WORSHIP WITH US!
8:30AM, 9:45AM in the hall, or 11AM

Location:
7150 Pines Blvd
Pembroke Pines, FL 33024
The SE corner of Pines Blvd and 72nd Ave
Across the street from Broward college South Campus lake
(954) 989-1903
tlcppines@gmail.com


Join Us For Worship!

Join Us For Worship!
Sundays at 8:30AM, 9:45AM, and 11AM

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel


The readings for Sunday, September 24, 2017:

First Reading: Jonah 3:10--4:11

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 16:2-15

Psalm: Psalm 145:1-8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

Second Reading: Philippians 1:21-30

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16


I've often thought that these parables that use work metaphors are less useful to those of us toiling in the 21st century--and I've wondered how the contemporaries of Jesus would hear this parable.

Outrage is the classic response to the idea that the workers who toiled all day getting the same wages as those who show up one hour before quitting time. We howl, "But that's not fair."

Some preachers will use this Gospel as an excuse to preach on the classic idea that life isn't fair. Maybe they'll remind us that we're fortunate that life isn't fair (how often do we pray for justice, when what we really long for is mercy?) or maybe they'll give us a real soul-sapper of a sermon about the grinding nature of life. Or maybe congregations will hear about the idea of grace being extended to us all, no matter how long it takes us to acknowledge it.

But the poet in me immediately searches for a new way to frame this parable. What if, instead of toiling in the vineyard, we're invited to a party? Those of us who come early get to drink more wine, eat more goodies, and engage in more hours of intense conversation. We get to spend more quality time with our host. Those who come later will still get to drink wine, eat goodies, converse, and have quality time. The wine won't have soured, the goodies won't have molded, the conversation won't have dwindled, the host won't be tired and wishing that everyone would just go home. The party will still be intensely wonderful. But those who come late won't have as much time to enjoy it.

God does call us to toil in the vineyard. But toil is the wrong word, or at least, in our world, it has negative connotations that can't be easily overcome.

Don't think of it as the kind of work you had to do in that soul-deadening job with that boss who delighted in tormenting you. It's not that kind of work. It's also not the kind of work where it's OK to just show up and keep the seat warm, wondering when it will be time to return home, to the place you'd rather be (which would be Heaven, in this metaphor, I suppose).

Instead, God's work is like that enriching job, the one where you were challenged, but not overwhelmed. God's work engages you on every level and you look up at the end of the work day, amazed at how time has passed and how involved you have become. At the end of God's work day, you're amazed at all you've been able to accomplish.

God calls us to partnership in an amazing creative endeavour. We're called to transform the world, to help reclaim the world for God's vision. In Surprised by Hope, Bishop N. T. Wright reminds us, "But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15;58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (208).

The ways that we can do this Kingdom work are varied, from helping the poor, to enjoying a good meal, to writing a poem, to consoling a friend, to playing with your dog, to painting . . . the list is as long as there are humans in the world. Wright assures us that "God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news" (226).

Do the kind of creating that involves you on many levels, that makes you lose your sense of time, that leaves you unmoored in your wonder at the beauty of creation. That's the work that God calls us to do.

Friday, September 15, 2017

IMPORTANT UPDATE

1. Do you need help cleaning up from the storm? Please let us know!

2. Can you help continue cleanup efforts around Trinity or for someone in need? Meet at Trinity at 9AM SAT (tomorrow) or if other times please let us know.

3. SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 17th there will be ONE worship service at 10AM with pizza after in Charter Hall. It has been a difficult and sometimes terrifying week and a half - let us come together in worship and fellowship all wrapped by and in love for God and one another! Both the Sanctuary and Charter Hall have power and AC.

4. College Cookie mailing will take place over two Sundays, SEPT 24th and October 1st. If you can bake cookies and bring them in either or both Sundays so we can pack them up and send them off that would be awesome!

Ever in Christ,
Pastor Keith

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Sept.17, 2017:

First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 14:19-31

Psalm: Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 114

Psalm (Alt.): Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 (Semi-continuous)

Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

The Gospel for today, at least the first part, is probably familiar to most of us. Peter is looking for the magic number of times that he must forgive--and you can tell he's annoyed, ready to cut off the person who has offended him, but he'll forgive seven times--and you know that he's probably already forgiven that person eight times. Jesus tells him he must forgive seventy times seven.

I remember in fifth grade Sunday school class where we studied this passage. We immediately got to work on the math. And if you were an obsessive child, like I had a tendency to be, you started keeping a list of how many times you had forgiven your sister.

