Communion and Community

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Each week, I have the humbling opportunity to serve communion to those who come to the Firestone Chapel after the worship service lets out. As I stand with the elements of bread and juice, I am challenged to think about the meaning of communion. Seminary provided me with the words to give some fancy theological description of communion, but the folks who partake in communion have taught me more about the meaning of this act than any book or professor ever could. Some come to the communion table with deep joy that God’s love offers them new life each day. Others come with a sense of gratitude, remembering it is God’s love that sustains us. Many come with the intention of repentance and recommitting their lives to Christ. In the faces of those taking communion, I see doubt, peace, anger, grief, happiness and fear. All of us are at a different place in our faith journeys, and God is with us in every season.

 
Something I often find striking when I talk with folks about communion is that many are afraid to come to the table. Some feel spiritually inadequate, others have serious doubts, many are going through tough times, and some are wounded—having been excluded by a church community in the past. Part of the beauty of communion is that all of us—in moments of joy or concern—commune at the same table, in need of God’s love.

 
I believe communion is a measure not only of God’s love, but a benchmark by which we, as a Christian community, can gauge our love. At Resurrection, all are welcome to the communion table. In the act of communion, we acknowledge that we all share in common the need for God’s love. If we truly believe this, it has radical implications for our community. It calls us to actively welcome and offer love to all in our community–not just those who look like us, act like us, are emotionally well, have their faith perfectly figured out, would fit in in our neighborhoods, who share our economic status, our race, our sexual identity or our theology—but all of God’s people who come to the table.

 
So, you may be wondering, how does God’s love, revealed in communion and the foundation in which we discover our call to love one another, relate to prayer? Dorothy Day, a theologian, nun and social activist paints a beautiful picture of how we can create this sort of communion community—a community of love. She writes:

 
“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.
We know God in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of
bread, and we are not alone anymore.”

 
This week, I invite us to think about and pray for any people we have excluded from our “table” in the past. Who might the God of love be calling you to get to know and to extend love to? Who can we include more fully into our church community, our social groups, and our families? I challenge you to get together with one of these people and share a common meal. In preparation for the meal pray that God would give you the patience to listen, the wisdom to understand and the grace to lovingly receive someone you perceive is different than you. When it comes time to eat together, share your stories. This one small, simple act can go a long way to correct injustice, create peace and express the unfathomable depths of God’s love for all of God’s people.

 
–Rev. Katherine Ebling, Pastor of Prayer

Calling

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This week in the GPS, we will turn our attention to God’s call on all of our lives to be faithful disciples. When I think about discipleship, I tend to hear the resounding sound of Jesus’ voice as he gave the disciples the ultimate “pep talk”—the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me this commission is inspiring and compelling. Before I am even done reading these words, I want to get up and do something, anything. Having grown up at the Church of the Resurrection, I know that I am not alone in my fiery desire to get out there and serve—to make a difference in the world. I have no doubt that this passion delights God; the world truly is aching to know the good news of God’s love.

•    Pausing here for a moment, I would challenge you to practice the spiritual discipline of imagination. Lately, I have been challenged to think about the way engaging our imaginations can be a form of prayer. If we are to have any hope of being faithful disciples, sharing God’s love with a world longing for it, I believe it is essential that we become dreamers. Ask yourself: What dreams has God given me for God’s people? How can I participate in God’s kingdom being established on earth?

Without undercutting the importance of the call on our lives to be co-laborers with God in God’s great work, at some point in my pursuit of faithful discipleship, I find that I often lose sight of the One who called me. All of a sudden following Jesus becomes about abiding by certain rules, pushing agendas, completing tasks, or even proving my own “faithfulness” to others.

It’s not surprising that many of us may find ourselves feeling this way. Our culture is centered on achievement, success and that which is bigger and better. In my own life, I am often tempted to translate my perfectionist tendencies into my life of discipleship. When I do this, I find myself exhausted, anxious, discontent, angst-y and competitive— after only a few days of trying to change the world.

