Pandemic Lighting of the Advent Wreath

There are some readings that can be handed out to the families of your church without explanation. They know to read the script and light the candles. This is not that.

This Advent is not that. We have learned to do worship differently in the past two years. Our traditions have shifted and we have made room for new possibilities. It will soon be cold and some congregations will return to online platforms for their worship because it’s not possible to safely gather in their sanctuaries at this point in the pandemic. The risk is still there. It is still too great or it may be the designated worship space is being completely remodeled as it is at Old First United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, PA and there is no alternative space that would quite work.

Old First was the inspiration for digging up this liturgy from too many years ago when I first imagined how we might share simple stories about our faith. It has back in those days when we were all excited about testimony. Or at least we were in the United Church of Christ and I spent a whole lot of time trying to imagine how our traditional New England worship would allow for more truth telling. (They were so patient with me and I’m still proud of the risks we took together. I’m so grateful for the ways that they taught me to do church.) The liturgy that follows is adapted from one I wrote way back then but it needed to be spruced up a bit for the wonderful people of Old First who will be using this liturgy with their pandemic pods.

Their brilliant pastor and the elders formed groups to meet on Zoom early in the pandemic. It’s a urban congregation where people knew names and faces and a smattering of tiny details about each person but these groups have introduced a new level of intimacy and connection. They’ve stuck together through all of this and it’s changed their community in the best way possible. Old First won’t have traditional families lead these candle lightings, but these new pandemic families who will share some part of their story and connection as they light the Advent candles.

These scripts do not require a ton of extra explanation for the church people that have done Advent a few times, but they are not the kind of thing that can be read without advance preparation. And so, I offer the following instructions to share with your good people.

  • Please read the whole liturgical moment for your designated Sunday and then decide how the reading might be shared, if it is desired to use more than one voice.
  • Read slowly and with intention. Allow us to feel the expectation and wonder in each word.
  • Pray together with those that you will share this candle lighting about what the vision will be that you’ll share. It does not need to be a long explanation. It may only be two or three sentences to explain something you experienced together. Try to make it personal to your shared experience.
  • You may choose to script the vision you’ll share or invite someone within your group to speak that truth in their own words at the designated moment. Try to make it brief but powerful. Tell the truth with great love.

Surely, you will add to this list as certainly as you will make a series of technical choices that make sense for your community in sharing in this moment of worship. Hopefully, this gets you excited to do this thing that you’ve done so well throughout this pandemic. Dear pastor, you are a true wonder. Thank you for all you do in the world. I am blessed by it and so it is with gratitude I offer this liturgy for lighting the candles of the Advent Wreath.

First Sunday of Advent

Our expectation begins now.
It starts here after so much 
has happened but we still 
expect more.

We begin our journey, like Joseph and Mary,  
in darkness. We cannot see the way ahead.
We cannot know what hope will come but
we trust God to journey with us,
beckoning along with the prophets,

"The days are surely coming, 
says the LORD, when I will fulfill 
the promise I made to 
the house of Israel 
and the house of Judah.
It is coming." This is our hope 
today as we light the 
first candle of Advent.  

[First Candle is lit.]
		
We light this candle 
to remember what was promised
and every dream we dared to dream
about what could be. We light this
candle full of hope because 
we know the days are surely 
coming as we have seen signs 
of God's hope in…  

(name a vision of hope 
you’ve recently seen 
in your daily life, 
in your relationships,
or in the news).

With this hope, we know
that the days are surely coming
and so we pray together:

O God, who gave us the Light, 
thank you for giving us hope 
in the form of a child at Bethlehem.  
As we prepare to celebrate 
the birth of this holy child, 
may we see signs of your hope 
in the darkness of despair. Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent

When so much feels uneven
and unsteady, we push 
into the wild possibility 
that change will come. 
We imagine the peace 
how the world might 
shift in the hope 
John the Baptizer 
dares us to dream,

"Every valley shall be filled, 
and every mountain 
and hill shall be made low, 
and the crooked shall be made straight, 
and the rough ways made smooth; 
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
It is in this wild possibility that we light
the second candle of Advent.  

[Second Candle is lit.]

We light this candle 
in search of your peace.  
We look forward to the days 
when all the rough places are smooth, 
but for now we seek your comfort…  

(name a time when
you have recently 
been found comfort 
in words, in a kindness, 
or even in an idea).

