Barefoot on Holy Ground

This week is a vacation week for me, but I’ve been thinking over this week’s scriptures because they are among my favorites. As a result, I offer this prayer based on Romans 9:12-21 with a nod to the Exodus passage.

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Wash us all with your love, Holy One, that our love may be genuine

            Teach us to hate all that mars the beauty of your creation

                        greed, pettiness, violence, entitlement, war, oppression, self-righteousness

                        the list goes on and we know it as well as You do if we stop to pay attention

            Remind us that all our neighbors carry Your image     

                        never should it matter where they come from

                        or by what name they know You

May our love be genuine

 

Stir in us Your Holy Spirit, that our zeal may never lag

            Call us to serve You fully, making all our ground holy

                        hope that comes from You will enable us to endure all things

                        even as we open our doors to strangers, offer sanctuary in Your name

            Guide us to a day when hospitality is the only way we greet one another

                        without worry or fear, judgment or disrespect

                        for in the other we will see the One

May our zeal never lag

 

Create clean hearts in us, O God, that we may be overcome by good

            Show us how to be the Body of Christ that is needed right now

                        letting go of yesterday’s vision, opening to today’s needs

                        seeking wisdom, patience, courage and acceptance

            Save us from our the limits of our selves and free us to find the abundance of You

                        may our actions match our prayers for all to live in peace

                        with food, drink, and safety for all of creation

May we be overcome by good.

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RCL – Year A – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 31, 2014
Exodus 3:1-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or
Jeremiah 15:15-21 with Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

 

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A Little Pre-Vacation Poetry

Since I am heading out very soon for vacation, I am sharing this poem from one of my books. It is based on a verse from this week’s reading from Romans. It is on pg. 27 of Barefoot Theology.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
-Romans 12:2

Discernment2013-02-17 11.11.02

Clouds
nearly black
cloak the sun
they rush from horizon
to shore across a churning
sea bringing defiant winds painful hail
excessive lightning streaming rain mind–numbing thunder
I created this storm that rages
through my life watched it
gather strength knowing it
would hurt me
I changed
nothing
ignored intuition
stubbornly focused on
my having my own way
until the first startling thunder shocked
me into stillness recognizing my reckless needless
flight into chaos God would have
me do otherwise if
I’d just be
still and
know

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RCL – Year A – 11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 24, 2014
Exodus 1:8-2:10 with Psalm 124 or
Isaiah 51:1-6 with Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

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A Prayer for Mercy

Holy and merciful God,

I stand here as waves of sentiment wash over the world

wondering what I am to do…

Grief, sadness, anger as a beloved actor dies by suicide

Indifference at odds with outrage when a teen is shot

and protesters are abused seemingly because of race

Fear fueling anger, blaming and naming Muslims as terrorists

when there are others swirling hatred and politics in Israel, Palestine, Syria

Then comes the undertow of worry

This Ebola virus, can it be contained before it reaches our shores?

 

Lessons of forgiveness and radical hospitality taught to us by Joseph

echo unheeded in our ears

And when Jesus showed us the inclusivity of grace

we focus on the seemingly harsh words that came before

rather than the beautiful healing and compassion

After all, someone has to be blamed for all this pain

 

So, please, dear God of grace and compassion, have mercy

Have mercy on those who have died by suicide,

on those who live in its aftermath,

and on those who are so lost in the painful dark that death seems the only way

Set us free from the painful anger that suicide brings

turn our hearts to hope and healing

and our attention to those who sit in darkness

May we become the Light of Life for those in such desperate need

 

Have mercy on those who are blinded to the beautiful diversity of the human race

Jesus reached beyond the boundaries and prejudices of his day

showing us the need to welcome and love for all our neighbors

Stir your Spirit within us

Allow us to stand with those who are disregarded and discarded

Let your people cry out with the pain of injustice

until all realize that your love

knows nothing of our borders and boundaries

 

Have mercy on the Muslim, Christian, or Jew who has lost sight of you

Forgiveness, grace, and hospitality ought to be practiced by all

Fighting over land, politics, religion seems senseless

when we remember we are called to walk in the way of peace

Reveal your Truth

May no one justify war or murder in your name

Open our eyes and our hearts to the sister and brother

we now see as other

 

