We rise today with a mighty strength – the power of Resurrection in our one whole life.
Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019
We Rise Today
In the Gospel of John, on Easter morning, we rise with Mary Magdalene, while it is still dark, and make our way to the tomb. There, we find that the stone has been rolled away. Mary runs to tell the others, and, when they hear, Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb. Peter rushes in, but the Beloved Disciple stops short.
In Professor Herman Waetjen’s reading of John, the Beloved Disciple is Lazarus. Lazarus stops at the threshold because he knows what it is to be in a tomb. He stops short – when he sees the burial cloth – as the experience of death once again registers in his body. And then he goes on in – looking for the Jesus who came looking for him. Back in the tomb – this empty tomb – the Beloved Disciple experiences again his own resurrection in the resurrection of Jesus—he sees, and he believes. And he runs to tell the good news.
While the men run back to get the others, Mary lingers, weeping into the tomb. Jesus comes to her, but she thinks him the gardener. She sees him – Jesus – only when he calls her by name – just like he called Lazarus, by name – both called by name out of their experience of death into life.
And as we see all this, as our gaze opens with Mary, we realize that we are in a garden on this Resurrection morning (“she thought him the gardener”). We are back in the garden – where the story began “in the beginning” – God with us – now, in the Risen Christ – the Word in flesh – Christ’s and ours. Our eyes open, with Mary’s, to a world where there is no separation – where no power not even death can separate us from God – where Resurrection is alive with us, and for us, and in us. And we see that this one whole life of ours is bigger than ever we imagined. This one whole life is bigger even than death.
The Prayer of St Patrick begins with the affirmation: “I rise today with a mighty strength.” The words of the prayer then cascade with all of the ways that God is present with us right here, right now, for the living of the day: God’s strength to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s hand to keep me. The strength of Christ’s baptism and crucifixion and burial and resurrection. The strength of heaven, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, firmness of rock. Christ above us, Christ beside us, Christ within us.
On this Easter morning, let that be our prayer… because it is true:
We rise today with a mighty strength
the power of Resurrection
in our one whole life.
Christ above us,
Christ below us,
Christ behind us,
Christ before us,
Christ beside us,
Christ within us,
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students
Holy Saturday reminds us that Christ has been to hell and set all its prisoners free.
Holy Saturday, April 20, 2019
Of Hell and Honey
My dream, my works, must wait till after hell
I hold my honey and store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will…
None can tell me when I may dine again
We are told in our scripture reading that the women kept vigil with the tortured Christ until it was all over. They followed the body to the tomb and departed to perform that last sacrament of despair – preparing spices to honor a corpse. What hell they must be living. Whatever dreams they cherished had not merely withered, but writhed in slow, tormented deaths. Their work to care for and witness to this amazing man – once so filled with luminous hope was now less than dust.
Not all Protestants acknowledge Holy Saturday (except in the lovely pagan ritual of dying eggs) – but it is the day ancient Christians honored as the harrowing of hell (Ephesians 4:8-10, 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6, Gospel of Nicodemus, Apostles’ Creed). Who among us has not spent time in hell? Or stretched our imaginations to taste the hell of those in prison, terrorized in their own homes, starving, empty even in their affluence, tormented by hatred as they cling to their power? On bad days, we may think that human history is little but a long descent into hell.
The very meaning of hell is that it is hopeless (“abandon hope all ye who enter here”). But this holy day reminds us that Christ has been to hell and set all its prisoners free. Mother Christ abandons none of Her cherished friends to despair or self-destruction: Through Her, the Beloved Trinity permeates all things – even hell. The women don’t know that now. But a time will come when they will again eat honey and bread.
Dr. Wendy Farley
SFTS Professor of Spirituality and Rice Family Chair in Spirituality
Simon of Cyrene’s story is the story of all those who are less powerful and who are used as a surrogate to bear the burden for others.
Good Friday, April 19, 2019
Simon the Cyrene – From Bystander to Surrogate
“Black folk claim Simon with reference not to geography, but to identity. Simon’s blackness is truth-telling and empowering.”
– Rev. Jeania Ree V. Moore, Director of Civil and Human Rights at the General Board of Church and Society for The United Methodist Church
The story of Simon the Cyrene is the story of a bystander, who has no power, that gets put in the middle of another’s story; he was just a man watching Jesus carry the cross on the way to Calvary.
It is the honest telling of the story of the those who are less powerful being used as a surrogate in some cosmic game of redemption; the Romans called him out and compelled him to carry the cross. Why him? This is the question of proxy nations, mammies, and foot soldiers in wars that will not benefit the families of those who, disproportionately, died.
It turns out that there is something that is worse than being considered a political and theological scapegoat. It is being a surrogate for the goat. Simon has no idea of the significance of the drama within which he was thrust. All he knew was:
“he was conscripted to be a spectacle”
Therein lies the story of people who become tropes for religious issues that have nothing to do with them. Church doctrines and political policies are never simply about the truth without them also being about power and personalities. Age to age, Simons have carried the cross with Jesus on the way to redemption for the church and the world.
The first women preachers, slaves who contended that the gospel was for them, LGBTQIA+ Christians who bear votes about their inclusion within a church that says “whosoever will let them come” are all continuing examples of people who were compelled to move from bystanders to surrogates.
In fact, the surrogate does not die. The crossbeam of the cross is taken from his shoulder because in the end, it is collateral suffering that is not of his own making. Rather, Jesus will let Simon bear the burden, but not suffer the cost of the crime of simply being himself.
To the Simons, this passage is comforting. It does not lie and say there is no burden. But, it declares that the burden will be lifted by a God who will not let the religious authorities win or the unjust society reign. Simon is not the scapegoat. He is not the reason for the drama. He is not guilty. They ain’t nothing wrong with him. The crowd is as wrong about Simon then as they are about all the Simons since then.
The question of this season is how are our whole lives being used in relation to Simon? Shouldn’t someone, anyone, and everyone have run from the crowd and said “NO.” Aha, but they had the privilege of cowardice. Their skin was not brown!
Rev. Floyd Thompkins
SFTS Vice President Innovation and Online Education
& Director of the Center for Innovation in Minsitry
We arrive with Jesus at the table of the Last Supper, knowing that hard things lie ahead.
Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019
Here we stand breathless
And pressed in hard times.
Hearts hung like laundry
On backyard clothes lines.
Impossible just takes
A little more time.
From the muddy ground
Comes a green volunteer.
In a place we thought
barren, new life appears.
Morning will come whistling
Some comforting tune, for you.
You can do this hard thing.
You can do this hard thing.
It’s not easy I know, but
I believe that it’s so.
You can do this hard thing.
– “You Can Do This Hard Thing,” written by Carrie Newcomer
What is one of the hardest things you have ever done? What is the most difficult season of life that you have lived through? If you’re like me, it is challenging to pick just one, as there have been many hard things, and multiple difficult seasons. Perhaps you are in one right now, or perhaps you are just coming out of one. I have times in my life that I can look back upon and wonder how I ever got through it, seasons that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, and yet we all go through them. Difficulty is a part of life. We do hard things every day.
And I see difficulty in our text, too. In this passage from Luke, Jesus breaks bread with friends, pours cups of wine, speaks of suffering, sharing, remembrance, and betrayal. He is witness to a debate between them about greatness, speaks of benefactors and servants, flips the script on who is the greatest and the least, and tells his dear friend, Peter, that Peter will deny knowing Jesus. These scenes are filled with incredible difficulty. With blessing, beauty, and grace and all of those lovely things, yes. But there is also an ominous atmosphere pulsing with tragedy, torment, and difficulty. Knowing what is before him, Jesus still chooses to be with his people. Jesus did a very hard thing.
We are in the final days of Lent, well into Holy Week, arriving here to Maundy Thursday where we remember the Last Supper that Jesus had with his friends and family. We are sitting with Jesus amongst his disciples. We bring to the table our whole lives. We bring our joys, accomplishments, dreams, and hopes, alongside our disappointments, sorrows, griefs, and tears. In the act of the Lord’s Supper, we find communion with Jesus, with the disciples, with the saints, and with all of those professing faith in Christ. Following his journey here to the table we profess together that we, too, can do this hard thing. We can remember and witness the body of Christ broken, life poured out in the bread and the cup. We can choose to be with our people and show up to the table. We can do hard things and make it through difficult times with the reassurance that Jesus is alongside us for our whole lives. May you feel the mystery and grace of bread and cup fill you and nourish you this day.