With this possibility, we believe
our rough places will be made smooth
and so we pray together:

Prince of Peace, you came to us 
in the innocence of an infant.  
Comfort us when the world feels too rough.  
Give us the courage to find friends 
in unlikely places as we work together 
toward your peace.  Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent

We come find warmth 
together in the light
of God’s love. We have
often felt so misunderstood 
and even unloved, but today
we marvel in the love that
begins in God. We celebrate
the love we have known
in the words of the Apostle Paul,    

"And the peace of God, 
which surpasses all understanding, 
will guard your hearts 
and your minds in Christ Jesus."
It is in this peace that 
our guarded hearts break 
open to welcome the light
of this third candle of Advent.

[Third Candle is lit.]

We light this candle 
to celebrate your love 
that unites all people.  
In the warmth of 
this shimmering hope, 
we dream of that all people 
might experience this kind of love 
that surpasses all understanding. 

(Share a brief story about 
how you’ve experienced love together. 
Begin this story 
with the words, “I dream…”)

With this love made real,
we find new understanding 
of what love could change
and so we pray together:

Loving God, pour into our hearts 
this day the light of your love, 
warming us to one another, 
enlightening our understanding of others,
 and revealing the love that 
guards our hearts and minds. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

We might not feel quite ready, 
still we praise God. There is
joy in the inexplicable and
the extraordinary. We celebrate wonder
of what could be just as
Mary sang,

"My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has looked with favor 
on the lowliness of his servant. 
Surely, from now on 
all generations will call me blessed.”
It is with this joy that 
our souls unite to magnify 
the good news so full of blessing
in the lighting of this 
fourth candle of Advent.

[Fourth Candle is lit.]

We light this candle 
to celebrate our joy for the world. 
Like Mary, we might hesitate
and be cautious with our praise
but when we remember how
what God has done, we 
can only sing with joy.

(Share a brief story about 
you’ve been surprised by joy.. 
Begin this story with 
the words, “I remember…”)

With this deep joy,
our hearts join together
in prayer to God:

Eternal God, who magnifies 
each of our souls, 
surprise us this joy 
in these last few days 
before Christmas. Warm our hearts 
to feel the joy of your presence 
in our lives and in your world. Amen.

Christmas Eve

In the silence of this night, 
we celebrate the tiny hope 
of birth in Jesus, our Christ. 
As we wonder what this 
birth means to us, we recall 
all that we have found
on the way to Bethlehem. 

We remember every bit of
hope, peace, love and joy 
we have shared in sacred story.  
These lights shine bright
as the work of Christmas begins.

(Reader pauses as each candle is lit in order.) 

The light of hope ... (Candle is lit.)
The light of peace ... (Candle is lit.)
The light of love ... (Candle is lit.)
The light of joy… (Candle is lit.)

Now, as the shepherds worship 
and the cattle low, we sing 
with the angels that 
God has come into the world. 
We join in that song, singing,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, 
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
It is in this glory and awe 
that we light the candle of our Savior.

(Christ candle is lit.)

We light the Christ candle 
to celebrate our Savior. 
We join the chorus of angels 
with our glad tidings and great joy.
God has been made real 
again. God has come close. 
We add our praise, 
remembering...

(name a time, at Christmas 
or some other time, 
when you’ve been 
able to see God
in another person.)

As God becomes known
again in human flesh
and ordinary wonder,
we join our hearts
to pray together:

Holy God, we rejoice in your presence! 
The birth of this baby at Bethlehem 
gives us wonder and delight. 
The birth of your holy child 
is your answer to our unrest, 
our confusion and our sorrow. 
Tonight we live in Hope, 
we pray for Peace, 
we share your Love, 
as we are filled with your Joy. 
Thank you for sending 
your Child to be our Immanuel. Amen.

As you encourage your good people to find their words, there might be interest in these special workshop opportunities offered by Maren Tirabassi following the release of her book of poems last year entitled Christmas Eve at the Epsom Circle McDonald’s. (I have a copy. It’s really, really good.) This year, Maren is offering two workshops Zoom for the price of 10 books. Find out more here.

There is one more candle lighting buried in the archives of this blog. You can find it here. You might also be interested in this Pandemic Liturgy for Advent from last year. If you’re looking for more ideas for Advent, you can find some liturgies and group studies in my kitchen. I have a few more things cooked up for you as the season draws near including the my very occasional potluck newsletter that is just about ready to land in your mailbox. You can sign up here.

