Palm Sunday Bidding Prayer

church-window-579059_1280Come, let us pray for all those who wave palm branches and shout “Hosannas” today.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

God who welcomes our praise and comforts our sorrow, unite us with all who celebrate Jesus’ return to Jerusalem today. May all your people be joined together in shouts of praise that cross barriers of language, culture, and doctrine.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for the United Church of Christ gathered here and elsewhere.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

Incarnate God, today we remember the great love you have for the whole of creation. Jesus lived among us, experiencing joy and enduring suffering. As “Hosannas” tumble from our lips today, we are mindful that we can easily be swayed to join the crowds who will shout “Crucify!” in a few days. We see divisions in our churches that you did not create. You would have us be one in bringing about your reign of justice for all creation. Be with those who lead us, especially our clergy, Shari Prestemon our Conference Ministry, and Geoffrey Black our General Minister and President. Remove from us all the barriers we build that prevent us from living as you taught.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for all the peoples of the world.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

God of mercy and love, as we enter into this Holy Week, open our eyes and our hearts. All around us there are strangers who would become neighbors and foreigners who would become friends. We divide ourselves by race, creed, and culture. Yet, it does not matter to you if a life lost is Christian, Muslim, Jew, Wiccan, Buddhist, Hindu or followers of any other religion. You have breathed life into us all and claim us as your children. Fill us with the peace that passes all human understanding that we may share the joys and pains of all your people without prejudice or preference.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for this nation.palm-leaf-233282_1280
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

Patient God, you have set before us the ways of life and death, inviting us to choose the way of love or the way of power. The mistaken belief that there is only one right way to be religious has distracted many from building a system of justice for all those who live within our borders. Be with all those elected to public office, especially Barak Obama, granting them the wisdom to see human need in the midst of all conflict. May the palm branches we wave today pave the way to systems of justice for all.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for all those in need of healing.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

God who knows how fragile life is, enter into all the hidden and dark places of the world. Even in times of celebration, keep us mindful of those who struggle for health in body, mind, or spirit. This week we will be challenged to walk with you through betrayal, abandonment, and death. Keep us mindful of those around us who are having these experiences now. Give us the strength and compassion needed to follow you and accompany others who suffer. You are the Great Healer and we put our trust in you.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Come, let us pray for all those who are grieving.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

Eternal God, you have experience life and death, hope and loss. You know the pain of grief – the grief we feel when we lose people, jobs, homes, pets anything that helps us to know who we are and where we belong. None of us escapes the pain of loss. As we begin this week of holy remembrance, we remember those who are overwhelmed by loss, especially parents who have lost children to suicide, murder, war, mental illness, or addictions. Shine your light in the painful, empty places in our lives and grant us the grace to hold hope for those who can’t hold it for themselves.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever.

palm-618002_1280Come, let us give thanks for all of our blessings.
(people may quietly voice their prayers)

God of abundant life, you have claimed us as your own beloved children. You invite us to follow you to new life every day and call us to share your abundance. Hear our thanksgiving and praise for all the ways your love touches our lives. May the gratitude we feel in this moment, guide us through this week of betrayal, sin, and death into the promise of new life and deeper relationship with you.

O give thanks to God;
God’s steadfast love endures forever. Amen.

RCL – Year B – Palm Sunday – March 29, 2015
Mark 11:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

All photos from Pixabay.com. Used by permission.

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A Lenten Prayer for Mercy

In the midst of all that is, I cry out to you, O God. My words hold anger and outrage over the acts of hatred down the street and around the world. I want you to change the hearts of those who perpetrate violence and evil on innocent lives and those who condone separatist and racist views. I challenge you to write your law on their hearts.

Until I hear my own voice. Then I pray for your mercy. Forgive those times when I have remained silent when another is victimized. Or the times when only anger motivates me to utter words the feed only the dark places in me and around me. In these moments, my sins are clear even to my unseeing eyes. Have mercy on me, according to your steadfast love.

Even as I ask for mercy, I know that I come seeking you when it is convenient for me. While I want to condemn those who claim to know you and act with so much hatred, I realize that I am not much different. Like those Greeks who came long ago to see you after you raised Lazarus, I come calling your name. I wish to see you, not as you are, but in a way that makes me comfortable. Show me your ways that I will remember your word.

