concept of a Kindom of God then we can work to bring it about here on earth Just as we know it exists in the heavenly realm.

I prayed this yesterday, I pray this today and I will pray this tomorrow knowing that the answer is already with me, around me and guiding me in the form of the holy spirit. And  I Pray the same for you, each of you today and everyday  Amen!

[3] McNally, Terrence. Corpus Christi: A Play. New York: Grove Press, 1999.
[4] Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

There is need of only one thing.

““Martha, Martha, you worry about “the ten thousand things.” So, few are necessary. Indeed, only one. —Luke 10:42 (paraphrase)

These well-known words come from Jesus to his dear friend, Martha. He is the house-guest of siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Martha is doing the reasonable, hospitable thing—rushing around, fixing, preparing, and as the text brilliantly says, “distracted with all the serving.”

Martha was everything good and right, but one thing she was not. She was not present—most likely, not present to herself, her own feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be needed. This is the kind of goodness that does no good! If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. Presence is of one piece. How you are present to anything is how you can be present to God, loved ones, strangers, those who are suffering.
Jesus taught Martha at the mundane, ordinary level because that would reflect her same pattern at the divine level. For Martha—and for us—such naked presence was indeed “the one thing necessary.” 

So much of religion involves teaching people this and that, an accumulation of facts and imperatives that is somehow supposed to add up to salvation. The great wisdom teachers know that one major change is needed: how we do the moment. Then all the this-and-that’s will fall into line. This is so important that Jesus was willing to challenge and upset his hostess and make use of a teachable moment—in the very moment.

Jesus affirms Mary, “who sat at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10: 39), in precisely the same way: how she is doing the moment. Mary knows how to be present to him and, presumably, to herself. She understands the one thing that makes all other things happen at a deeper and healing level.

“Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. If you are present, you will be able to know what you need to know. These are the seers! Truly seeing is both that simple and that hard.”[1]This is a reflection from Fr. Richard Rohr.  I want you to hear something though …what he is saying, what I feel this Gospel is saying, is that you can be a Martha but you must be engaged….you see Martha’s offering hospitality is not the problem is that she is engaged in her busyness while being hospitable as opposed to being engaged with Christ while being hospitable.

We in western culture have this vision of the contemplative life.  The life spent in solitude seeking God. Mary was enjoying the contemplative moment at Jesus feet, just pondering and listening to the words of Christ. Martha has the same opportunity without disrupting her life.  We can be contemplatives, we can be mystics, without giving up our daily lives.

“Most people in our whimsical culture live in a hall full of mirrors, and so we find ourselves with fragile and rapidly changing identities, needing a lot of affirmation. We see this especially in so many young people. Their identities are built upon feelings, moods, and ideas that are easily manipulated by everything around them, including advertising and its selling of superficial images.”[2]

Martha’s identity at the time was that of hostess, hospitality maker, and she saw her identity, her role, as very important, so important she felt her sister should be doing the same. Yet in her busyness, in her moment of living into the role she had chosen for herself she had left the people she was hosting behind.  It was about the process and not about the presence. The very presence of the Lord and Master was not her priority.

We often become Martha’s. We so often get so wrapped up in the roles we are expected to play that Christ gets left behind.  The spirit gets ignored.  God the creator becomes unreachable and or unfathomable.  We don’t have time to pause.  We can’t be present and do our jobs, live our lives. Many times, we just have to keep busy, have to keep going, if we pause, the fear is, we may become be lost.

“You have been given something so much better, so much more joyful and more substantial than that! Divine presence, and the faith, hope, and love that accompany it, are a gift – you cannot control it – but nevertheless a gift that can and should be asked for (Luke 11:13). Asking for something from God does not mean talking God into it; it means an awakening of the gift within ourselves. The gift has already been given. Most people, quite sadly and with disastrous consequences, do not know the gift is already theirs. The teachers of early Christian centuries, along with many of the later saints and mystics, were clear about this. Yet most Christians today still seem to be like the citizens of Ephesus in apostolic days, saying in effect, “We did not even know there was such a thing as the Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2)”[3]

Seeking God and finding that in-dwelling, stillness, sacredness that lies within us all is the key. This is a gift given to each and all, we just have to learn to nurture it. When that is nurtured it permeates our being in such a way that all we do, everything from the extraordinary to the mundane becomes sacred.

