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Sermon Starter

Simple (and nearly impossible) Requirements

This post originally appeared on RevGalBogPals as the Revised Common Lectionary Post on January 28, 2020.

I have been thinking a lot about discipleship these days. It’s not a word that progressive, predominantly white churches are all that comfortable with. Yet, with the lectionary moving from the Magi showing up to pay homage to Jesus to Jesus’ baptism, and to the calling of the first disciples… Discipleship seems a reasonable thing to contemplate. What does it really mean to be a disciple of Christ in the year 2020? This week’s text go a long way toward answering this question.

We start of with what is probably one of the most well-known texts: “God, has told you what is good, O mortal; do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Nothing else is required. The finest sacrifices don’t matter. The largest donations don’t matter. We cannot purchase God’s heart; it isn’t for sale. Instead of focusing so much on our own lives, why not focus outside of ourselves. Where are we advocating for justice as individuals and as congregations? Where are we responding to our neighbors with loving-kindness? When and how do we walk humbly with God? I wish more people would hear the truth behind this popular verse. We are loved. We are saved. We are valued. Now let’s live in a way that demonstrates, that embodies, this truth for all people, for the whole of Creation. For Micah, discipleship would be what we do with our whole lives, not just with the pieces we offer up to God.

The psalmist emphasizes this point well in answering the question of who lives in God’s house. Who abides with God? The ones who do “what is right,” speak truth, and treat their neighbors with compassion and respect. The psalmist says nothing about those who attend worship regularly, make perfect sacrifices, or sing praises to God (loudly) in public spaces. It’s not about religious rituals performed on schedule; it’s about faithful living all the time, especially when it’s hard.

Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians continues along these lines. When we get caught up in what the world expects and start living that way – seeking wealth and power while ignoring the impact on our neighbors – we end up living very foolishly in God’s eyes. How often do we mistake wisdom for folly? How often to we forget what God requires of us and make it more complex than it needs to be. Imagine a world in which we could live in the wisdom of God’s ways without having to comply with someone’s understanding of “Christian perfection”? What if we left out judgement about who’s in and who’s out and started encouraging each other to be wise in the ways of justice, kindness, and humility?

If we were able to do this, maybe the blessings in the Beatitudes would have more meaning, more depth. It’s hard to know, of course. But what if we started seeing all those folx on the margins, the folx the church has historically kept at a distance, as those who are blessed in the ways Jesus enumerated?

Blessed are those who live with severe and persistent mental illness (and cannot access the care they need), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who have lost loved ones to suicide, gun violence, war, or natural disasters, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the refugees, asylum seekers,and immigrants who survive on the hopes of a better life, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger for justice and stop traffic on our streets with protests, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who respond to their neighbors with loving-kindness, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are those who actively believe humanity can do better, for they will see God.
Blessed are the ones who risk their safety and well-being to create peace, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed those who are ridiculed and condemned for advocating for those on the margins, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people disrespect, dismiss, and lie about you because of the holy work of reparations, advocacy, and justice-making that you do.

What words do we most need to hear to awaken us to the beauty and simplicity of what God requires of us? We are blessed and we are to be blessings in the broken and forgotten places of the world. How do we let go of the non-essentials of being church and embrace the freedom God lays before us in asking that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?

Photo: CC0 image by qcf-avocat

Categories
Bidding Prayer liturgy Prayer

Bidding Prayer for Advent Love

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With hopes that we, like Mary, may find favor with God, let us join together in praying for all who share the sacred journey to Bethlehem.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who leads through example, be with all who seek the Christ-child who waits for us. Remind us that road is long and wide enough for all who endeavor to see you. As we prepare to offer our gifts to the newborn king, open our hearts. Open our hearts to make room for the extravagance of your love for us and for the whole of creation. May the love we celebrate this day, flow through us into the world.
Restore us, O God;
Let your face shine that we might be saved.