Have mercy on those who are sick and dying,

on those who mourn the loss of loved ones,

on those who seek to contain the virus,

and on those who live in constant fear

Let no one speak words of condemnation,

believing you sent this virus to punish a sinful people

Remind us all that you are a God of love and healing

whose forgiveness blankets the world with abundant grace

Make us ever mindful that each life is a gift

to be honored and treasured

 

God of all creation, hear my prayer

Hear this prayer even as my words fail to capture the depth of need

even as others speak louder

Hear this prayer for healing, for justice, for peace

in my life, in the lives of my neighbors, and in all creation

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RCL – Year A – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 17, 2014
Genesis 45:1-15 with Psalm 133 or
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 with Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

 

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Beautiful Feet

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Two things that get people into trouble are being caught in a hopeless pit of despair and having an overblown sense of self-importance. The story of Joseph and his brothers is a perfect example of the first and Peter sinking while trying to walk on water shows the other.

I can picture Joseph in a deep, dark pit of despair. His brothers had betrayed him, hated him, and wanted him dead. In his childish innocence he probably knew nothing of their ugly jealousy. Yet, he paid a great price for it. His life was spared, but he was sold into slavery. Fortunately for all involved, God had far greater things in store for Joseph than just his coat of many colors and slavery.

I can’t help reading this story as metaphor. It’s not that I think it did not happen; I actually believe that it likely happened much the way it has been recorded. But betrayal by brothers and sisters, by those we love, is such a common human experience. Like it did for Joseph, betrayal usually leaves us in a deep, dark pit filled with pain and despair. Of course, our pits are less literal, but the darkness, pain, and despair are quite real. We also are not likely to be sold into slavery. However, we are really very good at enslaving ourselves to all kinds of masters from work to alcohol to drugs to sex to food to all manner of other things. It happens before we know it. What I find, though, is that few people seem to realize that God has more in mind for us than this kind of painful, shallow existence. Too many people get trapped here without hope of ever escaping.

Peter has a slightly different version of the same kind of problem. I have no trouble picturing the events of this story. It must have been quite a night! A storm, Jesus walking on water and inviting Peter to do the same, Peter sinking in the wind and waves, and Jesus saving him. I firmly believe that Peter started sinking because he realized what he was doing. The problem, of course, was that Peter wasn’t doing it on his own. He had a “look at me!” moment when it should have been a “look what Jesus is doing with me!” sort of moment.

How often do we start to sink when we think we can do everything by ourselves, forgetting that we do not work alone? I cannot tell you how often I’ve heard people cry out to God when tragedy strikes only to fail to offer thanks and praise when good things happen. I know. I’ve done it myself. I’ve been pretty quick to ask God why such a terrible thing has happened, with an attitude of blame, of course. But when I’ve achieved something or completed something, my thought can easily be, “look what I’ve done!” as if I’d done it without God’s grace. Inevitably, something happens to trip me up again, to make me realize that God is actively at work in my life and in the lives of those around me.

Overall, I think it is hope and remembrance that is missing for many people today. What hope have we if we believe we are alone, that Christ is not present, that God does not have plans for us beyond the limits of our own vision? What hope have we if we think we can do everything ourselves and we come up against failure? Who will be there to pull us out of the stormy seas? We don’t have so much hope, so much trust in God, when we fail to remember.

We fail to remember as the Psalmist says, “the wonderful works God has done, God’s miracles, and the judgments God uttered.” As a culture we tend to push self-reliance and forget the self alone cannot get us through everything. This leads me to wonder how we can better capture our stories of faith to counter-act this self focus. There are more Josephs out there surviving horrific conditions by the grace of God and going on to achieve great things. Likewise, there are more Peters who fall from self-reliance into the humbleness of faith to be transformed into greater men and women than when they started out.

Has God led you from the pits of despair or the slavery of addiction to something wonderful? Has God revealed your greatness in a humbling flood of stormy waters? Have you shared your story with someone who needs to hear a word of hope? People can’t find hope for the future or attribute their greatness to God if they don’t know the stories.

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

RCL – Year A – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 10, 2014
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Posted in Emerging Church, Musings, Sermon Starter | 2 Comments

Limping Along With Jacob

Being blessed by God doesn’t always mean a life of sunshine and daisies. It’s easier to focus on the nice things and be grateful. But what of those hard fought life-changing blessings? You know the kind. They leave us breathless, wondering what just happened, and, possibly, limping into the day. These are the kinds of blessings that neither the world nor the church wants us to talk about overly much. They aren’t pure happiness; they are the moments when excruciating pain leads to transformative joy. From that moment on we remain marked, different. Just as clearly, we are blessed.

