Additional Thoughts on #Prayer-Survivors-Conquerors

This last week as I was struggling with some sickness, I let slip a day or two of prayers for the women who were abused by Larry Nazzar. I had gone 87 days following that pattern. Yet I missed two days last week. 

The sickness wasn’t life threatening for me by any stretch. But with my age and the challenges this past year with adjusting to a new normal after my accident, it caught me by surprise. This thing wore me out, not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

I reflected on that last night. I began thinking about the more than 200 women who had been sexually abused by Nazzar, some more than 20 years ago. How many days have they faced their burdens? The weight of no one listening to them for years. And when some reported the people who could have helped never did anything. No one responded with help for them. 

I wonder how tired, overwhelmed they felt all that time? And then they faced their abuser, and yet still they are attacked, sidelined, and ignored by #MSU and #USAG and others. This was not a episode from which they would recover with a couple weeks of rest. 

This is daily, weekly, monthly, yearly —drains on the life, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That is the tiring and wearying reality of so many. My little episode pales by comparison. 

This reminds me when we pray for each of them, it is not just an instant in their lives, it is their lives. Yes, they are growing, maturing, but also hurting, angry, standing strong in public, and setting a course for many others who are beginning to address the horror, injustice, and pain.

And new names beyond the sports scandal are added to the list of abused, seemingly each day. Our prayer life is extended, not as a burden, but a necessity, a promise, a joy. They are Survivors and Conquerors. And, yes, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, these women are strong. And we stand with them as Prayer Warriors.

I am no longer sick or tired; my illness has passed. But my prayer focus for each of them continues. They all need our prayers, every day. 

If I fail to do that, Lord, forgive me, strengthen me, and even give me the appropriate words in prayer. Here is God’s promise for us as we pray:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 NAS)

Our prayers continue
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Isaiah 53

Isaiah 53 (MEV)

1 Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before Him as a tender plant
and as a root out of a dry ground.
He has no form or majesty that we should look upon him
nor appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected of men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from him;
he was despised, and we did not esteem him.
4 Surely he has borne our grief
and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
the chastisement of our peace was upon him,
and by his stripes we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray;
each of us has turned to his own way,
but the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away,
and who shall declare his generation?
For he was cut off out of the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was struck.

9 His grave was assigned with the wicked,
yet with the rich in his death,
because he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him;
He has put him to grief.
If he made himself as an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days,
and the good pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 He shall see of the anguish of his soul and be satisfied.
By his knowledge My righteous servant shall justify the many,
for he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will divide him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death,
and he was numbered with the transgressors,
thus he bore the sin of many
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Body and Blood—”given and shed for you”

Palm Sunday follow up

Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday caused quite a stir.  Many were involved in proclaiming the praises due to Jesus. “Hosanna. loud Hosanna!” “Come, save us!” was their declaration. But are they ready for that salvation?

In the three days since then, Jesus teaches the people in the temple area. He confronts the religious leaders with parables. Instead of making a coalition with the leaders, Jesus demonstrates how far they have drifted from God’s intention. More broadly, He shows how much the entire people of Israel have lived, not as the people of God, but as whiny spoiled children who demand that God start working for them— constant refrain from the time of Moses leading them in the wilderness 1500 years prior.

But now it is Thursday, the passover celebration. Unlike other major festivals among the Jews, the Passover was not connected to the temple and the sacrifices. Rather it was a family festival, remembering God’s deliverance from Egypt. The night is not hurried, it is not time to prepare to escape at any moment. Passover had become a time of relaxing, retelling the story of the Exodus, in a night of lavish eating, joy, rejoicing in their life as God’s people.

The New Family

Earlier in the Gospel accounts we find a realigning of family:

Then his mother and his brothers arrived. While they were standing outside, they sent word to Jesus, calling for him. A crowd was
sitting around him. They began to tell him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.”

He replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He looked at those who sat around him in a circle and he said, “Look, my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:31-34 EHV)

That finds fulfillment tonight at the Passover meal. Jesus joins His disciples, not His family. The new identity of family is established—those who believe in Him are the family of God. That means these disciples have to relearn what relationships are like.

Servanthood in the Family

Earlier and even that night, they want to know the pecking order in this new community. “Let me sit on your right” and “Let me sit on Your left” become the questions. Instead, in John’s Gospel we read:

 He got up from the supper and laid aside his outer garment. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:4-5 EHV)

Jesus takes on the form of a servant, the lowest servant who washes the feet.

After Jesus had washed their feet and put on his outer garment, he reclined at the table again. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. (John 13:12 EHV)

It takes them a while before they put all this together. For tonight they have a lot to digest.

Lord’s Supper

But since Jesus knows that they are all sinners, He will do two things about that. Tomorrow He will die for their sins and the sins of the whole world. We will revisit tomorrow. But for now, Jesus takes the family meal of Passover and makes it a life-giving meal for sinners. Each of them will sin before the night is over. Each of them will experience the affects of sin in their lives: guilt, shame, fear, blame, etc. One will betray Him, another will deny Him, and all of them will flee in His greatest need.

