Pastoral Prayer for Humility

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Mysterious and wonderful God, throughout human history you have been present. You have shown up and repeatedly demonstrated your power, a power beyond human understanding. We want to believe that we know the whole truth of you who are. We lament when you don’t seem to act in the dramatic, awe-inspiring ways as you did in the days of the Prophets. We want you to consume our offerings—plates, coins, altars, and all. But we are also terrified for what that might mean. Forgive our self-serving foolishness, and remind us of the depths of your mystery and wonder.

God of all people and places, you are known throughout the world by so many names. You are honored by worship and songs of praise in countless tongues. Somehow, still, we want to know that the name we call you is the one true name and our worship is the one true worship. Our quest for certainty often closes us off to your abundance. We forget that all the people of the world are your children. We are filled with fear and hatred when we ought to be living in love and praying for peace. Forgive us when we believe that our small view of you defines the whole of you for ourselves and for all peoples.

Singing and creating God, you make all things new again and again. You want us to sing you a new song, a song that opens all to the glories of your love. We are so easily swayed by shiny, fleeting things or fooled into believing that the gods of our own making are enough. We blame you when things go wrong and we suffer. Yet, we fail to sing your praises when we are well and happy. We judge others as less deserving when compassion and justice are what you ask of us. Stir your Spirit within us that we might let go of a faith too small and open ourselves to all the possibilities you hold for us. Forgive us when we forget to sing to you and when we are too comfortable to create what needs to be.

God of love and mercy, you claim us as your own. You know our names and you hear the secret whisperings of our hearts. You thought Creation wonderful enough to send Jesus to show us the way of love. Even when humanity responded in fear and violence, you did not let the story end there. Instead you spoke Love and breathed out Life. Still, we seek the approval of those around us long before considering you. Show us your way once more; call us off paths that lead to violence, hatred, and harm. Forgive us when we act as if your love and mercy do not exist.

Patient and steadfast God, you love us as we are. You so patiently wait for us to see you, hear you, love you. We think faith is something to be measured even though Jesus made it clear that even faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. When things go wrong or we didn’t notice the answer to our prayers, we think we did not have enough faith or that we did not pray correctly. We worry too much about how much faith we have or what “right” faith might look like. You tell us simply to believe – yes, I believe; help my unbelief or no, I don’t belief. That’s all it takes. You provide the rest. Forgive us when our narrowly defined faith gets in the way of our experiencing the miracles all around us.

Holy One, you are beyond our knowing. With humble hearts we lift up to you all the places of pain in the world. Teach us anew how to embody Christ right here and  for all those whom we meet. Fill us with humility enough to walk with you, bring justice into the world, and act only with kindness. In gratitude, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

For sermon help, you might want to go here.

Photo: CC0 image by 547764

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Pentecost – May 29, 2016
1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39 with Psalm 96
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 with Psalm 96:1-9
Galatians 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

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10 Ducklings: A Lesson in Wisdom

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Every once in a while ordinary things become extraordinary. While out to buy new walking shoes, my wife and I stopped at a gas station on the way home. There was a mother duck and one baby duck. I was remarking how sad that was because it meant that she lost the others. Then the one baby disappeared into the grate it was walking over. The mother’s distress became apparent then. I jumped out of the car, ran over to the grates, and lifted them off. The rescue of ten ducklings followed shortly.

My first thought was how stupid the poor mother duck was. Then it occurred to me that there was nothing wrong with the duck. Those grates were made by human hands and human minds too focused on other things to make grates that baby ducklings could not fall through. How foolishly self-focused we human beings can be!

Now I think about Wisdom – God’s first act of creation – hovering over creation’s waters and crying out in the marketplace, at the crossroads, and at the gates, and I wonder who is listening to her. The news I’ve seen recently would say that there are few who hear her sacred words. There are better things to worry about than which bathroom any particular person chooses to use or the sexual orientation of one’s clergy person. The sheer numbers of people who respond to the fear-mongering balderdash of a certain presidential candidate indicates the inability to hear the beautiful, though often challenging words of Wisdom. It seems that some people are quite content to let ducklings fall through grates and then blame the ducks rather than save the ducklings and fix the grates.

During this season of Pentecost may we open our ears and our hearts to Wisdom. She knows the depths and what powerful gifts may rise from them. She knows the heights and what transforming joy may live there. She knows the human capacity for folly and for genius. She has walked the earth since before time was counted. We would do well to listen to her. Perhaps when we do, we can save more than ducklings.

RCL – Year C – Trinity Sunday, First Sunday after Pentecost – May 22, 2016
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Photo CC-BY-NC by Erika Sanborne

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Come, Holy Spirit, Come

2016-05-11 11.34.18Many years ago I was the interim pastor at a small church and was free to celebrate Pentecost without regard to that congregation’s tradition. We decided that it would be confirmation day for the small group of youth who had been going to classes and they wanted red balloons among other things. This was long before I knew anything about latex allergies so red balloons it was. They were tied in bunches all over the sanctuary and there were red streamers galore. It was a day of joy to be sure. Until a balloon escaped and wrapped itself around a ceiling fan.

