Monday, November 30, 2015

Prayer, day 1042

Lighting of the first candle on the Advent Wreath,
November 29, 2015, Church of the Good Shepherd, Town and Country, MO.

God of all Grace, You are the source of all being. You are the fount of every blessing, and your mercy endures forever. Help us to lift our eyes from the cares and concerns that trouble us, and see your goodness in our lives. Help us to be grateful for all that we have, and set our sights on the Higher Ground that we have in You. We know that You are our very present help in all times of trouble, and we thank You and bless You for our breath, our life, our hope. We ask that your radical love hover especially over these beloveds whom we lift up in our prayers today.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Prayer, day 1041

O Love Divine, we seek to ascend to a more perfect understanding of you each day. We hope to send our prayer and worship toward you like incense that rises from the altar of our souls. We settle our hearts upon your Word that speaks to us in stillness. Accept the oblation of our wills and our minds to worship You without ceasing and to praise You forever. Give your angels charge, loving God, over those who worry, or wait, or suffer pain.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Prayer 1040

King Kameameha and Queen Emma, whom we remember today in the calendar of the saints of the Church.
Photo from

Blessed Jesus, extend your arms of love around us, that we remember we are your own. May we rejoice in the fellowship of God, and sing hallelujahs with all of creation for all your saving deeds, O Holy One. 

Send forth the Spirit to fill us with zeal for service and a thirst for wisdom, we pray. Give us a reverence for the earth and that dwells therein, O God, for all are miraculous works of your mighty hand. 

When we see a hand offered to us today, Lord Christ, let us take it, and rejoice in the common bonds that unite us as your children. 

Cover those who are in need with the mantle of your grace and mercy, and grant to the departed eternal rest. Most Merciful One, we lift up these beloveds before You, and ask your blessing upon them.


Friday, November 27, 2015

Time for gratitude: Speaking to the Soul, November 27, 2015

Today is the day after Thanksgiving, but it is still a day with its own mythos. It’s Black Friday—a day with its own rituals, its own traditions, its own expectations.  For some people, this is the start of the Christmas season. For some of us, we’ve been staring in shock at Christmas decorations in the aisles of the local drugstore since Labor Day—and many of us of the Episcopal persuasion mutter under our breaths about some weird counter-cultural thing called “Advent.” For years, though, the actual mad rush for retail kicked off on this day—Friday. And by the time many of you read this, some people will have been shopping for more than eight hours!

But the last couple of years, as part of the endless competition among retailers for advantage, some stores have opened on Thanksgiving Day itself. There have been some who see no harm in this—after all, people are free to shop, or not shop, right? Others push back against the idea of commerce on a national holiday that traditionally has been about time with family, and take vows not to shop anywhere that opens on Thanksgiving Day itself. Having once been required by the circumstances in my life to work in retail, I remember well the experience of Black Friday from a worker’s standpoint. I am pleased to report that the flashbacks and the nightmares stopped many years ago—although I will never forget the shopper who changed his baby’s poopy diaper on the floor of the bookstore where I worked and then left it and TWO OTHERS there in the shelves (yes!) of the picture books section. It was the ultimate “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

But I wonder if we do not risk losing something precious if this breaching of the barrier becomes widespread. Thanksgiving may be a federal holiday, and a secular one, but it is nonetheless therefore a sacred day in the truest sense of the word. It is a secular version of the wise biblical practice of sabbath, which helped everyone in the community be equals for one day a week. Therefore, I do not think it is either right or good for anyone for stores to be open on Thanksgiving.  I am also thankful for and mindful of our emergency workers who must leave their families and homes on this day, and I fear that, if more and more people see this as just another shopping day, more of these wonderful people will by necessity be deprived of Thanksgiving than those who already are. Once the line is breached, and it is business as usual on Thanksgiving, it will be gone forever. Thanksgiving-- and thanksgiving-- should not be a luxury for a few.

