Toward Transformation This Lent

The holy season of Lent begins in just a few short weeks on Valentines Day, if you can believe it. Even if you can’t quite fathom this holy and profane confusion, get ready. Easter will fall on April Fools Day six weeks later.

Maybe it’s appropriate for this year in American Christianity where we are not quite sure how to define the sacred from the patriotic. Maybe it is a challenge to us to move past the rhetoric from the White House to define what needs to be restored, renewed or even resurrected not just for ourselves but for our world.

Several years ago, with the good people in the First Congregational Church UCC in South Portland, Maine, I wrote a curriculum that reflected this desire. They wanted to experience this thing. They wanted the resurrection to come alive not just in their lives but in the world. They were looking for hope when the world was still frozen and nothing would ever grow.

CoverWe created this guide which we called Toward Transformation through the Psalms to imagine such a possibility, but we were careful not to get too stuck on the thing that happens to Jesus. We didn’t want to get lost in the particulars that may or may not have made it a bodily resurrection. We are, after all, a diverse people in the United Church of Christ and this is always a question. Instead, we wanted to take it into our own bodies and look for change.

We all agreed we hated change, even if we knew it was good for us. It was hard and it was unlikely any one of us was going to choose it even if we knew full well that the very good news we proclaimed pivots on the hope that people can and will change. So we set aside Lent to understand this about ourselves so that we might see it in the world. It wasn’t a hope to make Christianity or even ourselves great again. We weren’t looking to capture something from the past but to repent or turn around to be changed.

Years have passed but as the calendar changes to approach Lent, I always return to this guide. There was something amazing that happened within those six weeks. We broke through the noise and got real about our hopes. We were changed by the way that we shared our struggles and our slow movements toward change and Easter was different. We were different and it’s why I want to offer it to other groups seeking such a possibility. I want you to have this experience. You’ll find the whole resource with leader notes and a weekly group discussion reflecting upon the Psalms here.

Take a step Toward Transformation this Lent and download this guide today. If you have any questions or want to know if your group really needs to follow this guide exactly as written, please contact me. I’d love to share this wonderful experience with you.

I aspire to write other resources for group exploration when I’m not so busy cooking up this baby but in the meantime, you might be interested to find what else is currently in my kitchen. However you might choose to explore this holy season of Lent, may it be blessed.

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Liturgical Lights for Sunday July 5, 2015

J A S M I N EThis Sunday the Narrative Lectionary leads us into the words of Psalm 146 as we continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher. There is another reading to pair this one in Luke 7:18-23 but I haven’t used these pairings for the past five weeks. Why would I start now?

This wisdom from Rolf Jacobson rings particularly true for me as I try to approach the possibility of praise encouraged in this Psalm:

These acts are not universal — not everyone experiences every grace from God. The Psalter knows that we grow sick, we can be killed, we are oppressed. But God moves in the midst of sufferings, sustaining God’s people and pulling the beloved creation forward into God’s preferred future. These acts of deliverance are representative of God’s characteristic intrusions into a broken and suffering world.

If the tradition is not to sing these songs in our corporate worship — but instead find them in our private devotion — then how do we approach these words in such a way where every experience of God’s grace is honored? How do we do that after when there are churches burning in our country? How do we do find such praise when members of our congregations are struggling with the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage while others are rejoicing? And there’s more. You know there’s more on our nation’s heart right now because it’s on your heart. How do we find a space for all of this on the same weekend where our congregations want to sing patriotic hymns for our nation’s independence?

Because I don’t have answers to these questions, I find myself wanting to fall on my knees and confess to God all of the ways that I struggle to find praise. Here is the prayer on my heart today.

Call to Confession

We come before our Lord and our God seeking a word of hope and just a little bit of forgiveness because we have foolishly put our trusts in courts and laws and leaders who can’t give what we truly seek. We’ve done wrong. We’ve messed up. We’ve fallen short so that we can’t find the praise we long to sing. And so it is that we come before our Lord and our God seeking hope and forgiveness. Let us pray:

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

Holy One, set us free. Set us free from all that imprisons us. Free us from the shackles of security and false promises. Liberate us from the grief that nothing will ever really change and help us to find your sight. Open our eyes to the long arc of justice that is leading us toward the liberation of your people. Lift up those who are pushed down by terrorism of creed or color so that we might all see how your law reigns. Watch over us, Holy One, because we are blind to what you are doing. We can’t see the long arc of justice and can only see churches burning, people dying and the ruin of creation. We need a word of hope. We need to know that love is stronger than hate and we can only ask your forgiveness for believing that that grace might come from the highest court in the land. We know there is more work to be done. Forgive us for not doing our part.

