Saturday, April 4, 2020

Prayer, day 2623


Be among us, Lord Jesus,
as we make our prayers to You.

Be among us, O Almighty One,
as we meditate upon your Word
and remember your saving help.
Be among us, O Spirit of Truth,
to guide our hearts, minds, and souls
and make them holy offerings to our God.
Be among us, O God,
as storms rage without and within,
and lead us to safety and reconciliation.

May peace, justice, compassion, and love reign
in our lives today, O Merciful One.
May we embody God's grace in our words and deeds,
and testify always to your mercy and care as we pray.

Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Prayer, day 2622: Based on Psalm 23



Let me give thanks and praise to God,

my shepherd and provider,
who claims me and unfailingly loves me as God’s own. 
I lay all my trust at the feet of the Almighty,
Lover and Seeker of my soul. 

God leads me into verdant, abundant pastures
filled with all I need, and gives me rest and security. 
God restores and refreshes my soul,
tending and guarding my inmost being. 
My Shepherd sees my weariness, and lifts me up;
guiding me in right pathways,
that I bring honor to God’s Name. 

God, You shield me with your strength and vigilance;
may I always remain at your side. 
No matter what terrors or trials approach me,
I am not afraid 
for You, 
Emmanuel, 
are with me, even if death overhangs me. 

O God, You provide for me plentifully and exalt me,
even as my enemies look on,
helpless to harm me. 
You have consecrated me
and blessed me abundantly,
and the cup of my blessings overflows
like a spring in the desert. 

O God, your promise to love me
envelops me in goodness and mercy,
following me as my companions throughout my life. 
I am secure in God’s arms,
and my home is with you forever,
even into eternity.

Amen.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Prayer, day 2621


Our praises rise before you,
O God Most High;
Our prayers rise unto You,

O Redeemer, Our Lord Jesus Christ;
Our fears we lay before you,

O Holy and Eternal Abba, Father and Mother.


Our hopes we breathe in from your Eternal Love,

O Savior;
Our resilience we draw from you,

Abiding Holy Spirit,
who lifts us and prepares us for our work in your kingdom today.


O Creator,

we turn into your embrace for solace and strength,
and lay before you those needs for whom we pray.

Amen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Prayer, day 2620: Inspired by Matthew 19:13-14


Lord, night is over, 
and we give thanks to You for the gift of this new day: 
may we use it for the bold proclamation of your love. 

Blessed Jesus,
with loving hands and compassionate heart
you welcomed the little children to come to you: 
you rebuked your disciples for their hardness of heart. 
Help us to unstop our ears
that we hear the cries of the little children in our midst, 
crying out from detention for mothers and fathers, 
seeking food for their hunger in a land of plenty. 
Awaken us to their cries, Lord Christ, 
and let our silence not condemn us. 

May we thus live into the wisdom and compassion 
that are the foundation of your path, 
that our souls may flourish within You, 
O God of Salvation. 

Spirit of the Living God, 
who sustains us by mercy and upholds us by grace, 
hallow us to the service of God today, 
and pour out your blessing upon those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Prayer 2619: Nurtured by God


O Nurturing One,
You are our Light and our Dwelling:
accept our praise and our homage this day.

May we be kind and virtuous in our path today,
that we may be vessels of your truth, O God.
May we pattern our steps
to reveal your generous grace, Lord Christ,
to allow it to work within our souls
and lead us to compassion and integrity.
May we walk mindfully and gently
upon this greening earth,
and in grateful companionship with each other.

God of Mercy,
bless the hands that heal,
and strengthen the hearts that soothe
all those who are in pain, illness, or anxiety.

O Ground of Our Being,
root us in your love and strengthen us in hope,
that we may serve you with devotion and gratitude.
Pour out your blessing over all who seek You,
and give light to the hearts of those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Prayer 2618


Almighty God,
who holds creation within your protective hand,
we lay our hearts at your feet,
and give thanks for your abundant blessing.

