Monthly Archives: July 2014

Breath Prayers

“Focus on your breath,” a Zen master teaches.

Child's First Prayer
Child’s First Prayer (From the Library of Congress Collection)

Focusing on one’s breath can simply serve as a convenient marker to give one’s mind something to process while spending a few minutes focusing on being fully present in prayer. The breath is convenient for it is always with us. After practice, merely pausing to catch one’s breath might remind one of previous prayer times.

Having something to focus on while sitting quietly listening for God can keep one’s mind from straying to work on problems not immediately present. Taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly, listening for God, and being fully present in the moment, can train one for being fully present in a difficult project or conversation. Having something to focus on can keep one from fretting about yesterday’s mistakes or worrying about what might come later.

“So do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

— Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)

Breath prayers provide an alternative to silently focusing on one’s breath. Breath prayers are short, two-part phrases, that can be said quietly: one half while inhaling and half while exhaling. Breath prayers offer structure so the one praying can focus on being fully present, listening for the small clear voice of God, without latching on to every stray thought that passes through one’s mind.

Breath prayers, or focusing on one’s breath while listening for God, can develop one’s self-control, enhance one’s ability to delay gratification.

Jesus might have used a breath prayer during the crucifixion when he said: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.” or “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” These first words of Psalm 22 become a source of comfort since David went on to recall how God had been present with him in the past, and boasted that future generations will proclaim his deliverance.

Other passages suitable for breath prayers include:

  • Come Lord Jesus / hear my prayer.
    — see 1 Corinthians 16:22
  • Seek first / God’s kingdom
    — see Matthew 6:33
  • Be still / and know that I am God
    — see Psalm 46:10

The last phrase may also be repeated each time removing the last word. Yielding:

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Be still and
Be still

Being still to pray silently lets the one praying enjoy God in the present, equipping that person with calmness of heart and mind, to creatively engage the problems of today.

Other musings on prayer:

A Little Boost

Wall ClockThe two weight driven clocks in our home have some quirks. The wall clock stops for no apparent reason, usually early in the week. The grandmother clock chimes only some of the hours. I suspect each clock needs to a thorough cleaning. But while seeking the right technician, I have discovered that adding a couple of ounces to the weight that drives the time mechanism of the wall clock gives it enough of a boost that it continues to run. I suspect the extra weight may have other adverse effects over the long-term, but until then, it runs on time.

I suppose giving my clocks a little boost is like having a cup of coffee on mornings when I don’t sleep well the night before. What I really need is to take the time to unwind before bed: a few minutes reading a paper book followed by a few minutes of prayer. A few minutes spent clearing my thoughts before bed and then I can get through the next day without a boost from coffee or green tea. I suspect that little boost from caffeine has some adverse effects.

Daniel and his friends had a similar epiphany:

Then Daniel asked the guard whom the palace master had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations.
— Daniel 1:11-15 (NRSV)

Now I need to find someone who can clean my clocks.

How Is God Here?

“At a depth in excess of four hundred feet somewhere in the south china sea, while looking for a Soviet submarine,” I say when colleagues ask me to describe a memorable communion experience.

USS THOMAS A EDISON US Navy Ethan Allen Class ...
USS THOMAS A EDISON SSBN-610 (Photo credit: UpNorth Memories – Donald (Don) Harrison)

A chaplain had come aboard the US Navy submarine I had served for a short cruise from Subic Bay and back. And once we were safely underway, I had asked if we could have communion. I remember little of the worship service: what scripture the chaplain had read nor his message. We might have sung a hymn, for the crew’s lounge had an upright piano from the home of our ship’s namesake, Thomas Alva Edison, and some talented musicians, but I don’t know which. None-the-less I clearly remember sitting with the XO and the captain while sipping an ounce or two of grape drink from coffee cups. This was significant then, because we were doing something that those on board the ship we had sought could not do. Clearly this was a God moment.

This memory of communion is significant now for it reminds me of Jonah who had fled from God’s presence to avoid prophesying in Nineveh. Yet even in the belly of that great fish, God had found Jonah.

Gods Own County
Gods Own County (Photo credit: tricky (rick harrison))

It is significant for this blog as each week I ask: “Where is God in all this?” The question presumes there are some places without God. The question presumes there are some places where we should recognize God’s presence and God’s creative and redemptive acts, and some places or actions that are not of a divine origin. The question presumes that God is not the creator of all things seen and unseen.