Shared Silence for Confession and Personal Prayer

Sung Assurance Come and Fill Our Hearts (Taize)

Assurance of God’s Grace (Responsive)

Our Lord and our God reigns forever.
The arc of God’s love is long and it comes to fill you with forgiveness and hope.
God comes to set you free from your fears and open your eyes to love.
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday — especially as this is the last one in this series. I’m taking a summer break from Liturgical Lights. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve found these prayers helpful or if you’ve used them in worship. 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 July 5, 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 June 28, 2015

J A S M I N EThis Sunday the Narrative Lectionary leads us into the words of Psalm 40:1-10 as we continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher. There is another reading to pair this one in Luke 17:11-19 but it seems I can’t get excited about these alternate readings as I’ve skipped them every week.

This particular psalm seems like it could be paired just as well with the Revised Common Lectionary readings. It has that sense of joy and relief that comes after healing has come. It has that mysterious trust that comes with faith — this overwhelming sense that there is a bigger picture, or at least a desire for a larger story to exist. It could be what the woman healed from 12 years could sing after Jesus calls her his daughter. Or it could be a song to itself — a song that lifts up the hope and certainty of salvation even before healing has come.

Healing, however, doesn’t feel quite right. Because it was only a few days ago that this happened. There may be forgiveness but there is work to be done especially in white churches. So I want to hold on to what the Rev. Norvel Goff Sr. said at Mother Emanuel on Sunday: “We have some difficult days ahead, but the only way evil can triumph is for good folk to sit down and do nothing.” To begin this Sunday, I’m using words inspired by my seminary professor Dr. James H. Cone so that those of us in white churches might especially open our hearts and minds to the power of black theology. If his work is unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to listen to this podcast.

These will be difficult words to pray and may even put the words of the oppressed on the wrong lips — but in saying these words aloud — perhaps we will learn more about the oppressive system that we hold more powerful than God.

Call to Worship (Responsive)
Inspired by James H. Cone’s God of the Oppressed

We come together as a community to worship and to praise.
We come together on this day because God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We are a community that knows this truth.
We know God’s wonderful deeds and even what God plans.
We have seen it spoken and lived by the people around us.
God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We come to worship and praise
because we want to always be that kind of community —
the kind of community that will freely become oppressed.
Because we know the truth of Jesus Christ.
God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We are a community seeking a Jesus-encounter
that will claim us for liberation.
Nothing compares to our God.

Prayer of Invocation
Inspired by James H. Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation

O God, there is no perfect guide
for discerning your movement in the world.
There is no way for our hearts and minds to
fully understand your hope and your help,
but we want to do your will.
We gather here as a community of Jesus Christ
that wants nothing more than to tell of your good news.
Open our hearts and minds to see you as the God of the Oppressed
so that wherever there is humiliation and suffering
that is where we will find you, O God.
For we know — deep in our hearts — that there is no use for a God
who loves white oppressors the same as oppressed blacks.
There is too much white love in our world, O God.
What we need is the divine love as expressed in black power.
May we find such a force working in our world.
May we find it even with ourselves so that we are so caught up in this
holy activity that we can truly see that righteousness is not just for me and mine
but for the great assembly you always dreamed to be.
Guide us in this way here in this community of Christ today. Amen.

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday. Please share your comments and ideas 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 June 28, 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 June 21, 2015

J A S M I N EThe Narrative Lectionary leads us to pray over the words of Psalm 27 on June 21, 2015.

It happens that it’s Father’s Day but this is not a liturgical holiday. I got a lot of flack for this two months ago when I said this about Mother’s Day — but it’s still true for the dads.