Lord Jesus,
teach us to be humble in spirit
and open-hearted in our dealings with each other,
welcoming each other as children of God.
Make us ardent
in our pursuit of virtue and integrity,
O Shepherd of Our Souls,
and gentle and loving as we walk our paths today.
Make us steadfast in faith, Beloved One,
and committed to the flourishing of all,
defending the vulnerable and empowering the oppressed.

May we welcome the power
of the Holy Spirit into our lives,
that we may seek out the path of justice and peace.
God of Mercy, lead us into the Way of Love,
and grant your peace to those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Fearlessly Faithful: Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent



Sometimes I wonder about the wisdom of the Revised Common Lectionary, and at the first glance at our first reading, I admit I recoiled a bit. Here we are, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I really don’t want to jump to the scene of desolation first depicted in our reading from Ezekiel.

For most of us, this is our first experience with this kind of lasting upheaval and fear. The Flu Pandemic of 1918, which killed my grandmother's father and left him in an unmarked grave, was over a century ago. The “Greatest Generation” that lived through the cataclysms of the Great Depression and World War II, which included my dad and mom, are in their 90s now. Yet, in other parts of the world, war and famine, disease and oppression, are constant companions. And hopefully, what we may take from this right now, is a biblically-grounded message of how very interconnected we all literally are.

Our readings today are a reminder of the importance of faith in a time of turmoil, of the life-giving role that hope, compassion, trustworthiness, and integrity play not just in being good Christians but in being healthy people.


This is why I myself am grateful for the vision of mercy and honesty which is at the heart of one of our psalms for this morning, Psalm 130. Its beginning is immediately relatable: “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord….” The word for “depths” is the one used to speak of ocean deeps, a place at the very center of our being, yet dark and remote. The psalmist, in trying to express the extent of his feeling of desolation and alienation, creates an image of waters rising over his head and pulling him under. Sounds so familiar right now. 

The psalm acknowledges our human frailty, how we are too quick to break covenant and relationship with God and with each other. In this particular case of this psalm, what has separated the writer from being fully in communion with God are his own actions. Yet God has not abandoned, and will not abandon, the psalmist. The psalmist lives in hope of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation with God. 

Despite all our human calculations and barriers, God’s love, mercy and reconciliation cannot be contained. Rather, and especially in this time of pandemic, we see that God’s love will go where it will, making families of people who once were not only strangers but often outcasts. Even into the depths within ourselves, God still presses upon us, behind and before, below and above, and calls us out of ourselves, out of the toxic individualism that leaves us afraid, instead calling us into community with God, and with each other.

But even in Psalm 130, that frailty and brokenness is not the entire story. Listen again! Even in the opening cry from the foundation of his heart and soul, the psalmist voices his first statement of trust, for he knows that God can hear his voice no matter where the psalmist is.


As we envision those watery depths, perhaps another image and promise can shine through as we recall that the same waters of turmoil can also be waters of creation. God moves over the depths as well as within the depths—what an amazing promise that is! God hears the psalmist’s voice from the depths—because God is always with us in the depths of our fear, anxiety, and despair. Even though this is a psalm of lament, nonetheless hope shines through it throughout.

This is possible because of the three great qualities attributed to God in this brief psalm: forgiveness, steadfast love – which is the term used in the Old Testament for “grace” – and the power to redeem. These are the three essential qualities of God mentioned in this psalm which are vitally important to those who feel they have done something which has disrupted their relationship with God or with others. Forgiveness, grace, and mercy. That right there is a start of a powerful prayer when we are feeling lost, or afraid, or overwhelmed.

Out of the depths I call to you, my God:
Forgiveness, grace, and mercy.

After the Name of “Lord,” the word that appears the most in this short psalm is “wait.” “Waiting for the Lord” is repeated, although varied slightly, three times in succession, and the phrase then follows two repetitions of “more than watchmen for the morning” in verse 5. At the end of the psalm, the psalmist addresses the people of Israel, repeating once again to “wait for the Lord,” and reminding the people that God is merciful, seeking to redeem rather than to destroy. The verb used at the very end, though, which here translated as “wait,” however, also can be translated as “hope.”