I had unwittingly proven Jesus' point. Peter asks a stupid, juvenile question, and Jesus gives him an answer to let him know how petty he has been. By now, we should all know that Jesus didn't come to give us a new set of legalisms to follow.

Jesus then gives us a parable about the nature of forgiveness. Most of us will need more forgiveness throughout our lives than we really deserve. We are like indentured servants who can never hope to pay off our debt, but we're miraculously forgiven.

Most of us, happily, will never experience indentured servitude in the traditional sense. But in our past years of financial collapse, many of us have discovered a different kind of indebtedness. Many of us owe more on our houses than they will ever be worth again. Many of us owe more on our credit cards than we can ever repay, and we likely don’t even remember what we bought. Because of the lousy job situation throughout the country, many of us are chained to jobs that no longer satisfy. Think of how wonderful it would be if someone came in and relieved us of those debts. Think of forgiveness the same way.

Our task--and it sometimes seems more monumental than paying off a huge financial debt--is to extend that quality of forgiveness and mercy to others.

Who needs your forgiveness? Have you told those people that they're forgiven? Do they know it by your loving actions? To whom do you need to repent? What's keeping you from doing it?

And now, for the part that might be even harder for many of us—have you forgiven yourself? I've gotten fairly talented at forgiving my loved ones, but I'm still not good at forgiving myself. I'm still angry and annoyed when the struggles I thought were past me resurface. I'm still hard on myself for my shortcomings, even as I acknowledge that my shortcomings could be worse.

Fortunately, God has a higher opinion of me than I do of myself. God is willing to forgive me for my shortcomings--even as I fall short again and again.

Let us model ourselves after God's capacity for forgiveness.  And if our capacity to forgive isn’t at 70 times 7 yet, let’s pray for an expanded ability to forgive. Let us also remember to pray for our enemies, both the personal ones and the political ones, the inner voices that berate us, the outer voices that shrilly defeat all peace initiatives, all the enemies who would undo us.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017:

First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-11

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 149

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

The Gospel readings from the last several weeks have shown us Jesus trying to prepare his disciples to take over his mission, once he's no longer physically there to lead them. Here we see him address issues of conflict management, and his advice seems to hold true, even centuries later: try to work out the conflict privately and go through increasingly public discourse.

The last verse is one of the more famous Gospel verses, the one that tells us that we only need two or three to gather in the name of Christ, and he'll be there. But what does this verse mean for the larger church?

This morning, I'm thinking of the modern church, which seems focused on numbers and growing large.  This morning, I'm thinking of this passage and wondering if Christ calls us to be small.

I think of all the articles I've read that talk about the declining numbers of people who affiliate with a church.  I think of all the people who remember the glory days of the U.S. church, back in the middle of the 20th century, back when stores were closed on Sundays, and it seemed that everyone went to church.  When church leaders talked, communities listened.

Of course, the sociologist and historian in me also knows that many vulnerable members of the community were not heard in those days.  I would not go back to 1959, even if more people went to church on Sundays. Too many people led restricted lives--no thanks.

Still, those of us who have inherited the churches that were built during those glory days might be spending a lot of time wondering how to support those buildings with our smaller memberships.  We look for ways that the building can be a blessing to many groups, not just ours.

It's good to remember that church doesn't mean the building. This Sunday, many Lutherans who aren't experiencing a hurricane will be having God's Work, Our Hands events.  We will see the power of small groups working on a project.  As Texas has been coping with Hurricane Harvey, I've been impressed with how the ELCA Bishop of the Synod and various pastors have helped coordinate clean up efforts.

I am working on this meditation as the most powerful Atlantic storm in history, Hurricane Irene, batters the islands to my south.  I am praying for those people in the path of the storm.  I take comfort remembering that church groups often come to the aid and rescue of those who have been battered by natural disasters--and they'll often stay long after the attention of the nation has wandered somewhere else.

Jesus promises that the presence of God will be with us when only two or three gather.  And we've seen from the lives of the earliest Christians, the transforming power of what happens when groups of two or three go out into the world together in the company of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Hurricane Irma

"Hurricane Irma had maximum sustained winds of 175 mph Tuesday morning, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said additional strengthening is expected."

While the storm is still hundreds of miles away and its precise landfall track is uncertain, now is the time to prepare. Many models have it hitting south Florida. Get your supplies in order. Gas up your cars. If you live in vulnerable housing have a plan on where you will ride out the storm safely.

We urge people to take this storm very seriously. 

