In his only novel, “No Great Mischief, ” Canadian writer, Allistair Macloed, is famous for penning the phrase, “All of us are better when we are loved.” This even included an alcoholic character in the book convicted of murder. “All of us are better when we are loved.”
It sounds a bit like the theme in the Gospel Luke—with Jesus, as the Savior for the lost and outcast of every kind in every place: prostitutes and tax collectors, women and outsiders, the sick and widowed, the lost and enemies, like the Samaritans. I imagine Luke wanted folks to hear and know that all people, even the lost, are loved here, in the Lord’s Prayer, before he went on to record Jesus’ more difficult teachings and parables yet to come in chapters 12 and 13.
Imagine for a moment that you are living in the first century and among the crowds to whom Jesus is speaking. You are poor, like 90 % of the population, most likely a subsistence farmer. As a Jew, the Lord’s prayer would be familiar and similar to prayers you already know: addressing God as holy, and asking for forgiveness as you have forgiven others. Rarely do your prayers address God as, “Father” and the few times they do, it is in reference to the God who has elected and adopted Israel as the chosen people.
Your daily prayers–usually three times a day–connect you to your community, remind you of God’s will in your daily life, help you remember God’s Word. These are lovely aspects of prayer that Jesus builds on when he teaches the Lord’s Prayer; however, God might be more of a distant authority figure over the whole community.
Now, let’s take our imagination a step further and picture ourselves as a member of the community to whom Luke is writing. This community is a non-Jewish–a group of Gentile Christians and they hear this prayer differently than Jesus’ Jewish followers. You may be from Greece or modern day Turkey; you grew up worshiping the pantheon of Olympian gods or practicing many of the pagan religions before hearing about forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.
This new faith is hard to wrap your head around because in your world, fathers and grandfathers have complete control over their children and grandchildren. For example, a father decides whether his newborn child will be raised in the family, or whether they will be sold into slavery, or simply be killed.
Your father made this decision about you–maybe you are in this Christian community as a slave in a household that converted to Christianity, maybe you were a girl and your dad wanted a son, maybe you had an ailment that made you too sickly to be desirable by your family.
Living with men exercising such potentially abusive power…in the home, and in the occupying forces of Rome that seem to oppress everywhere you turn….or living in poverty, experiencing God as a part of life, but distant, watching over the whole nation from afar…
And into this experience, you hear Jesus teach the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray beginning with one word that is so startling it catches in our throat, and completely bends us out of our experience and beyond culture, with who this God is to whom we pray. It is one word that changes everything and stretches us into a space and relationship:
“Father…” Not a distant deity, but an intimate dad.
“Father….” Not a cold patriarch who would sell, abandon or betray you, but a nourisher, a protector, a provider.
When you pray, say, “Father…” Talk to God as your intimate caregiver who loves and embraces you as his very own child, who listens to you, who knows you, who understands you, who even adores you.
A God who is not far, but close, personal and loving.
A God who does not engender fear based on judgment, bean-counting and score-keeping, but rather a relationship centered in love, giving us confidence and trust that God is always working on our behalf to save us, to bring us closer, to provide us bread, to forgive our errors, to keep us safe.
The radical nature of the Lord’s Prayer to first century ears is not What the prayer petitions say, it is to Whom the prayer is said, which is so transformative to those who hear Jesus' words for the first time. Imagine someone who’s father sold them into slavery hearing that God will be their father and love them like their own father could not?
Who ever heard of a God who is so generous, who cares for each of us like an intimate parent, loves us enough to listen to our needs, and desires what is best for us? Who would send another to show how much he loves us–and to save and redeem us!
Jesus invites us into the same relationship he has with God–one that is personal, intimate, sacred and trustworthy.
Do you see the radical nature of what Jesus is doing with this one word? When you pray, say, “Father.” Jesus bends the image of God everyone is operating with. He takes distance and pulls it in close; he takes the God of a nation, and makes it personal; he takes a controlling, even tyrannical father image, and he makes him loving, constant, nourishing, redeeming.
When Jesus bends the image of God to bring people into an intimate relationship with God, he gives us permission to do the same. So if the “father-parent” image is not one that invites you into a loving experience of God for whatever reason, then use the language and image that does invite you into intimacy with God! (why have Christians gotten this wrong for 2 centuries?). Jesus talked about himself as a mother hen–try “our mother, our grandma, our opa or oma”–try other intimate words or images for God that help you experience love and closeness with God in whom you can put childlike confidence and trust. I know someone who likes the word, “Source.” With what image of God can you experience expansive and personal love?