Brian McLaren speaks of an experience he once had on a plane.  “Then, as the flight attendants were serving the obligatory scrambled eggs breakfast, I looked groggily across the aisle: a couple and their two Children were stirring.  Mom and dad had a well-behaved boy of about three year and a tiny girl in a pink blanket – exactly six weeks old. I heard the Mother tell the flight attendant, adding that the baby had come two months premature, which sort of made her minus-two weeks old. Over the next few hours, I watched Dad care for the boy, putting together some miniature LEGOs, taking in a video about penguins, guiding him down the aisle to the restroom a couple of times. Then, just before landing, I watched Mom and baby stare into each other’s eyes, mirroring smiles and wide-eyed giggles, two separate persons who couldn’t be more connected even if the umbilical cord were still intact, and there was the mystery again. Life – pinging, singing, dancing, glowing, even in the cheap seats.”[4]

That life pining, singing, dancing, glowing…that observation…that can only be seen through and with the holy spirit.  Brian didn’t do anything but felt and saw the vibrancy of the sacred.  Now that is only achieved by seeking that in dwelling of God’s spirit.  When we walk with the divine, we see the divine.

It is through developing spiritual practices that one connects more deeply.  It is about a spiritual life beyond these four walls. You see Sunday service should be complementary to your spiritual life. It should not BE your spiritual life.  Do you hear what I am saying?  Do you take the time to creatively engage the holy spirit, the grace of God that dwells deep within you?  Do you take the time to invite the in dwelling to rise to surface?

Brian went on…

“That’s why I say that spiritual practices are about life, about training ourselves to become the kinds of people who have eyes and actually see, and have ears and actually hear, and so experience – with increasing consistency and resiliency, even in economy class – not just survival but life, capitalized and modified by insufficient adjectives such as real, abundant, examined, conscious, worth living, and good.”[5]

See in this way, in this engaged life, Martha would have been about her business and still tuned in to Jesus.  Her hospitality would have been a gift that not only blessed her guests but herself as well. It would have allowed for no concerns of what her sister was engaged in for both were ways of observing and engaging the sacred.

I am going to let Brian restate it in his own words

“In these two ways, then, paying attention to ''life practices" is worthwhile for everybody, those who consider themselves spiritual and those who don't: first, because nobody wants to become a tedious fart, and second, because nobody wants to miss Life because they're short on legroom and sleep in economy class.

I haven't told the whole story though. Yes, spiritualpractices are ways of exercising intention regarding the kinds of people we are becoming at every turn. Yes, they are ways of habitually waking up and discovering Life. But the capitalization of Life points beyond life itself: spiritual practices are also and truly about the Spirit. They are about somehow driving with our windows wide open to God, keeping our elbows in the wind and our hands surfing beside the side mirror.”[6]

This is about seeking the sacred.  As we seek the sacred, we become more and more attuned to the sacred and thus see it every day.  It’s “about tuning our radios to the frequency of the Holy, turning up the volume, and then daring to sing along.”[7]It’s participatory! It doesn’t just happen. Sure, we hear stories of these great mystics who have these powerful visions and then right them down so elegantly.  Yet those do not happen overnight.  Well not always less your Paul on a donkey.  Usually there is already a spiritual life in existence and it has been nurtured and developed and fed. 

Spiritual practices can be easy a simple intentional review of your day…


1. Think about who you were yesterday in terms of character, compared to who you are today. Then do the same regarding a year ago and ten years ago.

2. What will your character be like in ten years, given your current trajectory.

3. Based on how you answered question number two, if necessary, cry. If possible, celebrate. Write down one step you want to take in response to how you answered question number two.


1. Are you awake? What have you missed-in terms of sights, sounds, feelings, smells, and so on-in the last five minutes? The last twenty-four hours? Slow down and be aware of any "Carolina
wrens of happiness" that surround you at this moment.