Thanksgiving became an official federal holiday in 1863, by Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. It was a dark time in American history. Not quite five months after the simultaneous crucibles of Gettysburg in the eastern theatre of the war, and Vicksburg in the western theatre, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that the war would end any time soon, much less that the country would emerge unified. Yet it was at a time such as this that President Lincoln called on the entire nation to pause and give thanks for all the good things with which we were blessed.  Here is the opening sentence of Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation (

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

Even at a time when the country was riven by conflict, nonetheless there was cause for gratitude. And in calling the country to pause to give thanks, Lincoln was recognizing the important unifying function that holidays such as Thanksgiving perform. They remind us of the things that bring us together as a people. Yet, holidays such as this also do not have any sort of obvious religious component that would serve to exclude: no matter what one’s religion—or lack of it—all can participate in being thankful; all can celebrate the good things they have, and remember that we are brothers and sisters.

And I think, at its best, Thanksgiving performs a vital function of asking us to slow down, to reflect on the good things we have, to be grateful-- and hopefully, to have empathy for those less fortunate than ourselves. Thanksgiving should be about community and taking care of each other. People who are forced by economic hardship to work on days such as this do not have freedom or choice. They HAVE to work, often at part-time jobs that demand from them full-time availability. And I am not sure that for one or two days a year it isn't good to pull back from the rampant consumerism that sickens our society and be able to enjoy time with family, friends, or just rest-- for the sake of all of our souls. Because the mad sales scrums of Black Friday will be here soon enough and are indeed upon us. As they say on Game of Thrones: Winter is Coming.

May we remember even in the bustle to sit back, take a breath, and continue to remember what really matters, no matter what storms may blow around us. Gratitude is always necessary. Abraham Lincoln was right to designate Thanksgiving a national holiday, and he did it in the midst of a terrible crisis in our country's history. Even in the worst of times, we should look for that for which we can be thankful, even when it has been somewhat co-opted as the opening salvo of the War of Christmas that is the shopping season. Especially as we leap headlong into Black Friday, it’s nice to remember that time is our most precious gift of all. And, for some of us, at least we still have Advent!

(This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on November 27, 2015.)

Prayer, day 1039

O Love Who Exceeds All Other Loves, teach us to love each other as You have loved us. Teach us to be an anchor and safe harbor for those who are adrift in a sea of uncertainty. Teach us to build our trust upon You, as our rock and sure foundation. Teach us to be your disciples and to walk in your paths. And strengthen, guard, and comfort, we pray, these whom we lift before you today.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Prayer, day 1038- For Thanksgiving Day

For Thanksgiving Day
Almighty God, we lift our hearts to give thanks to You. Our cups overflow with all You have given us: we are blessed indeed! Happy are those who act with justice, and always seek what is good and right! 

Uphold us in your embrace, for You are the source of all good things, our Creator and Companion. Make us a blessing to our brothers and sisters, kith and kin, remembering the blessing of love in our lives. 

Thank You for the sure foundation of love and companionship that reminds us of Your unfailing love for us. Extend your hand of blessing over us, O Holy One, and make us a holy people, drawn together in harmony. 

Protect us, guide us, inspire us, and nurture us as we journey through this precious life You have given us. Shield, guard, and protect those for whom we pray this day.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Prayer, day 1037

Merciful God, you encompass us in a mother's love and guide and protect us each moment. We laud and magnify your Name, and thank you for the blessings You shower upon us. Create in us the will to love, to encourage, to persevere, to act to being about your kingdom. Open our eyes and our hearts to our brothers and sisters who need our help. Help us to see Jesus in the soul in pain, the homeless wanderer, the person right next to us. Help us to manifest your love in the world. And we ask your blessing upon those whom we raise up in our prayers.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Prayer 1036

The youth presence at the Diocese of Missouri's 176th convention last week included a self-proclaimed photobomb by Bishop Smith.

Come, let us walk humbly with our God today, that our lives testify and worship the Lord with all we do. 

Our help comes from You, O Holy One: give us the strength and the wisdom to persevere in all our struggles today. 
O God, we pray for peace in our homes, peace in our communities, peace in our nation, and for peace in the world. 
May we remember that the foundation of peace is justice and equity, compassion and mercy, repentance and forgiveness, strength and love. 

May God's love be our mantle against the chill of fear, and our shade against the heat of turmoil. 
Lord Jesus, reign in our hearts and teach us your ways: draw us all within your healing embrace as we pray.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Prayer, day 1035

You are our song, O God; You make our hearts glad as we enter your courts. Make us a holy people, consecrated and dedicated and determined to glorify your Name. Breathe on us, O Breath of God: fill us with your Spirit, and propel us into those places which most need the light of Christ. In your great mercy forgive us all our offenses, against both You and our brothers and sisters. Remembering the great blessings You have given us, let us open our hearts to those who have no place to rest. May we open our hearts so that Christ may reign in them always. Rest your hand upon all those whom we now name.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Prayer 1034- For Christ the King Sunday

During a baptism, a young parishioner gets a great view of the font.

