An Affirmation of Faith for Texas

Dear pastors, I hope and pray that you have someone in your life that you can call to say you have no words.

You have a draft of a sermon and this week has been another beast so it feels like you should say something, but the words aren’t coming easily. I hope you have someone to call who hears this and nods knowingly through that little FaceTime screen. I hope that that person asks you if you really need to preach because you are struggling to care for yourself right now when your whole city has been without power and water and now you’re just trying to conserve as much as possible but there are so many people to care for right now. I hope that when you brush off that question that that someone asks it again because you too need a break.

The pastor of my sweet Texas church and I chatted today and this is basically how our conversation went. She’s in Austin. She has power but she hasn’t slept with worry for so many she loves dearly. She has a pastor heart as big as I know so many of you do. She told me that there would be a baptism this Sunday which seems really perfect for the Gospel Lesson and I asked her if I could help. I asked her if I could help write something for her.

She sent me an affirmation of faith she had written to follow the baptism. I promised I would add to it. It is a collaboration as all the best things are and so my thanks goes to Anna Kreisle Humble and her endless creativity. My thanks also goes to you, dear pastor. I know you are doing such amazing things and I hope that there is someone who is helping you carry that heavy load.

An Affirmation of Faith 
for Baptism and Belovedness in Texas
Inspired by Mark 1:9-15

We believe in you, O God, 
our Everlasting Source, the fountain of life,
who filled creation with rivers
and oceans and pools 
deep and wide enough 
to cover the whole earth
and is creating still
in the patience
we must find now 
that no water comes 
from our faucet.

We believe that 
water is right. 
It is a gift
that reminds us 
again and again 
that we are forgiven 
and loved and redeemed
and we believe that it is freely given 
so that every body and soul
might be hydrated 
in the grace of good news.

We believe in you, O Christ,
our Beloved One, who 
rose from the waters
of baptism to fight 
for peace and justice
and teach that
there are no limits 
to what love can do.

We believe that 
love is the fuel 
in our hearts that burns
so hot that even when 
the thermostat dips down
to terrifying depths ,
we will not grow cold
to the needs in
our community.

We believe in you, O Spirit, 
our Guide, the radiant heat 
of possibility in this moment 
and every moment
who made herself known
by sweeping over 
the waters of creation
and reminding us 
to breathe. 

We believe that
we are called to do
more for our community,
for the world and even for ourselves
but we first we must catch our breath
and warm our hands
to remember what love
lives in us.

The heavens might 
be torn apart
but we dare to believe
even now 
that we are beloved
and the Holy Trinity
is well pleased with
what we dare to dream
is possible.
May it be so.

If you serve a congregation in Texas and want to use this on Sunday, please do so with my abundant blessing. If you live somewhere else where you are still waiting for a thaw, use this and edit it as needed. Do your best to stay warm and care for each other. I know you are doing this. I know you are doing so much more than this, dear pastor. I hope that there are blessed souls caring for you just as tenderly.

Baptism of Christ Sunday After the Riots

I lit a candle this afternoon when I didn’t know what else to do. A colleague and friend texted moments before to tell me that the prayers I had curated for the sermon series she had hoped to begin this Sunday may have to wait.

Like the rest of the nation, I nervously refreshed my feed. Hoping. Praying. Disbelieving. Cursing. I was in awe of the brilliant artists that offered words where I could not find any. Maren Tirabassi wrote this Poem for Epiphany Evening as the sun set. Joanna Harader shared this keen insight on Storming the Capital on Epiphany and while these might help in the moment when it is Epiphany, I know that many of you, dear pastors, are wondering how to speak to this on Sunday. You may have planned to record tomorrow or Thursday so that now you are left staring at a blinking cursor.

Somewhere in the midst of my confusion and fury this afternoon, I got to thinking about a story that was shared in worship weeks ago in the days before the election. It is an old story that does not exist anywhere on the internet though it appeared in a 1978 issue of Reformed Journal which appears to now exist as a blog. Then, it was in print. I emailed my pastor, Anna Kreisle Humble, for a copy of the article. I wish I could also figure out how to share the video she created for worship that Sunday using this story but I cannot. Instead, I share with you a snippet of this essay that might speak to your preaching for this Sunday. Before he muses that some Christians will wonder if the church should be engaged in politics, like race relations, “as if these are still options for the Christian community,” Robert Mouw shares in his essay Baptismal Politics this story about Darryl.

