Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Prayer 799

God of Hosts, we bow before your glory, and bend the knee of our hearts before You.

In humble supplication, we ask You to forgive us all our offenses, and set new hearts within us, fixed on doing your will. With your saving hand lift us up, O Holy One, that we may be a holy people wholly dedicated to You. Nourished by your word and strengthened by our meditations, may we serve You this day with gladness. May we carry the banner of your salvation and peace into the world, serving the cause of Christ to proclaim your reign.

Loving One, send out your Spirit to bless and inspire us, and guide us in our journey to your truth. Draw us within your embrace, Lord Christ, and grant your peace to those we now name.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Prayer 798

Lord God, You call us into a new creation with You, and call us all each by name in love and tenderness. May we always seek to take You by the hand in all our ways, that we may never stray from your paths of mercy. 

Light a fire within us to build up your kingdom, and to establish a sure foundation of justice within our lives. Empower us with wisdom to work in the name of your love and hope, that we may truly live in peace and plenty before your throne. 

Cast your blessings like spring rain upon those who call your Name, and envelop us in a mantle of compassion and service to all. Bend near to all who are in distress or anxiety, O Healer, and place your hand of benediction on those we now name.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Prayer -Day 796

Loving One, we hunger for your presence, and praise You for your constancy. Let us walk faithfully in the path You have shown us through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Send your Spirit among us as a mighty wind to propel us across the seas of our troubles. Regard not our weaknesses but our desire to draw closer to You; forgive us for failing to see your goodness in others. Let us knit ourselves together in gentleness and kindness; hasten your kingdom within us. Lord, we lay our cares and concerns at your feet: send your peace to those whom we now name, especially those we now name. Amen.

(reprise of 246)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Prayer for Day 794

Glory to You, Loving One, glory to You: we rise to sing your praise. All things come into being at your Word: let all I do and all I am be inspired by You. You have molded all creation to work in harmony: let our love and obedience be a witness in the world. You abide with us in faithfulness even when we falter: may we seek you always in our need. You hold all our times in your hand: be with those who laugh and those who weep. May your Spirit rest upon those whose needs are known to You alone, and those whom we now name.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Prayer 793- Feast of the Annunciation

On the Feast of the Annunciation
O Holy One, may we stand before your courts, and hear and obey your call of love and faithfulness. 

May we open our hearts to welcome the good news from your prophets and messengers, O God, who sing out your salvation. May we hear your call and respond as your humble servants, eager to serve You and each other. 

Make us vessels in whom your truth overflows, for your love so great that we cannot contain it. Send us forth to do your will, to build and heal and comfort in the Name of the Lord. Press upon us the seal of your Spirit, and commission us to serve You with all our hearts. 

Draw us within your courts, O Almighty, and place your blessing upon those we now name.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Prayer 792

Our praises rise to our Creator and Protector, whose mercy endures forever! 

At your command, O Holy One, all things come to be, now and forever: we give You thanks for our manifold blessings. Some put their faith upon the power of fortunes or of princes, but we rest upon the love of God as our sure foundation. 

May we put our trust in the light of the God Who Saves, whose way is straight and sure. Loving One, be the wind at our backs that sends us upon our journeys, and guides us upon your way. Draw us within your embrace, O Light of Light, that we may dwell forever in the household of the Almighty. 

O God, our shield and our refuge, watch over us in all our ways, for you call us to paths of righteousness and peace. Place all who call upon You within the broad plain of your mercy, O Lord, and bend tenderly over those we now name.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Prayer 791

Almighty God, we lift our hearts to You as your children, and place our hands in yours to be led into your presence. 

May we fill our hearts with your love and wisdom, and drink deep of waters of peace and justice which flow from your throne. Refresh and replenish our souls, O Holy One, that we may spring up from our resting places and do your will today. 

