Pandemic Prayers for Proper 8B

I love the healing stories in the Gospel of Mark. There are two in this pericope and the first part is my very favorite. It seems all the more poignant this year when we are reaching for possibility and trying to be faithful to hope and love.

We are reaching with our hands outstretched for so much. For some of us, we are reaching out to hold the hands of beloved family and friends after nearly a year and a half apart. For others, it is the possibility of justice and the work we are committing to do for racial justice. For others, it is just to believe that this uncertainty is not all there will be. We are reaching into the unknown.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 30

Across and afar
Far and wide
we have searched 
for our God. 

From the pit of despair
and under the covers
when it has felt impossible 
to greet the new day
we have needed grace.

We have cried.
We have called out. 
We have not yet
found our way
out of the depths.

We come together
to watch for the morning
light to dawn and 
hope to revive our souls.

Most of my prayers — as in this call to worship above — have opted for a singular voice but this week and with this narrative to lead our hearts, I wanted a responsive prayer that I know some of you have kept on Zoom and others will be reintroducing as hybrid worship emerges.

Make Us Well, O God
Inspired by Mark 5:21-43

Here we are on the other side
of what has been so much suffering
and so much death. We have 
suffered. We have suffered 
for so long.

Make us well, O God.


We have crossed over
a chasm of impossibility
and some things have changed. 
Some things are different
but we are still reaching
into the unknown with hope.

Make us well, O God.

There are some things
that feel worse than they were before
but we have spent all we have.
We have used up every bit 
of energy on dreaming
and we are exhausted. 

Make us well, O God. 

We do not want 
this to be all that there 
is on the other side. No matter
how tired we might be, we have
faith that the world we imagine
could give us healing. 

Make us well, O God.

We extend our arms
to touch your grace
and transformation.
O God, heal us.

Make us well, O God.

Though this is not within my talents, I wonder about someone in your congregation who could teach a simple sung version of the above refrain that a cantor could sing alone on Zoom — and the congregation can join in singing from their living rooms and kitchens. A cantor may even work in in-person worship depending on the restrictions within your area but I love how a simple refrain like this can offer a responsive prayer throughout the week. Or maybe this is the song that needs to carry us all.

Your church may have resumed worship gathering together in-person. There may be people worshipping without masks or there may be arm bands to communicate individual comfort or perhaps buttons and bracelets like this Texas church. It might feel like you have reached the other side of this pandemic while my prayers continue to linger in this liminal space. I feel this awkwardness as I write these prayers and wonder if perhaps something should change in how I am composing these words so that they might be more helpful to you in your ministry. I welcome your comments or if you are looking for something more particular in your worship planning, please do contact me.

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

Last Minute Pandemic Prayers for Proper 7B

Though I am struggling to find a new normal, our world continues to turn. It has been announced that there is hope that the EU will open to American tourists leaving me to wonder if this is good news. Is this over? Can we go back to normal? Or does normal mean that we choose to embrace new holidays and traditions as President Biden demonstrates in making Juneteenth a federal holiday?

I was thrilled to discover this liturgy for Juneteenth Day from the Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America offers this worship resource for the day including a litany inspired by Lift Every Voice and Sing.

I remain uncertain if it is really appropriate for white congregations to sing this black anthem. There is a nice history of the song on the NAACP website that explains why. CNN goes a little bit more in-depth. If your white congregation opts to include the anthem, this would be a great time to use the gifts of other talents on the internet like this one though I can find nothing about licensure.

Or maybe what is needed is some poignant words of poetry to stir heart and soul about the power of Juneteeth. I was stirred by these words from Kenneth Carroll in his poem A People’s Historian. It seems to speak directly to the hymn. Or perhaps Fenton Johnson’s Tired might speak to the languishing so many of us feel in the pandemic and call us to the work of racial justice again.

I am assuming, dear pastor, that you have already done all you can to plan worship for the Sunday. I imagine you have perhaps already recorded or are just catching your breath before leading in person worship on Sunday morning for the first time. I offer one prayer of my own that might add to the work you’ve already done or perhaps it is a prayer to care for your soul in this season where so much weight is heavy on your shoulders.