A better question, the question that I have sought to answer, is: “How is God in all this?” How is God in the warm sunny breeze outside my window and in hurricanes lashing at cottages along the shore? How is God in the miracles of modern medicine and in incurable diseases? How is God in those who support the Church and in those who deride it?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

— Romans 8:38-39 (NRSV)


“Are you for us or against us?”

English: Black and white in harmony
(photo credit: Wikipedia)

Increasingly people are choosing up sides, especially in these United States: conservative versus liberal, rich versus poor, right versus wrong, … Deciding issues becomes much easier when there are only two sides, when there is less opportunity for a nuanced approach.

The story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis offers an alternative possibility: harmony. Six times God consider what had just been made and had proclaimed it good: After creating light from chaos, after creating dry land from the waters, after calling forth vegetation from the land, after setting the stars in the sky, after calling forth fish and birds, and after making wild animals and livestock.

creation of man
creation of man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But after creating people in God’s own image, there is no such blessing. I perceive that God saw in humanity our propensity for knowing good and evil, not merely recognizing these extremes, but participating in both good and evil. Both John the elder (1 John 1:8) and the Apostle Paul (Romans 3:9-18) note that every person is capable of evil and sin.

Humanity apart from all of creation does not merit God’s particular blessing granted to stars, to plants, to fish, and to livestock. But when God looks at all of creation, how everything plays together, God sees the rich tapestry of creation, God hears the harmony of life: good and evil present in each person, and proclaims it very good.

Harmony Lake
Harmony Lake (Photo credit: Junnn)

Only in harmony can light have value with darkness, can water have value with dry land, can plains have value with mountains, can song have value with silence, can feast have value with famine, can caress have value with hurt.

When have you found harmony with people who rub you the wrong way?

Sermon: "Look at the Birds"

Look below the video for my Bible study notes and sermon outline.

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 6:25-37

B. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

25 – – Career advice: Find something you enjoy doing and the money will follow.

26 – – Nomadic couple who wandered from church to church, relying on handouts for food and shelter. People in other countries exist for about $1/day. Pay Buddy $1000/year to sit by my lap.”

27 – – Science indicates that worry decreases life, while meditation and exercise increases over the average.

28 – – Goodwill, clothing ministry. Several options exist.

29 – – Lilies of the field flower to attract insects for pollenization. We array ourselves in fine clothes to attract other people for pollenization and for commerce.

30-33 – – God might not give us fine clothing, but has given us skills to earn a living.

II. Literary Study

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Part of the Sermon on the mount. Follows the beatitudes and the Lords’ Prayer.

III. Question the text

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

What other imperatives of Jesus are hidden in the Gospel?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

Center of Gravity: Physical needs are far less important than striving to live in God’s Kingdom.

Emotional Center: Do not worry about your life

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

Counter cultural! Absurd!

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Robert Gundry (Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art. Eerdmans’ 1982). interprets these sayings as dealing “with the other main reason, besides greed, for hoarding early wealth – anxiety.” He clarifies that the prohibition is against anxiety, not against work nor to endorse idleness.

M. Eugene Boring (“The Gospel of Mathew,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 1995.) considers 6:19 through 7:12 as one pericope as instructions on authentic righteousness. He perceives this section as “directed to people involved with sowing, reaping, storing in barns, toiling, and spinning, but who are called to see that their life is not based on these things.” He limits the scope of Jesus’ audience for this passage from the general public to disciples who’s faith might waiver after hearing the first part of the sermon on the mount.

James J.H. Price (“Concerning Treasures,” The Presbyterian Outlook. October 19, 2001.) cautions against misusing this passage to scold people who are anxious because of the lingering shock and sorrow following the savage terrorism on Sept. 11. He suggest reflecting on appropriate versus inappropriate anxiety. While worry about tomorrow is proscribed, might one worry about today?

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Use anxiety constructively.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Other than humans, the rest of creation does not worry about food, clothing or shelter and does fine.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Develop constructive prayer practices to pursue God’s kingdom.

VI. Sermon Outline

[Say with hand signals]

Sit, down, come, lets go, leave it, take it, roll over, go to bed

→ Words we say to my dog to keep him healthy and on task.

Most important command: Focus

Hidden Imperatives:

Look at the birds of the air;

Consider the lilies of the field,

Do not worry, Do not be afraid
Love, Forgive, Remember me

Imperatives for our benefit.

It would be nice to be able to sit all day praying, looking at the birds and flowers, …

But someone must grow food, hunt meat, sew clothes, build houses, defend families, …

Will our proposal win?

Don’t want to be a lesson learned.

We ask:

‘What will we eat?’ or
‘What will we drink?’ or
‘What will we wear?’

