Tuesday, June 22

Matthew 6:10

The summer I turned 12, my family moved from Fort Worth, Texas, to Lake Wales, Florida. To me, moving to Central Florida meant one thing: being close to Disney World. My middle brother and I had visited the theme park with my mom and grandparents a few years earlier, and the experience so captivated me that I often longed for the escape Disney World offered. Not long after we arrived in Florida in that summer of 1982, Disney opened Epcot Center, expanding their footprint from one park to two. What we first called “Disney World” became the “Magic Kingdom.” While there was much about our move to Florida that I could not have imagined before we arrived, one expectation that did come to fruition was our frequent visits to the Magic Kingdom. During the summer of 1983, several of our friends and their families made the pilgrimage from Texas, and we were able to go multiple times. One of the best days of my young life occurred at the Magic Kingdom that summer as I spent time with cherished friends I missed, riding thrill rides and eating greasy junk food. As it lives in my memory, that day was truly magical.

God’s Kingdom isn’t necessarily magic, but it isn’t wholly realized either. In teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus calls for the Kingdom of God to come to earth just as it is in heaven. We don’t know what God’s Kingdom is like in heaven, but Jesus’ many parables that start “The Kingdom of God is like…” offer us glimpses and clues. We can be sure of one truth: We need here and now what God has designed. Jesus’ prayer calls on us to accept it and usher it in.

Consider

What tiny detail of God’s Kingdom could you help bring about today? 

Pray

God, help us make this prayer more than words this day. Embolden us to receive your kingdom into our lives here and now, sharing your love with the world. Amen.

Monday, June 21

Matthew 6:9

Names hold meaning that can be intentional or accidental, prophetic or historical, prescriptive or descriptive. I have a somewhat unusual name that I’ve always liked. I don’t know what the most popular baby names of 1970 were, but the only other Lances I’ve encountered are all my age. 

In naming our own three boys, we elected to go with family names, reaching back a few generations in some cases to honor relatives who made an impact or played an important role in our families.

Scripture is filled with names for God, though the people God chose to bless the nations through so hallowed God’s name they did not dare to even write it all out when they transcribed their sacred texts.

It’s no surprise that when Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he teaches them to open their prayers by treating the name of God with special honor and worship.

We worship a multifaceted God and begin our prayers by naming one of those characteristics that reflects both our theology and the prayer’s intent. “Holy God,” “Creator God,” “Father God,” “Mother God,” and simply “Dear God” all reveal something of our heart’s yearning and the response we seek. No matter what name you use for God in your moments of divine conversation, may it be hallowed and sincere.

Consider

What name of God do you call on most often? What does that say about your relationship with God?

Pray

God, your name is special to me, and I do not use it lightly. Today I seek to know you better and hallow your name with my life. Amen.

Sunday, June 20

Matthew 6:7-8

I grew up a preacher’s kid in a church where members took an active and sometimes intrusive interest in my spiritual formation. One such member was a contractor and carpenter, Mr. Mulberry. One Sunday night at the conclusion of the church service, my dad called on me to pray. He believed his three boys should be ready to “preach, pray, or sing” at all times, and this was one of those. I went to the podium and pronounced a rambling, poorly worded benediction using words and phrases I had heard the church men—yes, it was always men in the tradition I grew up in—say hundreds of times over the years. I felt I had done a decent enough job on my benediction. I hadn’t been struck down for blasphemy and some of the older ladies congratulated me for saying “such a nice prayer.” However, Mr. Mulberry found me, took me aside, and offered a few pointers. At first, I resisted his intrusion, a defensiveness instinctively rising in my spirit. But as I listened, I realized he wasn’t being critical. He offered wisdom in a compassionate way. His advice? When you pray, don’t use all the words and phrases you’ve heard in church your whole life. Talk to God in your own voice using your own words. When you pray publicly, use complete sentences. Remember you are talking to God on behalf of the entire congregation. Watch out for filler words and be sure to speak clearly and project so that everyone can hear.

I imagine that Jesus shared these words about prayer with his disciples in that same vein. Over the years, I have reflected with gratitude on Mr. Mulberry’s moment of instruction. I’m sure the disciples viewed Jesus’ guidance on prayer with similar gratitude.

Consider

What word or words come to mind most often when you pray? What do they say about you and about God?

Pray

God of knowledge and language, give me words to express my truth to you in our times of conversation and words to express your truth to those I encounter today. Amen.

Saturday, June 19

Matthew 6:5-6

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
—Julian of Norwich

Thank God for that persistent word, since it’s one I’ve clung to and we desperately need to hear throughout the world’s pandemics.

Julian’s time (1343–1416) was remarkably like ours. She, too, lived during a pandemic; the Black Death was killing millions. The effects of climate change were evident in what we now call the Little Ice Age. Both led to agricultural crisis, which, along with unjust systems, led to widespread hunger, then to civil and social unrest. In the midst of all this chaos, Julian lived as an anchoress, a monastic dedicated to prayer who lived in an enclosed cell attached to a church. She had a window looking into the church (like our video worship?) and a window to the outside world where people came to her for prayer and spiritual direction (like our Zoom Bible study?). This life of prayerful solitude led to visions from God during a near-fatal illness. She wrote about them in what became the first book in English written by a woman. It was originally entitled Shewings, but was later called Revelations of Divine Love. (Living in your prayer closet is one way to get your book written!) Her visions included images of God as a loving Mother in the midst of crisis.

