Pandemic Prayers for Proper 14

This gorgeous reflection on 1 Kings 19:9-18 by Richard W. Swanson has got me thinking about silence. Silence feels all consuming right now. There is so much of it. Or, at least, there is for me.

We live on the edge of the desert now. It is so quiet. I almost never see or hear my neighbors. There is just silence. Even when I leave the house, there is only the sound of the air conditioner humming through the vents in my car mingled with the sounds of my children and whatever might be on the radio. We don’t go to restaurants to hear the clatter of silverware and the gentle buzz of conversation. We don’t even go into stores to hear other children crying or music I didn’t select on the intercom. There is no laughter of friends that isn’t by FaceTime. It is silent. Is that familiar? Or is there more noise in your pandemic life than there is in mine?

My sweet Texas church is leading a series through some favorite hymns this month. Worship is full of music and I confess that I like that it gives me a song to sing, but is hat because I’m uncomfortable with the silence that consumes every other hour? Can you even have meaningful, meditative silence in online worship? How might that silence speak to parents, to school children or to aging adults who just want to know that they can be buried in the church they love and have a ‘normal’ funeral? What does that silence say in the midst of protests, mask fights and hurricane winds? Is it a silence that both crushes and encourages you?

Gathering Together

There are so many things that jump out to me in these ancient words. So many phrases that spark curiosity and wonder. Words that seem particularly for this moment: seek God’s presence continually, battered by the waves, descend into the abyss, here comes this dreamer, he went there alone, wind was against them.

Could worship begin with that wind?

Would we find it relaxing? Would it call us to attention? Would we feel more alert in watching waves crash?

Could even a short 30 second clip lead us into worship? Here are two possible invitations to follow this silence of the natural world.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 Kings 19:9-18, this translation

Look:
the God Whose Name is Mercy
is in the silence
and the trees/waves,
and your own breath
sighing into this space
where the world feels both far away
and as close as the God Whose Name is Mercy.

Listen:
Not in muted silence on Zoom,
but listen for the laughter,
the sighs, each exhale and inhale of wonder.
Listen to hear what crushed hope might become.
Listen for the courage in each gasp.
Listen to how love becomes a song.
Listen. Look.
The God Whose Name is Mercy is here.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 105

Give thanks to the God Whose Name is Mercy;
Call upon that name
and proclaim every good thing
that gives you reason to sing.
Sing to God;
sing praises to the God Whose Name is Mercy
so that you can feel
the winds of change
stir in your heart.
Let your hope crash onto the shores of creation
as loudly and boldly as a clanging cymbal.
Make noise. Make a lot of noise
because you dare to believe
in freedom and justice.
You believe in peace and love
because you believe in the
God Whose Name is Mercy.
Praise God’s name.

Prayers of Confession and Assurance

I often prefer silence to a shared confession said in words. If you prefer one with words and seek to center your worship on the Gospel, here is a beautiful prayer by my friend Teri. I offer instead an invitation to confess led by the liturgist or preacher and some words of assurance to follow an extended silence. You could even play another section of the above clips during that silence if it feels too uncomfortable to stare at each other’s faces in Zoom.

Call to Confession 

Like Christ, we come alone.
We come full of grief and despair.
We come battered
and overcome by all that weighs against us.
We come to confess that we don’t have all the answers
but long to hear the wisdom from someone or something other than ourselves
in the silence we now share.

Extended silence.

Words of Assurance

Beloved, feel the winds
of grace sweep over creation
and over your head. There is music there too,
over your head reminding you again
that there must be a God somewhere.
Everyone who calls upon the name
of the God Whose Name is Mercy will be saved.
You are forgiven. You are so loved. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you find these prayers helpful and would like some help thinking about the fall, click over here to do a little pandemic worship planningtogether. I’d love to know what might be most helpful.

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.