Jesus spoke these words to people who had sown seed, reaped grain, sewn clothes, and built houses for others.

People who lived hand to mouth. Paycheck to paycheck.

No guarantee of food or clothing or shelter for today, much less tomorrow. ← reason to worry.

But we must eat!

Jesus tells us:

But strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Do your best for God today and tomorrow will take care of itself.

Worrying about tomorrow will distract you from doing a great job today. Focus on today.

Asked business owner: Do you ever second guess proposals? Could/should we have written …?

Once it is done, on to what’s next. ← 90% win rate. & 14% growth.

Focus on today

Jesus asks:

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

By taking time each day to reflect on God’s creation and pray,
we add time to our lives.

← documented by several studies.

Worrying reduces health.

Daily prayer increases health.

Focus [hand signal] on today

Add years to life

Sermon: "The Good Neighbor"

Look below the video for my bible study notes and sermon outline.

Establish the text

Select the Pericope: Luke 10:25-37

Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

25 – – Micah 6:8 answers a similar question: What does the LORD require of you? This was a popular question to ask the religious leaders of the time. Rabbinical literature records similar questions to Jesus’ contemporaries.

27 – – Jesus’ answer is similarly paralleled in Rabbinical literature citing Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Love the LORD your God. Everything else is commentary.” Since all of humanity are children of God, then to love God requires loving the children of God. Thus to love your neighbor as your self is commentary on the first, but as the parable points out, a commentary that is easily forgotten.

28 – – “Do this and you will live.” Looks like if-then soteriology. Of course as Paul points out in Galatians, none can be reckoned as righteous by good works.

29 – – Key word: justify. Can the lawyer’s question be rephrased: What is the minimum that I must do to live? REB focuses the need for justification on asking the question.

30 – – Jerusalem: alt. 740 m, Jerico: alt. 308 m. Still a steep and winding road with plenty of places for an ambush.

31 – – N.B. the priest was going DOWN the road, away from Jerusalem. I recall a commentary that attempted to *justify* the priest’s avoidance of the victim based on maintaining ritual purity. If a priest touched a dead person, he would be defiled and unable to participate in the Temple rituals, a once in a lifetime opportunity. But if the priest was going down the road, away from Jerusalem, what then would his excuse be?

33 – – Samaritans were a rival Yawistic cult living north of Jerusalem. J.L. Kelso (Zondervan Pictoral Encyclopedia of the Bible) notes: 1. the Samaritans were not officially excommunicated by the Jews until A.D. 300. 2. As late as 2 cent. A.D. Samaritans were compared favorably with the Saducees by rabbis. Don’t demonize the Samaritan.

34 – – The Samaritan goes to significant expense, but within his capabilities, for a stranger from whom he might not expect reimbursement. 2 denarii = 2 days wages.

37 – – What does it mean to show mercy today? Does contributing taxes for welfare and Medicare/Medicaid justify us before God?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

The NRSV starts v. 25 “Just then a lawyer stood up …” Thus this is a continuation of the preceding scene. The preceding scene was the return of the 70 and their rejoicing at the submission of evil spirits to their ministry. Jesus counsels the disciples privately that many “desire to see what you see, but did not see it, and hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” Perhaps, the lawyer represents those who desire to see and to hear.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Written by ‘Luke’ to a Greek friend based on collections from various sources.
The passage is an illustration of a teaching.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Matthew 22:35-40 rephrases the lawyer’s question as which is the greatest commandment.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

25 – – kai idou — Blass and Debrunner (#442(7))classify this as a Semanticism. The Hebrew “hineh” is used for expressions pointing to a particular person, e.g. Gen 18:9 “Behold your wife”, 1 Sam 3:4 “Here I am.”; to introduce predication. Thus I agree with the NRSV although other translations render this as “On one occasion …”

33 – – esplagcvisqh — Aorist Passive indicative to be filled with compassion/pity. Is this a Divine passive?

37 – – meta — the Samaritan provided mercy WITH the victim. Although ‘on’ is an alternate translation, ‘with’ emphasizes that mercy requires two participants. Many translations ignore this preposition or use ‘on’.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Parables are noted for making every word count and condensing much theological discussion into as few words as possible with many potential lessons from one illustration: What does the Lord require?, piety versus compassion, who is my neighbor?

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

Consider the excuses that the priest and the Levite may have made for not attending to the needs of the victim: “I don’t know what to do for him.” “He may be dead anyway. Why bother?” “Someone else will take care of him.” “I need to do X. So I can’t stop.” “The robbers might still be near.” “He may be pretending to be beaten so that his friends will attack me when I stop to help him.”

