Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Prayer 981

This craftsman in St. Lucia , Mr. Eustace, made sculptures from coconut shells, patiently and lovingly working as he recalled his customers with stories.

Almighty God, your mercy and loving-kindness is never-failing: hear our prayers, we pray. Give us patience and compassion for others, that we may be loving and gracious in all we do. Give us forbearance and compassion for those who have hurt us, as we would hope to receive for our own failures. Give us strength and compassion to work for justice and peace, to live out your call to love and value all living beings. Give us gentleness and compassion to walk gently and reverently upon the earth, the first gift of love you gave us. May we unify our hearts and minds in pursuit of your kingdom of love, O Christ, and carry your gospel with joy into the world. Remember those whom we lift up before you, and grant them your peace, O Holy One, we pray.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Prayer 980- Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels

The statue at Place Saint-Michel in Paris which is the feature of the Fontaine Saint-Michel at the end of the Pont Saint-Michel, in the Latin Quarter near Shakespeare and Company Books.

Lord Jesus Christ, we put our trust in You, and extol your saving help throughout all lands. May our spirits rejoice in the beauty of God's wonders; may we give thanks and praise for all our blessings. We put our trust in You, O Holy One, and proclaim the beauty of the Lord, our strength and shield. Give us the boldness to proclaim your gospel in word and deed, we pray, O Holy One. Keep us under the shadow of your wing, O God, and draw us onto the paths of peace. Almighty and Merciful God, we rest within your embrace: hear the prayer of your people as we pray.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Prayer 979

Let me sit in stillness, and open my heart to the presence of God, to mend the cracks, and to fill the corners and crevices. Infuse my spirit to overflowing, O Holy One, for in silence I wait upon Thee. 

Like cool water over dry and thirsty ground, let your wisdom and peace wash over me. 
In the face of storms within and without, You have made this space within me one of sure reliance upon your goodness. 
Let me drink deeply of your wisdom, O Christ, and may I go forth in the name of justice and mercy today. 

May I carry a Spirit of Loving-kindness within me, and walk humbly with my God and my fellow-beings. May I be a voice of compassion, love, comfort, and healing to those I meet.  

May I attend to your truth in all my ways, O God: let my prayer come to Thee as I pray.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Prayer, day 978

How blessed and wonderful it is to come into your sanctuary, O God of Unchanging Wisdom! Let us raise our hands in thanksgiving for your unending mercy and forbearance. Let us raise our hearts, to be dedicated anew to following your pathways. Let us raise our eyes from our troubles to see your unfailing Love for us in creation and in each other. Let us proclaim your salvation in the world by all that we do this day, and see your image in the faces of those around us. Guide, guard, and strengthen us this day, and rest your hand specifically on these, your beloveds.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Prayer 977

Almighty and All-Merciful One, we rise to sing your praises in gratitude for your blessings! 

May we be the servants of God, rejoicing in the work You have set before us. May we be lovers of truth and justice, knowing justice delayed is justice denied. May we resound with songs of praise and hope, lifting our eyes to see our the light of Christ in all. May we humbly reconcile with all whom we have hurt, and seek to walk in peace and compassion henceforth. 

United by your promises of mercy, bless and keep us this day, Lord Christ, and bless those for whom we pray.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Shelter and Shadow: Speaking to the Soul, September 25, 2015

This was first posted at The Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on September 25, 2015.

The Psalms appointed for evening prayer today are among my favorite in scripture. Together with Psalm 90, they form an introduction to what is known as Book IV of the Psalter. They radiate hope and trust. They comfort us in times of grief, when we are anxious or afraid. The fill us with the warmth of the love of a God who is gracious, whose loving-kindness never fades.

Some days it feels like we have the world on a string. Other days are filled with struggle and loss. Psalms 91 and 92 resonate on both kinds of days.  Their promises of God’s love and protection ring true, and hold up to us our reliance on God and God’s companionship with us in all seasons.  There are some beautiful images used for God in these two psalms. In Psalm 91, God is described as our shelter, our habitation—our safe home, a place of rest. Four times we are reminded that God is our refuge—and even more than a refuge, a stronghold. God is a mighty mother bird, with strong pinions and sheltering wings to draw her children close to Her and envelop us in safety. In Psalm 92, the beloved of God are referred to as being rooted in God as either a palm tree or a cedar of Lebanon, mighty trees whose roots run deep even during tempests and storms.

The first verse we will read tonight reminds us of the  encompassing love of God:

Those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High
abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

These two psalms call us to draw in a breath, and let it out. Feel that? The more mindful we are of our breathing, the more we are aware of the blessings God has given us, starting with our very breaths, given to us in creation, give to us from our births.  As we breathe, we feel the sheltering wings of the Almighty, which provide us refuge and respite as we catch those breaths, as we gather strength and are clasped within the  embrace of the One who is beside us always, who never sleeps.