SFTS MDiv 2016, SFTS/GTU MA and DASD 2017
They sang a hymn, went out into the night, and Jesus said, “Watch and pray.”
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Watch and Pray
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that after the Last Supper they sung a hymn and went out into the night. They made their way to Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in agony, leaving the disciples to snooze, with the plaintive encouragement: “Watch and pray.”
Over the past few years, the Spirit has breathed new life into our music program at the Seminary. We are singing all the time. Much of this flows from the leadership of our Seminary Singers director, Carolyn Anderson (also an MDiv student). And, for the past three years, we have had in our midst singer/songwriter John Lyzenga (also an MDiv student). John’s songs have become a regular part of our chapel worship and choir concerts. John’s music has become an important part of our prayer.
With John’s permission, today’s devotion is his song: “Watch and Pray.” Here’s the link where you can find it for a listen: https://johnlyzenga.bandcamp.com/track/watch-and-pray
For our prayer today, we invite you to listen – to sing – to watch and pray.
We invite you into the embodied experience of listening and singing – but if you can’t access the link wherever you are, here are the words:
Watch and pray.
Watch and pray.
Watch and pray.
Watch and pray.
Won’t you stay with me?
Oh, remain with me.
Won’t you stay with me?
Oh, remain with me.
Oh, suffering God,
how you know loneliness.
Oh, suffering God,
how you weep for us.
Oh, suffering God,
how you know injustice.
Oh, suffering God,
won’t you stay with us?
“Watch and Pray,” copyright John Lyzenga, used with permission.
John Lyzenga’s album In Troubled Times is available at https://johnlyzenga.bandcamp.com/releases, with more of his music, written in collaboration with Yolanda Norton, and featuring a community of seminary musicians.
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students
To follow Christ is to do everything we can to build a society that gives life and overthrows death.
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Call of the Widow
We want to praise the widow and her mites as an example for us all to follow. That’s how it was preached to me as a girl, emphasizing stewardship of the church and of our personal resources. But that message distorts what Jesus says and saves me from having to critique the system that keeps the widow poor.
The week that I am writing this, the Trump administration announced a cutoff in U.S. aid funds to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The same administration has punished mothers for attempting to legally seek asylum in the United States by removing their children from their custody, in some cases leading to the child’s death or disappearance.
I live in Honduras, and I have had numerous friends and strangers contact me to ask about what they can do about the migrant crisis, to help “those poor children” and wringing their hands about Trump administration policies, in some cases ignorant of the fact that the militarization and privatization of U.S. border security systems have increased under each of the past five presidencies. Few have asked about how to change the system that has kept Central America poor and dependent on the United States’ neo-colonial economy, government aid, and charity.
We forget that Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua struggle because the United States over the past century has wanted them to struggle. The U.S. military supported regime change in those countries in order to keep bananas and pineapples cheap. U.S. companies lobby for tariffs and “free trade” deals that benefit publicly traded agriculture corporations—stockholders and not farmers. The U.S.-driven war on drugs created militarization of police in countries rife with corruption, increasing violence in poor communities while doing little to limit demand for cocaine in the world’s largest market for it: the United States.
The widow gives out of her poverty, and Jesus implies praise of her example. But Jesus doesn’t call us to follow her. In fact, I wonder if he calls even the widow to something more. The story of the widow’s mites comes in the middle of a lengthy critique of the entire Temple system. He says, “beware of the scribes,” that is, beware the empire, beware the systemic machinations that keep people poor, beware those who devour the widow’s home. Our whole life devoted to following Christ is not to sacrifice our bank accounts, no matter how big or small the balance. Our whole life devoted to following Christ is to reject the very system that fills our bank accounts, that created the inequality to begin with. To follow Christ is to do everything we can to build a society that gives life and overthrows death.
Rev. Dori Kay Hjalmarson
SFTS MDiv 2015
A Lenten devotion for Tax Day
Monday, April 15, 2019
Happy Tax Day, Everybody!
I don’t like this story. I really don’t. It’s problematic for me because it is one of the few places where I find myself disagreeing with Jesus. Or at least I find myself wanting him to be more direct. I mean, I get why he is saying what he’s saying – these spies had him in a potentially tough spot. If he just says “yes” then he can be called out as a supporter of Rome—certainly not the kind of messiah to deliver the people from their Roman colonizers. If he just says “no” then he can be called out as anti-establishment, a dangerous revolutionary calling for the fall of the empire. So, his answer is more of a “yes, but…” Pay your taxes to Caesar, but give to God what is God’s.
It’s not lost on me that you’re reading this devotion on Tax Day. I’ve never relished preparing or submitting my taxes. I honestly don’t know anyone who does. In my childhood home, I remember the days leading up to April 15 when my father would fill the dining table with accordion files and stacks of paper. He would huddle there with a calculator for hours, quietly whispering to himself. I practiced this ritual in my own home for a while – but as one who is far less adept in the world of math than my father, I now much prefer to pay someone else to prepare my taxes.
Every year, as Spring re-emerges and we enter the short jog to April 15, I begin to remember Henry David Thoreau and his protest of slavery and the Mexican-American War. In her piece in the New York Times last Tax Day, Sarah Vowell wrote:
…for six years Thoreau did not pay his taxes. He asks, “When I meet a government which says to me, ‘Your money or your life,’ why should I be in haste to give it my money?” And so he went to jail — for a single night. “For someone” — probably his aunt — “interfered, and paid that tax.”
Rereading “Civil Disobedience” annually, around tax time, is on the same to-do list as sending forms to my accountant and gathering the wadded-up receipts that suggest that my job is not writing but drinking tea in airports. Because the point of Thoreau’s admitted “harsh and stubborn and unconciliatory” rant is worth remembering at least once a year: Our money makes us complicit. You and I paid for the rope at Abu Ghraib just as our forebears footed the bill for Gen. Winfield Scott and Capt. Robert E. Lee to dock at Veracruz in 1847 and follow the trail blazed by Hernán Cortés to storm Mexico City because the guy in the White House really needed Utah.
Taxes are the government’s way to hold us complicit in the maintenance of a system beyond our individual control. I wish I could just refuse to pay, and in doing so have it actually be some kind of an act of resistance or a call to revolution. But there are plenty who do not pay taxes, and it hardly seems revolutionary. Amazon pays zero federal taxes, and it just seems greedy.
If I must pay taxes, why not let me choose where I want them to go? Some kind of checklist to supplement my tax forms would be appreciated, even if it were just a ruse to cool my ire about paying money to fund the military industrial complex. I would feel good about saying, in writing, that I want all of my tax dollars to fund schools, health care, social programs, nature conservation, and infrastructure. Zero to the military, the prisons, or to subsidize corporate interests. But I don’t even have the illusion of that choice.
I’m caught in the swirl of it all – not wanting to support a corrupt system with my money, and at the same time knowing that I am already so completely entwined in the system. It’s not really as simple these days as “whose image is on the coin.” And probably Jesus didn’t mean it as a simple answer either. Because, someday, all of this money is going to be worthless. Who uses the denarius anymore? And ultimately, isn’t everything God’s anyway?
Rev. Paul Gaffney
SFTS Program Manager of The Shaw Chaplaincy Institute for Spiritual Care + Compassionate Leadership
SFTS MDiv 2004
“I wonder how our collective praise might really sound if we would risk enough to express it.”
Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
Shouts of Praise
I miss the shouting. This morning I reminisced about the times I have sung along with a gospel choir in praise. I remembered standing to my feet and lifting my hands in acknowledgement of how much I have been blessed. I remembered the almost incessant clapping afterward and the shouts of hallelujah, for God has been with me during times of deep sadness and great joy. And I am reminded that Jesus assures me that his steadfast loving kindness, mercy, and grace will accompany me throughout my one whole life.
Too often lately, I have sat in a church-mouse-quiet sanctuary and wondered how our collective praise might really sound if we could risk enough to express it. I hear the term “frozen chosen” bandied about like a badge of honor, and I cringe every time.
Our text today illustrates the hopefulness of a people to be delivered from their circumstances/situations/events of oppression and injustice—from suffering and adversity. They have heard the good news of One who has come from a nowhere place (i.e., insignificant in relation to the empire), who has these Divine powers. Someone who can heal strangers regardless of their sin state and distance to him. Someone who then forgives the sin and leaves them more whole than they’ve ever been.