Consider the reasons for the Samaritan: “If I don’t help, who will?” “I would want some one to stop, if this were me, even if they could only hold my hand.” “This may be one of my clients.” “God is counting on me to do this.”

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

Center of Gravity: Who is my neighbor? What does the law mean by: “love your neighbor as yourself”? What do the disciples see and hear that others did not see nor hear?

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

Dogmatic piety (of priest and Levite) versus love of neighbor, or ritual purity versus practical theology. What am I capable of doing?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Fred B. Cradock (Interpretation: Luke) notes the relationship between 10:23-24 and vv. 25-37. He entitles the section covering this pericope and the next “Two stories about hearing and not hearing.” I might call this section more specifically about not seeing; as the priest and the Levite both do not see the victim as a potential opportunity to love God.

Perry H. Biddle, Jr. (Preaching the Lectionary) centers the story on the difference between: Who must I include/exclude as my neighbor? versus To whom am I a neighbor? The difference is between ceremony and the nature of compassionate living.

J.A. Findlay (Abingdon Bible Commentary) notes the artificiality of the Church Fathers’ allegorizing this pericope: Jesus is the Samaritan (c.f. John 8:48), the dangerous road is his journey to Jerusalem, the innkeeper is the Church, the two denarii are the two Sacraments, and the pledge to return to the inn an announcement of the Second Coming. Or is this perhaps a way of teaching ecclesiology?

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

We must be careful not to miss opportunities to minister, which is the focus of Christ’s disciples who already see and hear that they are saved, rather than worrying about what is necessary to be saved.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

We often choose not to see opportunities for ministry around us because of preconceived notions of what God expects us to do, but if we are instead open to God working in every event, and respond in thanks for having received God’s grace, we will see many opportunities to minister to God’s children and thereby express our love for what God has done for us. What is Jesus doing right here and right now? And How might I work with Jesus right here and right now?

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Encourage the hearers to be more aware of opportunities to minister in response to the grace already received from God.

VI. Sermon Outline





And then, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. … “And who is my neighbor?”

Mark 12 – Teacher asks for greatest commandment then agrees
loving God & neighbor >> offerings

Jesus: “Not far from kingdom of heaven” ← about 3 – 6 feet!

Test, trick answer: None of the above

Trick question; Trick answer

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

Dangers lurking in shadows?

Cultural prohibitions.

Busy “saving the world”

– Important committees meetings

– Family obligations

– Busy

Not about clergy or ritual

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he was filled with compassion. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own animal, took him to an inn and took care of him.

Heroes of medicine:

EMT – Spends ~ hour lifting victim from the road – vital signs, perhaps a name, NOT father of three sons …

Trauma team spends an hour or two: fractures to set,

Nurses pop in an out for a few hours: IV to change, more vital signs,

No time for listening to family stories

But are these neighbors?

35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying: ‘Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Healing takes time: changing bandages, clothing soiled after meals, diapers, befriending toxic people.

listening to stories.

Touch that is more than treatment.

Visiting MIL interrupted by “friend” who in five minutes had inflicted her multitude of woes on us. ← LPN came in, hugged this “friend” and told her how much she had been missed. Instantly change woes to a smile.

Attending to the person beyond task

Neighboring: persistent touch

“The one who had mercy with him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Listen to people’s stories

Safe guard their slivers of joy.

& you will find yourself within 3 – 6 feet of the kingdom of heaven.

Doing mercy takes time.

Compassionate versus Hopeful

When you experience a hardship in life, would you prefer to see someone who is compassionate or hopeful?

 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
— Colossians 3:12 (NRSV)

 I am often hesitant when someone’s face expresses sorrow when I tell them of a personal hardship. I wonder if they are merely putting on a mask to look compassionate. I wonder how or even if their feelings of sympathy or sorrow will develop beyond an expressed desire to alleviate suffering.


But when I visit people in hospitals and nursing homes, I strive to leave them with a feeling of hope for the future, a hope beyond what we can see. I am motivated by their suffering. But compassion is not enough for me. Thanks to modern medicine, I can trust doctors, nurses, and technicians to care for physical symptoms and cure diseases of the body. But when people invite me to visit them in times of distress, I desire to offer spiritual healing.

I may frown and my stomach may twist into knots on hearing of your hardship. But that is not enough. Having received the gift of hope, I feel compelled to share it.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
— Romans 5:1-5 (NRSV)

Are you hopeful or compassionate?