Deep in the wilderness of this season, it is easier for me to rail against the sins of others than to acknowledge my own. I can denounce politicians and policy makers for ignoring the needs of prisoners and immigrants, the homeless and the lost, the asylum seekers and the broken ones. Yet, how often I have failed to see you in their faces! I can be so quick to judge and so slow to show your mercy. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with in me.

Guide me through the darkness that lurks just waiting for me to turn from your light. I would honor your covenant of love and grace. Grant me the courage to let go of all those things that prevent me from bearing much fruit. You offer your mercy over and over again. This time, may I live in your grace long enough to pass it on to another.

Write your law upon my heart, O God.be-511557_1920

Christ have mercy on me.

Amen.

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2015
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33                                                  Image from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Perspective and Context

sun-622740_1920No one can dispute that there are horrible things happening in the world today. Police officers shot in Ferguson. An Iraqi man murdered in Texas. Increased violence in Iraq. Kids killing themselves as a result of bullying. Racist hate crimes. The list goes on. For me, the horror increases when these behaviors are justified by religious beliefs.

For many who identify themselves as Christians, John 3:16 is used as justification to condemn another who is not a “believer.” A great disservice is done when this verse is taken out of context. I don’t think it was ever meant to be a litmus test for faith and it certainly should never be used as grounds to devalue another human life.

While my Greek is a little rusty and I don’t claim to be an expert, here is my translation of this week’s Gospel reading. (The words in italics are words I changed to be inclusive and, therefore, are not the literal translation.):

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desolate place, so must the child of humanity be lifted up that everyone believing into the child of humanity should not be being destroyed but may be having life eternally. Thus, God loves the cosmos so that God gave the only begotten One, that everyone believing into the Begotten One should not be being destroyed but may be having life eternally. God did not commission the Begotten One into the cosmos to be judging the cosmos but that the cosmos may be being saved through the Begotten One. The one believing into the Begotten One is not being judged. The one not yet believing already has been judged because that one has not believed into the name of the Only Begotten of the God.

This yet is the judging that the light has come into the cosmos and the humans love the darkness rather than the light, because of their wicked acts. For everyone practicing foul actions is hating the light and is not coming toward the light that their actions may not be exposed. Yet the one doing the truth is coming toward the light that one’s acts may be being made manifest as done in God.

 These verses are part of a conversation with Nicodemus who asked how he could inherit eternal life, how he could become more like Jesus. These words are part of Jesus’ response to Nicodemus; they are personal. They mean something more than we usually hear.

When I read the Greek, I hear an on-going process. It sounds less like something that was done long ago and more like an invitation that continues even now. We are invited to believe into, to live into, the Light. If we don’t or can’t, it is more than likely because something we are doing (or something that has been done to us) holds us back. We are afraid of what we will have to acknowledge when the Light shines in our lives.

It’s this very personal statement that makes me think this passage has been miss-heard and misused for a very long time. There is no mention here of other religions. The passage simply tells us that God loves the cosmos, the whole of creation, and wants to bring it into the Light of God. Those who encounter Christ and walk in the Light go on to live lives that are transformed; their actions are done in God. Those who don’t encounter Christ, there is no condemnation. There are other invitations to the Holy Light. There has to be. And those other invitations do not diminish or limit God’s capacity to love the cosmos.

And, really, we all ought to be more attentive to what we ourselves are doing and why. Are the actions we claim as Christian filled with the light and love of Christ or are they really causing pain or harm to someone or something? Let us all bring our actions into the Light as we journey through the remainder of this Lenten season. Life is far too short and too precious to waste it hiding in the dark or bringing anything other than light into the world.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday in Lent
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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10 Commandments 2.0

Typically, progressive Christians don’t talk much about the Ten Commandments. I’m not sure why, exactly. Maybe we think they don’t have so much to say to us. I think they do so I’ve written them as they might be if they were given today. The idea came out of a text study with colleagues earlier this week.