Darryl was brought by his mother to the front of the church to be baptized.. At a certain point in the ceremony, the minister asked these questions of the congregation: “Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive this child in love, pray for him, help care for his instruction in the faith, and encourage and sustain him in the fellowship of believers?” And we all answered: “We do, God helping us.”

Darryl is black. And so the congregation’s response had significant and far-reaching implications. For a predominately white congregation to promise to receive Darryl in love, to pray for him, to watch over his instruction in the faith, to sustain him in Christian fellowship, was a profound commitment on his behalf— with important implications not only for this congregation, but also for the traditionally Dutch-ethnic denomination of which it is a part, and for the entire church of Jesus Christ.

To love Darryl will require that we try to look at the world from his point of view, to make his hopes and fears our very own. To assume an obligation for his Christian instruction and nurture is to commit ourselves to attempting to understand what the gospel means for him, with his tradition and history. It means that from here on in we will have to keep Darryl in mind when we plan our sermons, write our liturgies, plot out our educational programs. All of this will involve us in change, in patterns of “contextualization” that are different from those which have characterized our lives in the past.

We are also going to have to pay close attention to what others are saying to and about Darryl. If American society tries to treat him like a second-class citizen, we will have to protest on his behalf, since he is our brother in a holy nation of kings and priests. If he is ever the object of a cruel joke or a vicious slur, we will have to consider this to be an affront to the very Body of Christ. If someone ever complains that he is not “one of our own kind,” we will have to respond with the insistence that, through the blood of Jesus, we are Darryl’s “kind.”

While it might not be worth leading the Pandemic Prayers for Baptism of Christ after the riots today, I think it is worth remembering those questions that we ask of candidates for baptism. It is not just the question that is asked of the congregation to offer support that matters but the witness that we must each wrestle with every day as people of faith.

While our denominations all phrase these questions differently, it is our collective call to resist the powers of evil. It is our job to discern what evil looks like right here and right now and we must decide if we truly believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior or if we will choose to put our faith in some other god. The rioters chose one way. I hope and pray that our baptismal faith leads us another way.

May you find such courage, dear pastor. May the Spirit move you with the power of words for the living of these days. I will be praying for you.

Pandemic Prayers for Baptism of Christ

I love this Sunday.

I have been known to do some really silly things in worship because I love the joy of remembering this wonderful and strange ritual we share where we remember we are God’s beloved. And so I want to make this Sunday special. I want there to be unique things that do not require a ton of work for you, dear pastor, as you try to offer this blessing again. If you read my newsletter, you’ve already been chewing on some of those ideas but here are a few more.

What if this Sunday was a series of prayer stations? Yes, that means you don’t need to preach. It also means in this reality of online worship (as I’m assuming your congregation is still online and will continue to be until at least March) that your people will need to gather materials to set up. It will be a tiny bit of chaos but you get to send them on a scavenger hunt and who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt?

Here’s the list:

  • 10-15 sheets of paper
  • bowl of water
  • 10 small rocks or pebbles
  • markers, crayons or pens in assorted colors
  • 5 recent news stories about water (bookmark or print out articles)
  • matches
  • candle for each worshipper
  • extra credit: photos from family baptisms, baptismal candles/shells and/or baptism certificates

In the 10 days or so before Baptism of Christ Sunday, I would send out this list. I would send out reminders about this list by email and social media. I would maybe offer prizes for people that post pictures of all of their items on social media. I would begin worship reminding the gathered that this service has some tools required. I might even plan for the stressed-out parents who forgot because of all things and have some special music planned while they race to get the items. Or I might skip the music and have some sort of Mission Impossible countdown clock because I already sent you 5000 communications about this and I’m annoyed. These are the moments where I really miss leading church, right? This is actually endearing to me now. Silly church people.

What follows is a fairly complete liturgy. It’s missing a couple of things that you probably require in your usual worship format but I hope it gives enough creativity that you can delve in and use this opportunity to create a few Powerpoint or Canva slides for your worship presentation and move onto next Sunday. (If it works to use the slides below, please do so.) And if you are planning ahead to next week, here you go.