A Prayer for the Other Side
Inspired by Mark 4:35-41 and Job  38:1-11

O God, it has been 
a whirlwind. We have 
felt caught up in the storm
of change. We have felt
stuck, hopeless and confused. 
We have languished and waited
on the other side 
of whatever
will be. 

O God, let us go
across to the other
side where you lead
us into tomorrow and
and next. Lead us through
these uncertain winds 
and across this great sea
of possibility to find peace
because we have been
so afraid. O God, we 
have felt like we needed
to move heaven and earth.
It has rested heavy
upon our shoulders
and we need to know
that you will make a way.
You will lead us, O God, 
to the promise of possibility. 
You will get us to the other
side if only we can find
a little faith. O God,
give us faith. Selah. 
Selah. Amen.

I know that many of you have already moved to hybrid or in-person worship. I’ve seen questions about liturgical gifts that might bless the regathering of the body of Christ. I hesitate to write something general as it seems that the particulars of each first worship service off-line will depend on so many variables but I would love to help craft something for you. If there is something that I can help imagine with you and your congregation, please contact me.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 6B

We have been in Germany a whole week. In fact, it has been a week and a day now. I’m still not sleeping well as my tiny children adjust their bodies to a time zone a whole ocean away.

These prayers reflect a bit of my exhaustion and the curious wonder of hearing familiar words again.

Waking Up to Praise
Inspired by Psalm 92:1-4

O God, everything
in my body and soul
feels out of tune.
I feel unprepared
for what must be 
done. I don't really
know how to greet 
this new day.

But, O God, I am here. 
I am here with breath
in my body and a heart
pounding with hope
so I praise you
with my tapping foot
and my fingers 
drumming on the side 
of my coffee mug. 
I praise you with
readiness to find
your rhythm 
and work growing
in each step.
O God, I am here
and I praise your work
again and again.
I’m not even going to bother to search to see if this version is covered by a license because I can nearly guarantee it is not but it’s so good. And it’s what I want to wake up singing every morning.
Prayer for the Scattered
Inspired by Mark 4:26-34

We have been so scattered
between what was and 
what could be. We have felt
flung between what
we remember and
what we know
could be better
but we aren't quite
so sure where to plant 
ourselves. We feel
so small and so 
unprepared for 
the world that 
is to come. O God,
help us to find roots in 
your endless grace.
Amen.

I shared some other prayers in reflection of this Gospel Lesson last summer that may also inspire. It’s another version from another Gospel as the Revised Common Lectionary goes but perhaps it will be what you need.

That’s all I’ve got for you, dear pastor. As you prepare worship this week, please know that I am praying for you. I am praying for you so much.

Pandemic Pentecost Affirmations

I read this morning that there are more churches closing in the wake of the pandemic. I have seen the reports about attendance and listened to how hard it is to wait in that Zoom room for anyone to join the room.

The church will be forever changed by this pandemic. We will be forever changed.

I hesitate to name what those changes are. It feels too soon. We do not know enough.

In the United States, only 50 percent of the population is vaccinated. Only half. And at the same time the White House is working toward sending over eighty million vaccines to be used throughout our global community to end this pandemic. I pray you’ll continue this effort by supporting the People’s Vaccine. You can learn more here.

We are not there yet but it is important to find space to name aloud where we are feeling called. Pentecost came and went. You celebrated with cake and streamers and even kites. We find ourselves now in that long season after Pentecost when we look for the green sprouts of new growth. We hear familiar stories and remember what matters most — and maybe we even dream.

I know that is hard when looking at the balance sheet. I know it is harder when looking at the empty pews and mourning for so many lives lost in just one year. Our faith proclaims that from death comes new life. It is a bold claim and it is not always easy to claim such boldness so I thought it might help to catch a little of energy from Pentecost and carry it into this moment with Pandemic Pentecost Affirmations.

