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liturgy Prayer Uncategorized

A Plumb Line Prayer

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Amazing and merciful God, how easy it is for us to forget that we are your delight. You we rejoice when we follow your holy ways and envision a future of goodness and grace for all your people. We blame you for divisions and strife. We justify our wars by saying that you are on our side. We rationalize the abuse of our enemies by telling ourselves that they are not your people, that their sinfulness exceeds your tolerance. In truth, you have told us that we are to love our neighbors indiscriminately. Moreover, we are to love those with the greatest need more fiercely and more immediately. Shower us with your mercy, O God, until we live by the plumb line you have repeatedly dropped in our midst.

Patient and steadfast God, you continuously call us to live in peace, leaving none behind. We hear your call. We know that your love endures forever. What you ask of us is not beyond our reach; it is not higher than the heavens or on the outer edges of the sea. For all of Creation to live in justice is not an impossibility you hold up to tease us with what we cannot have. If we trust you, it is possible for us to turn aside from our human ways. It is possible for us to love with your love. Enter our lives anew, Holy One, silence our fears and smother our distrust that we may live in harmony with all.

God of wonder and mystery, you love us still. You love us when we are filled with fear. You love us when we are filled with hate. You love us when we are filled with judgment. You love us when we think we are better than our neighbors. You love us when we think are neighbors are better than us. You love us when we blame others for creating the chaos that flows through the world. You love us when we abdicate responsibility for engaging in justice work. You love us through all our foolishness. However, you delight in us when we act with love and seek to bring your realm into the here and now. Flood every corner of our being with the strength of your Spirit that we may have the courage to love with your love, always.

God of near and far places, how foolish we are when we think you are limited to one people, one language, one religion, one way of life. All people are stamped with your image. Every language has many names for you and words of praise for all that you are. At core, each religious tradition seeks to teach your holy ways and encourage us to follow them. You are the giver of all life. If we claim to follow in Christ’s way there is no room for hatred of peoples from other countries, those who speak other languages, those who call you by different names, and those whose culture is not our own. If we belong to Christ, then racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other labels that thrive on our fear have no place in us. Heal our brokenness. May we live as one body with many parts.

Living, loving God, we are grateful for your patient love. Over and over again you call us by name, claim us as your beloved, and fill us with your Spirit. Hear our gratitude for your presence among us, your arms that hold us, your vision that sees our wholeness. May we trust in your love, your grace, your forgiveness as we seek to embody Christ more fully. May the praises we sing and the words of gratitude we whisper transform our fear into hope, our hatred into joy, our judgment into grace, and our ambivalence and apathy into action. We are your people. Your Spirit lives and moves in us. Let us trust in you enough to recognize you in ourselves and in all whom we meet.

Amen.

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 14, 2019
Amos 7:7-17 with Psalm 82 or
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 with Psalm 25:1-10
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Photo: CC0 image by lumix

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Musings Sermon Starter

The Ways of Dust

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When will we stop honoring the dust and start embracing heaven? There’s more than enough judgement and hatred going around. They conspire together to builds walls and condemn anyone who isn’t white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, economically sound, well-educated, and male. These socially endorsed biases are decidedly not Christian. Yet, we continue to act as if they are. How easily we forget that Jesus was not a white, wealthy man. We just as easily forget that we are to love not condemn or judge.

Jesus was pretty clear that we are supposed to love our enemies with a God-like, unconditional kind of love. We are not meant to judge or dismiss someone because of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or economics, or even religious practice. We are, as Paul put it, called to bear, to embody, to reflect, the image of Christ, the One of heaven. Instead we live in fear of the other. We believe the on-going lies of the Empire that say only the powerful must remain in power and anyone else is a threat. As a result we live in fear of our neighbors and Jesus’ call to love remains mostly unheeded. Or, at the very least, we tend to love only those who love us.

I’m particularly sensitive to the discrepancy between the love Jesus called us to embody and the love we actually embody. I grew up without a lot of love in my life and, as a result, questioned my value as a person. While the church provided safe harbor for me, it did not replace the lack of love in my life. And, later, the church proved just as unsafe a place for me as my home had been. How many times have I been told that a woman cannot and should not be a pastor? How many times have I been told that I cannot be a pastor because I am married to another woman? How many times I have I been made to feel inadequate or shame because I came from a poor family? How many times have I hidden or lied about the mental health challenges in my family or in my own life? How many times have I ignored, hidden, or dismissed my chronic illness? All these judgments coming from those who call themselves Christians, myself included.

We wonder why the church is struggling to survive the transformation that is in progress. We struggle, at least in part, because we have fallen into the service of the empire. Church has taken on all the values of society and tried to shape them into the Body of Christ with far too much success. However, if we are to survive the refining fires of transformation, we must turn our attention away from the powers of dust and toward the powers of heaven. We can no longer afford (if we ever could) to embrace the empire. Jesus spoke against the oppressive Roman Empire with every word and action. If we are the embodiment of Christ today, then we ought to be doing the same.

