Good News for Today

It has been a long time since I was in the pulpit. 

My friend Elizabeth Hagan reminded me of this fact in her recent inquiry into why preachers should be political. It’s something I’ve wondered often. If I were to preach right now, what would I say? 

What would I want to say? What needs to be said? I’ve scrapped several thousand drafts in an essay format, but it feels different to type out the words and never preach them. My style might not be all that different. It might look the same but it’s different to proclaim the words. There is something that happens between the preacher and the congregation when those words are voiced.

Still, I’m not sure what I would say. It’s been months since I stepped into a pulpit, any pulpit. The last time I did, it was a place to which I’d never been and it’s far away that I’m unlikely to return. The next time I preach is likely to be rather similar. I don’t get to preach every Sunday. I’m not serving a church and so I don’t get to build that trust between Sundays that allows me to speak prophetically in the light of God’s love. 

And yet, as Elizabeth wisely says, “One of the great tasks of any preacher is to bring good news. And good news is not good news without a context.” This got me thinking about whether or not the good news changes. The context has changed. It has changed drastically but is the good news any different than it was three years ago?

This is what brought me to delve into my files to find my sermon on the very text that preachers will attempt to glean some good news from on Sunday. Three years ago, preaching on Matthew 5:21-37, I proclaimed:

Jesus wants us to be “people of integrity” so much so that when we say yes we really mean yes, and when we say no we really mean no. There’s a lot of hurt and pain. And it can cause a whole lot of anger — but we can try our very best to say what we mean and mean what we say. 

This is no easy task when you live in a world like we do — in a world of “seemingly unlimited choice” so that we crave “novelty, variety and multiplicity.” We think that this is the way that it should be – and so we are always looking for more. We think that by obtaining more, by doing more, by working harder, we will be able to prove our worth even though we have just heard Jesus’ assurance that we are the salt of the earth. That we are the light of the world. So, why is it so hard to say yes to this promise? 

It should be easy. It should be so simple. And, then, we could just pick up and go on with our lives. But, there are so many choices available to us that we hesitate because we really want to be sure. We want to make sure there isn’t a better deal. So that when we say yes we really mean yes. But, there’s a give and take here too, isn’t there? 
You have to give a little before we can take. You have to make the promise. You have to choose the relationship before you get to feel its blessings, but making that promise won’t change how God sees you. You may put yourself through fiery hell trying to get our yes to mean yes, but Jesus has already told you: you are the light of the world. That won’t change. No matter how many times you test it. Barbara Brown Taylor says it like this:

“Test the premise that you are worth more than what you can produce – that even if you spent the whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God’s sight …. Your worth has already been established, even when you’re are not working.”

Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Maybe that still means that you’ll need to count to 10 or take a little break or scream into a pillow. Maybe the hurt and pain will still be there. Maybe it will never go away. There is great injustice in the world and there is so much that needs to change. It can make us so very angry that terrible things happen. But, all of that anger and frustration does not change the fact that God has promised to love you. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, no matter how many times you break your promises, God is going to love you. 

Believe it. Say yes to that love. Count to 10 first, if you need to. Listen to a favorite piece of music if you want. Take all the time you need. But, let your yes to God’s love mean yes. Give into it. Take it. Because this love – God’s love – is so very good. 

It still feels relevant. 

We Cry for Help

Just a few Sundays after Easter, Psalm 30 leads us into worship.

I wrote this for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways for another season on another day. Nevertheless, it would still fit well on Easter 3C. I’ve adapted it only slightly — and by adapting it, I mean that I threw in an “alleluia” because I can never say it enough. Especially during Easter.

Prayer of Confession 

O Healing One, we cry to you for help.
We choose to listen for your voice above all others.
Be gracious to us for we have made mistakes.
We have made choices that have harmed our relationships
with your children and your created world.
Hear us, Healing God, as we move next to you in silent prayer.

Extended prayerful silence 

Lord’s Prayer

Words of Assurance 

When we are silent, God moves!
Praise our Healing God with all your soul!
Give thanks forever for God loves and forgives you!
Alleluia! Amen!

Woman, Behold Thy Son

Tonight, I will share in worship with my home church at Old First Reformed United Church of Christ in the remembrance of Good Friday. It is the tradition in many places to share in hearing and reflecting upon the seven last words of Christ. I have never actually been in a place that has done this so when my pastor asked for volunteers, I said: PICK ME! PICK ME!   Thus proving, yet again, I’m a big ol’ church nerd. What follows is the reflection I’ll share tonight on the third of those seven sayings. You can find the whole passage in the Gospel of John in my preferred translation because I loathe the King James Version here.

