When the Dream becomes a Nightmare

Matthew 21.43
Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

From John:
Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, we look back at a previous post from Dr. King.

It is popular today to be a fan of Dr. King. But neither Dr. King, nor Christ riding into Jerusalem in our reading today were interested in fans. They were interested in the fruit of action.

In Christ’s confrontation with the religious leaders, and the fickle crowd that would easily be swayed by them, he announced that failing to recognize the kingdom’s responsibilities would result in the kingdom being taken away and given to others.

May we not stumble on this rejected cornerstone. May we build on it instead. With action.

Reflection: When the Dream becomes a Nightmare
By Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C. and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had—and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare.

I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty.

I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil.

Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.…

I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.

With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

*Abridged from A Christmas Sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — audio on YouTube (29:52)

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.  — Psalm 119.105

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 22 (Listen – 4:01) 
Matthew 21 (Listen – 7:10)

Read more about Taking Advantage of the Desperate
As the church, we can be difference-makers, rebuilding the broken in our society. To do this, we must engage in economically nonsensical, entirely compassionate, community investment.


Read more about Decorating the Tombs of the Prophets
It is easy to look backward and to say “if I had been here I would have listened to Dr. King,”—even though I do not listen to what is happening around me in my own community, in my own neighborhood, in my own church. — Dr. Russell Moore

Free to Become Like Children :: Worldwide Prayer

Matthew 18.1-3
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Reflection: Free to Become Like Children :: Worldwide Prayer
By John Tillman

We often repeat our vision that God’s Word can be in our lives like a park in a city. There are many facets to that vision.

Parks bring many benefits to a city that are analogous to the benefits of regularly entering into God’s Word. But the one we focus on today, using the prayer included below, is on recreation.

There is benefit to approaching the Bible with a mind engaged in intellectual investigation. There is benefit to studiously engaging the scriptures in rigorous study. There is great benefit in committing the scriptures to memory.

But there is a special joy that can be found when we explore God’s Word as a child exploring a park, with no intention other than the pleasure of reading the words that our Heavenly Father has given us.

Jesus has granted us the ability to become like little children and to run freely to him. Run in his Word this weekend. Read the scriptures for the enjoyment of his presence.

The prayer below celebrates the freedom that the Father has given us through Christ, speaking, “yes,” over us, freeing us from the dictator of selfishness, and allowing us to become his people—his children.

A prayer of praise and thanksgiving from Germany
Lord Jesus, we thank you
That you have shared with us
The Father’s love
That you have entered the ambiguity
Of our history,
And spoken the Father’s YES
Into our lives.

Spirit of God, we thank you
That you have brought the riches of salvation
Into the poverty of our human experience.

We praise you, our God,
For calling us into existence,
For liberating us from our unbending self-will,
And for sharing your life with us.

Gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Source of our living, and hope in our dying,
Touch our life with your grace,
Set us free to become your people
And grant us the privilege of joining your passion
For the world.

*Prayer from Hallowed be Your Name: A collection of prayers from around the world, Dr. Tony Cupit, Editor.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me O Lord, that I may keep your statutes.  — Psalm 119.145

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 19 (Listen – 5:33)
Matthew 18 (Listen – 4:25)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 20 (Listen – 2:39) Matthew 19 (Listen – 4:04)
Genesis 21 (Listen – 3:59) Matthew 20 (Listen – 4:22)

Are you interested in joining an online community to share with The Park Forum readers? Email us at: info@theparkforum.org

Read more about How to Find Freedom
What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love! — Thomas à Kempis


Read more about Prayer as Relationship :: Readers’ Choice
Many have faithfully lived out Christ’s command to let the little children come to him. But perhaps no one in history has lived it out affecting as many children as Fred Rogers.

Faith Honors God :: Throwback Thursday

Genesis 18.13-14
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

Reflection: Faith Honors God :: Throwback Thursday
By Martin Luther (Commentary on Galatians, 1535)

To believe in God as Abraham did is to be right with God because faith honors God. Faith says to God: “I believe what you say.”

Are you surprised that reason thinks little of faith? Reason thinks it ludicrous that faith should be the foremost service any person can render unto God. Let your faith supplant reason.

Abraham mastered reason by faith in the Word of God. Not as though reason ever yields meekly. It put up a fight against the faith of Abraham.

Reason protested that it was absurd to think that Sarah who was ninety years old and barren by nature, should give birth to a son. But faith won the victory and routed reason, that ugly beast and enemy of God.

Everyone who by faith slays reason, the world’s biggest monster, renders God a real service, a better service than the religions of all races and all the drudgery of meritorious monks can render.

Men fast, pray, watch, suffer. They intend to appease the wrath of God and to deserve God’s grace by their exertions. But there is no glory in it for God, because by their exertions these workers pronounce God an unmerciful slave driver, an unfaithful and angry Judge. They despise God, make a liar out of Him, snub Christ and all His benefits; in short they pull God from His throne and perch themselves on it.

Faith truly honors God. And because faith honors God, God counts faith for righteousness.

Christian righteousness is the confidence of the heart in God through Christ Jesus. Such confidence is accounted righteousness for Christ’s sake.

Two things make for Christian righteousness: Faith in Christ, which is a gift of God; and God’s acceptance of this imperfect faith of ours for perfect righteousness.

Because of my faith in Christ, God overlooks my distrust, the unwillingness of my spirit, my many other sins. Because the shadow of Christ’s wing covers me I have no fear that God will cover all my sins and take my imperfections for perfect righteousness.

Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. — Psalm 96.2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 18 (Listen – 4:59)
Matthew 17 (Listen – 3:46)

Are you interested in joining an online community to share with The Park Forum readers? Email us at: info@theparkforum.org

Read more about Fasting According to our Lusts :: Throwback Thursday
These all seek in their fasting nothing beyond the work itself: when they have performed that, they think they have done a good work. — Martin Luther


Read more about Faith Requires Humility
One reason faith is so difficult for today’s culture is that we devalue humility. And faith cannot exist without humility.


The Sign of Jonah and The Cross

Matthew 16.2-4
“When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’  and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Reflection: The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
By John Tillman

If Jesus had a website “Can you show us a sign from Heaven?” would be listed in his FAQs.

In today’s reading, Jesus references the “Sign of Jonah” and walks away without any explanation. Earlier in Matthew, he clearly connected the Sign of Jonah to his death, burial, and resurrection. Mark, when relating a similar demand that was answered in a similar way, gives the intimate detail that Jesus “sighed deeply” before answering this repetitive query. (What a very human moment this is—showing us that there is no frustration that our savior did not fully enter into and experience.)

Jonah’s emotional path is like a photo negative of Christ’s. Jonah went to Nineveh unwillingly. It was not because he was afraid for his life, as many prophets were. He did not want to save the Ninevites because they were dangerous enemies of Israel. He was willing to die to save the idol-worshiping sailors in the boat, but when Nineveh repented and wasn’t destroyed, Jonah pouted like a child for the destruction of his enemies.

Jesus is, indeed, “greater than Jonah,” as he claims in Matthew 12. Their similarities begin and end with the time spent in the belly of the fish and in the grave.

Jesus left Heaven, setting aside his glory willingly. Jesus’ desire was consistently to seek and save the outcast and the lost. He demonstrated his love for sinners because he was willing to die for us. When the unrepentant beat, stripped, and crucified Christ, he cried to his Father for the forgiveness of his tormentors.

The signs of scripture, like the signs of the sky Jesus references, are clear and we can read them. Like the religious leaders, who privately acknowledged Christ’s miracles, we fail to follow Christ not because we can’t read the signs but because we doubt what they say.

We question. We qualify. We delay.
Jesus tires. He sighs. He weeps.

Jesus, in frustration, “walked away” from the religious leaders. But that is only because they didn’t go with him. When Jesus walks away from us, it isn’t to abandon us. He intends us to follow him. One of the key differences between the religious leaders and the disciples is that the disciples took their questions and doubts with them, following Jesus anyway.

We can bring our doubts, but we must be willing to take up our cross. There is no other way to follow him.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus said to us: “In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” — Luke 18.17

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 17 (Listen – 4:02)
Matthew 16 (Listen – 3:43)

Are you interested in joining an online community to share with The Park Forum readers? Email us at: info@theparkforum.org

Read more about Two Ways to be Religious
The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly.  — Søren Kierkegaard

Read more about Recalling the Failures
Christ’s message of reinstatement is for all of us. He doesn’t see our failures as the world sees them. Christ sees more failure in us than even we know, yet he re-calls us—he calls us to himself again, and again, and again. Christ re-calls the failures.

For Sustainable Cultivation :: A Guided Prayer

Matthew 15.13
He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.”

Reflection: For Sustainable Cultivation :: A Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

A growing faith that produces a sustainable harvest is one that is cultivated.

Faith that produces harvest is supernatural. It has a purposeful and planned rhythm. It starts with the destruction of clearing obstacles. It continues with protection and tender care for the young plants. It multiplies with growth and harvest that is shared among community. It propagates through seeds of knowledge, passed on for the next generation of growth.

As we conclude (for now) our series on cultivating faith, we pray over our hearts (our fields) some scriptures from today’s readings.

A Prayer to the Sustainer of Faith
Oh, God, planter of the first garden, cultivator of all creation,
We ask you to teach us to cultivate our hearts.

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
   but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
   their teachings are merely human rules.’”

We do not want our hearts to be far from you, Lord.
We do not wish to cultivate a system of human rules,
But a harvest of the fruit of your Spirit.

But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

You have taught us, Lord, that the fruits of our actions spring from our hearts.
Our hearts are the fields that we must till and tend.

He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.

Help us, Lord, to resist the urge to weed someone else’s field.
We pray that you would send us, Lord, first into the field of our own hearts.

To pull up the stones.
To burn out the crops of selfishness.
To pull up by the roots our callousness.
To nourish the good seed of the gospel.
To share the harvest in celebration.

Only then, Lord, will be able to give freely to our neighbors of the seed that you have planted in us.

We echo the cry of the outcast Syro-Phonecian woman, Lord.

Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!

We are desperate for a crumb of the harvest of the gospel.

And we long to hear you answer,

You have great faith! Your request is granted.

Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Whoever holds my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my father, and i shall love him and reveal myself to him.” — John 14.21

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 16 (Listen – 2:18)
Matthew 15 (Listen – 4:23)

Are you interested in joining an online community to share with The Park Forum readers? Email us at: info@theparkforum.org

Read more about Kingdom Manifestation :: A Guided Prayer
There is a kind of sin-sickness that we nurse and maintain. Pray that it be healed. Ask for your eyes to be opened as your blindness is revealed.
Ask to be raised to new life.

Read more about Meals Together, Forgiveness to Go
Christ’s breakfast on the shore is a model for us of gathering those who have failed, reinstating each other through Christ’s redemption, and being sent out to feed others.

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