Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Being Present

Once a month, St. Mark’s holds a worship service at a local memory-care assisted living center. We bring communion and sing hymns, say the Lord’s Prayer and the Collect for Purity. Each month, I invite people from St. Mark’s to join us: usually there are four or five people from St. Mark’s there. When people consider coming for the first time, the question they ask me is usually, “Do you need me, or do you have enough people?” My answer is, “We have enough people, and we need you.”

Running the worship doesn’t really take that many people. I do a nursing home worship by myself every month near my home in Mansfield, so I know it’s certainly possible to do a worship service with just one or two people. But our worship service at Bridges isn’t simply about saying a few prayers and handing out the Bread and Wine. It’s a ministry of presence. It’s a ministry of being the Body of Christ, of all parts needing one another.

Our presence sitting among the residents for weekday worship reminds us that the people that gather at St. Mark’s on Sunday morning aren’t the entire Church: our prayers and our worship connect us to those who cannot be with us as well, whether they are prevented from attending by illness or work or even a soccer game. Our prayers are lifted up for the whole world, those who are able to join us on Sunday morning, and those who can’t. In prayer, we are joined together despite time and distance; we are even joined to those who will never worship with us on Sunday, but who are in desperate need of God’s love.

Our presence sitting alongside the residents reminds them that they are not alone. They are still members of the Body of Christ, not merely people for whom things are done, but people who do things -- people who pray, who worship, who lift up those in need and share God’s love. Even now that they are no longer able to volunteer to run the Easter potluck or the stewardship campaign, they remain equal members of the Church, because no member of the Body can say to another, “I don’t need you.” We sit alongside one another, because before God all are equally welcome and loved. We receive communion together, because we are all equally in need of God’s grace and salvation.

In this busy and hectic world, where we all have to-do lists that stretch to the horizon, efficiency points us toward sending only as many people as might be required to lead the worship -- a priest or a lay eucharistic minister, perhaps. But while worship would be accomplished efficiently, our ministry would be diminished. Being present just for the sake of being present makes a difference -- for both us and our brothers and sisters in the assisted living center. Praying alongside one another reminds us all that we are One Body because we share the One Bread.

What do we accomplish? I don’t know that we accomplish a thing: indeed, some of the residents will probably not remember our visit past the evening meal. But we are present to one another, and we remember that Christ is present to us.

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This Cup is the new covenant is my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Thanks be to God.

~ Suzanne

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Power of Prayer

I am sharing today's Devotional from The Upper Room.  The author, Monica Andermann, provides thoughts on prayer that reflect some of my own as I have been striving to be more intentional about praying daily during this Lent.  The form of the prayer is not what matters.  God knows our hopes, fears, and desires.  All we need to do is take a few minutes of each day to open our ears, our minds, and our hearts to God, and He will provide answers to our prayers.  

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. " Jeremiah 29: 12 (RSV)

            As a person who leans on the Lord daily, it has been my personal experience that no one particular style of prayer is superior or inferior to another. In the past, I have prayed the rosary and offered Novenas at the urging of Catholic friends and family with good result. People of many faiths sometimes utilize prayer beads. The important part of such a practice is that it promotes concentration, commitment, and focus to one’s time in prayer. Certainly, one would expect the more time spent in prayer, the better the result. It’s my opinion, though, that’s not necessarily true.
            In today’s devotion, I assert that even a sincere cry of “Lord, help me” is as effective as prayer on one’s knees in church. For me, this has and still continues to be true.
            Right now I have moved into my father’s home so I can act as his primary caregiver whiles he recovers from a lengthy illness. What was initially expected to be a temporary situation of a few weeks duration is now going into its ninth month. I am required to tackle the responsibilities of work, caring for my Dad and his home, and caring for my own home and family. Daily, I must make several decisions on how to prioritize and best handle my many tasks. Those are not always easy decisions and though I might like to, I can’t always sit down with my Bible or rosary beads and go into an in-depth meditation to find my answer. Sometimes a cry of, “God help me,” or “Lord, lead me” is all that time allows. Does God answer those prayers? Of course.
            While more time in communion with God does allow us to get closer to our Lord, God is not counting the hours and minutes we spend in prayer. We are not required to punch some type of cosmic time-clock until we accumulate enough prayer time to earn God’s response.  God knows our heart and God knows our need. Our Lord desires only that we turn sincerely toward him and ask with an earnest spirit open to receive his answer.
 Gracious, Loving Lord, Thank you for hearing my prayers. Amen.
- Monica Andermann

Thought for the Day:
Thought for the Day: God hears — and answers — our prayers.

Prayer: Dear Lord, how comforting it is to know that prayer, in any form, is powerful. Thank you for hearing the needs of our hearts. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Prayer Focus: Those Who Have Given Up On Prayer

The scripture quotation, unless otherwise indicated, is from the NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION of the Bible, copyright © 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2015 by The Upper Room, a ministry of GBOD. All rights reserved. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Blessing of Unanswered Prayers

"I asked for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for,
but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered;
I am, among all people, most richly blessed."

~Attributed to an unknown Confederate soldier

This was the benediction last night to conclude our weekly Lenten study of "Understanding Poverty." The lesson centered around Jesus' statement that "The poor will always be with you."  In the Gospels, Jesus tells this to His disciples after He has been annointed with expensive oil by an unnamed woman.  The disciples scold the woman, telling her that the oil could have been sold to provide money for the poor.  Jesus tells the disciples to leave the woman alone for she is paying Him homage just days before He will die on the Cross.  (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:1-13; John 12:1-8)

Jesus, in fact, is referring to an Old Testament law stated in Deuteronomy that commands the remission of debts every seven years.(Deuteronomy 15:1-11)  This law of remission commands that you release your debts, giving generously and whole-heartedly.  "Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.' " (Deuteronomy 15:11)  This is not an excuse to ignore the poor, but to open our hearts and help as we are able.

Sometimes, as individuals, we feel powerless to combat the poverty around us in our community, in our country, and in the world.  At times, we feel so needy ourselves that it is impossible to feel that we have anything left to give.  We struggle to earn a living, make mortgage and tuition payments, pay our loans, and still give charitably to the church, the food pantry, and at least a few of the many other organizations that ask for donations.

The truth is that there are always others less fortunate than we are.  That is why I feel hopeful when I read the anonymous Blessing of Unanswered Prayers. 

"I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I had asked for,
but everything that I had hoped for."

These lines, in particular, are powerful reminders that what is truly important is not the accumulation of possessions or material things, but the enjoyment of all that we have in our lives: love, people, talents, grace.  God blesses us each with so much.  From our blessings, we always have something we can share with others.  Sometimes we are able to give money or food or clothing or shelter.  But at the very least we are able to give a smile, a kind word, or a prayer.

Dear God,
Thank you for the many blessings you have given me.
Thank you for reminding me that I have everything I have hoped for.
Thank you loving me completely.
Thank you for providing me with opportunities 
to share my abundance
with others who are less fortunate.
Thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is always worthy of my love and devotion.
Help me to live my life according to His word.
Help me to live into my Baptismal promises:
To strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being;
To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself;
To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
I ask this in Jesus' name.