 

Woman, behold thy son. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved most standing beside her, this is what he says to his mother. Behold, this is your child.

Here is your beloved, the immigrant, the refugee, the man who happens to be homeless, the woman who depends on that welfare check to provide for her children. Here is the woman who is not paid enough for the work that she does. Here is the person you are supposed to love, your family, your very heart.

It’s something that Jesus had heard before any of this transpired. Before his ministry began, before he hung on a cross, God said these words to him. From the waters of baptism, he emerged to behold the wonder that he was God’s child.

Here am I your beloved, the woman, the broken, the hurting, the uncertain and doubting. Here is the person who just needs to pee but can’t because he’s transgender and in North Carolina. Here is the young black boy walking through your neighborhood in a hoodie eating Skittles. Behold, Christ says, this is your child.

Woman, behold thy son. You will be a new family. You will create something new. You will imagine another way and nothing, nothing — not hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword, or even the fact that she is a Trump supporter — will separate you.

The world will build walls. The powers that be will erect barriers and divisions. They will tell you who to love and how to love them. They will try to tell you what love can do. But, don’t believe them.

Woman, behold thy son. Behold the glory of God for it is here in this relationship. It is here in this person. It is here in the love that we dare to find in each other. He wants her to see that. He wants her to understand what he once beheld in the waters of baptism. Behold, he says to this woman who gave birth from the waters of her womb, this is your child.

He does not only speak to his mother, but also to the disciple he loves most which interpreters have wondered if it wasn’t a placeholder. This one whom he loves most is never named. It could be John. Or Mary Magdalene or even Peter. Or it could be a placeholder for you and me. We are the beloved disciple. We are the ones whom Jesus loves most so that he turns to us from the cross, having just told his mother, Woman, behold thy son. He says to us, Here is your mother.

There is no one but you to love. There is no one better at it than you. Behold. “That you need God more than anything, you know at all times in your heart.” The wise one Martin Buber wrote that. “But don’t you know also that God needs you—in the fullness of [God’s] eternity, you? How would [we] exist if God did not need [us], and how would you exist? You need God in order to be, and God needs you—for that which is the meaning of your life.”

Woman, behold your son. 

I am your child. 

You are my child.

Behold.

Jesus is…

In the midst of another holy season, my pastor invited us to ponder who Jesus is. The question stuck with me and inspired a whole preaching series on christological terms. It’s what has led us in the church I’m serving as interim pastor through Lent. Every week, as worship began, we’ve asked ourselves: who are we are who is our God? Today, between palms and passion, I dared to give my answer of who Jesus is. It was a service with a lot of scripture. Before the sermon, we heard both Luke 19:28-40 and Luke 22:39-23:25. Worship concluded in the poetry of Luke 23:26-49 but it the sermon that follows.


Jesus is… Jesus is… the one who leads us toward peace. The one that saddles his hope and his love upon a colt and parades his way into the city where he will die. Through the gate and into the city, with people on his right and on his left, waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna! Hey sanna! Sanna Sanna Ho!” 

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shout without ever really understanding what they announce. Jesus is… the one who cannot be stopped. He will wash feet and break bread. He’ll pour just enough wine so that we do not miss how precious this life is. He will do all of these things under watchful eyes. He will do it without their blessing or even their understanding. He will turn tables and resist definition. He will not let their praise and their honor forget that God is a God of love. God requires love. God insists on love. God gives love especially to those who don’t seem to deserve it. 

  
Jesus is… Jesus is… the light of that love. He is the Light of the World. The one that removes darkness, exposes darkness and dares to declare even in the darkest places that there is light and that it is good. At times, he glows. He radiates that light so much that even his clothes become white as snow. Other times, that light is so faint and dim, like a candle blowing in the wind. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people, not to be overcome or overwhelmed but as steady as the light cast upon the sea by a distant lighthouse. Guiding us. Encouraging us. Seeking us out. Leading us to where we are called to be. Jesus is… the great light that shines in our deepest darkness.He is the true light, that just might enlighten everyone, that light that is coming into the world. That is already in the world. That can’t be contained by this world.