They have heard from community members that the blind now see, the leper has been healed, and thousands of people got fed with almost no food. This Jesus had invited company with adulterers, tax collectors, and those despised by the elite. He had blessed the poor and those who are mourning, had been tempted by the devil, and was still without sin himself. He had calmed the seas and made unproductive fig trees shrivel.
These people lived under the threat of further disenfranchisement. They were all too ready to welcome their new king into town to takeover. They were jubilant, celebratory, and confident. In a time of chronic persecution, they were willing to openly shout with words of longing and praise for a future uprising where the present establishment would fall and be destroyed. They were leaning into their hope with their whole selves hardly able to contain the joy in their hearts.
I wonder how our collective praise might really sound if we would risk enough to express it. Yet somehow, we have rationalized our whispered hallelujahs. We sing hymns about bowing our heads and lifting our hands. But we do not bow our heads or lift our hands. We read liturgies about the efficacy of the bended knee. But we do not bend our knees. And in our current circumstances/situations/events of oppression and injustice and suffering and adversity, we ought to shout praises to our deliverer lest the rocks are all we hear on Easter morning.
Rev. Ruth T. West
SFTS Program Manager, Advanced Pastoral Studies
SFTS MDiv 2012, DASD 2013
Who will steady and support us, calling us ever on to wholeness, warding us against those who would take our lives?
Saturday, April 13, 2019
Have mercy on me, O Lord, the psalmist cries, for I am in distress!
I am in distress. This is not unique. The world itself cries out its distress. I read further into the passage, hoping for some phrase, some imagery, something that will let me see myself reflected—as the psalmist writes that eye and soul and body are wasting away with grief, that all of life is spent with grief, that even strength fails and bones grow weak, and I pause.
I am trans. My body is sometimes and in some ways a betrayal. Sometimes, like the psalmist, I feel that all of me is wasting away with grief. Sometimes this is more literal: trans people in this country are immensely more likely to live below the poverty line and to face food insecurity and deprivation. I escaped marks on my bones with perhaps a month to spare but others of my kin are not so fortunate.
The psalmist continues. I am the scorn of all my enemies, doubly so among my neighbors, and repulsive to my friends: those who see me in the street flee from me.
This is touching too close to home. I gave up a long time ago counting the number of times people crossed the street rather than pass me by. I gave up counting the number of times a police car would trail me slowly. It’s the hair, or it’s the clothes, or it’s the gendered markers that say: man? woman? 404: gender not found. The psalmist writes I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind and I think of family reunions and church functions.
Voices whispering on every side, scheming to take my life, yes, that too rings too clear, too close to home. Terror all around indeed. All of this is the price I pay, the price we pay, for daring to display our trans selves, our trans bodies, to the world. We take steps towards wholeness and integration knowing full well that those steps will cost us. We want to live a whole life, not a closeted life, not a fractured life of out here, misgendered there, tied to a role we were assigned there again. And we find the courage to step towards wholeness, towards integration, and we meet scorn, and poverty, and our bones waste away, and all our life is spent in tears.
How do we take these steps? Where do we find the strength to continue on, to chase a life that is more than a broken vessel? The psalmist crying for deliverance seems to have more confidence than me. Who will steady and support us, calling us ever on to wholeness, warding us against those who would take our lives?
Make your face shine upon your servants, O Lord; save us in your steadfast and tender love.
SFTS Student – SFTS MDiv and SFTS/GTU MA
We are called to be of the same heart with Christ, which is to recognize the same heart that is in all things.
Friday, April 12, 2019
Wholeness in Emptiness
The first line of this passage begs of oneness, being of the “same mind” as Christ. It’s easy to assume that is in opposition to some other. Our lexicon is filled with dualism—good/bad, right/wrong, left/right, orthodox/heretical. Distinctions are important. Moral and ethical clarity are necessary. Yet, dualism doesn’t achieve the wholeness God desires. In her Encountering the Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault refers to an early title given to Jesus as, “The Unified One.” That is our model.
Notice that Jesus empties himself of that which separates him, power. The incarnation is complete in the emptying, solidarity found at the common denominator of suffering. The cross is the measure to which God would go to seek unity with all things.
We may tremble at the notion that “every knee shall bend,” but perhaps this is less a bowing to an authoritarian power (remember the emptying), than a prostrating to a way of oneness, of recognizing the sacredness in all things.
A recent story of prostration reveals the possibilities. It’s of a man from Indiana who had grown a deep hatred for Muslims through his experiences in combat (not everyone’s experience, of course). When spewing hateful things about a Muslim mother of one of his young daughter’s classmates, his daughter gave him the sad eyes of a child disappointed in the father. Those eyes changed him and while he had once planned to bomb the local mosque, he instead entered it with questions. His intentions were not entirely pure at first, but his heart was changed. Today he is an imam. Now he prostrates at the wholeness he experiences in what he thought was empty, having emptied himself of both prejudice and power.
Bourgeault reminds us there is a path of nondualism in the Christian tradition if we would but choose it and choose to see it. That path is to know, to see, and to speak with the heart. Thus, Paul is truly inviting us to have the same heart that was in Christ Jesus, that which seeks justice through rejecting the usual binaries, working for the wholeness that is only found when the power that oppresses is likewise emptied. This Lent, I am seeking to lead, and be led with, my heart.
Rev. Dr. Robert McClellan
Pastor/Head of Staff, Westminster Presbyterian Church (Tiburon, CA)
SFTS DMin 2018
As Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, three things stand out in Jesus’ response to culture: One need, intended purpose, and time expiration.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
One Whole Life = Time
In a culture where time is money and money is time, the sum of the two may equate to our life’s worth. This means what we have done with that sum total will attempt to signify our purpose and will become our legacy—a vestige of who we were and what we did while we existed, symbolizing what we found most important with our time in life. Today, culture seeks to nurture, but yet with the strong arm of a dictator, our life’s mission to acquire as much as possible. Whether money, recognition, or possessions, we are on a hedonistic pursuit. The hunt becomes a prioritized fixation, leading to the accumulated net worth of an internal life that is unfulfilled and an eternal life that is unfilled.
In the verses for today’s devotion, we see the second time that Mary’s proper fixation at the feet of Jesus is met with scorn by the current “culture,” represented in others who find importance in admiration, presentation, or selfish gain. Yet, each time, the response that Jesus gives to her criticizers is for Mary to be left alone. Martha in Luke 101, was upset that Mary did not assist with all the “to-do’s” in preparing the house. In John 12, Judas was upset that Mary uses an oil that cost a year’s salary to anoint the feet of Jesus. Culture represented in Martha says that there is no gain in seeking Jesus, but instead one should use that time doing what is needed to receive admiration from others. Or, the culture represented in Judas tells us not to waste money to show our gratitude to our Savior or worship Him, but instead use it for selfish gain masked by piety. In Luke, Jesus responded to Martha saying, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”1 Similarly, in the gospel of John, Jesus responds to Judas saying, “Leave her [Mary] alone… It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”3
Three things stand out in Jesus’ response to culture: One need, intended purpose, and time expiration. In this life where business is king, we become inundated with many things, but only One thing is important. Mary recognized the one thing of importance, Jesus. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”2
We all are created for a purpose. An inventor creates an invention for a reason. The Creator uniquely created each one of us for a purpose. If Mary’s only purpose was to worship at the feet of Jesus with love and gratitude to strengthen Him as He prepared for what laid before Him at the cross, it is good that she was not deterred by the opinions of culture.
We have this One Whole Life to find that One important thing that’s needed, that ties into the purpose of our creation. Jesus advises regarding a time expiration. Time, which is marked by the rising and setting of the Son. We see this highlighted in John 12:35-36, “Then Jesus told them, ‘You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.’” Also, in John 8:12, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
2Matthew 6:33 NIV
SFTS MDiv Student
Protest offers the opportunity to align our bodies and our hearts publicly in prayer.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Protest as Prayer
Over the past several months, I’ve joined with neighbors in an effort to change the name of our school district, which is currently called the “Dixie” school district. We have gathered in homes for planning. We have spoken up and stayed out late at school board meetings. We have protested before those meetings, chanting chants and singing songs. And over the past four Saturdays, we have marched in silence down the central streets of the district, as a protest for the name change and for racial justice. Among us, no one has been able to show up for everything; everyone has showed up for something. We have stood together.
I do want to be clear—this gathering of neighbors and friends is diverse; we come from all manner of spiritual and religious backgrounds, gathered around a shared civic and moral commitment. With that said, standing in this experience, I want to say something, out of my spiritual location, about protest and prayer.
In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit writes that walking in protest is a particular way of placing our bodies together in public spaces to make meaning. She suggests that walking together in public protest has elements of pilgrimage, and community, and testimony—as she says, “Walking becomes testifying.” She goes on: “We walk together, and the whole street is for stamping out the meaning of the day.” Describing her particular experience of protest, Solnit writes: “It was as though in aligning our bodies we had somehow aligned our hearts.” To that, I would add, from my religious and spiritual tradition: Protest offers the opportunity to align our bodies and our hearts publicly in prayer—to embody a Word together that hopes to align with God’s liberating work in the world.
In Luke 4, as Jesus announces his ministry, he aligns his body with the poor, and with the brokenhearted, and with the prisoner, and with all who are oppressed. He prays in public: This is who I am with my whole self—with my one whole life.
Today, maybe we can incorporate some of that into our prayer—praying something like this:
- Today, how will my body proclaim good news for the poor?
- Today, how will my body bind up the brokenhearted?
- Today, how will my body work for the release of the prisoner, and all who are oppressed, so that everyone may live free?
Today, embodied together, how will we live our one whole life?
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students
The wholeness of life is in sharing and risking God’s grace, not in hoarding it for ourselves.
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
New Testament scholar Carla Works describes the Parable of the Talents as one of the most abused texts in scripture. It certainly has not been one of my favorites! I get hung up on the actions of the one slave who buries the talent he’s given, and the Master’s judgment. That’s the problem, according to Dr. Works. When we focus on the judgment, we miss the point.
In Matthew’s gospel, the reign of God is discovered in the face of the poor—in feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned. This parable is about being faithful and participating in God’s reign. It’s about living in God’s grace and responding with gratitude. And taking risks. God’s grace is a gift. The slave who buried the talent that the Master gave him acted out of fear, and in doing that, he short-circuited the flow of God’s grace.
The slaves who took their Master’s talents and invested them received abundant returns. The wholeness of life, the joy and the grace of being a child of God are discovered in sharing God’s grace with others, not in hoarding it for ourselves, or walling ourselves off from others in fear or hurt or anger.
It’s like the words of the song, “Love is something if you give it away, you wind up having more.”
Rev. Dr. Teresa Chávez Sauceda
SFTS Faculty & Director of Advanced Pastoral Studies
The woman in the crowd reaches out from her story to grasp hold of the One story.
Monday, April 8, 2019
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
She was out of options. And money. She had resigned herself to her story, that she was meant to live like this. Alone. Unclean. Untouchable. Unfixable. Unlovable. Unhealable. Broken. Inhuman. Outcast. Hidden.
He shows up. There are no requirements for perfection; no demands for beauty, success, or wholeness.
She takes in a long, deep breath. On the exhale, she is willing to release her story, to suspend her life for just a moment.
She reaches out to embrace Him. The One Story. Her heartbeat becomes the heartbeat of God, and God’s heartbeat becomes hers. It is then that the exchange of vulnerability and power takes place and she is truly free. No longer fragmented and shattered. No longer moaning in horror and shame. No longer a burden.
She surrenders her story, her life, and grabs hold of His. It is just the hem, but it is enough.
The bleeding ceases. They become one.
One Whole Life.
Her story. His Story. History.
Rev. Stephanie Ryder
Pastor, Redwoods Presbyterian Church, Larkspur, CA
SFTS MDiv 2014
SFTS Alumni Council
How do we perceive a new thing if it hasn’t happened yet?
Sunday, April 7, 2019
Can You Perceive It?
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18,19)
Remember that time when God saved you? Delivered you? Brought you home from exile? Remember that? Good.
Now forget about it.
Remember that time when you felt regret and despair? Convinced that the world and God would be better off without you? God came through. Remember that? Good.
Now forget about that.
Remember the longing? The desperation? The homecoming? The relief? Good.
Now forget about all of that. Perceive a new thing God is about to do. Perceive it.
How do we perceive a new thing if it hasn’t happened yet? That’s our creative God speaking. The One who created and is always creating. New things spring forth – at times as though they’ve happened all at once in a vacuum and other times slowly, as God hovers over the waters. To perceive it is to be open, to listen, to let go. And that can’t happen if we’re stuck on old things. Some old things carry guilt and shame. Other old things are stuck in the specific ways it’s all worked out before, as though we can steer our way towards a solution, by trying to recreate for ourselves something only God can do.
The God we worship creates everything new – in ways our rational minds would only keep us stuck. To perceive is to let go. To perceive is to move into the imaginable realm of understanding – a place where God can work with us, re-shape us, deliver us, and bring us home. Home may not look the same as it once did. Home may not sound the same or even feel the same as it did before, but it is home nevertheless. It is wholeness, peace, and freedom.
Remember all the good things God has graced you with. And then forget about it. God is about to do a new thing. Can you perceive it?
Rev. Nicole Trotter
Pastor, St Luke’s Presbyterian Church, San Rafael, CA
SFTS MDiv 2015
A Sabbath breath to sustain the work of healing.
Saturday, April 6, 2019
So many people
So many people crowding in to be healed
sick, broken, weary people
Desperate for just a moment
and He makes time for every one of them
Holding a hand
offering a word
a moment of healing
a ministry of presence
Reminding me of why I accepted this call
To be with the sick
To bind up the brokenhearted
To let my life speak gospel
And yet it becomes
And suddenly my life is overflowing
But not with grace
The expectations of others
So many people
So many people crowding in to be healed
And I have forgotten my own heart
The one that breaks and mends
The one that is desperate for just a moment
The one that is desperate for a deep breath
Then a moment.
He took a moment away
To a deserted place
Even the great healer took a moment away
Even He knew that the breakneck pace
couldn’t be sustained
That the heart needs a moment to breathe
A moment to be cared for
A moment of rest
So many people
So many people crowding in to be healed
So I take a breath
Take my time
Let myself out of the grasp of speed
The necessity of expectation
And remind myself
Grace has the final word
and I am worth sabbath
I deserve the rest
To strengthen my weary bones
In order to let grace flow through my body
To let my life speak gospel.
Rev. Rachel Penmore
SFTS MDiv 2014
Psalm 126 offers a prayer for restoration – hope not for empire, but for the colonized.
Friday, April 5, 2019
A Prayer for the Colonized
Today’s Scripture is a prayer for wholeness. It begins with a hope, a dream of what restoration could be like. It ends with a prayer that God would lead us back into wholeness, along with a statement of faith, a statement saying that someday a relief to the pain will come.
These days, it seems easy to slip into despair. All sorts of injustices and evils surround us. It may be tempting for many to identify America as Israel in this text. However, I would caution against that. This is a prayer of the colonized.
I see this Psalm as a Psalm of the Immigrant. I see this Psalm as a Psalm of Palestine. This is not a Psalm of larger America.
Lent is a time for reflection and repentance. I believe this Psalm gives us the opportunity to reflect on our complacency to the ways our country profits off the work of immigrants while denying them basic human rights. We should take time to reflect on the pain, weeping, and death that our government’s actions in Palestine cause. We should repent all the ways that we cause others to sow with tears. How does our complicity in empire fracture God’s wholeness?
May God have mercy on us all, and make us whole.
SFTS MDiv Senior Student
Just as we are amazed by God’s Creation, we also must take care not to destroy it.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
This Magnificent Creation
“There is no finer cathedral built by man than God’s own Creation,” my mother mused as we were sailing out to the starting line of the weekly Friday Night Race on San Francisco Bay one summer evening. The sky was displaying a particularly vivid spectrum of color and light, as the sun was setting behind Belvedere Island and the Golden Gate. The streaking clouds were dramatic, and the city was turning to shimmering gold as the setting sun reflected off of the skyline. Harbor seals bobbed nearby, watching us as we headed out from the harbor into the middle of the bay. A line of pelicans flew in perfect formation, seemingly inches off of the water, looking for their next dining location.
When we’re in nature, surrounded by the immense beauty of our world, we must take the time to sit still in the awe of God’s Creation—to find peace in what God has made for us, and to quiet our minds and feel the Lord’s presence inside of us and all around us.
For me, at times, that’s hard to do. Every day, I see vivid images of rakishly thin polar bears on an ever-shrinking ice cap, orangutans clinging to the last tree they have left due to the voracious appetite of the palm oil industry, and, just down the road at the Marine Mammal Center, I visit a California sea lion with scars and injuries from being entangled in fishing line.
We are greedily destroying our beautiful earth. A gift from God to us. A magnificent Creation that was made for us. Can you imagine taking a valuable masterpiece off of the wall of the Louvre, taking a knife to it, slashing through the colors and strokes that an artist painstakingly applied with love and passion?
Yet that’s what we do every time we pick up a pack of factory-farmed chicken breasts from the grocery store, turning a blind eye to the unbelievable and unspeakable suffering of the animals in high-output factory farms, every time we carelessly buy that package of cookies made with palm oil, every time we think it would be neat to swim with dolphins at a resort, not considering that they’ve been ripped from their homes in the most horrific way. That’s what we do every time we visit the circus and watch the humiliation and abuse of the majestic elephants and big cats.
We are turning God’s beautiful Creation into a garbage dump. Into a piece of art discarded and laid waste in the gutter. We are torturing intelligent, beautiful animals for our own gain in the factory farming and entertainment industry. When God said, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth…” (Genesis 1:26), surely this isn’t what God had in mind. I imagine God, heartbroken, watching us as we insatiably destroy what was so painstakingly created in love.
This Lenten season, I encourage you to make a change to help our Earth—God’s sacred Creation. Go meat-free one or two days a week. Make a conscious choice to read labels and avoid items with palm oil. Walk to work or car share. Don’t support animal entertainment. Instead of reaching for a plastic bag to wrap your leftovers in, grab some waxed cloth. Bring your own reusable straw or utensils for your takeout. Volunteer at or donate to your local animal shelter or wildlife rehabilitation center. Connect with your planet. Simply consume less. Do it for God. Do it for God’s Creation. Do it for all of us.
SFTS Director of Alumni Relations
“How does one do that in a world so deeply divided, and in many instances devoid of any love at all?”
Monday, March 18, 2019
A Love Affair with God
This scripture passage in Deuteronomy (6:4-9) paints a portrait of an omnipotent God. The Triune God (Father/Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit) is all one, and commands us to love him/her with all our might. I know as a seminarian, these verses are often referred to as the Shema, and it has been very important to the lives of the Jewish people and to orthodox Jews for many, many years. I must confess that I struggle with what it means to “love God with all your heart, soul, and with all our might.” How does one do that in a world so deeply divided, and in many instances devoid of any love at all?
I remember falling in love with my wife and building relationships with good friends through the years. These loving relationships were always started as a process of discovery. I’m quite certain it was love-at-first-sight when I met my wife (she may not feel the same way). Yet, there are things I love about people upon first meeting them, but other parts of my love for them seems to grow steadily over time as I learn more about them. It is sort of like a courting process that evolves and deepens with time, and yes—sometimes with significant effort. I believe my love for God has grown in a similar way through the years. It seems the more I invest in my relationship with God, the more I experience God’s love for me at various points in my life. In fact, God has never stopped loving me.
My first recollection of God was as a young child growing up in Binghamton, New York. While I couldn’t really comprehend God…I knew there was something of interest that I could love because I was told by many that he/she loved me unconditionally. That spark of interest in a lovable God kept me in attendance at church as a teenager. To be honest, through the years I’ve had an on-again-and-off-again love affair with God. Yet, I never felt alone or that God abandoned me…God was always there supporting me in good times and in bad times. God has loved me and woven a beautiful mosaic of my life that I am eternally grateful to have experienced. May you also love God with all your heart, mind, and soul.
Dr. David G. Behrs
SFTS Vice President of Enrollment Management
SFTS MDiv Student
How does the work you strive to do reflect God today, tomorrow, and even on the third day?
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Preparing for Resurrection
Throughout the season of Lent, we are preparing for the resurrection. Each year, we know Easter is coming, yet the preparing and the intentionality remain part of our practice. Today’s scripture describes Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees, who warn Jesus that death is coming. While we assume Jesus wants to be safe himself in his earthly body, he tells the Pharisees that he still has work to do and a mission to uphold.
The language “today and tomorrow, and on the third day” from verse 32, gives voice to his death, an acknowledgement of the humanness of Jesus in this form. It also makes clear his divinity, or rather, the divinity of the mission of God. It defies death. It defies earthly timelines of life. It defies the tragic role of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus leads us to an important realization about how we are to live abundantly, as we prepare for the resurrection. Death is not the final answer.
Living “one whole life” in the way of Jesus, perhaps then, is to encounter our missions and our ministries with a perspective that goes beyond our daily tasks and our earthly attempts at doing the work. Rather, Jesus invites us to see our lives and bodies as a reflection of the Divine. The God who created us into being out of dust is the God who sees us our bodies and lives manifest beyond the dust, even beyond death.
How does the work you do, or the work you strive to do, reflect God today, tomorrow, and even on the third day? How does Jesus’ experience of danger and warning reflect your drive to follow Christ, anticipating resurrection? How might we work in our humanity to bring prophetic witness and service to those we encounter, revealing the fully human and fully divine being of Jesus Christ into our lives during these Lenten and Easter seasons?
SFTS MDiv Student
May we be open to finding God in the whole of life – in the negative and in the positive; in joy and in sorrow.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Ode to Joy
This psalm has a subtitle of “the triumphant song of confidence of David.”
“Triumphant” reminds me of waging a war and David’s experience of defeating his enemies. Consequently, his confidence came out of his triumphant experience of waging wars. The psalmist then attributes this as the source of his triumph and confidence in God.
This leads me to imagine that we all are waging wars internally, and we experience feelings and understandings about ourselves – that reality can sometimes feel like a battle field. In the midst of this warlike reality, how we experience God is the question that faces us no matter whether we are aware of it or not.
How we understand God shapes who we are and vice versa. In my imagination, this is a process that can be described like a war, and it takes place in a battlefield called reality. So, how we see ourselves and God and the world are all connected in a web of understanding (consciousness).
The psalmist tells us to seek the face of God for the light and for salvation from whatever we see as darkness – fear to be cast off, or worries, or anxieties, or our enemies. I would call this seeking salvation as liberation from all the kind of things that can be seen as so called “negative” in our life. Why then, aren’t we considering the liberation from something we normally see as positive? Is there no element of liberation in those things we call negative in our life, such as sorrow, fear, darkness, anxieties of being cast off, and even loss? Haven’t we (outside of our expectations) experienced fresh and powerful liberation from anxiety and a worrisome heart when things unfold and take a different turn from what we originally intended? What does it tell us? Experiencing this and naming it can let us acknowledge the hidden darkness in us, because of the light that comes with it into our reality.
Maybe there is no clear line between so called positive and negative things, or between joy and sorrow, or between those things we desperately want to cling on to or to be freed of. What we need is liberation from the real enemies, which are often our own understanding of God, ourselves, and reality altogether.
Perhaps we desire to be liberated from our limited view of reality and to be lifted up to a certain kind of level where we can have a clearer view of God and ourselves and the world. Perhaps even if we feel fear, anxieties, apprehension, we can still desire to put our confidence wholly in God by letting God remove our fear and reveal something new to us. Perhaps we can thereby have the range of our sight widened to see things as God wants us to see, willing to accept what God makes us discover and ready to open our beings fully to the reality which is still unknown, but that is constantly unfolding. We may begin to learn the courage to be transformed into new beings in God. And then we can finally offer sacrifices with our shouts of joy to God fearlessly.
So, let us wait for the light of God – in the whole of life. And let the light shine in us.
SFTS MDiv 2012
Coordinator of English Worship at Hanshin Presbyterian Church, Seoul, South Korea, and Coordinator of Theological Symposium co-hosted by Hanshin and SFTS
An invitation to enter into the practice of Lent with every bit of us – bodies, too.
Friday, March 15, 2019
For many of us the idea of Lent is so interwoven with the notion of giving something up that it is hard to think of one without the other. Whether we stop eating chocolate or not, we tend to associate the ideas: Lent and abstinence. Lent and sacrifice. Lent and disciplining the body.
