Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

good samaritan - african

good samaritan – african from Jesusmafa.com

In the Anglican church we attended yesterday the gospel portion was Luke 9: 18 – 24 in which Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds think he is and then who they think he is. The crowds see a prophet, the disciples see the Christ of God, the long awaited Messiah.

Sounds great but who exactly is this Messiah? Even Peter and the disciples got it wrong. They expected an earthly king. Someone who looked a little like the Roman generals only better. Jesus’s description that follows was far beyond their comprehension.

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:22,23)

The idea of a vulnerable God who willingly exposes himself to suffering, pain and death  is hard for all of us to believe. A God with an aching heart who walks amongst the poor, eats with prostitutes, heals lepers, stands with the marginalized, this is the kind of God we still tend to reject. This is the kind of God who is still beyond our comprehension. That Jesus asks us to become like this is often even more incomprehensible.

The closer we walk to Jesus, the closer we move toward the love of God, the more aware we become of the fact that our God is not the arrogant “godlike” character we expect. Out of my meditations yesterday I wrote this prayer:

God you made yourself vulnerable,

Shown us your aching heart,

Open to abuse and contempt,

Willing to be scarred,

Accepting death as a criminal.

This is your love,

This is your faithfulness,

This is you revealed in Jesus Christ.

May we see and give thanks,

So my question for today – how do we embrace this God, this vulnerable One with a broken heart and nail scarred hands? And then how do we follow him?


Stranger at the Door by Mary Elizabeth Todd.

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent comes from Mary Elizabeth Todd. May was born in the mountains of Western NC and grew up in East Tennessee- She went to Erskine College and majored in Behavioral Science and Religion. She started writing poetry at 10 years of age, grew up listening to her father’s poems. She worked 28 years as a foster care worker and was awarded Social worker of the Year in 2004 for the state of South Carolina by the Foster Parent Association. She retired in 2006 and reckons she is a mountain woman thru and thru, loves the Lord but fails often, but always gets back up.

I asked Mary if I could post the following prayers first because they seemed to flow so well after the post yesterday on looking after special needs children and second because they so beautifully fit into this year’s theme. Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is a spiritual discipline that we all should consider.



A child I once worked with and who was in a persistant vegetative state, died this morning. He has been healed.

I wrote this poem right after this incident happened that crippled his life:

Sing You a Lullaby…

“Hush little baby
Don’t you cry”*

I saw one little tear roll
Across your tiny brown face.
I took the tip of my finger
And wiped it clear.
You turned not seeing towards me.
Your dark brown eyes
Stared through me.
Did you cry for the sadness
That you could not know?
Did you cry for the pain
You no longer understood what it was?
Did you cry because in minutes
You lost all the things; we take for granted,
Playing ball and riding bikes,
Laughing and talking and making friends,
Feeding ourselves, and being able to know
Light from dark, and growing up to love.
Did you cry in anger that no one heard you
When you were alone and needed them?
I looked at the tiny tear on my finger,
And it pierced my heart.
If all my tears could heal you,
Your eyes would light up, and you would smile,
But your eyes are expressionless as a doll’s eyes,
And my tears cannot heal.
There is nothing I can do,
But wipe the tear from your eye,
Place a kiss on your tiny hand,
And sing you a lullaby…

“Mama’s goin’ buy
You a mockingbird”*


Mary read  the following poem when she received the award for Social Worker of the year from the foster parents in 2004.

Stranger at the Door
Dedicated to the foster parents of South Carolina

There is a stranger at the door,
Newly born in a cocaine haze.
The crying and hunger is non-stop;
The monitor jangles your nerves.
Just about dawn sleep rocking him,
His tiny fingers reach in and entwine your heart.

There is a stranger at the door,
A curly haired angel on the spring tour of homes,
Trying threes were never like this-
The broken toys, the biting, the banging of her head.
Exhausted curled in a tight ball, she sleeps.
She is safe here, you say, brushing her hair from her face.

There is a stranger at the door,
A snaggle tooth grin beams from his face,
Dark eyed charmer, nimble adventurer.
The school is concerned, Maybe ADHD,
Wants you to come; you understand,
Living with a tornado, charming or not is rough.

There is a stranger at the door,
Three AM and there she stands;
Wide eyed, holding back the tears, she refuses to speak.
Nine years old and seen way too much.
Three thirty breakfast and a bath,
You’ll take care of her needs, when she is ready you’ll listen.

There is a stranger at the door,
The twelve year old is not the same,
Who left smiling a year ago hopeful things had changed,
Sullen and angry with a “why me” look on his face.
The black eye and red marks tell it all.
You simply open your arms and welcome him home.

There is a stranger at the door,
There are really two, a mama and her baby
Thrown away like dust.
Fifteen isn’t so grownup when you’re alone.
You teach her how to do her algebra and what a mama’s to do.
As she struggles with her studies, you sing them how to love.

There is a stranger at the door…

Mary Elizabeth Todd


Lord Break Our Hearts

I have been thinking a lot over the last few days about ways I should be engaged in helping to alleviate the world’s suffering in pain. I always feel so inadequate in this area and my heart aches for those who live in poverty. Wrote this prayer earlier in the week

God pierce our hearts with your love,
Break them open into greater capacity,
Break them open ,
That we might hold more of the world’s suffering and joy,
That we might share more of the world’s despair and hope.
Lord break our hearts,
As we stand in the gap between what is and what could be,
Break our hearts open to a largeness that holds the possibility of a better future for all the world’s people.

and just came across this TED talk (have not had time to listen yet but I thought some of you might be interested.


