A series of biblical reflections and prayers from David L. Miller, pastor of faith formation at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Naperville, IL. David is the former editor of The Lutheran magazine and Director of Spiritual Formation at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over
kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’ (Jeremiah 1:8-10)
are the Lord’s words to his young prophet, Jeremiah, who lived in tumultuous
times. His unfortunate task was proclaiming destruction to the great city of Jerusalem
at the hands of a neighboring nation boiling hot for conquest.
was a job no one should want, and all it ever got him was a boatload of trouble
from fellow citizens who variously cursed and imprisoned him. Eventually, they
threw him in a cistern where, fortunately, there was no water. He probably died
in Egypt where his countrymen drug him as they escaped the carnage of their own
the kind of story that makes for good cinema, but no one would want to live it.
must it feel like to have a message written so deeply in your heart that you
had to share it, even though you knew people would hate you for it? This was
Jeremiah’s fate and the great pain he suffered for knowing God in the depth of
should make us second guess our desire to get really close to this Holy
Mystery, who might require a courage and conviction of us that we know we don’t
the desire to feel God close stirs within. We long to hear that Voice whisper within,
“Do not be afraid for I am with you.”
suppose that’s the great thing about fear, the blessing of challenges
that are too big for us. It is exactly then, exactly there that we are most
likely to hear that Voice that quiets everything else.
There were also many lepers in Israel in
the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the
Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled
with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led [Jesus]
to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl
him off the cliff. (Luke
Freely and fully
Only a free God is
worth having; anything less is just a reflection of ourselves.
Trouble is, a free God can’t
be tied to a particular place or people, to a preferred culture or way of
operating. Divine freedom means we are not in control of much of anything. God can
and will do crazy things, scary things, showing up in ungodlike places, loving the wrong people, challenging our
cherished opinions and pet theories about how God acts … or should.
Jesus offends his
neighbors, telling them they have no particular claim on the attention and goodness
of God. Furthermore, they never did, which was quite contrary to popular
God is free to be God for everyone, everywhere, which means
the reach of the divine heart stretches beyond any and every horizon we can
That’s bad news for those who like to draw lines and
exclude people, claiming some imagined superiority. But it is good news for
every humble heart eager to receive what God in utter freedom lavishes upon
The first blessing is life itself, breath, the gift of
waking under an expansive blue sky on a summer day, golden light filtering
through the blinds, bidding the heart to live, one more day, knowing that this precious
green planet and one’s own miniscule life are an incalculable miracle, an immense
mystery, for there is no reason that they should be.
Except, they are. We are. Here. Existing. And every
moment of this day is a holy gift, every breath, too, from a Living Source, who
creates and blesses in infinite freedom, pouring out goodness that every people
in every place might see and smile, knowing that nothing and no one can stem the
generosity of the divine heart.
Jesus’ whole life is a parable of God’s freedom to
give life and love beyond every human expectation.
Freely this great Love gives, so freely receive, then
smile … and share the joy of God.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not
one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And
even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid;
you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)
A mallard sits in the
middle of the street on our little cul-de-sac. Today, he sits alone. Other days
his mate sits beside him. After a rain, they waddle down the street amid the puddles.
They are unconcerned with
we, who call this street home. Apparently, it is their home, too, although their
home is larger than the meager square feet of the townhouses that line Old George
Their home includes the
bushes where they shelter from the sun and the tiny pond where they shower beneath
the spray shooting skyward. They also claim the sidewalk and the day lilies in
back of the house.
Occasionally, our movements
stir them, but they have no problem staring down cars forced to divert around
them on the street. We pay our taxes and mortgages, but they own the place.
That’s fine with me; I suspect
with the neighbors, too. We live together in harmony, although the mallards
appear to have fewer worries. They live in the moment,
inviting us to watch and learn, although I wonder how many human hearts are
capable of such.
More than one spiritual
writer suggests that anything that invites you to trust love is, for all
practical purposes, Christ for you, at least in that moment. If so, then my
mallard neighbor is the voice of the Love, who says, ‘Do not be afraid, you are
of more value than the sparrows.’ I assume Jesus would include ducks in this,
My mallard neighbor has little
idea that he is my teacher, the voice of Love who says, “Live, love, trust. You
have no idea how precious you are.”
I just hope he returns often
to sit outside my window. I can always use a reminder.
Jesus he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed
and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
Our hearts ache for healing in these days. For me, healing
is to be with you, here, apart from the noise of the world, where I can hear the
voice of my longing and feel the smile of your love upon this soul, so needy in
this turbulent time.
But even here, in this new place, this room I consecrate
for the meeting of our hearts, I cannot escape the cries of our streets.