2. Rate yourself on a scale of one to one hundred on how alive you feel at the present moment. A high score isn't the goal; an honest score is. When was the last time you felt less than thirty? More than ninety?

Experiencing God

If your relationship with God was a marriage, how would you describe things to a marriage counselor? What would a better, happier marriage look like?

If you pray, talk to God about your previous answers. If you don’t normally pray, try it now. Many people find it helps either to write your prayer as a letter or actually pray out loud. If you want to try praying out loud but are afraid people will think you’ve tipped over the sanity ledge, you might find that taking a walk in the woods or hiding out in your car will give you some space and time.”[8]

Now I am not introducing any new concepts here.  Brian in these few questions has just introduced the practice of the daily examine, which is an Ignatian practice in simple form.

There are so many ways to engage your spiritual side to find the indwelling spirit that will make you aware and help you to start seeing life through that in dwelling spirit…

Daily prayer
Hourly prayer
Sacred meal
Mindful practices
Labyrinth walk the list goes on and on

All of these are ancient spiritual practices still alive and thriving today. Just as Jesus told Martha There is need of only one thing, to gaze upon the sacred and to see with the sacred, it is through this that Life becomes brighter, clearer, and one sees the sacred in all things.  I pray you may seek out such practices and if you have any questions, I have plenty of resources that can help us grow as a spiritual community.  

The first and easiest step…slow down, breathe, listen and pray. Amen.

[2]Rohr, Richard. The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. New York: Crossroad Pub., 2015. pg. 20
[3]Ditto, pg. 21

[4]McLaren, Brian D. Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008. Pg. 16-17
[5]Ditto, Pg. 17
[7]Ditto, pg. 18
[8]Ditto, Pg.20

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Good Samaritan; A W.I.S.E. Conversation

The Good Samaritan is, probably the most famous parable Jesus has ever told. Basically, in the setting Jesus is confronted by a young lawyer.

“The "lawyer" is sometimes termed "scribe." There is little difference between these appellations. They were professional teachers and expounders of the Mosaic Law and of the vast complement of traditional sayings which had gathered round it. As the whole life of the people at this period was ruled and guided by the Law, written and traditional, this profession of scribe and lawyer was an important and influential one. Stood up. The Master was evidently teaching in a house or a courtyard of a house. Many were sitting round him. To attract his attention, this lawyer stood up before putting his question to Jesus. This scene, as we have said, took place most likely in or near Jerusalem, not improbably, as the Bethany episode follows, in that suburb of the city, and perhaps in the house of Lazarus. And tempted him; that is to say, tested him and his skill in answering questions out of that Law which then was the rule and guide of daily life in Israel. It is not unlikely that the lawyer hoped to convict the broad and generous Rabbi of some unorthodox statement which would injure his reputation as a Teacher. It was a hard and comprehensive question, this query how eternal life was to be won, and possibly one carefully prepared by the enemies of Jesus.”[1]

Now Jesus uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to answer a legal question with a legal question.  But why the example of a Samaritan?

“Imagine the hatred between Serbs and Muslims in modern Bosnia, the enmity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or the feuding between street gangs in Los Angeles or New York, and you have some idea of the feeling and its causes between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus. Both politics and religion were involved…

The fact that there was such dislike and hostility between Jews and Samaritans is what gives the use of the Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) such force! The Samaritan is the one who is able to rise above the bigotry and prejudices of centuries and show mercy and compassion for the injured Jew after the Jew’s own countrymen pass him by!”[2]

Mercy and Compassion, I believe, that is the challenge.  The parable addresses physical injury but we know that the physical is only the surface from such an event, underneath it all lies trauma. Imagine, if you will, to be randomly mugged and beaten on the street with no one around, fear sets in, anxiety builds as you wonder whether this is the place and this is how you are going to die.

