Thursday, November 30, 2017

Prayer 1770: Song of Praise on St. Andrew's Day


As the night whispers its tale to the dawn,
and the Earth turns and declares the glory of creation,
let us arise with a song of praise!

Holy One, we gather in your Name,
You who hold our souls tenderly in life,
and abide with us forever.

Lead us, O Shepherd,
in paths of peace, contentment, and mercy,
that we may live abundantly, in gratitude.
May we walk in humility with each other
and in reverence for the whole Earth,
extolling the unity and beauty of your creation, O God.
Let us take each other's hands
and lift each other up,
united, reconciled, and renewed for this day's journey.
At night, when your celestial wonders dazzle our eyes,
O Creator,
may we lie down in peace,
having used this day to embody your love,
forgiving, reconciling, and healing where we can.

Resting in your sure embrace, Blessed Jesus,
grant your peace and blessing to us,
and to all for whom we pray.

Amen.

(Photo- image of St. Andrew from a 13th century fresco in Kintsvisi, Georgia, from wikimedia)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Prayer, Day 1769: Joy in the morning


Joy comes in the morning,
as the Light of Christ illumines the world!

Lead us,
O Holy One,
anointing us to your service
for your Name's sake.
Make us
beacons of hope and trust
in a world too often rent by division and faithlessness.
Shape us
as steadfast servants of your Truth,
that we may give all of our selves--
heart, mind, and soul--
to You.
Draw us
into the holy mystery of your abiding grace and mercy,
that our lives testify to your goodness.

Spread the canopy of your protection and blessing
over the hearts and minds of those who seek You.

Amen.
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Prayer, day 1768: In honor of Kamehameha IV and Emma, Rulers of Hawai'i

King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma, remembered this day in our calendar of saints.

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.

Amen.
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Monday, November 27, 2017

Prayer 1767: Abundant gratitude

Youth during worship at the Episcopal Youth Event, 2014.

Almighty God,
we rise from our rest to the call of your love:
may we ever ground ourselves in joyful praise!

Let us fasten our spirits on your glory, O God,
awed and amazed by your precious love, O Savior!

Let there not be leanness in our souls, O Lord:
make us instead overflow with gratitude and praise!

May we walk as your companions and servants
in imitation of your love and wisdom, Lord Christ,
and abide and serve within the family of God.

Blessed Jesus, we place our hearts within your hands today,
trusting in your abundant love and grace.

Spirit of Love and Healing,
we remember before You our joys and blessings,
and place before You our cares and concerns.

Amen.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Of Lions, Mice, Sheep, and Goats: Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King, Year A



Readings:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

When I was a kid, growing up in a working class family, we didn’t have a lot of money, but my mother knew I loved reading, and she was great at snagging bargains at library clearance sales. So I grew up with some classic literature: Tasha Tudor’s Fairy Tales, which were way weirder than the Disney versions. Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes. Norse Mythology. A children’s Bible. An illustrated version of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. And a book of ancient Greek fables and myths.

I especially liked the fables by Aesop. If you’ve never heard of Aesop, he was supposedly a Greek slave, possibly from Ethiopia or Nubia in Africa, who lived perhaps five or six centuries before Christ. Aesop told short little stories with talking animals as the main characters, supposedly to educate his owner’s children. There are a half-dozen versions of each of his fables—some of them are even in poetic verse! Each brief story ended with a moral, which is where the phrase “the moral of the story…” comes from.

One of my favorite stories was the tale of the Lion and the Mouse. It goes like this:

One warm summer day, a Lion lay asleep in the forest, his great head resting on his paws. A timid little Mouse came upon him unexpectedly, and in her fright and haste to get away, ran straight across the Lion’s nose. Roused from his nap with a mighty roar, the Lion slapped his huge paw angrily on the wee timorous beastie’s tail, and prepared to squash her into mouse-jelly.

“Spare me, O Mighty Lion!” begged the poor Mouse. “Let me go, if you please-- and someday, I will surely repay you.”

The Lion laughed at the idea that a Mouse could ever help him. But he was feeling generous, and also eager to get back to his nap, and so at last he decided to let the Mouse go.

Some days later, while stalking his prey in the forest, the Lion was caught in the snare of a hunter’s net. No matter how much he pulled at the ropes, he could not break free, and indeed, the more he struggled with his impressive strength, the more he caused the ropes to get tighter and tighter and tighter. Finally, enraged and helpless, unable to free himself, he filled the forest with his angry roaring.

The Mouse knew that voice—had experienced it up close and personal, in fact—and she scampered back to find the Lion struggling in the net. Running to one of the great ropes that bound him, she gnawed it with her tiny, sharp teeth, until the strands snapped, and soon the Lion was free.