It is something that can only be understood in the face of death. Only as we wonder why any life or any hope or any revolution must come to an end can we glimpse the face of Christ who was in the world…even if the world did not know him. But, it was always there. He was always there. In the very beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Jesus is… the Word, in your words. In our words as much as he might be in all our hopes and dreams. Jesus.. is the very logic of the divine. He is the flesh that reveals God’s deepest wisdom. He is the reason and the order of God’s love for this world and for its people. Jesus is… the articulation of that love. He is the very expression of the reason that God loves, but it is a reason without logic. Or without our logic. God loves because God loves. That love has no beginning and no end.

So that it seems that God might be a chicken, foolishly opening her arms and expanding her welcome when it seems anything but wise. Much as we might refuse, much as we might think we know better, much as we might reject that love, the fact does not change: Jesus is… the Good Shepherd. Even with a hundred sheep or more to protect, he goes chasing after that one sheep that is lost and alone. He welcomes it home. He dares to claim that lost and sinful sheep to be a member of God’s family. Even that sheep is loved, embraced, affirmed, blessed and beloved. Jesus is… the one who gathers all of those broken and dejected people into his fold, declaring each and every one of them to be so loved by God. Others might mock or scoff. They may sneer and spit but Jesus is… the one who knows that we are like sheep without a shepherd.

And it is because of this that Jesus is… Jesus is… the Messiah. He won’t be a warrior or a king. He will demand justice not for the rich and powerful but for those who want to have life and have it abundantly. He will not kill and destroy for his is not that power. Love is not that kind of power. Jesus is… the anointed one. Jesus is… the restoration. Jesus is… the healer, the redeemer, the savior not just for individual souls but for the whole world. Jesus is.. the rabble-rousing, stern-speaking voice of redemption. It is voice that suggests, posits, even demands another way. There is more to this precious life than violence and fear. There is more than hatred and greed. There is more that love can do. There is more.

Jesus is… the Messiah. He is the hope. He is the love. He is the promise that love is greater than fear. Jesus is.. the force of God’s greatest conviction. Jesus is… that wonder-working, barrier-breaking, hope-restoring, healing and redeeming strength that dares to feed and forgive and bless the love that we are able to find in each other and in this world, because there is more. There is so much more of that love. There is more food to be shared. There is more healing to be done. There is more mercy to be granted. There is more hope to find. There is more love to give.

There are others that might say they know the way. Others that might claim that they can make this world great again. Other presidential hopefuls. Other emperors. Other kings. Other warriors that might lead by force. There are other powers that be. Others that might claim the title but Jesus is… the Son of God. He will not let others define what that means. He knows what God can do, even if we do not.

So that Jesus is… the one who goes to the garden alone. He is the one that prays in his own dark night of the soul. With hosannas still ringing in his ears, he will wonder what can be saved. He will wonder who can be saved while the disciples sleep. 

Jesus is… the one they arrest. He is the one condemned for what they can’t understand. He is the one that will be denied. They will say they do not know him. They had nothing to do with him, no connection to that kind of love. But, Jesus is… the one, maybe the only one, that will not forget that God is love. God requires love. God insists on love. God gives love especially to those who don’t seem to deserve it. 

No one really deserves it. No one deserves to be mocked and beaten. Wearing the shackles of human fear, Jesus is… the one who bears our sins. He washed our feet and he blessed our lives. He gave us food and wine. He healed our broken parts but we stopped him. We never quite believed that love was greater than fear. 

  

We are still trying to believe it. Maybe Jesus is… still the one guiding, encouraging and leading us. Maybe. But, when Herod asks him who he is, Jesus is… the one who did not answer. He is the one who did not speak. He did not speak. He did not try to explain. He was silent. Silent as the crowd shouted, “Crucify, crucify him!” 

Transfiguration Communion

J A S M I N EAfter writing this liturgy this morning, I am more convinced than ever that we should never, ever celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ without communion. Doesn’t this ritual hit all of the high notes captured in the mystery of this story?

This particular liturgy could be adopted for any cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary. I don’t think it’s too closely tied to the particular telling in the Gospel of Luke. And yet, it was written with that particular gospel in mind. As I prepare to preach, I’m thinking a whole lot about what exactly Peter and James and John saw when they saw “his glory” as revealed in verse 32. I don’t want that to be that appearance too far from the transformation that we need each and every day.