As we move through these last Advent days, let us pray for those who are in need of shelter, sanctuary, or safety.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
Holy One whose light proclaims the way of love for the whole of Creation, guide us to the day when hatred, fear, and oppression have no place in our lives. Mary and Joseph found safe harbor in a stable and Christ was born into these humble surroundings. You tell us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. May our love for our neighbors be demonstrated in our actions – building homes, welcoming refugees, and protecting children who dream of a life of safety and possibilities.
Restore us, O God;
Let your face shine that we might be saved.

As we remember the joyful meeting between Mary and Elizabeth, let us pray for all who gather in worship this day, near and far.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who broke into the world to draw us closer to you, unite us in our love for you. While we rush from one holiday activity to another, pass judgement on the celebrations of others, and forget the beauty and wonder of your love, remind us. Remind us that you are more Mystery than we can possibly know. All our traditions may lead us to you, but they separate us from one another. Let us see the gifts others bring and may our hearts leap with joy in recognizing you in everyone we meet.
Restore us, O God;
Let your face shine that we might be saved.

Remembering the promises of old, promises of the One who would bring peace. Let us pray for all who work to bring peace into the world
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God of steadfast love, you love us even when we forget to love you, our neighbors, ourselves, or creation. We have heard your call to love and we find it so much harder than it ought to be. We justify our wars, our violent ways, our fear of change, our racism, and all the ways we perpetuate systems built on oppression. You wait for us to remember your holy ways of love and justice. As we enter Bethelem this year, shine your love into our broken fearful places, those in ourselves and our churches, and those in our country and our world. Call us once again into wholeness, peace and love. And may we have the courage to respond.
Restore us, O God;
Let your face shine that we might be saved.

Anticipating, once again, the gift of the Christ-child, let us give thanks for all the blessings we have been given.
People may quietly or silently voice their prayers
God who loves without limits or conditions, we praise you for true gift of your love for us. A Child born so long ago leads us in your holy ways. In our gratitude, may we have the courage to embody your love with joy and faithfulness so that Child may never be forgotten. Hear our prayers of gratitude and praise for all the ways in which you fill our lives with hope, peace, joy, and love.
Restore us, O God;
Let your face shine that we might be saved. Amen.

RCL Year C – Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 23, 2018
Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 80:1-7
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]word

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
Musings

Accepting the Prophet

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As I write this, I am sitting in the airport in Denver, CO. I have just completed a series of speaking engagements in which I addressed clergy and lay people from several faith traditions on the topic of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. I am exhausted and energized all at the same time. My mind is full.

Earlier this week, I was in Live Oaks, FL finishing a week of CREDO, a clergy renewal program. This program was preceded by other mental health ministry work in a different part of Florida. My body does not know what time zone it is in.

In the midst of these adventures, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my ordination on November 1st. I’ve had thoughts about this, so many thoughts! The church of today is not the church my seminary years prepared me to serve , but I knew that was going to happen. I can also say that the shape of my ministry is nothing I could have imagined. My spirit breathes in these blessings.

With all of this swirling around me, I have been reading the words of Micah. He speaks words of caution to the false prophets, the prophets who do not live what they preach and strengthen the power of the oppressors. No one likes to listen to prophets. It’s too easy to say that their words do not apply to us. They must be meant for someone else. But are they, really?

I think Micah’s words are just as relevant today as they were when they were first spoken aloud. There are plenty who preach peace and make war on the poor. There are many “who abhor justice and pervert all equity” in the name of God. I’ve probably participated in these activities more than once. You probably have, too. The relevant question now is: Are we still sewing seeds of division and destruction that will only strengthen those whose hands and lips serve only the powerful, the wealthy, and the oppressors?

I remember the saints who shared their faith with me, those who have died and those who still live. Sometimes it seems that their faith was simpler than mine, easier to live out, less complicated to preach. However, if I am honest and I pay attention to the prophets of ancient Israel, serving God by serving our neighbors, by caring for the vulnerable among us, has never been easy and it’s never been welcomed by those in power.

I keep thinking about something I read in seminary that may or may not have been written by Walter Brueggemann. In the book or essay, pastors were described as being prophets, priests, and poets. I was comfortable with the role of poet. I made my peace with the role of priest. I have wrestled with the role of prophet. Who listens to prophets? Who likes to hang around with prophets?

