Holy, Improbable Yes

The fourth Sunday of Advent is the perfect time for the story of Gabriel and Mary because it’s all about love–God’s great love for humanity and Mary’s willingness to bring that love into the world. This passage overflows with all the improbable possibilities God imagines for the whole of humanity. I have this vivid image in my mind of God anxiously awaiting to hear what Mary is going to say. Maybe there were a dozen other young women Gabriel asked on God’s behalf before Mary was courageous enough to say yes.

It seems impossible that such a thing could have happened. You don’t need me to tell you about all the broken places in this world. The horrific tragedy of the school attack in Pakistan, the violent deaths on our streets, the wars, illness, the homelessness, the hunger, the poverty that is as far away as the other side of the globe and as close as the face in the mirror. Mary’s life wasn’t any different. Human suffering surrounded her, too. But when she was asked to bear God into the world, she did not turn away or pretend not to hear.

hope-463567_1280We all are asked every day to bear God into the world. Mostly, we aren’t listening very well. So in these last few days before Christmas, take some time to think about it. How are you being called to bring Christ into the world? Do you have the courage to respond with a holy, improbable yes? If a teenage girl can do it, I’m betting there’s hope for the rest of us.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Advent – Love – December 21, 2014
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:46-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

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What’s Essential?

Advent preparation has taken on a whole new meaning for me this year as I get ready to move 1400 miles away from the state that has been home for the last six years. On a daily basis I’m asking myself what I really need or want to pack. It’s this question of what is essential that I hear echoes of throughout the texts this week.

The beautiful, comforting words of Isaiah create a picture of a time when justice and integrity will prevail. This is good news for those who are poor, have a broken heart, are held captive, are imprisoned, or are mourning. Joy, deliverance, and justice will rule the day. These words must have brought hope to a captive people. This promise from God of a new day, a day of restoration and integrity, must have been welcomed news when first proclaimed.

This passage speaks to what is essential even thousands of years later. When I have preached such passages in the past, there is always at least one person who asks why Isaiah’s prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet. The person will inevitably point out that if Jesus was the one who would make this happen, then he obviously did not. And why not?

It’s an excellent question that does not have a simple answer. I do believe that Jesus is the girl-489110_1280one about whom Isaiah prophesied. I do believe Jesus revealed the way to bring about fulfillment of the ancient promises. Everything Jesus did, the way he treated the people he encountered, the way he died, was to show us what was essential to living a holy life. So why is the world not a better place? Why do we still have pain and suffering, sin and oppression? Why do we not have nations that are trees of integrity?

God may love justice and hate robbery and sin, but we as individuals and nations find justice, liberation, and rebuilding to be really difficult. It’s easier to do what we want and take what we want and think that others somehow deserve less. When it comes right down to it, if we want the world to be a place of justice and mercy, we need to actively seek justice, show mercy, live a life of loving-kindness. It’s entirely possible. It’s not easy but it is possible;Jesus has already shown us the way.

joySince this Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent and traditionally the Sunday of Joy, you may be wondering where the joy is in all of this. We were promised life in God that brings good news to the poor, healing for those with broken hearts, release for those held captive, and liberation for those in prison. Countless people around the world are desperately in need of these things so what’s to be joyful about?

Life in Christ means we are not alone in bearing the responsibility. In Christ we have community to remind us that integrity and justice is worth the effort to turn away from sin. In Christ we are not left alone to bear the full weight of all that is wrong in our world. When we live in Christ, it is possible to rejoice and give thanks because we know that love is stronger than any evil. We can rejoice knowing that God loved humanity and all of creation enough, to send Jesus to prove (among other things) that it is possible for human beings to embody divine love.

This is the joy-filled good news. It also challenges us to figure out what is essential to Christian faith right now and what needs to be discarded. It is not too late for those trees of integrity to take root and to flourish.

May the God of peace make you perfect in holiness. May you be preserved whole and complete—spirit, soul, and body—at the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is trustworthy:  God will make sure it comes to pass.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday of Advent – December 14, 2014
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Tree image from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Black Lives Matter: A Litany for Lighting the Peace Candle

Console my people, give them comfort,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem’s heart,
and tell it
that its time of service has ended,
that its iniquity is atoned for,
that it has received from the YHWH’s hand
double for punishment for all its sins.

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Where is this consolation and comfort
for God’s people?
Where are the tender words for black mothers’ hearts?
Why have we not lived into the
end of prejudice and hatred?
All iniquity – black, white, red, yellow, and brown –
as been atoned for.
Surely, there is no need of murder and death at human hands when God no longer                                                                                                   punishes.

