Take a Seat on the Throne of Mercy – Yom Kippur 5780

Take a Seat on the Throne of Mercy – Yom Kippur 5780

Take a Seat on the Throne of Mercy – Yom Kippur 5780
— Read on rebyehoshua.org/2019/10/10/take-a-seat-on-the-throne-of-mercy-yom-kippur-5780/

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God Was Not in the Courtroom

Courtroom
One of the men had his trial this week. Since coming to jail he has worked hard on overcoming his addiction and growing his faith.

He is facing serious charges.

As he was sitting in court the prosecution was pursuing all charges against him.

He was becoming anxious and was praying, “God, they are really coming down hard on me. Where are you in the courtroom?”

A still, small voice responded, “I’m not in the courtroom.”

He prayed again, “But God, they are barbequing me. Why aren’t you in the courtroom?”

“Because,” the still, small voice replied, “I am in you.”

At that moment he was filled with peace.

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5b-6

Seeds

This past week of jail ministry has had extremes as far as highs and lows.

Another volunteer I know passed away quite suddenly. He had been involved in jail ministry for over 50 years. In that time, I am sure he has touched the lives of hundreds of men.

JailPray

The Tuesday night group that I’ve been covering has been very encouraging. Attendance has been strong and consistent.

With the change in laws more people are serving their time at a county jail rather than being sent to prison. One of the differences I’ve noted between prison and jail is that prisons tend to have a stable, mature church where the men are active participants. For example, at San Quentin there are 26 men on their preaching team – all inmates. And they hold each other to high standards in terms of teaching and their overall lifestyle.

I’ve been encouraging the men on Tuesday night to become the church behind the walls. They have eagerly stepped up to this calling and I’ve seen the difference it is making for them as they practice the “one-another” scriptures.

PrisonChurch

My heart is still drawn most to the guys in the high-max units, but this is a tough population. On Sunday we were in C-side which tends to have men with severe mental illness who are also prone to violence.

While we were there, we had to step into a safe waiting area as they moved a man from Psych lockdown to C-side. He was moved in a wheelchair and was accompanied by at least a dozen correctional officers. The reason there were so many is that, when they first attempted to move him, he attacked the guards that were with him. It is astonishing how much strength an enraged person has. There were now 12 guards on him because they needed at least 12 in case the situation began to deteriorate. What I appreciated about the guards in that situation was a sense of calm and professionalism. They knew they were dealing with a person who may not be able to control themselves and their job was to intervene as safely and efficiently as needed to keep anyone, including the man, from further injury.

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Going cell to cell we find the men in varying states. Some are able to have good conversations and can choose books and magazines that we bring. Some are completely unresponsive as they stare vacantly out of the window of their cell. At some cells the stench of an unflushed toilet fouls the air. Some men speak in random, incoherent sentences. Another man is concerned that he is demon possessed.

Among the more troubling are the men that turn any interaction with another human being into a storm of rage and curses. Sometimes I have to walk away from a cell where a man has become abusive and out of control.

I recognize that in high-max it is unlikely that I will ever see much in the way of changed lives. My role is as a seed planter. A few weeks back in the Tuesday night group we were talking about Matthew 25, particularly at vs 36: I was in prison and you came to visit me.

I asked the men if and when they had seen this. One man told this story:

I was in juvenile hall. They had church services, but we never attended because we were too tough. We were hard-core gang members. After the service one of the women would come into the unit and invite us out, but again, we were too tough and just stayed in our cells. Even though no one came out she would still play guitar and sing:

This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This Little Light of Mine, Yes, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

 The light that shines is the light of love,
Lights the darkness from above,
It shines on you and it shines on me, and it shows what the light of love can do.
I’m gonna shine my light both far and near,
I’m gonna shine mine light bright and clear, where there’s a dark corner in this land
I’m gonna let my little light shine. 

This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This Little Light of Mine, Yes, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

We wouldn’t acknowledge her in any way, but three hours later in my cell her song was still running through my head. It’s been fifteen years since I was in juvenile hall, but I still remember that.

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I go into the high-max units because that is where I am called.

I am there to acknowledge their humanity, even when the men have forgotten it.

I am there to watch and come alongside wherever God is already moving.

I am there to plant seeds.

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Prayers Behind Bars

The prayers that I hear behind the walls are often not the prayers that people on the outside would expect to hear. People on the outside assume that most of the prayers would be, “Lord, let the court find me innocent and drop all charges.” Sometimes, actually rarely, that prayer is prayed, but not as often as you would expect. I’ve learned to pay attention, with open eyes and open ears, to the men that are praying.