There is so much wonderful imagery to ponder in this psalm that I hope our hearts and minds are led there in worship. The good people at Working Preacher suggest that these are words of disorientation. Next week, we’ll be reoriented in another psalm — but this week allows for a moment to consider what doesn’t feel quite right so that I instantly hear Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith asking that wonderful question: what’s saving my life right now? She answers her own question in the book by saying:

What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.

But, I must admit I rather like this short video from The Work of the People that gets to the same thing. (Sadly, the video will not embed but do follow this link.)

The prayers I’ve written this morning meditate on this question from the illustrious Barbara Brown Taylor — which I imagine would lead to an extended silence where the congregation could individually answer this question for themselves. Perhaps that happens through a prayer station or maybe it simply considered in silence after a brief guided meditation.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

Light came into the world
in the beginning of creation.
It was the very first thing that God created.
And God saw that the light was good. 
When the people could no longer see
the goodness God had created,
Light came into the world in human flesh.
In that flesh was life, and the life was the light of all people.
And the people saw that the light was good.
That light, created in human flesh,
taught the people what they could not believe,
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

And so, we come because we can’t see the light
shining in our lives and in the world.
We can’t see how all of this has been good from the very beginning.
We come to ask and to remember,
What is saving our lives right now?

Prayer of Invocation

With the following words, I would allow for a few moments of silent reflection as the congregation moves together to seek God’s presence. I imagine doing that by saying simply:

So here we are, together,
to find the salvation we’re not even sure we need.
Let us come before God to ask
for that great and faithful love.
Let us share in silent prayer.

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday — especially as summer arrives. Does this mean a transition in your worship experience? 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 June 21, 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 June 14, 2015

J A S M I N EThis Sunday seems like a huge departure from last Sunday. We find ourselves in Psalm 69:1-16 as we continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher. The Narrative Lectionary offers the the option to pair this reading with Matthew 7:7-11 but I’m skipping it… again.

Instead, it this the connection to the Exodus story that jumps out of this passage for me. I’m reminded instantly from verse 1 of the midrash story of Naschon. It’s a story that I attempted to tell in worship last year when that particular story from the Exodus stumbled into the other lectionary cycle. It’s a great story and one that deserves to be retold. My version was called Up to Our Necks. On that Sunday, I used the liturgy I wrote for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways. (It was Pentecost 14–September 14 in Year A.)

I’ve adapted a few of those prayers to be used with the Psalm for this Sunday.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

It has been a hard week
when so many things have gone wrong
and nothing seems to have been done well.
So here we are, to worship together asking God,
Save us from the mud. 
We have felt stuck and tired
where it hasn’t felt like anything could possibly change
in our lives or in this world.
So here we are, to worship together asking God,
Don’t let us drown.
We’ve been up to our necks in our own fears
and our our own limitations. It’s almost swallowed us up.
So here we are, because we need to hear God say,
I hear your prayers.
In our worship today, let our prayers reach out to God,
in God’s great and faithful love,
so that we might know,
We are saved.

Prayer of Invocation

With the following words, as suggested in the original liturgy, I would allow for a few moments of silent reflection as the congregation moves together to seek God’s presence. I imagine doing that by saying simply:

So here we are, together,
to find the salvation we’re not even sure we need.
Let us come before God to ask
for that great and faithful love.
Let us share in silent prayer.

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday — especially as summer arrives. Does this mean a transition in your worship experience? 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 June 14, 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 June 7, 2015

J A S M I N EWe continue to find ourselves in the liminal space of the Narrative Lectionary as June begins. As it began last week, we’ll continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher to guide us to July 5th. Then, I will likely take a break until the Sunday after Labor Day.

For June 7, 2015 the Narrative Lectionary leads us to consider the inspiration of Psalm 113. There is the option to pair this reading with Luke 15:8-10 but I’m skipping over that again this week.

It’s summer and so I want to use prayer stations to ignite and inspire our experience of worship. In this slower time, when the sun is shining and no one really wants to be inside, it seems that prayer stations allow us to experience the breath of God a little differently. In this reading, it is the phrase from sunrise to sunset that captures my mind. It boils down to this question: What do we do from sunrise to sunset to praise God?

