Liturgical Lights for Sunday May 10, 2015

J A S M I N EThe Narrative Lectionary on May 10, 2015 is Romans 5:1-11. Of this passage, Karl Barth claims in his great work The Epistle to the Romans:

Love is what endures of our endurance, which is proved in our probation; it is the hope in our hope. By its power, hope is not put to shame; by its power, we glory in hope, glory even in tribulation; by its power we have peace with God; and by it we are what we are not — new [humanity]. ‘After such occurrence, such an encounter, how can we for one moment imagine that the hope of the glory of God putteth us to shame?’

God comes to be what we cannot. That is the hope and it is this hope that does more than justify but moves our worship and praise. So it is this possibility — this concept of hope — that stirs these prayers today. Not a hope soaked in blood or weighed down in suffering but a hope that was born on Christmas, a hope that lived and breathed, that dined with sinners and cried with mourners — a hope that continues to be created over and over again.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

Here is a place to raise our hopes.
Here is a place to boast in what God can do.
Here, we come to find our strength every morning.
God will show us the way
so that we might run and not be tired
so that we might walk and not be weary
so that we might even soar on eagle’s wings.
Here, in this place, God will raise us from death to life.

Affirmation of Hope (Unison)
Inspired by Romans 8:24-25

We were saved in hope.
We are saved by the love God proves for us.
We are saved by the peace God gives to us in Jesus Christ.
This is the hope that saves us
though we can’t see it
and can barely describe it.
For, if we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope.
Who hopes for what they already see?
We hope for what we cannot see
like the child who charts Santa’s route
like the child who never grew up claps wildly when it seems that
Tinkerbell is dying and
like those who have still have a dream.
We wait in patience because we know that God hasn’t given up.
God is always resurrecting hope.
And it is this hope that saves us.
Thanks be to God.

If you 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 May 10, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.

Liturgical Lights for Sunday May 3, 2015

J A S M I N EThe Narrative Lectionary on May 3, 2015 is Romans 1:1-17. The first Sunday in May was the particular Sunday that my home church always celebrated the Confirmation of its youngest members. J.R. Daniel Kirk comments that the thesis of this letter in verses 16-17 answers all of those big questions about faith. Or at least, it begins to describe what Paul thinks the Gospel is all about.

It seems to me that we can’t omit the powerful witness of what it means to be a Christian community in the preceding verses. For those that fear that Confirmation is a graduation, or those that fear that they are supposed to have all of the answers, there is no greater affirmation than that we will encourage each other to pass along our spiritual gifts (whether or not we know what they are) and that we will mutually encourage each other. Whether or not we find a mirror image of our own faithfulness, we’ll be encouraged by the faithfulness we find. Seems like good solid wisdom for those of us that are still trying to figure things out. The liturgy you’ll find below reflects these themes with a particular nod toward Confirmation Sunday.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

We gather together to remember that
we are dearly loved by God and called to be God’s people.
We come to mutually encourage each other. 
We come to remember that we are not alone.
We come to find strength.
Because while we’ve been apart
we haven’t been so certain of ourselves.
We haven’t believed as we should.
We haven’t been reminded of our gifts. 
We come to words for our hope.
We come to find a tune to sing of God’s grace.
We gather here to be the body of Christ.

Affirmations of Faith 

It has become very popular to encourage young people to write their own Statements of Faith which are often read in worship on Confirmation Sunday. I don’t like to do anything quite that simple — because it’s not really the teenagers that are thinking about this for the first time. At every age, we are trying to complete the sentence, “This I believe…”

Begin this interactive moment of worship by saying:

This I believe, said Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ,
I believe God promised good news about his Son ahead of time
through his prophets in the holy scriptures.
His Son was descended from David.He was publicly identified as God’s Son
with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness.
This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we have received God’s grace.
This I believe was to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience for his name’s sake.
And you are included. You who are called by Jesus Christ to share what you believe.
Come forward and receive a word of inspiration from one of the index cards before you.
Write on the reverse side your “This I believe…”
Let us mutually encourage each other in these words.

It’s at this moment that the musician would play something meditative.

Upon a table, or several tables if you have a large congregation, have colored index cards. On the unlined side of each card, write one theological term including in big bold block letters: GOOD NEWS, RESURRECTION, JESUS, GOD, CHRIST, GRACE, FAITH, COMMUNITY, SALVATION, ENCOURAGEMENT, HOLY SPIRIT, MEMBER, BAPTISM, PRAYER, and CHURCH. Make duplicates because you’ll need one for every member of the congregation. On the reverse side, each worshipper will use this particular word as inspiration for her brief 2-3 sentences of “This I believe…” I strongly suggest printing directions on a piece of paper upon the table. I always frame these instructions in cheap black frames as you can see here. Provide plenty of pencils on each table so that worshippers can write at the table. You may also choose to include some version of the instructions from the NPR version of This I Believe.