The question becomes how are we to live a passionate life of discipleship without growing cynical? I think this is a question that we must wrestle with. I have found a suggestion, though, from theologian and activist Clarence Jordan. He writes: “The revolution begins with a call to be a certain kind of person.” As a dreamer, an idealist and a Christian disciple, this quote challenges me. We are called to engage in the work of changing the world, but God’s good work emerges out of us when we live into our calls to become the people God calls us to be. It may seem counterintuitive that investing our lives in prayer somehow results in action, but I believe this to be true.

•    So, at this point I invite you to practice the discipline of slowing. Remember that you are loved no matter what you do or leave undone. Take a moment to remember the One who has called you. Then ask yourself: Who is God calling you to be in this season of life? Are you called to focus on becoming more graceful, patient, gentle, peaceful, bold, hopeful? Thank God for being a God who transforms our hearts.

Ultimately, I am thankful that we follow a God who gives us a high calling. I am thankful for the mysterious way that through attending to becoming the people God has called us to be, the Spirit makes us people who are equipped to take part in transforming the world.

–Rev. Katherine Ebling
Pastor of Prayer

A Graced and Joyful Journey

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Recently, my husband Scott and I climbed to the top of Observation Peak at Zion National Park. It was a four mile uphill hike on rocky terrain and switchbacks. I needed to stop every so often to catch my breath, and I needed a walking stick for support. There were times that I really wanted to quit and turn around, but I didn’t because I received encouragement from fellow sojourners who told me how close I was to the top. The experience of this journey along with our sermon series on work has given me opportunity to pause and reflect on my own personal vocational journey.

First, a calling doesn’t necessarily have to lead to ordination. My daughter Kacie frequently tells me that serving as a cardiac ICU nurse makes her feel like she is doing the work of Jesus, because she is serving those who can do very little for themselves. In addition to my deep love and calling for pastoral ministry, I have been called to jobs that do not bear the stamp of ordination, such as baby sitting, scooping ice cream, customer service, motherhood, teaching in the public school system and as an adjunct professor. On the other hand, I have worked at jobs to which I was clearly not called, such as retail sales, waitressing and typing. My journey has been marked with successes and failures, highs and lows, joys and sorrows.

Second, my journey has been consistently marked by faith. Sometimes the encouraging words of fellow sojourners have strengthened my faith and sometimes even by blind faith. On July 1, I will be transitioning out of Church of the Resurrection, and with faith as my walking stick, moving toward something to which God is calling, but I can’t quite see the top yet. Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I keep framed in my bathroom so that I can see it every morning when I wake up. I’ve shared this prayer with you before, but I think that it is fitting to repeat:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thank you for allowing me to journey with you through the GPS, exploring the mystery of prayer. If you would like to stay in touch, my new email is revnancypauls@gmail.com .

I will conclude with words of Margaret Silf from her prayer book “Wayfaring.”

“I would like to wish you a safe journey along these Gospel roads, but ‘safety’ is not always compatible with the ways of God or with the adventure of prayer. And so I wish you, instead, a graced, and a joyful journey through the darkness and the light, the rock faces and the mountain-top wonderment.”

And let it be so.

Rev. Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer and Congregational Care

Hearing God

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“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” –1 Samuel 3.9.

 When I was a little girl, God spoke to me regularly. When I was four, I remember sitting on the Morse Avenue beach in Chicago playing in the sand, and I recall thinking how amazing it is that God created each grain of sand different from the next. Here is a picture of sandat 250x magnificationsand

 

I remember thinking if God created each grain of sand, how much more lovingly, God created each individual person in the world. God spoke scripture and truth into me before I even knew there was a book called the Bible. As I got older, my childlike faith became more analytical, and the religious teaching I received made me doubt the authenticity of my experience and forget how to listen to God. Yet, listening to what God is saying is just as important in prayer as talking to God. A good relationship with God in prayer consists of both speaking and listening to God.