I imagine the order of worship that begins with the rising of the sun and concludes with the sun setting. Along the way, we have the chance to reflect upon what we do in each hour of the day to praise God — and even how we might do more in that hour.

To begin worship (though I’m not one that gets up out of bed and spontaneously sings), I would begin with Gathering Songs or Songs of Praise for the Sunrise. Admittedly, I’d be tempted to just sing Morning Has Broken and be done with it — but it seems wise to add a few more songs including When Morning Gilds the Skies or Woke Up This Mornin’. Most hymnals have a morning section to explore.

After this singing, I would begin to shape the arc of this worship experience with a prayer that leads us into the awareness of our days.

Prayer of Invocation 

O Lord, rise with us as the sun
peeks over the horizon.
Wake us from our slumber
and move us to praise you
from sunrise to sunset.
Stretch our hearts and minds
throughout this day
and every day
to consider what our bodies
and our hearts and our minds
might do and say to praise you
from sunrise to sunset.
O Lord, make this time
from the sunrise to the sunset of worship
a time to reflect upon the ordinary ways
that we praise you. Make this a time to
imagine what more we can do
and what we never realized was an act of praise.
Stretch our bodies
and our hearts and our minds
from the sunrise to the sunset of worship today.
This we pray in your high and holy name, Amen.

This would lead to what I would call Morning Rituals. I would set these stations up on one side of the worship space on small tables or pedestals. On the other side, where the sun moves later in the day, is the Evening Praise.

Morning Rituals would include those very things that are morning rituals with small prompts to pause and reflect. They do not need to be done in order — but can be explored as each worshipper feels so moved. I would allow about 15-20 minutes of time to explore these prayer stations with music playing softly in the background. (This music should be playful and fun that fits your congregation. Make it a medley that flows easily. For a high stress community of professionals, you might include a few bars of this song. Or maybe this song. You get the idea.) As the music plays, the congregation can move among these stations.

floss-668215_640One of the first things I think of doing in the morning is brushing my teeth, but because that would be challenging, how about a basket of dental floss placed upon a pedestal? Put a trash can down below. Next to the basket, provide this guidance:

As you rise to care for your body and soul, take a moment to floss your teeth. As you move the floss around your gums, embrace this time to reflect on the small crevices that God shows up in your everyday life.

newspaper-568058_640

On another table, place a stack of newspapers with plenty of space to surround it. On the table, provide this guidance:

We often begin the day reading about what has happened in the world. From this news, rip out a page of bad news and sculpt it into something beautiful.

Perhaps there is one more space laid out with yoga mats (or something soft that you might put on the nursery floor in the church) and a simple instruction that reads:

Move your body into this new day. As you stretch each muscle, allow yourself enough time to consider how this simple, every day movement might stretch you to more love and praise of God.

If they haven’t found their way there yet, invite folks back together with a song. Read the Psalm and then share in the Noontime Meal. Play up the imagery of the sun being directly overhead as you come to this feast of Holy Communion. From this meal, there should surely be Prayers of the People before going into Evening Praise. Just as with the Morning Rituals, these are prayer stations that are set up on the other side of the worship space. Allow another 15-20 minutes for folks to wander and pray.

social-media-54536_640As the day concludes, it seems that the first thing that happens at home for many is the homework. For some, that’s the schoolwork that must be done for the next day. For others, it’s the checking in on social media that you didn’t get to do all day long. For us all, it’s reconnecting with those that we love. Set up a table with math worksheets. They are easy to download. Maybe a history book or two from your church library. Set up a cup of pencils and a stack of stationary with either a shoebox mail drop to mail those letters (if your church might be willing to mail these letters). Offer these instructions:

As you begin to settle into the end of the day, take a moment to stimulate your mind by learning something new in the pages of history or challenging yourself with some math problems. Or, instead of picking up your tablet or phone to check in on social media, take this moment to write a letter to someone for whom you haven’t made enough time. Be sure to address and seal the envelope as you thank God for all our minds can do.

Many of our evenings are spent cooking, preparing lunches and caring for those in our own homes. In words of your own choice, invite the worshipping body to extend this love beyond their homes and into the world by making hygiene kits or baby care kits for Church World Service. Set up the table with all the supplies needed for the kit of your choice. Provide instructions that invite reflection on all their hands have done to praise God since the rising of the sun that very day.

