Prayers for Places of Honor

In this week’s gospel, we hear Jesus say, “Friend, move up higher.” It is a call for justice. It is an act of love. It is a reminder to remember how God sees us and offer each other that same honor as I preached in a sermon many years ago. I love that one line: “Friend, move up higher.”

I love the invitation and the hope in these words. I love the invitation that it offers and the possibility it imagines for God’s people so much that I want to burst out in song. Now, that’s not normal for me. I’ll sing quietly to myself and I get songs stuck in my head while I write sermons, liturgies and really anything else. This week is no different. And I’m so excited to sing I’m Pressing on the Upward Way in worship immediately following the Call to Worship below. What a song to lead us into praise! What a hope to move us into this good news! Admittedly, though, it’s not the song I really want to sing. The song in my head is an old gospel song that isn’t in our hymnal. It’s perhaps not a song that a bunch of white people should ever sing, but my stubborn heart is still singing We Shall Not Be Moved.

If it is the song you too are singing this last Sunday in August, I encourage you to also check out the Faith Action Kit from Showing Up for Racial Justice. This is work we must do and work we must do together especially as we hear this invitation from the gospel. This Sunday is also the week before Labor Day. Especially in an election year, the value of workers and unions is so important. It might be this year that you consider bringing labor into your pulpit. If you don’t already know the work of Interfaith Worker Justice, please check out their website. Don’t worry too much about the long-term planning that is encouraged (though it’s ideal). Dare to pray and preach race and labor this Sunday. Perhaps the ingredients in these prayers will even help lead you there.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One: God has invited us. We’ve found our place, seated in the same pew we find ourselves each week only to hear God say:

All: Move up higher.

One: We look around to see where else we might sit. Beside us are friends and relatives and others still for God has invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. God says to them:

All: Move up higher and higher.

One:Together, we share in this invitation, asking God this day:

All: Move us to higher ground.

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

Inspired by Hebrews 13:1-8

God who has never tired of calling your people toward mutual love, help us. We confess that we have not kept our hearts and our hands open for your love. We have not practiced in your way. We have not let hospitality be our aim, but have let our pride and our greed trump the love you offer us still. We have not listened for your voice. Our hearts are stubborn. Forgive us. Forgive us for allowing our human fears overpower your amazing grace.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: God is our helper, do not be afraid. God will never leave us. God will never forsake us, but God will satisfy our every need with the assurance of this grace.

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

Prayers from the Pantry

Sometimes writing liturgy is like staring in the pantry and wondering what the heck you can make without going to the store. I resisted the temptation to go find some really great prayers written by others. (That would be the store in this metaphor.) I am trying to keep with this practice of writing prayers myself — but I’m not thrilled with the outcome this week. Not so much.

Now, I know, that there are plenty of people that think that worship should be perfect. It should be amazing and transformative. I would not say that they are wrong but that’s not always possible in a part-time ministry. Sometimes other things have to take a priority and you have to rummage around the pantry for inspiration. I’m not sure I found it but I hope that you can add some spice to these words and make them sing with all of the hope that we imagine in our praise of God.

Here are the ingredients that I pulled from my kitchen.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

Inspired by Hebrews 12:18-29

One: We have not come to something that can be touched — a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest,

All: We cannot hear the sound of a trumpet, and a voice that makes us beg that not another word be spoken.

One: But we have come here, together, to worship and praise God on this sabbath.

All: We come to practice being angels and holy inhabitants of the world yet to come.

One:We come to touch the kingdom of God today.

All: Let the trumpets blast!

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

O God, we hope that you will guide us continually. We hope that you will never give up on us, but we confess we have given up on each other. We have refused the one who is speaking. We have ignored the cries of the sick and the hungry. Forgive us for the excuses we make to ourselves and to you. Forgive us for every time that we do not hear their cry as your cry. Forgive us for not caring enough. O God, on this sabbath, set us free from our selfishness and pride. Free us to see our kingdom.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: Among all of the other voices we might hear, let us focus on the one who gives us life. Let us hear the Lord of Life calling us to give and receive grace. Let us hear God say:

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below! I’m particularly curious this week what you do when you’re not inspired. What is in your worship planning pantry?

More Ingredients for Worship

Look at that! Two weeks in a row! This is a new feature on my blog — called Ingredients for Worship — that I am hoping to become somewhat regular but I’m still not convinced that will happen. But… wonders never cease! Muses do come! I wrote liturgy again this week. God be praised! It happened again.

I feel the need to confess that these are not my favorite prayers. I admit that I went looking for other prayers that someone else wrote. Something beautiful and lovely — and really traditional — that might work for the tiny rural church I’m serving as an interim pastor. I didn’t find anything I liked. I wasted a whole bunch of time looking until I finally gave in and wrote these prayers.

I hesitate to share them but I’m trying to remember that some of my least favorite sermons have been transformational and amazing to others. We don’t know how God will speak or how she will move. Sometimes we just have to throw something together from whatever we have in the pantry and call it dinner. Ick. That makes it sound worse. Oh well. Here’s what I found in my pantry. Might it inspire.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

Inspired by Psalm 33

One: Our souls wait for the LORD;

All: God is our help and shield.

One: Our hearts are glad in this place,

All: because we trust that God is here.

One:Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,

All: make this time together an unexpected hour of all that you hope to be, O LORD.

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

Shield us, O LORD, from the certainty of our own faith. Forgive us for the ways that we have made you into our own image for we have not heeded your call to sell all of our possessions to share with the poor. We have not kept the lamps lit and are not yet ready to celebrate for we only trust what our own eyes can see and what we see we do not like. But, faith is the reality of what your hopes, O LORD, it is the proof of what we don’t see. Help us, O LORD, to see what our ancestors saw. Make our hearts glad in the assurance of that faith.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: God is steadfast. Therefore, God isn’t ashamed to be called our God. Even when we are not ready, God puts these words on our lips:

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Invitation to Holy Communion (Responsive)

One:Don’t be afraid. Do not even fear for your lack of faith.

