Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Psalm 24 – The 18th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, September 27, 2015

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8)

Look both ways . . .
Look both ways . . .

Look both ways before you cross the street.

Eat your vegetables.

Don’t put your elbows on the table at meals.

Make your bed.

Always say please and thank you.

My parents repeated these and many other statements. The oft-said phrases were house rules, family guidelines, loving warnings, and life lessons.

When my wife and I brought a puppy into our home this year, one of the first phrases she heard was, “Do your business.” Actually, Kynzi—our irksome, wondrous golden retriever devil and angel dog—never heard that phrase inside the home. But the moment her cute little butt roamed the yard, and it appeared she might be on the verge of, er, losing a little waste weight, we proclaimed: “Do your business.” Continue reading →

Would You Like My Advice On Prayer?

Luke 11:1-13  – The 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, July 28, 2013

“Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples…” (Luke 11:1)

Teach us me to pray.prayer5

I never had a class in seminary that taught me how to pray. But from other classes, I can still recite a few of the letters in the ancient Greek alphabet and recall Paul’s New Testament letters were placed in order, from longest (Romans) to shortest (the two Thessalonians).

Teach us me to pray.

Perhaps my earliest lesson in the art of prayer was around my family’s kitchen table. There, for breakfast and dinner, morning after morning, night after night, my parents would take turns saying grace. Since memories are unreliable, I’m not sure they actually took turns, but I hear both voices. I wonder if they stole glances at each other to see who’d pray, or if Mom took breakfast and Dad got dinner? I can’t recall a word or phrase my parents used in those long-ago prayers, but I easily, gratefully picture their bowed heads and heartfelt tone.

Teach us me to pray.

Let’s say, based on guesswork, that between 1979 (my first official church appointment) and 2007 (when I departed my last official full-time congregation), I averaged four hospital visits a week and prayed with each person. That’s 28 years. Let’s say—more guesses—I took four weeks off every year. So, if you do the calendar math, there were 1,344 weeks where I visited someone in a hospital.

4 visits X 1,344 weeks = 5,376 visits.

In other words, in those twenty-eight years, I prayed 5,376 times.

Each time, I was a little nervous.

Each time, I wasn’t sure what I’d say.

Each time, I feared I’d say the wrong or stupid or boring thing.

Teach us me to pray.

The 5,376 hospital encounters could be tripled (or more) if the in-a-church-member’s-home, at-the-church-office-counseling-a-crying-parishioner and spontaneous-supermarket-aisle prayers are tossed into the holy mix.

Of all those thousands and thousands of prayers, 51% of the time I would wait until the very end of the visit to pray.

Okay, fine, I made up the 51% figure. But I’d often wait until the end because—confession alert, confession alert—I used prayer to escape the visit.

On the outside I’d say, “Could we take time for prayer?”

On the inside I’d think, “It’s time to leave.” Continue reading →

Doesn’t Everything Die At Last, And Too Soon?

Acts 9:36-43 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, April 21, 2013

“Now in Joppa there was a disciple name whose name is Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas . . .” (Acts 9:36

“Tabitha’s Gift” by Cody F. Miller (
“Tabitha’s Gift” by Cody F. Miller (

With apologies to James Bond, did Dorcas only live twice?

The ambitious ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles began with Paul’s conversion near Damascus and ended with Peter bringing a woman named Dorcas back to life in Joppa.

Who was Dorcas? Based on the Biblical account, she was more likely called Tabitha, her Aramaic name. Tabitha apparently means gazelle. And, gazelle-like, Tabitha was one of those many Biblical characters that quickly appeared and then just as quickly vanished from the sacred pages. She was a member of the New Testament’s club of obscure women like Peter’s never named wife, silent Salome at Jesus’ tomb and the once greedy and quickly dead Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).

If Paul’s conversion and Tabitha’s resurrection form thrilling bookends of a chapter in Acts, Sapphira of Jerusalem was a different kind of bookend to her Joppa “club sister.”

Acts chronicled Peter’s rise from a wayward disciple of Jesus to powerfully serving the risen Christ by showing the old fisherman’s actions. In the fateful chapter five of Acts, Sapphira and her husband Ananias cheat other believers. After Peter rebuked them individually, first the husband and then the wife dropped dead. Their nefarious deeds were quickly and efficiently punished.

A handful of chapters later, Peter trudged up some stairs in Joppa and was shown Tabitha’s body. A gaggle of grieving widows encircled her corpse. And though it’s never directly stated, Peter either learned then, or already knew, about Tabitha’s reputation. Those widows—and likely others—wore clothing she’d made. According to scripture, Tabitha was “devoted to good works and acts of charity.”

After closing the door on the weeping widows, Peter prayed and told Tabitha to “get up.”

Peter resurrected Tabitha. In a moment, she was alive for round two of her charitable, generous life.

Peter had earlier rebuked Sapphira. In a moment, she was dead and gone. Her greedy nature doomed her to an early grave.

And so, boys and girls, what are the lessons of faith revealed in chapters five and nine?

Do bad. Die.

Do good. Live.

Even if we don’t wish death upon the greedy, deceitful or hypocritical, we sure wish they’d be punished. Reap what you sow! When a person intentionally engages in bad activities, don’t they deserve to have bad things happen to them?

When a person engages in uplifting activities (like being “devoted to good works and acts of charity”), good things should happen to them.

If only it were so. Continue reading →