Lord Jesus Christ, reign in our hearts today and always as our King and our Teacher. Teach us to live as true children of God, walking in ways of peace, gentleness, and compassion for all living things. 

Exercise your healing power over a world in which too many suffer, O Savior, by working through us as your servants. Inspire us by the Holy Spirit, O God, to live with each other in love and faithfulness, strengthened around your altar. 

Holy One, bless and keep us in your embrace, and stretch out your hand of blessing over all who call upon You.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Prayer 1033- At diocesan convention

New deacon Elizabeth Simpson receives a Bible from Bishop George Wayne Smith at the Eucharist and ordination held to open the 176th Convention of the Diocese of Missouri.

Almighty and merciful God, we rise with a song of praise on our lips for all your wondrous deeds. Let us waken the dawn with a prayer of thankfulness, that we may rejoice forever in You, O Holy Lord, God of power and blessing. 

Let us treat no one with contempt or ill-will, but let us take joy in each other by the power of the Holy Spirit. We dedicate ourselves anew to serving You, Holy One, for You are making a new heaven and earth within us. 

Unite us to You and each other through the love of Christ, and make us steadfast and sure in discerning your path of love, we pray. Restore all things good and right, loving and pure within us, O Prince of Peace. 

Lord Jesus, we bend the knee of our hearts before You: we ask that you draw our loved ones within the circle of your embrace.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Kingdom of mercy: Speaking to the Soul, November 30, 2015

It’s in our national DNA to distrust kings. Yet here we are, preparing to celebrate “Christ the King” Sunday.

Actually, it goes deeper than that. It’s in our nature to distrust authority, to resist anything or any organization or any person who violates our beloved sense of autonomy and independence. We don’t like kings. Yet, once again, here we are, preparing to celebrate “Christ the King” Sunday.

With all the fear and rejection of others different than us being promoted right now, it’s natural that we would want to protect ourselves, seal ourselves off, fortify our position, launch a strike against all those who come begging us for help. We’ve got problems of our own, after all.

Yet if we take seriously the claiming of the banner of Christ as our own, we haughty individualists soon come to realize one thing very quickly: we can’t claim Christ without Christ claiming us.  We can’t be Christians and seal ourselves off from others. Having a personal relationship with Jesus as our own personal savior means nothing if we do not allow that same Savior to reign in our hearts, in our actions, in our lives. Faith saves us, yes, but faith has to animate and illuminate us, too. Faith is the air that miracles breathe.

This King isn’t interested in taxing us to build palaces or temples or even stadiums. This King isn’t interested in leading avenging armies. This King asks us to throw open the doors of our hearts, and invite others in-- the poor, the desperate, the orphan, the cast-off, the rejected. We are asked to look deep into the faces of those in the margins, and really see what’s reflected there. Yes, those are real precious lives who are asking for welcome, compassion, and mercy. Look closer. If we look with the eyes of our hearts, we might see reflected our own faces, hoping for welcome, compassion, and mercy. Look closer still. The eyes of our hearts might see the face of Christ, hoping for welcome, who calls us to live in a kingdom of compassion and mercy.

This King is not a King of this world, but a Prince of Peace. If Christ can welcome us and love us exactly as we are, he doesn’t ask us to stay there. Christ as our King still calls us forward to be the very best versions of ourselves, our sharp edges rubbed smooth in the tumble of a community of saints and witnesses, dedicated to the one who comes humbly asking to reign in our hearts.

Come, Lord Jesus. Let us welcome You to reign over us.

(This was first posted at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul for November 20, 2015.)

Prayer 1032

Almighty God, we praise and bless You, and glorify your Name as we rise to take up our labors today. Accept the offering of our time, talent, and worship that we offer before You, and consecrate them to your service, we pray. 

Lord Jesus, grant us wisdom and charity to guide all our endeavors, that our works may find favor in your sight and help build your kingdom. Strengthen the hearts of your servants, O Holy One, that we may be united through love to care for each other as our own. 