So tonight Jesus changes the Passover meal with these words:

He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup after the supper, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is
being poured out for you. (Lk 22:19-20 EHV)

Instead of being a remembrance of a past event (Exodus) now in the Lord’s Supper Jesus Himself be present with His body and blood—for the forgiveness of sins, cleansing of conscience, taking away guilt, shame, fear.

Tonight we celebrate not the Exodus event, but Jesus serving us in the best way possible, giving us His body and blood. Thus through that we have the greater deliverance: from sin, death, and the devil.

Now what?

We leave here not with an uncertainty like those disciples around Jesus. We know what happened, that the disciples run away afraid. But we know that Jesus fulfills all things written about Him. He dies, yes. He also rises from the dead. And His victory becomes our victory by faith in Him including what He did for us.

We leave tonight anticipating the events coming, but with faith and hope—not fear and failure. We are sisters and brothers of Christ. And we give thanks to God, family of God!

Places of the Passion

Today we begin the Lenten journey to Jesus’ death on the cross and to His resurrection from the dead.

Our Lenten journey takes us to the Places of the Passion:

Feb. 21 The Upper room
Feb. 28 Gethsemane
Mar. 7 Court of the High Priest
Mar. 14 Court of Pontius Pilate
Mar. 21 Way of Sorrows

Tonight for Ash Wednesday we are introduced to our Guide: The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).

While the observance of Ash Wednesday is not required, it has a long history in the Christian Church. But further back in history we can see two links in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament):

I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and petitions, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)

But even earlier, after Adam and Eve sinned, God spoke judgment upon them for their sin:

[God said to Adam:] “By the sweat of your face will you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)

Those words are often spoken by the pastor as he applies the ashes to the forehead.

So there is Biblical support for Ash Wednesday practice, but there is no requirement that is must be done. The marking of the forehead is not a “sign of spirituality” for the person receiving the ashes for others to see. Rather, it reflects the person’s acknowledgment of sin and its affect on the person. Ashes in the form of a cross also remind the person that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the Law for living and satisfies the demand of death for sinning. The cross of ashes then reminds us of the great debt of sin and the greater payment of that debt by Jesus.

Ash Wednesday observance

Prayer re: Amtrak

At this time of tragedy we come to Your throne of mercy:

Gracious Lord, in the midst of tragedies, we often want answers on what happened. And yet the needs of surviviors and families of those who died is uppermost in our minds. Grant rescue workers safety as they continue to bring people out of the wreckage, and those injured on the interstate. For those who have lost loved ones, grant Your comfort and peace. Raise up the right people to being that comfort to them. For those who are injured, may their treatment prevent even further damage and loss. We raise them all before Your throne of mercy in their own special needs, concerns, griefs; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

 

Church—some thoughts about it

Lately I have been thinking a lot about “church” —what it is, what it is not, how it functions.

There are two approaches that have garnered a lot of attention. As I describe these, at this stage I am observing, not evaluating them The first is the formal, structured church. This is evident in not only architecture but also in worship life. Most of “church” revolves around the building and the liturgy. Great care is taken in the details of both.

The second is the person-centered approach to church. Thus, the person’s needs, wants, desires move center stage. Instead of a formalized liturgy the need to encourage, excite, motivate people is the focus of worship. The second kind of church has been an occasional part of my life in the last 25 years. I have participated in some very moving worship times.

Interestingly, though, I have also felt a hollowness of my own spirituality in such churches. As I examined this more, I discovered that there were no long lasting links with the Church. Songs from 20 years ago were no longer sung. The experience of the gathered people in worship spanned maybe 10-20 years. Yet I am in my late 60s. My spiritual and worship life span almost seven decades.

I grew up and have spent almost all of my adult life in the first kind of church. The liturgical form of worship was all I personally knew until I was in my 40s. The temptation was to let my participation turn to auto-pilot. I knew everything by heart, no need for the hymnal, except for occasional hymn that I didn’t know by heart. At times such participation became automatic with little thought of “what was I saying/singing.”

Yet, in some of the deepest valleys in my life, my participation in that liturgy and hymns brought stability when nothing else did. The congregational span of worship was not limited to the age of the participants. It reached back hundreds of years, and even further. The perspective was not limited to any one in particular but to the Church as a whole, throughout the ages. I realized I was part of a community that could carry me along as we sang the Kyrie, even if my lips did not move. As church, we sang, prayed, and meditated. I needed that. And over the years I have encountered others who have realized this “larger than me” experience of church.

The Foundations: Word and Sacrament

In the Church of all ages, there are foundational elements of Church: The Word of God, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Confession and Absolution, and our responses of prayer and singing. They form the heart of Church life.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 CSB)

And Matthew 18:15-20 (CSB)

15 [Jesus said:] “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”