That shadow we rest under is the cool shade of the garden, the underside of every green leaf warmed by the sun. It is the promise of being bound to God in love-- Love which is also the Name of God that echoes in our hearts. As Psalm 92 reminds us, this story of love and faithfulness fills all our days, and elicits from us a song to God of wonder:

To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning
and of your faithfulness in the night season;

bearing us up through joy and through storm, ever steadfast, ever faithful, never failing. God’s grace is abundant and steadfast; it calls to us to sink our roots deep and flourish, to spread like a palm tree or a cedar and claim our piece of sky, but also to share in the work of God to provide shelter and shade throughout creation.  

O Almighty One, we thank You for granting us shelter and shadow. Help us to know your grace, to rest and root ourselves in You. Amen.

Prayer 976

Eucharist at Camp Phoenix, 2015.

Almighty One, look with compassion upon the whole human family whom You have made in your image. Help us to see the chance to serve you in the face of each person we meet. Help us overcome the arrogance and selfishness that lurks in our hearts. Help us to be mindful of the needs and concerns of others. And spread your wings of Love and respite over these for whom we pray this day.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Prayer 975

(Inspired by the Jubilate)
You are the source of all goodness, O God, and our shelter in times of trial. The lands ring out their joy to God, whose mercy never fails. God calls each one by name, and we answer our shepherd's call. We know You have made us and are with us, O Loving One, and we sing your praise. Your gates open before us; let us enter with thanksgiving, sure in your reception and protection of us. We call upon You and You answer us, for your faithfulness endures from age to age. Strengthen and vouchsafe those who call upon You, especially these for whom we pray.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Prayer 974- In memory of Father Emery Washington

Father Emery Washington passed away September 21 after a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a holy man and a gentleman, and a valiant champion of good. And he was my friend.

In peace, we pray to You, Most Holy One, to raise our hearts and hopes to You, through whom all things came to be. 

May we remember our dependence upon your creation, and care for it tenderly and faithfully, in gratitude. 
May we cling to your ways and follow your paths of peace and compassion, O God. 
May we embody your wisdom in faithfulness and gentleness. 
May we open our hearts that the light of Christ may fill us, and shine forth from our faces. 
May we seek always to support and encourage each other in the work of your kingdom, O Lord, that the Spirit guide all our steps. 
May goodness and mercy follow us all our days, and may we dwell in peace and equity with all creation. 

Merciful God, we ask that You place your blessing upon us, and grant your benediction to those we now name.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Prayer, day 973

O God, You have known and treasured us through all of our days: we praise you for your steadfast love! Guide us to walk in your ways, that the works of our hands may find favor in your sight. Inscribe your precepts upon our hearts, for we are prone to wander from the paths of wisdom. Kindle within us the flame of lovingkindness, that we may be humble and righteous in all we do for the glory of your Name. Look with favor upon your children whom we now name.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Prayer, day 972

Reflections from the stained glass at the rear of the nave at Holy Communion,
as seen on the back of the processional cross.

O Creator God, we thank you for this beautiful Earth You have made as our abode. We thank you for the family of humanity in all the places we call home. Help us to know and celebrate the common bonds that unite us regardless of race, creed, wealth, or nationality. We thank you for those who care for the lost, who comfort the sick, who welcome the stranger. Help us cherish each other and learn from each other, tied together in mutuality as Your beloved children. Strengthen those who sorrow or who hurt or who fear, especially these we now name.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Beginning of Wisdom: Sermon for Proper 20, Year B


First impressions, we are told, mean a lot. I have been truly blessed already in just the few days that I have been with you here at Church of the Good Shepherd. I can tell you that I have been welcomed, and I have been uplifted by your spirit of joy and faith. I want to begin today with telling you all how grateful I feel to be among you and to be welcomed into your midst.

First words mean a lot. Think of famous first lines in literature. Jane Austen began Pride and Prejudice with this insight: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning began her most famous poem, Sonnet 43, with these words of adoration, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 begins, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate….” 

Just as I believe that Austen, and Barrett Browning, and Shakespeare all chose their opening words carefully, so it is, I think, with scripture. Genesis fittingly begins with the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth….” Mark, probably the first gospel written in the Christian scriptures, echoes Genesis when it opens with the proclamation, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The Gospel of John is even more obvious in its reverberation of creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The first words that jumped out at me today in our readings came from our Psalm, Psalm 1.  Its first two verses are these:

Happy are they
who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seat of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.”

Think of it: the very first word of the Psalter is “Happy.”

Now some versions of the Bible use a different word: “Blessed.” That’s an amazing thing. Happiness here is explained to us as something deeper than mere giddiness, but a sense of being rooted in community with God and all creation. And those who are happy in this way know their blessings, no matter what else may come.

This is an insight that all too often gets drowned out in the lives of many of us. We are programmed to think about satisfaction—or more importantly, the lack of it. We are told to buy, buy, buy. We are persuaded that products will make us more beautiful, thinner, fuller—as if those three things could coexist at the same place and time. But will those things make us truly happy? Will they make us truly blessed?