Gathering Around the Baptismal Font

Come to this font 
to find blessing and 
hear the divine echo
sweep over the face of the waters
calling out blessing and joy.

Come to pull up
a chair beside this basin
or bowl or whatever you found 
in the back of the cupboard
to remember that God's grace
doesn't require gold or silver,
but is poured out in 
abundant love.

Come to splash
and wade into this water
to hear again that you are beloved.
You have brought pleasure
and glory to God's name.

Come and touch the water 
to remember God’s love for you.
This version by Chad Garner and Robert Robinson is covered by the CCLI license.

Share in hearing Genesis 1:1-5.

If it is your tradition to gift Bibles to the newly baptized, I might opt to read this creation story from the Bible that you gift to the children.

Worship leader would prompt gathered to gather markers or crayons and one piece of paper for all worshippers. Worship leader could lead the prayer prompt below. Or it could be displayed on a screen image. If read aloud, it may need to be broken into parts.

Allow 3 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

Share in hearing Mark 1:4-11.

Worship leader would prompt gathered to move the bowl of water to the center of their focus. They can push the markers and paper out of the way and pull the new stories up in their browser or put printed articles next to the bowl. Just as before, worship leader would lead the prompt below.

Allow 5-10 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

Prayer for the Many Waters 

Awesome God, we thank you for the water in our bath tubs and sinks.
We thank you for the water that rains from the sky and the water inside our bodies. 
We thank you for rivers and lakes and Barton Springs*. 
We thank you for oceans and ponds full of fish, turtles and frogs. 
We give thanks for the gift of water. May water always remind us 
of your love. Amen.

*include local body of water that would be familiar to your congregation instead of this fresh water pool in Austin, Texas

Allow 5-10 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

Share in listening to the good news in Mark 1:4-11.

Invite the gathered to place a piece of fresh paper before each person. Place the markers or crayons within reach.

Allow 10 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

As with most songs by The Many, this song is covered by the CCLI license.

Invite the gathered to notice all of the objects that they have collected. Marvel for just a moment at the ways that we are learning to be church together. We are becoming something new and wonderful. There is lots to praise here.

Now invite them to bring the candle and matches to the center of their focus before leading the final prayer station.

Allow 3 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

Baptismal Waters Litany
Written by the Rev. Melissa Reed

When they say: you are alone.
These waters say: You are “with.”

When they say: You are too broken, damaged goods, too wounded, not enough.
These waters say: Enough, beloved. Enough.

When they say: You are too brown, child, Too black. Too queer, child. Too fat.
These waters say: Beautiful, child. Beautiful.

When they say: You are too addicted, stranger. 
Immigrant, alien. Criminal. Too far gone, stranger.
These waters say: Home, neighbor. Welcome home.

When they say: We could sell these waters and turn a profit!
These waters say: We are the waters of the Jordan, 
the waters of the Atlantic, the waters of the Charles. 
We are the waters of your Mother’s womb, and we are free!

When they say: Fear.
These waters say: Trust.

When they say: Commodify. Consume.
These waters say: Life.

I would really like to close this worship experience with In Water We Grow but it is sadly missing from any YouTube search I can manage. Perhaps this is when you use the talents of your own congregation. Or maybe you’ll offer a blessing of your own.

When I first posted this, I included links to where I find these prayer stations I adapted. Canva doesn’t let you link but I want to be sure I give credit where credit is due. Inspiration for these prayer stations came from Theresa Cho’s Interactive Prayer Stations for Baptism 2, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church’s Prayer Stations for Baptism of the Lord Sunday and Sybil MacBeth’s Praying in Color.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am always praying for you.

Pandemic Prayers for World Communion Sunday

In the churches I’ve served, this was always a Sunday people looked forward to. It wasn’t a celebration that they remembered from childhood but it was something that has become meaningful and important. There was always careful planning to make bread, prepare special liturgy and even host special events after worship. The table was always set with bold colors. There was a globe or a map or some other visuals to remind us that we are connected to a global community through the sharing of this feast. I think that is special and worth celebrating so here are some things to try while worshipping remotely.