For all I know that balloon is still there. While the Trustees were not amused because accessing those high ceiling fans was problematic, I found it very funny. These balloons were symbols of the Spirit, the Spirit we think we have tamed. The one rogue balloon reminded me that we have not tamed the Holy Spirit and we still cannot predict where she will go and she is very likely to present us with quite a bit of challenge.

As I contemplate Pentecost this year, I am surrounded by the beauty of Holy Wisdom Monastery in Wisconsin. I’ve come here to work on my next book, Embodying Christ: Being a Lifesaving Church. It is about my experience with suicide – part memoir, part theological reflection, and part clinical response. Beginning to write this book has provided me opportunity to look back at my life differently than I ever have before. I can see where the Spirit was moving even when I thought I was completely alone.

This is true for my personal story as well as my professional one. As I was walking through the rain-soaked woods this morning, listening to all the bird calls, sliding on the mud and wet grass, it occurred to me that the Church has no idea what power it holds. We have built beautiful buildings that are now crippling many congregations. We have created dogma and doctrine and rules of membership that keep people away. We have forgotten that we are stewards of Creation, agents of Grace, bearers of Hope. We think the Spirit is with us when we feel good. We choose not to remember the unsettling capacity of the Spirit to discomfort the comfortable and lead us to places we would not go on our own. The Spirit still calls as surely as those early morning birds I heard this morning. I’m not sure we are listening to her very well.

We worry about how to get Millennials into our congregations. We think if we have someone who can bring in young people and their families, all will be well. In the meantime, we’ve forgotten the power of the God we worship. We have long-neglected the flames of passion for fear of not being politically correct. We are reluctant to claim Christ as our path to God, a path that requires unbridled, unconditional love for ourselves, our neighbors, Creation and Creator. Why would young people want to join a church where the flight of the Spirit is disrupted by ceiling fans and traditions more often than she’s allowed to move where she wills?

2016-05-09 18.28.40.jpgWhile walking earlier today through wet woods and prairie on my way to a small lake, I noticed dear, rabbit, and fox tracks. I heard the call of a wide variety of birds and the sound of yesterday’s rain dripping off the newly leafed branches. Violets, purple and white are scattered everywhere. Other early wildflowers bring patches of yellow, white, and purple to the grassy path I walked. The sense of aliveness in this place awakens something in me. It’s been a long time since I’ve awoken to the sound of the woods in the morning. I yearn to breathe in this life, to be a part of the wildness that lies just below the surface.

This is what worship should do, this is what church should be. When we gather to worship God, there should be evidence of a barely contained wildness. A wildness that beckons to all, inviting all to stop a while and breathe deeply this breath of life that will change, challenge, and empower us.

As we celebrate Pentecost this year, may we experience the wildness of the Spirit that set those early heads on fire. May her winds blow through our lives and our churches to clear a path for passion. May her touch set our hearts aflame and connect us with the wildness that lies just below the surface. As a birthday gift to the Church, wouldn’t it be great to set her free?

RCL – Year C – Pentecost – May 15, 2016
Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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May I Have This Dance?

I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   John 17:23

Perichoresis

Something within me denies my arrhythmic feet.

     A voice challenges:

          DANCE!

Follow the steps of falling snow,
     the sway of new flowers,
     the fury of the sea,
     the whirl of autumn leaves.

          DANCE!

               Dance
                    freedom
                         courage
                              transformation
                                   life

          DANCE!

Grant rhythm to my rooted feet, O Lord,

     So the whispers of my dreams
          stir my spirit
          set my blood tapping
          create an ache for

               life
               freedom
               deep within

that I may evermore

DANCE!

with you.

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RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 8, 2016
Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
John 17:20-26

 

 

 

 

 
CC0 image by Petra

“Perichoresis” is from Barefoot Theology

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Discovering Joy

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Joy is a slow-growing, steadfast thing. It’s also not as fleeting as I once thought. I believed until quite recently that joy was an infrequent and reluctant visitor in my life. It would occasionally land for a few days and then flit away and I’d be left with comforting memories. I’ve discovered that it isn’t really like that; joy is a constant though it might sometimes be obscured. Strangely enough, the Book of Revelation helped me to come to this new understanding of joy.

Revelation is a book that is either loved or hated. No one feels ambivalent about it. Most mainline, progressive Protestant-types eschew the book entirely, dismissing it as an early form of science fiction or fantasy. Those who love it tend to see it more legalistically and take it as an actual prophecy of the end times. I am drawn to it for its poetic beauty. I can see that loveliness of the crystal city, feel the coolness of the river of life, and taste the fruit of the tree that will be the healing of the nations. Such promise in this vision of a new heaven and a new earth!

