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We're Back! Sunday Stretch: Vol. 45
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
I’ve missed you! And I’ve missed our Sunday tradition together, of poring over weekly Bible passages, considering reflection questions, and of course praying for and with one another - even over the miracle of the Internet.
I also want to welcome any new Substack subscribers and Sunday Stretch readers here today, especially those of you who have joined from! In case you missed it, during my August Substack break, I got a chance to share a guest post for . You can read it here:
This Sunday Stretch community is such a special subset of, and while in other places of this newsletter I often exercise my journalistic and reporter chops, in this space I really lean into my pastoral side. Especially at a time when I’m not exclusively serving one church community, this space and group has been an important community for me. I’m so glad you’re here! Readers will receive an edition of the Sunday Stretch every Sunday morning at 6 CT, except for rare Sundays off/holidays, and in each edition I will typically go through three Bible passages, give some context and commentary, share reflection questions, and then also open space for prayer requests and prayer. I will occasionally do special themed posts on days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, Fourth of July weekend, or Reformation Day - helped to break down how these days interact with God and spirituality and contemporary culture.
One of my hopes for this community as we re-gather after the August break is that we will really lean into the power and comfort of prayer. A few of you in the past have shared prayer requests to be added to the weekly prayer below, and I really hope you continue to do that! I will as well of course, and I generally turn over the prayer concerns every three months or so. And you’re also welcome to share requests that will be kept confidential, or to share requests that are more generally worded.
I’ll have a Tuesday post coming for you soon to share more about what I’ve been up to in this very busy, critical, and also Spirit-filled month of August - lots of exciting things have happened and are happening, and at the same time in the midst of all of that flurry of activity, I find myself hungering and longing for the consistency, tradition, routine, and grounding of reading the Bible texts with you and praying in community. So - as I always say on Sunday mornings - let’s get to the texts!
One of the best moments of August was this one: sharing in the baptism of my nephew, Kendrick, in the same church where my brother and I grew up, and where my husband, Ben, and I were married. Can you tell how excited Kendrick was to feel the holy water and help make the sign of the Cross? And the immense pride of mom and dad (my brother and sister-in-law, Kevin and Bianca) as they watch, sharing in the presence of the Holy Spirit? I can’t help but think of these words from Acts 8: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized … And he went on his way rejoicing.” As did we.
Jer. 15:15 O LORD, you know;
remember me and visit me,
and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance do not take me away;
know that on your account I suffer insult.
16 Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
17 I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,
nor did I rejoice;
under the weight of your hand I sat alone,
for you had filled me with indignation.
18 Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail.
Jer. 15:19 Therefore thus says the LORD:
If you turn back, I will take you back,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them.
20 And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you, says the LORD.
21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
I am caught up here by verse 16: “your words were found, and I ate them …”
I am thinking about what it means to really digest someone’s words. I am thinking about the name of this Substack (I’m Listening) and how listening isn’t really all that easy, especially in our current historical and cultural moment. I am so often a skimmer, reading so much - and too infrequently pausing to really digest what I’m reading, and seeing and hearing.
That’s why this Sunday Stretch community is so important to me. It forces me, each week, to really “eat” the word of God, to digest it and take it in and wonder what it means for my life, together in community with you.
Questions to Ponder
To what do you think Jeremiah is referring to in the first verse of this passage? Can you relate to him? Why or why not?
The prophets often spoke of the weight and burden of being the “mouth” of God. Can you think of people in modern-day life or recent history who have been tasked with being the “mouth” of God. How does/did it affect their lives?
Much of this passage hints at the loneliness and isolation experienced by Jeremiah in his calling as a prophet. God’s promise in the face of such loneliness and isolation is presence. Where are you being called to be present in a world often struggling with loneliness and isolation?
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Rom. 12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Rom. 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Oh, this passage. This one. I needed very much to read it this week, and maybe all of us in America (and around in the world) in 2023 need to read this passage each morning. Maybe it’s surprising to read the Bible prescribing hate. But I think Paul’s purpose here is not hate as we often think of it in modern terms: as an emotion, coupled with violence, often exercised against marginalized and vulnerable people and groups. Instead, Paul uses the word “hate” (the verb root in Biblical Greek is: ἀποστυγέω) in the sense of the word abhor. For Paul, I believe, to hate what is evil is connected to prayer and discernment: so that early Christians might understand how to avoid those who would lead them astray, or steal their money, or gain political power in the name of religion. Paul’s best gift, I believe, was his single-minded focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He saw clearly how distractions and egos and power and government got in the way of sharing love, grace, forgiveness, and seeking justice for the oppressed. Paul was not perfect, and neither were his letters. But here we see Paul at his best: encouraging strength, truth, resolve, grace, gentleness, and perseverance in the face of all-too-real evil. He prescribes not to ignore the very-real evil of this world, but instead to overcome evil with good. Powerful.
What do you think Paul saw as love that was not genuine? Where do you think he might have encountered that in the Early Church?
We often think of “zeal” as being a negative attribute, such as someone being “over-zealous.” Where have you seen “zeal” used positively? What are you zealous about in your life?
What does it mean that vengeance is God’s? Where have you seen vengeance lead in your own life? Is it destructive?
Matt. 16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Matt. 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Matt. 16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Peter has a remarkable narrative arc. Just last week, as I preached at Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Peter is the first disciple to name the identity of Jesus, and to receive the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Now, just a few short verses later, Jesus tells Peter to: “Get behind me, Satan!”