I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much as this season of wonder and light comes again.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 25

A blind beggar started to shout and they silenced him. They ordered him to be quiet. I don’t know why that is jumping out at me right now. Is it that I have been silenced so many times as a woman? Or is it that I haven’t felt that I have spoken enough? I haven’t used my power and might to speak out for the things that matter. I could always do more.

That’s my baggage. Maybe not yours. Still, it leaps off the page to me. I love these healing stories for their fantastic imagery. Even in Mark’s brevity, there is this wild gesture of throwing off his cloak. There’s that voice that gets louder over the silence and so many great little nuggets from Jesus. Take heart. What if that was literal? What if we held each other’s hearts so close? Or even our own?

What do you want me to do for you, Jesus asks. Ooooh boy. Do you have a minute? Let me tell you about some things Jesus. I’m not sure you really know what you are asking but of course you do. Of course, you do.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Mark 10:46-52

What do you want me to do for you?
We've heard this question so many times 
before too often forgetting it is an invitation 
to heal. We come to hear it now
as broken people blinded
by racism and poverty.
There is so much that 
we refuse to see 
and so much 
God needs
us to see.

We come to find
healing and redemption
not just for ourselves but
for this whole broken world. 
We come with urgency for all that has 
happened and all that still needs to happen
and we feel powerless to change anything. 
We come to find faith in ourselves and 
in the one who dares to ask us such impossible questions
as, What do you want me to do for you?

Unlike the past couple of weeks, I actually wrote a whole new prayer for this Sunday but I always feel like I’m cheating you by only offering one lousy prayer. I’m a wee bit shocked I have nothing in my archives inspired by Psalm 126. I love this psalm. How is this possible? Here is an adaptation of Psalm 126 to close worship. I rediscovered these Living Psalms as I prepared to preach a few weeks ago and I just love them. Do you have a favorite collection of paraphrases of psalms? I’m always looking for more.

I know you’re all busy planning well beyond this Sunday and into the season of Advent. I’m working on some resources with the amazing Jo Owens of Vibrant Church Communications. Jo just released her Simple Gratitude Bundle for Thanksgiving. You should definitely check it out here. If you’re looking beyond Thanksgivings, there are some liturgies and group studies in my kitchen that might help your planning. Or if you can wait, you’ll be super excited to see what will come into your inbox in my very occasional liturgy-filled email. You can sign up here.

I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 24

I remember the last time this passage from Job popped up in the Revised Common Lectionary. I remember thinking that the whirlwind was how I felt then. I wish I didn’t still feel that now.

Still, I went looking for that prayer. You can find the original here paired with another bit from the Gospel of Mark. I’ve adapted it here for this week’s lections. I’m sharing it with another from Transfiguration Sunday earlier this year which I really didn’t adapt at all. I like it just as it is even if it doesn’t quite fit.

I remember too what it felt like to write these words and imagine the space at home that we were all were before in-person worship became a possibility. It isn’t for all of us still and so this prayer still speaks to the hope some of us carry in the same four walls we have spent so much time in the past two years. (Is it two years yet?! My my.)

Call to Worship
Inspired by 2 Kings 2:1-12

Stay here.
It has been a whirlwind
of confusion and wonder
but you are here. 
You are right here
in this place 
where nothing 
and everything will happen. 

Stay here.
Right here 
in this very room 
where life has unfolded
is now where God will be.
God was always here.

God never left.
God has always
been right here
with you. You have 
wanted to wander. 
You have wanted to be 
anywhere but here
but stay. Here we 
will be great. Stay 
and find God
is here again. 

A Prayer for the Whirlwind
Inspired by Mark 10:35-45 and Job  38:1-11

O God, it has been 
a whirlwind. We have 
felt caught up in the storm
of change. We thought the surge
had calmed only to be hit by 
another front. We thought glory would come
but it has not and we are so impatient.

O God, we really thought there
was nothing we couldn't do 
and maybe we only needed to ask you
for help but we were wrong. 
We are learning so much
about our limitations.
We thought we had 
the wisdom we needed
but never really understood 
how much we needed
you to lay the foundations
for what will come. 

O God, remind us 
again what it means 
to be a servant to
your hope. Stretch your 
hand out to us again 
and encourage us
to choose your wisdom
over our own. Help us
to rely on your grace
more than our own counsel.
May every one of our questions
and doubts lead back to
your good grace. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for this particular Sunday but I am faithfully working on a round-up of Advent and Christmas ideas to be shared in News from My Kitchen that will be further delayed because o of the amazing things that Jo Owens of Vibrant Church Communications and I are cooking up for Advent. It’s also why you’re seeing edited prayers rather than new ones. I took on a few too many projects right now. Oops. It’s good though. It’s good to have things to share in and people to good people to ponder big ideas with. I am grateful.

