Still another source of pastoral care is my congregation and persons in it. All my theological theory is put to the test at a sickbed or a deathbed and my faith is shown up for what it really is. A great pastor once said that when he ministered to a sick person, that sick person was actually like a “professor” examining him on his theology, not the theology he had, but the theology that had him. Every real pastor has had this experience, wherein parishioners of mature and tested faith have ministered to him not only by exposing his own deepest need but by the benediction of their steadfast grip on the one thing needful.
MINISTER’S PRAYER BOOK. JOHN W. DOBERSTEIN
Wanted to share a neat prayer story… One of our church’s Lenten activities for Wed. nights was asking members to illustrate or write a prayer of petition, thanksgiving, or a promise on colored strips of paper that we collect after Holden Evening Prayer. Another team of us worked on weaving all of the strips together into squares that will be used on the tables during our Maundy Thursday meal this week. As i was writing some strips to get the thing started weeks ago, I remember one i wrote as a prayer for my dad to be happy in the nursing home and make friends there. (Know that his dementia is becoming more and more pronounced and his physical condition is not improving – so it’s a sad time for him but his spirits are mostly good.) Well low and behold, of all things, one of his life-long buddies from his old car club ended up as a resident down the hall, and now his work buddy of 20+ years just randomly was assigned a room across the hall from him! I’m in no way happy any of them have to be in full-time nursing care, but I see this as God’s smile for my dad to have some buddies in his new home. Thank you God!
A reflection i shared at my church on 3/11/15…
Some of them did not want to be there.
Their parents knew it, their classmates knew it, and i certainly knew it. It comes with the youth ministry territory – teens under protest at a church retreat.
This past weekend Paula Hutchinson and i accompanied some of the Confirmands on our spirituality retreat. We attempted to learn about 15 different spiritual practices. Centering prayer, meditation, art, storytelling. A lot to cram in 24 hours. It reminded me a little of this Psalm. The hope of our congregation is to pass on some new and some ancient faith practices to young people. Well, as you can imagine, not every teen in our midst looks forward to that subject as much as i do.
Some of us can remember being 14 or 15. God, church, religion, any of it – mostly meaningless, a bother, a bore. I get it. There’s really no amount of sprinkle or sparkle or sugar you can put on a crucified Jesus to make him compete with the world’s attractions and allure.
It wasn’t quite so for me –as a teen later in high school i was in church most days of the week for one reason or another. We even sang a song that took a line out of psalm 84 – that better is one day in your courts than 1000 elsewhere.
This psalm says i’d rather be a doorkeeper – a beggar, the one on the fringe, in the house of god than be set up in palaces with the most popular. This psalm is a reminder that for some, the house of god is a destination – a place seekers run to.
The psalm says some have in their heart a highway to Zion – a highway to god’s best for us. It says to get there we go thru this valley of Baca – meaning this sad stretch – a desert, a wasteland, where there may be places to drink but they are few and hidden so you’re often really thirsty and really worn out. This is the path we take to get to where god is. God took this path to get to us too. It’s the path of Jesus.
The psalm says we go from strength to strength and then god is seen. It doesn’t usually feel like strength when we are being pulled apart, or pushed to learn new practices. And is God really seen? Really?
That’s why i do what i do. Each retreat, each confirmation group, each mission trip, every time we gather – it’s a time to take what we proclaim and pack it in a duffel bag and get walking. It’s like the psalm says – on the way to Zion – here we go – during lent we set aside this time to see and remember and live the path Jesus walked.
So i’m letting you in on a widely kept secret.
I know – this journey to the cross & the empty tomb we take during lent is not one some of us want to be on. We may even arrive shaking heads and shaking fists – when there’s nothing in us what so-ever that says we want to be there, we still find ourselves surrounded by the grace of Jesus Christ. This crazy love that keeps inviting us and including us.
The calendar turns – i wonder where January and February went and here it’s the middle of march and we’ll be scratching our heads outside the empty tomb any day now – and each week we are called and we’ll call one another back to this place. So that the prayer of our hearts becomes how lovely is your dwelling place God…
And we say with the psalmist – in faith –
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.
It’s all over the news here in the Twin Cities about Target Corp laying off a few thousand people. We were having staff lunch at church when one of the casualties came in, a member I haven’t met… who had come to church as his first stop after the cut, I assume. He’d been employed there a long time – so this was a terrible shock.
Happened to me once – though when I worked retail I think i had a little bit of warning. I received a generous severance package and never had to collect unemployment. I got several months of pay because of how long i’d been at the company… but still, I remember walking out of the store with my “papers.” It was mid-day – I think around lunch time. Bright sun. The oddest feeling. I had no partner – no savings. Just a lease for rent and enough debt to make me nervous to not have a job. It was 2008 – I wasn’t alone.
I read the comments on one of the Facebook stories today – posted by one of the local news outlets. The comments that had the most likes were those that were demeaning the media for filming the casualties as they left Target with their papers and boxes, as if they were criminals when the real “crimes” if any were made by those who won’t feel the ramifications of any of this. My bachelor’s degree is in electronic and print media so I have a soft spot for what journalists are going through, trying to cover this story. The comments did bring me back to that walk out of the store though.
There I sat in staff lunch today – it was catered by a church member who just wanted to give us something nice… Feeling such mixed emotions. I’d go back to my desk and my emails and my busy career when lunch was over, and that man would go home and spin. Recently separated, he said, with two kids in college. His ex just quit her job… So there’s that. Crazy. Sad.
So tonight, just a prayer for people whose life sucks. For God to be near. For hope. For prosperity. For fairness. For Jesus.