Archives for May 2009

A Prayer for Tomorrow…

Such a wonderful old hymn –
“Jesus loves even me.”
And so appropriate for all of us
today, and any day.
May we sing with joy, Lord God,
proclaiming our gladness and gratitude
that you, Our Father in Heaven,
love us so very much.
It is indeed a ‘wonder’
and the ‘dearest thing’ we read
in scripture.
Thank you that you love even us.
Thank you.

Yet, even as we relish your love for us, Lord,
we acknowledge that we need help
to love ourselves in good and healthy ways,
and to love each other as you love us.
Will you help us to be glad in that
extension of your love, please?
And to do it with joyful obedience?

We’ve glad to be here today, Lord.
Really glad.
It’s been a tough two weeks, filled with smoke and ash and bad memories.
We thank you for the valiant work of firefighters on our behalf.
We thank you for answered prayer about wind and weather.
We thank you that the worst is behind us,
that this particular group was not hit as harshly this time around.
But that is sadly not for so many others in our community, Lord God.
For 100 or so families, the mess is just beginning,
as too many of us fully know and understand.
Help us to help them –
to help them grieve,
to help them begin again,
to help them find hope.
Use us in ways that are helpful and hopeful to reach out
in Jesus’ name.

And we’re bold to ask for healing for ourselves today, Lord.
Even though we didn’t lose any structures or possessions –
and we’re really grateful for that,
honestly, we are –
still, we’ve been hit again with chaos,
with turmoil,
with momentary dispossession, and displacement,
with reminders of our own fragility,
and with echoes of terror and devastation too recently true.
So, heal our memories with your sweet Spirit,
recall to us where home truly is found,
guide us to green pastures and still waters.

We thank you today for our pastor, Don Johnson, and for his wife, Martha.
And we’re glad they are back again from a time away,
a time to weep and a time to rejoice in the life of Don’s dad.
Bless them both as they return to life in Santa Barbara,
as they continue to grieve the loss of their own parents this past year,
as they help us to grieve our own losses.

Whoever else may be hurt or feeling lost or loss today, Lord,
bring your healing presence close, please.
Open our eyes to see those around us who need an extra smile or hug.

And bless the gifts we’ve brought to you today.
Make them grow miraculously,
use them to minister to the hurting,
to spread the good news both here and abroad,
to build the kingdom of God in the here and now.
Thank you that we can give,
that we can sing,
that we can pray.
And bless us in Jesus’ name to do it all again and again and again.


I’m preaching this Sunday on John 15:9-15 – the second half of Jesus’ evocative teaching about abiding. This 7-verse chunk of John’s gospel offers several avenues for reflection and comment, including these ideas:
the connections between love and law;
the meaning and experience of joy;
the beauties and responsibilities of being chosen and appointed;
a definition/description of ‘bearing fruit that will last;’ and…the meaning, modelling and mastering of the art and discipline of friendship. And it’s that last one that has captured my imagination and curiosity this time around.

We’ve just come through (well, almost completely through) a desperate and terrifying time in Santa Barbara. A time of imminent disaster, sleepless nights, displacement from home and possessions, and the stupefyingly paralyzing specter of flames on all sides. This was the view from one part of our town, looking at all the rest of our town last Thursday night: There have been many points in the last week when I have been too exhausted, too depleted, too psychically battered to put together any kind of coherent prayer, sometimes any coherent thought. The phone still worked, however, as did the computer, and those two tools – products of the last 100 years of human inventiveness – allowed me access to a wide circle of friends during an exceedingly stressful time. Thank God for that!

Interestingly enough, the vast majority of that network (not that the network itself is all that vast :>) are friends of mine because of our connection to one another through Jesus. We are all grafted onto the same vine, joined to the same life source, connected to one another by our shared dependence upon our Holy Friend for nourishment, strength, sustenance and power. Because of that, there was a very real sense that these friends, more than some others, truly ‘got’ what was happening within me and within our larger church community. I can’t really explain that – I just know it to be true.