God speaks to us in many ways, possibly in as many ways as there are people to talk to. However, a primary mode of God’s communication is through the words of scripture. It is easier to hear what God is saying to us by slow, deliberate meditation on short verses of scripture rather than reading a couple of chapters. God also commonly speaks to us through dreams, practical every day life experiences, and mystical experiences. A mystical experience to me is the same thing as an uncanny coincidence that can’t be explained. It is when the veil that we picture between heaven and earth becomes so thin that the physical realm and the spiritual realm feel like they are intersecting for a brief moment. Maybe you have had an experience like this and know exactly what God is trying to say, but for me, these experiences simply give me the encouragement and assurance that our loving God is present and accessible and here for me in my neediness.

So how do we know if what we hear is really God speaking or if it a concoction of our tricky egos? To summarize Bill Hybels, in Too Busy Not to Pray, here are some great suggestions:

  1. Promptings that come from God are consistent with his Word, the Bible. For example, a prompting to cheat on an exam or your income taxes is never from God.
  2. God’s promptings are usually consistent with who he made you to be. So knowing myself now for half a century, if I think I hear God telling me to put skydiving and running a marathon on my bucket list, that is probably my ego trying to prove itself and not from God.
  3. God’s promptings usually involve servanthood. Really, God, you still want me to work every weekend when all my friends are at the lake? Ok. Fine.

Bill Hybels also teaches us to question promptings if they require us to make a life changing decision in a short amount of time, if they require us to severely jeopardize our family relationships or important friendships, or if more mature Christians, advisors or counselors think it’s not a good idea. The longer we practice speaking and listening to God in prayer, the more competent we become at discerning God’s true voice. When I was young, I was not even aware that it was God speaking to me. Now, looking back on that time with fresh eyes of faith, I realize that God speaks to us all the time.

This week, take a moment to reflect on these quotes from Maya Angelou as you begin your prayer.

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.”

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

 

 

 

Blessing

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When everyone was being baptized Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”  Luke 3.21-22 (CEB).

This week in worship we complete our journey through the gospel of Luke. At the start of Jesus’ public ministry, God pronounces a blessing upon Jesus as he comes up out of the baptismal waters of the river Jordan. The word “blessing” comes from the Latin word benedicere which means speaking well or saying good things of someone. This blessing sustained Jesus through all the admiration and condemnation that followed. Jesus never lost the knowledge that he was cherished and blessed by God

Likewise, each one of us is a child of God who God created and calls beloved. Often it is hard for us to hear the blessing Jesus heard, the blessing we, too, are to hear. It is easy to become victims of our disappointments and our disillusionments. Sometimes we might even feel like we are more cursed than blessed, and it is hard to hear the good words God is speaking to us through the demanding voices our world.  However, through prayer and presence, we can learn to claim our blessedness and as we continue to hear the deep gentle voice that blesses us, we can walk through life with a secure sense of well-being and true belonging.

In Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says, “The real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.” He is not speaking about an audible voice, but a voice that can be heard by the ear of faith, the ear of the inner heart. With time, the faithful discipline of quiet time in prayer will reveal that we are blessed ones, a truth that begins to shape our daily lives.

Another way to claim our blessedness is to receive the good things others say of us. It is so easy to believe humility requires us to brush off compliments, and it is difficult for us, as busy people, to truly receive a blessing. The blessings that come to us through words of gratitude, encouragement, affection and love are gentle reminders of that strong, but hidden voice of the One who calls us by name and speaks good things about us.

Finally, claiming our own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others. Barbara Brown Taylor says in An Altar in the World, “Pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get. To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move toward the other, however many times it takes to get close; to open your arms to what is instead of waiting until it is what it should be; to surrender the justice of your own cause for mercy; to surrender the priority of your own safety for love—this is to land at God’s breast. To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God’s own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God’s own audacity.”

This week, may…

The Lord bless you, and keep you;

The Lord make His face shine on you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance on you

And give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26                        –Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

Prayer Walking

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Throughout the gospel of Luke we see the disciples keeping company with Jesus as they walk from town to town. Jesus pauses frequently in the course of their journey to teach the disciples lessons about what God’s kingdom is like; a place where healing, wholeness, unity and the welfare of all prevail.  In the same way, we can add feet to our prayers by prayer walking.