Our history of valuing what society values – wealth, power, success (as defined by those with power) – has not served us well. It has divided us one from another and detracted from our mission of bringing the Realm of God into the here and now. The time for facing our fears has come. What will it mean if we fully accept women in ministry? What will it mean if we embrace all our LGBTQ+ neighbors and welcome them into the full life of the church? What will it mean if we try out worship styles born of other cultures? What will it mean if denominations come together and create something new? What will it mean if all our buildings become fully accessible to people with physical disabilities? What will it mean if all our services and activities become accessible to people with cognitive impairment? What will it mean if we recognize that it takes the full diversity of humanity to truly embody Christ in the world today? What are we afraid of losing? What are we afraid of gaining?

Jesus commanded us to love one another exactly as we are loved by God – no limits, no conditions, no end. All that separates us is constructed by human minds and hands; we are all equal before God. The Body of Christ is impaired by racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and a whole bunch of other fears handed to us by the empire that would prefer to keep us all separated and disempowered. Imagine a world in which we discard fear and embrace Love… Let us exchange the ways of dust for the ways of heaven…

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – February 24, 2019
Genesis 45:3–11, 15
Psalm 37:1–11, 39–40
1 Corinthians 15:35–38, 42–50
Luke 6:27–38

Photo: CC0 image by Tom

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Musings

Not Too Late for Changes

RCL – Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2012

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

I keep hearing about bullying and the need to put an end to it. But I turn on the news and I hear such hateful words coming out of the mouths of politicians. I listen as people around me talk about what is going on in the world and I hear disparaging remarks about people of other countries. And then there are more news stories about abuse, neglect, and blatant disrespect for human life. It is no wonder to me that children victimize those among them who are somehow “different” and that very often adults look the other way. It seems to me that disrespect, if not straight out bullying, has become normative in our society.

Maybe my perception is skewed because this has been a week of frustration and disappointment for me. Like many people these days, I work in a place that is understaffed and filled with stress. What emerges more often than not is not pretty. There is a culture of disrespect toward co-workers and, sometimes, toward the people we are there to serve. In an effort to balance this, I made the topic of my group work this week “The Golden Rule.” Participants had much to say about why this isn’t typical today even though all major world religions and philosophies (from Christianity to Confucianism) have a version of treat others as you wish to be treated. For those who attended the groups, it came down to respect – for self and others. One or the other is lacking was the general consensus.

While “The Golden Rule” is not the scripture for this week, I think that this week’s readings highlight the reasons for treating one another as we wish to be treated. Both the passage from Numbers and the Psalm indicate quite clearly that it is God who saves. The ancient Israelites were lost in their sin and suffering and God redeemed them; they did not redeem themselves. But this is only the beginning.

The writer of Ephesians so nicely reminds us that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” So the people like Santorum who condemns people who believe differently while bragging about what he has done in his life, need to take a step back and think again. And the people who say that Obama is not a Christian because he supports women’s rights (among other things) or judge against Romney because he is a Mormon, also ought to re-evaluate. I am so tired of politics getting tangled up in religion for no reason other than fear and ignorance. These people are not treating each other the way they would want to be treated. (And if they are, I can recommend some therapy to address their extreme lack of self-esteem.)

More than this emphasis on being saved from ourselves by the grace of God, is the point of the oft-quoted John 3:16 and the lesser known verse that follows it:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Everyone who believes. How simple is that? Not just the people who look like me, think like me, believe like me, live like me. Everyone who believes. And then there is the next part. God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn it but save it. THE WORLD. Not just right-wing or left-wing or moderates or liberals or progressives or Americans or Catholics or Protestants. God’s desire is to save everyone. And save everyone not by condemnation but by love.

That means we are back to where I started. If you call yourself a Christian, then bullying anyone is not an option. It should be unacceptable in our politicians, our parents, our teachers, our children, our churches – everywhere. The soldiers who return from service with symptoms of PTSD ought to receive appropriate treatment not be denied and turned away. The person with major mental illness ought to be shown respect not ignored or given substandard treatment. The “rogue soldier” who killed the civilians in Afghanistan should be prayed for right along with the victims. The immigrant who is trying to make a new life in this country ought to be welcomed and invited in rather than judged and resented. Hatred and resentment shouldn’t be focused on all  Syrians and Iranians. Who appreciates being judged negatively just because of the country they live in and some of the foolishness of their politicians?

We are half way through Lent. It isn’t too late to give up something. Maybe if we all gave up harsh words of judgment… If we tried harder to find compassion and empathy for those we experience as “other”… then more people could see that our faith is in a God who loves fully and deeply. God saw human beings as worth the life of Christ; God did not call us worthless, despicable creatures, but gave us Christ to save us from ourselves and show us our immeasurable value. It’s time we do the same.