Psychologist Martin Seligman has claimed that there are three components of happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning, and the last two are the most important in living a happy life—while pleasure is fleeting, being engaged with others and feeling a sense of positive purpose in one’s life is more enduring, and leads to a general determination that life is worthwhile. Happiness does not rest in things. Happiness rests in living life well, in communion.

Most of us do not live our lives feeling happy all the time, or even most of the time. There are so many things that are beyond our control. There are too many things that tug at our attention and draw us into feeling lost.

Yet Psalm 1 points to something that IS in our control. Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord, who meditate upon it day and night. This then requires a further determination of the law and what its ultimate ends are. Here, we are fortunately given the answer in Mark 12:29-30. When asked what the pinnacle of God’s law was, Jesus answered: “The first is this: ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

This is the basis for true connectedness and purpose, that which will make us truly happy. This is the summation of the law, Jesus tells us AND shows us, over and over again. The law of God is meant to connect us with others and give our lives a sense of purpose. Contrary to what gets portrayed on the news where Christians are concerned, the law of God is meant to bring us together and make us joy-filled people! This is the beginning of wisdom.

What all four of the readings for today have in common is a continuation of a discussion over the last few weeks about wisdom. Proverbs are wisdom sayings. Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm. The Epistle of James might seem to be the exception here, but it’s not. James is about action-- and reminded us a couple of weeks ago that “faith without works is dead.” Fifty-four times, the Book of James includes an imperative statement—a command or exhortation to do this thing or another. (Who here has guessed that I was once an English teacher?) Biblical scholar Elizabeth Johnson explains that this may be why the letter of James is often unpopular: no one likes being told what to do!

But James’s real subject is wisdom, and in scripture, especially, wisdom is not about just being smart. It’s about living a good life—a life devoted to God and neighbor, which all too often is depicted as NOT being smart in our society.

Now I’ll be honest: as I was studying the readings for today, there was another thing that stood out to me. Several of these passages include stuff I don’t want to hear.

I don’t want to hear about how a “good woman is hard to find,” especially when that “good wife” is someone depicted as a woman who works her fingers to the bone so that her husband can go sit around with the elders all day and be admired. That’s how some people have interpreted that section of Proverbs, instead of understanding the good woman as THE personification of wisdom—a gift from God which draws us into closer relationship with God and each other, and will indeed then help us all live a better life.

And then I look at the passage from Mark. You know, the author of Mark is always hard on the disciples, constantly making them seem not just foolish but what the Irish would call “thick”—the opposite of wise. In today’s gospel, for the second time, they are painted as being too thick to understand what the gospel writer, with his gift of time and hindsight clearly understands—that Jesus will be handed over and killed and raised again.

Then they are depicted arguing over status right after Jesus tries to tell them what lies in store. They seem to engage in foolish posturing and competition just at the time when they should be engaged in seeking the heart of wisdom. They are silent just when they should be asking questions.

But here’s where God’s wisdom seems foolish to the eyes of the world. Jesus tells them the first shall be last and the last will be first. He puts his arms around a little child and holds it up as the most valuable thing in the world, at a time when small children were nothing but a drain on the survival of the household until they got old enough to work. And even though our Savior is probably rolling his eyes, he still keeps loving those thick-headed disciples, which certainly is good news of grace and hope for all of us, who so very, very often get it all wrong—especially when we try to be clever in the ways of the world.

Yet we worship a God whose wisdom is often seen as foolishness in the eyes of that very same world. A God who tells us to love people the world sees as broken, and love them fully.

We follow a savior who took a hard message and made its delivery even more unpalatable to the movers and shakers of his time by hanging out with notorious outcasts of all stripes—blind men and lepers, grieving widows, dirty peasants who stink of fish guts, and—my personal favorite:
uppity women who refuse to stay in their nice little boxes, and who run around telling tales of miraculous doings that seem not just foolish but crazy, then and now.

THESE people made up Jesus’s family of choice! These are our ancestors in the faith!

In her latest book, Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber remarks: “Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent out stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.”

Jesus came not to make us complacent but to shake us up, and he is always using unlikely people to do it. Even people like you, and me.

The summary of the law, the key to happiness, the heart of wisdom, is love: love of God, and love of each other. When we do this, we bless God, and bless each other. But we also bless ourselves, and remind ourselves of what roots us in the heart of real truth, and real happiness. The key is not to sit in "the seat of scoffers," to all-too-coolly hold ourselves aloof from real connection and real risk in loving, but to embrace love of others—even in their messiness and imperfections-- and damn the risk of failure. This kind of love never fails, but is, to quote Shakespeare again in Sonnet 116, "an ever-fixed mark, that looks on tempests, and is never shaken."

That's the wisdom—and LOVE-- God offers us and at the same time calls us to embody. Happy are those who delight in the law of love, which is the end of all our days, and the promise of all our longings. Alleluia!