Because when you experience this intimacy, you can bring everything to God–like a loud neighbor banging with persistence to get some bread for his guests–Jesus’ parable is not just about “persistence” in your prayer—persistence can also be translated, shamelessness. When you have childlike trust that God loves you so much, that God’s love is immense and reliable—you can not only be persistent in prayer, you can be shameless in your requests.
Let God have all of it–all of your needs, all of your questions, all of your middle of the night fears and anxieties.
For if you, who are limited human beings, can respond with love to your children, how much more can the Father and Mother and Source of all give blessings abundant, love and the Holy Spirit to those who seek, ask and knock. If you were to be shameless in your prayers today, deeply trusting in God’s love for you, what would you talk about with God?
That’s what I want you to talk about with God today—and this week—I want you to be shameless, and shamelessly persistent because you are so sure of God’s parental love for you.
I want you to try shameless persistent prayer this week, because you see our fear is that God does not have that much love and attention for us. But God does! And when you trust God does, and are shameless in prayer, you will experience it! Like a kid who will ask 100 times for a cookie, or the same toy for Christmas.
Franciscan priest, Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “People who know God well—mystics, hermits, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found as an abusive father or a tyrannical mother; God is always a lover greater than we dared hope for. How different from the 'account manager' most people seem to worship. God is the lover who receives and forgives everything.”
Can you believe this with your whole heart? Are you willing to find out with your own persistent shameless prayers? Jesus communicates this truth with just one word of the Lord’s Prayer, “Father,” which revealed an intimate and infinite love not previously imagined. Perhaps this is why the Twelve Apostles, in one of their early Christian writings called the Didache, instructed believers to pray the Lord’s prayer 3x a day. If you do not know how to be shameless and persistent in prayer, you could start there—with the Lord’s Prayer, 3 times/day!
“All of us are better when we are loved.” I would add “All of us are better when we are loved by God in prayer,” for then we truly know there is no such thing as scarcity. There is always enough for all of God’s children, for all of God’s world, for all of God’s creation. When we live in this abundant love through prayer, centered in an intimate relationship with God the Father, our lives embody and exude this abundant love.
So try this shameless persistent prayer this week and discover this close, lovingly abundant, intimate God.
It's at the publisher's with expected publication in early Fall!
Tears of Joy is such a “feel-good” story and it teaches empathy and considering others from such a loving place! Every reader will be able to relate in some way. The river of tears is an intriguing place where needs are met and people are cared for. This book is a soul-warmer and should be implemented in every elementary guidance curriculum! Seeing the world with compassionate eyes helps individuals feel proud of their efforts and find our place in this world, where we all belong!
~Tonia Hastings, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor & Professional School Counselor.
Mark's Motivational Podcast
by Mark L'estrange from Dublin Ireland
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Mark posted the podcast today! Mark features musicians as well as writers. He is a children's book author himself, and is also the dad of a 5-year old! We had such a fun conversation and I am grateful to him for the opportunity!
Thank you for supporting my writing!
I have a confession to make. At the end of April I got my 3rd speeding ticket in the great city of Richardson. They happen in these speed traps coming in and out of downtown where the speed limit is 30 and hasn’t changed to 35 yet, or coming out of the Spring Valley tunnel and there’s not a speed limit sign till further down the road. I have been distracted with thoughts of "how the heck did we get a 3.1 million dollar offer on the building?"or I have been praying for someone in crisis, or simply running late. Not that those are excuses, but these are not 30 mile an hour-topics in my brain, and doesn’t the Richardson police have something better to do than to pull over ministers on their way to work on "the Bible Belt " (Line) anyway? Never mind the fact that I have been passed like I am standing still on every highway in Texas, and I never seen those pickup trucks and hotrodders pulled over. (I have nohting against pick-up trucks--both my sons drive them!).
So, after I take my 3rd speeding citation and start crawling my way up to church, I start berating God for not helping me out (in the spirit of a good lament Psalm, of course). “You could have helped me out—given me a warning—or put one of those annyoing slow people in front of me. I do work for you—I am working pretty hard you know.” After my little verbal tantrum. I was quiet, and I did get a response, and you know what the Holy Spirit said to me?
“Slowing down is about humility.”
“Oh great!” I thought to myself. “Just what I need on top of a speeding ticket –to be chastised in prayer!” This happens about once a year—at least it has since I started as the pastor here just over 4 years ago. It didn’t used to happen—I don’t know if God thinks I need more chastising or perhaps it’s that I am older now and I can take a good correction, which I could not when I was younger (I am handling this so well!)