A voice cries out:
“Clear a path through the wilderness for YHWH!
Make straight a road through the desert for our God!
Let every valley be filled in,
   and every mountain and hill be laid low;
let every cliff become a plain,
   and the ridges become a valley!
Then the glory of YHWH will be revealed,
   and all humankind will see it.”
   for the mouth of the YHWH has spoken.”

personal-349256_1280All voices need to cry out:
Clear a path through this needless fear for the Living God!
Make straight a road through ignorance and injustice for God to walk.
Let all racism be brought into the light;
let every abuse of power be put to an end,
and the oppressed clothed in justice!
Then the glory of God will be revealed,
and all humankind will experience  grace.
These are the ways of God.
 
A voice commands, “Cry out!”
   and I answer, “What shall I say?”
–“All flesh is grass,
and its beauty is like the wildflowers:
The grass withers
and the flower wilt,
when the breath of YHWH blows on them.
How people are like the grass!
Grass withers, the flowers wilt,
but the promise of our God will stand for ever.

boy-509487_1280The injustice of those in power commands, “Cry out!”
There is no need to ask, “What shall I say?”
All flesh if fragile and finite,
and it is all wonderfully and beautifully made.
No human life lasts forever
or has more value than another.
The Breath of Life flows through all equally.
Black lives matter.
White privilege does not determine value.
Lives filled with anger and hatred will pass.
The promise of God will stand forever
where there is love, mercy, and kindness.

Go up on a high mountain,
you who bring good news to Zion!
Shout with a loud voice,
you who bring good news to Jerusalem!
Shout without fear,
and say to the towns of Judah,
   “Here is your God!”
YHWH, O Sovereign One,
you come with power ,
and rule with a strong arm!
You bring your reward with you,
   and your reparation comes before you.
Like a shepherd you feed your flock,
   gathering the lambs and holding them close,
and leading mother ewes with gentleness.

handprints-500659_1280Go out to the streets crowded with anger,
you who bring good news to the people!
Shout without fear to dispel the fear,
and say to all the cities and towns,
Your God is here!
The Ruler and Giver of life has power
and strength to change what is.
We are to embody this God in all that we do.
We are to be the shepherds who feed the hungry,
who gather in the children and hold them close,
and lead grieving mothers with gentleness.

candle-546563_1280Black lives matter.
I light this Advent Candle of Peace
in the name of
Akai Gurley
Tamir Rice
Michael Brown
Eric Garner
and the countless other black men who have been killed by police officers

As we gather in this Advent Light, shining in the darkness of injustice, make your way known to us, Holy God. While we may not have created the horrors of racism, we are responsible for changing it and bringing about justice for all your people. Guide our feet in the way of peace. Have mercy on us. In Christ’s name. Amen.

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday of Advent, Peace – December 7, 2014
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

The Scripture quoted here is from The Inclusive Bible.

All photos from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Wait For It

Advent is all about waiting. As the world grows dark here in the Northeast, we prepare for the Light. One small flame in a circle of darkness reminds us that there is a Light that always shines no matter what happens in our lives, in our homes, in our cities, in our country, or in our world. During these next few weeks we will anticipate the coming of Christ once more. Most of us won’t expect anything to be different after Christmas, but there is a childlike hope buried in each of us that wonders if, maybe, this year will be different.

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How different it is might just depend on what we do while we’re waiting and anticipating. Real waiting takes endurance and it’s not for the faint of heart. There’s no sitting still and kicking back if you’re waiting for Christ to come into the world. Instead, there is preparation, activity, cleaning up and sorting out to be done. What would have happened if the ancient Israelites gave up on their God while they waited for the Promised One? What would have happened if Mary said, “no” or Joseph didn’t feel like walking to Bethlehem? What would have happened if the Magi didn’t follow a star? What will happen if you and I don’t do anything different in preparation for the Christ-child this year?

Waiting isn’t easy. We’ve all done it. I waited for 16 years for a call that has finally come. It’s not like I didn’t do anything in the meantime, but the waiting was overwhelming at times. The moments of self-doubt and frustration were intense and made me question myself and God. Hope was slippery and hard to hold onto more often than I’d like to admit. But there was a Light that shone through all the darkness, even when I couldn’t see it.

From ages past no ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen any God but you intervening for those who wait for you! Oh, that you would find us doing right, that we would be mindful of you in our ways!”

For me it feels like a very long period of Advent waiting is over. However, Advent is just beginning and there is more Light waiting to come into this world. We still wait for peace. We still wait for justice. We still wait for equality. We still wait for so much in this dark and broken world. While we are waiting, what are we going to do differently this year so some hope, some expectation, really can be fulfilled?