After 25 years, I have embraced this role as well. Being a prophet is a challenge. But if we don’t listen to the prophet voices among us, calling us to find new ways of being church, church will continue to take on the look of the ruins of Jerusalem. So, church, who are we serving today? Do we seek to bring Love, Hope, and Healing into the world? Or do we seek to preserve the status quo?

RCL – Year A – All Saints Sunday – Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – November 5, 2017

Joshua 3:7-17 with Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 or
Micah 3:5-12 with Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
liturgy Prayer

A Pastoral Prayer of Confession

I’ve struggled to find appropriate words for this week. So I offer the following prayer. If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

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Patient and steadfast God, how is it that you continue to love us so completely? So many years have passed since you spoke with Micah and made it clear what we are to do. Yet, still, we ask what we can do to please you. We fill our lives with routine, worship you with hollow words, and make meaningless sacrifices to feel justified in claiming your favor. It seems that we would rather do almost anything other than what you ask. Self-preservation protected by hatred and fear seem more palatable than kindness. Hunkering down and clinging to our traditions and views of what the Bible says are so much easier than going out and actually doing justice. Mistaking self-hatred and shame for humility keeps us from taking the risk of wholeness. Have mercy, O God. Draw us out of our fear, away from false security and shallow beliefs, and into the abundance of life you offer. Remind us that your ways call us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Lord of all, so many of us claim to live in your tent and dwell on your holy hill. However, there are so few who are blameless and do what is right. Truth spoken from the heart is rarely heard these days, even from those who call your name most loudly. Threats to build walls and deny entry into this country based on religion sounds an awful lot like doing evil to friends and reproaching our neighbors. Fear and greed cannot be our ways if we want to live in your tent. Destroying sacred land with pipelines will not lead to peaceful living on your holy mountain. Remind us of your desire for us to be repairers of the breach rather than creators of more harm. Continuing the ways of the past only ensures the continuation of oppression and your Word speaks of liberation for all people.

Wise and wonderful God, how foolish we are! How little we have listened to you and learned from our history. We know what happens when our leaders seek only to serve themselves. We have seen the results of worshiping everything other than you. Yet, we are still fooled into thinking that human ways will save us from ourselves. We fall for it over and over again. When will we stop blaming you for all the challenges we face while congratulating ourselves on our successes? You name us Blessed when we are peacemakers, justice-seekers, and risk-takers. You promise your presence when we bear witness to suffering and speak holy truth to human power. Why do we, so often, think the easy way is the righteous way? Let us hear and claim your blessing on those who repent, resist, and repair for we shall be engaging in holy wisdom and be called fools.

God of abundant blessings, may your words fill our lives, change our hearts, and call us from our self-serving sinfulness. We who rest in our privilege when others cannot find safe harbor cannot claim your blessings when we do not live them. Blessed are the oppressed. May our hands be actively bringing in the realm of God. Blessed are those who mourn. May we offer gentle comfort even as we cry out for justice on their behalf. Blessed are the meek. May we step out of their way so they may claim their rightful place on earth. Blessed are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness. May we cry out until all are satisfied. Blessed are the merciful. May we be foolish enough to learn the ways of mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart. May we have the sense to let them lead us to you. Blessed are the peacemakers. May we have the grace to seek peace and pursue it until we are called your children. Blessed are the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness. May we all have the courage to take our place alongside those who are persecuted on your behalf. Blessed are the reviled and falsely accused ones. May we align ourselves with the innocent until we all live on your holy mountain.

Merciful God, your faithfulness to us remains a mystery. You shower us with grace, forgiveness, and love and we fail to respond with our whole hearts. Let this be the day when we claim the blessings you lay before us. Let this be the day when fear gives way to hope and we recognize your presence in the midst of chaos. This may be a season of light and revelation, yet we are reminded that you can also be found in the depths and nothing can extinguish your wisdom. May today be the day we truly make your ways our ways. Grant us the grace to repent of our sins of fearful selfishness, the strength to resist the pull of the oppressors, and the courage to repair the breach with all our neighbors. Have mercy, O God, and hear our prayers. Amen.


RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 29, 2017
Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12


Photo: CC0 image by Petra