Grant your comfort to all who are in need, O God, and help us work to bring justice and peace to the world. Buoyed by your love and faithfulness, O Loving One, we lift up these beloveds and ask Your blessing upon them.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Prayer, day 1031

The heart of our galaxy, as seen from the Hubble Telescope.

O God, your voice comes to us, reminding us that we are standing on holy ground. The Earth is yours and all that is in it: You are making heaven and earth, called to renewal in compassion. 

We come before you in awe for your limitless glory, which you exercise as limitless mercy. Your promise of love to us is as vast as the stars and as deep as the reaches of space, yet as warm as a mother's embrace. Help us to worship you in each step we take upon the path before us today. 

Watch over and strengthen, we pray, these whose names we place before you.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Prayer, day 1030

As the glory of morning fills the skies, and drives away the shadows and cares of night, we praise and bless you O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We look forward in hope to this new day, shielded by your love and compassion. Strengthen us to face all trials that seek to ensnare us; awaken us to welcome all blessings with joy and thankfulness. May we be united in your truth and mercy, O Love Beyond All Loves, to abide forever in You. Blessed Jesus, You are the light of the world; enlighten our hearts and minds as we seek to do your will. We lift before you these, our beloved friends and family; help us to soothe and protect them this day.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Prayer, day 1029

Osage Monastery Forest of Peace, Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

O merciful one, we thank you for your care of us. 
We thank you for each other, and thank you for making us so that we seek out communion with you and with each other. 
We thank you for those who care for the ill, the friendless, the lonely. 
We thank you for doctors and nurses, for priests and deacons, rabbis, pastors, imams, for policemen and firemen.
Watch over those without shelter and warmth or who labor in the cold. 
Help us open our hearts to the orphan, the destitute, and the refugee, loving them as we love ourselves. 
Watch over those bent with worry or pain. We ask your care and blessing upon these, your children.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Prayer, day 1028

We dwell in the shadow of the Almighty, who promises to guard us and guide us even as we stumble or are troubled. We face our challenges with confidence because You promise to envelop us in a refuge and fortress of Love that can never be shaken. No matter what we face this day, O God, we praise you, and we thank you for healing, for the skill of doctors and nurses, for the love of friends and family. Every moment we receive from you is a precious gift that we can use to glorify you and your mighty works which manifest in all we see. We ask your care and blessing upon these, your children.

33, 79

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Grounded in holiness: sermon for Proper 28, year B


Sermon Proper 28B (Ingathering Sunday)
November 15, 2015

Last week in our gospel we heard the story of the “Widow’s Mite.” We were led to contemplate how the Church might actually represent the widow in the story—giving our all to God all for nothing but the sake of Christ—in other words, for the greatest free thing in all the world: love.

This week we hear stories about worship in our readings. The story of Hannah is centered around the shrine at Shiloh that contained the Ark of the Covenant. And our gospel reading from Mark continues the discussion Jesus and his disciples are having about the Temple. Yet I think love is woven into this, as well, since worship is all about love- love for God, and love for each other.

Places of worship come and go, but the ways we worship God are more important. Shiloh was an important place of worship—until it was overrun and looted. Then the First Temple was built at Jerusalem by Solomon. That Temple, in turn, was destroyed, and it was only after a long exile that a new Temple replaced it. That second Temple was then further expanded by King Herod, whose family governed Israel as puppets and collaborators under the Roman Empire during the life of Jesus.

Our gospel story depicts Jesus and his disciples discussing the Temple that Herod had expanded. Allegedly, it was an amazing sight, with marble columns and pavements, and it was so massive that its walls were sixteen feet thick in places. And some of those stones that the disciples remarked about weighed over 100 tons EACH. All of this magnificence was paid for by taxes that Herod and the religious authorities levied upon the people, whether wealthy patrons or poor widows.

This Temple may have been declared to be the center of the worship of God, but the guy whose name was all over it was HEROD’S, and it was a monument to Herod’s claims to power and legitimacy as a ruler. The problem of the Temple for Jesus is that it was NOT dedicated to the humble work of love, the work of building up the community, the work of worshiping God.