“But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it—neither the angels of heaven, nor the Only Begotten—no one but Abba God. Be constantly on watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.”

meditation-64051_1920RCL – Year B – First Sunday of Advent – November 30, 2014
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Photos used by permission from pixabay.com

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Confessional Prayer for the End of the Liturgical Year

agriculture-1816_640Shepherding God, you want only goodness for your people. At the close of this liturgical year, a good look around makes it clear that your ways are not always human ways. If your ways were our ways, all would have safe housing, food and drink enough, proper care, and justice in all things. Too often, these basic needs are denied and people are left to wander far from your pastures. In a world of abundance, it is truly sinful that so many go without proper shelter, nutrition, and care. Show us how to change our ways lest we squander the blessings of this earth.

Steadfast and faithful God, have mercy on us. Grant to us the spirit of wisdom and revelation the Apostle Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus. We truly need the eyes of our hearts opened that we might see the hope you have for us, to experience the richness of your abundance, and the transforming power of life in you. There is so much more we could do with all that we have been given. Yet, we so often remain paralyzed by the overwhelming needs of the world around us. Sometimes, we even get lost in our own lives, forgetting that we have sisters and brothers who need us to reach out with compassion and grace. Let us breathe deeply your breath of life that we may awaken to the wideness of your mercy.

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God of promise and grace, usher in your reign of peace. Forgive us when we walk by the hungry and homeless people on the streets without even noticing. We seldom offer drinks to those who are thirsty or welcome the stranger among us with open arms. When we hear of those in need of clothing and healthcare, we often turn away. Instead of visiting those who are prisoners, we prefer to tell ourselves that they deserve to be there. It is too easy for us to turn away from those whose needs are greater than our own even while you call us to care for those who are hungry, thirsty, lost, naked, sick, or in prison. The news of murder and acts of terrorism are so common they fail to move us to action. Ambivalence and apathy often replace action in our daily living. We long for peace in the world, in our country, in our cities, in our homes, and in our lives. Teach us to walk in the way of peace.

Joyful, loving God, let the winds of your Spirit blow through our lives as we prepare for a new year, a new opportunity to serve you with our whole hearts. While the world is full of dark and broken places, remind us that we have not always failed. We have shared moments of joy and transformation. We have sometimes touched the heart of another with compassion and love. We have returned to you in gratitude for all of our blessings and asking forgiveness for all the ways we have contributed to the broken places. You continue to claim us as your own beloved children and we are thankful. May the joy of this knowledge enter us more deeply, enabling us to love our neighbors and ourselves. Hear our prayers in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Photos used with permission. Pixabay.com

RCL – Year A – Reign of Christ Sunday – November 23, 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 100 or
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

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Out of the Sand

As the liturgical year nears its end, the Gospel reading rightfully raises the question of what we do with our gifts. It would be easy enough to ask this question individually. We know if we are giving back based on what we have been given or if we have have left our gifts hidden and untouched. Certainly, reflecting on this is a good spiritual practice every now and then. What happens if we ask this question of a congregation or denomination or the whole of the Christian Church? We who are the body of Christ in the world, what are we doing with what we have been given?

I wonder about the Church and what we do with the gifts we have been so freely given. I don’t want to talk about the nuances of theology or doctrine or what membership requires. I want us to make a difference in the world because we embody Christ. I’m particularly desirous of changing the world for the better this week because of three news stories I encountered this week.

The first is: 47 people killed in bombing outside Nigerian school; Boko Haram suspected As I drove to work on Monday, I listened to this story on the radio. Boko Haram, the same group responsible for kidnapping more girls than we know, bombed a boys’ school. This extremist group is at least as terrifying as ISIS if not more so. Why did news of Kim Kardashian’s latest exploits eclipse this story very quickly? Moreover, what are we doing to prevent religious extremism and the fear and hatred that comes right along with them?

The second news story is: Top Delinquent Mine Has Deadly Legacy I don’t live in a mining community and I don’t think I know anyone who does. However, I was horrified that this kind of thing can still happen in 2014. Coal mining companies fined for safety violations and resulting deaths only to have the companies default on the fines. What’s worse is that they continue to operate mines and put people’s lives at risk. Why are these companies not shut down and why aren’t more people demanding safe and fair labor practices for these miners?

The third story is: Supervisor threatens to hang worker for drinking from ‘white people’ fountain This is outrageous! Many of my friends and colleagues believe that racism is a “non-issue.” Clearly, it is not a non-issue if things like this can happen. Quite frankly, this story leaves me nearly speechless. I don’t even know what more to say except to ask, how seriously do we engage in conversations around racism? Are we doing all that we can to stop these kinds of things from happening?

Because I found myself asking, “How can this be happening in 2014?” too many times this week, I am asking our churches what they are doing with the abundance of gifts we have been given? It’s time to take our talents out of the sand.