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Exodus 20: 1-17

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

                                                           Then God spoke these words:

                                                            I am the Holy One your God, I have given my life for                                                                     you, to save you from yourself. Do not choose gods of                                                                  your own  making as they will not give you life.

 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

                                                         Do not put your faith in things made by human hands.                                                                They will leave you alone and disappointed. The                                                                            devastation can be felt for generations. If you love me, the                                                          God who is love, your children will be blessed with love for                                                          generations to come. 

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

                                                       Do not use my name frivolously. Every time you do, you                                                             diminish the awe and wonder I bring to each moment. You                                                         also devalue yourself each time you devalue the One who                                                             made you.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

                                                       Take a Sabbath. You need a day to rest your body, your                                                              mind, and your spirit. The world will continue in all its                                                                busyness, that is not an excuse for making time to rest and                                                          remember that I am your God, that you are my beloved                                                              child, and worship heals your spirit.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

                                                       Honor your parents. Forgive them for their mistakes and                                                            their wrongs and you will find freedom and peace.

You shall not murder.

                                                        Do not murder anyone or commit acts of violence toward                                                           another. Peace never results from violent words or actions.

 You shall not commit adultery.

                                                       Do not enter into a sexual or romantic relationship with                                                              anyone who is not free to be in relationship with you. The                                                            pain it will cause you and others will be more than you                                                                realize.

 You shall not steal.

                                                     Do not take anything that belongs to another. You will cause                                                      unnecessary hurt and have to deal with the guilt and shame                                                      that could result.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

                                                     Do not lie – to yourself or anyone else. Lies have a way of                                                            consuming you and destroying relationships.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

                                                     Do not let jealousy or envy distract you from what is                                                                    important. You do not need possessions to prove your                                                                  worth.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday in Lent – March 8, 2015
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Covenant Again

tree-255511_1920

Covenant

An invitation to join in the eternal dance,
to wrap our lives with sacred song,
to be still and known and loved

Everlasting, unbreakable, irreversible
no matter what we do or don’t do,
a gift offered to the whole of Creation

All any of us has to do is accept –
accept the love, the forgiveness, the mercy –
and hold nothing back

That’s the hard part.

We want to hold everything back
most of the time and can hardly believe
that we are loved by a God
so steadfast, so enduring, so merciful
as to claim us and call us Beloved

The rhythm of the universe sings praises
to guide us to the sacred promise
that can save us from our selves
if we are willing to risk everything
to gain everything

Yet something in us resists the idea
that we are made in love for love,
that we don’t need hatred, fear, or violence
we just don’t sit still long enough
or often enough to know

God waits for us
over and over again
God waits for us
for us to return to the eternal dance

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday of Lent – March 1, 2015
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Noah, Jesus, and a Little Thing Called Covenant

People are generally impatient. We don’t like to wait in line or slow down if the person in front of us is slower. We complain when worship runs over the allotted time. We click agree without paying much attention to the stated terms if we are in a hurry to get to the webpage we want. We order things instantly on-line rather than drive to the store. Many prefer texting over any other form of communication. If an article is too long, we skip to the end. We are in a hurry most of the time.

2013-02-17 11.12.11

Strangely, enough, our general lack of patience and attention to detail is evident in the little snippet we read this week of the Noah story. God is very repetitive in making the covenant with Noah. Over and over again, God says that God will make a covenant not to destroy the earth by flood again, a covenant with Noah and all future generations, with the birds of the air, the beasts of the earth, with every living creature, and with the earth itself.

I think we missed it. Rainbows or not, a multitude of generations have missed this all-encompassing covenant God made. The funny thing about covenant is that it is not one-sided. God agreed not to destroy the earth by flood and Noah opted in. Presumably, agreeing not to destroy the earth as well. Then humankind proceeded to develop increasingly more effective ways to kill each other, wipe out whole species of living things, and significantly damage the earth as well.

We aren’t much better at covenant than we are at patience. Covenant is a sacred promise, a promise involving God and at least one other party. We have not done very well with our end in upholding the covenant from Noah’s days. The proof is everywhere we look. Drought in California, record-breaking snow in the Northeast, wars across the globe, and a whole lot of other destruction happening. Things could change, but most people are reluctant to put in the time to effect real change in the environment, in conflict-resolution, in healthier living.