If you’re eager to order things and have Advent planned and done, there are some goodies in my kitchen that might help your planning. Or if you can wait, you’ll be super excited to see what will come into your inbox in my very occasional liturgy-filled email. You can sign up here.

I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 23

For only the second time in this pandemic, I recorded a sermon to be shared in worship. I wrote a sermon and preached it sitting at my dining room table. I sent the children away so that they wouldn’t distract me or the worshipping congregation — and I have some feelings about this especially on a Sunday when we’re supposed to remember that the realm of God’s possibility belongs to children.

It was a prayer for you, dear pastor. I know that you have done this hundreds of times now. Maybe even thousands and you mostly know what you’re doing in recording and preparing worship. You’ve figured a ton of things out only to be frustrated by the millions of changes that are thrown at you each week with variants raging. And then today, there was good news in the Untied States. My email announced that COVID is in retreat. May it be so. May this worldwide trend continue but even if it doesn’t, know that I’m praying for all of the ways that you’re loving God and loving her people right now. You are amazing. I already knew that but I prayed it a little harder this past week.

And now, a prayer for this coming Sunday to enter into God’s presence.

Invitation to Worship

Inspired by Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Seek God 
in the impossibility 
and the improbability. 

Seek God 
in what does not make sense
and what feels overwhelming. 

Breathe
and find the wonder
again that you are alive today.
You are alive today
and you were called to live.

There is much to
cause us trouble and worry
but for this moment
let us just catch our breath.
Let us breathe fully -- 
in and out --
and marvel at
what it means to be alive 
this day.

One of the talented pastors that has innovated so faithfully in this pandemic has a ton of wonderful lyrical videos on her YouTube channel. I thought this one might work well for following this prayer and giving a slight nod to the Gospel Lesson.

Called Me Higher by All Sons and Daughters is covered by the CCLI license.

That’s all I’ve got for this particular Sunday but I am faithfully working on a round-up of Advent and Christmas ideas to be shared in News from My Kitchen that will be further delayed because Jo Owens of Vibrant Church Communications and I just teamed up to create something amazing for Advent. If you’re eager to order things and have Advent planned and done, there are some goodies in my kitchen that might help your planning. Or if you can wait, you’ll be super excited to see what will come into your inbox in my very occasional liturgy-filled email. You can sign up here.

I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Another World Communion Sunday

The world doesn’t feel like it did last year when I offered pandemic prayers for what I had thought would be the one and only pandemic World Communion Sunday in my lifetime. It feels different now.

This is the song that has been at the center of my prayers with each and every headline. The refrain soars from the deep when I read what we have done to each other. So much has happened that it seems impossible to believe that we were planning for World Communion Sunday only one year ago. It feels longer but here we are again to wonder what it means to be a global community sharing in one bread and one cup.

Last year, I imagined liturgical elements focused on the central images in our faith: water, bread and cup. I feel the need for something else this year — and not just because this year I’ll actually be preaching with the good people at Old First Reformed Church in Philadelphia. Like so many of your congregations, their worship will be on Zoom again after being in-person for a short while. I crave being together as I imagine so many others do but I’m grateful for the mysterious blessing of the internet that allows us to worship together while I am all the way from Germany.

I’m thinking about this year differently when it feels like so much has been torn apart. Part of me is even wondering about if divorce is how to speak of such things. Any other year I would gladly skip over that passage but this year I might turn my heart into it. I might need to hear that good news for this whole wide world. There are indeed hints of where I am leaning in the following prayers.

Call to Worship

Inspired by Hebrews 1:1-4 and Psalm 8

Long, long ago
God spoke. 

God spoke 
to our ancestors
in many and various ways.

God spoke in and through
the created world
whispering the glory
that could be and 
would be as surely 
as the moon and the stars 
were established in 
the heavens above.

We come to 
listen and to 
listen for God
whispering 
and inviting us 
into glory.
Prayer of Confession

With open ears, we come as a global people
to admit that the world is not as it should be.
It is not what our ancestors imagined
or even what we once dreamed 
could be. O God, there have 
been too many times recently
that we have given up. We have
believed in the worst in people and 
allowed ourselves to be convinced 
that nothing in this whole wide world
will ever change for the better. 

