Pandemic Prayers for Proper 12B

It happened again. I missed a week. I’m so sorry and I hope and pray that you found words to inspire and delight you in worship. There are so many good words out there right now and I’m honored to share in the creativity of this moment in even the tiniest way.

Barn Geese Worship offers a six-week Bread of Life Series. It includes prayers for worship, eating meditations for personal devotion, preacher notes and pastoral considerations. I personally think that it should be paired with the great work being done by Edible Theology especially when it comes to children programming. Who doesn’t want to bake with the Bible? Ok, maybe not if you can’t imagine turning on the oven right now to cook dinner but what a treasure of gifts these two ministries offer as we wander through these crusty Gospel Lessons in the Gospel of John.

We move into our new home this week. We picked up keys just yesterday and the movers arrive on Friday with all of our things. Our stuff has been in storage up where that terrible flooding has been happening and so many of you have wondered if we are OK. We are. We are not close to that destruction so that I can think about baking bread again. Last year was the year I had decided I was going to learn to bake bread. It was a choice that I made before we knew that there would be a scramble to get yeast or that a global pandemic would alter everything we known. It’s why you see that bread book tucked into my worship books on the top photo of my blog. It has become one of the primary ways that I connect with God especially when I yearn for the wonder of incarnational worship with the gathered body of Christ.

I won’t get to return to worship with a group of familiar faces and so my faith is cultivated in the kitchen that I can’t wait to unpack this weekend. I wonder if I am the only one with this longing especially after this story was shared with me by Mary Luti. She read it from one of the great works by the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff and shares it in her own words:

“A woman approached [Leonardo Boff] after he finished saying Mass. It was many years ago, but he never forgot her. She told him that she had just received Communion unworthily, because she hadn’t been to confession first, and she was truly sorry. “But I haven’t eaten anything for days,” she explained, “and when I came in, you were handing out the wafers. So I ate one, because it’s bread.””

In the clergy group of United Church of Christ pastors in which this story was shared, she went on to point out the significance of hunger. It reminded me that sometimes we just need really delicious bread as sweet Melanie reminds us in this reflection and hymn that Mary offers on her blog. There is nothing that can separate us from this table, this mystery, this gift. It is an invitation to be nourished. To be fed in body and soul that so many of us need right now.

I offer but one prayer today to carry us through the weeks of bread. Each time we approach these holy words of leavened hope, we might pray these words to listen for the hunger within ourselves.

Prayer of Illumination

Rise with us, O God,
like yeast bubbling 
with expectation
for what could be. 

Make us ready
to to hear your 
teaching even
when it is difficult.

Fill our hunger
with holy words 
that will make 
us come more
and more alive. 

O God, knead
us with words
that will abide 
within us so dearly 
that we are forever 
changed. We are ready. 
We are waiting. 

It is written as a corporate prayer for worship but could certainly be used in personal devotion for the preacher preparing for study or the family sharing in meal time meditation. Either way, I wonder about adding a kneading gesture to the worship. It is not quite COVID-safe to gather around a shared table and knead play-doh as would have been my suggestion in the days before but it might be possible to invite worshippers to make their own stress-ball and knead it throughout the worship experience.

I wonder if you used linen that made it feel like a bread bag and maybe even added flour. I am not quite sure it would work but I wonder if that might add the senses of connecting to this hunger and longing.

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 10B

I loved the movie. I did. I still do but I always found this one repeated line creepy.

It’s the same line that I hear repeated in the Gospel Lesson forcing us to wonder how any one of us will answer that question, “What should I ask for?”

It is a woman that asks this question and we rarely hear women speak so boldly in Mark’s story or any other gospel account. I really wish that I had my copy of the Women’s Bible Commentary unpacked. (I also wish that I wasn’t still living in a hotel.) There is something both about the femaleness of this question and the overwhelming privilege that unsettles me. It’s this that I’m praying out in the following confession and assurance. I warn you: it’s dark but if you’re brave enough to choose this text as a preaching text then it may be what you need.

