A Prayer for Palm Sunday

Based on Mark 11:1-11

God the Son,

You came into Bethlehem
in a humble manger.
Then you rode into Jerusalem
on a humble donkey.
May you give us the grace
to be humble like you,
and the courage to believe
that humility is a virtue
the world cannot do without.
Continue reading


A Pentecost Prayer

We are well on our way to Pentecost. Let us pray!

Oh God whose breath makes all things new, you whose rushing breath made something out of nothing, be with us today.

Oh God of Israel, you whose rushing breath like wind made a way through the sea, a way where there was no way, be with us today.

Oh God of Covenant, you who came down like fire upon Mount Sinai and filled with promises the people you had chosen, be with us today.

Oh God of Israel, you talkative God who gave words to the prophets and to psalmists, who called the four winds of the earth to raise dry bones in a low valley, be with us today.

Oh God of Pentecost, who swarmed into the room where Christ’s disciples were gathered and gave them tongues ablaze, be with us today.

We gather in these days of trial and confusion, humbled by your presence, as the united body of Christ in a world so divided, so fractured.

We ask for your grace so that we might be made whole. Help us to know that we are brothers and sisters. In our baptism, we belong to you and to one another. Through you, Holy Spirit, may it be so.


Puritan Prayers: The Trinity

Valley of VisionWith the PhD thesis officially submitted, I’m hoping to eek out a few blog posts now. My wife recently gave me a copy of The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotional reflections. It has been a joy to read thus far for several different reasons.

Probably the most significant aspect of it for me is its way of reminding me of who God is and why it is such a blessing to have a place among the saints. Even when devoting oneself to the doctrine of God in systematics, one can never take in enough thoughtful pastoral statements about the goodness and wisdom of God. These nourish and stabilize our faith (certainly mine, at least).

The meaning of the name of the volume is glimpsed in the opening prayer:

You have brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see you in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your glory….Let me learn by paradox…that the valley is the place of vision….Let me find thy light in my darkness…thy glory in my valley.

The book is excellent not only for personal reading but also as a resource for crafting pastoral prayers to be used in corporate worship. Here is a longer portion of the prayer entitled “The Trinity”:

O Father, I thank you that in fullness of grace you have given me to Jesus, to be his sheep, jewel, portion; O Jesus, I thank you that in fullness of grace you have accepted, espoused, bound me; O Holy Spirit, I thank you that in fullness of grace you have exhibited Jesus as my salvation, implanted faith within me, subdued my stubborn heart, made me one with him forever. O Father, you are enthroned to hear my prayers, O Jesus, your hand is outstreched to take my petitions, O Holy Spirit, you are willing to help my infirmities, to show me my need, to supply words, to pray within me, to strengthen me that I faint not in supplication. O Triune God, who commands the universe, you have commanded me to ask for those things that concern your kingdom and my soul. Let me live and pray as one baptized into the threefold Name.

The book of course isn’t designed for the lenten season, but it does include a series of morning and evening daily prayers as well.

Not at our Beck and Call (a Prayer)

Let’s start the work week off with a prayer. The following is Walter Breuggemann’s, and I used it last week in conjunction with my teaching on the divine attributes. I am challenged every time I approach that topic with students for various reasons, not least of which because it is (undoubtedly) an area of Christian theology requiring great humility.

The theologian finds themselves in a territory of Christian confession in which terms and appellates for God are lying ready at hand: love, power, mercy, knowledge, etc. Yet, in taking up and employing such terms what does one expect from them, and what is the reference point one uses for filling out their meaning? The risk is sharp that we unintentionally make God out into a bigger, stronger, version of ourselves, that without some care we find ourselves speaking about God by speaking about ourselves in a really loud voice (as Barth once said of some theology in his day).

In the face of such challenges, Brueggemann reminds us that the triune God “shows himself yet fresh beyond our grasp”:

We call out your name in as many ways as we can. We fix your role towards us in the ways we need. We approach your from the particular angle of our life.

We do all that, not because you need to be identified, but because of our deep need, our deep wound, our deep hope.

And then, we are astonished that while our names for you serve for a moment, you break beyond them in your freedom, you show yourself yet fresh beyond our grasp.