Sharing of the Bread

My sweet Texas church has been offering communion kits every month including wafers and grape juice that have been blessed by the pastors while wearing masks and gloves. We live too far away to get one but it does make me wonder about all of those people who stockpiled yeast all those months ago. Certainly there are at least a few in your congregation. Could they be recruited to bake bread to be delivered to your members? It would be a big effort for a large congregation but perhaps it would be possible in smaller parishes where there are skilled saints who miss coordinating church dinners.

Or maybe you use the talents of one of those dear bakers and have themselves film the process of weighing, mixing and kneading the simple ingredients of making bread? Maybe some harvest songs play in the background or maybe you broaden this experience to include videos of harvesting wheat and grapes? Or could you use images of Christians around the world sharing the bounty of that harvest? You could use this if you are really, really desperate.

It could instead be a time when elements are gathered for the local food pantry to share food and drink with neighbors in need. If your local food pantry doesn’t have a list of things that are in short supply right now, you might encourage members to donate items that are familiar to the communion table around the world including bread, flour, tortillas, potatoes, rice and gallons of water.

I am not including the wide variety of prayers in languages other than English because I imagine you’ll use the gifts of your congregation.

Sharing Music

Our hymnals are full of wonderful songs about community and gathering at the table. I was tickled to see that Global Ministries gathered together all of the global hymns into an online resource for those that lost the index in the back of their hymnals. I am curious what will happen with worship streaming using Facebook Live with the recent changes to the platform and so I’m focusing on original music in what I suggest here.

My friend and colleague released his first album in 2013 that included Taste and See which would be fantastic to gather with at the table. Through his website, you can buy the digital track, the album and the sheet music. The first track on that same album entitled All God’s People would also work lovely in the beginning of worship unless you don’t want to tap your feet.

If the tone is meant to be more meditative, you might consider All Belong Here by The Many. It’s available through the Convergence Music Project as an audio file, a lead sheet, a lyric sheet, or a piano arrangement. Though there is no sample on the website, I’d also recommend Christopher Grundy’s Come to the Feast on the same site but it’s another one of those upbeat songs.

I am uncertain of the copyrights surrounding this but this might be how I would choose to end worship. It made me weep.

If you have talented musicians in your congregation ready to film themselves singing, you might offer them the free sheet music for Jorge Lockward’s Cuando El Pueblo. If you uncertain about copyright uses, his email is on the sheet music.

Sharing Words

There are so many beautiful words written for this day already that I can’t help but share a few favorites. At the top of the list would be my much loved copy of Gifts of Many Cultures edited by Maren Tirabassi and Kathy Wonson Eddy. Another book that I’m eager to get my hands on just came out from my seminary friend Claudio Carvalhaes entitled Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the Ends of the World.

I have used Katherine Hawker’s lovely prayers many times but have a special place in my heart for her Presentation of the Breads. This would only work if the presider at the table is willing to have a ton of bread in their home that may actually go to waste. I also love the Alternative Table Prayer she recommends. I used this Call to Worship as an Invitation to the Table last year when I was still writing liturgy for my sweet Texas church. I just discovered and adore this simple prayer from the United Church of Canada. Whereas this blessing entitled And the Table Will Be Wide by Jan Richardson has been in my files for a long time, though it feels like it has new meaning now. For preachers that might want a break from preaching, you could build a service around these reflections on Why I Take Communion from 2010.

If you have followed these pandemic prayers, you’ve noticed that I have a penchant for poetry in worship and so I also have a few poems to offer including this one entitled Wheat. While it might not be right for every church, I adore Red Wine Spills by L. Ash Willams. Judy Chicago’s A Prayer for Our Nation might be a better fit. This is a horribly short list and I’m disappointed in myself so please go check out the books mentioned above.

Most of the years that I have marked this year with the congregations I’ve served, I’ve hunted for worship resources from other countries to use words that don’t sound quite as familiar. There are weekly prayers shared by Global Ministries from all our global partners (and I’m sure that your denomination has something similar) and a slew of ideas just for World Communion Sunday. Despite my resistance, here are some prayers that you can copy and paste because you are tired and don’t want to go searching for these things. That’s the whole point of this. For better or worse, I stuck with the texts for Proper 22A.

Call to Worship

Listen to the wild grapes.
Listen for the prophets
and builders of the future.
Can you hear something 
amazing? Might you 
even hear what God is doing?