“You laughed when I said I would repay you,” said the Mouse. “Now you see that even a lowly, tiny Mouse can help a free a mighty Lion.”

The Moral of the Story: A kindness is never wasted.

Or, as Jefferys Taylor put it in his poetic version, which helped remind me of today’s gospel, the moral goes like this:

Few are so small, or weak, I guess,
But may assist us in distress;
Nor shall we ever, if we’re wise,
The meanest, or the least, despise.


Jesus, likewise, uses animals in his parable today that closes out his final discourse in Matthew’s gospel—although in this case, the animals do not speak, and a real king appears, not just the King of the Jungle, but the Messiah, the Son of Humanity who has and will come in glory to fulfill the heavenly kingdom for which we hope as Christians.

That word “king” is important. At the start of Israel as a kingdom, their kings were described very differently than were the kings of their neighbors. Israel’s original kings, although certainly great warriors, were not just described as being powerful, mighty, or fearsome. The kings of Israel were to act as the servants of God, and to take care of the people and their needs—they were often described as “shepherds,” which is a lowly and humble term about as far from the pomp and circumstance of a king as one could get. Kings were supposed to take care of the weak, the orphaned, the poor. In Jesus’s story, that’s the kind of a king we see—one who identifies with the poor, the outcast, and the imprisoned so much that he speaks of them as his very own family. And he calls us to do the same as his disciples.

Matthew 25 describes the kind of king we claim on this Feast of Christ the King, and the kind of glorious kingdom that is our heritage and our responsibility, if we are to be true disciples of Christ. It also provides examples of what activities and concerns shape the Christian life.

Now, I learned something interesting this week: in some parts of the world, such as in Israel and Palestine, the sheep and the goats actually look a LOT alike. So much alike, that Heifer International, which I believe this parish has worked with, has a quiz online to see if you can tell which creatures are goats, and which are sheep. I only got three out of the first five pictures right when I took that quiz, and I am not exactly unfamiliar with animals of the barnyard variety.


Sheep or goats? Depends on how they act....

Likewise, it can be impossible to tell who the sheep and the goats are today. Instead we have to remember that the king in Jesus’s story looked to the actions to reveal the heart. Lucky for us, those actions are spelled out here. The actions that led the Son of Humanity to separate the sheep from the goats were grounded in very specific, relational responses:

Food (for I was hungry and you gave me food,)
Water (I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,)
Welcome (I was a stranger and you welcomed me,)
Clothing (I was naked and you gave me clothing,)
Caring and healing (I was sick and you took care of me,)
Visiting the imprisoned (I was in prison and you visited me.)

We’re given the strongest possible reminder to be hospitable and generous with our resources, attention, and actual presence with people, regardless of who they are. For we worship a Savior who proclaims that everyone can be healed by the power of love, if they so choose. It’s up to us to put that love before them, without questions of what’s in it for us or whether they “deserve” it.

Both Aesop’s story and Jesus’s teaching show us that we shouldn’t only be decent to those whom we think are able to do something in return for us. Jesus’s teaching here takes it further: we are not to divide ourselves up at all—that judgment is reserved for God alone. 

What we ARE called to do is examine ourselves, and love without calculation. We are to care for each other, because that is our calling as human beings, and especially as disciples of Jesus.

As familiar as the call to unity, compassion, empathy, and love in today’s gospel are to many Christians today, we certainly see a lot of resistance at times to their enactment. Yet Jesus makes it clear that he himself is among the “least of these”—whom he names as “members of my family” to be even more clear.

Thirteen times in this gospel, Jesus has the king say “I” or “me” when talking about those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, or imprisoned.

Thirteen times he tells us that HE is every refugee, standing with hungry mouth open, suffering written all over his beautiful, holy face as long as one person in this world undergoes any of those hardships. He is there behind the bars with every prisoner, and doesn’t ask us to divide those prisoners into those who are worthy and those who are not. That kind of sorting leads to being labeled a goat.

Yet, again, this parable makes it clear that WE don’t get to decide who the sheep are, and who the goats are. Only God decides that. Because we who been redeemed believe in the hope of redemption for all, we also know that even goats can become sheep, if they so choose. No matter what, it’s not up to US to decide who is worthy or not. It’s up to us just to love and care for each other in all our flaws and need for forgiveness and grace.