Nevertheless, I was not real excited about being chastised in prayer on top of speeding ticket, so I said to the Spirit, “why don’t you move along and go not help someone else who’s working for you.”
You might wonder how I know this was the Holy Spirit—well because I know it was not my thought. I was not thinking about humility at that moment. This phrase came unbidden when my mind quieted for a moment after my complaint. This thought just appeared like text suddenly popping on the screen. When that happens, you know you did not generate it.
Also, I had that sinking feeling of being pinned to the wall. God diagnosed my spiritual problem dead to rights, and I could not squirm away. It is hard to do this for ourselves—we usually either make excuses on the one end, or we are excessively hard on ourselves, so we feel absolutely irredeemable on the other end. But this was neither of those. This was conviction with an invitation to change.
“Slowing down is about humility,” floated into my mind, the conviction was felt in my chest. That was the Holy Spirit, I have no doubt—a Godsighting in a speeding ticket. Not my favorite one, mind you, but a Godsighting, and an important one, nonetheless.
Why do I tell you this story today? Because God finds a way to communicate with each one of us—and that is what Holy Trinity Sunday is all about—how do you experience God communicating with you? How do see, feel, hear, taste, experience God revealing and making Godself known to you?
I am “words-person”—I write, I speak, read, and listen to others’ words—so when God wants to get through to me when I quiet my mind, I sometimes hear new words that I know I did not think myself. But you may not be a words person—you may be a music person, a sensory-kinesthetic-person, an out-in-nature person, a history-person, a singing-in-choir-person, an animal person, a service person, math or science person, a meditation person, an exercise person, a patterns-person, an arts-person or creativity person, a media person, a many different ways-person.
The question on Trinity Sunday is not, do you understand this doctrine, but how is our amazing God showing up around you, through you, in you? God will find a way that speaks to you, that you can notice, that you can recognize, that causes you to pause and go, “that was unusual…that was …unexpected…was that…was that the Spirit?... was that a God-sighting? Was that a God-wink?”
If you are noticing and wondering, the answer is “yes!” If you are asking the question, the answer is most likely, “yes!” because in the Spirit, there’s no such thing as coincidence. Often, we recognize God’s hand in retrospect, looking back on a moment—and the more you do that, the more able you become at recognizing God showing up in the moment.
There is always an element of mystery to God whom we will never fully know, yes, and also, God wants to be known and experienced and recognized—and one way is not sufficient!—so first we have the revelation of the whole creation! Wisdom in Proverbs sings the song of her Spirit’s presence in the springs and hills, mountains and soil, delighting in the world and in the human race. God wants to be known in every blade of grass, every cardinal, every crepe myrtle, every person I pass by in the car, every driver, and beggar on the street. But if I speed through life as if I am more important than others, I will miss what God is trying to show me, call me to do, or learn on the journey. I will miss delighting in God’s presence in every person in the human race as the God of Creation calls us to do. “Slowing down is about humility,” --so is seeing God in creation.
God wants to be known and experienced and recognized and one way is not sufficient, so God put on the garment of humanity, pressing down into the limits of our fallen race, walking beside us in all of our great goodness and all of our horrible badness. Jesus endured the rejection, he cried the tears, he experienced the suffering, and he accepted the death. But death could not hold him and even there, God was victorious, raising him and us to new life, new hope and a new future ensuring that we are never alone, but that his risen presence is with us to the end of age. But if I am running late because it’s so important to get one more thing checked off my to do list and I am racing around, I will not notice the Lord Jesus who accompanies me, who shoulders my burdens, who answers my prayers, who sets my true agenda, and who guides my path. “Slowing down is about humility,” --so is seeing Jesus beside me.
God wants to be known and experienced and recognized and one way is not sufficient, so God sent the Advocate to dwell inside of us, lighting us up with the risen Christ, telling us the truth, because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The Holy Spirit is not just in some of us, but in all of us—a gift of being baptized into Christ! The Spirit prays for us and strengthens us in suffering so that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. But if I am hurriedly moving around distracted by my own thoughts and worries, I am not available for the Spirit to work through me—to pray for me in sighs too deep for words, to be my source of strength and hope, to be the light that shines through me, to be the energizer battery when I am weary, and to hear the truth that comes from God. “Slowing down is about humility,” --so is allowing the Spirit to move through me.