Listen carefully
as you dig among the stones
in that fertile ground
full of expectation.
Listen for the crushing
violence of those first fruits.
Listen for another parable
of a bread broken and shared.
Can you hear the grace 
poured from that cup 
shared throughout all the earth?

Listen to all of the wild grapes
gathered to build
a future around this table.

The next prayer is a little different from what I usually might offer. While silence could follow for personal prayer and confession, I thought it might be worth considering a little bit to remember our baptisms. To do so, you could use something really long and elaborate. I’d suggest that this prayer be followed by a hymn (instrumental would be more meditative) and then begin this more traditional liturgy. Or you could opt for what I suggest below.

Prayer of Confession

With open ears, we come as a global people
to admit that the world is not as it should be.
We carefully cleared out all the stones
and planted only the best vines.
We thought we did everything right.
Or so we have told ourselves
again and again.

Listen, O God,
for these roots run deep.
There are things that we
have chosen to believe
because we didn't want
to see the violence
or corruption.
We wanted to believe
there was enough
and that all people were
working for good until
the harvest of this year.
It has crushed our hope.
It has broken our faith
and we need your grace
to rain down.
Wash us in your love
so that we can dare
to dream of the world
we could build
from so much waste.
Listen, O God,
to the cries of your people
around the world.

Silence is kept.

Remembering the Gift of Water
A large bowl of water is set in front of the speaker on camera.

We remember the gift of water
that nourishes the fertile ground
and allows wild grapes to thrive.
We whisper small wonder
over the miracle of running water
gushing from the spout
to wash our hands
clean with soap.
We notice the rain puddles and drops of dew 
that remind us again that 
the heavens brim with your love
raining down upon our heads with mercy.
Water reminds us again and again
that we might dive into new possibility
and be renewed. We remember with this water

Splash hands in water.

that we were once called beloved
and that the whole world
and all of its wild grapes
are equally beloved.

I would not be above sprinkling my computer or tablet or phone or whatever device is filming me to do a little blessing, saying simply, Remember the gift of water and be thankful. Amen. I am not interested in excluding anyone that has not been baptized from this moment and want to leave lots of room for the wild grapes within us and among us. These words are in my head.

If you opted for bread distribution among your people, you might even include a special blessing like a prayer card. I cannot find a sample I like. I might have to make one.

Or if you don’t want to do this whole baptism water business, you might opt for silent meditation that includes a homemade rain stick in the background if you don’t already have one in your minister’s closet. Have someone in the congregation make it for you, dear pastor, because they love crafts and you have enough to do. That person will be so excited to drop it off on your porch before Sunday.

Prayers of the People

Though this aspect of worship might usually happen later in the service, I might follow it after the act of Remembering the Gift of Water. Under that bowl of water, I’d have a map of the world. Off to the side, I’d have a basket of tea lights and a fire starter ready for this moment of prayer. The chat feature in Zoom could be used to uplift prayers for the global community or prayers could be gathered from the congregation through the congregation’s Facebook group during the week. Knowing that these forums are imperfect in gathering the prayers we wish to bring to God, I would prepare a list of petitions from the headlines that week.

After each petition, I’d light a tea light and place it upon the map over the correct country. After all of these prayers are voiced, I might close this prayer time in an adaptation of this Intercessory Prayer with some more expansive imagery around the divine or this prayer with zero changes.

That’s all I’ve got for this particular Sunday. I’d be thrilled to know what you use and what might help you plan for the future. Until then, please know that I am praying for you.

I am always praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. 

Prayers for Baptism of Christ Sunday and Epiphany 2C

I attend a church with a super talented and dynamic staff, but as it happens when a lead pastor leaves for a new call, they’re carrying more than they usually do. There’s more work for each and every one of them. I could see it on their faces. It wasn’t obvious but I knew that look in my own eyes when it was me that was feeling overwhelmed in parish ministry. So I asked if I could help and somehow I ended up writing liturgy.

I wrote liturgy for all of Advent and then asked if it would help if I could create bulletins while they search for a new administrator. My heart breaks for them. No administrator? Now? Good grief. So, I kept writing prayers and now I’m formatting bulletins and having a ton of fun doing it.

The following are the prayers I cooked up for the next two Sundays. The first prayer will be Call to Worship and the congregation will be invited to come forward and touch the water. I suggested even having small cups so that people could take a drink, but I don’t know if that will actually happen. There is a sung response between it and the Prayer for the Many Waters.