It’s an adaptation from something you have seen before. During Lent, I offered a simple free printable on Pandemic Easter Affirmations. I have also shared my favorite affirmations because these are words I need to repeat to myself when I am not sure about the future. It felt like something that needed for this moment when so much is uncertain about the future. The changes that have come in this past year have been so fast that I wonder how it is possible to process all that has changed. I wonder if that’s part of why we so often hear that desire to return to normal? Normal might not exist but we crave comfort. We yearn for the the familiar. We struggle when the tiniest things have changed in the traditions of our church and this year has pronounced their end. You know, dear pastor, that it’s not enough to make a bold claim and move on. It has to live in our bodies. It has to wander through our prayers and become part of who we are.

We need to find words to speak to this moment of who we have become and find ways to express what it is we believe the church could be. Our words will not be the same but if we listen to this gift of tongues then we may find the hope we need for the days ahead.

You might use the workshop model I suggested here for the Easter season to gather these affirmations to carry the congregation through the growing season or they might just be something that is used with the leadership board to open your next meeting. You could use it with the youth in the next time you gather on Zoom and share their vision in worship the following Sunday or maybe it’s something to bring to your weekly Bible Study after reading Acts 2 together.

I imagine that there are several other ways that this could be used. I hope so. I hope it’s something that is easily passed on to a deacon or elder or someone who loves to lead adult faith formation kinda things with the encouragement, “Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Let’s try it.”

I hope it feels worth trying. I hope it’s a blessing for you, dear pastors.

I know, too, that there are words you are trying to find for this week. I am not fast enough in my prayer to speak to more gun violence in San Jose and the anniversary of George Floyd’s death but where I fail Maren Tirabassi always has words. Her prayer for San Jose and her prayer for May 25, 2021 both spoke to my heart. We are carried by each other, dear pastor. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Pentecost in Coronatide

Packed among the things that are headed to Germany this week are my two brilliant rainbow kites that whirled down the center aisle of one of the churches I served on Pentecost.

It wasn’t the first Pentecost that I had referenced the notion of kites in worship. There was a passing reference in a prayer and I think I even preached one year on the wonder of flying a kite.

The fact is that I am not very good at getting a kite to take flight. It feels to be like there is an art form to it. It is not something that just happens like the rush of a violent wind that sets it in motion.

It takes practice and a bit of engineering to get that thing to be the right shape and hit the wind in just the right way so that it can truly soar. And then, when it does, it is amazing to watch. It is a wonder to see this colorful thing way up there in the sky tethered to the world by a mere string.

I like that mix of wonder and frustration. To me, that sound like life. We try so dang hard to make things happen. We try to make good in the world. We try to love people and advocate for justice and half the time we feel like we are totally messing it up. We feel like we are doing it all wrong or we are not doing enough but then something happens. Maybe it’s a bit of engineering or practice. I can never quite tell but there is a moment where it all shifts and the way opens. It feels like there is endless possibility and we try our best to ride out that current.

That’s what I was thinking about when I created Wind Power for this Pentecost. I wanted there to be something that wasn’t really a liturgy but allowed us to be present to each other. Something that would invite congregations that are tiptoeing into gathering in person that would feel special and different but something that would also work in a context where things are still virtual. Something that would allow all of us to feel like the winds of change are starting to shift. There is something new in this place and we can all feel it each in our own language.

I wanted this to be a Pentecost experience where the story isn’t told but felt. It’s something we do together without words to explain what is happening. There is a moment for noticing and sharing in the wonder of creation but the true experience in this worshipful moment is being outside together and flying a kite.

If a church were to plan this event, they could do it over the Pentecost weekend. It could be something that happens over the following long weekend. It could happen in place of regular worship or could be something that is added on to the schedule. A church could purchase and provide kites or just have a few on hand for those that couldn’t find one. Lawn chairs might be encouraged and it might require a city permit to use a park in the area but I truly hope it’s not something that requires a lot of extra work for you, dear pastor. My hope in this free resource is to offer something that makes your life a little easier and allows you to be fully present to this Pentecost moment too.