We have not seen glory
but only screaming babies. 
We have not seen the work of your fingers
but only environmental destruction.
We have found no evidence 
that people are coming together
to heal this world but only
the pain of separation. O God, 
forgive us for not seeing
what you can see. 
Give us a hint of 
your glory today. 
Words of Assurance

Today, dear child of God, remember that glory is as simple as this: 
God has crowned you with glory and honor. God cares for us all.
God redeems us all and with God all thing are possible. Thanks be to God.

It has been a long time since I’ve preached and so my creative energy is going into my sermon creation. I really wanted to provide something fun and different for this week but it seems I had more creativity last year and so it might be worth checking out last year’s Pandemic Prayers for World Communion Sunday even if it was for a different set of readings. (I am toying with doing something with this version of Psalm 8 though. I still haven’t quite figured out what though.) Mysteriously, I didn’t include anything for the table last year so here is one for this year. I still feel like I might edit it but here is a first draft.

Invitation to the Table

Inspired by Mark 10:2-16 and Psalm 8

We have been so divided
in ideas and solutions. We have 
separated ourselves and 
felt so alone. 

We have been alone
so much and could only
watch as terror erupted. 
We have been so divorced
from each other that it seems impossible 
that any human being could ever 
be a little lower than God
but here God invites us
through all that separates and divides us
to find wholeness in our brokenness.
We gather around this table 
as global community to 
remember and believe that
in this bread we are one. 
In this cup, we are united
to share in what could be
for ourselves and this world.

We come to this table
again to remember
we have a place here.
Everyone born
has a place at this table.
Nothing can separate us
and in this feast, we will 
become whole again. 

I won’t be choosing music this Sunday because there are talents for this in the church that far exceed my own. (This is nearly always true. I am so grateful for the gifts and inspiration that musicians bring to our worship each week.) Still, I like this one and may or may not be playing it on repeat as I try to form a sermon around that Gospel Lesson.

Though the joke has been made that I’m now an international preacher, the prayers I offer obviously don’t reflect the diversity and brilliance that exists in God’s people. Most denominations have a wonderful gift of resources and prayers which you already knew but maybe forgot. For those of you on Zoom, you might want to search your denomination’s YouTube channel for something that would add to your worship experience on Sunday. The World Council of Churches also offers some prayers from the global church that are quite lovely though it requires a bit of searching. The prayers for the Week of Christian Unity in 2017 were focused on reconciliation and might pair well with this week’s readings. You can find those prayers here. I also really loved some of the prayers in this recent publication of pandemic prayers in a global perspective. There are a ton of other resources but I’ll add more for link to this Affirmation of Unity for times like these.

That’s all I’ve got for this particular Sunday but I am faithfully working on a round-up of Advent and Christmas ideas to be shared in News from My Kitchen. If you haven’t yet subscribed to my very occasional liturgy-filled email, you can do so here.

I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for the Rest of September

I have recently joined the team at Woodlake Publishing to help edit and create the upcoming resources of Seasons of the Spirit’s FUSION curriculum. I get to work with amazing people and bounce ideas all over the place and contemplate what good news means right now. It’s super fun for a church nerd like me.

I’m currently working on the season of creation which I didn’t really know was a thing until I started working on it but if you are inclined toward an earth-focused theme to carry your good people through the Blessing of the Animals, then you might consider this. In 2022, the year in the Revised Common Lectionary I am writing for in FUSION, the season of creation follows the Books of Wisdom in Psalms, Proverbs and Job. The Lectionary this year skips Job but centers on the same tradition.

Right now, it feels like we need Wisdom. We need to hear from her and understand her truth when so little seems to make sense right now in the world. Maybe it’s what you need too, dear pastor. To find yourself in these strange illustrations and poems to remember what matters. Here are a few prayers and thoughts to add to your worship planning. There is at least one prayer for each week.

Call to Worship

Inspired by Proverbs 1:20-33

Wisdom cries out
in the streets
and we are listening.

Wisdom raises
her voice above 
the chatter
and we strain 
to hear her truth.

Wisdom stretches
out her hand 
and we try to 
hold on together.

Wisdom calls
out of the dread
of disaster. Wisdom
calls us to worship
and we are ready.

Though I know that there is a retelling of Proverbs 31 that will not make me cringe, I cannot find it. This poem by Semaj Brown has been an open tab on my browser for well over a month. I keep listening to it and cherishing it. It might work well in these weeks when we are listening so closely to Wisdom though it’s not public domain so copyright concerns should be on your mind. Still, it’s so good.