Keep us as the apple of your eye, and make your face to shine upon us, that we may be instruments of peace and compassion to all. Guide us into the paths of righteousness, that we may walk gently upon the earth and seek companionship with all creation. Pour out the oil of blessing upon all who seek your truth and call upon You.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Church Under the Cross

This was also posted at The Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on March 22, 2015.

The death of the Church has been proclaimed over and over. I’m sure we’ve all heard the bad news: the Church is dying—or, at least our church is dying. Young people see no need for church, especially millennials, the newspapers crow. More people identify as atheist than at any other time, we are warned. In a book of Lenten meditations entitled God is on the Cross, the great German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about “the dying Church” as well. Many Christians in Germany during World War II doubtless feared that the Church was dying then as dictators tried to either kill it or co-opt it, and as madness reigned across continents that groaned under the feet of armies marching under the banners of death. Looking upon this crisis, Bonhoeffer made this observation: Believers “do not believe in people or in the good in people that ultimately must triumph; they also do not believe in the church in its human power. Rather, believers believe solely in God, who creates and does the impossible, who creates life out of death, who has called the dying church to life against and in spite of us and through us.”

Bonhoeffer imagines the church “under the cross.” So too our gospel reading for today turns our faces toward the cross and dares to reimagine what it means, just as we are being called to reimagine the Church and what it means in this time and place. The gospel reading for today, which explores the paradox of how death can bring life, is the hinge upon which the good news of the gospel of John is proclaimed. This is the point at which, as Jesus says, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” What caused this hour to finally come at this particular point? The world—in the form of some “Greeks,” which means us—has come to Jesus. And soon, soon, Jesus is going to be exalted—lifted up—on the cross and beyond the cross, held up to bring all of the world to God. What is considered by the world to be a sign of shame is instead going to be the means of exaltation.

In the gospel of John, this is the point where Jesus moves from his ministry toward his exaltation—and when we come to Jesus. Victory can push through to us at the darkest of times. For John, the crucifixion brings victory, because the cross brings the world to God. We don’t usually think of it this way, but the metaphor of the grain of wheat helps us remember this too. Jesus speaks again in paradox. In order to live we must die to all that separates us from the love of God. Those who die to themselves will finally have a full life.

How do we (and John) understand the paradox that the cross is a symbol of victory and power rather than dishonor and disgrace? A death which is a sign of torture is instead a triumph. This was a scandalous idea at the time it was formulated, as it also is for us. Crucifixion was the means of execution for rebels and for murderers, and it was a terrible, lingering way to die.

But by casting back to the events of the history of Israel, John sees that the saving power of the cross has already been hinted at. Last week we heard the story of the people of Israel being saved by looking upon a symbol of a serpent (or seraph, depending on how you translate the original Hebrew) raised up on a pole, and looking upon that sign saved them from death. The reading from John’s gospel last week started off making explicit the connection between this sign and the lifting up of Jesus on the cross.

Jesus is usually presented as being unafraid of the cross throughout John’s gospel. However, our reading today includes acknowledgement that Jesus admitted that his “soul was troubled.” Jesus is human. We always have to remember that, because if Jesus is not fully human, how can he save us and show us a better way to live that we ourselves can emulate? The love of God that we understand through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus lifts us all up and calls us to transformation.

The metaphor of the solitary grain of wheat falling to the ground is a homely, pastoral image, one to which many of Jesus’s followers could relate. That single grain must fall to the ground to be buried before it can spring to life abundantly and anew; otherwise it remains a single grain—and in the original Greek the term actually means “remains alone.”

There is a message here for us, as Christians and as Episcopalians, as well. Unless we as individuals are willing to be transformed—to let go of our old life of suspicion, and hardness of heart, and fear– we can have no trust in the love Jesus has for us, and we cannot be true servants of Christ. We have to break through the rocky soil of our own hearts to allow the seed of the promise of God’s love to grow. Likewise, unless we as the Church are willing to let go of how we have always understood ourselves, we too cannot break through to new life and new growth.