As the music concludes, these affirmations must be shared aloud. Do so with music. Lead a refrain of This Little Light of Mine and then invite the congregation:

This I believe, said Paul,
but you are included. Your faith encourages us too.
Let us continue singing “This Little Light of Mine”
after we’ve heard an affirmation of the faith gathered here.
You’re invited to share your affirmations — one by one —
between verses of “This Little Light of Mine.”
What do you believe?

This may be slow going — so you can repeat the question “What do you believe?” after each refrain. As you can probably guess, this could take FOREVER so it’s best to have a way where these affirmations might be shared. In a manner fitting to your space, display these cards in the narthex or in worhsip space.

If you 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 May 3, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.

Liturgical Lights for Sunday April 26, 2015

J A S M I N EThe Narrative Lectionary on April 26, 2015 is Acts 13:1-3; 14:8-18. There is something that transpires here between Paul and the man who could not use his feet. The man listens — intensely, it seems — to all that Paul has to say. But, Paul does not seem to be preaching at him.

It is not one of those finger-wagging sermons but seems instead to be about listening as much as it is about speaking. For when Paul is done, it is said that Paul looked at him intently and saw that he had the faith to be healed (verse 9).

Eric Barreto imagines that this illustrates a different kind of healing.  It is not filling a void but an act of hope. It is the hope for this healing and a trust that God and God alone could provide it. Not something to be imposed or even claimed, but something to embrace. Something to believe. Something to feel. And so, the prayers I’ve written this morning play with this hope.

Call to Worship (inspired by 1 Corinthians 12)

Now at the church in Antioch
there were prophets and teachers.
There are a varieties of gifts.
Here at the church in {insert town name}
there are a variety of activities.
It is the same God who brings us together.
Every word, every action, every hope
is activated by the one and same Spirit.
Now and then, then and now,
we gather in worship and praise
seeking the more excellent way.
Let us become the body of Christ.

Call to Confession

We are quick to point out the weaknesses of others.
We can see what cripples them in fear.
It is so obvious what will not allow them to embrace the hope of healing.
Now and then, it is important to stand before God — and God alone — and admit that it’s not just their crippling weaknesses but our own. We come to confess so that we might stand firm in that hope of healing God has made. Let us pray:

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

Now and then, we can see what we have done wrong.
Every once in a while, we can admit that we are weak.
We make mistakes. We err. We sin.
We mess up more than we want to admit.
Living God, who made the heaven and the earth
and the sea and all that is in them, we need your help.
Because we’re so eager to point out who is not using their feet.
We know who isn’t using their hands or even their heart.
We can name their disabilities, but we dare not name our own. Living God, help us.
Help us to admit that we haven’t put our whole bodies in your hope.
Help us from not holding back anymore as we meet you in this silence:

Shared Silent Confession and Personal Prayer

Sung Words of Assurance 
There are plenty of words that might be offered here to remind us of God’s love — but it is music that we remember most. So, instead of words, move from this shared silence into a time of singing of God’s amazing love. A few possibilities may include:

Great is Thy Faithfulness, refrain only
We, Your People, God, Confessing, verse 4
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
Your Love, O God, verse 4

If you 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 April 26, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.

Hope Within Me

hopeFrom far too many pulpits, there isn’t a word said about how long and how hard grief can be. I don’t know why this is. I don’t know if it’s a hallmark of our society or the stubbornness of a particular kind of Christianity that denies the depth of agony that begins on cross and continues in the darkness of the tomb. Perhaps it’s neither of these things. Perhaps it’s both. I don’t really care. Because it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is the tears that glisten on the faces of those special and rare people. What does matter is that they heard the good news that didn’t insist on the challenges of Easter Sunday. They heard it from their own story. They heard that their pain, their grief and their inexpressible groaning isn’t something to just get over already — but a way for them to see the promise of resurrection.

There is resurrection in those “sighs too deep for words.” Resurrection comes in the story of our faith after betrayal and doubt. It comes after piercing and suffocating death before it waits in the tomb. Resurrection, as someone famous once said, doesn’t come without Good Friday. It is not resurrection unless there has been some pretty horrible inexpressible groaning first. Because that always comes first. There wouldn’t be a story without the death. There wouldn’t be anything remarkable or heroic. It wouldn’t have caused anyone to wonder if Jesus hadn’t been dead and buried. Sounds like a downer, I guess. Maybe it is for those who have never felt that sting. But, my mom died when I was seven years old. This still stings. I am not over it. I may never be over it even though it seems that there is always someone who believes I should be.

Grief is what I know best so that when I sat down to write my morning pages this morning and read 1 Peter 3:8-18a, this verse leaped off of the page of my Bible:

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.

Because I believe I do have such an account. There is hope that is in me. There is hope in each of these rare and special people — even if doesn’t sound like triumphant joy. There is hope. I won’t get over my grief. It won’t vanish with the resurrections I might experience. It will always be part of the story. It will always be what happened first. It will always be the hope that is in me. It will always be what allows me to believe that there is resurrection. I’ll defend this hope. It is the hope that is within me.