Not all of us are called to live in prayer closets to the extent that Julian did, but the Coronavirus has certainly given us opportunity and incentive to practice doing that. What has God shown you during your time of pandemic, as the effects of climate change and civil unrest ring out? Jesus still “calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea; day by day his sweet voice soundeth, saying ‘Christian, follow me.’”

Consider

What is helping you pray more honestly?

Pray

God, when we pray, help us genuinely seek you. Teach us to focus and to listen. Help us be still and open our hearts to you. Amen.

Friday, June 18

Matthew 6:1-4

When it comes to the work of giving and caring in secret, who are our role models? I’ve witnessed such good works all my life that I have a list of those who showed me how it’s done. 

When my dad was in seminary, he pastored a small rural church. My mom was a pastor’s spouse with three elementary-aged kids and a tight budget. I remember her sharing tips and strategies to help people in need to get the most bags for their buck at the grocery store.

One summer in college I lived with Kate, a matriarch of the church my dad pastored when I was in high school. I often saw her fill a basket with food she’d cooked and flowers from her garden for someone who was sick or in need or in crisis. Everything she did was beautiful. She would cover the food with a lovely cloth napkin, and the bright zinnias poking out were enough to cheer the dead. I love zinnias to this day for reminding me of Kate and her good works.

As a young adult I helped with a church building campaign and learned of members who mortgaged their houses during the Great Depression to pay for the grand building, which they began constructing in 1926. That building has housed great preaching, teaching, and creative ministry for almost 100 years.

More recently I learned of a trans woman who put her wedding ring in the offering plate because it was all she had to give. Just last week I heard of friends taking food to a young mom with breast cancer. The work continues. Our churches are blessed with many of these people.

Thanks be to God for these gentle armies, quietly giving and caring, living out Jesus’ commandments. And thanks be to God for some “good gossips,” who leak some of their secrets so we might be inspired.

Consider

What does it take to give up the credit for doing something good? How could learning to do this help your faith grow?

Pray

God, keep my focus on you, so any good I do is for your eyes alone. Amen.

Thursday, June 17

Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus’ commandment to love your enemies is surely one of his most challenging (v. 44). Godly people have shown us that obeying this is possible through God’s transforming love. One such person is Ann Atwater.

Because of her own experience with substandard housing, Ann participated in a 17-week training course to learn about community organizing in Durham, North Carolina, and became an outspoken civil rights activist there. In 1971 Ann, who is Black, participated in a series of meetings on the full integration of the Durham Public Schools with C.P. Elliott, the head of the local KKK. They were truly enemies. At an earlier city council meeting, when he went on a racist diatribe, Ann pulled out a knife but her friends held her back. “I hated her guts,” the KKK leader said in a later interview.

When integration talks stalled, Ann Atwater took a transforming initiative. She pulled strings to better the living situation of the Elliotts’ disabled son in the facility that cared for him. Ann and C.P. began to talk. C.P. began to see that the system that held poor White and poor Black people down was their common enemy, not each other. He voted for integration of the schools and publicly tore up his Klan card, alienating his former friends. Ann Atwater and C.P. Elliott became close friends, continuing to work together on issues and traveling together to speak on breaking down barriers. Ann Atwater even gave the eulogy at C.P. Elliott’s funeral.

In one interview Ann said, “I just lend whatever God gives me to give out….I feel that when somebody calls me for some help, God wants me to go on record sayin’ I tried.” May we go and do likewise.

Consider

What transforming initiative could you take in the hope that God might work through your action for the common good?

Pray

God, we have a hard time loving others. Astound us with the way you change enemies into friends so that we’ll want to be part of your work. Amen.

Wednesday, June 16

Matthew 5:38-42

It’s easy to contend that Jesus was just holding up ideals when he gives these instructions on the Sermon on the Mount. Seriously, Jesus? I’m really not supposed to strike back when someone threatens me?

But some people have actually practiced these commandments, sometimes with amazing outcomes. They show us it really can be done.

Do you remember reading about Antoinette Tuff, the school bookkeeper who talked a school shooter down in Atlanta in 2013? Instead of returning threat for threat, she did not let his actions dictate hers. Despite the intense fear that Tuff says she felt, she spoke to the shooter as a child of God: “It’s going to be all right, sweetie…. We all go through something in life.” To assure him he was not alone, she told him her own story of being tempted by suicide when her husband of 33 years had left her for another woman six months before. She told him that things could get better, and they could all come out of this alive. And they did. In time, Antoinette negotiated his full surrender.

Antoinette Tuff is clear that God had prepared her for that day. She remembered her pastor’s sermon series on anchoring that taught her how to console those who are grieving. She saw the young man as a person in pain. Inwardly, she was praying throughout the whole crisis that Jesus would guide her in what to say and do.

