One of his disciples said to Jesus, “Teach us to pray.” It is a simple request. Perhaps you are perfectly comfortable praying, but many church people are not. As the Presbyterian theologian Robert McAfee Brown wrote: “Prayer for many is like a foreign land. When we go there, we go as tourists. Like most tourists, we feel uncomfortable and out of place. Like most tourists, we therefore move on before too long and go somewhere else.”
The premise of this sermon is that we could all benefit from thinking about what prayer is and how to go about it, that we may stop feeling like tourists in a foreign land and more like pilgrims in the house of prayer. Continue reading →
Once again as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Some years a theme emerges, and this year it is the passing of old friends and mentors. Three of my professors from seminary died within a few weeks of each other early in the year, and my tributes to and remembrances of them were among the most popular posts.
Here in order are the most visited new posts from 2016:
As in previous years certain posts have had real staying power. Many of these are sermons that desperate preachers found on search engines. For example, my sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent was the number one entry if you Googled “Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent.” Consequently, I saw extraordinary spikes in traffic the week before.
So here are my all-time top ten posts since I started “When I Survey . . .” in 2009:
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who many (among them me) consider the greatest Christian theologian of the Twentieth Century, never stopped being a pastor among the people. In his years as Professor in Basel, he frequently preached to the prisoners at the local prison. Those sermons and prayers are available in a fine little collection called “Deliverance to the Captives.”
Here is a prayer from Christmas, 1958, which to me, has a sad but profound resonance with our own time:
We remember before thee all darkness and suffering of our time; the manifold errors and misunderstandings whereby we human beings afflict one another; the harsh reality which so many must face without the benefit of comfort; the great dangers that hang over the world which does not know how to counter them. We remember the sick and the mentally ill, the needy, the refugees, the oppressed and the exploited, the children who have no good parents or no parents at all. We remember all those who are called on to help as much as men can help, the officials of our country and of all other countries, the judges and civil servants, the teachers and educators, the writers of books and newspapers, the doctors and nurses in the hospitals, the preachers of thy word in the various churches and congregations nearby and afar. We remember them all when we implore thee to let the light of Christmas shine brightly . . . so that they and we ourselves may be helped. We ask all this in the name of the Savior in whom thou hast already hearkened to our supplications and wilt do so again and again. Amen. (p. 143)
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent my pastor picked this prayer from Karl Barth as part of the prayers of the people for this morning. Barth wrote it in the middle of the last century, but it struck me as eerily contemporary. It helped me sort out some of what I need to do to prepare for Christmas, and so in that spirit, I share it with you:
Lord, our God and Father, give to many, to all, and to us as well, that we may celebrate Christmas like this: that in complete thankfulness, utter humility and then complete joy and confidence we may come to the One whom you have sent, and in whom you yourself have come to us. Clean out the many things in us that now that the hour has come have become impossible for us, can no longer belong to us, may, must, and will fall away from us, by virtue of your Son, our Lord and Savior, entering into our midst and creating order.
Have mercy on all of those who either do not yet or do not fully know you and your kingdom, who perhaps once knew everything and have either forgotten, misunderstood or even denied it! Have mercy on all of humankind, who today are once again especially plagued, threatened and haunted by so much foolishness. Enlighten the thoughts of those in both the East and the West, the South and the North who are in power and who, as appears to be the case, are today in complete confusion and despair. Give the rulers and representatives of the people, the judges, teachers, and bureaucrats, give even the media in our homeland the insight and sobriety that are necessary for their responsible work. Place the right, necessary and helpful words on the lips of those who have to preach during this Christmas Season, and open then also the ears and hearts of those who hear them. Comfort and encourage those who are sick, both in body and spirit, in hospitals, as well as prisoners, and those who are distressed, abandoned or despairing. Help them with what alone can truly help them and all of us: the clarity of your Word and the quiet work of your Holy Spirit.
We thank you that we are permitted to know that we do not pray and will never pray to you in vain. We thank you that you have let your light rise, that it shines in the darkness, and that the darkness will not overcome it. We thank you that you are our God and that we may be called your people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” — Psalm 130: 1
In the prayer book I grew up with each Psalm had a Latin title, which was always the first line of that Psalm. The only one that I distinctly recall was “De Profundis,” the Latin title of Psalm 130, which begins, “Out of the depths.”
I’m not sure what it was about that title that was so intriguing to me. Perhaps it reminded me of the English word “profound.” I know now that “profound” is derived from the Latin “profundus” which means literally “at the bottom.”
As I have lived out my life through the decades there have been some difficult, even desperate, times when I have cried out to God from somewhere pretty close to the bottom. We have phrases that describe such times. We say someone has “hit bottom” or is “bottoming out.”
But it is not only in these desperate times that we can pray from the depths. We can always pray from the very deepest part of our selves, from the very “bottom of our hearts.” Sometimes we are able to find the words, other times our silent prayers are, as Paul described them, “sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Either way, our God, who is Lord of the depths as well as the heights, hears our prayers.
O God, your love fills the world, help us to fathom the depth of the love you have for us in Jesus Christ.
(This is my Daily Devotional for June 11, 2015. To see the original go here. To subscribe (for free) to this daily e-mail service go here.)
O Lord, by all your dealings with us, whether of joy or pain, of light or darkness, let us be brought ever closer to you. Let us not value your grace simply because it makes us happy, or because it makes us sad, because it gives us or denies us what we want, but because all that you send us bring us to you. Let us realize that in knowing your perfection, we may be sure in every disappointment that you are still loving us, that in every darkness you are still enlightening us, and that in every bump in our journey’s road you are giving us life, just as in death you gave life to your Son, our savior Jesus Christ.
O Lord, our whole world is in the midst of struggle about our future, and there is great fear and uncertainty among us. We worry about war and peace, about terror and trouble, about the environment and the economy. Calm us down and let us speak to each other as those who have a common stake in our life together, as neighbors rather than as adversaries
Keep us from rancor and strife, from rumors and accusations. Let us seek the truth as best we can know it, and the common good above our own particular interests. Deliver us from the need to build ourselves up by cutting others down. Let us listen more than we talk, and think before we speak, and realize that we are all in this together,
O Lord, you alone can control the days that are gone and the deeds that are done; remove from our burdened memory the weight of past years, that being set free both from the comfort of complacency and the paralysis of remorse, we may reach forth to those things which lie before us, and press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ. Amen.