Peter’s very humanness is such a powerful part of the Gospel witness. He wants so badly to follow Jesus all the way, to do the right thing. But sometimes he gets scared, as he did when walking on the water. Or he gets caught up in what the world names as powerful, and he can’t bear to see Jesus suffer as he has foretold. Still, Peter - as we know - follows Jesus all the way, even to his own martyring later on in Rome. I think his story reminds me that the walk always outdoes the talk. Sometimes we have to just keep going, even in the face of our own mistakes or missteps. Just keep going, because Jesus has gone before us.
Why do you think Peter was so desperate for this not to happen to Jesus?
Do you think the other disciples agreed with Peter, or even sent him to speak to Jesus for them as well? Why or why not?
What does it look like to take up your Cross? How do we differentiate between “taking up a Cross and following Jesus” from knowing how to speak and work against acts of injustice, especially within in the church, and especially in cases like abuse? Where has this line of “take up your Cross” been wrongfully used in church history to excuse abuse or oppression against marginalized and vulnerable people?
I want to hear your voice, to eat and digest your Word in my life each day, such that I never doubt your guiding light in a path that sometimes seems uncertain. But of course, never doubting is impossible. So I pray, God, for perseverance, for company along the way of life, for confidence, for hope, and for endurance. I pray, too, for all those who are on the way with me, that I might recognize them and see them as my family.
In Jesus’ name we pray,
A Community that prays for one another is transformed by the power of the Spirit. We’ve been praying for and with each other now for about nine months! For the new year, and about once a quarter, I will re-start this space for prayer requests and praises. Please email with your own requests and I will share here with your permission!
For victims of gun violence in Jacksonville and elsewhere across America last week, and especially God for your justice to ring out against all those who continue to lend support and credence to white supremacy, especially in the Church. Help us to speak clearly for the call to justice and an intolerance of racist actions and policies in America.
We continue to pray for a cessation of violence and war in Ukraine, and for refugees and migrants around the world who are without a safe place to call home.
We pray for all people experiencing extreme weather, and those without safe shelter or a warm/cool place to sleep at night. For all those in need of food. For all those looking for work. For those injured in travel on the roads and on the sea and on the rails, especially migrants who travel dangerous routes with their families seeking safety and freedom, both on the Mediterranean Sea and at the U.S./Mexico border. For people in the South, in Mexico and Central America, and California - and all those living in the midst of extreme heat, that they would have access to cool places to sleep and live, and that rain would come. We also pray for those experiencing flooding, and those living in the midst of wildfires and wildfire smoke, especially in Canada and the Northwest Territories - also for those experiencing extreme heat and without enough shade and water in the midst of grueling outdoor work, especially farmworkers and construction workers across the United States, India, China, and the Middle East.
We pray for the people of Holy Land, for Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Jews, and Muslims - that all will be treated with justice and be given equal rights before the government, to live, work, and practice their faith. We pray for an end to violence and protection of the vulnerable, especially children and the elderly.
We pray for all churches, church leaders, and volunteers as they lead congregations in this season after Pentecost. May religious leaders step aside to make way for the creativity of the Holy Spirit, and not resist the blowing winds of change and disruption.
We pray for the people of Iran, where protesters’ lives are being threatened and women are being arrested simply for advocating for their lives and criticizing an abusive government. We also pray for women and girls in Afghanistan, whose right to education and employment has been taken away by the ruling Taliban.
We pray for the victims of gun violence across America, and for brave legislators who are seeking to change overly permissive gun laws. Bring justice, resolution, truth, and mercy, dear God, and culpability to those who profit from the sale and manufacture of guns.
We pray for all those living and existing at the U.S./Mexico borderlands, and for migrants around the world who are seeking safety and a better life for their families. Protect and keep safe all those who travel far from home, risking their lives, especially parents, children, and seniors - and people from countries at war and under political strife, especially people from El Salvador, Haiti, Venezuela, Honduras, Colombia, Peru, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Sudan, and many other countries around the world. Grant mercy and open hearts to those who work in border enforcement, and prevent violence and death at the border.
We pray especially today for all students, teachers, staff, administrators, families, coaches, bus drivers - and all those involved with kids heading back to school. God bring peace, safety, joy and laughter to classrooms across our world this school year, and help kids to have a safe and productive environment to learn and to love the world.
On this Labor Day weekend, we pray for all those who work hard to advocate for better conditions for workers across the world, especially those who work in dangerous conditions each and every day for low pay, especially farmworkers and caregivers and factory workers and nurses and first responders. Be with all those who are striking for fair pay and conditions, from writers and actors to hotel workers and restaurant workers.
Dear God, we pray for renewal and hope and change in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the Creating, Redeeming, and Sustaining God!
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A Few Notes:
First, a huge THANK YOU to all subscribers. I get a little email notification every time someone signs up, and every time I get one, I feel joyful and honored that you want to spend part of your day with this community. I mean it when I say: “I’m listening,” to you as well, and please don’t hesitate to share with me your thoughts + ideas for what you’d like to read in this space.
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On free vs. paid-subscriber posts only: My plan right now is that the Friday + Sunday posts, focusing on news + spirituality, in that order, are available for subscribers only (I am going to continue sharing a sample, with a line where the paywall cuts off for our paid subscriber community). My plan is that the Tuesday blog-style posts will always be free, to enable as much access as possible, while creating a smaller and more intimate experience for paid subscribers, who are also able to comment and share in community in fuller ways.
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