There are even some who will say that the covenant made in Christ nullified all covenants made before. This strikes me as a weak excuse to go on being ambivalent or even apathetic about making necessary changes. When God made the covenant with Moses, it was a series of statements to be clear that God was including the whole world in the promise not to destroy the world again. Noah agreed on behalf of all future generations. Jump ahead a few thousand years and we get to Jesus. John’s Gospel at least makes it very clear why the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus happened:  God so loved the world. Sound familiar?

The promise of abundant life, the covenant made through Christ, is an upgrade from the covenant made with Noah. God isn’t just promising not to destroy humanity or the rest of the world in this covenant. God is promising to flood the world with love. When we claim Christianity, we are entering into this covenant. We are making a sacred promise not just to avoid destruction, but, moreover, to embody love. Love for the whole of creation. God is tricky that way. We humans are impatient and don’t pay attention to the fine print very well.

2013-02-09 22.01.31Lent is an excellent time to reflect on what it means to be in a covenant of love with God and one another. As we fast from food, carbon, electronic gadgets, shopping or whatever else gets in the way of us encountering the sacred in everyday life, we should use that time to figure out how we can better hold up our end of the deal. God will go on loving us no matter how poorly we live into the covenant given us in Christ. That’s a given. However, it’s also a given that the world could do with a whole lot more patient attention to the ways of love and far less impatient, hurried ways of destruction.

Why not make love for ourselves, our neighbors, our God, our world the spiritual practice for Lent?

RCL – Year B – First Sunday in Lent – February 22, 2015
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

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More Reaction than Sermon…

winter-610894_1920Jesus wouldn’t shoot anyone. He wouldn’t shoot anyone over a parking space whether the person was Muslim or not. Jesus wouldn’t shoot a person because they had black skin. Jesus wouldn’t shoot anyone over land, oil, religion, or politics. So if you are going to commit violence with your actions or your words, please stop using Jesus to say that you are justified or that someone else’s horrific actions are justified. Jesus was not violent and did not advocate for violence against anyone else. Those of us who call ourselves Christians need to stop saying that Jesus would approve of shooting, of war, of any kind of hatred or violence.

I think of what happened on that mountain top centuries ago with Jesus and his disciples. Then I think about all the violence and hatred supported in the name of that bright, shining light, God’s own beloved, and it makes me sick. I know I am not alone. I will not remain silent. I’m tired of those who spread nothing more than hatred in Jesus’ name having all the say. I don’t know if Craig Stephen Hicks had any religious motivation for killing three people. But I have heard others justifying his behavior because his victims were Muslim. They were human beings, young adults who had so much life ahead of them. Nothing can convince me that there is any good reason for them to be dead. And saying that they were Muslim so that somehow makes it okay, just makes the tragedy of their murders that much worse. For those of us who have witnessed the Light and have heard the voice of Love, to remain silent is a greater crime.

The outrage after President Obama’s reference to the Crusades shows just how much we aren’t willing to consider the violence throughout Christian history. The problem is that it has not ended. No, we are not declaring a religious war against another nation or people. But violence is pervasive in our society where Christianity still holds the religious majority. Too many of us or our friends or neighbors still think Christianity makes some kinds of hatred and violence okay.

Who really thinks that Jesus would not want LGBT people to marry? Who really thinks that Jesus would want poor people to remain hungry and thirsty and without medical care? Who really thinks that Jesus thinks differently, feels differently, about people based on the color of their skin or their country of origin? It’s time we stop this foolishness. Christians today may not be as bad as ISIS, but we have been in our sordid past. And some of us aren’t all that much better even now. If fear and hatred guide our words and deeds, then we are still committing violence and, likely, using Jesus to justify it.

So I repeat myself. Jesus would not shoot anyone for any reason. Jesus would not exclude anyone from the rites and sacraments of the church. Jesus would not hate anyone. It’s time to make it stop. Wherever you are, make the violence stop in your life and let the transfiguring light of God shine through you so that other lives may change.

The Crusaders of long ago didn’t know better. We do. Let’s do better. Now.

RCL – Year B – Transfiguration – February 15, 2015
2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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