At first blush, the Apostle Paul seems to be with us.
Whoever it is that Paul is railing against in today’s passage (commentators – do I need to say it? – do not agree), it is clear that they are not abstinent. Not only are they not the kind of people who would give something up for Lent, they are wanton. They are either part of the church in Philippi or somehow associated with it, but they practice an extreme form of self-indulgence centering on food and sex. To say Paul is appalled by them is to put it mildly (“Enemies of the cross,” he calls them in v.18). Apparently, the people in question are also beyond being cajoled or corrected. If they weren’t, Paul would be in there swinging – arguing and summing up for the jury as he so loves to do. No, these are people who cannot be reasoned with, only cried over (v.18). Perhaps they think of indulging their appetites as a way of expressing freedom from past religious practices or perhaps they are like some other groups in the church at the time who practiced a libertine lifestyle thinking to emphasize the Spirit by downplaying the body’s relevance. Either way, they are misguided. Their behavior results in less freedom and less Spirit, not more. Paul does not mince words in condemning them.
But just when you expect him to say, “so do the opposite of what they do,” he stops. He does not say, “where they indulge, you should abstain,” or “whereas they glory in the flesh you should humiliate it,’”or “instead of giving way to appetite you should discipline yourselves.” Instead he says, “Christ will transform our humble bodies” (v.21).
Today’s passage, so often read to reinforce the practice of abstinence during Lent, actually does no such thing. Paul is neither an ascetic nor a libertine. He seems to know that when it comes to the body one extreme can be as bad as the other. He believes in trusting God – not trying to control God – with our bodies. He believes in the gracious power of Christ to catch up the good and the bad, the pain and the joy, the life and the finitude represented by the word “body” and transform it all …into One Whole Life.
Rev. Dr. Jana Childers
SFTS Dean, Vice President for Academic Affairs,
and Professor of Homiletics and Speech Communication
Even when we trust God in the big storms of life, do we trust God in the unexpected little showers?
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Storms and Showers
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to GOD, “My refuge and my fortress;
My God in whom I trust.”
Last December I had an epiphany: I realized that while I trust God to see me through the big storms in my life, sometimes when it comes to unexpected showers I act as though I’m totally on my own. Actually, the epiphany was a two-part revelation: Phase one was maturing in my faith walk through what Walter Bruggemann calls “listening obedience,” and phase two was awakening to the realization that I needed to trust God with my whole life—the storms and the light showers.
As the Fall Semester (2018) came to a close, I was feeling really good about how well the semester went because I had taken a lighter course load. I was able to thoroughly enjoy my Theology class because I had time to complete the reading and, more importantly, I had time to reflect on the concepts we were learning.
I was also feeling excited (maybe even a little smug) because I knew what it felt like to experience the benefits of being obedient. You see, at the end of my second year, I was exhausted because I had taken a much heavier coarse load than I should have. I knew better and kept saying I wouldn’t do it again, but every semester I found myself in the same place. So when I left campus for the summer I promised God I would take a lighter load—no matter what.
It wasn’t easy for me keep that promise. When I found out that the Dean added “Prophetic Preaching” to the Fall Schedule, I began to rationalize. I even thought about auditing, but was told they weren’t accepting audits. The class met on Thursday morning at nine. The first week of class I remember glancing at the clock and thinking, “It’s 8:45, I can get ready and be there by 9:00.” I took a deep breath and prayed—“Okay, Lord, please help me let this go—I know I promised.” When I finished praying it was 9:05, and there was a peace in my spirit that hadn’t been there just a few minutes earlier. I was going to be okay.
On the last day of Theology class, a classmate, who always sat on the other side of the classroom, sat next to me. When the class ended, we started talking about the classes we planned to take in the spring—our final semester before graduation. When he mentioned that he had completed all the academic requirements of his Presbytery, it dawned on me that I didn’t know the academic requirements for my Presbytery—I had simply been following the seminary’s requirements for the Masters of Divinity. Much to my dismay, I discovered that my Presbytery required two preaching classes for ordination and I had completed only one.
I say much to my dismay because I couldn’t believe what had happened. All I could think was that if I had taken “Prophetic Preaching” I wouldn’t be in this dilemma. Deep down I knew I had done the right thing by not taking the class, yet I felt really deflated. Then I began to panic– SFTS was only offering “Introduction to Preaching” in the spring. What was I going to do? If I couldn’t figure something out, I’d have to find a class somewhere after graduation.
It took me a couple of days to come to my senses. Where was my trust? I knew God didn’t “bring me this far to leave me.” But I sure didn’t act like I knew it. I was falling apart over one class. If I trusted that God works all things together for good, then I had to trust that this was going to work out.
The good news is I found a preaching class at another GTU seminary that not only satisfies my Presbytery’s requirement, but it’s also a really great class.
This Lenten Season is a wonderful opportunity for me to reflect on my two-part epiphany. Psalm 91 reminds us that we can trust God’s faithfulness. God will be with us in times of trouble both big and small. We can trust God with our whole life.
SFTS Senior MDiv Student
Every moment of every day offers up the possibility of prayer.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Blessing the Everyday
In yesterday’s devotion, Linda Lane-Bortell encouraged us to see every bit of God’s creation together as One Whole Life.
Psalm 148 has that sense about it, too. The Psalmist stands in the midst of everything that God has made – a part of it – and listens as every bit of creation sings to God – from the heights, from the depths, sun, moon, angels, stars, sea creatures, cattle lowing, flying birds, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, cedars, mountains, oceans, kings, queens, young, and old – each and all singing with one voice, one song – the song echoed in another Psalm: “The earth is God’s and everything in it.”
The blessing of Celtic spirituality carries with it this sense, too: every bit of creation surrounded and filled with the presence of God. In her book The Celtic Way of Prayer, Esther de Waal describes the prayers that she and others have gleaned from the written and (mostly) oral traditions of the Celtic world. Those prayers reflect a world where folk “feel God before them and by their side, and at their back, throughout the day, and throughout the night.” With God that close, the prayers ask God to bless the work at hand, God present in it, with trust that each part of life, “however humble, however mundane, can be handed over to God, or performed in partnership and with the cooperation of God.” De Waal sums it up this way: “[These blessings and prayers] do not beg or ask God to give this or that. Instead, they recognize what is already there, already given, waiting to be seen, to be taken up, enjoyed.”
These prayers often take the form of short petitions that punctuate and undergird the day:
“Bless, O God, my little cow..
Bless each drop that goes into my pitcher.”
“Bless our boatmen and our boat,
Bless our anchors and our oars…”
“Bless, O generous chief of chiefs,
my loom and everything a-near me…”
Here’s an example of how we do this too: At the start of meals, we give thanks and ask God to bless the food to do good in the world, through us: “God, bless this food to our use, and us to thy service.”
Maybe you can think of other everyday moments that have felt like prayer to you. I think of these:
- as a child, following half a step behind my grandmother, as she took linens down off the line, carried them into the house, and pressed them crisp – sheets that would hold her family as they slept;
- or just a couple months ago, standing on a trail, eye to eye with one of our neighborhood coyotes, as we considered what to make of each other;
- or any number of moments when words were not what was needed, just a hand to hold.
Every moment of every day is filled and surrounded and overflowing with the presence of God, whether we notice or not. Every moment of every day offers up the possibility of prayer.
So, on this second Wednesday of Lent, I invite us to pray the everyday moments of our day, in the way of Celtic blessing. It is easy. At any moment, notice what is before you. Ask God to bless it for good. And then move into the moment with God.
Bless this car to me today, that it will carry me to places I am needed.
Bless this keyboard to me today, that typing on it I may send words that are healing and true.
Bless this dinner I am preparing, may it strengthen and nourish those I love.
This is the prayer: Moment by everyday moment, seeing what God has given, asking God to bless it for good, and moving into the day.
Praying and living moment by moment – one whole life.
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Dean of Students and Chaplain
Instead of thinking of the different parts of creation, try to imagine creation as all part of One Whole Life.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
I Am the Lion
The image of wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion, infant and cobra hanging out together bothers me because it is unnatural. Nothing in our world survives without eating something else. I mentioned this to a scientist, and he pointed out that while it can be helpful at times to speak of individuals – human, lion, viper, goat, lamb – a better description of creation is to think not of these parts, but of One Whole Life. Each part of the creation is interdependently related to every other part, each part is essential to the One Whole Life on this planet. This passage changes the natural relationship between predator and prey to make a point: Carnivores do not have any choice, they must eat meat to live, but we have a choice. I’m not talking about hunters or the diets of carnivores, but about humans who prey on the One Whole Life.