I have never met my speeding ticket attorney in person—we have only emailed. I shared this God-experience about humility with him, revealing that I did not enjoy being chastised in prayer, but that we are all spiritual-work-in-progress. He wrote back to me with the following words: “I feel like you’re reading my mail. I know exactly what you mean. Every day I learn more, including what I need to do to be humble. I’m trying to listen to the still small voice.” We may not often think of attorneys with the humility to listen for the God in the still small voice—and that exchange in itself is a Godsighting. A spirit of humility enables us to more easily watch and look for God’s presence in our daily lives—because we trust that God is the Creator and we are the created.
It’s a humility that knows you really matter to God and God knows you, loves you, lives in you and surrounds you, and will show up for you, so you solidly trust and believe that; AND at the same time it’s humility that knows we are not more important than anyone else—that our time, contribution to the community, or where we need to be, is held in balance with everyone else (this is where God was pushing me). We sit in right relationship with God and with others (we sit in the middle of the cross).
God wants to be known and experienced and recognized and one way is not sufficient, so how is God revealing Godself to you? In nature, in your best friend, in music, in unbidden thoughts, in meditation, in exercise, in prayer, in the movement of history, in the beauty of a math formula, in the view through a telescope, in the joy at your family being together? There are as many experiences of God as there are people here, and we need to hear your Godsightings, your experiences of creation, your moments of Spirit, your times when Jesus is real, because hearing these experiences will build our faith, our endurance, our hope, and help each of us see God in new ways! So we have a newsprint up in the entryway by each side door to the sanctuary, and you can add your Godsightings every week. Share where you have seen or experienced God’s love, light, presence, justice, hope, Spirit, peace, or creation shining through anyone, anywhere in all of your summer travels and family get togethers. Let’s slow down together, embracing how God is showing up and celebrating that God is still alive and active in our lives and in our world.
Sermon for the Installation of The Rev. Dr. Dan Anderson-Little (my husband!) as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Garland, Texas on Sunday, June 5, 2022, 4:00 pm on Acts 2:1-13. This is a second and different sermon on the Pentecost story (although a similar beginning it diverges from there!)
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.” After worshipping by video and on Zoom during the pandemic, just being all together in one place is a great place to start. But then the disciples don’t do much. Jesus has ascended on a cloud up into the heavens, so they go to Jerusalem, devoting themselves to prayer. They elect Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot. Things start out "decently and in good order!" But nine days go by and nothing. This book is the Acts of the Apostles, and it starts out with no acts, no actions, no movement, no testimony, no preaching, no witnessing, no sharing about their amazing experiences of the resurrected Jesus!
The reality is that the disciples have never felt more isolated and alone.
• They have gone through so much trauma and grief—Jesus’ violent death was bad enough. But then to have him back again in such a miraculous way after his resurrection—hoping he would stay—only to have him leave again was truly unbearable. Loneliness of grief hung in the air.
• The threat of Rome’s oppression pressed in around them—they could still be victims of unpredictable violence just as Jesus was. Division and fear clung to their prayers.
• Jesus healed their family members and so many in their community. They too, had some success with that, but not like Jesus—what about the illnesses they could not heal? Anxiety huddled in the room.
• They were separated from their larger community. The Pentecost harvest festival 50 days after Passover is happening right there—people from the whole region, and around the world are on the doorstep—what an ideal opportunity to talk about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but the disciples are enclosed and silent. Isolation drove them apart from their community.
Paralyzed from the overwhelming nature of their fragmented, isolating experiences, the disciples could come together to pray and then, nothing. But “nothing” is not in God’s plan that Pentecost day when the whole world is gathered together to celebrate the harvest and the abundance of creation! “Nothing” is not an acceptable outcome for the God who has power over sin, death, and the devil! “Nothing” is not going to work when Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to make his disciples witnesses to the ends of the earth!
So, God turned “nothing” into “something” with the rush of a mighty wind filling the house where the disciples are sitting. The Holy Spirit lights up the house in a technicolor fire of red, orange and yellow flames that land on each of the disciples, giving them the gift of language and culture and power to speak to each person of every single nation gathered around them. With a swift woosh of the fiery Holy Spirit, the disciples move from
• paralyzed to powerful
• form sedentary to spirit-filled
• from worried to worldly
• form praying to preaching
• from isolated to inviting
The Holy Spirit enables the disciples to speak in the native language of every nation living and gathered in Jerusalem—Parthians and Medes, Elamites and Asians, Libyans and Egyptians, Cameroonians and Pakistanis, Hispanics, and Nigerians. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ wants every single person to hear of God’s deeds of power through their own culture and language.