*Affirmation of Faith 886
(We will be using the Affirmation of Faith from the New Zealand Prayer Book. It is number 886 in the back of The New Century Hymnal.)

*Communion Hymn 349 I Come with Joy

Invitation to the Feast of God (Responsive)
One: Peter and John and James went up
to the mountain to pray.
All: While they were praying, their whole world changed.
They saw glory like they had never seen before.

One: You and I came to this holy place to pray.
While we are praying, here at this table,
as we share in this feast God has prepared,
All: May we see glory like we have never seen before.

Blessing and Sharing the Bread and the Cup

And so, we come to see glory.
We come to marvel at how ordinary life can seem
when we are climbing over our everyday tasks
when we don’t expect anything new or different to surprise us.

We come to remember and believe that God is always leading us.
God is always bringing us into the light of love
just as God has done from the beginning of time.
God led our ancestors out of slavery into freedom
and never tired of sending prophets that could remind us all that glory is not far away. Though we have refused to see it,
ignoring our call to care for this world and every living thing on it,
God has never given up on us. God continues this work today.
God leads us to transformative moments in holy places,
high up on a mountain and gathered here at this table,
so that we might see glory again.
The ordinary will be made extraordinary.
The common will become holy.
The familiar will become fantastic.
We come to this table again because we know we need to change.
We need new eyes and new visions and so we pray that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes and our ears and even our tastebuds as we pray:

Holy Spirit, come into this bread and this cup.
Transform these ordinary objects
As you change our hearts
To shape and form your world
With the joy you promise.
Pour your grace upon us,
so we might always see your glory.
Transform us at this table, we pray.

In our hope of transformation, we remember how it first happened. Long, long ago before the terrible events that would follow had come to pass, Jesus our Christ gathered with his friends in an upper room…

(Use the words of institution from your own tradition.)

*Prayer of Thanksgiving (Unison)

Holy God, we have tasted the light of your love
and seen your glory at this table. Now,
transform us to find your glory
in everyone and everything. This we pray in
the light of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Heavens Are Opened

J A S M I N EThis Sunday marks one of my favorite liturgical celebrations where water is flung across the Sanctuary and we each remember our baptisms. It is the Baptism of Christ as we remember it told in Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.

As our heavens are opened to remember this call to discipleship again, here is a Call to Worship that I wrote in 2013 and shared with the wonderful resource of prayers and inspiration on Liturgylink. It is slightly adapted from the original version found here.

One: We come as people filled with great expectation.
All: We come filled with hopes and dreams.
One: We come with questioning in our hearts.
All: We come with doubts that weigh us down.
One: We long for the heavens to open.
All: We need to hear the voice of God,
One: Whispering our names,
and telling each us again,
All: You are Beloved with who you am well pleased.

The Birth of Hope

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope — where it comes from and how we find it. Because it seems hard to find right now. Any proclamation of hope feels nonsensical. It feels trite and ridiculous. Or worse, it’s so obscure and distant that it’s impossible to claim. I find this unacceptable and it seems to be most of what I hear. What good is the possibility of hope if you can’t imagine it in your own life? What good is the promise of good news if it seems to come to everyone else but you? 

I would say: diddly squat. And yes, there are terrible things in the news. There is so much violence and destruction but it’s not the headlines that have me thinking about this possibility of hope. It’s the church I’m pastoring. I am their interim pastor. I am walking with them through a season of ministry where everything is uncertain and unknown. I’m wondering with them about what ministry looks like in a rural community where nothing much seems to change. It’s all fine and good to say that there is hope for the church. I would tend to agree. There is lots of hope for the church universal — but what does it look like for this teeny tiny church in the countryside? 

I don’t tend to post my sermons here but this one is still working on me. I’m not writing anymore. I’m not editing the words that I preached this morning from Micah 5:2-5a and Hebrews 10:10-15 but they are challenging me. We’ve spent most of Advent in this church asking questions inspired from the prophets. This week is no different. There is a question at the heart of this sermon that I’m still trying to answer. It isn’t resolved yet. Perhaps because Christmas hasn’t come yet. There is part of me that wants so very much to expand on those last two paragraphs because it feels like there is more there. There is more to be said as hope is born. 

So here is a sermon about that hope that is coming.lights-788903_1920

 

Imagine that time before the old agreement, before there was a new plan to replace the old. Imagine, if you can, such a time and such a place where there is no need for anything new. There is no technology or theology to be improved. It is just the people in their old ways looking for love, hope and peace.