And I think that’s key, because unlike what we usually think about “waiting,” hope is not passive. Hope is an act of faith and will—sometimes a rebellious act of faith and will, even. As we face the next few coming days, we are hearing right now a call to us to be fearlessly faithful to the bonds of decency, generosity, and caring that we may have neglected for far too long. This waiting upon God that we do is filled with hope for forgiveness, for reconciliation with ourselves and with each other, as well as with our God.

And yet, we have to remember that asking for forgiveness is nothing without a determination to turn—which is literally what “repentance” means. To embrace light rather than hopelessness or cruelty. To make amends to those we have wronged rather than expect them to continue to “give” us a pass. We depend on grace, but we work for reconciliation.

When times are the darkest, we place our hope in God, whose love never fails. But we also ourselves are called to embody that hopefulness for each other—caring for each other, being present with each other, looking out for each other, extending mercy and grace to each other and to ourselves because our actions are grounded in belovedness. That’s what being children of God made in God’s image and likeness means.

And yet, even when things are the darkest, there is hope, and mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. On the heels of this cry from the deepest troughs in our heart, Psalm 131 follows, and I think it actually continues the thought found in Psalm 130. Psalm 131 continues:

O LORD, I am not proud;
    I have no haughty looks.
I do not occupy myself with great matters,
   or with things that are too hard for me.
But I still my soul and make it quiet,
   like a weaned child upon its mother's breast;
   my soul is quieted within me. 
O Israel, wait upon the LORD,
   from this time forth for evermore. 

Psalm 131 reinforces the sense of hopefulness and trust in Psalm 130, but expands it further, grounding itself in humility and simplicity. The beautiful maternal image of laying upon the breast of God like a child who has awakened from sleep in the night with tears and terror continues to remind us of God’s promise never to abandon us, no matter what. Whether you have been the sobbing child or the weary parent in that scenario, you know how eagerly you await the dawn on nights like that. 

Both Psalm 130 and Psalm 131 end with a reminder for the community to remember the forgiveness, steadfast love, and redemption of God as our foundation—and go and do likewise. In a world where too many of us feel isolated and alone, especially right now, when we are physically separated from each other, we are reminded that we are called to embrace unity and faithfulness—we are made for God, but also, significantly for each other.


The great English poet, essayist and priest John Donne reminded us of our interconnectedness in a famous meditation he wrote upon hearing the church bells toll a funeral. Donne’s first thoughts were not about himself, but about his relationship with others, especially the deceased whom he did not know. He started with the truth that every single person is abundantly beloved by God. I’ve shared this with you before, but I think it speaks to our situation even more forcefully now, so I will repeat it. He wrote:

No man is an island entire of itself;
   every man is a piece of the continent,
   a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
   Europe is the less,
   as well as if a promontory were,
   as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me,
   because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
   it tolls for thee. (1)

Perhaps this pandemic can remind us to remember how radically inclusive Jesus’s vision is, the same dream that God has had for us from creation onward. One of raising us to new life and new communion with God, with each other, with all creation. Just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, so we can be raised to new life too, starting right now. The heart of Jesus’s message, contrary to what we see represented in popular culture, is not self-centeredness, but community—community rooted in abundant grace, abundant mercy, abundant hope and faith in each other. Abundant life through love in action for those we know and do not know. 

And our lives right now depend on cultivating those attitudes, on scrupulously avoiding anything that might harm another, not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of the most vulnerable among us. If any of us is injured, we all suffer. We share a common life. That’s what communion is really all about.


Loving-kindness encircles us so that we may then embody it out into this aching, hurting world. Grace upon grace raises us and heals us, if only we will let it—but not for own sakes only—no, so we can go out, fearlessly faithful in the name of our brother Jesus, who loves us as profoundly as he loved Lazarus, and who has called us to a new life of compassion and unity. claimed us as his kindred through his determination that no one be left to sink in the depths. 

Out of the depths we call to you, our God:
Forgiveness, grace, and mercy.

Almighty One,
we trust in your steadfast presence.

Show us your ways,
and teach us your paths,
O Lord Most Tender and Loving.