Prayer 790

Fairest Lord Jesus, draw us before your altars today, and feed us with your word and sacraments. Strengthen us in bonds of love, faithfulness, and charity, propelled by hope to build your reign in our hearts. 

May the shade of your blessing overspread us, and the peace of your fellowship bind us firmly together in your name. May we drink deeply of the living water from the wells of salvation, bought by You in your love for us. May we join hands across all that we allow to divide us, and see your face, O Beloved, in each one we see around your altar. 

Turn our hearts to your truth, and turn our feet to walk in paths of mercy, following the footsteps of saints and disciples who have gone before us. Shower us with your blessing, O Holy One, and stretch forth your hand of healing and comfort to those we now name.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ready to Hear, Ready to Speak: On the Feast of Thomas Cranmer

This was also posted at The Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on March 21, 2015.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

The above is a collect written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, whose feast day we celebrate today, more than five hundred years after his martyrdom. Much of the Book of Common Prayer bears his imprimatur, even if many Episcopalians and Anglicans are barely acquainted with him.  Because Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the separation of the English Church from the Roman Church, he ended up shaping the first prayer books in use in the Anglican Communion even to our own 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Some of the greatest hits of the prayer book are his: “O God, make speed to save us; O Lord, make haste to help us.” “We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts….” “Give unto your servants that peace which the world cannot give….” The collect above is one of my favorite collects right from the start, since it touches upon a subject near to my heart: prayer.

“Almighty God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve….” How often many of us feel that we do not know how to pray, or what to say when we pray. Sometimes we get frustrated with defaulting too soon to what have been called “wish-list” prayers: God, watch over my mother and my father; help me get through this coming week; help heal Aunt Jeanne’s cancer, those kinds of things. At other times we get frustrated that this kind of prayer is all we seem to pray, other than the Lord’s Prayer. Yet Cranmer put his finger on an important truth: God is ready to listen no matter how much we stumble over words in our prayers. Yet perhaps sometimes we should just cut ourselves a break. My United Church of Christ brothers and sisters like to say that “God is Still Speaking.” We Episcopalians, people of the Book of Common Prayer, should always try to remember that God is always listening, lovingly and patiently, even if we feel we cannot find the right words. If in prayer we are not ready to speak, we can make ourselves ready to hear. Ironically, Archbishop Cranmer himself has provided us hundreds of the right words when we seem stuck, in his beautiful collects and prayers which he either translated or wrote himself.

“Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask ….” Here, Cranmer touches upon the ideas of mercy and grace. Even during Lent, we Episcopalians do not like to think very much about sins—unless it is about those sins committed against us. We also do not think very much about salvation and how that works. Yet one of the most overwhelming realities we seek to grasp as Christians is God’s unending love for us. God’s love is one that seeks us out again and again and never rests when we hold ourselves aloof in our relationships with both God and each other. Abundant mercy, amazing grace—two different sides of the same coin. Mercy is shown in not punishing us as justice would demand but instead forgiving us. Grace is granted in GIVING us the blessing of salvation, right here and now, which we can never earn. Cranmer helps us ask God to pour out both grace and mercy over us, forgiveness and blessing, the weft and warp of our lives seeking God.

“…[E]xcept through the merits and mediation of  Jesus Christ our savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” It is through Jesus and his incarnation, as God-with-us, that we have an advocate and guide in living our lives as a holy people, beloved of God. One of the things Christians do is pray in the name of Christ, our Friend and Companion—literally, “he who breaks bread with us.” When we gather around the altar at Eucharist, we gather with each other and with Christ, who feeds us, body and soul, satisfying our deepest longings for meaning in a world in which all too often we can feel adrift.

Cranmer’s latest biographer, Diarmid MacCulloch, notes in his introduction that Archbishop Cranmer was intensely private, yet his words live on today to touch and shape our most public expressions of faith through our liturgy. Thomas Cranmer is, in many ways, the bishop who still teaches us how to pray, and reminds us that God is ready to hear.