Recently, I had a revelation: I am a predator. I saw before me the mountain of trash I have created in my lifetime. The average American generates 4-7 pounds of trash per person per day. Over a lifetime that might amount to 500 tons. Pile up it all up, and it would be an impressive and harmful mountain of trash. God calls us to neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. To harm the creation is to our physical and spiritual peril. When faced with the environmental problems of our world, I feel as powerless as a lamb caught by a wolf, but when I look at my trash and the threat to the environment it causes, I see that I am the lion – the powerful predator.
This passage reminds me that I have power, and it calls me to use that power to effect planet-saving change. This Lent, consider reducing your consumption of disposables, an important step to protecting our One Whole Life.
Rev. Linda Lane-Bortell
Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Terra Linda
SFTS DMin Student
The Gospel is more than a sales pitch – it’s an expansive welcome to One Whole Life imbued with the Spirit of Christ.
Monday, March 11, 2019
The Gospel Isn’t a Sales Pitch
If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
I will confess with my lips right now that this verse makes me cringe.
Not because it doesn’t contain profound truths.
Not because it doesn’t point to the life-giving importance of authentic commitment to Jesus.
But because so often we have used it to reduce the Gospel to nothing more than a sales pitch, when the Gospel is so much more.
I’m reminded of a warm summer evening in LA about 10 years ago when I was at an evangelism event. The room was packed—every chair filled with a few hundred, passionate 20- and 30-somethings. And boy was I one of them. Wide-eyed and eager to learn how to share the love our community with our city.
Or megachurch pastor took the stage, and she quickly walked us through how we would be approaching people in neighborhoods across LA.
“Alright friends! Here’s how you can share the Gospel in four easy steps. Start by explaining that we all have have sinned, and God says the penalty of sin is death.”
“Then, talk about how God came to earth as Jesus and lived, died, and rose in order to pay the price for your sin.”
“After that, tell them how the resurrection of Jesus assures that they are right with God so they will receive eternal life in heaven.”
“Finally, invite them to pray to God, asking for His forgiveness, and telling Him that you believe in Jesus.”
“And why do we do this?” she said as she opened her Bible. “Because in Romans we read, ‘If you confess with your lips…’”
Say this. Believe that. You’re good.
You know, there is something beautiful about this simplicity. What an incredible thing to know that life with God begins whenever you say, “Yes! I need that.”
But might Paul’s words offer us something even more? Might our simple answers prevent us from entering into a deeper, but more complicated divine relationship?
As I’ve sat with Paul’s words, I began to see not a one-off marketing transaction, but a daring invitation: one that goes beyond a mere intellectual assent to certain “Jesus facts” and into one whole life fully imbued with the Spirit of Christ.
Paul begins with a deep desire to confess that the path of love, openness, forgiveness, compassion, and justice forged by Jesus is the life worth living. He continues with a call to trust, with our fullest selves, in the resurrection—an ever-present reality that God is in our suffering, pointing us to the hope and promise of new life.
Paul invites all of us—head to toe, inside and out—to step into the life of Christ. And that’s so much more than a checkbox and a prayer.
A final note: At this point in our faith’s history as the Church takes stock of the spiritual trauma it has caused, may we also lean into a more expansive understanding of Paul’s final words in this passage:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
For many, this is an impossible task.
For many, the name of Jesus is one they may never utter again.
For many, “one whole life” looks like one away from a religion and an institution that has treated them without dignity.
And that is a reality that we as the Church must grapple with now.
May we open our ears with compassion to deeply hear all cries and calls, no matter what words are used.
May we remind the world that God is a God who listens.
May we work with humility and honesty to rebuild trust in a religion that has done so much harm in the name of Jesus.
SFTS Senior MDiv Student
A psalm for today – Wake me up God from my waking sleep…
Saturday, March 9, 2019
Divine Mutuality: A Psalm for Today
Wake me up God,
From my waking sleep
And from the nightmare of negativity –
Of cynicism, of complacency.
Be the light, God,
That burns the foggy haze
Off the surface of my soul.
Hold me, God,
While I smile and cry
At the same time
Because I am not sure what to feel.
Hold my hand, God,
And in Your humility,
Make yourself known to me.
You re-make me from the inside-out.
You are powerful in Steadfast Love,
You level the ground with Your mercy
And You open the table with grace.
Hold my hand as I walk with You.
Transform me, and let me transform.
Speak to me, and let me speak.
Love me lavishly, and I shall let loose love.
Shelter me, and I will be a shelter for the shattered and vulnerable –
Those close to Your heart.
Wrap me up in Your whole being;
Your presence is the touchstone for my healing.
Oh, I love You God.
My maker, ever re-making me.
Top to bottom,
Your love is a catalyst
That takes its time.
The process is the important part,
And You help me to understand that.
I will rest in it,
I will not resist it.
I will revel in the tense space,
I will cultivate resiliency,
Grit, fire, strength,
Softness, empathy, and hope.
Grief is not a dirty word.
It is overwhelming;
Yet as it overcomes me, God,
I know You will sustain me.
If the only way out is through,
And this is the way through…
I will face it.
God, I will choose not to be afraid
Of my emotions and of my short-comings –
No matter how large a shadow they cast upon my life,
They can never, will never,
Be bigger than the light of all that You are.
SFTS MDiv Student
Jesus teaches us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not to impress one another.
Friday, March 8, 2019
PRAYING WITH INTENTION
The way Jesus instructs the disciples and crowds gathered to pray in the Sermon on the Mount reminds me of the 2003 movie, Bruce Almighty. Truth be told, the theological soundness of this Jim Carrey film is questionable. The omnipotent God who pulls strings like a puppet master does not always hold up for everyone in this day and age. And the main plot device in which God gives divine power to a normal person with almost no pretext? That’s not a strong selling point, either. All the same, the movie teaches a valuable lesson about prayer.
In the beginning of the movie, the main character, Bruce Nolan, finds himself dealing with the short end of the stick. He believes God is bullying him, and Bruce has no problem letting this be known. He yells and screams to the heavens. He makes sure everyone within ear shot knows his pain and suffering. He sounds like the hypocrites Jesus describes in Matthew 6. “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention… When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get… And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward.” (CEB, Matthew 6:1-16). Bruce, like the hypocrites, must make a show of his “prayer,” so that it can be heard.
Through a comical – and frankly weird – series of events, Bruce is given God’s powers. At least, he’s given God’s powers as they pertain to part of Buffalo, New York. And once he understands his newfound abilities, Bruce runs rampant, trying to “right the wrongs” in his own life. And he does all of this to the neglect of others. In the climax of the movie – I want to avoid spoiling as much of this 16-year-old movie for you as possible and note that it is on Netflix if you’re brave enough to watch 101 minutes of Jim Carrey – Bruce learns how his decisions have hurt others. Most importantly, he learns how they have hurt his longtime girlfriend, Grace (played by Jennifer Aniston).
At one point, Bruce is talking to God (Morgan Freeman), and God asks him to say a prayer.
“Lord,” Bruce prays, “feed the hungry. And bring peace to all of mankind. How’s that?”
“Great,” God says, “if you want to be Miss America. Now c’mon. What do you really care about?”
“Grace,” Bruce whispers.
“You want her back?” God inquires.
“No. I want her to be happy. No matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved from me. I want her to meet someone who will see her always as I do now – through your eyes.”
“Now that’s a prayer,” God says proudly.
Throughout the course of the movie, Bruce learns how to, “… collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (CEB, Matthew 6:20-21). Bruce learns how to move into intentional prayer for others. He learns how to focus his prayers on others and how to give them only to God.
As we examine how to live One Whole Life this Lent, let us remember how to pray as well. Jesus told us to pray with the intention of praying to God, not one another. The Holy listens for our prayer in this season of sincerity. May we remember how to pray intentionally, focusing on God and love for our neighbors.
Rev. Cameron Highsmith
SFTS MDiv 2014
Bearing the Good News brings both joy and tribulation – one whole life indeed.