Invitation to Confession

We come today thinking that we know 
how the story goes. We know the plot
lines and the story arc but we come
together as people of prayer and hope
because we are disquieted with
the idea that some things have to 
be this way. We come to share 
in our human struggle 
by confessing our sins.

Prayer of Confession

Inspired by Psalm 48 and Mark 6:14-29

It doesn't feel like we danced.
It doesn't feel like we could have had
such rhythm getting to this point
but maybe we were more graceful 
than we imagined.

Maybe. Maybe that's how it went
or how we just managed to survive
to this moment in time. Maybe that's 
what it feels like now that vaccines are
widely available and the world shifts 
into a new normal that anything is possible.

Whatever you wish can happen 
now. That's the temptation. 
That's the tipping point
but it comes with caution
because our choices make 
a difference. Someone's head
could end up on a platter
and that was never our intent.

It was never our intent
but we always have the best
of intentions. We would never
mean to cause harm. It just happens
sometimes. That's what we tell ourselves. 
O God, we are so frail 
and so human.
Save us.

Words of Assurance

Inspired by Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed are you, dear child of God,
for being brave enough to name the discomfort.
You have set your hope on Christ
and you will live in praise of such glory.
You are part of the great story of redemption.
You are forgiven. You are loved. Amen. Amen.

It was two cycles ago when Amos’ plumbline came along in the Revised Common Lectionary that I was candidating for my last settled call. I preached on Amos that day but the liturgy I shared was rooted in the psalms. I’ve adapted the following prayer from that morning for the present day.

Prayer of Illumination

Inspired by Psalm 85

Show us, O Holy One,
as we come together as your people 
with our hearts open to your steadfast love
show us what you see. 

Because our eyes 
have grown tired.
Pass us that pair of bifocals.
Hand us that magnifying glass.
Uncloud our vision 
so that we can see what you see.
Show us, O Holy One.

Search with us
for that moment 
when love and faithfulness meet
because it has happened
and it will happen again
but we have forgotten to look.
We have forgotten so much
in our languishing and 
we need to open ourselves
to possibility again. 

Open us to the wonder
and delight in seeing 
righteousness and peace kiss
and feel faithfulness spring up 
like tiny bubbles of hope.
Come, O Holy One, 
into our worship and wonder
and lead us onto 
that path of possibility. 
Guide us there. 
Lead us with your love.
Come, O Holy One. 
Come.

That’s all I’ve got for this week though I know that you are busy with many things. As it helps you prepare for the ministry ahead, I want to share these prayers for Vacation Bible School from last year and encourage you to think about what options there might be for Labor Sunday this year. These suggestions from last year might not be the liturgical gifts you need for this year’s lections but I hope the prompts encourage you to think about another Sunday off from preaching. Some of you may already be planning for Backpack Blessings in Coronatide even if that title feels so last year.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth of July

I confess that I don’t really know the date. We have lived in this hotel for nearly a month now and I have lost all sense of time so that it was not evident to me that the calendar would soon turn to July. It was even less clear that the first Sunday of July would be none other than the patriotic holiday in the United States celebrating independence and freedom.

Nonetheless, I have started to see a number of clergy looking for something — anything else — to do on that Sunday when they don’t want the entire worship experience to be devoted to patriotic hymns. There has been so much work done already to remove the flag from the sanctuary and grapple with the history of these United States to let this be what happens on that Sunday. Of course.

I also see that a need and desire for a worship experience that doesn’t require preaching. Some of you are going on vacation. I am so elated for you, dear pastor. May it be a blessed rest but even if you are not so lucky to have a summer holiday, I wanted to offer something of an outline for worship on this holiday that isn’t a Christian celebration.

I suspect that the people in the pews that are eager to have such a celebration of Americana will not be too pleased to hear something like this poem at the beginning of worship though it’s one of the first I thought to use in this wandering through love inspired by Psalm 48. I hope these alternate selections might not cause too much discomfort but just enough to stir the heart.

Invitation

Inspired by Psalm 48

Today we come 
to worship and wonder
to praise and to glorify 
and to pause
to reflect
on what 
freedom rings
from sea to 
shining sea.

Today we come
after all that has 
happened and all that
still needs to become real
to ponder your 
steadfast love, O God.