I noticed three things from the prayers last Tuesday night.

A Lack of Entitlement

Prayers of the church behind the walls comes from a place of humility. A phrase which is have heard frequently behind bars is, “we thank You for this day which we were not promised.” Would I be thanking God for the day if I were incarcerated, or would my prayer begin with a lament for not receiving the things I felt I had coming?

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A Sense of Identity

One of the men prayed, “Lord, we thank you that we are the jewels in Your crown.”

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What makes that statement so striking is that these men throughout life have been told how worthless they are.

  • “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • “No one could ever love you.”
  • “I wish you’d never been born.”

They have been given a new identity: Jewels in the Savior’s crown.

Praying For Things We Dare Not Pray

Churches on the outside are afraid to ask for the things I have heard these men pray for — prayers that I’ve only heard of from missionaries in places where the church is persecuted.

In order to understand the depth of this prayer you need to understand that all of these men are survivors of trauma. They have walked through suffering in deep and profound ways. It would be difficult for most of us to understand the physical, mental, and spiritual suffering these men have already experienced.

With that in mind, consider the power of the prayer, “Lord, let us suffer for You.”

When was the last time you heard the church outside the walls invite suffering in the name of the Lord? Yet this is a recurring prayer behind the walls.

“Suffering is nothing by itself.
But suffering shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift, the most beautiful gift, a token of love.”
– Mother Teresa

 

Seeking the Living Among the Dead

We served Easter Communion on the Saturday morning before Easter. I appreciate this time because it is one of the few occasions where we can go into the high maximum-security units where normally there is no programming. These men are on lockdown as much as 23 hours a day.

Two of us enter the unit and either move cell-to-cell, or sometimes a man may exit his cell to receive communion at the cell block door. In a place where he is never called by his first name, we ask his name, and ask how we can pray for him. Usually the request is for their family members, as many have young children. They will ask for prayers regarding their upcoming court cases. Often as not they will also request prayer for the other men in the unit.

High-max also houses overflow from the mental health unit. The confluence of the message of hope meeting up with those who have experienced, and in some cases been the perpetrators of unspeakable violence and tragedy leads to some interesting experiences. In one of the units a man was loudly shouting out a string of profanities in his cell while we were serving communion through the small slot of other mens’ cell doors. Rage and anguish as the backdrop for the words “the body of Christ broken for you, the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of sins.”

This becomes another experience of seeking the living among the dead. There, among those steeped in despair and violence, comes a message of hope — new life in the most unlikely places.

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Luke 24:1-12  (NKJV)

24 Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ”

And they remembered His words. Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles. 11 And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.

 

 

I Can’t Do This Alone

Because of changes in security policies I’ve switched from facilitating Bible studies in the maximum-security unit and now serve in the protective custody unit. I’ve been intentional about not writing blogs because the guys in protective custody are a more vulnerable population.

Unfortunately, that means I haven’t been updating my prayer support group for quite some time now. This past week exemplified what happens when I go in without prayer support. The study did not go well. But in retrospect things have been degrading for a while. Ironically, even as I was facilitating Bible studies on the importance of living in community I was failing to update and connect with my own extended support group.

I cannot do this alone.

I don’t mean to imply that I was leading the Bible study solo. One of the other chaplains is in there with me most weeks. But rather, I was, am, and will be, in need of the men and women who support me, and the men in jail, with their prayers.

Prayer support is critical preparation.

Imagine trying to:

  • do a craft project with no supplies
  • make a meal with no cooking utensils
  • do woodworking with no tools or machines
  • play in a symphony with no music

Trying to facilitate a Bible study in jail without adequate prayer support can be just as frustrating as the examples mentioned above. I need the prayer support of others. We are in this together.

I Cor 12:12-20,26-27

Unity and Diversity in the Body

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

 

 

 

A Sermon Given on the First Sunday of Lent: Luke 4: 1-13

Boasts and Befuddlements

The following are notes from a sermon given at the 8:30, 9:30 and 11am services at an Episcopal Church:

(Brief introduction and thanks.)

This morning I wanted to share with you some

Lenten reflections on The Temptations of Jesus.

Please pray with me….

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts always be acceptable to you Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

This Sunday is the First Sunday of Lent.

Lent is a season in the church calendar when we remember Christ’s time in the wilderness.

Lent runs from Ash Wednesday (this past Wednesday) to Easter Sunday.

It is a time of fasting and prayer.

Often times people will give up things such as chocolate or bread

or they’ll take on a discipline such as committing to reading the Bible more diligently

Or this year, I’ve heard of people cutting down on plastic consumption.

By focusing…

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