That word “family” is critical here: once again--and boy, is that repetition necessary-- we are shown that the Christian life is a life lived in relationship with each other. Family is more than just the people to whom we are tied by blood, as many of us were reminded at Thanksgiving. Instead, the Christian family is found and formed in a life of caring and connection, of empathy and generosity, dedicated to relieving, in concrete actions, suffering, isolation, and want. This Christian family we join when we declare our faith in Jesus is guided by compassion, even when—especially when-- sometimes we disappoint each other.

As members of the family of God, we are called to not step over the fallen but help them up as we ourselves have been helped up by loving hands again and again, if we are honest. The life those Christian sheep are called to embody is a life of common purpose and meaning, a life rooted in true love and joy in a community that takes care of each other. In other words, exactly what so many people are hungering for in our world today. And it’s up to us to make that world, as Christ’s own beloveds in the world.

Biblical scholar Stanley Saunders states that Matthew means for the values expressed here to bookend with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12. Together they create an arc of qualities and actions that are foundational for the “Kingdom of Heaven” over which Jesus will reign. Even asking the question of WHO the marginalized were that the goats/accursed ignored makes you a goat, according to Saunders, because goats’ only interest is in themselves.

In Jesus’s time as well as now, the values of society were strictly regulated to support segregation by class, wealth, citizenship, and privilege. You curried the favor of those who could help you rise in the ancient system, and you ignored those who were deemed inferior to you. You certainly didn’t go out of your way to help those who could be of no help to you.

In Aesop’s tale, it was easy to tell who had the power, and who didn’t: Great big Lion, the “King” of the Jungle; little tiny Mouse, who spent her days scavenging and scraping out a living eating other creatures’ scraps more often than not. In Jesus’s story, sheep and goats both have the opportunity to help where they see a need. But one thing that separates the sheep from the goats is the ability to see the need right in front of them at all, and to answer that need joyfully.

Food, shelter, clothing to those without it. Sharing with those who are marginalized, oppressed or despised without concern for whether they “deserve” it or not, and without condemnation—even “throwaway” people in our culture, such as the imprisoned, convicts, criminals—however you want to call them. And the really hard one: loving each other and being gentle with each other, choosing grace and mercy. Leaving the judging of others to God in the name of evaluating our own lives, and offering God our all, as our psalm reminds us.

One lesson both stories tell us is to never write anyone off—not even those we think might be goats. Jesus’s story draws that even more sharply into focus by making that willingness to write people off not just “wrong,” but a sin that cuts us off from being able to enjoy the heavenly banquet we all long for. But how do we tell the difference?

In Aesop’s fable, the question was, how do we tell who has the power, and who doesn’t? In Jesus’s parable, the question was, how do we tell who has a heart, and who doesn’t? We can’t tell by looking.

The answer is simple: we know by the actions. All of the Lion’s strength meant nothing without the tiny Mouse’s teeth. The sheep who do the will of the shepherd don’t stop to ask, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, they engage in the necessary, practical, joyous work of tending to the Jesus that shines out of every single person they encounter. They keep going in this work even when the shepherd is out of sight, because the shepherd has shown and continues to show us the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

They act in response to suffering because that is what Jesus has modeled for us again and again. We have been commissioned and blessed to take up this work together both inside these church doors and out there in our secular lives, because Jesus isn’t just someone we think about on Sunday, but rather Jesus is what we DO out in the world to respond to need not with calculations but with compassion and mercy. As the song goes, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

It’s the sheep who remember that everyone can be a blessing and a means of grace for others.
It’s the sheep who worship God not just in God’s courts, as our psalm called us, but throughout the world we inhabit, where there are too many of the family of God suffering.
It’s the sheep who are humble enough to know the gift of reconciliation that we ourselves have received, and will continue to receive whether we ourselves are always worthy of it or not.
It’s the sheep who are called to love without calculation of benefit or superiority.
It’s the sheep who sing out in their actions the real moral of the story:

Few are so small, or weak, I guess,
But may assist us in distress;
Nor shall we ever, if we’re wise,
The meanest, or the least, despise.

For whether we are sheep or goats, lions or mice,
We are all the bearers of the face, hands, and heart of Christ.

Amen.

Sermon for the Last Sunday After Pentecost, Feast of the Christ the King, preached at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, on November 26, 2017.

Prayer 1766: Last Sunday After Pentecost (Feast of Christ the King)

Most Merciful God,
we adore you
and bless you, and give you thanks
as we come to worship You today.

Come, let us center ourselves 
before the beauty of the Lord
and rejoice in the love
that makes us one in heaven and on Earth.

We are the sheep of your own belonging, Lord Jesus:
may we hear your call to love and tenderness
and embody your compassion in the world each moment.

Rule us and guide us
by your loving hand, O Savior,
leading us to new life and hope,
that we may walk in your healing ways.