Ever in Christ

Pastor Keith 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 3, 2017:

First Reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 3:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 26:1-8

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28


This Gospel shows us a picture of Jesus who knows that he's on a path to crucifixion. With clear sight and clear mission, Jesus warns his disciples of what's ahead.

Peter has a typical reaction: "That will never happen." Peter reminds me of the certain type of believers, the ones who deny the ugliness of the world and the difficulties of life. These are the ones who tell us that our problems will vanish if we just pray hard enough.  I'm thinking of an encounter I witnessed once, when one woman said to another who had just gotten a troubling diagnosis to pay no attention to the earthly doctors because she's got a Heavenly doctor.  Just keep praying, the woman was advised.

My inner cynic raged, but I kept quiet.  I've lately wondered if our modern sin is that so many of us are so quickly moved to rage.  I also think of the larger sin of despair, the disbelief that anything can change.  This Gospel passage has moved many of us to talk about the crosses that we have to bear, and this counsel has discouraged too many from even thinking about the possibility of change.
We'll have all kinds of crosses to bear, Jesus warns us, and we'll lose our lives in all kinds of ways. But we'll get wonderful rewards.

It's important to stress that Jesus isn't just talking about Heaven, or whatever your vision is of what happens when you die. If Jesus spoke directly, Jesus might say, "You're thinking too small. Did I give you an imagination so that you let it wither and waste away? Dream big, dream big."

 In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N.T. Wright stresses that Jesus doesn't just announce a Kingdom in some Heaven that's somewhere else. On the contrary--the appearance of Jesus means that God's plan for redeeming creation has begun. And we're called to help. Wright says, ". . . you must follow in the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus' saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project." (204-205). He points out, "But God ordered his world in such a way that his own work within [our] world takes place not least through one of his creatures, in particular, namely, the human beings who reflect his image" (207). And for those of us who feel inadequate to the task, Wright (and before him, Jesus) reminds us of all the talents that we have at our disposal: "God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news" (226).

For many of us, the most difficult part of Jesus' mission that he gives us will be the willingness to believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King reminded us. The arc of history also bends towards beauty and wisdom and love and mercy. Some of us are so beaten down that we forget. Some of us would have no problem being crucified for our faith, but it's much harder to believe in God's vision of a redeemed world and to work to make that happen. But scripture and thousands of years of theology makes it clear, as Wright says, "We are called to live within the world where these things are possible and to agents of such things insofar as they lie in our calling and sphere" (248).

We'll lose our current lives of bitterness, fear, hopelessness, and rage. But we'll find a better one as we become agents of the Kingdom.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Where to send monetary donations for Hurrican Harvey Relief

Hurricane Harvey Relief through Lutheran Disaster Response, an amazing organization who stays until the job of recovery is done.
https://community.elca.org/ushurricanerelief?erid=28798270&trid=79371936-ea58-4752-8cad-e854ac8c3c5d

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Meditation for Justice Sunday

The readings for Sunday, August 27, 2017:

Deuteronomy 16:18-20      
Isaiah 1: 11-17
Isaiah 58: 6-9a


This week we return to a recurring theme in both the Bible and the life of our church, the theme of justice.  Justice is different from charity.  Charity often fixes an immediate problem:  think of a food bank, for example, where a family gets several bags of food to tide them over.  Justice looks at the larger picture and ponders why we need food banks at all--where are the jobs that would allow people to earn enough to buy their own food?

Even if we aren't successful at creating change, God still calls on us to work for justice. 

Not to contribute to charity, although God mandates that too. But to work for justice.

In a book I cannot recommend highly enough, The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg explains the difference this way: "Charity means helping the victims. Justice asks, 'Why are there so many victims?' and then seeks to change the causes of victimization, that is, the way the system is structured. Justice is not about Caesar increasing his charitable giving or Pilate increasing his tithe. Justice is about social transformation. Taking the political vision of the Bible seriously means the practice of social transformation" (page 201).

He offers this comfort: "The world's need for systemic transformation is great, but it is important not to become passive or discouraged ('without heart') because the need is so great. None of us is called to be knowledgeable about all of it or capable of doing something about all of it " (page 204).

We are lucky to be part of a church that works for both justice and charity.  We are stronger in a group than we are alone.  Together we can help create a world where everyone has what they need.

We have been successful on many levels.  It's time to celebrate that success--and to continue the work.

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for August 27, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 1:8--2:10

Psalm: Psalm 138

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 124

Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20


In this Gospel reading, we find Jesus asking some of the basic questions. “Who do men say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” It’s a curious exchange that has Peter proclaiming Jesus as Lord, and Jesus instructing him not to tell anybody about himself.