All: May our hearts be glad because God delights in giving us the kingdom.

One: God gathers us together at this table to show love and justice. God breaks our hearts and open our minds to see the kingdom in the breaking of the bread. God pours out steadfast love in a cup that overflows.

All: May this be an unexpected hour of God’s grace. May we see the kingdom in this feast.

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

Speaking to the Soul

I have not yet sat down to write my sermon on this Gospel Lesson but when I sat down to write this liturgy I was still thinking about that prayer that Jesus taught last week. I’m still thinking about the words that we choose and how they impact our relationships and our hopes. Because words matter. Words always matter.

Words like those in Ecclesiastes. I basically just wanted to read this as a confession because it feels so dang honest. Things aren’t going as they should. New people are coming along and mucking up everything that I started. They don’t understand. They are doing it wrong. That sounds like church to me. It sounds like the generational conflict that is playing out even outside the church as we continue to blame millennials for… well, everything. It even has a hint of this tension I keep seeing appear between the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might have done in the Civil Rights Movement to what is happening now in the Black Lives Matter Movement. All is vanity! Wiser words were never said which is why I want to focus a bit more not the words of the Psalm because verse 3 seems to say it all.

I want those words to speak to my soul. I don’t yet know if this will become the focus of my sermon but I’m fascinated about how the rich man in this parable speaks to his soul. I’m not sure what I’d say to my soul. I’m not sure if I’d have anything to say but I would like some time to think about that — and that’s what worship can be. Time to reflect upon God and self. (It can be a lot more than that but that’s not a bad place to start.) Here are a few ingredients for such soul pondering.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One: Our mouths shall speak wisdom; the

meditation of our hearts will be understanding.

All: We are listening for wise words.

One: Let our worship be more than pithy

statements but let every word and every note

speak to our souls.

All: Speak to our souls this day.

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

All is vanity. Wiser words were never said. We do so much to skimp and save. We try so hard to be good stewards at home, at work and at church but our hard work is never done. We have to entrust that work to others and so we can only wonder: will they be wise or will they be foolish? Teacher, speak to our souls We confess that we only trust ourselves. We do not trust those with who we share our work and sometimes, Teacher, we don’t even trust you. Forgive us and teach us to trust.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: Having confessed our sins, may our hearts now meditate on the grace that we do not deserve or understand. It speaks right to our souls to remember once again:

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

This is a new feature on my blog that I hope to become somewhat regular. I’m not making any promises. I’m going to try to make Tuesday the day. We shall see what happens. But, please do check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

Liturgical Lights for Sunday July 5, 2015

J A S M I N EThis Sunday the Narrative Lectionary leads us into the words of Psalm 146 as we continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher. There is another reading to pair this one in Luke 7:18-23 but I haven’t used these pairings for the past five weeks. Why would I start now?

This wisdom from Rolf Jacobson rings particularly true for me as I try to approach the possibility of praise encouraged in this Psalm:

These acts are not universal — not everyone experiences every grace from God. The Psalter knows that we grow sick, we can be killed, we are oppressed. But God moves in the midst of sufferings, sustaining God’s people and pulling the beloved creation forward into God’s preferred future. These acts of deliverance are representative of God’s characteristic intrusions into a broken and suffering world.

If the tradition is not to sing these songs in our corporate worship — but instead find them in our private devotion — then how do we approach these words in such a way where every experience of God’s grace is honored? How do we do that after when there are churches burning in our country? How do we do find such praise when members of our congregations are struggling with the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage while others are rejoicing? And there’s more. You know there’s more on our nation’s heart right now because it’s on your heart. How do we find a space for all of this on the same weekend where our congregations want to sing patriotic hymns for our nation’s independence?

Because I don’t have answers to these questions, I find myself wanting to fall on my knees and confess to God all of the ways that I struggle to find praise. Here is the prayer on my heart today.

Call to Confession

We come before our Lord and our God seeking a word of hope and just a little bit of forgiveness because we have foolishly put our trusts in courts and laws and leaders who can’t give what we truly seek. We’ve done wrong. We’ve messed up. We’ve fallen short so that we can’t find the praise we long to sing. And so it is that we come before our Lord and our God seeking hope and forgiveness. Let us pray:

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

Holy One, set us free. Set us free from all that imprisons us. Free us from the shackles of security and false promises. Liberate us from the grief that nothing will ever really change and help us to find your sight. Open our eyes to the long arc of justice that is leading us toward the liberation of your people. Lift up those who are pushed down by terrorism of creed or color so that we might all see how your law reigns. Watch over us, Holy One, because we are blind to what you are doing. We can’t see the long arc of justice and can only see churches burning, people dying and the ruin of creation. We need a word of hope. We need to know that love is stronger than hate and we can only ask your forgiveness for believing that that grace might come from the highest court in the land. We know there is more work to be done. Forgive us for not doing our part.

Shared Silence for Confession and Personal Prayer

Sung Assurance Come and Fill Our Hearts (Taize)

Assurance of God’s Grace (Responsive)

Our Lord and our God reigns forever.
The arc of God’s love is long and it comes to fill you with forgiveness and hope.
God comes to set you free from your fears and open your eyes to love.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday — especially as this is the last one in this series. I’m taking a summer break from Liturgical Lights. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve found these prayers helpful or if you’ve used them in worship. And, if you happen to use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:

The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday July 5, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.