Prayer of Confession

Inspired by Psalm 1 and James 3:13-4:3

We are pushed and pulled 
by what we cannot control.

We feel every heartbreak,
every hospitalization, every death,
and every failed policy hang around
our necks. We are weighed down
by all that has gone wrong. 

We feel responsible. We could 
have done better. We could have
changed our ways. 

It didn't have to be this way.
The fires didn't have to burn.
The storm didn't have to rage.
The war didn't have to end like this.
No, it didn't have to be like this.

We try to remember what it is
that you teach us, O Wise One. We 
try to plant ourselves in your hope
but so much as washed away. 
Forgive us for what we
do not understand. We don't know 
what more to ask but this one thing.
We need you to be near.
Come O Wisdom,
draw near to us today. 

I would probably opt for the Esther text as the focus for Proper 21B but I would add to its weight with prayers from the other lections like this one inspired by the psalm. I initially tried to write something that would be fitting to more traditional elements of worship but this is instead what emerged. I hope it’s something that you can use in your worship planning.

Prayer for Choosing Sides

Inspired by Psalm 124

Be on the other side 
of our anger and in the middle 
of our doubt.

Be on the side
of questions and 
wondering, O God. 

Be on the side 
of the immigrant and
refugee, widow and orphan.

Be on the other side
of raging waters and floods
so that we can work 
with you to rebuild
and reimagine.

Be on the side
of lamentation and
grief, O God. 
It is just so much.
It's too much.

Do not choose
sides, O God.
We do enough of that. 
We exclude and belittle,
diminish and forget. 
Be our God on
the other side
of our imaginations.
Be on the side
of what only can 
be with your love and grace.
Be with us, and 
with all of creation,
O God. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for the rest of this month. I’ll be back with some fresh ideas for World Communion Sunday but if you’re planning all the way into October then you might find these ideas from last year helpful. I also have never posted a Blessing of the Animals though I did such a service every year I was serving a local parish. Would you like a socially distanced service for this pandemic year? Are you looking to meet outside with wagging tails? Drop me a note and let me know.

For those of you preparing for gathering pledges and promises from your church in this year without any stimulus package on the horizon, you might find these ideas for stewardship in coronatide helpful. That makes me also wonder if a harvest celebration might be fun.

I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 18B

I confess to you that I can’t touch this Jesus who a woman has to remind of who he’s supposed to be. I appreciate what it says about the humanity of our Christ but that’s not who I need him to be right now. I need Christ to be the savior of the world when so much is going wrong.

To all of that is keeping you and me awake at night, I want to remind you that there are people of faith praying even when you cannot. There are people that continue to find words to what is beyond words. I offered two prayers from Maren Tirabassi last week but again this week she speaks to the horrors that climate change bring to the shores of the United States in this prayer as Hurricane Ida approaches landfall. And then, there is this lovely prayer from enfleshed for when there is only sadness. And then, there was this prayer by the Rev. Stephanie Crowder for back to school that arrived in my inbox and reminded me of what is possible.

Laura Stephens-Reed shared this prayer and it is what I needed to hear most. It could work well as a prayer in worship this coming Sunday as you lean together into trust. It’s that word that caught in my throat in praying through Psalm 25 and the center of the prayer I offer you this week.

A Prayer Seeking Trust

Inspired by Psalm 25

O God, we trust in your goodness.
We step into the unknown every 
day in the hope that that
goodness will carry us.

We want to trust
that it is there
and that it has always
been there but we have 
been moved. We have been
pushed to the edge and doubted
that goodness in the land of the living
but we are not as strong
as we thought. We are
not who we believed
we were. 

O God, we want to trust 
you with our whole hearts.
We want to believe that you
surround us with possibility.
We do. Is is in that faith
that we beg you to
be good. Be the goodness
that we cannot see in 
every headline. Be the goodness
that we cannot find in every
unmasked stranger and let
that goodness -- your goodness -- 
turn our crooked, jaded,
hurting hearts away from
every doubt and worry
so that there is only trust.
There is only your 
infinite grace.abiding 
within us. Let us 
find that goodness
again in you. O God,
we seek your goodness.
Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 17B

They noticed that some of the disciples were eating with defiled hands.