Then you notice hope coming down the road …someone is coming, a priest!  A leader of the people a person who lineage passes from father to son.  “In order to become a priest, one had to be the son of a priest and be pure in mind and body. (And according to the Pentateuch, priests were also said to be from the tribe of Levi.) It is likely, based on both biblical and Mesopotamian texts on priesthood, that every time a priest came to the temple to carry out his service there, his purity would have been tested by a group of priests and Levites who would probably have physically examined him (for skin diseases or broken bones) and made sure that there were no allegations of misconduct.”[3]

You may hear something in this definition, purity! A priest had to remain pure…so why does he pass up the man lying injured on the road?... One commentator hypothesizes that “ The priest did so because Num 19 states that he must avoid corpse impurity. Touching a dead or dying body, even holding a hand over it, would render the priest ritually impure and put his temple service at risk.”[4]

So, the priest passes by and any and all hope the poor man had on the side of the road goes with him.  His hopes have been dashed his fear heightens we may be able to add depression to his symptoms at this point.

Then the Levite is seen heading towards the victim and yet again he passes by on the other side.  The other side?  The priest crossed the road to avoid him so I have to imaging the Levite is side stepping the body by inching his way along the path with his back pressed against the wall…

Now the Levites had less of a rank than that of the priest; “therefore, because of the lower expectations for Levites, the reasoning that it might impair temple function is less of a concern as a generic Levite tasked with menial, janitorial and other trivial temple duties would not impair the functioning of temple life.

Additionally, by Selecting a Levite as the secondary character, Jesus moves from the most prestigious character (the priest, a pillar of the community) to a common "man-on-the-street" type of character and then finally to a villain archetype. The Levite therefore provides a transition from one end of the continuum to the other.”[5]

There is also a possibility that this “lawyer” was himself was a Levite, for they were well versed in the law, making the point a bit stronger.

As for our poor victim here, his hopes are lifted again as a matter of fact, his potential savior is passing by so close he could almost reach out and touch him.  Yet he moves on his way again dashing all hope.

This cycle of; anxiety, then hope, then loss, then fear, then anxiety and seclusion all affect the victim here.  Our hero doesn’t necessarily Aleve any of these at first…

We know that the Samaritan, upon seeing the victim, heart goes out to him and he is moved with pity.  Pity moves him past his own prejudices, yet our poor victim, upon seeing a Samaritan once again may feel fear rise up, his anxiety level increases for fear of more pain or injury about to be inflicted upon him because of systemic prejudice.

Because of systemic prejudice, Jesus listeners are shocked that it is a Samaritan providing care.  But that is what he does and does well…

You see the Samaritan assessed the situation and recognized the need, the website, the fruit of brokenness puts it this way

But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him…
The Samaritan RECOGNIZED.

…he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him…


On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him…


and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’

He RETURNED, and, if necessary, he would have REPEATED[6]

We have an example of Biblical Crisis intervention!  Yet there is more needed here there is long term support, support to allow the person to express their fear and anxieties as a result of this crime.

The United church of Christ has what is called a Mental health Network and they speak of becoming a W.I.S.E. congregation.  What does that mean? W.I.S.E. is an acronym for Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged.  This is a process much like becoming an ONA congregation. 

The Mental health network states:

The United Church of Christ Mental Health Network works to reduce stigma and promote the inclusion of people with mental illnesses/brain disorders and their families in the life, leadership and work of congregations.

Our intent is to be a resource for you in the local congregation as you take these steps.  While what you have right now from us is still a work in progress, be assured that we will continue to engage with you as the new insights and practical suggestions come to our attention.  We want to hear from you so that we can pass information along to other congregations who may be dealing with similar situations.  

The chief goal with this toolkit is that your congregation will become a WISE Congregation for Mental Health.  There are no dues.  There are no other requirements other than you will send the UCC Mental Health Network a letter confirming the process by which you have voted to become a WISE Congregation for Mental Health.  You would then be among the other UCC congregations who have taken this step and therefore you will be apprised of new resources, new suggestions, and new ideas which would be shared from you to others.”[7] 

I spent 15 years working with people with different abilities and I know for the most part people are at a minimum un comfortable around anyone who is different.  Many times people avoid those who are differently abled as they fear saying the wrong thing or doing harm unintentionally.

