Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…

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Lenten Devotional: Guilt.

Note: This semester has been particularly busy and so I have unfortunately not had the time to do as much writing as I would like, but here is the devotion I wrote for the Trinity UMC Lenten Devotion Book:.Peace,

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:8-2:2)

When I was in middle school, I had lots of guilt. I was a sinner. I didn’t say my prayers, I coveted my friends video games, and I began to notice that the girls in school were pretty cute. I remember going to a friend’s church and hearing my first “fire and brimstone” sermon. I was scared. I came home, worried about the status of my salvation. Knowing the place to find all the answers, I Googled “How to be a Christian” and printed off the first site that came up. Wanting to make sure that I did it correctly, I knelt beside my bed and with my whole heart read the short prayer, telling God how sinful I was and how much I needed Jesus. When I was done, I climbed into bed and basked in my newly found sanctification. I was so excited about waking up the next day to begin my new, sin free life. I had Jesus.  Who could ask for anything more?

My life of Christian perfection lasted about eight hours, ending dramatically with the daily ordeal of my parents trying to get me up for school. “Honor thy father and mother,” commandment number 5…fail. But wait? How could I have Jesus in my heart, and yet still lead such a depraved life? Now, perhaps these questions sound silly coming from the mouth of a 12 year old, but in this season of Lent, our guilt takes on a heightened significance.  As we prepare for joys of Easter, we try to make sacrifices in our daily lives, such as fasting, prayer, scripture reading, or other spiritual disciplines. These Lenten fasts often become a second round of spiritual New Years resolutions, lasting about as long, however, with more guilt. When we fall off the band wagon during Lent, we are reminded not just of our laziness, but of our sinfulness as well.

Jesus sets a pretty high bar for those who follow him. The gospels tell us to love our neighbor and our enemy—to help the poor and the orphan. These are simple in lip service, but much more difficult in real life. What does Jesus think we should be? Perfect?  Well…yes. In Matthew 5:48, he calls us to this exact thing. Doesn’t he know how sinful we are? Yes, but Jesus also knows what we always forget. We focus on our sin and our failings, but God’s focus is on grace. That is what this section from 1 John proclaims. Yes, we are called to live lives which are as perfect as our Heavenly Father, but God knows, that we cannot do that alone. It is only by acknowledging our dependence on God’s grace, and on the Holy Spirit who delivers that grace, that we can begin to be made perfect. It is a process. In this season of Lent, as we focus on spiritual disciplines and talk about our call to social justice in the world, let us be aware of our guilt. Guilt can be good. God can use our guilt to show us areas of growth, but guilt can also do us harm. When we begin to feel like we are bad people whose sin is too great, we can allow our guilt to keep us from a relationship with God. When you begin to feel that twinge of guilt let these words be a comfort, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” God is our advocate both when we do great things and when we mess up. God is on our side, and if God is with us, who can be against us?

God of grace and mercy, thank you for this time when we can prepare our hearts to celebrate your saving work on the cross and your triumph of Death on Easter. God, we come before you as a sinful people. Convict us of our failings, but remind us of your grace. Let our guilt draw us closer to you as you work in us to perfect us in love. Amen.

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Accidental Sleep

He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-8)

So, I had a great blog post for today. It was going to be about the new church I am helping to start in Durham and our first worship experience, I was really excited about it. That was until my thirty minute nap turned into six hours and I realized that I had slept through the whole thing. I had been struck, yet again by a condition known as “Accidental Sleep.” In case you are unfamiliar with this term, it is one I have discovered in my first year of seminary. It can occur at anytime and to any one. The symptoms of AS include: 1. When a short nap is unintentionally lengthened by either a alarm issue, or failure to hear an alarm due to a catatonic sleep state. 2. In the midst of working late at night, you suddenly wake up to your face on your book (or computer) and several hours having passed.

When I recovered from my latest bout with AS I began to think more deeply about this epidemic which is spreading across our school. I realized that while I had not been familiar with it before, in fact, we can trace AS all the way back to the disciples. In this passage, the disciples are given the task to wait up with Jesus while he prays, that is until they are struck with our first documented case of AS. Now, in seminary, AS is usually brought on by excessive procrastination, biblical languages, or writing close readings of scripture or theology. Unfortunately, we are not given the causes of the disciples’ AS, but as a budding biblical scholar I can postulate. Perhaps they had been up late the night before preparing the Passover meal or maybe trying to figure out who it was who was going to betray Jesus. Either way, we can tell that they were tired. While it can be frustrating, AS is often a blessing because in the face of work and school, we as Christians often put our own well beings behind everything else until the point that we become exhausted. When we have pushed ourselves too far, AS (and God) reminds us that we are human, our flesh is weak, we need to take care of ourselves.

This need for self care, however, has greater implications. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (possibly quoting Jesus), that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. This is a scary thought. We never know. God never tells us when we will be called upon to do some task. Sometimes it is a random question about theology, or a sudden crisis in which we are called upon to give comfort. In these moments, we don’t have time to do serious study and prayer. Several times, either during hospital visits, on the bus, or while talking with a friend, I as a future pastor, have been called upon to give some sort of statement and found myself in a state of spiritual AS, and end up giving a wholly inadequate answer.

Just as the only way to avoid AS in seminary is to better prepare ahead of time for readings and papers so that you do not have to cram all the work into the late hours of the night, sacrificing sleep and self to make a deadline, I think that the only cure for Spiritual AS is to prepare one’s faith before the situation arises. Time in prayer, meditating on scripture, and dialoguing with fellow Christians about how God is working in the world not only makes us better followers of Christ, but also gives us the tools we need so that when God calls on us to speak into a situation we are able to intelligently and articulately convey God’s Word. It is my prayer that as we enter this time of preparation for Easter that we can take the time to prepare ourselves both for Christ’s return into the world, but also for the everyday demands of following Christ. Because when God calls, the last thing I want to do is to found asleep.