Everyone who hears God’s deeds of power spoken to them in their own language marvels in amazement wondering, “what does this mean?” It means that rather than fear, isolation and separation, the primary mark and character of the Pentecost church is the “scandal of belonging.”
Everyone belongs—every culture, every language, every nation, and every person that God has made belongs to Christ through the power of the Spirit. This is not the belonging of imperialism, of domination, of being white-washed or of having your culture or your language or your history erased. The history of the Western church has done enough of that. For this we repent and turn back toward the fire of the first Pentecost and the call that every language of every nation is a belonging of full identity, a belonging of full culture, a belonging of full inclusion, a belonging of full diversity.
The Holy Spirit’s “scandal of belonging” continues through Acts and into the missionary outreach of the early church, fulfilling Joel’s vision:
• We hear this fiery Spirit in Peter’s vision of all unclean animals being declared clean as he realizes the Holy Spirit falls on Gentiles as well as the Jews—because who are we to hinder God?
• Then the “scandal of belonging” includes the Ethiopian Eunuch, and female leaders in the church like Lydia, and Prisca.
• The scandal of belonging includes youth, like Timothy, and the elderly like Timothy’s grandmother, Lois.
The fiery church birthed at Pentecost is not one of homogeneity—but of hearing God’s deeds of power as they are experienced through each culture, each language, each person in their particularity, and shared for the upbuilding of our community and discipleship in Christ.
First Presbyterian church of Garland, you are a leader and model for us in living out this Pentecost church and the true vision of belonging that the fire of the Holy Spirit holds out for all of us.
• We need to hear about God’s deeds of power in Nigerian experience,
• We need to listen to the testimonies of Jesus from Cameroonians,
• We need to learn what it means to be a Jesus-follower to a Pakistani, a minority faith in Pakistan,
• We can learn from the God-sightings of the Anglo members who have been here at First Pres Garland for years,
• We get to grow from the mission of Hispanic members and their prayers for Spanish-speaking outreach.
• And we are blessed by the 17(!) youth commissioned today for their mission trip!
When we embody this Pentecost church where nations, languages, cultures and people of all ages and abilities are valued, and we build community together—we grow such strong, healthy disciples of Jesus Christ for the kingdom of God. First, it deepens everyone’s walk with Jesus. As we listen to the witness of each other’s faith and culture, our own amazement at God’s deeds of power grows, giving us hope and courage for what the flame of the Holy Spirit can do in our own lives and communities!
Second, when we refuse to isolate as a homogeneous congregation, and instead, grow to embody the Pentecost church, we call individuals to do the same in their own lives. We help teach people how to build diverse relationships, and we provide opportunities for new and deeper community. This means we can help prevent the kind of loneliness that can lead to illness, rigid thinking and isolation, and even the tendency toward violence as a solution to conflict.
Third, when we embody the Pentecost church of radical belonging, we all learn that our way is not the only way. In diverse community the Spirit of Christ tames our ego and our inward focus. It’s about WE and not just about ME--then we bring these spiritual gifts into all areas of our lives as the light of Christ and the fire of the Spirit, influencing our workplaces and neighborhoods, spreading the message of the blessing of inclusion.
Finally, like the healthy body of Christ the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 with all the different parts of the body working together, the Pentecost church of diversity builds antibodies against the diseases of racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
The Pentecost church of radical belonging holds out a vision that Sunday morning does not need to be one of the most segregated hours in America! Rather, it enables us to lean into one another, to deeply listen, and to discover and be amazed by God’s deeds of power in someone else’s experience, and culture, and gifts. Now is the time that our nation needs the Pentecost church to rise up and witness to the “scandal of belonging” that is burning in us and in our church for the sake of the world that God so loves, and for which Christ died and rose again.
So, with a renewed, Pentecost Spirit,
• we want to join the dance in the African offering,
• and we want to sing the Pakistani Psalms
• and we want to pray for Hispanic outreach,
• and we want to build a church that embodies the Pentecost fire—
so that one day, every nation and culture belonging to one another, and worshipping together will no longer be a scandal, or surprise. And until that day the Pentecost Spirit is our fire, the Pentecost Spirit is our power, the Pentecost Spirit is our desire, the Pentecost Spirit is our vision--to be part of the amazing deeds that God can do through all of us together.
First Presbyterian Church of Garland, the Holy Spirit gives you the power—with celebration, and gratitude—not only to be this Pentecost church, but to witness to the world, that you already are this Pentecost church—for we need your firelight to show us the way.