Years ago a series of events lead me to the realization that I was not straight and this fact probably had something to do with the failure of the few romantic relationships I’d had. At the time, I believed I was working in my dream job, an ecumenical youth ministry. In a few short months, I’d come to accept this new self-understanding and to celebrate the feeling of wholeness that I’d never had before. Then I came face to face with a choice that would radically change my life. I had to decide whether or not to tell my employer about my self-discovery and that I was, in fact, dating another woman.

This was back in the days before gay marriage was legal anywhere. However, I thought everything would be okay because I belong to a denomination that already ordained LGBT folks. I also knew being honest with my employer was the right thing to do even though it was really hard. After all, I’d barely begun to understand it myself, let alone say it out loud to very many people. It also wasn’t exactly the safe thing to do, to come out publicly while serving in a highly visible position in the community. This was happening around the time of Matthew Shepherd’s murder. When word got out, people were not shy about sharing their opinions, some of them rather unpleasant.

I ended up resigning my position because I had been told that as a condition of my employment I would have to come out to several people in positions of authority within the town and several of the churches. This began a decade of challenge in my life. My relationship with the church was forever changed. My career path was altered beyond recognition. My trust in people to do the right thing was completely destroyed.

 

Looking back, however, I can see the blessing God gave me. From that first inkling of self-understanding to the moment I stood publicly for what I knew to be right, I no longer felt that something was innately wrong with me. Yes, I was unwelcomed in a lot of churches because of who I was. But I was not longer unwelcomed in my own spirit. I was free to learn to love myself, becoming the woman God created me to be even as I limped along.

I don’t tell this2014-07-24 19.39.27 story for any reason other than to say that sometimes wrestling with God for a blessing isn’t a bad thing. We just get to a place where we can either give up or hold on until we are blessed. Sure, it’s risky and it’s going to change you in a way that might be painful and unpredictable. It has to be better than always choosing the safe, easier way. But, then again, I might be the wrong person to ask about that. I have a natural tendency to choose the difficult way. Maybe this is why I have such a strong affinity for Jacob. He complicated his life repeatedly and not only did God bless him, God loved him for exactly who he was. Moreover, I’ll bet when Jacob looked over his life, he wouldn’t trade his limp for anything, not even a simpler life.

RCL – Year A – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – August 3, 2014
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or
Isaiah 55:1-5 with Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

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A Bit of Hope and Comfort

Because I work in a psychiatric hospital I am frequently asked, “Why did God do this to me?” Similarly, many patients will say, “God hates me!” They ask this question or believe that God hates them because they have mental illness and they often experience rejection in churches and other faith communities. They live under the stigma of major mental illness and struggle to make sense out of their own suffering.

This week’s passage in Romans is one that I often share with a patient who is questioning God’s benevolence. The opening verses give me hope. When I sit with someone who has committed a horrible crime as a result of psychosis or delusions, I try to remember that the words of my prayers do not have to be perfect. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The next verse is one that I find very helpful in talking with individuals who believe that trauma or tragedy is something that God has done to them. The idea that all things work together for good for those who love God allows me to gently challenge the idea that God makes bad things happen. I can honestly say to the person who is suffering with PTSD related to childhood trauma that God did not make the abuse happen. Just the opposite. Things happen in this world that God did not and would not choose. Human beings daily make choices that God really wishes we would not. As a result of some of those choices, innocent people get terribly hurt. However, with God something good can come out of even the worst tragedy. So keep fighting for health and recovery and you may be surprised at what good God can bring about.

Similarly, a person overwhelmed with feelings of guilt or shame who believes that God hates them or has condemned them to suffering, needs to hear words of hope. How much more hopeful than to hear that only Christ is in a position to condemn anyone and condemnation is not what happens. Instead, Christ intercedes for us and we are forgiven because nothing separates us from from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing can remove Christ’s love from us. Nothing, not even mental illness. The news doesn’t get better than this for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.

In other words, the news doesn’t get better than this for any of us. So when we are overwhelmed with life and the events in the world, our prayers do not have to be perfect; the Holy Spirit will intercede for us with sighs too deep for words. This includes our prayers for Palestine and Israel, Ukraine, immigrant children, our loved ones stricken with illness… anything we cannot articulate well. God knows our hearts and will hear our prayers. So, too, when we are faced with tragedy, trauma, and despair. God does not make these things happen, but with God something good will come from the pain. This doesn’t make everything all right, but it does give hope for the future. And reminds us that when all is said and done, there is nothing than can remove Christ’s love from us.2013-06-19 22.33.00

Now what are we going to do to honor this love that we have been so freely given?