Last but not least, the night comes with a desire to be still. Your worship space might not allow for something as large as this prayer station. So perhaps instead you provide slips of paper that can be taken home to practice something like the Ignition Daily Examen. This prayer card could be downloaded and provided on a pedestal or small table with simple instructions to take a prayer card and find a pew to practice.

If they haven’t found their way there yet, invite folks back together with a song. Perhaps the Psalm is read again. Perhaps not. To conclude worship, just as the worship began, I would end with Blessing Songs or Songs of Praise for the Sunset. You might include Night Has Fallen or Day is Done or any other hymns found in the Close of Worship section in your church hymnal.

As worship ends, I would find it hard not to include one of my favorite prayers from the New Zealand Prayer Book. I might adapt it to say something like “Lord, the sun is setting.” Or I might leave it just as it is.

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday — especially as summer arrives. Does this mean a transition in your worship experience? 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 June 7, 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 31, 2015

J A S M I N EPentecost was last Sunday. Because the Narrative Lectionary offers four-cycles of readings from the Sunday after Labor Day to the Sunday of Pentecost, we find ourselves in liminal space. We are neither here nor there. It is summer. We are in-between what was and what will be.

The good folks over at Working Preacher don’t leave us hanging though. They offer a focus of readings for the summer months. In 2015, we find ourselves wandering through the Psalms for six weeks before you can choose-your-own-adventure into Hebrews, Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry or Creeds. It’s my hope to offer some prayers for the next six weeks — and then, I will likely take a break until the Sunday after Labor Day.

Without further ado, the Narrative Lectionary leads us to consider the inspiration of Psalm 1 for May 31, 2015. There is the option to pair this reading with John 14:1-6 but I haven’t felt so inclined to do so in the prayers I’ve written here. Please note that the Prayer of Confession is one that I adapted long ago and can no longer figure out where it originally came from. The best I can figure out is that it came from the Children’s Resources for the Children’s Sabbath. That’s the credit I’ve given anyway.

This particular psalm feels like it could get a little self-congratulatory. As hard as it is to be a person of faith, I am wary of worship that praises us more than it praises God. The various translations of this Psalm (especially the one from the Message) tilt a little too far into this realm for my liking — but I think I’d use that as inspiration by using a responsive reading of one translation to call the body into worship and then another translation before the Word is proclaimed. I obviously couldn’t resist embracing the powerful imagery of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken and the spiritual I Shall Not Be Moved.

Prayer of Invocation 

Plant us here, O God.
For there are two roads that diverge in a yellow wood,
and we are not sure which one to take.
We are not sure if we should turn right or left.
Or if we should just turn around and go home.
We are overwhelmed and uncertain.
We are terrified that we’ll make
another mistake.
O God, plant us here.
Plant us like your sturdy trees.
Dig roots underneath our feet into your living water.
Nourish us from this network just underneath our feet.
Plant us in your way so that we will not be moved.
Come and plant us here so that we might find the road less traveled. Amen.

Prayer of Confession (Unison)
Adapted from prayers written by Shannon Daley-Harris for Children’s Resources for the Children’s Sabbath

Growing God, we confess that we cling to the comfortable,
fall back on the familiar, and allow apathy to dull our hearts and our commitment.
We shrug our shoulders and say that’s just the way it is.
Forgive us, Growing God,
for callousness instead of compassion,
for discouragement instead of determination,
for selfishness instead of service.
Forgive us for all the ways we insist on our own happiness.
In your mercy, we pray.

Words of Assurance (Responsive)

Drink in deeply from the living water
below your feet, rooted in your very being.
There is reason to be happy.
God has planted us here!
There is living water in each of us!

Charge (Responsive)
Drink in deeply from the living water
below your feet, rooted in your very being.
There is reason to be happy.
God has planted us here!
There is living water in each of us!

Benediction (Unison)

May God grow with us
so that we might blossom
in the living water of Christ,

the Root of Our Salvation. Amen.

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday — especially as summer arrives. Does this mean a transition in your worship experience? 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 31, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.