Download your free copy of Wind Power here.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Pentecost

For churches in the United States of America, there seems to be some creative tension between the winds of the Spirit and the President’s order for churches to reopen. There’s something about the hot air coming out of the White House that contrasts so powerfully with what the church is called to be and do. It’s something I feel like I missed in that Invitation to the Offering last week. It’s something I’m trying to illustrate from my own isolation bubble and something I’m wondering about how to teach to my children. 

Going to church has become the moment where Mommy grabs her iPad and we settle onto the couch. It feels like a gift each and every time and I wish that my littles allowed me to bop around to the many worship services I’d like to attend virtually, but I shudder that my sweet girls might think that church is something on a screen. (Will they remember this time? How long will this actually go on?) I want them to know that the church is an action. It’s a movement. It’s a response to the world’s deepest need and a desire to dream of of God’s greatest love in every living thing.

I confess I’ve been uncertain that the world will look any different after this is over but if the church is the church, then change must come. It must be the change in our prayers.

Opening Worship

I don’t know how many churches are embracing this season as an interim time. I thought these were wise and wonderful words about that possibility. Embracing this interim pandemic season might mean delving into that wide and curious of what makes the church the church. Worship could begin with individuals sharing a testimony of what this church has meant in their life or those same two or three voices could speak to the ideals of what brings them to be part of a worshipping community before concluding this opening with Acts 2:16-21.

Worship could instead begin with a familiar hymn and an invitation to consider our breath. The liturgy I wrote last year for my Texas church began with words adapted from Walter Bruggemann’s To Make Things New That Never Were from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth which would follow this hymn nicely. Another possibility follows.

Gathering Our Breath

Breathe on us, Breath of God.
Fill our lungs
with courage and hope
so that your life
beats through our veins
and urges us toward
justice and peace.

Breathe on us, Breath of God
because “I can’t breathe”
was heard again
and we’ve whispered too often
that we don’t know what to do
to put an end to racism.

Breathe on us, Breath of God
and remind us what the church is called to be.
Fill us with the fire of your love
and the promise of your peace.

I also really like the Call to Worship by Julia Seymour in the RevGalBlogPal’s Worship Words this week.

Passing of the Peace

In the limited church hopping that my children have allowed me, I haven’t yet seen a passing of the peace happen on Zoom or Facebook Live. I suppose it would be super awkward if you record ahead of time but especially if you use the above Gathering of Our Breath or if you plan on preaching on the Gospel Lesson, it seems like this should be the Sunday to try it.

It could be a moment of Pentecost wind where everyone is unmuted and the whole host of angels greets each other in the name of Christ. It could hurt your ears or you might opt for something more structured.

Maybe you prompt your community to bring a pen and paper to worship. When this moment of peace approaches, the congregation is invited to name one thing that brings them anxiety to share in a word or two on the paper. Hold that paper up and then someone leads this Breath Prayer for Anxious Times. That prayer time might conclude with everyone ripping up their paper and throwing it in the air like confetti. (Sorry for the mess.)

Or instead, invite a youth who would have been confirmed this year on the chancel steps if it were safe to gather for worship to share one thing that has brought her peace in these pandemic days. Maybe she shares something in particular about the beloved community in her youth group experience. Invite her to conclude that thought by saying something like a blessing.

May the peace of Christ also be with you.
May the Spirit of God bring you hope.
May you feel the love of God
in every breath. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always.

What Does This Mean?

Then “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” Other translations describe it as a mighty wind. Or that it was a gale force. Not a calm, peaceful breeze. This wind is powerful. It’s violent so that I can only imagine wanting to call for Auntie Em. Of course, it’s not a tornado but a sound … like a violent wind. When all of the disciples are gathered together, this is what announces the day of Pentecost.

A sound … like a violent wind. There is no word for weather in the Bible, but winds were familiar. A change in the winds called forth the change in seasons. They didn’t understand that change any better than most of us understand it. For most of us, wind is mysterious. Wind is impossible to tame or even predict. But, when it changes, we know that something is about to happen, but what?