Just reading that line sends a chill down my spine after these many months of worrying about how much I wash my hands. We have just returned from Paris with our two little children where we were did such things as ride the metro and wander around inside museums. All the while I was squirting huge blobs of hand sanitizer into my children’s defiled hands.

My two year old has just reached the moment where she loudly announces “I do it myself” when any task is to be accomplished. She is furious when I attempt to help. This is most frustrating to me when it comes to hand washing. Toddlers are terrible at washing their hands. They eat with those things. They run around the place and smear whatever was on their defiled hands onto everything else. It is disgusting.

That’s not what this text is about. And you know that, dear pastor. You’re thick into your text study and you know that there is more to this good news. And there is good news. There is hope even when this pandemic is crushing us again with fear and worry. It is easy to point to what defiles. It is harder to point to hope.

It’s why I offer this gathering prayer again with adaptations for this week because I think it matters that we choose to gather online and masked in-person in sanctuaries and outside spaces. We choose to find hope together. This is good news.

Call to Worship

Inspired by Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

We come together
especially when it is hard.

We come together
when nothing makes sense
and every thing pushes on
our last nerve.

We come, O God.

We come together 
because all we see is evil.

We have seen the worst
that humanity can be. 
Our lips have curled 
in disgust one too many times 
so that we need to be
reminded of your heart.

We come, O God.

We come together
because we are repulsed
and exhausted. We are 
not even really sure what
we believe anymore.

It is not what we
hope. It is not what 
we want. It is why
we come together.

We come, O God,
to find your spirit
and your heart
leading us to find new
wonders and rhythms.

O God, we come 
to worship.

There is plenty of fodder here for a good, long Prayer of Confession that focuses on all the people that bug you. But also from within you. Me, too. (I love this line from Matt Skinner’s commentary.) I thought about writing one but it feels that traditional words would work really well. Or maybe just some silence because it seems like most people are really angry. They are aware of their anger and rage but what might it mean to sit together with that feeling especially on Zoom where you are likely peeking at the gallery view of all of those lovely faces in your community. Does all defile? Really?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Prayer for Anger

Inspired by James 1:17-27

We do not feel generous or giving. 
We don't feel kind or even loving
because our rage burns so bright.

We didn't have to be here.
It didn't have to be like this
and it is maddening. We are
angry at all that we cannot control
and all that we have thought
we could control. O God, we are 
so angry that we cannot listen. 
We do not hear. 

Still, we turn to you. We cannot
rid ourselves of all that defiles. 
We need your grace, O God.
We need your heart. O God,
give us your heart so full of love.
Let your love change us again.
Amen.

There are other things that cause our rage right now other than halting vaccination rates and refusal to wear masks in schools and anywhere else. There is more including the devastation in Haiti. Here is a lovely prayer for that heart. Anger might not feel like the right reaction but there is an element of the climate crisis that is within our control when so much feels out of control.

And, of course, there is watching the Afghan people flood the tarmac in Kabul trying to flee horrors yet unknown. Mine is a military family and though my husband never deployed to that region there is a lot of sadness about what we did in that place over the past twenty years. These are conflicted and complicated feelings and I don’t even think we should have ever been there in the first place. But we were and there is heartbreak and frustration in the military community right now. I hope you’ll offer a space for all of those complicated emotions. I know you will, dear pastor. I know you are doing so much to love your people and just want to help in my small way to provide words when yours fail. Here is a prayer for Afghanistan by the lovely Maren Tirabassi.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 15B and 16B

I feel like I should be living with abundance but then I read this.

Like every other parent, I am exhausted. I am tense with worry and trying like hell to make the best decisions fo my kids while still teaching them that there is wonder and glory in this world. It is, however, not something I feel in my own body. I feel like all I’ve got left is crumbs.

Mary Luti shared another beautiful original hymn composition pondering the gift of leftovers. I also really appreciate her critique of those little bread cubes that I know the deacons so carefully and lovingly prepared in the churches I’ve served but it is a ration of possibility rather than a hunk of hope. I need something to chew on.

I need real hope that I can grasp with both hands. I need grace to be so free that I can’t help but taste it in the air around me. I don’t even need to put my lip to the cup. The aroma of it is already in the air. I need that kind of abundance from God right now — especially when this most sacred act is something I’m doing all by myself in my living room. I don’t think I’m the only one but I haven’t a clue if you have it in you to offer that kind of wonder right now, dear pastor. I know you believe in it deep down. You know it is exists but I don’t know if you are able to claim it right now. I offer you two prayers for this week and next to add to your worship.

Prayer for Life Abundant

Inspired by John 6: 51-58

Give us life, O God. 
Because if we are honest
and we were really to
tell the truth:
we feel
as though
we have no 
life in us. 

We are so tired.
O God, we are so tired.
We are exhausted 
by worry and risk.
We have been here
before and we
are furious 
to find ourselves
here again. 

That is the truth.
We do not feel 
like we will live
forever. We wonder
if there is even 
enough life
left for tomorrow.

Give us life, O God.
Give us life for this world
so that our tired flesh can face 
another day. Fill us 
with the wonder
that you are here.
You are here, O God, 
in this world 
and in the very life
beating inside our hearts. 
Help us to find life -- 
your life -- in each
cell and every breath.
Give us life and 
may it be abundant.
Amen.

I found this on Mark Miller’s YouTube channel. It’s a song he wrote from a verse chiseled on the wall at a Nazi concentration camp sung by a church in New Jersey for Easter Sunday. Though I went looking for a song about bread or even communion, this might speak better to this moment. I did not research copyright issues this time around. I’m tired too.

Call to Worship

Inspired by John 6:56-69

We come together
especially when it is hard.

We come together
when nothing makes sense
and every thing pushes on
our last nerve.

We come, O God.

We come together 
because there are things
that we cannot accept.

There are things that
we know that you do 
not accept too and
we need to be reminded 
of those things. We need
to find you in our struggle.

We come, O God.

We come together
because we are offended
and exhausted. We are 
not even really sure what
we believe anymore.

It is not what we
hope. It is not what 
we want. It is why
we come together.

We come, O God,
to find your spirit
and your life
alive in this 
blessed communion.

O God, we come 
to worship.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 14B

My colleague and friend, Sarah Lund, shared on Facebook the simple joys of making banana bread. She called it Banana Bread Therapy. That sounds right to me.

I should add Sarah is also a talented and wise writer who offers her whole heart in writing about her own mental health and the struggles within her family in her two excellent books. She is committed to breaking the silence about mental illness and it is so inspiring.

Banana bread is a quick bread. It doesn’t need need any leavening and so it can simply bake after being folded together. It doesn’t need time to rise. There is no yeast to coax. It happens quickly and deliciously.

Banana bread is one of those wonderful comfort foods that so many of us share. It was the first recipe I really learned to make on my own with the guidance and encouragement of my stepmother. We both still use that recipe from my first cookbook geared for children. It was and is just that good.

I wonder what it would be like this week to invite people to share their favorite quick bread recipe. Perhaps zucchini bread is the best option for all that is bumping out of the garden or in other regions there might be a preference for cornbread. It may even include drying and grinding your own corn from the farmer’s harvest. How might we experience the Bread of Life come alive if we were to nurture our hearts and souls in something like Banana Bread Therapy?

Here is a prayer for such a possibility.

Prayer for Bread Making

Inspired by Sarah Griffith Lund 
and John 6: 35, 41-51

Stir us together, O God,
in the simple act of making bread.

Let our clothes and 
our counters be covered in flour. 
Let it clap from our hands 
so that it might feel like
a part of who we are. 

I am the bread of life
says our God. Let us 
meditate on this 
living surrounded 
by all of these ingredients
that we so carefully fold
into the batter with love
and hope. There is joy 
in this bowl too
as surely as there
is a hint of grief 
and loss. This recipe 
has been shared 
so often that 
it too has life. 

Bake with us, O God,
and make us ready
for another slice
of life together. Amen.

Here is one more prayer that might be a better fit within congregations that are struggling with the reversal of what was hoped for in the emergence of the delta variant. For the record, I have plenty of complaints of my own.

Prayer for Complaining Anyway

Inspired by John 6: 35, 41-51

Do not complain among yourselves.
Do not complain is the wisdom
that the Lord gives
when we have so many 
complaints to air.

It is a long list to worries
and concerns as the delta variant 
makes us pause again
to consider how 
best to care for ourselves,
for our children and our neighbors. 

We have complaints
and we know that God 
is listening. We are not being 
told to be silent but are invited 
to learn from God. As it is written 
in the prophets, we could choose 
to be taught be God and 
it is this understanding
we need now. O Lord, 
teach us now. Teach
us especially through
all our complaining.
May it be so.

Two week ago, when these bread words first appeared in the Revised Common Lectionary, I shared this Prayer of Illumination. It could be used with these prayers or in your personal devotion and study.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’m praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.