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Position Description: Apostle for Christ Jesus in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
You have, undoubtedly, been hearing conflicting reports about my work in the above position. The newest rumor: Some persons are saying that I don’t have the qualifications to serve in this role. I’d like to give you a little update and present (again) my credentials for our current work. I want to make sure that there are no obstacles to our preaching.
As you know, I was a devoted Pharisee, whose previous experience consisted in persecuting followers of Jesus. In this role, I came to know their arguments and their actions really well. Then, due to God’s great grace and the assistance of some really devoted Christians, I came myself to believe. I am continuing my work, begun some years ago now, of spreading the Good News of Christ in regions populated largely by Gentiles. I think you are aware of some of the difficulties that I (and my companions) have encountered, including hardships, calamities, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, beatings, and imprisonment.
In all these tribulations, we responded with patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, truthful speech, and, I have to say, the power of God. They treat us as impostors, yet we are true, as dying, yet we are alive—really alive. They’ve punished us, but they have not killed us. They say we are sorrowful and morose, yet we are always rejoicing. We have so little, they say, but really, we have everything. We carry the weapons of righteousness in our right hands and left hands, whether our reputation is good or ill.
Our message is simple: We are ambassadors for Christ. Don’t waste this opportunity. I beg you, be reconciled to God! Now is the acceptable time!
I hope you know deep is my affection for you.
Your brother, Paul
Considering Paul’s resumé: Should we be surprised if some tribulations come to us in our living and speaking the Good News? But look what else comes: purity, knowledge (the kind that really counts), patience, genuine love—that is, life and joy and the power of God even in our brokenness. A whole life, indeed.
Dr. Elizabeth Liebert, SNJM
SFTS Professor of Spiritual Life, Emerita
Ash Wednesday calls on us to examine our bifurcated lives, and to live what we believe – one whole life.
Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019
“I Will Not Be Bifurcated.”
Early in my ministerial career and well into my legal career, I was invited to serve as one of the church lawyers defending the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr in church courts. Those of us who are Presbyterian (and many others) will know that Rev. Dr. Janie Spahr was affirming the full dignity of LGBTQ+ people and our families long before the church was ready to do so. When same-gender couples came to her, asking if she would celebrate our marriages, Janie said yes, even as the church insisted she say no. And so the church prosecuted her.
In those first months with Janie, I kept hearing her say something that baffled me. Again and again, from the pulpit, and on the witness stand, and in fellowship halls, I heard Janie say, “I will not be bifurcated.” Of all the things one could say – why that? What did it even mean? (I actually had to look the word up.)
As months became years traveling with Janie, I came to understand what she meant – it began to sink into my bones. I saw how the church tried to bifurcate her (and others) – urging Janie to somehow separate what she believed about Jesus from the ministry that she lived out. The church would say, you can keep your ordination, but as a lesbian, you can’t serve in a church. The church would say, you can know that God loves everyone – including LGBTQ+ people – but you can’t celebrate their/our marriages in the church, you can’t recognize their/our gifts in ordination. As the church prosecuted Janie, the church explicitly advanced a distinction between belief and practice – they said, there is freedom of belief, but not freedom of practice. And to all that, Janie replied, again and again, with her whole self, and at great personal cost: “I will not be bifurcated.”
Again and again, the Scriptures speak against living a bifurcated life – a life that is separate from and that does not reflect what we know to be true about God’s love for the whole world. Again and again, the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels urge us to live one whole life – a life of integrity and of deep and expansive connection.
Isaiah 58 is one of those texts. The prophet speaks to a people returning from exile, crawling over the rubble of their lives. They try to impress God with fancy prayers and fasts – prayers and fasts utterly disconnected from the love and life God has revealed. And so the prophet says for God: Share your bread with the hungry; loose the bonds of oppression; don’t strike the worker, but give them a Sabbath rest; bring those without shelter into your home. Live what you have come to believe: One whole life.
Ash Wednesday calls us to give a long loving look to our bifurcated lives. It invites us to look at the broken places in our lives and in the world – to say things plain – to pray and to change – and to live anew and again, one whole life.
So, on this Ash Wednesday, I want to offer something I call a “both-hands prayer.” Here’s how it goes:
- Settle in and settle down and catch your breath. Let your breath glide into a steady rhythm; feel the earth supporting every bit of you.
- When you are ready, hold your right hand out in front of you, palm up. Imagine and envision in that hand something that you know to be true about God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Anything.
- Now, hold your left hand out in front of you, palm up. Imagine and envision in that hand the ways you live out this truth in your life – and then the ways that you don’t live out this truth – the ways that the life you live is separated from what you believe in Jesus Christ.
- Now, bring your hands together, clasping them in prayer, and pray something like this: “God, help me live one whole life.”
- Breathe deeply, and when you are ready, open your hands back up in front of you, palms up, and repeat.
- You can start at a very personal level – what you believe and the life you live, but the prayer can radiate out to embrace your community – the life your community lives – the life your nation lives out. Where are those lives separated from what we say we believe?
To the exiles crawling over the rubble of return, God says: Care for each other, be kind to each other, live what you know to be true in me. And, in living one whole life, your light shall break forth like the dawn; your healing will spring forth quickly; you will be like a spring, whose waters never fail; your ruins will be rebuilt; you will be called the repairer of the breach. You will find your life.
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students
During Lent, we discover – in the life of Christ – what it is to live one whole life – life in community with God and all creation.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
An Invitation to Lenten Prayer
Dear Friends in Christ,
Grace and peace to you.
Thank you for being a part of our Advent and Lent devotional conversations. Our Lenten devotions will start tomorrow, with one arriving each morning. As we prepare to join together in this season of prayer, I thought I would write to introduce our devotional theme – “One Whole Life.”
Let me start with a story: Twice in my life, I’ve had the opportunity to go and spend time on the island of Iona, living in community with members of the Iona Community and with fellow travelers. The island of Iona is a rocky island off the west coast of Scotland. The Iona Community is an international, Christian peace and justice community centered in the ancient abbey on that island. (You may know the Iona community through their liturgies or through the music of John Bell, a member of the community.) As one of their ministries, the Iona community welcomes travelers to come live in the abbey for a week at a time and to share the life of community.
A week on Iona is not a retreat as we usually might envision it – they make you work. Or better yet, they invite you into the fullness of life in community. When you arrive, you’re assigned daily chores – so each day begins, ends, and flows through a rhythm of worship and work. Each morning, we rise early; some prepare and serve breakfast (the rest are assigned lunch or dinner); we share a meal together; we move from the meal into morning prayer; and then we move directly from prayer into our daily chores – cleaning up from breakfast, mopping floors, scrubbing sinks and toilets. The Iona community emphasizes that our worship and our work are one thing – our worship flows into our work, our work into our worship, our worship into our work, and so on. Our worship, our prayer, our work are not separate things – but one whole life, lived in the presence of God and in community with each other.
For this year’s Lenten devotional theme, we are embracing the theme – “One Whole Life” – drawing this theme from the deep well of Scripture, from the life of Jesus, and from the traditions especially of Celtic spirituality.
At the heart of both the Gospels and the Hebrew Scriptures is the command of the Sh’ma: “Hear O Israel, our God is God; our God is one. You shall love our sovereign God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Scripture exhorts us, again and again, to love God and to live life with our whole self – in community with the whole of creation.
Celtic spirituality leans into this deep sense of integrity and connectedness: We live one whole life in the sense that everything we do is connected to everything we pray: “There is no separation of praying and living; praying and working flow into each other, so that life is to be punctuated by prayer, to become prayer.” We also live one whole life in the sense that we are connected to each other and all creation: “Everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to the wild creatures, the birds and the animals, the earth itself.” (quotes from Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer).
During Lent we enter into the life of Christ and journey with Jesus. With this devotional theme, we will do that with the intention of discovering again and anew — in the life of Christ — what it is to live “One Whole Life.” Each morning you’ll be receiving an email with a Scripture and a reflection from a writer within the broader SFTS community. As you read and pray, you may want to consider these questions:
- What do you notice as you encounter the Scripture text and the reflection?
- Particularly in the season of Lent, how does the text invite us to live “one whole life” in the way of Jesus?
- How does the text invite us to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and strength?
- How does the text invite us to live in relationship and connection to each other and all creation?
May God bless this season of prayer and this conversation, as we endeavor together to live one whole life, in the way of Jesus.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Scott Clark
SFTS Chaplain and Dean of Students