Prayers for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Gathering Around the Baptismal Font

Adapted from the Call to Celebration for a Baptistry Dedication at Grand Avenue Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ).

One: We are a people of the water!
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a rain shower, awakens the sleeping seed
within the soul and lures it to blossom.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a wading pool, inspires the delight of children, jumping,
splashing, spraying each other, shivering with wet joy.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a hot shower after a long day’s work,
cleanses us, reawakens us.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like little drops, drips from fingertips to forehead;
like a great depth, in which to sink in and immerse our entire body.
Many: Through the waters of baptism, the family of faith always,
lovingly, makes room for one more.
One: And so, God makes room for us by inviting us again and again to remember the gift of water. Come and touch the water to remember God’s love for you.

Prayer for the Many Waters

Awesome God, we thank you for the water in our bath tubs and sinks.
We thank you for the water that rains from the sky and the water inside our bodies. We thank you for rivers and lakes and Barton Springs.
We thank you for oceans and ponds full of fish, turtles and frogs.
We give thanks for the gift of water. May water always remind us
of your love. Amen.

Prayers for Epiphany 2C

Call to Worship

One: Your steadfast love, O God, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds that rain
down the blessing of water upon our heads.
Many: How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
One: There is wonder and mystery for all the people
that you invite to drink from the river of your delights.
Many: You are the fountain of our lives.
One: You pour out your blessings.You bring us to overflowing.
Many: We worship you in wonder and love.

Prayer to Open Our Hearts

Today, O Holy One, we might not feel like there are miracles all around.
We might not feel like there are things to celebrate or wonders to behold.
We might feel like there is nothing we can do with our gifts, our services or even
our activities for the common good. Still, Holy One, gather all our doubts and wonders into this hour and fill us like jars of water. May we be changed
in our wondering about you and your love, we pray. Amen.

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

To Be Regular in Worship (Or Not)

In the middle of Advent, I joined a church.

It was important to me. I wanted to do it. I’m already a member of another church where I never get to attend worship, but I read their newsletter and pray for their ministry. We’ve moved too faraway for regular worship to be possible and I’ve wanted to find someplace to be known. I’ve wanted some place close by to belong. And so, I met with the pastor of my local United Church of Christ and expressed my desire to join this small tribe and waited until this day when it could finally happen. Even so, it felt strange.

It felt odd to stand in front of this lovely group of people and makes these promises I’ve so often asked others to make. Repeating baptismal vows should be so shaky. Not just for those who stand before the congregation to say they will, but for those seated and listening, it’s another chance as the church calendar changes and the birth of Christ comes to wonder if we’ve really done these things or if we need to promise to start anew.

To say again that I’m ready “to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best I am able.” It comes as a question. Or a series of questions to which I can’t help but stand a little taller each time I say “I will, with the help of God.”

Yes, I want to grow in this faith. Please help me grow. It’s why I’m doing this thing. It’s why I’m joining another church because I want to grow. Ore than that, I want my little girl to grow into this faith. It’s why I’m repeating these words. I want to be changed by this group of people in this place where we try together to celebrate Christ’s presence.

I want this. I’m ready for this. It’s why I pushed the pastor for a day to join but it feels a bit different the moment I stand there before all those people with my baby strapped to my stomach snoring soundly. It’s different and I’m not sure why.

I still get excited. I feel my chest soar and my back arch as I repeat these questions I’ve asked so many times of others. I remember all of them in that moment — every fourteen year old kid who sat in my office weeks before their Confirmation while we tried to figure out what these questions meant not just in the liturgy but for them at this moment, every one of the kids that couldn’t get onboard with these questions and refused to be confirmed much to dismay of their parents, every soul that came looking to serve and every broken heart that needed community. I knew every one of their stories when they answered those questions. I knew what had brought them to make these promises and why it was a big deal.

I also knew what scared them. I knew how many of them hadn’t been around church for awhile. They’d been hurt by the church somehow and they wanted to be sure that this congregation wasn’t going to repeat those wrongs. Maybe it was that that felt odd for me. Maybe I felt in that moment the weight of all of those worries add concerns. Maybe. But it seems it hit me most when that last question was posed. The one that asks if we will be regular in worship which I cannot quote correctly because I can’t even find my Book of Worship anywhere, yet I heard this question and I gulped. I wondered if I could answer it or if I should just sit back down in the back row.