“Since one in four individuals lives with a diagnosable mental health condition, it’s safe to say that individuals in your congregation are dealing with any variety of mental health and substance use challenges every day. Due to stigma, many of these people may be reluctant to either seek help professionally or speak about it with their pastor or other members of their church. However, an atmosphere of openness and acceptance in a congregation makes members, friends, and visitors more likely to feel safe and free from judgment. This acceptance and sense of safety can help create a place of belonging, where truly everyone, no matter where they are on life’s journey, is welcome.”[8]

This process actually furthers the challenge of our ONA statement.  It answers the question asked in today’s Gospel …who is my neighbor?

There are ten steps to becoming a W.I.S.E. congregation

Step 1: Secure the pastor’s and leaderships support…well

Step 2: gather a WISE Team two or three who are interested in making us  WISE congregation and it is recommended if there is someone who is openly living with a mental health challenge that they should be invited to be on the team the mental health network has a motto “Nothing about us without us” in other words we should not look upon this as an us them type project but a we project where we are all in this together.

Step 3 is to connect with the UCC Mental Health Network so we do not make this journey alone

Step 4 would be to establish educational programing around Mental health this is important because… “Media misinformation and societal stigma against those living with mental illness encourage us to equate mental illness with danger. Thus, the first questions some faith leaders and congregation members often raise about becoming WISE relate to keeping the congregation “safe.” Research and the lived experience of existing WISE Congregations for Mental Health demonstrate that safety is not an issue: offering radical inclusion to everyone, including those with significant mental health and brain disorder challenges, is a sacred activity, but not a dangerous one.”[9]

Step 5 is to draft a wise Covenant which there are samples of online

Step 6 the team then presents their Covenant to the board

Step 7 is a congregational vote

Step 8  is to have a celebration upon our certification

Step 9 is to inform our community that we are a WISE Congregation and what that means

Step 10 is to keep ourselves on new opportunities and ways to be present to the community so that we may continue to expand our welcome

This is one way we can answer who is our neighbor and continue to expand our welcome. Just as the Good Samaritan recognized a need, responded, referred to professionals as needed, and returned and repeated the process so we are called as a congregation to evaluate, recognize the needs in our community and respond or refer out as needed and then return and reevaluate all over again

All this so we can be true to our proclamation no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome here. Amen.

[4] Ditto
[9] Ditto

Sunday, July 7, 2019

There is something on my heart!

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’”

Peace to this house, Peace to this house…carrying no money, no bag no sandals…if I had walked to let’s say Keene carrying nothing more than what was on my back the first house that would allow me in you bet your bottom dollar I would wish them peace and hope that peace is returned…

But what is this peace that Christ speaks of?  In the world today there seems to be few moments of true peace.  We are blessed here that if we seek peace…we can find some out in the wilderness…Yet though we can find nature, and quiet and solitude, our minds still run.  Our thoughts jump from ransom thought to random thought.

A random though on my mind this week as we celebrate the birth of our nation is, we have so much to be grateful for and yet this year I felt it surpassed by the shame we should carry as a nation.