In our first reading, Hannah’s entire household—including her husband’s other wife and children-- are on pilgrimage at Shiloh, yet Hannah was restless and troubled. Although beloved by her husband, she is childless. Her husband doesn’t seem to understand the depths of Hannah’s pain—possibly because he has children with his other wife. Yet Hannah knows that if, God forbid, something were to happen to her husband, she would be absolutely destitute-- just like that poor widow in last week’s gospel.

Hannah gets up from the family feast to go and pray alone before the Ark, observed by Eli, the priest. Humbly but fervently, she begs God for a son, even promising to give that child back to God’s service as soon as he is weaned. She begins praying so hard yet so silently that Eli thinks she’s drunk. After defending herself, Eli bids her go in peace. But something shifted during that prayer. Hannah is “remembered” by God, and blessed with a son, who was named Samuel, meaning “God hears me.” Hannah will give birth to that son, only to give him to Eli, to grow up in the sanctuary at Shiloh, and serve God as a prophet and judge of Israel.

Hannah eventually sings a great song of victory after the birth of her son, which will be very similar to another song of victory sung by a young woman named Mary, inspired by her own impending motherhood. I want to mention it so that we understand that Hannah worshiped and praised God as much as she railed at God. Hannah had first approached God with angry pleadings, but eventually she sings a great song of power and rejoicing. Hannah’s marginalized status was overturned through her very great faith.  In a few weeks, Mary will also sing about the greatness of God and all God’s works in overturning the hierarchies of power, to bring restoration of God’s design for peace and justice. Hannah and Mary are linked: they each have a son, and they raise him and love him only to give him away to serve God. They give all they have out of love. Just like the widow in last week’s gospel.

Our sermon last week closed with imagining that the widow had gone home from the Temple, not to impending starvation, but to the loving care of others—perhaps someone who witnessed her act pressed some money into her hands, perhaps she had her own loving daughter-in-law to help her, as Naomi had Ruth. Perhaps she had neighbors who would check on her and take care of her. I love that image. That love and care we show for others IS true worship. It’s true discipleship—one that’s not dependent on buildings but on hearts on fire with the love of God.

I particularly thought of that image during the last few days, as we heard of atrocities in Lui, in Syria, in Baghdad, and in Beirut. On Friday, the terrible attacks all across Paris killed at least 120 persons, and wounded nearly 400 more.

It seems overwhelming. Yet even in the midst of carnage, there were also beautiful stories of good people opening their homes to people displaced by these tragedies; of people airdropping food and supplies to refugees in one place and plucking them from the ocean in others; of people growing and giving away a ton of food even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. All of these actions are holy. All of these actions remind us of the best in us that was planted by God in creation.

Sacrifice doesn’t just mean to give up something—sacrifice means to make something holy. What makes a place holy isn’t its grandeur. What makes a place holy is how it brings us closer to God. The story of Hannah reminds us of that. It reminds us that worship is much more about how our hearts are oriented than being in the midst of resplendent surroundings. Similarly, what makes a people holy isn’t their numbers. What makes a people holy is their dedication to serve and worship God.

And that’s an important message to hear, as we keep being told that Christianity as we know it, and the Episcopal Church as we know it, is in decline. We are a small church. But, if our hearts are filled with worship and wonder at what God has done for us, we can still do great things, if our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, who looks with favor on his lowly servants.

Yet I’m reminded of a beautiful point that Pamela made last week. She said, “Being a member of a church, and giving generously of your time, talent, and treasure, is NOT going to impress people today.” But she reminded us that this is actually good news. Here’s what she said: “If we Christians can embrace our marginalized place in society and stop chasing respectability and status, we will be that much closer to the life of faith that Jesus modeled and wants us to emulate.”

This reminded me of one of my favorite poems, by e. e. cummings (I told you all I was an English major, yes?).  This poem reminded me of the holiness to be found in humility, the kind of humility and steadfast love we see in Hannah, and Mary, and countless others like you and me right here at Good Shepherd who seek to give God our all.

Here’s what e e cummings wrote:

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april
my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness
around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains
 i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing
 winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

I thought of that poem, and I thought—that’s us! 

This is a church attuned to the life of the sower and the reaper. 

This is a church that has known birth and glory and death and resurrection. 

We’ve even got the “diminutive spire.”

This is a holy place, and we are holy people. Let us be gathered together, to proclaim with our time, our prayers, our talent, and our treasure, to do great things in love, sacrifice, and humility.