Her story provides such a vivid reminder that our prayers and reflections, our reading of Scripture, singing hymns, and listening to sermons are all about matters of life and death. May we follow in the Way that leads to Life—in every situation.

Consider

When have you struggled to do what Jesus teaches in this passage? When has praying through a crisis given you strength to practice what Jesus preaches here?

Pray

God, when the struggle is real and we find ourselves not knowing how to respond, help us know your way that leads to life. Amen.

Tuesday, June 15

Matthew 5:33-37

Remember the John Lovitz character Larry the Liar from Saturday Night Live? More words were always better as Larry tried every possible improbable answer until he landed on the one he thought best: “Yeah…that’s the ticket!” Larry reminds us of politicians and others who just babble on until we turn the channel.

What a contrast to Jesus, who answered accusers “You have said so,” then said nothing at all (Mt 26:25, 64; 27:11; Mk 15:2). Jesus, the Word made flesh, the son of I am Who I am, whose name reflects so much ineffable divine mystery that can’t be captured in words, knew that words have so much power they don’t need to be amplified with oaths.

Late ethics professor Glen Stassen said Jesus called for “transforming initiatives” in response to the old laws. In this case, simple truthfulness prevents a need to swear oaths. Glen tells about his German grandfather, who sold beautiful tomatoes at a farmers’ market. He took pride in his honesty and was highly offended when a woman checked to see if the bottom layers of tomatoes were as good as the ones on top. In his German accent, he said, “Dey’re da same t’rough an t’rough; ya don’t believe it, ya go buy somewhere else!” The rest of his life, Glen heard in his head, “True and true, through and through.”

But what about situations when not telling the truth might save lives, such as when Nazis asked about hidden Jews? Stassen points out that for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died in a Nazi prison, covenant makes a difference. Bonhoeffer considered himself in covenant with Christ, the church, the suffering, and his friends, but not with Nazis, so an obligation to tell them the truth wasn’t something he had promised.

May our covenant with Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life—guide us in all our truth-telling.

Consider

When do you need Christ to guide your truth-telling?

Pray

God, make us honest people who love the truth and the living in it. Amen.

Monday, June 14

Matthew 5:31-32

In his commentary on Matthew (WJK 1997), Tom Long says “marriage is intended to be a communion between two people that expresses their mutual fidelity, the faithfulness of God. It is intended to be a place of safety, nurture, and honor for persons. In Jesus’ day, the customs and practices of divorce were a direct assault on those values.” Long also says “when a marriage becomes the very arena where people are destroying each other, we should ask how can the safety, nurture, and honor of the marriage partners best be preserved?” One answer is divorce. While painful and tragic, sometimes that answer is healthiest.

Another answer is reconciliation, as Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. Whatever you think of Bill and Hillary Clinton as politicians and people, when it comes to repairing a badly damaged marriage, I consider them good role models in the work of reconciliation. Even today, they do not gloss over the pain and anger of that time. She says, “I thought about boiling him in oil!” He admits how stupidly he behaved. She explains that staying in her marriage was the gutsiest thing she’s ever done. They spent a full day every week for a year in individual and couples therapy that involved “painful, painful discussions.” He met regularly with three ministers, and they both say they prayed during this time. She said it took an enormous amount of forgiving, but that “I’m not the easiest person to live with. I’m glad he stuck it out, too.” She says love was really the driving reason. He says they are best friends and that “she’s still the most interesting person I know.”

Thanks be to our loving, forgiving, reconciling, transforming God for working in amazing places—even marriages.

Consider

In difficult relationships, what helps you remember that God is always at work for the good of every life?

Pray

God, when we fail to love each other, guide us with your grace so that we will be able to see the bigger picture of your hope and love for each of us. Amen.

Sunday, June 13

Matthew 5:27-30

A priest friend told the story of a little boy who confessed to adultery. He asked the little boy, “What do you think adultery is?” and the little boy said, “Well, sometimes I try to act like an adult, and I know I’m not.”

Even though the word adultery has “adult” in it, adultery and the lust that accompanies it often involves all kinds of childish behavior—sneaking around, keeping secrets, acting on impulse, giving oneself over to bodily impulses despite recognizing that they aren’t rational or honoring to God or spouses. We might even hear an adulterous person say, “I felt like a kid again.” It’s all fun and games until somebody puts an eye out, until hearts and trust and covenants are broken, and everything gets messy and complicated beyond repair.

Jesus says we need to tear an eye out if it causes you to sin (v. 29), to nip lust in the bud so to speak. We must behave as adults when faced with adultery.

Jesus offers a life based on the law of God’s love here. He invites us to a wholehearted faith that moves beyond legalism to know and honor the spirit of God’s law. Despite the responsibilities that come with “adulting,” and the temptations we face to act childish once again, growing into the person Christ envisions us to be is an incomparable and joyful experience. 

Paul reminds us that when we become adults we “put an end to childish ways” (1 Cor 13:11). We see and know more fully; we draw closer to the more excellent way, the love that never ends.  

Consider

When do you struggle to grow into the person Christ envisions you to be? 

Pray

God, give us wisdom to understand your desire to guide all of our relationships. Amen.