Another Good Friday Prayer

God who created us

Suffers because of us

god who died upon the Cross

suffers for us

God who dwells within us

Suffers with us

And in God’s suffering we find hope

God, our suffering God

Your story brings us salvation

Without you the horrors of human suffering

Would be unbearable

Your story of life, death and resurrection

gives life meaning

Because of your suffering

a new world has broken into ours

Your suffering frees us from prison

Your suffering fills the hungry with good things

your suffering frees us to live in love, joy and peace

In your eternal resurrection world

End of the Third Week of Lent.

This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Lent.  We are now more than half way through this season and it seems like a good time to pause and reflect on what we have learned to this point.  I have particularly enjoyed hosting this series because it has encouraged me to spend time each morning reflecting on Lent and the meaning of this season.  All the reflections have been so deep and meaningful that I probably should not mention favourites.  However, for me personally the reflections that contrast light and darkness have been particularly profound as I struggle to understand the contrast between our longing for good and our daily confrontation with suffering.

Walking in Darkness by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Wisdom From Henri Nouwen – More Thoughts For Lent

Lent – A Season of Solidarity – Wisdom From St Benedict

Don’t Curse the Darkness – Let the Son Sine Through

My most popular posts over these weeks are the prayers that were posted at the beginning of Lent:

Morning and Evening Prayers for Lent

Ash Wednesday Prayer

The most popular reflections have been:

Where is Jesus in Your Neighbourhood?

A Lenten Prayer from Dietrich Bonhoffer

A Meditation for Lent – Prayer as Justice

However, as I already mentioned all the posts have been so rich that I would recommend a look at all of them.  Here is the entire list.

Are We Ready For Easter?

What You Really Need When Life Is Loud – Ann Voskamp

Lent – Honouring the Cracks – Kathy Escobar

Growing During Lent – Don’t Look Too Closely – Thule Kinnison

Lent a Season Of Solidarity – Wisdom from St Benedict – Walter Forcatto

Walking in Darkness – Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Where is Jesus in Your Neighbourhood?

Wisdom From Henri Nouwen – More Thoughts For Lent

The Prayer of St Ignatius Loyola – A Lenten Reflection

Don’t Curse the Darkness – Let The Son Shine Through

Who/What Is God

Lent – Educating Us Into Freedom

Acceptance, Acclimatisation, Activity

A Lenten Prayer from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A Prayer for the Second Sunday of Lent – What is Joy?

A Franciscan Benediction by Joshua Spiers

What do We Thirst For?

Two excellent videos from the 24/7 prayer network

A Meditation for Lent – Prayer as Justice

Community as Prayer – Another meditation for Lent

You might also enjoy these earlier posts

A Little Humour for Lent

Am I worshipping God for Only Me?

Getting Ready for Lent – What Could You Give Up For Haiti?

And for those that are still wondering what Lent is all about

Lent is Not a Ritual

Lent 2010 Resource List Updated

Also check out the Steps of Justice website which is posting daily justice focused reflections for Lent

The Sermon Out My Window


Now that Christmas is over I find my thoughts drifting towards the garden.  I am longing for spring even though I know that it is still at least 2 – 3 months before the weather warms.  But the seed catalogues have started to arrive and I am drooling over the possibilities for this year’s garden.  However I am also aware that there is a lot of work to do before I can do any planting and as I plan the next couple of months I realize that there are lots of very spiritual lessons to learn as well.  In fact most of my best spiritual lessons these days are connected to the garden and I can understand why Jesus used so many agricultural metaphors.

Why I wonder do we prune our fruit trees in the winter when they seem so bare and vulnerable?  Or probably more to the point why does God insist on pruning our lives during the difficult winters of suffering that are definitely all a part of the human condition?  Well I do know that pruning in winter means that the roots go down deeper and strengthen the tree, and the harder we prune the more vigorous will be the spring growth and the greater the harvest.  Maybe it is the same in our lives – God often prunes us during the frigid seasons of struggle and pain when the branches seem bare and our souls feel most vulnerable.  And often the pruning is just as severe as what I inflict on my trees.  If we really want to be fruitful during the seasons of harvest that God allows us then we need to be willing to be pruned and shaped not during the times that life is good and we can handle a little painful cutting but during those wintery season when we feel spring will never come again.

We shouldn’t try to run away from the pain of pruning we should willingly embrace it.  That doesn’t mean we become masochistic and deliberately inflict pain on ourselves but it does mean that we recognize that winters of suffering and pain are an important pruning stage in life and the fruit that results is often spectacular

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes [a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15: 1-5 TNIV)

Disaster in Myanmar

This week I am teaching a course on spiritual renewal at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven CT.  Five of the participants are from Myanmar which has brought the horrors of the devastation of the cyclone in Myanmar very close to me.  Most of these brothers are still unable to contact their families.  Those that have already know of the deaths of family friends, loved ones and colleagues.  Whole villages in which they worked have been swept away.  Fellow church workers have been killed.  One participant has lost 5 of his 6 pastoral colleagues.  See before and after aerial photos here

Devastation in Myanmar

More images from New York Times

This kind of devastation is unimaginable for us.  There are already 22,000 confirmed dead and many think the death toll could rise to 100,000.  For many of us the closest we can come to imagine this is the devastation after Hurricane Katrina or after the tsunami of 2004.  The pain and suffering that people are and will continue to endure is unimaginable to us.  All we can do is pray and respond with relief goods and support.  But what we can do seems so small in the wake of such devastation.

Why does God allow events like this that sweep away Christians and non Christians alike.  I don’t know The verse I continually return to is Lamentations 3: 31 – 33

For men are not cast off by the Lord forever.

Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,so great is his unfailing love.

For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.

My pray is that God’s love and compassion will be poured out on the nation of Myanmar today and throughout the coming months and that out of this terrible pain and suffering God may bring hope and wholeness.