Imagine a time when you and your clan are without a home. You’ve been pushed out and left in the wilderness. You can’t go to the temple. You can’t worship as you always have but it’s what you want most. When everything is so new and terrifying, you and your clan want nothing more than to worship.

So it was in the Diaspora of the Jews. They couldn’t get to the temple — the place where all worship happened, the place where God lived. And so, they did something different. They didn’t abide by the blood sacrifices that had made a comeback in those days when Mary and Joseph are making their way to Bethlehem. They had to do something else in their exile. They had to find another way to worship. So, the rabbis led the people in worship as together in the wilderness “they offered prayers, songs and offerings in synagogue worship services.”

Did their worship change because their situation changed? Did their relationship with God change because that was God’s will? Or is this just how change happens? Do our old habits always give way to new ways of worshipping and living and hoping? Aren’t we always hoping for more?

Micah speaks to exactly that desire. To displaced, confused, wandering people who know more violence than peace, he gives them hope for something more. Something more than what they’ve known. Something more than what they’ve seen.

So that, as Nancy Taylor says, “Micah captures the ache with which we live each day and the hope that is in us for a future that only God can deliver.”

Only God can deliver this future that is more than what we’ve known and more than what we’ve seen. Only God can imagine such a future without being too bogged down by our sins. As the birth of hope is so very close, coming we hope this very week, we might not want to talk about our sins. But, we must. We have to talk about this for just a moment because these five verses in Hebrews demand it.

Imagine that time before the old agreement, before there was a new plan to replace the old. Imagine, if you can, such a time and such a place where there is no need for anything new except for the fact that everything has changed. Nothing is as it was so that everything around us is changing. And we bellyache. We moan. We protest. We demand God for hope and this is our sin.

As Sister Simone Campbell told Krista Tippett on American Public Radio’s OnBeing, “our sin is our obsession with security.” We have so convinced ourselves that “everything ought to work out perfectly for us. That we ought to have every conceivable drop of oil ever that we’d ever need any time. That we have to have electricity…” she goes on. There is a long list of those things that we need and want. We think that our hope will come from these things, these little guarantees from the long list of our needs and wants. But, hope does not come from a place of security. Hope comes, instead, from the wild surprises that God continues to point us toward.

So, let’s get specific. The prophet Micah points us toward Bethlehem. He pinpoints a place on the map where no one ever thought anything would ever happen. Still, the prophet directs our attention to a specific place — right there, he says, in Bethlehem — and tells us to look for that something more that we’ve always wanted. He zeroes in on our aching longing, turns us around and pushes us toward specifics. Not vague possibilities or warm feelings. No, he says that from this exact place, hope will come. A leader will come “who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

So, let’s get specific about where and when and even how we see hope being born. For that hope will not only be born in a stable in Bethlehem. Micah assures our displaced, confused, wandering hearts that this hope —God’s hope — was not a one-shot deal. It is a hope that is always coming to birth. Again and again, God surprises us. God’s hope shows up in unexpected places asking us to believe that it’s possible.

Imagine that hope has a name and a face. Imagine that it have a body. Maybe even your body. Imagine that you could be faithfully obedient to that hope within you. And that it could so change what you know to be true and what you see in the world around you, that hope within your body. Or maybe not your body. Maybe you don’t feel it inside you but it has another name and another face.

Yes. Let’s get specific. Let’s pinpoint the exact where that hope is being born right now. Let’s not talk about vague possibilities or warm feelings but ask ourselves this: where exactly is hope being born right now?

Does hope have a particular name and face? Does this hope being born have a body that doesn’t fit with our expectations? Is hope in this time and place found in a Syrian refugee or the Mexican immigrant wandering in the desert as Mary and Joseph did so many years ago? Is the hope that might change all that we know being born in Paris right now? Or will it be found in a Muslim woman’s eyes blinking through the hijab that otherwise hides her face? Or is hope coming right here on Ridge Road?

Get specific. Pinpoint exactly what it is that you God see doing for God has promised that this hope is not a one-shot deal. It is always coming to birth. The question is: where do you see the surprise of hope?

Litany for the Birth on Christmas

J A S M I N EIt was raining all today and I was generally uninspired but sat my butt down in the chair and wrote the liturgy for Christmas Eve. Though I’m currently serving a congregation as an interim pastor, I was hired after I’d made plans for a family vacation in Italy for Christmas — so I will not be with these good people on Christmas Eve even as worship planning is still my charge.

