I confess that I don’t really know the date. We have lived in this hotel for nearly a month now and I have lost all sense of time so that it was not evident to me that the calendar would soon turn to July. It was even less clear that the first Sunday of July would be none other than the patriotic holiday in the United States celebrating independence and freedom.
Nonetheless, I have started to see a number of clergy looking for something — anything else — to do on that Sunday when they don’t want the entire worship experience to be devoted to patriotic hymns. There has been so much work done already to remove the flag from the sanctuary and grapple with the history of these United States to let this be what happens on that Sunday. Of course.
I also see that a need and desire for a worship experience that doesn’t require preaching. Some of you are going on vacation. I am so elated for you, dear pastor. May it be a blessed rest but even if you are not so lucky to have a summer holiday, I wanted to offer something of an outline for worship on this holiday that isn’t a Christian celebration.
I suspect that the people in the pews that are eager to have such a celebration of Americana will not be too pleased to hear something like this poem at the beginning of worship though it’s one of the first I thought to use in this wandering through love inspired by Psalm 48. I hope these alternate selections might not cause too much discomfort but just enough to stir the heart.
Inspired by Psalm 48
Today we come to worship and wonder to praise and to glorify and to pause to reflect on what freedom rings from sea to shining sea. Today we come after all that has happened and all that still needs to become real to ponder your steadfast love, O God. We come today to wonder how our praise might reach the ends of the earth.
Prayer of Illumination
Inspired by Psalm 48
Come, O Great Love. Come into our hearts and minds. Fill our bodies with your strength and hope. Come into the broken cracks of despair to find beauty. Come to fill our lungs with song and remind us how to sing with your goodness hanging on every note. Come, O Great Love. Come into this place and this moment. Come to guide us into world you imagine. Come. O Love, come and be here in this place.
Here in this place, poem becomes prayer. These are the first lines of the poem You Still Dream by Nikki Grimes. Hear these words of challenge and hope now.
Prayer for the Work
O God, we might not have known or understood what work needed to be done before this long year of watching and waiting. We had wanted to believe that it wasn't this bad. It wasn't like this. Now, O God, we know. We know that there is work to be done for your glory to reach the ends of the earth. We pray your blessing on our hands as we commit again to the work of freedom and healing. We pray for your grace and your guidance for there is so much work to be done in this land of the free and the brave. Amen.
Listen to Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes. You might not opt for the video but instead choose a young voice within your congregation read these words.
Offer this invitation:
In the quiet stillness of this morning, let us sit with the discomfort of these words. Let us confess to God what only God can hear with grace. Let us ponder with the psalmist God’s steadfast love. Let us wonder what that love will do now in this nation and this world. Let us find your guidance together here in this place of quiet.
Share in hearing America the Beautiful Again by Richard Blanco. Though you may well choose someone within your community to read these words on Zoom or in-person, I recommend hearing it read in the poet’s voice in one of the extras for Richard Blanco’s appearance on OnBeing.
It should feel different to sing or hear this favorite song after hearing this poem, but it might be interesting to adapt this reflection to wonder how this song urges us to do better right now.
That doesn’t mean that you need to do a sermon, dear pastor. You could ask a veteran, an elected official or a teenager to read this article essay and put to words their own response. Additional questions that they might explore might include:
- What is your most vivid memory of this song? What made the song so powerful for that moment?
- What lyric in this song most speaks to your sense of social justice right now?
- What ideals are we still trying to achieve as a nation?
- What is beautiful about where you come from?
- How shall we sing?
Or you might skip right ahead to the prayer.
Prayer for the People
O Great Love, sing to us of beauty. Remind us of all of the places that we have called home and how we have been shaped by those fields and plains, mountains and hills, brooks and streams, rivers and oceans. Sing to us of this place that we call America -- united and divided -- full of ideals and possibilities of what could be for all of the people who call this land home. Sing to us, O Great Love, of the beauty of your people. Invite us into their stories and let us praise you again for the wonder of your creation in each body and soul. We grieve what has not yet come to be and struggle with what we thought we knew. We grieve but we dream. We still dream that love will change us. Love will inspire us to reach our ideals. Love will show us again how much beauty there is here in this place. O God, our Great Love, let us never tire of pondering your steadfast love. Let it be this wonder that guides the work of our hands so that this love encourages us to dream new dreams that will truly change everything. Amen.
I’ve been wanting to use this song since it was released for Advent by The Many. It was intended to be used with the Sanctified Art worship series by the same name but I like how it picks up on the first poem. If you want to opt for something more traditional, you might opt for Be Thou My Vision.
There is so much goodness out there. I wanted to include this song that I adore so much but I feared it might be too much. Still, I love this video and I’m going to go ahead and share it because beauty should be shared.
That’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope that whether you use the prayers, the poetry or the song suggestions or the whole thing, this is a blessing to you. Maybe it’s something you file away for next year when you actually get a vacation over this weekend. I pray you get the rest you need.
I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.