Adele Calhoun in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, says, “Prayer walking is a way of saturating a particular place and people with prayer, such as the office, the conference room, your home, the school the hospital and government buildings.  The immediacy of context can fuel prayer and offer a way for listening more deeply to God, and to what God’s concerns for this place might be. This discipline draws us out of prayers that are limited to our immediate concerns and into a larger circle of God’s loving attention.”

Calhoun suggests that like the disciples, you might walk through your home in the company of Jesus. Pray for each room and what happens there. Notice if recognizing Jesus’ presence there changes your interaction.  Spend some time walking with others through your workplace. Pray for your colleagues, the custodial staff, the delivery people and the kitchen staff. Offer yourself to be Jesus’ hands and heart in this place. Visit the playground and school near you. Walk through it in the company of Jesus. Pray for those who work, play and study there. Think about what is in the heart of God for this place.

By God’s grace, the qualities of the Kingdom of God are available to all of us today. This week, as a Lenten practice, I invite you to take a walk in the company of Jesus, and with him pray that healing, wholeness, unity and the welfare of all prevail.

Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

1st Sunday of Lent

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Today is the first Sunday in the season of the Church called Lent. The primary purpose of Lent from the earliest church was to prepare candidates for baptism at Easter. Lent was designed to help the church encourage these candidates to turn away from sin and live more fully into the way of Christ.  In other words, Lent is designed to help us live out the mission of the Church and the mission statement of The Church of the Resurrection:  To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.

Lent is the final stage of labor before new birth, a final incubation before “hatching” into new life. Over the past month we have prayed and discerned about how God might use Church of the Resurrection to live our mission and build our future. The season of Lent is the time for us to fulfill our role as “midwife to the Spirit.”

Take time today to look back through the pages of your 10,000 Reasons Devotional [or GPS link] .

What prayers or spiritual practices fed your soul? Have you discovered a prayer practice which you would consider continuing through the season of Lent, such as daily scripture reading, silent, contemplative prayer or fasting as a way to draw closer to God and grow your spirit?

Gracious and Merciful God,
In this Lenten season let us learn new ways of living.
May we fast from words that pollute and feast on words that are kind.
Let us fast from judging others and feast on building others up in love.
Let us fast from despair and feast on an attitude of gratitude.
Let us fast from hatred and jealousy and feast on kindness and compassion.
Let us fast from thoughts of illness and feast on the healing power of God.
May we fast from worry and feast on hopes and dreams.  Amen

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

They Gave Willingly, Joyfully, and Sacrificially

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MalawiA poignant memory from our Church of the Resurrection mission trip to Malawi was at an elementary school in a remote village.  Our team packed up the van in the morning with peanut butter sandwiches and bottles of Fanta for lunch before setting out to the school.  We received a joy filled welcome from the 600 school children and the head master before starting our health screenings. When it was time to break for lunch, our team went to the van to eat our sandwich. It was at that very moment when the concept of true hunger became disturbingly real for me. There was neither a morsel of food nor a drop of water anywhere in sight for the school children or teachers. Then I learned that the children most likely did not eat breakfast in the morning and might or might not get a bowl of boiled maize for their evening meal. The van driver took us further away from the school, but large groups of children followed us, peering into the windows to watch us eat. Needless to say I not only lost my appetite, but also became deeply troubled by the injustice of it all.  I was frustrated that that these beautiful faces were suffering with hunger and malnourishment and I couldn’t fix it. Turning to Christian   tradition for help, I found that fasting could be an appropriate response to this injustice.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline in which Christians sacrifice their natural desire for food in order to spend time seeking God regarding a specific issue. The intention is that all the time that would be spent acquiring, preparing and consuming food will, instead, be spent in the presence of God through prayer, worship or meditation on the Word. Fasting allows us to see how little we absolutely need in a consumer world. Also, the heightened sense of awareness obtained through hunger serves as a reminder of the purpose of the fast, which is to replace the feeding of the needs of physical hunger with the feeding of one’s spiritual hunger by drawing closer to God.  In addition, we become sympathetic with those who are genuinely hungry through fasting.