They echo in my heart and awaken longing for a world beyond
the one we have, a world where all are one and you reign, your love shining in
the eyes of every beloved soul, each one knowing their worth and honoring that
Every soul alight, basking in glow of your delight flowing
from the grace of your smile, healing the wounds of the past, banishing the
shadows of race and hate and fear of our lost and confused human race.
This is my prayer, no, it is your prayer within this soul
you claimed so long ago and refuse to release. Thank you for that and for this prayer
that unites our hearts as one, one sorrow, one hope, one love for every wounded
soul and broken society.
We need the healing that only you can give. Only a truly
great love can assure us that we are welcome, accepted and treasured. Only this
melts the hardness and fear that erects walls around our hearts.
Only your smile warming and awakening us to the delight you
take in every human soul can set us free to be truly human, blessing each other
across the boundaries that divide, even as we have been blessed.
Heal us, O Lord. Look with compassion on our lost and
wandering hearts. Gather us into the warmth of your presence that we may learn
to love each other as you love us.
But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none
of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said
these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless, I
tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go
away, the Advocate [Paraclete] will not come to you; but if I go, I will
send him to you.
No one who has ever
known you, Jesus, can imagine it is advantageous that you go away. For having
known you, having felt your presence, we know this is our highest good and our
most profound desire.
But it is for this that
you go away. You, Jesus, warm sun of God’s own face, leave this physical sphere
that the mystery you bear may be everywhere and everywhere with us, stilling the
sad fear of separation.
You go that we may know
this mysterious Presence you call Spirit, Advocate, Paraclete. And this name
tells us what we most need to hear in these days.
Paraclete … one who answers the call. So answer our call in these
days, separated, as we are, from many bearers of divine presence and love.
Answer the silent cry
of our souls for which we lack words adequate to express the depth of our
desire to feel your presence, the warmth within, the blessed knowing that you
are not near but ever here.
Every ‘good bye’ I have
ever felt—some that still bring tears for hearts and faces long ago—reveals the
pain of those with whom you walked as they imagined losing you, having known you
in the flesh, as we do not.
Or, do we?
Those whom I miss this
day, are they not you, their flesh an
incarnation of some facet of the immensity of Love you are?
In missing them, I miss
you; so come. Answer the cry of our hearts that we may find your dwelling
place deep within, that place where the warm sun of your divine heart quiets our
own and awakens that smile … that knows: All is well, for Love is here. Always.
is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees
him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in
Toknow has less to do with the mind that we normally expect. Knowing is a full body and soul experience,
an inner awareness that overrides everything else happening in our lives at the
moment, whether sadness, fear or this confounded isolation cutting us off from things
we want and the people we love.
of truth, an abiding presence, invites us to descend beneath the surface of
life where nothing feels right to that place where everything is right. The
Spirit draws us to that place within where you know as you are known … by a Knower,
a Presence who is Love, uncreated, real, there
... and totally undefinable.
the Spirit of truth, a truth that is a Presence, a person, not a statement or
idea. To know this One, to feel this Presence for even a moment, stills our
anxieties and quiets the unruly waves that toss us about. In that moment, you know,
with body and soul, that this Love holds you, and there is nothing on
the surface of life that can ever change that.
forever, you are held in the all-encompassing Love that you know at the quiet
center of your soul, the center point where all the noise fades away and there is
just you and this Love you will never understand.
My peace I
leave you, Jesus said. Millions have known this peace, which is his presence
within them calming their fears and giving strength amid even the most
passes all understanding, according to St. Paul. Of course it does. The busy
mind likes to understand, manage and control things. But peace comes only in
the presence of a Love no one can control.
After this, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus -- though a
secret one because he was afraid of the Jews -- asked Pilate to let him remove
the body of Jesus. … Nicodemus came as well … and he brought a mixture of myrrh
and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and
bound it in linen cloths with the spices, following the Jewish burial custom.
At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden
a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of
Preparation and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Well, that is that. Close the book. The most remarkable life ever lived is
finished. Over. Done. Time to go home and forget it ever happened.
Caiaphas returns home to celebrate Passover. Pilate stretches out on his couch and
drinks more than usual, knowing he has executed an innocent man. But it wasn’t
the first time. It needed to done, he tells himself.
Joseph of Arimathea and friends go to prepare the tomb, brush away the dust and
lay out the spices and linens.
Fumbling with the dead weight of Jesus’ body, they wrap him in strips of cloth—his
feet and legs, hands and side, chest and shoulders, until, finally, his face …
the face they loved even if they seldom understood him.
They carry out their heartbreaking work and lay their hopes to rest, burying the
yearning they felt whenever they heard his voice.
All is quiet now. The crowds have dispersed. Public order is restored. The
ancient lust for the blood has been satisfied.
Now is the hour of regret and sorrow, of whispers in the silence and echoes of
what might have been. That’s all we have.
But that is not all God has. God has more. God is always more, more love, more
life. Jesus trusted that more all the way to the cross.
And so we wait, trusting the One who is all life and all love because Sunday’s
coming. The gloom of despair will be lit with the light of everlasting morning.
The garden of sorrow will bloom with the fragrance of eternity.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole
land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out
with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my
God, why have you forsaken me?’ … Then Jesus gave a loud cry and
breathed his last.
Hold me to it
A black Jesus drew me into to a side
chapel in the great Gothic cathedral in Barcelona, Spain, during my 2017
pilgrimage. I almost walked by, but the sight of him on the cross would
not let me.
He was leprous and beaten, bearing
the pangs of death as he hung before a half-dozen people praying among the
spare wooden benches facing the crucifix.
I took my place among the benches
and watched him. A great love for every suffering of every human soul whispered
from the crucifix, “This love will never abandon you. This love will meet you
everywhere you go. Look at me … and know. There is no place this love will not
go for you.”
I sat and prayed—offering my
unanswered questions, the wounds from which I ache to be healed, my regrets
about the past and uncertainty about the future, most of all my craving to feel
the joy of God’s love warming me through.
When words were done I walked to the
back of the chapel but still couldn’t leave. Turing to the crucifix, I shook my
finger at Jesus. “I’m holding you to this … this love,” I whispered. I’m
holding you to this.”
“It’s okay,” came his reply. “That’s
what I am for. Hold me to it.”
They brought the donkey and the colt, and put
their cloaks on them, and [Jesus] sat on them. A very large
crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the
trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and
that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’
have been few more moving images in recent days than the cheers that accompany
doctors, nurses and medical staff as they go into battle against the
coronavirus. Images from Italy and Spain were among the first we witnessed.
People leaned out windows along cobblestone streets shouting encouragement,
and singing songs of pride and blessing.
showered praise on those who do dangerous and exhausting work, day-after-day. Many
are the stories of those who faithfully carry out this mission despite fears
that they, like colleagues, may get sick or die.
scenes of gratitude are heart-warming, but such thanks is not nearly
enough. We must do everything we can to stop the spread of this plague through
social distancing and using masks in public spaces like the grocery or pharmacy,
images from our streets also remind us of the Palm Sunday procession of Jesus
on his donkey. “Hosanna,” people shouted at him, which means save us.
came to Jerusalem to serve God’s kingdom by handing himself over to brutality
and crucifixion. He did so to reveal the fullness of the heart of God and to
establish a new community—a kingdom where love is the air we breathe and
sacrificial service is our highest value and greatest aspiration.
at him as he rides toward his fate, as he forgives even from his cross, as he
refuses to curse those who curse him. Just look.
understand why, during these perilous times, we cheer those who serve at the
risk of their lives, it has everything to do with Jesus on his donkey. His
imprint on our civilization and our souls is unmistakable.
him and give thanks for what is in his heart. Give thanks that this love is in
your heart, too—and especially that this grace is in the hearts of those who
battle for life, every day.
And as for the
resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by
God, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He
is God not of the dead, but of the living.’ (Matthew 22:31-32)
Listen to the living
At the Lord’s Table, I
am often aware of a great crowd of people standing back of me, as I bless the
bread and raise the cup. They watch and smile their approval, although no one
can see them.
I feel their presence,
and they lift me into the joy of knowing I belong to them and to the Love who
joins us, even as I know that someday I will join them.
For they are every soul
who has known and loved this Lord we receive into ourselves at that holy table.
Old friends are there,
family members I have loved and laid to rest in the soil of this earth. My
father is there, and I feel Grandma Miller; Bob and Fritz, and every soul who
has ever blessed me.
As the years go by,
that crowd gets larger, including faces I have served and loved at St. Timothy,
people you know and love, too.
They are physically
gone from us, yet they are so alive in our hearts and in this great cloud of
witnesses that cheers us on, especially now.
Many of them faced greater
crises and fears than those that haunt us during this time. And to a person
they all say, “Keep on. Keep on. This time will pass. But Love who holds you
and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Life is a journey of unknowing.
Surely, we feel that now. It’s undeniable.
We do not know what’s coming next.
We don’t know when the present crisis will release its grip. We don’t know
exactly how it will affect us, our job, our town, our church.
The darkness of unknowing turns some
to fear, and others to the Great Heart who says, “Be still, and know.”
This Voice speaks peace deep within
our being and reminds us there is something, no, Someone who holds us … and every future we will ever know.
We dwell in the house of the Lord,
in the house of Everlasting Love … no matter where the currents of time carry
us. For this earth, this universe, the reality we share … is the Lord’s house, the place Love lives and moves, enveloping
every moment of time and space.
Breathe. Just breathe in this
awareness, and you will know what is sure amid every unknowing.