This last year has been a challenging one for me. I moved to a new city far away from all the places I had lived before. My mother died and opened old wounds I had thought were healed. These things combined in strange ways and resulted in me having to sort through my self-understanding from entirely new place. I wrestled with sadness, exhaustion, doubts, and a whole lot of pain. Yes, there were moments of joy and I knew that I was not alone. However, I felt I was missing something vital.woman-570883_1920

In the last few weeks I’ve had a very strong sense that something wonderful is about to
happen. I’m not prone to unbridled optimism. These last few weeks have not been easy ones so this pull toward expectant trust is also unwarranted. Yet, when I sit still and set aside my grief over my mother’s death, my concerns for the future well-being of the congregation I serve, anxiety over some medical tests, the stress that relocation has put on my family, and a few other things, I discover a sense of joy and wonder. I recognize, beyond doubt, that all really will be well, even when it doesn’t feel like it is.

Where does this come from? Well, you know that image in the Revelation text of a holy city? We, you and I and the rest of the Body of Christ, are that holy city. Or could be. All that Light is within us, within our reach if we can get out of the way. The Body of Christ is rooted in the Waters of Life. We are also the tree whose leaves will bring healing to the nations. At our best, the church is the new life described in Revelation and leads the way to peace. At our worst, we participate in the divisions and destructions, the sins, of the world. What might we be if the entirety of the Church committed itself to only speaking and embodying words of love? Healing of the nations, indeed!

I know these images appeal to my poet’s heart and they seem impossible. I really don’t think they are. There is a seed planted deep within each of us. Many of us don’t nurture it well or water it with gratitude often enough. We don’t take much time to notice how it grows or how deep the roots can go, so deep that they connect us to the very heart of the Creator. Sometimes we see its fruits and know that it’s there, at least in the moment. But it’s not a passing moment. Joy is a constant and it is within all of us just waiting for us to notice. It won’t take away the pain and heartache that comes with life, but it is a healing balm in these times of suffering.

Waiting for God to bring about this new holy city isn’t going to make it happen. If we live as though we are the Holy City, then we will become it. Toni Morrison wrote in Beloved, “If you can’t imagine it, then you can’t have it.” Can you imagine yourself as part of John’s holy city where living water flows freely and the nations are healed? There is joy there, joy enough for all.

(If you are looking for more sermon help, you might want to go here.)

RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2016
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Top  CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe.

Bottom  CC0 image by Jill Wellington

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No Distinctions

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Welcome. Inclusion. Hospitality. These are all church words, words we try to embody to the best of our ability. Yet, not everyone feels welcomed. Not everyone experiences inclusion. Not everyone receives hospitality. There are limits to our being church, aren’t there? We aren’t perfect and we sometimes get it wrong. True. However, what about that Spirit who tells Peter “not to make a distinction between them and us”? I’m not sure how well we do this. Quite recently someone asked me why nonmembers have the same status as members and shouldn’t members be given some sort of preference.

In late October 2008 I moved from Massachusetts to NH to work as a clinical chaplain at the state hospital. On the first Sunday in November, I went to worship at a church where I didn’t know anyone. I was newly divorced, just moved away from my friends, starting a new job, and in the first semester of a DMin program. Worship was the place I needed to be for healing, for renewal, for building new relationships.

bread-399286_1920.jpgI found a church that had an 8:00am worship service so I could worship before going to work to lead services of my own. People were friendly and welcoming. The worship service was great until communion. I think it was World Communion Sunday so the pastors had planned this beautiful procession with all kinds of bread being brought to the table. There were several loaves of bread in different colors and shapes. And the message was a very clear “all are welcome” to the table, no exceptions.

However, I was the exception. I was not able to share in that simple, beautiful feast because I have Celiac disease and multiple food allergies. The church I had been serving prior to moving was a small, new church start where I made the communion bread so that all could share one loaf. I knew that I couldn’t receive communion in most churches, but for a variety of reasons the exclusion from that particular table hit quite hard. It was unexpectedly painful and I sat crying in this place where I knew no one and no one knew me.

As unintended as my exclusion from the communion table was, that morning in worship I felt the pain of having been rejected by church again and again. The early questions of whether or not I as a young woman should go to seminary… the later questions of the propriety of a divorced pastor continuing to serve a church… then the clear rejection after coming out… So many times I had been excluded if not completely rejected. On that November morning in a new place, feeling so alone, I sought the welcome, hospitality, and inclusion of church. Instead of experiencing these things, I felt the old pangs of unworthiness vibrating deep within.