We know you are creating within us
new opportunities to share your love
and embody your gospel in the world.

In trust and assurance,
we wait upon You, O Lord,
to find that You are already here,
whatever the tide may bring.

You, O God, hold us tenderly;
your steadfast love is with us in the depths— 
the depths within us, 
and the depths that surround us.

Make us fearlessly faithful 
that we may proclaim your truth
and be your steadfast disciples in the world.

Amen.

Preached at the 10:30 am Morning Prayer service, online, due to COVID-19, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.

Readings:
Psalm 130
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

References for more information:
(1) John Donne, Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624.  The full text of this meditation can be found at http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/meditation17.php.  The fascinating background to the creation of this work can be found here.

Prayer 2617: Fifth Sunday in Lent A


Almighty One,
we trust in your steadfast presence.

Show us your ways,
and teach us your paths,
O Lord Most Tender and Loving.

We know you are creating within us
new opportunities to share your love
and embody your gospel in the world.

In trust and assurance,
we wait upon You, O Lord,
to find that You are already here,
whatever the tide may bring.

You, O God, hold us tenderly;
your steadfast love is with us in the depths— 
the depths within us, 
and the depths that surround us.

Make us fearlessly faithful 
that we may proclaim your truth
and be your steadfast disciples in the world.


Amen.

Scripture reference: Psalm 130

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Prayer, day 2616


Most Merciful God,
accept our humble offerings to You
of our life and love
as we make our prayer to You.
Forgive us our willful disregard for each other,

and restore us to communion and trust, we pray.
Give us grace

to allow love to heal our wounded relationships,
that we may be one body, made in your image. 
Make us holy, a priestly people

serving You and each other in love, O God,
and bring us into unity with all creation.

Place your hand of blessing over all who ache,

or mourn,
or seek a way through difficulties.
Spirit of Light and Truth, bless us,

and pour out your balm of blessing
over those we remember before You.

Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Prayer 2615


God of the Rising Wave,
You lift us up and bear us in tenderness,
surrounding us with your care:
accept our whispered prayers and praises,
and teach us what to hold, and what to let go.

May we let go of our anxiety,
and take hold of hope.
May we let go of our fear of want,
and give of our abundance and compassion.
May we let go of our fear of others,
and hold on to your call to community, O God.

Blessed Savior, abide with us and within us,
and grant the deep peace of the Holy Spirit to us
as we seek to do your will today, Most Holy God.
Anoint us to your service, O Merciful One,
and strengthen the hearts of those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Prayer 2614


God of Grace,
we ask for your guidance this day,
for your ways are the ways of life and light,
and your wisdom is woven into the fabric of the world.
May we praise you without ceasing,
and ever remember that you are alongside us,
O Shepherd of Our Souls.
Help us to care for one another,
upholding each other's dignity and worth
as members of the Body of Christ.
Drive far from us all wrong desires,
and give us the courage 
to make amends for all the wrongs we have done, O Savior.
Spread the awning of your mercy
over all who cry out to You, Lord,
and anoint those in need or peril
with the blessings of your comfort and peace.

Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Prayer, day 2613: The Feast of the Annunciation


Almighty God, we sing your glory,
joining the joyful song of creation
as our souls sing out your greatness!
How beautiful upon the treetops
is the rising light of morning:
O God, you bless us beyond measure with beauty
and our hearts kneel before you in praise!

Give us your favor, O Redeemer,
in leading us to consent to your will in our lives,
that we may join our hands in unity
in the pursuit of justice and peace,
pulling down oppression from its throne,
filling the hungry with good things from the bounty we have.

Strengthen us to bear you into the world, Blessed Jesus,
as a mother carries her child
close to her heart.

Holy One, place the protection
of your mighty arm and heart
over us this day,
and guide us in paths of gentleness and compassion.
Stretch out the awning of your mercy, Beloved Savior,
over all who rest in your care.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Prayer 2612: On the Feast Day of Oscar Romero, Bishop and Martyr


O Most Generous God,
with one accord, we lift hearts and hands to You,
and offer You our devotion and service this day.