Hmmm. Is this a basic existential moment? Surely, of all the humans who have walked the earth, Jesus would have the least reason for asking these questions—depending, of course, on your view of Jesus. Many of us believe that Jesus understood his purpose from babyhood, or at least during his childhood, when he disappeared only to be found in the Temple, teaching the priests (that story appears in Luke, not in the other Gospels). On the other hand, some scholars speculate that Jesus didn’t understand the full scope of his mission, that Jesus, like many of us, spent his days asking God, “Am I doing what you want me to do?”

We see in this text Peter getting the kind of affirmation that many of us crave. Jesus tells Peter that he will be the cornerstone, the rock.

I think of Peter and imagine that in times of frustration, he must have looked back at this moment with Christ. What a comfort that memory must be.  Or maybe it's irritating on those days when he feels more like a pebble than a rock.

I spent much of my younger years longing to be sure that I was doing what God put me on earth to do, as if I had only one destiny, and I might be missing it.

My parents, in their wisdom, kept reminding me that God can use me no matter where I am. God is the original collage artist, taking bits and pieces that don’t seem to go together, and creating them into a cohesive whole.

It might be worth thinking in poetic terms about this Gospel. If Peter is the Rock, who are you? Some of us are willow trees that bend with storms but don’t break. Or maybe you’re sand, having been worn down by those storms, but still valuable. Maybe you’re soil made rich by the compost of circumstances. Some of us are grass, that steady groundcover that makes the larger plants possible by holding the soil in place.

I could go on with these metaphors, but you get the idea. The Gospel wants us to wrestle with these questions. Who are you? And who is the triune God in relation to you?

What part does Jesus play in your life? A guy you see once a week in church? A fellow traveler? Comforter? Savior? Someone you don’t know very well because you just don’t have the time? Co-creator of a joy-filled life? Reason for living?

More importantly, can people see who Jesus is to you by the way you live your life? How is your life a testament, like Peter’s? How can your life be more of a testament? What changes can you make today?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 20, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Genesis 45:1-15

Psalm: Psalm 67

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 133

Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Gospel: Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28

I don't like this picture of Jesus that today's Gospel represents. He treats the Canaanite woman rudely, with a complete lack of compassion. What do we make of this vision of Christ?

Part of the answer may depend on your view of Jesus/God. Do you see God as completely formed? Do you see God as never making mistakes?  We see Jesus change his mind in today's reading.  It's an interesting idea of the Divine.

I like the idea of God who allows us to disagree--and a God that sometimes agrees that we are right in our disagreement. I like the idea of a God that is being shaped and changed by creation, just as we are being shaped and changed by creation--and by God.

I know it's not as comforting as what many of us were taught in Sunday School. I know we'd rather believe in an absolute God, a God who has all the answers. We don't want to believe in a God who gets tired. We don't want to believe in a God who doesn't have absolute control. We want a God who can point and make magical changes, even though everything we've experienced about the world doesn't suggest that God does that act very often, if at all.

In today's Gospel, we see a tired, irritable Jesus. It's a terrifying idea (I'd prefer a God of infinite patience), but it's the best support to show that God did indeed become human.

The Canaanite woman is much more Godlike than Jesus in this Gospel. Here's a woman who is desperate to help her child. When Jesus rebukes her, she stands up to him and argues her case. And she persuades him. She demands justice, and because she stands her ground, she wins.

She has much to teach us. We are called to emulate her. When we see injustice, we must cry out to God and demand that creation be put right. Many theologians would tell you that if you want God to be active in this free will world that God has created, that you better start making some demands. God can't be involved unless we demand it (for a further discussion of this concept, see the excellent books of Walter Wink). If God just intervened in the world, that would violate the principle of free will which God instilled in creation. But if we invite God to action, then God has grounds to act.

I would argue that some of the most sweeping social changes of the twentieth century were grounded in this principle of crying out to the wider world and to God to demand that justice be done. Think of Gandhi's India, the repressiveness of the Jim Crow era in the USA, the South African situation decried by Archbishop Tutu, the civil wars in Central America, the Soviet occupied Eastern Europe: these situations horrified the larger world and the movements to rectify them were rooted in the Christian tradition. True, there were often external pressures applied, economic embargoes and the like, but each situation prompted prayer movements throughout the world.

We are in a similar time--perhaps humanity is always in a similar time.  The world is full of injustice that should make us cry out, especially since much of the injustice will not easily be fixed by any one of us.  Cry out to God about the plight of refugees, the racism that has such deep roots, the economy which keeps so many so desperate, the warming of the planet, and the list could go on and on.

 Let the Canaanite woman be your guide towards right behavior. Let the actions of Jesus remind you that even if you're snappy and irritable, you can change course and direct yourself towards grace and compassion. Let your faith give you hope for a creation restored to God's original vision of a just and peaceful Kingdom.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Foundations Firm and Sandy

This week, we finish our study of the Sermon on the Mount, by pondering this passage:  Matthew 7:24-27.

Lately, we may all be feeling like we've built our houses--real or metaphorical--on sand.  I remember the day that my spouse was repairing the fence and digging holes for the post.  He couldn't sink them deep enough because he hit water.  We're about twenty inches above sea level, and although our house has pilings as part of its support system, but those were put in place long ago, long before anyone would have had to consider sea level rise.

I'm also feeling like the larger world is built on a foundation of sand.  I watch world leaders bellow at each other and make nuclear threats which might be hollow or might be real, and I watch Venezuela slide into even greater chaos, and I wonder if we've fallen through a hole in time.  Can we learn nothing from the mistakes of the past?

All of our ancient wisdom, across a variety of spiritual traditions, warns us about placing our trust in the wrong areas.  Most of us have first hand experience in the loss of our material things.  Most of us long ago realized how our world leaders might let us down.

Jesus reminds us of our true foundation:  his words.  Our last year's journey through the Sermon on the Mount shows us that Christ's teachings are just as relevant for twenty-first century life as they were when Jesus first spoke them.  If we put those teachings into practice, Jesus assures us that our lives will not collapse--they may change in ways that we would never have imagined, but they will not be washed away.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Good Fruit, Bad Fruit

Our time with the Sermon on the Mount is drawing to a close.  This Sunday, we will ponder Matthew 7:  15-23.  What part jumps out at you?

Perhaps it is the warning about false prophets that seems timely, those people who seem sheeplike from the outside but are ferocious wolves inside.  These days, I'm even more worried about the ones who don't bother to disguise themselves.  I know I should be grateful--at least I know my enemies.  But the unguarded ferocity of our times never ceases to worry me.

I am always struck by good fruit and bad fruit, and always, my inner voice of worry pipes up.  What if I'm bad fruit?  What if I'm going to be cut down and thrown in the fire?

I'm not sure that Jesus meant for us to identify with the fruit itself.  A Lutheran minister friend of mine, David Eck, just preached on the seeds that land in a variety of soil, and he has chosen to view the metaphor differently.  He says that we're not the seeds, but the soil.  There are no bad seeds--what good news!

But we're not completely off the hook.  Eck continues, "When we see ourselves as the field, an interesting thing happens: The need to label others stops, and all the finger pointing gets turned in toward ourselves."  (for the complete sermon, go here:  https://jesusunboxed.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/no-bad-seeds-we-are-the-field-mt-1324-30/)

No matter whether or not we see ourselves as good fruit trees, bad fruit trees, or the soil that holds us all, there's still improvement that can be made.  I think of my parched petunias on my porch.  Once they grew so vibrantly, and now the summer is taking its toll.  But I still water them.  I still hope for a revival.

Likewise, we, too can nourish our spiritual lives.  We can make the chance for good fruit more likely.  The ways we do this will be as varied as our human existences.  Some of us will turn off our gadgets and devices.  Some of us will head out to be in natural surroundings more.  Some of us will add some devotional time.  Some of us will paint.  Some of us will invite the neighbors over for dinner.

God is not the harsh gardener who will chop us down and throw us into the fire.  Frankly, God doesn't have to do that.  We marinate in the bad choices that we've made, and that's punishment enough.
But the Good News comes again and again.  Death doesn't have the final word.  Resurrection awaits.  Choose your spiritual manure and get to work bearing good fruit.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Al Gearhart's Funeral Update

At around 9pm Sunday evening, Al Gearhart, husband to Shirley and father to Tom, Bill, and Denise entered the Kingdom Triumphant, peacefully passing away under the care of Seasons Hospice at Memorial South Hospital after battling pneumonia and other complications. 

The celebration of life and memorial service will take place this Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church at 11am with a meal to follow in the fellowship hall. If you would like to bring a dish please let Dany know (954) 907-1562 or vdvega@bellsouth.net 

In lieu of flowers the family has asked that donations be made to the Trinity Memorial fund in his memory. The funds will be used towards the completion of Trinity's new communionware set. 