Peter wrestled with some of these issues in his dream. What food could be shared and with whom were valid questions of the very early church. There was an “us” – those who had been Jews – and a “them” – those who were Gentiles. Peter was very clearly informed that his way of thinking about us and them was not going to work. He was to meet the people who came to him and accompany them along the way without distinction. No doubt this was a hard thing for Peter to learn, but it was necessary for this movement that would grow into the church.

It’s a lesson we would do well to pay particular attention to in this era of radical changes within the church. Remember that Jesus didn’t seem to pay particular attention to traditions and rules when people came to him with particular needs. He nearly always met the person where they were at and gave them what was needed. His words to his disciples after their last meal together summarizes this, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When it comes to the body of Christ, there should be no “us and them.” This is how we love as Christ loved. If one has need, all have need. If one cannot, all cannot. That church in New Hampshire quickly moved to offering communion bread that accommodated my needs and the needs of others with food allergies. For me it was a huge step toward welcoming me and including me as “one of them.”hands-684499_1280.jpg

I cannot help but wonder who is feeling unwelcome and excluded from church now. Who could benefit from the hospitality we are capable of offering? There were no limits or qualifiers on Jesus’ love. When will the welcome, inclusion, and hospitality of the Christ we embody stop making distinctions between “us” and “them”?

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 24, 2016
Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Top Photo CC0 image by Petra
Middle Photo CC0 image by Sabine Schulte
Bottom Photo CC0 image by Axelle Spencer

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Resurrection is Now

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Words, actions, and promise chase each other through this week’s readings. Peter speaks and Tabitha returns to life in Acts. The Shepherd’s promise of life and presence is clear in Psalm 23. Revelation is all about the promise of life yet to come. In John, the crowds have seen Jesus’ actions and they want clear, decisive words instead; Jesus gives them their words and a promise as well.

Circumstances in my life have converged in such a way that I feel an incredible sense of urgency. It isn’t so much personal as it is professional. I’m anxious to be a part of making changes. The political scene here in the US has stirred up hatred, fear, and ignorance. States are passing laws that target Trans people in ridiculous ways. There’s an increase in Islamophobia and the destructive words and actions that go along with a belief that all Muslims are a threat. Racial tensions seem higher than ever with amazing reluctance of white folks to acknowledge the depth of injustice. It would be so easy to give in to the fear, the ignorance, the hatred, and follow the loud voices who lull crowds into thinking that some mythic clock can be turned back and we can shove all the demands for justice and equality back into the oppressive, dank basement they have lived in for so long.

We cannot, nor should we try, to turn back the clock on the press forward or repress the yearning for a better way of life for so many people. Personally, I’m looking for those words that will call people to life. If Peter, glorious, imperfect, impulsive Peter, can be a conduit for life, then there is hope for all of us. Not one of us should be reluctant to speak into the void any words that will bring life. If God can work through Peter to bring about miracles, then it is just as possible that God can work through you and me.

This is the urgency I feel. We must add our voices in opposition to all those who are engendering fear and building walls of hatred. If was take seriously the words of scripture, we ought not be afraid to lend our voices to those who are not being heard. The familiar words of Psalm 23 are filled with promise. We do not walk through the valley of death or oppression or hatred or destruction or violence alone; God walks with us always and everywhere. If we pause long enough, we will recognize that we are being pursued by goodness and mercy. Maybe it’s time we let them catch us so we can go forward with intent to bring only good and be only merciful.

If this is not enough to inspire you to act or to at least understand my sense of urgency, read Revelation. It’s a beautiful passage, so full of hope and promise. The day will come when hunger and thirst are no more. God will wipe away every tear. If we are waiting for God to bring about such a day, we’ll wait a long time. God is waiting for us to embody Christ in ways that will bring about such a time when oppression is replaced by justice not for any chosen few but for the whole of creation. I think God has been more than patient in waiting…

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I feel somewhat justified in my impatience for the world to change. Jesus was impatient, too. He spent his life showing any who were watching what a life of loving kindness looked like. But even some who watched him didn’t get it. They wanted Jesus to tell them plainly whether or not he was the Messiah. His actions were not enough for some. His words were not enough for others. He talked about those who knew him, trusted his voice, and followed him. These he would hold on to forever. He didn’t say that there wasn’t room for more or that these were the only ones. Just that those who followed him were the ones he would hold into eternity. Jesus knew who and whose he was and invited others to have the same power and presence in their own lives.

In this Easter season it’s important to remember that the Resurrection is now. Life is now. We, the Church, are the embodiment of Christ now. The work that is to be done to bring about justice, liberation, hope, and peace for all God’s people is our work to do. Peter spoke words of life. We are promised God’s goodness and mercy always. Jesus invited us to live in that promise. I think now’s a good time. Do you?

RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 17, 2016
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Top Photo CC0 image by Klaus Dieter vom Wangenheim
Bottom Photo CC0 image by skeeze

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