We come today
to wonder how our 
praise might 
reach the ends 
of the earth.

Prayer of Illumination

Inspired by Psalm 48

Come, O Great Love.
Come into our hearts
and minds. Fill our bodies
with your strength
and hope. 

Come into the broken 
cracks of despair 
to find beauty. 

Come to fill 
our lungs with song 
and remind us how to sing
with your goodness
hanging on every note.

Come, O Great Love. 
Come into this place
and this moment. 
Come to guide us
into world
you imagine. 
Come. O Love, 
come and 
be here 
in this place.

Poem

Here in this place, poem becomes prayer. These are the first lines of the poem You Still Dream by Nikki Grimes. Hear these words of challenge and hope now.

Song

Prayer for the Work

O God, we might not have known
or understood what work needed to be done
before this long year of watching 
and waiting. We had wanted to believe 
that it wasn't this bad. It wasn't like this.

Now, O God, we know. We know
that there is work to be done
for your glory to reach 
the ends of the earth.

We pray your blessing
on our hands 
as we commit
again 
to the work 
of freedom 
and healing. 

We pray 
for your
grace and 
your guidance
for there is so much 
work to be done
in this land
of the free 
and the brave.
Amen.

Poem

Listen to Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes. You might not opt for the video but instead choose a young voice within your congregation read these words.

Quiet Meditation

Offer this invitation:

In the quiet stillness of this morning, let us sit with the discomfort of these words. Let us confess to God what only God can hear with grace. Let us ponder with the psalmist God’s steadfast love. Let us wonder what that love will do now in this nation and this world. Let us find your guidance together here in this place of quiet.

Poem

Share in hearing America the Beautiful Again by Richard Blanco. Though you may well choose someone within your community to read these words on Zoom or in-person, I recommend hearing it read in the poet’s voice in one of the extras for Richard Blanco’s appearance on OnBeing.

Song

It should feel different to sing or hear this favorite song after hearing this poem, but it might be interesting to adapt this reflection to wonder how this song urges us to do better right now.

That doesn’t mean that you need to do a sermon, dear pastor. You could ask a veteran, an elected official or a teenager to read this article essay and put to words their own response. Additional questions that they might explore might include:

  • What is your most vivid memory of this song? What made the song so powerful for that moment?
  • What lyric in this song most speaks to your sense of social justice right now?
  • What ideals are we still trying to achieve as a nation?
  • What is beautiful about where you come from?
  • How shall we sing?

Or you might skip right ahead to the prayer.

Prayer for the People

O Great Love, sing to us
of beauty. Remind us
of all of the places that 
we have called home
and how we have been shaped by
those fields and plains,
mountains and hills,
brooks and streams, 
rivers and oceans. 

Sing to us of this place
that we call America -- 
united and divided -- 
full of ideals and possibilities 
of what could be 
for all of the people
who call this land home.

Sing to us, O Great Love,
of the beauty of your people.
Invite us into their stories 
and let us praise you
again for the wonder
of your creation 
in each body and soul.

We grieve what 
has not yet come to be
and struggle with what 
we thought we knew. 
We grieve but we dream.
We still dream that 
love will change us.
Love will inspire us
to reach our ideals. 
Love will show us again
how much beauty there
is here in this place.

O God, our Great Love,
let us never tire 
of pondering your 
steadfast love. Let it 
be this wonder that 
guides the work of our hands
so that this love
encourages us 
to dream new dreams
that will truly change everything. 
Amen. 

Blessing Song

I’ve been wanting to use this song since it was released for Advent by The Many. It was intended to be used with the Sanctified Art worship series by the same name but I like how it picks up on the first poem. If you want to opt for something more traditional, you might opt for Be Thou My Vision.

There is so much goodness out there. I wanted to include this song that I adore so much but I feared it might be too much. Still, I love this video and I’m going to go ahead and share it because beauty should be shared.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope that whether you use the prayers, the poetry or the song suggestions or the whole thing, this is a blessing to you. Maybe it’s something you file away for next year when you actually get a vacation over this weekend. I pray you get the rest you need.

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