Notes of condolence may be sent to:

Mrs. Shirley Gearhart 
Denise Isbell (daughter) 
12731 SW 13 Manor
Davie, FL  33325

Bill (son) and Patsy Gearhart 
Sarah, Zak (grandchildren)
18440 NW 18 St
Pembroke Pines, FL 33029

Mr. Thomas Gearhart (son)
839 Asbury Drive
Aurora, IL 60502

Allison Isbell (granddaughter)
455 W Riddle Ave 
Ravenna Ohio 44266

Matthew Isbell (grandson)

2039 north Meridian rd #171 Tallahassee fl 32303

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why Pray at All?

This week at Trinity, we will consider Matthew 7:7, the verse that tells us to ask, to knock, to seek.  Some of us may say, "I already tried that, and my prayers weren't answered."

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has an interesting perspective on prayer, which I first discovered a few years ago in this article:  http://zeek.forward.com/articles/117998/.  She says, ""Jewish tradition forbids asking God for the impossible. For this reason, we don’t pray for rain during the dry season; the laws of nature are what they are, and our prayers can’t change that, so our liturgy guides us to pray then for dew instead. We can’t 'wish away' climate change. That isn’t how prayer works."

I wish more Christians had this view of prayer.  I see far too many people viewing prayer as a version of Santa Claus for grown ups:  I will pray fervently, and the cancer will go away.  I will pray enough, and a job will come, and it will be a good job that pays lots of money, and I will finally be happy.

But what does that mean if the outcome is negative?  Do I need to improve my prayer techniques?  Does God not hear me?  Does God not like me?  If I prayed harder, could I have affected the outcome?

It's crummy theology, and that's one reason why I don't like it.  But that leads us to a different question:  why bother to pray at all?

Why pray?  Different theologians have different answers.  One of my favorite theologians, Marcus Borg, admits that he's not sure of how prayer works, or if it works, but he does it the way that he practices other good manners.  And he does it because he's willing to admit that he doesn't know everything:  "I myself have no clue what the explanatory mechanism is, and I am content not to. And this leads to my final reason for continuing to do prayers of petition and intercession. To refuse to do them because I can't imagine how prayer works would be an act of intellectual pride: if I can't imagine how something words, then it can't work. To think thus involves more than a bit of hubris" (The Heart of Christianity: Discovering a Life of Faith, page 197).

I like the views of my all-time favorite theologian, Walter Wink, who reminds us again and again that God will not intervene in this universe that gives us free will unless we ask God to intervene: "This is a God who works with us and for us, to make and keep human life humane. And what God does depends on the intercessions of those who care enough to try to shape a future more humane than the present" (Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, page 301).

Rachel Barenblatt's article shows me a similar strain of thought in Judaism:  "The kabbalistic tradition teaches that God withdrew God’s-self in order to make space for us and for our free will. Free will means that we can choose to harm, or we can choose to bring healing. And when we act here 'below,' our actions are mirrored 'on high.' When we act to bring healing to our world, we arouse the flow of healing within transcendent divinity too. This is one of the deep kabbalistic messages of the Tu B’Shvat seder."

I've always believed that my actions can change me.  I have an atheist friend who says she envies me my belief. I argue that my beliefs come because of my practice, and that she could enter into spiritual practices, and she would be a different person in a year. She proclaims not to believe me, but she also refuses to try my experiment. Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, says "We become what we do" (192).

But Barenblatt's idea says that my actions not only change me, but they change the planet, which I desperately want to believe.  And yet, my actions seem so piddly.  Can my recycling really help heal the deep poisoning that we've been seeing?  I'll plant a tree, as there is room in my yard, but I know that the planet needs so many forests of trees, and I am one small person.

Barenblatt's idea gives me hope.  God wants our buy-in, our participation, and then God will meet us more than halfway.  God has many more resources than I do.  I'm willing to partner with the Divine.  I like the idea that my actions not only change me and the planet, but they also change God.  Suddenly, every action has a weight that I don't always see.

Maybe that's my problem with the prayer that I watch so many practice.  For example, we smoke and then pray for the lung cancer to be healed.  It's rare that the body works that way.

Yet, if someone I loved had lung cancer, I'd pray those prayers anyway.  Much as I'm committed to a universe based on the principles of free will, I want to allow room for miracles.  I want a world where God and my fellow humans can bring about healing of all sorts--the kinds of miracles we need today.

So, I will do as Jesus tells us.  I will ask, I will seek, and I will knock.