We’re just as uncertain as the disciples. We’re just as fearful as they were huddled together in one place trying to figure out what to do next. And then, there’s this sound and a rush of wind that “filled the entire house where they were sitting.” It becomes a presence that fills the whole space. It’s something that everybody feels but no one knows exactly what just happened. It happened and we can see that something has changed but no one seems to know what.

This is the introduction to a sermon that I wrote back in 2009 while I was still pastoring in Maine. Oh, Maine. The next paragraph leads into talking about the stock market and the sudden downturn in the economy that hit that community and so many others hard. So that we could only wonder, Will it get better?  Will it get worse?

Sunday is Pentecost again. It is the day when we find ourselves as uncertain as the disciples again after hearing the rush of a violent wind. It still feels like we are at this moment. It still feels like we don’t know what will happen. We are still asking, Will it get better?  Will it get worse? It’s not the economy that worries us. Or at least, it doesn’t worry us as much as it did then. Things are supposedly better in the economic world. But, not in the political world. As candidates point fingers and galvanize their own support, it becomes clearer and clearer that we don’t really believe in the hope of Pentecost. We don’t believe that we can all come together. It’s not possible to hear the good news in another language. We can only hear it in our own limited view. This isn’t about political parties but “a notion that America belongs to one kind of person.” That is how it was said by Edison Davis in last week’s episode of ABC’s Scandal. Watch the clip of his rant here. That speech almost made me want to edit this sermon to highlight the divisions in our politics and in our church. But, I decided not to do so. I decided instead to center on the question that the disciples ask because it’s the question that I’m asking as the campaign trail narrows to two divisive candidates. Just as the disciples asked when the heard that rush of a violent wind and everyone started talking, I want to know: What does this mean?

What do you think? What does it all mean?

 

Liturgical Lights for Sunday May 24, 2015

J A S M I N E

It’s Pentecost!

For this special day, in which we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, the Narrative Lectionary has not one — but two readings — including Acts 2:1-4 and Romans 8:18-38.

What a day!

These two passages came together in a sermon I preached back in 2013. It’s this sermon that shapes these prayers. You’ll also find that there’s a slight nod to Memorial Day in the second prayer. It is an observance that I wouldn’t tend to include in the formal liturgy because it’s not a liturgical holiday — but would surely add to the Pastoral Prayer.  Admittedly, the Prayer for the Wind below doesn’t really do a very good job of acknowledging that this Sunday is Memorial Day and not Veterans Day. Just be aware of the distinction as you craft your Pastoral Prayer so that you’re praying for the service men and women who have died — not those who are currently serving.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

Can you hear that sound?
It’s the sound of God’s glory!
Can you feel the wind?
It’s what we’ve hoped to see.
There is something happening in this room.
There is something just about to change.

Prayer for the Wind (A Prayer of Invocation)
Inspired by the Navy Hymn on Memorial Day

Come Holy Spirit!
Be the wind in our sails
for we are breathless with anticipation.
We cannot quite escape the sinking feeling
that all hope is lost.
So, come. Come Holy Spirit!
Turn our breathless, hopeless sighs
into your powerful wind.
Fill this entire space where we are sitting.
Make it so that Pentecost was not something
that happened just once but that happens
again and again when your people feel
your wind pushing us, encouraging us, guiding us
toward the hope we cannot see for ourselves.
Oh, hear us gathered here in this place,
hear us with flames upon our tongues as we cry
out for the gale force of you love.
Blow Holy Spirit!
Blow through the chaos.
Blow through the confusion.
Blow into our weakest parts
so that we are not so tempted to go back
to the way that things used to be
but can truly feel that something has happened.
Something has changed us and we will never be the same.
Come Holy Spirit! Blow through this place!

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday. Is there something really wild that you’d like to try? Are you planning something special for this Sunday? I’d love to hear what you’re daydreaming about in the comments below. And, if you happen to use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:

The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday May 24, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.