It’s this question that has tripped up nearly everyone of whom I’ve helped to make these promises. It’s this question that I’ve interpreted again and again in each and every new member class. To every group of people at every church I’ve been careful with these words because I know that attendance in worship is changing. Though I would be there every Sunday as their pastor, I might only see these faithful people once or twice a week and that would still be considered regular. I never bemoaned them this, it’s just that I never imagined that I’d become one of them.

It hit me then. It has been more than a year since I’ve been anyone’s pastor. I’ve missed Sundays. I’ve slept in. I went to brunch before I’d had this baby in my arms. Now it was the question of whether or not I’d slept that night that decided my Sunday plans if I could even remember what day of the week it was. I wasn’t going to be a weekly worshipper. I was going to choose family time over church sometimes. Or I might simply choose not to drive the 40 minutes and go someplace closer. All of that interpreting I’d done for others on recognizing their own rhythms and staying attune to what their family needed to know the love of God was about me and my family.

It felt strange. Maybe it should always feel a little odd to make these promises, but it’d never felt this strange. All of the many times I’ve answered these questions before it felt radical. It felt like something was changing. Something g was shifting and that somehow, together, we were going to change things and it would be good. I’ve felt that each time I’ve stood beside others as they’ve made these promises with the waters of baptism glistening on their foreheads.

I’ve even felt it as I’ve flung water from evergreen sprigs into the pews full of bewildered people. The questions always seemed important. It felt like it was important to weigh each word and understand each enormous promise we were making. But, on that Sunday In Advent with my baby cuddled close to my heart, it didn’t feel like the questions mattered as much as my answers. All I know now is that it will be different. It will be different than it ever was before.

Worship with Fire

This is a tough week. The words from the Revised Common Lectionary that will inspire our worship this Sunday are hard. It is hard not to feel like a finger is being pointed directly at you. It’s hard not to feel judged. It’s difficult to feel like there is any bit of grace, but there is. There always is.

So, let’s start there and acknowledge that there is grace. Even when we don’t feel it, even when we don’t deserve it, there is grace. Let that be the first ingredient that we add to our worship planning. Let there be a heap of grace thrown in first. Make sure there’s enough for you, for me and anyone that might show up to worship on Sunday. Throw in an extra dash for those that you don’t really like. Or the people that have made you doubt grace. Say, for example, internet trolls. Or maybe politicians. I won’t suggest which ones though you may well know where my alliance lie by now. Ahem.

When I think of grace, especially having read the gospel for this week, I can’t help but think of baptism. It sounds a bit like Penecost. There is a new spirit in these words that comes with the fire and water that John foretold in the beginning of this gospel. Each and every one of these readings picks up on fire. There’s the raging fire in Hebrews, Jeremiah’s word that is like fire and the vines that have burned and cut down in the Psalm. Fire is the stuff of passion. It’s the stuff of hope. These prayers hope to cook with such fire from the Spirit.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One: Kindle the fire of love today.

All: Ignite the hope we need this day.

One: Burn our pessimism into a fine mist.

All: Spark our imaginations with signs of peace.

One:Let embers glow in all our words.

All: May our hearts no more be divided. 

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

Restore us, O God, from the destruction we bring upon ourselves. You entrusted this world to us. You asked us to tend and keep it but instead of caring for this earth, we have burned it with fire. We have cut it down. We have ripped it apart. We have caused the seasons to shift in our carelessness. The scorching heat only causes us to bellow your name, O God, demanding you to clean up our act. Restore our love for all creation. Allow us to be as gentle with ourselves as we might be with this earth. For, we know, you love us both. You call all your creation good. Help us to hear that blessing in this present time as we seek your forgiveness.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: In this present time, even as fires still rage, God’s word breaks our hearts into pieces. God makes a way for peace where there was none by saying, again and again:

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

Prayer of Dedication (Unison)

Let us not divide these offerings like lots. Let us use these gifts to radiate the love of Jesus Christ in all of our ministry. May all that we offer in your name, O God, spark hope for our broken world. In Jesus’ name, we pray. 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!