“At any given time, for the past several weeks, more than 2,000 children have been held in the custody of US Border Patrol without their parents. Legally, they’re not supposed to be held by border agents for more than 72 hours before being sent to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for finding their nearest relative in the US to house them while their immigration cases are adjudicated. 
In practice, they’re being held for days, sometimes weeks, in facilities without enough food or toothbrushes — going days without showering, overcrowded and under cared for.”[1]
This is a humane issue so much so that the united nations have a watchful eye on the US.  Experts at the UN human rights council have stated; “We call on the government of the US to release these children from immigration detention and to reunite them with their families based on the best interests of the child, and the rights of the child to liberty and family unity,”[2] 
Let me share this little news clip “Their living conditions were described as squalid, and some had untreated medical conditions”…though that was recently reported about these detention centers this quote is actually about 100 dogs at a home in Bradford NH where the owners are now facing charges of animal cruelty and the dogs are being rehomed to loving families. This makes me mad only because we are treating our animals better than we treat Children…Children…
Lord I wish peace in our house…
We just celebrated the 4th of July a celebration of the declaration of independence which declares “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The declaration of independence does not promise happiness only the pursuit of it but it does state that life and liberty are unalienable rights…which means these rights are not transferable, they only belong to humans, and they cannot be taken away nor denied…
Lord I pray peace upon this house
My heart breaks when I hear of another death in the desert, another family broken apart…
“When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34
In a world becoming increasingly globalized, more people are leaving their homelands to seek better lives and opportunities in new countries. Their reasons for leaving are diverse and complex: economic necessity, war, or persecution. The U.S. has long been a nation of immigrants and we have consistently been conflicted about this. We gratefully welcome immigrants and their contributions, and we exclude them, discriminate against them and, at times, inflict grave harm upon them.
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. The Bible is unambiguous in calling us to welcome aliens and strangers in our land, and to love them as we love ourselves. In these times, let us listen to the voice of the still-speaking God. We will learn how to respond to these new sisters and brothers residing among us.”[3]
This statement is from the United Church of Christ immigration Justice page.  Sometimes it feels we are so far away that we can do nothing, our hands are tied, we know people suffering and we feel helpless…
“United Church of Christ churches, clergy and congregants are reaching out with hope and in faith to migrants at our borders and immigrants across the country. Many more are asking what they can do to respond to the government policies that detain and separate families. The Southwest Conference UCC, acting with Justice and Local Church Ministries, has issued two calls to action, one for a faithful witness AT the border, in Arizona at United States border with Mexico August 26-30, and another for a faithful witness FOR the border this fall, in cities and towns across America.”[4]
Now this was last year’s event but I want you to hear what happened…
“The Southwest Conference is calling for a week of Faithful Witness at the Border, August 26 – 30, 2018 that will include:
A humanitarian mission to the Mexican side of the border to visit and take supplies to asylum-seekers in shelters and camped out at the ports of entry due to a slowdown in applications being received.
Solidarity actions at the detention facilities in Eloy and Florence where parents of kids separated from their families are being held.
Training and strategy sessions around ‘Being an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation’ and ‘Acting as an Advocate and Ally’ with members from the UCC Washington office
Conversations with local ministry partners in Arizona - The Samaritans and other immigration ministry groups.
A visit to Operation Streamline immigration court where parents whose children were taken away are appearing in the hope of finding their kids.”[5]
What brave and strong action and witness.  In case you do not realize it, my heart is there and is always with their ministries.  I cannot run off and join them physically, I wish there was something more I could do…
Wait a minute didn’t it say a witness at the border and for the border…what does a witness for the border look like…
Faithful Witness FOR the Border
“We also call congregations and conferences to host their own local Faithful Witness for the Border events that might include:
Begin the process for becoming an Immigrant-Welcoming Congregation
Organize and attend town halls and candidate forums and ask questions about how candidates would approach immigration policy. Set up in-district visits with your members of Congress to share your UCC faith witness on immigration. Submit letters to the editor and editorials in your local and regional papers.
Raise money and collect supplies for humanitarian relief at the border—PLEASE USE THIS VERY SPECIFIC LIST OF SUPPLIES.
(Supplies Needed at the US/Mexico Border:
travel size toothpaste
bath soap
wash cloths
feminine products
coloring books and crayons for kids)

Write letters of welcome IN SPANISH that can be distributed to asylum seekers as missives of love and welcome, an alternative message to the government.
Fundraise to support living expenses of migrants seeking asylum and who are prohibited by law from holding employment in the US while their case is processed.
Participate in an immigrant detention visitation program in your area (for us that would be in dover)
Partner with local immigrant rights groups to join/organize a rally at an immigrant detention facility for adults, ICE office, or border patrol station nearby. (That would be Strafford house of corrections)
Host a fellowship event with a local migrants/an immigrant group in your community to get to know one another and listen to their stories.
I wish peace on this house. Just as the seventy went out without anything and sought refuge, food, and welcome so are these, the very least of the world.

I am calling out to you as a loving congregation to sign up and work with me to see which if any of these actions we can take to stand in Christian charity with our brother and sister congregations around this nation who are taking action to make this a Just world for all.!

[2] Ditto
[4] Ditto
[5] Ditto