Come Holy Spirit,
renew us and strengthen us in faith,
and pour out your comfort on those we now name.

Amen.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Prayer 1765: For reconciliation and forgiveness


Almighty Creator, all the we are is yours,
and our names are written on your hands:
accept our prayers and praises
as we rise to meet this day in your love.

May we open our hearts, Lord,
to your ongoing creation within us,
that your Spirit and will may work in our lives
in honor, holiness, and truth.

We thank You for the abundant grace in which we dwell:
may we turn away from sin and darkness,
and abide in your healing light.
Remembering all we have been forgiven, O Savior,
let us ourselves walk in reconciliation and forgiveness,
freed from the snares of resentment and anger.

Blessed Jesus, may we be anointed by your healing love
to follow you and live in your way of justice.
In your mercy, Lord Christ,
bend near to hear our prayers,
and bless those for whom we pray.

Amen.
based on Matthew 18: 21-35 from today's daily office

Friday, November 24, 2017

Prayer, Day 1764


Each day is a precious gift, O God:
Let our praise rise to You, as hope lifts the hearts of your people. 

Here in Your embrace we have rested, O Loving One. 
Now we go out to the harvest fields

we are blessed to tend,
knit together in holy love. 
Let the roots of hope grow deep. 
Let compassion overflow into the spaces where hearts are hollow. 
Let us be drawn into the embrace of the One who knows all our needs. 
Let those who are troubled be restored and renewed, filled with the strength of God's grace. 

Here we offer our prayers to You, O Holy and Merciful One.

Amen.

259, 1400

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Prayer, Day 1763- For Thanksgiving Day



O God,
Source of Continuous Blessings,
Creator of All,
we bow our heads
and lift our grateful hearts to You. 

We ask your blessing, O God,
on those who stand resolute,
protecting your good Earth,
its forests, plains, mountains, and waters.
Help us remember that
the bounty we enjoy
comes from your creation,
for you called us to serve the land,
not dominate it.

Help us to embrace our loved ones,
of birth and of choice,
and joyfully express our love for them.
Remember those who travel
or work to keep us safe this day,
and place your right hand of power over them.

Help us be decisive
in ensuring the blessings of our abundance
are shared with all.  Let us remember that gratitude
is the life You call us to live into,
and that it is rooted in peace
and justice for all.
Give us hearts
to care for our neighbor
and bid welcome to the stranger,
reflecting your grace, mercy,
and lavish love.

In all things,
You fill our hearts with your blessing:
envelop those we name
in your shalom,
we pray.

Amen.
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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Prayer 1762: In gratitude


To You, O Creator, we lift our hearts,
our Rock and our Shield:
we put our trust in You.
Purify us of our divisions,
and lead us out of error into truth;
strengthen us in charity and hope,
that we may live according to your love, O God.

Open our eyes to behold your wonders,
open our hearts to shine forth with your mercy,
O Lover of Souls.
Let us dedicate ourselves anew
to walking in gratitude with our God,
in gentleness and tenderness for all creation.
Let us work for healing and justice
that peace and contentment may bloom
in the desert spaces of our hearts.

Lord Jesus, abide within us,
make us holy vessels of your compassion
that we may walk in your ways with joy.
By your grace gather us to your heart, Lord Christ,
as we place our cares and concerns before You.

Amen.

Photo: Today the Church remembers St. Cecilia, the patron of musicians; this is from our 175th diocesan convention three years ago, which featured musical breaks throughout the weekend.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Prayer 1761


Most Merciful God,
be our strength and our shield today,
and send your angels to guard us
behind and before.
We lift our hearts to you in joy
grateful for your steadfast love
that warms us and leads us in hope.

May we open our hearts to be reconciled
to each other,
to creation, and
to You,
united through Christ who strengthens us
and leads us in the path of life.
Grant us the faith of a mustard seed,
that we may remember the power of your love, Lord Jesus,
and work for the healing of the wounded world.
Have mercy, Lord Jesus, upon all who seek you;
in your Name may we carry the banner of peace and justice,
that our hands and hearts be turned to healing and love.

Come, Holy Spirit, and burnish our souls,
that we may shine with the light of wisdom and grace.
Bless and keep all those
who watch, or wait, or weep, or worry, O Holy God;
shelter and strengthen those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Photo: My friend and colleague, Diocesan Youth Missioner Loren Lasch, and my son and one of our friends from my former parish present in front of the Diocesan Convention last weekend on the ministry our youth are engaged in within the diocese and beyond.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Prayer, day 1760: Hope in each moment


Lord, we lift up our hearts to You in glory and wonder,
astonished at your imprint in the world around us. 
The love of God is my portion and my cup;
the Almighty is my all in all:
how can I fear any evil?
Today we place our hands in the hand of our Savior;
today we seek the path of peace and mercy. 