Whatever comes … you live in the
house of Lord, the land of the Beloved, whose mercy and goodness attend every
step of your journey.
He is the image of
the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were
created, things visible and invisible … all things have been created through
him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all
things hold together.
Let fear be gone.
Let anxiety vanish. Let joy rise and courage fill your heart like the radiant
sun of early spring.
You know everything you need to live with hope
and grace. For you have seen the beginning of time … and you know the end.
You know the One
from whom you come and the One to whom you will go at the end of your earthly
journey. You know the energy of life and love that holds
creation together, drawing all things into unity.
is destined to become one, united in the love of our Lord Jesus, the Christ.
at him. Just look at him. Imagine him as he reaches out to bless children, heal
the sick and comfort the broken hearted. Look at his eyes as he forgives those
burdened by guilt. See how he rebukes hate and turns away those who judge and
and know: He is the beginning and end of all things … and of each of us.
is the face of the eternal Christ, who has been working in all things since the
birth of time. He reveals what will evermore be—the Eternal Love from whom we
come and to whom we go.
and know: The beginning is love … the end, too.
A new heart I will give
you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body
the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
Real spiritual growth
moves us toward being magnanimous, literally big-hearted. Anything else is an
You can know the Bible
front-to-back and be able to quote a verse for every occasion, annoying your
friends while doing so.
You can pray for hours,
meditate on scripture and practice an array of spiritual disciplines fit for a
monk, but if you heart doesn’t get roomy and expansive its all for naught. You
might as well save your time.
If you have not love,
the Apostle Paul says, you are nothing, and you are definitely on the wrong
road, not the way of Jesus, who is the way.
assumption, growing rapidly in recent years, is that being Christian makes you narrow,
judgmental. Christianity gets portrayed as anti-gay, anti-woman, anti- science,
anti-intellectual; you get the idea.
Unfortunately, some Christians,
including high profile preachers, produce enough arrogant, judgmental nonsense to
suggest these perceptions may be correct.
But the real mark of
faith is a new heart, an expansive, magnanimous heart that can embrace others
and this crazy world God so loves.
If you’ve recently accepted
or forgiven someone through a major change of heart, you can be sure God had
something to do with it.
Christ, however, was faithful over
God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the
confidence and the pride that belong to hope. (Hebrews 3:6)
You are not alone. You
You belong to the Love who
greets you every time you retreat into yourself to pray your life and name you
pains, joys and hopes. In the quiet space of your prayerful heart, you meet the
One who shatters the existential loneliness that haunts every human soul.
So go there and pray,
but do not stay there. The life of faith is not a solitary exercise but
an invitation to belong to a house Christ builds as we are drawn into him.
All of us. As we are.
Old and young. Accomplished and struggling. Sick and well. Progressive and
conservative. All colors and ethnicities. All.
Christ joins us to each
other, one people, one house. In our gatherings, we touch and know; we exchange
the peace and break the bread of life to share—together. Never alone.
Christ is lives in our togetherness,
and there we know his love as surely as we touch, hand-to-hand, and feel the
warmth arms about our shoulders … welcoming us home, into the community of Love
We need each other. In
our togetherness, we meet the One who says, “You
are never alone.”
Perhaps this has never
been so important, for a terrible loneliness chills the heart of our society
Google the word ‘loneliness’ and you quickly discover hundreds of
articles detailing the nature of loneliness, its causes and damage to our
physical and emotional health.
So do not resist
opportunities to worship together and meet with other believers. Receive with
joy invitations to share food and drink … and your life … with others who, like
you, need to feel the truth: You are never alone.
The centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof…. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this,” and the slave does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and said, … ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ (Luke 7:6b-9)
One perfect moment
There are perfect moments in life when exactly the right thing is said at exactly the right moment.
Such moments glisten in mind and heart, drawing our attention back to examine them again and again, reliving their joy, savoring their wisdom and marveling at how … in one exquisite instant we … or anyone … could have been so graced.
So it was for the Roman centurion who sent messengers to Jesus, seeking healing for his servant.
For one perfect moment, he epitomized what it means to be truly human and blessed. For one moment, he trusted that there is a Love that hungers to heal what is most broken in us.
For one moment he actually believed that Love would bless him and the one he loved.
For one moment he revealed the simple trust to which this extraordinary Love invites us.
His words, no, his heart reveals the trust to which Jesus invites each of us and the life God hungers to give us.
Jesus reveals the boundless heart of God, inviting us to know, truly know this Love hungers to make us whole, to heal what is broken, forgive what is wrong and assure us beyond every doubt that Love surrounds and holds us every moment, wherever we are.
“Trust me, Jesus says. Trust the One, the Love, who sent me.”
Trust, and you may just have one perfect moment … and more.