Well, let me take a stab at ‘explaining’ it. Maybe describing it is the best I can do. Describing it in light of my reading and reflecting on John 15 this week. In the opening verses of that chapter, Jesus chooses a word picture that is viscerally familiar to his audience – the vineyard. “I am the vine,” he claims in verse 1 (last week’s lesson), and in verse 5, he adds, “and you are the branches.” “Remain/stay/abide in me…” Look at the pictures of grape vines posted above. Note especially the points at which branches are connected to trunks. Do you see how large the base of each branch is? How widely open each one is to the vine? How firmly connected? And those branches are about as productive of grapes as they are big enough – in other words, as well-connected – as they are to that trunk.

That’s the basis upon which the rest of this extended analogy is built. We need to be attached to Jesus, like a small child attaches him/herself to his/her parents’ leg! Like a firm anchor is buried in the bottom of a swirling sea. Like a sturdy house is bolted to a stone foundation. So any understanding of the teaching found in verses 9-15 needs to be entwined with the picture formed in verses 1-8. Friends of Jesus (part 2) are those who abide in him (part 1), who dwell in him, who stay with him, who unashamedly draw sustenance from him, who know that any ‘doing’ that counts must come from ‘being’ in the right place first. And, if it’s not stretching the metaphor too tightly, any doing that counts (as fruit, shall we say?) is a natural outgrowth of that being.

My goodness, that’s a hard lesson for me! One that I seem to have to learn over and over and over again. Being busy is a high value in the culture of this land, perhaps even more markedly so in central California than in other parts of it. It’s beautiful here – the weather is generally terrific (EXCEPT for sundowner winds). So there’s no excuse for not getting out there, for not adding one more activity, planning one more event or series or training session or ….???? Practicing the fine art of presence is looked at with suspicion at best, condescension at worst. Being present – with oneself, with others, and most of all, with God – is generally not highly regarded. I can so easily be sucked into the pressures of both world and of church to ‘be productive’ in a quantitative, measurable way that time spent being quiet, reflective, attentive gets squeezed out and devalued. I continually have to learn that ‘fruit that lasts’ will not come from my own efforts to produce it. Fruit comes as a natural by-product of abiding; the only ‘doing’ that will make a real difference in my life or the lives of others is the doing that comes naturally and sequentially from a place of centeredness, not busyness, from focused reflection, not distraction. Meaningful, long-lasting fruit comes from paying attention rather than seeking it.

to be continued…

A Prayer for Confirmation Sunday…

Goodness gracious, Lord –
it’s been a busy few weeks!
With Holy Week and Easter,
and 50th Anniversary celebrations
and weddings and end of term projects
and final exams.
And now here come graduations
and Mother’s Day and summer jobs…
and life feels a little crazy and scattered.

But here – right here – in the middle of all
this crazy, busy stuff,
we have … today.
Confirmation Sunday.
When young adults,
many of whom we have watched grow
from toddlerhood to now –
when these fine young men and women
affirm their faith in you
and we, by the power of
your Spirit at work within us,
confirm them as fully fledged disciples of Jesus.
And we do this together,
in the midst of the community,
in the center of worship.

wlll you help us to take a deep breath,
to lean into your grace,
and to do that well this morning?

We are thankful every day
for the gift of this body,
your church.
And we are thankful every day
for the gift of generations
all around us – for senior citizens,
and middle-agers,
for married couples,
and single people,
for tiny babies
and tall college students,
and most especially today,
we are so very grateful
for junior high students,
who are sometimes wacky and
always wonderful, and
who startle us with their sudden
grace and wisdom as they stand
in these threshold years between
childhood and adulthood.

May their tender hearts and brave spirits
call forth from all of us
a sense of renewed commitment
to what we know to be truth and grace and light.
As they declare their faith,
may we re-proclaim our own.
As they are touched and prayed for,
may we sense your touch and the
prayers of our brothers and sisters.
As they are given salt and light,
may we renew our own call
to season the world around us
and shine forth with the love of Jesus.

We bring to you this morning, as we do every week,
our gifts of love and sacrifice.
We’ve dropped some of those gifts in the
offering plates that have made their
way up and down these pews.
But the greatest of the gifts we have
from you are the young people who will
stand in front of us
and in front of you this day.
We give them back to you
with gratitude
and with hope,
with full hearts
and with empty hands.
And we trust you to continue the
good work you have begun
in them
and in us.
In the name of Jesus we pray,