That is fine with me though because I love some good worship planning. Theirs is a traditional service — a word that mystifies and confuses me whenever it might be used within the context of worship. What is traditional for one body is not for another but that doesn’t stop us from using the term as if every single community across the globe was raised on the exact same traditions. I digress. With last year’s bulletin as a template, I sought to create something different and simple enough for guest pastors to lead. There are many that might be willing and able to offer their voices to read but I didn’t want to add to many moving pieces to the liturgy — even if I wanted something special for the reading of scripture. I opted for a litany with one leader and a congregational response that combines all four readings — at least in part — from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C. All Biblical reference are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Litany for the Birth on Christmas (Responsive)
Psalm 96, Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11, and Luke 2:1-14
Leader: O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
People: Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of God’s salvation tonight and from day to day.
Leader: For tonight, a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders.
People: Tonight, we call this newborn babe our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.
Leader: Honor and majesty we give to him;
strength and beauty are in this sanctuary.
People: We have seen a great light! We have sung a great song!
We cannot stop from singing for the grace of our God
first appeared on this night, bringing salvation to one and all.
Leader: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus
that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration
and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
People: All went to their own towns to be registered.
Leader: Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea,
to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended
from the house and family of David.
People: He went to be registered with Mary,
to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
Leader: While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth,
and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
People: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Leader: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord
shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,
People: Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy
for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Leader: Tonight, unto us is born our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God,
our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.
People: This will be a sign for you, the angel said,
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Leader: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”
People: O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Leader: Declare God’s glory among every people everywhere,
People: Tell of our God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
Leader: For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.
People: Alleluia! Amen.

If you use this litany in your congregation’s worship, I do hope that you’ll let me know and most definitely give me credit for my hard work toiling away with these beautiful words.

Advent and Christmas Candle Liturgies

J A S M I N EToday and yesterday, I’ve read some really beautiful liturgies from friends and colleagues preparing for Advent. Check out the beautiful liturgies written by my friends Teri and Martha.

Advent is only three Sundays away. Three Sundays. And it was 77 degrees outside yesterday. I don’t care. I’ll still crank up the Christmas carols and prepare for the coming of our Savior.

This year, we actually get to have two Sundays — a whole two Sundays — to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. It almost never happens. As Christmas overshadows Advent, we forget to celebrate the whole season of Christmas. So I want to be sure that that Light of the World for which we were waiting gets a chance to really shine. You’ll notice that this liturgy — written for one voice concluding with a unison prayer — goes all the way through the Second Sunday of Christmas. The song is from The New Century Hymnal.

First Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We wait all night and all day to see signs that God will break into our world again, but there are signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. There is light that shines in our deepest darkness. We light this first candle in that hope.

Light first candle.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

This little light shines through all our hurts and losses in our darkness. One little light reminds us that there is more than this darkness. There are signs all around. God will come again. We pray most earnestly that we may see God face to face and restore whatever is lacking in our faith.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We pray constantly to overcome all of the hurts and losses in our past so that we can help prepare the way of the Lord. And so, we pray that we can take off the garment of sorrow and affliction so that we can be messengers of the Lord. We light these candles in the hope of that peace.

Light first and second candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

May we stand strong and tall in light of the world. May that light illuminate the knowledge and the full insight in each of us so that we do not doubt that we have good news to share of God’s coming.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We trust, and try so very hard not be afraid, for the Lord our God is our strength and our might. It is in this knowledge that we rejoice. For the Lord is near. Alleluia! The Lord is near! We light these candles in the joy of the coming of the Lord.

Light first, second and third candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

As many judgments as we place upon ourselves, as heavy are the burdens of our hurts and losses from the past, we lift our voices in song. We sing God’s praises. We are still learning the words. We’re still looking for signs but we trust that we will be messengers of God’s joy.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We have so many prayers. With Mary, we pray that our souls might magnify the Lord. With David, we pray for restoration and salvation. Through all of the prayers on our hearts, we pray that God’s love shines through. We light these candles to reveal that love in our darkness.