I believe that our vision to touch 10,000 inner-city children by our school partnerships over the next twenty years actively addresses hunger and other consequences of poverty.  This week I invite you to consider fasting one day this week as you pray about making your sacrificial commitment to this vision.  If you are healthy, a traditional fast is to abstain from food upon waking up, and then to break the fast with a light dinner that evening. If that is not a possibility, then skipping one meal or fasting from electronics all day is another option. We would to hear about your experience with the discipline of fasting. You can join the conversation by leaving a comment on our prayer blog. 

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

Click here at www.cor.org/prayervigil to sign up to pray at the 49 hour prayer vigil preceding Commitment Sunday.

 

The House of the Lord, the House of the Church

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This weekend in worship we will hear the plans and aspirations for our permanent sanctuary.  A sanctuary is a sacred or holy place.  It is a place where we gather as God’s people to encounter God and from which we are sent to be salt and light in the world. According to dictionary.com, a sanctuary can be any place of refuge or safe haven or a tract of land where birds and wildlife, especially those hunted for sport can breed and take refuge in safety from hunters.

Contemplative Christian prayer is a spiritual practice of silence in which we can find refuge from the demands of our daily life and rest in God. Contemplative prayer is silently abiding in the Spirit with the goal being our transformation in Christ. This simply means growing deeper in the love of God and neighbor, so that we might be salt and light in the world. Rev. Dr. Robert Martin, Dean of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C teaches that contemplative prayer is necessary for incarnational leadership. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:16-17, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?… For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” So it makes sense to me that we can also find sanctuary by silently abiding with the Spirit who lives within the sanctuary of our being.

This week I invite you to practice the spiritual discipline of contemplative prayer, or silence. Find your favorite place to sit and imagine God sitting in a rocking chair across from you. All you need to do is show up and say nothing, just be silent.  Really, that is all you need to do for twenty minutes three to five times this week. If you are utterly sincere about surrendering to the Godly nature of the present moment, something will happen. It might not happen immediately, but pay attention to what is awakening during the week.

We would to hear about your experience with the discipline of silence.  You can join the conversation by leaving a comment on our prayer blog.

–Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

Click here at www.cor.org/prayervigil to sign up to pray at the 49 hour prayer vigil preceding Commitment Sunday.

Seeing God’s Vision, Dreaming God’s Dreams

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2.9.14 - Seeing God’s Vision, Dreaming God’s Dreams


Prayer Tip:

My granddaughter Anna likes bugs. How I can possibly be related to someone who willingly picks up an insect is one of the mysteries of the ages, but Anna, age 6, thinks those six-legged creatures are fascinating, and she is constantly on the lookout for a new insect friend. Walking down the sidewalk with Anna is an experience. Suddenly she will stop and say “Look!” and there in the grass will be a praying mantis, or a ladybug or some other critter that I would never have seen in a million years. Then, of course, we have to stop and pick it up, make friends with it and examine and comment on its many attributes before we send it back on its way. The funny thing is, for days after I’ve spent time with Anna, I see bugs everywhere. I notice the ants climbing up the curb, the grasshopper sitting under the bush, or the cricket on the porch steps, though I never would have before. What’s more, I feel compelled to stop and look at them (I’m still not so much about picking them up, but I can watch them with interest). They really are amazing pieces of God’s creation. Spending time with Anna has changed the way I look at things.

C. S. Lewis said, “…prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

If we want to see what God sees, if we want our vision for the future to match God’s vision and experience the joy and excitement of living in the middle of God’s plan for us, then we have to invite God into the picture, to change us. That’s what daily prayer does—it invites God in to make changes and turn our vision into God’s vision. It takes time, just like walks with my granddaughter, and focused attention to change the way we see the world around us.

This week, as we explore God’s vision for our church, let’s make a commitment to spending that focused time every single day in prayer, asking to see our church, our community and the world around us the way God sees them—the needs, the opportunities and the plans God has for us. There are so many things to see!

Bless us Lord, this day with vision.
May this place be a sacred place,
a telling place,
where heaven and earth meet.

-Traditional Celtic Prayer

- Jennifer Creagar

 


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