Led by the example of Blessed Oscar Romero,
may we amplify the cry of the poor,
and stand alongside the vulnerable
in solidarity and dignity, O God.
May we be steadfast in faith,
and be witnesses for peace and justice,
for the power of love over weaponized fear.
May we walk ever in the path of Jesus
with courage and steadfastness.

Pour out your abundant Spirit, O God, upon us 
as we walk in your ways this day,
and give your angels charge over those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Image: from the Gallery of 2oth Century Martyrs over the west door of Westminster Abbey

Monday, March 23, 2020

Prayer 2611: Prayer for Sheltering in Place


We bow before you, 
O Love that Sustains the Universe,
and offer our hearts
to be filled by your presence.
Make our hearts a holy habitation, O Holy One,
a living sacrifice, 
that we may be anointed by your Spirit.

The Earth your footstool,
the heavens your tapestry of light,
the smallest seed and the mightiest baobab,
the pinwheel of birds
gathering food by your providence,
the beating hearts of loved ones in companionship--
You have made them all, O Wisdom Eternal,
and your wonders whirl before our dazzled eyes.

Still our rushing heedlessness,
that we may give glory to You, Blessed Savior,
and lay our hearts bare to receive your Word
in joy and gratitude.

This day is your gift, O God;
may we center ourselves
in each moment
by your grace,
for You are our steadfast help and stay.

Bend near to those who seek your face, Blessed Jesus,
that we may see you everywhere we look,
from our rising to our resting.
Anoint us to your service, we humbly pray,
and grant your blessing to those we now name.

Amen.

written on the first day a stay at home order was placed over St. Louis City and County

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Fearlessly Interconnected: Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent A


When bad things happen to people, one of our first responses is to try to figure out what caused the misfortune. And the disciples are no different, as we hear in our gospel from John today. 

If you spend some time reading and re-reading our gospel passage, you will notice certain words being repeated over and over again. Fourteen times we hear the word “blind,”—more than the twelve times we hear some version of the verb “to see.” Ten times we hear the word “eyes,” and nine times we hear the word “sin.” 

The first time sight is mentioned, it is that Jesus sees the man born blind, starting right in verse 1. The disciples then obviously see this man and ask Jesus about his state of sinfulness. In asking this and in Jesus’s answer, it is made clear that the disciples do not see this man clearly, much less the role that sin was believed to play in misfortunes such as being born blind. Once again, we are reminded that we only see what we are actually looking for. And that is truly a theme we can take away from this long gospel passage. 

It is interesting to trace the arc of the story line: Jesus and his disciples are walking along, talking. They see a blind man, and the disciples reflect a common understanding of illness and disability at the time that those who were disabled were being punished for sin. They see a man whose disability isolates him, and want to know whose sin caused him to be punished. They define him by his disability and make that disability his identity. That’s a tendency that can play out in this time of anxiety over COVID19, too.

Some of us might think this kind of thinking is primitive. Or maybe others of us might admit that this kind of thinking sometimes pops up in our thoughts too? How many of us have thought “Why me, Lord?” when faced with a crisis? It’s not that uncommon even today when some disaster happens to shake us. We want to know “why?” even when that question has no provable answer. And sometimes, that demand to know why is so we can BLAME someone or something else for what is happening. We are already seeing that pop up, even from people who are supposed to be our leaders. 

And in our gospel, since last week’s encounter between Jesus and the unnamed woman at the well, we have skipped right over some things. In chapter 8, the chapter before our reading today, Jesus makes one of the seven “I am” statements that are so characteristic of John’s gospel, when he says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

He then spends the rest of chapter 8 expounding upon that claim. Jesus repeats that claim in our gospel today, and this story is meant to illustrate the same point that Paul did in our reading from Ephesians—that without light we cannot see. The claim of Jesus to be the light of the world adds an entire other dimension to statements made both at the beginning and the end of this gospel about the responsibility that seeing places upon us. And here, just as our epistle pointed out, it is the light that makes someone able to see. The light of the world. Jesus.