Light first, second, third and fourth candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

This little light reminds us of the love that is always there. Even as we wait for Christ to be born again, we share in the mystery that God is never faraway. It is the love that magnifies our souls. It is the love that restores us and saves us. It is the love that is always shining through.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Christmas Eve

Night and day, we have prayed. We have prayed for signs and salvation. We have prayed for peace and trust. And, now, we cannot help but sing. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise God in the heights! The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. God was there in the beginning. It all started with God. And so, we believe that God will be in every one of our beginnings. This we pray as we light these candles.

Light first, second, third, fourth and Christ candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

Let these lights shine through us from this day on so that we might never forget that God is with us. God is always with us.

Let us pray.

Light of the World, we have been so afraid. We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, but you are the good news. May your love shines through us. May we be radiant in your light so that no one hides in the deepest darkness. We will tell of your love from day to day. Amen.

First and Second Christmas

Night and day, we have prayed. We have prayed for signs and salvation. We have prayed for peace and trust. And, now, we cannot help but sign. We sing to the Lord a new song for we have seen a great light. We who have walked in darkness, burdened by the hurts and losses from our past, have seen a great light. It is the light of the world and it is here. We light these candles in celebration of the Christ who is among us — now and always!

Light first, second, third, fourth and Christ candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

Let these lights shine through us from this day on so that we might never forget that God is with us. God is always with us.

Let us pray.

Light of the World, we have been so afraid. We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, but you are the good news. May your love shines through us. May we be radiant in your light so that no one hides in the deepest darkness. We will tell of your love from day to day. Amen.

If you happen to use this liturgy, please do let me know. I would love to hear about how your celebration of the coming of the Christ emerges. If you are looking for something a little different, you might also check out this post from last year.

The Warmth of God’s Saints

33c93-img_2784All Saints is one of my very, very favorite liturgical celebrations. It is a ritual that was introduced to me in the liturgical laboratory of my seminary. Sitting in James Memorial Chapel, I experienced for the very first time what it means to call upon such a great cloud of witnesses. Tears rolled down my cheeks each and every time in this holy celebration when we were invited this mystical union. Because there just isn’t another time or place in the Christian calendar that we make a space for grief. We reserve that sweet communion for funerals and memorial services but neglect to include it in the rest of our preaching and proclamation.

It is the day I want to sit in the back of the church. I want to light candles and sing and quietly mourn for the loss of such amazing saints of God like my mother and my grandmother. I want to sit in awe and wonder that there is something that connects us — all of us — to the divine and to each other. No one is left out. We all share in this great heritage. But, I am called to to the front of the sanctuary. I’m called to lead the prayers. It’s my task to stand in the pulpit and share the good news. Except that grief doesn’t feel like good news.

So more often than not, when All Saints Day rolls around, I spend hours upon hours preparing liturgies that allow for that sacred space. I do not preach but I find readings and poetry that will say what I can’t find the words to say to intermingle with chanted prayers from Iona and Taize. But, not this year.

This year I’m serving a small little country church in Pennsylvania. I am the interim pastor in this church that believes this might just be a title to begin many years of ministry. They’ve had pastors that have stayed and an interim music director who had been there for forty years. Theirs is a church that claims tradition as if it is just one thing. Their worship reflects this so that I didn’t feel I could play too much. I had written no more than a call to worship as I tried as hard as I could to stick with what is familiar for this congregation. Still, I was restless and uncomfortable.

I was restless and uncomfortable until we came to the table. I stepped before that holy ground and invited the congregation to take a deep breath before we shared in reciting the Statement of Faith. We took a deep breath because these are bold words. These are important words and we need to recognize how much power these words hold. But, more than that, I need to catch my breath. I had just preached a hard sermon and I could see the tears rolling down each face. I could feel them about to come from my own eyes. I needed to catch my breath before sharing in this proclamation of who we are as God’s saints.

And then, before the invitation, I did something I wasn’t planning on doing. I invited the congregation to call out the names of those saints — alive or dead — that we wanted to invite to the table. I invited everyone to call out the names of those that they would like to dine with us. My own mind raced with people who know more about faith than I do and the people I miss so very much. I thought of famous people and the many, many people who don’t have a seminary degree but have taught me more about faith than my seminary professors because it would be so amazing to have all of those people in one place seated at one table. That was the image in my head as names were being called out from the congregation. For all of the liturgy that I have so carefully planned, there was this work of people that came with a simple invitation. Call out the names of those you wish to be here and the names kept coming — name after name after name. All of the saints were gathered in that sanctuary. All of them were there. We felt the warmth in the room as we broke bread together. We felt so much warmth.