In the meantime, please join with me in praying Psalm 123:photo-1415226181422-279a51ca056e

To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of subjects
look to the hand of their ruler,
so our eyes look to the Sovereign our God,
until God has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O God, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than its fill
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
and its fill of the contempt of the proud.

Photo used with permission.                                                                                                                  Unsplash.com

RCL – Year A – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 16, 2014
Judges 4:1-7 with Psalm 123 or
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 with Psalms 90:1-8 (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

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Bidding Prayer for Justice

Come, let us pray for the church throughout the world.
People are invited to share their prayers quietly or silently.
Steadfast God of all times and places, hear our prayers for your church in all its varied forms. We give thanks for the guidance of your Spirit and the ways in which people throughout the world serve you and work for justice and peace. We know that there is much work to do even when we, like Joshua’s Israelites, are often tempted by the gods of the lands. Continue to have mercy on us and give all your people strength and courage as they seek to serve you and embody your forgiveness, grace, and love.
Hear our prayers, O Lord.
May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Let us pray for the United Church of Christ here and elsewhere.
People are invited to share their prayers quietly or silently.
God of the wilderness and the margins, we turn to you in these unsettling times. You have gathered us to be your body here and now, calling us to work for peace and justice for all people. Give us oil in our lamps that we may never fall asleep and miss out on the ministries you desire of us. Be especially with Geoffrey Black, our Minister and President, as he balances his ministry with preparations for retirement, and with all conference staff and clergy in these times of challenge and changes. Gather us anew that we may be united and continue uniting with others in our service to you.
Hear our prayers, O Lord.
May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Let us pray for all the people of the world.
People are invited to share their prayers quietly or silently.
Wondrous God of many names, we lift up to you our brothers and sisters around the world. You created humanity with an amazing diversity to reflect your light. Set us on a path that will lead us away from our fearful, self-protective ways toward a future filled with joyful welcome and radical inclusion. You did not create us for war, violence, and distrust. Rather, you would have us live in peace, trusting in your ways. May we walk in the way of peace, proclaiming all the wonders that you have done.
Hear our prayers, O Lord.
May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Let us pray for the whole of creation.
People are invited to share their prayers quietly or silently.
Creator and creating God, hear our gratitude of the gifts of the earth. Too often we take for granted this incredible world you have given to us. We tend to consume without thinking too much about where things come from. It is not too late for us to be good stewards of this planet. We can learn to live more gently, more kindly on the earth. The beauty all around us is more fragile than we want to admit and needs us to change our ways. Teach us to heed your call to be caretakers of the earth.
Hear our prayers, O Lord.
May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Let us pray for our nation.
People are invited to share their prayers quietly or silently.
God of all generations, we recognize that our country is one among many. While we focus on our needs here in this country, we know that people everywhere are calling on you for your wisdom, guidance, and grace. Even as we pray for peace and justice within our borders so, too, do we lift up to you countries with greater need than our own. Be with the leaders of this nation, especially President Obama, granting them the wisdom and courage to be advocates for those without power and privilege. May we all learn to work together to honor the vision liberty and justice for all.
Hear our prayers, O Lord.
May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

Let us pray for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.
People are invited to share their prayers quietly or silently.
Compassionate God who knows our every weakness, shine your light in our deepest darkness. Sickness frightens us and reminds us that there are limits to our knowledge, our abilities, and even our lives. Sometimes it is hard for us to be gracious in the face of suffering, our own or our neighbor’s. Yet, you call us to love one another as you love us. Free us from our anxious ways that we may share our resources with those who suffer that all may find hope, comfort, and healing.
Hear our prayers, O Lord.
May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Let us pray for all those who are grieving.
People are invited to share their prayers quietly or silently.
God whose light no darkness can overcome, be with all those who mourn. Loss touches all of us sooner or later and it seems to come to some more than others. We pray for those whose hearts are broken and those who cannot imagine a future for themselves. Especially, we pray for those whose loved ones died suddenly by murder, suicide, accident or illness. May your church be a place of shelter until hope and life can be found again.
Hear our prayers, O Lord.
May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

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Let us give thanks to God for all the blessings of our lives.
People are invited to share their prayers quietly or silently.
God of the famine times and the feast times, we give you thanks for all the ways you shower us with your grace. Our lives are full of busyness and distractions and we might fail to notice the small miracles of your creation. Yet in our quiet moments, we see your handiwork everywhere. We are grateful that you claim us as your beloved and we strive to live to honor you. May our lives be reflections of your abundance.
Hear our prayers, O Lord.
May justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.                Photo used with permission
Amen.                                                                                         pdphoto.org

RCL – Year A – Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 9, 2014
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 with Psalm 78:1-7  or
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24 or
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

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