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 27, 2014
Genesis 29:15-28 with Psalm 105:1-11, 45b  or
1 Kings 3:5-12 with Psalm 128 or Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52     

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Bidding Prayer for Hope

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Come, let us pray for the church in all its variations throughout the world.
People are invited to share their prayers silently or quietly
God of all times and places, reveal your presence in and among us. Your people yearn to proclaim your presence with Jacob’s surety. Too much distracts us from your grace and mercy and often we mistake our ways for the way everlasting. We think we can tell wheat from weeds and are quick to condemn those who think differently. Give us hearts of compassion, understanding, and grace that we might learn to celebrate diversity rather than fear it. Let the day come when we all stand together in your presence, shining like the sun.
We trust in God’s mercy and grace;
Our hope is in Christ, who is our salvation.

Come, let us pray for the United Church of Christ, here and elsewhere.
People are invited to share their prayers silently or quietly
From the wings of the morning to the farthest limits of the sea, you are with us, O God. We cannot hide from you or escape your presence. May this be a comfort to us in these times of change and transition. Let us not cling to unnecessary things or become slaves to fear. May we be open to all the possibilities you set before us as the body of Christ. Be with those you have called to lead us, especially Geoffrey Black our minister and president. Make your presence known throughout the United Church of Christ, sowing seeds of courageous faith and radical hope.
We trust in God’s mercy and grace;
Our hope is in Christ, who is our salvation.

Come, let us pray for all people throughout the world.
People are invited to share their prayers silently or quietly
Creator God, we hear the groaning of creation and wonder what can be done. War and violence erupt daily. Storms grow in intensity. People are in need of food, shelter, and care. We would turn away from other people’s troubles if it were not for you. You would have us walk in the way of peace, sowing seeds of hope and promise. In the midst of heartbreak over all that we have done and all that we have left undone, we ask that your hope be made real in us and through us. Remind us that you know the thoughts and hearts of all people as well you know each one of us.
We trust in God’s mercy and grace;
Our hope is in Christ, who is our salvation.

Come, let us pray for this nation and those in leadership.
People are invited to share their prayers silently or quietly
God of wisdom and welcome, you are indeed in this place, but we are a long way from the gateway to heaven. We are a nation divided by ideologies and economics and kept that way by those who trade in fear. Make us mindful of your commandment to love one another as you love. Hear our prayers for Barak Obama and all others in positions of power. Shape us into a nation where fear, violence, and hatred have no place.
We trust in God’s mercy and grace;
Our hope is in Christ, who is our salvation.

Come, let us pray for all who are in need of healing.
People are invited to share their prayers silently or quietly
God of the brightest day and the darkest night, enter into to the dark, painful, lonely, broken places and bring light. Hear our prayers for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit. Be to them a source of hope and healing. You have called us together to be your body here and now; may we be agents of compassion, offering sanctuary to those in need.
We trust in God’s mercy and grace;
Our hope is in Christ, who is our salvation.

Come, let us pray for all those who grieve.
People are invited to share their prayers silently or quietly
You walk behind us and before us, O God. Your presence comforts and reassures us. We ask that you would lay your hand on all those who are grieving. May those who sit in the deepest darkness of a sudden loss – murder, suicide, accident, or illness – find hope in your light. Show us how to bear the burdens of our sisters and brothers who struggle under the weight of their losses, letting no one suffer alone.
We trust in God’s mercy and grace;
Our hope is in Christ, who is our salvation.

Come, let us give thanks to God for all of our blessings.
People are invited to share their prayers silently or quietly
Steadfast and gracious God, words fail to express our gratitude for grace you have given to us. Your mercy and forgiveness is unbelievable for many of us. Yet, you are our hope now and for all things to come. In our gratitude we share Jacob’s amazement at your presence in this place. Grant us the courage to shine with your righteousness, honoring and serving you in all that we say and do.
We pray in Christ’s name, trusting in God’s mercy and grace;
Our hope is in Christ, who is our salvation. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 20, 2014
Genesis 28:10-19a with
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 or
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or
Isaiah 44:6-8 with
Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

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