Being able to see is both a blessing and a responsibility. Just like Jesus, once we see suffering in the world, we are called upon to then look for how we can help care for each other. Especially in a time such as this. Our gospel is a gift to us to remind us that even as we are in unfamiliar circumstances, and maybe can’t see the way forward with any certainty, that God is nevertheless alongside us and calling us to put our claim to be God’s children to work. 

It is an irony, perhaps, that as we hear this story in 2020, we are seeing tangible proof of our interconnectedness. The challenge is to see that interconnectedness as a blessing— and maybe push back against the modern delusion that we really are able to put up walls and defenses between us and those who carry the burden of illness and contagion, for instance.

Our gospel today urges us to consider how well we keep the eyes of our hearts open to see God’s providence and care for us, even when the darkness seems overwhelming. Our response to this pandemic is an opportunity to make visible the light of Christ in a time of darkness. Even as situations are at play which may divide us physically, we can deny the power of darkness and be the good people long to see in times such as these. 

How we care for each other will directly impact the duration of this time of trial, make no mistake. During this crisis, we are being called to choose unity and charity, across every boundary we use because we think they protect us, and realize that God calls us to draw the circle ever wider. We can choose enlightenment and empathy, instead of allowing ourselves to give in to fear and mutual suspicion because of our own blindness and hardness of heart. 

the COVID19 virus
Up until these last few weeks, perhaps some of have thought that times of pandemics were a thing of the past—or at the very least were a thing of places without access to modern medicine. Perhaps we reassured ourselves that viruses like COVID-19, hopscotching from country to country, were really only the thing of movies like I Am Legion; The Stand, and about a hundred zombie movies. But now we have seen how quickly the entire world can be enveloped in anxiety and a sense of helplessness and suspicion.

We are being brought face to face with our own vulnerability in a way that seldom happens. But here’s the thing: that vulnerability was there all along. Our gospel today invites us to consider our interconnectedness, which is a vital lesson to learn from this challenge before us in the coming weeks. We are being given a gift to remake the priorities in our lives from a position of adversarial competition to one of caring for each other—even if we start only because it is in our enlightened self-interest.

Maybe from this crisis, our eyes can be opened to embrace some vital truths, truths that are the backbone of God’s dream for us to live our very best life. Maybe we can come to see truths like: 

We are all only as well as the sickest person among us, and that doesn’t mean to shun each other, but to care for each other, to be considerate of each other, and to make sure that people have expanded access to food and preventive medical care so that they can have the luxury of staying home and out of harm’s way.

May we see another truth: every single person you see is someone’s loved one, so only take what you need.

May we see this truth, too: this illness, like most illnesses, is no respecter of rank or privilege or station. And what that means for all of us is that it is in our own best interest for everyone to be able to pay their bills while abiding by physical distancing, to engage in the luxury of sheltering in place for all our sakes.

Even in this time of lockdown, the most vulnerable among us will see their ability to feed themselves and their families become even harder. The lonely and isolated risk becoming more so. What happens to our unhoused neighbors when all the soup kitchens close, and all the places they gathered to seek shelter from the elements are no longer available? 

May we never again forget this truth: Medical staff—and in particular nurses, nursing home aides, EMTs, and caregivers-- are the backbone of this fight—and we need to treasure and value them accordingly. 

Farmers, food plant workers, truckers, and grocery workers have never been more important in keeping us all supplied as we begin to shelter in place. These are vital jobs that makes our lives possible, and they too should be treasured and respected, commensurate with how much we rely upon them.

But even more, perhaps as we are given the opportunity to rise to this challenge, as the Body of Christ, we can be that light to the world that Jesus claims as central to his identity. We can reach out to those who are vulnerable or frightened and reassure them, just like our psalm does, to truly see with vulnerable, tender hearts, that we are never alone. We are always beloved. God has chosen us and anointed us, and provides us with all our hearts and souls need.

We just have to have the eyes to see, and the courage to be vulnerable, to open our hearts to each other, fearlessly.

Amen.

Preached at the 10:30 Morning Prayer service at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, during our first Sunday of online worship only.

Readings: