Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany 4

Healings just feel like a weird thing to explore right now.

Many of us are refreshing our browsers wondering when we can get in line to get the vaccine. Or we are eagerly seeking out that first dose for a loved one. We are not amazed, but we are asking each other, “What is this?” We just want to be clear on what this is. I don’t know that we can answer that — at least not yet. I’m not even sure I want to go there.

Epiphany is about the revelation. It’s about what you learn about God and so I wonder at this moment what we think we know about God. That’s what inspired these prayers.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 111

It begins here.
It begins with love. 

Love is in the beginning of 
all wisdom. It is the work of God's hands. 
It is what gathers us here
across wires and signals
to praise and give thanks.

It is love
that delights us
It is love
that changes us.
It is love 
that we practice
in our worship
today. 

It begins here
in the wisdom
we seek. 
Let us worship.

I really want an alleluia but I can’t find one on YouTube that actually leads me to worship. And yes, I have heard your laments about a song by that name that is not a hymn. The secular canon of hymns is small, friends, but we need music and it is why we offer these refrains to each other. They remind us of something. Art speaks when our words do not. So, here’s a song that might draw upon the blessing that we are not God but we need God’s goodness. That is the epiphany.

This song is covered by the CCLI license.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

O God, we have puffed ourselves up.
We confess that we have thought 
more than once that we had
all of the necessary knowledge,
but we are still learning the ways 
of your love, O God.

We see in the mirror dimly. 
We know only in part
what wonder your love 
can offer to this world
and to our lives. 

O God, forgive us
for believing in ourselves 
more than you. Amen. 

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

Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany 3

I am really excited when poetry takes the national stage. I was surprised when it happened in the beginning of the pandemic. Major news outlets started sharing poems chosen by their editors to speak this moment. Poetry became popular while we have been home in our pajamas.

It happens every four years — or nearly so — that a poet is invited to speak this moment in United States history. We need such words to speak to the unknown. We need the wisdom of artists to sing their prophetic hope and so I am eagerly awaiting what will come when Amanda Gorman takes the stage tomorrow to share her poem The Hill We Climb. There are other things about tomorrow that are in my thoughts but I have channeled all of that restless energy into a deep dive into the gifts and talents of this poet laureate.

Watch this and you will fall in love with this talented woman that the same news outlets that celebrated the gifts of poetry in the pandemic now only speak to this woman’s youth. Let’s not do that, friends. Let’s remember that our faith is centered on the very idea that a little child shall lead us. Age does not dictate wisdom.

This might not be something you share in worship but I hope it’s something that emboldens you, dear pastor, to use your words boldly and prophetically. You might be especially wondering how to do that this week as we wait to see what will happen tomorrow and after the nightmares of last week. I’m not sure that the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary this week are much help though I found wisdom both in this and this to see the gospel truth in this moment as kairos time.

What I especially love about Matt Skinner’s wisdom in Dear Working Preacher is that it might not feel like time to stir the pot right now. My friend Stacey said something similar last week on Twitter. It does no good to condemn each other to the urgency that might be felt but we do have a responsibility to invite each other into what could be. The kingdom of God hasn’t been realized but it is still near.

I am going to borrow the brilliance of Amanda Gorman in her poem In this Place (An American Lyric) in the prayers I offer this week in the hope of uncertain hope of kairos time. This poem is not public domain and so it should not be used in the context of worship but it might be a link that is shared on social media or in the church newsletter to continue reflection on what could be.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Mark 1:14-20

Now. The time is now.
Now is the time 
for good news 
and to fulfill
the hopes and fears
of all the years. 

Now. It could be
time for us
to believe
that we are 
just beginning. 
We are just now
finding lyrics for 
our hope. Just now
we are finding words
to claim what it might 
mean for the 
realm of God 
to come near. 

It has all come to
this. It has come to this moment
when we gather for worship
to wonder again 
how we will 
fulfill this time. 
Let us worship
and wonder.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 and Mark 1:14-20

We will not pretend that our whole lives 
will change, O God. We would be lying. 

Things might look the same: same partner, 
same job, same lament, same hope.

But we pray today that something 
changes with us and through us
so that we are not so afraid 
of letting go of our pride,
our privilege, our assumptions 
about the past and the present 
and even the future. Forgive us, O God,
for our arrogance 
and allow us to find grace
in following 
your love. Amen. 

This final prayer was written for a curated collection of prayers for the Overland Park Christian Church and the First Christian Church in Smithville, Missouri. The wise pastors of these congregations have broken from the Revised Common Lectionary for Epiphany and are leading a preaching series through the prophetic works of exile challenging us to wonder what we can learn about who we might become after our own pandemic exile. I am so honored to write prayers for this inspiring series. Their focus text for this week is Ezekiel 37:1-14 so there will be illusions in this adapted prayer to that resurrection hope. If your congregation is interested in doing something similar and would like to work with me in creating liturgy, please contact me here.

Prayers of the People
Inspired by the poetry in Christian Scriptures and of Amanda Gorman

O Spirit, we have feared
tyrants. We have 
been astonished 
by what their words 
can incite. We have felt like
our words were not enough
so we haven’t spoken.
We have been silent
while history has its 
eyes on us. 

We have been
stuck in this feeling
that the world was passing away
and we did not know 
if we could do anything 
to change it or even
care that it was happening. 
Our apathy won.
We haven't said 
that out loud.
We haven't wanted 
it to be true
when our despair
was the only thing that
we could really pin down
in this appointed time. 

We haven't felt the 
urgency of this moment
even though it has now
become clear 
that something 
needs to change. 
We feel the tension 
more than the hope.
We feel the hate
more than the love.
We feel the long arc of the moral universe
more than the immediate justice. 

It has been 
hard enough to get
out of bed
and change 
out of our pajamas,
but we know that 
your hope 
only lives 
if it has flesh. 
It will only breathe
possibility into creation 
if that hope 
finds its rhythm
within our souls.

Give us, O Spirit,
the wisdom 
to see ourselves 
and all of creation
with the eyes
of artists and prophets,
dreamers and poets.
Let the old
dream dreams
and young see visions
for what could be.
Let your hope, O Spirit, 
be the muse that 
flows from within us
and give us courage to
climb over the hill
of our hopes and fears.
 
We might not get 
to the Promised Land. 
We might not get 
to see all that you 
hope for this 
world, O Spirit of God,
but that does not mean 
we give up the fight. 
Challenge us to soar 
to new heights
where there will be
new dreams and visions 
for your people.

O Spirit, breathe
hope into our lives
and into all of creation.
Dare us to dream  
of what could be
on the other side
of our despair.
We pray in 
your grace. Amen.

You might not have had the leisure of wandering through the exquisite words of this poet laureate like I have but I don’t want you to miss hearing her read one of her poems. Thus far, this is my favorite.

Though her books haven’t released yet, she has two children’s books that will release soon. You might want to read this bedtime story to your children as much as I do. Or you might want to share in the energy of the inauguration in this forthcoming picture book within your ministry to children.

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

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 Epiphany

A new year dawns. 2020 is over.

That is the hope that we have put all of our energy into as we count down the last few days of this wretched pandemic year. We are waiting even after Advent is over. We are waiting for what is still to come. Maybe this will be the year that we will grasp that Christmas continues for all twelve days when so many that haven’t put up a tree in years have done so just to experience a little bit of joy. Will they also log into Zoom to hear the promise that this season offers? Will we imagine that this good news will truly lead to better days?

I confess I’m not there yet so I’m gonna keep singing carols for as long as it’s even remotely acceptable. The first Sunday in January is the ninth day of Christmas and is technically the Second Sunday of Christmas though many will likely celebrate Epiphany on that day. I would have zero qualms about putting a carol into worship especially one that is as beautifully fresh in these new words.

I had shared in my last newsletter some ideas from Epiphany including recommending Traci Smith’s resource for families looking to practice a new way into experiencing the twelve days of Christmas. You can find it in her Etsy shop.

Maren Tirabassi wrote this beautiful communion liturgy for this Sunday as she has for each month in coronatide. She plays with the imagery of the Twelve Days of Christmas which I confess I had to sing through all nine days until I could remember that there are nine ladies dancing. I think singing the song or playing the song instrumentally before communion (even if its secular) might help for the worshipping community to hear what I didn’t catch too quickly. It’s fun though. We need fun and I will always recommend Maren’s words.

This could be the Sunday that you preach the Prologue of John. I’ve been playing with that for next Christmas and I have no more ideas than what I’ve already written for it so these prayers might not speak to you. I am using a hybrid of inspiration from the second Sunday of Christmas and Epiphany Sunday so I hope these prayers might carry you into the new year. If you find yourself leaning into the hope of the new year, there are a whole bunch of new year prayers on re:Worship. I’m also not assuming that all of these prayers go into the same service but wanted to provide options and follow where the sections led me.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:7-14 

With weeping we have come,
feeling blind and lame
and barren
without hope
even in this season
full of hope.

We come wobbly 
and uncertain
but God assures
us that we will not stumble.
We will not fall
but we will rejoice.
We will sing.
We will dance 
and hold hands
and be merry.
We shall not languish forever.
God will shepherd 
us into the future.
God is leading us 
under the stars.

I’m not sure where this song should go but I like it and I thought this pastor did a lovely job with the visuals. It also wouldn’t let me save it to my epiphany playlist which I found annoying. Because it is still Christmas and I am not one to put away the Advent wreath until Christmas is actually over (that is, after January 6), I always include a liturgy for the lighting of the Christ candles. That version is responsive with the same refrain repeated by the congregation. I don’t think that works online so it’s been adapted again.

Lighting the Way of Christ
Inspired by Sirach 24:1-12 and Isaiah 60:1-6

In this season of possibility, of wisdom telling of her glory to all the people,
 of love made known and peace kept close at home, still we seek light.
 
We seek light from the highest heavens
wondering what this year will hold, 
fearful and hopeful 
and praying with 
all our hearts that 
this year will be different.

[Light first of the Advent candles]
 
We seek light over the waves
of the sea, and all the earth,
for creation is hurting
and we too often feel
like we have no sway.

[Light second of the Advent candles]

We seek light as we listen
for God's command and wonder
what the ministry of the church,
this church and every church,
will be when the world 
has changed so much 
in just one year. 

[Light third of the Advent candles]

We seek light because
we have not yet found a resting place
to dwell where there is enough 
for the immigrant, the refugee,
the poor and the widow,
or even for those who
abide in black and brown skin.

[Light fourth of the Advent candles]

We come seeking light
in the One is Light
and Wisdom and Love.
It is in this great light
that we will rise and shine
for our light has come. 
We will open our mouths
and share in the glory
that continues the work 
of Christmas. 

[Light Christ candle]

Epiphany is rich with so many images but my favorite has always been the stars. I am fasciated that the star stopped or that it felt that way as it does when the hairs stand up on our necks and we know that we have touched some glimmer of God’s grace. I went back to look at old liturgies I have created for this day and none of them seem to speak to this moment of online worship in ten million months into a global pandemic. Can we speak of these things in the same way? Do we need new inspiration to speak of what the heavens reveals in these tiny bursts of gas?

I might find a prayer that speaks to this moment like Joyce Sutphen’s Naming the Stars which names the hope of those future reunions full of hugs, at least to my reading. Or maybe this poem by Mary Jo Bang written early in the pandemic. Mary Oliver has a lovely poem on stars and Ann Weems has a whole bunch of poems that might work especially well if you are doing star words. I think it would be fun to adapt this poem by John Daniel into a Call to Worship but I’m not sure we all share the same vision of the post-pandemic future. There are some universals, of course, but do we all begin in the same place with that hope? I’m not so sure but it would be fun to play with that poem and the Gospel. Here are a few prayers that muse on the wonder of stars.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21 and Matthew 2:1-12

O God, lead us 
on different roads 
from the paths that 
brought us here into this new year. 

Open us to new treasures
from the chests
that we have carried 
over so many miles
always assuming that 
this was what was needed
because you imagine 
more than just one moment 
of revelation. Your light 
does not stop with that star
in one spot in the night sky.
You continue the 
orbit of love 
beyond that 
brief pause. 

We have thought 
we were holy and blameless.
We thought so all last
year and so we did
what we thought was right.
We took risks
that were comfortable 
for our own comfort
and read headlines
only to the point 
that we could 
sit with our own
racism and privilege. 
We still don't really 
know what freedom
means for those that 
are truly oppressed.
We thought we knew.
We thought we 
were so wise.

Lead us
by another way, O God,
where light teaches 
us humility and grace.
Lead us through
all our blunders
and missed opportunities
to find new signs
and wonders 
that overwhelm us 
with joy. Lead us 
ever into joy, O God.

Like so many, I really wanted to do something with this Christmas Star business. I went outside at dusk with my children to try to find it on the horizon. In one of the many news reports I listened to for some hint that this could have anything to do with Christmas (and I confess I’m still unconvinced), it was suggested that the Star of Bethlehem might actually have been an alignment of planets as Jupiter and Saturn aligned on the Longest Night. I can no longer find where I heard that. Sorry. I am using a lot of poetic license with this prayer and so my apologies to the scientists and maybe also to the psalmist.

Prayer for the Stars Alignment
Inspired by Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Will the stars align, O God, 
so neatly in the sky
that it might feel 
like this is what
you always dreamt 
would be?

Will the paths of planets 
reveal more to us
of your justice and love?

Will these celestial events
change how we live 
in this world 
as it was once sung
in ancient song?
Will we see your justice
come into the mountains 
and hills? Will hope for 
the poor and needy
rain down in stardust?

O God, we need a little bit 
of that hope right now.
We need some sign
in the heavens that will 
assure us that you are 
leading us, all of us, 
into justice and joy.
Align the heavens 
above with our
hope-filled prayers
for justice and joy. 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. You’ve made it into the next calendar year. You have done amazing things for the love of Jesus. I mean that. You embody the love of God right now. Hold fast friends. We will get there.