We are – by your freedom and your hiddenness – made sure yet again that you are God . . . beyond us, for us, but beyond us, not at our beck and call, but always in your own way.

We stammer about your identity, only to learn that it is in our own unsettling before you that wants naming.

Beyond all our explaining and capturing and fixing you . . . we give you praise, we thank you for your fleshed presence in suffering love, and for our names that you give us. Amen. (Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth, p. 14)

It makes me wonder: what would characterize theology mindful of what Brueggemann portrays so beautifully in this prayer? And how might the theologian go about remaining mindful of it? Are there practices that train their attention in this way and shape the character of their work? Are there also practices and habits that war against it – that is, are there habits the theologian would want avoid cultivating (accidentally) that train them away from the attitude found in Brueggemann’s prayer?

Praying for the Kingdom with Grace and Impatience

Not long ago I preached on the Lord’s Prayer, actually just its first line: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6.10). And I explored the question, “What is required of us to pray this?”

Murillo, Bartolome Esteban.La Cuisine des Anges.1646You can read a little of the sermon below, and I would be happy for your thoughts and interaction, but let me highlight first a couple resources I found quite rich. Telford Work’s book Ain’t Too Proud to Beg was a happy surprise and the most engaging book on the Lord’s prayer that I have read.  Timothy Bradshaw’s Praying as Believing: The Lord’s Prayer and the Doctrine of God  has not received the attention it deserves (small British publisher), yet it is a great example of first rate theology written for the church. Brueggemann’s collection of prayers, Awed to Heaven: Rooted to Earthecho the same impulse I see in the Lord’s prayer, an impulse that jostles me out of complacency toward a living awareness of the drastic incompleteness of the “time between the times”. A time that requires us to pray with grace and impatience.

To speak of God’s “grace” is to put feeble words in the service of describing the infinite goodness and love of God which reaches out to his creatures prior to their own reaching (Ephesians 2:4-5; Romans 5:8). To speak of God’s grace is to speak of God’s capacity to initiate and complete his work of restoring a broken world and reconciling alienated people. As the kingdom of grace, it does not come because we pull it into the world, but because God unceasingly works toward its consummation with Christ’s return.

Yet, we get the wrong picture altogether if we forget the unique shape of God’s ongoing activity. God chose to create a world in which his ordinary, inadequate creatures – you and me – are invited to participate in the drama of God’s kingdom activity. He invites us to discover and play our role, a role that always follows after at a distance, but a genuine role nonetheless.

So we might say this: Continue reading

Forgetting God in the Midst of Theology

We have been exploring the inner life of the theologian (and the theological student) from various angles over the last couple months. Most recently, James challenged us to consider Lent a season for ‘setting aside’ areas of our calling in order that we might take them up again in renewed awareness of their dedication to God. Toward this end, James is setting aside scholarship (and TF) for Lent because, ‘I can sit and think all day about God without ever really thinking about God.’

divinehoursvol3_150For the same reason, I began praying the daily offices, or ‘divine hours’, at the turn of the year (Morning, Midday, Vespers, and Compline). I found the rythms of my days dictated entirely by my research and writing and, like James, I could almost entirely forget God in the midst of theology.  So I began using Phyllis Tickle’s seasonal guide to praying the daily offices in order that a rhythm of dialogue with God might order my day rather than my self-prescribed schedule. I have found it both refreshing and frustrating.

Why frustrating? Continue reading

Should Theologians be Spiritual? Part 1

There is a sense where this question is obvious. Of course theologians should be spiritual, shouldn’t everyone? hans_urs_von_balthasarBut the question is a bit deeper than this. In taking upon oneself the task of being a theologian under the Word, for the church, is part of the task holiness? In so doing, we will be asking a further question, namely, does personal holiness in any way affect the quality of theology?

I will do a handful of these posts looking at this question as somewhat of a follow up to my previous post on the seven deadly spiritual sins for theologians. In this post, I will look at Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s Word and Redemption to see what insight Balthasar has for this question.

The Great Divide: Theology and Spirituality

Balthasar starts his chapter entitled “Theology and Sanctity” with: Continue reading