Lord Jesus, help us to put aside
our fearful grip on resentment and strife,
on all that blinds us and binds us. 
May our fears fall from us like autumn leaves;
they will dance away from us,
carried by the warm wind of hope.

Let us walk in love and compassion,
seeking reconciliation,
opening our hearts in gentleness.
Merciful One, we know your love never fails:
may the healing wave of love cool our fevered brows.
Send forth your Spirit of Peace, we pray;
shield and comfort all those whom we remember before You.

Amen.
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Photo: an angel at the bottom of the altar screen at Christ Church Cathedral.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Prayer 1759: The 24th Sunday After Pentecost


Almighty God,
we rise to pray before You
grateful for the joy of fellowship in your courts.

Awaken our hearts to see
the face of Christ in every person
and to live into his reconciling gospel.
Make us witnesses of your mercy,
proclaimers of the gospel of grace
that sustains us in hope and joy.
May we embody the healing love you give us
to work for justice and liberation,
for healing and concord within your creation.

Astounded by your grace,
let us go forth from your altar
into the world rejoicing.
Consecrate us for your use, Beloved Savior,
our hearts overflowing with gratitude
and aflame with the Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus, stretch out your hand of blessing
over those whom we remember before You.

Amen.

Photo: Today, Christ Church Cathedral celebrates the 150th anniversary of its building and faithful witness in the heart of downtown St. Louis.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Prayer 1758: Inspired by Psalm 90 (Diocesan Convention day 2)


Almighty One,
your steadfast love endures forever:
as the curtain of night is lifted,
we see the glory of all your works,
and rejoice!

Your loving-kindness satisfies us
and sustains us all our lives:
we know our times are in your merciful hand,
and You, O God, are with us.

Forgive us for chasing after fleeting pleasures,
for closing our hearts to You and each other,
and failing to care for creation.
Make us mindful of your abundant grace;
and make us generous and compassionate
that our actions may testify to your love.

Teach us instead to number our hours as your gift,
and dedicate our days to seek wisdom and embody mercy,
walking in justice and reconciliation.

Set us aflame by the power of the Holy Spirit,
and make us one Body,
rejoicing in the mighty waters of hope.

Spread the canopy of your blessing, Lord Jesus,
over all who seek you, and especially those we now name.

Amen.

Photo: The Rev. Loren Lasch, my friend and colleague in youth ministry, addresses the 178th convention of the Diocese of Missouri, with my son and other youth behind her.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Prayer, Day 1757: For the opening of the 178th Diocesan Convention


We raise our voices in praise and song to You,
O God, our Creator and Light.

For our manifold blessings--

community, hope, faith, and love--
we give thanks to You, O Lord.
For all who are gathered as disciples,

seeking to discern your will in our lives,
we give thanks to You, O Lord.
For the Light of Christ,

which uplifts our hearts and minds,
bringing us into communion with You,
we give thanks to You, O Lord.

For all who seek You,

or a deeper knowledge of You,
that your kingdom may be glorified
on Earth as in heaven,
we pray to You, O Lord.
For all who travel this day,

for traveling mercies,
that they be returned to their homes safely,
we pray to You, O Lord.
For wisdom and justice

to be strengthened and restored in our land,
we pray to You, O Lord.
For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble,

that the awning of your mercy shield and shade them,
we pray to You, O Lord.
For those struggling against illness or pain,

that your healing hand may uplift them,
we pray to You O Lord.

Holy One, we pray especially for these, your servants we now name.


Amen.

670

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Prayer 1756



Enfold us,
Almighty God,
as we still our hearts
to abide within your Spirit.

We worship You and give You thanks,
for You surround us in abundant grace and mercy.
Forgive us our sins,
that we may return to the Way of Life and Love.

Drive far from us all anxiety or fear, Blessed Jesus,
that we may remember the unity of all things in You.
Let us use the freedom you have given us,
O Creator,
for the peace and the welfare of all,
for the protection of your luminous creation,
and magnification of your glory.

Consecrate us to your service today, O God,
that we may walk as your companions and children
in gentleness, compassion, and mercy.

Lord, give your angels charge
over those who watch, wait, or wonder,
and over those whose needs we now name.

Amen.

Photo: Kilkenny High Cross at Ullard, by Jim Dempsey. as I cannot find my own copy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Prayer 1755: hope in times of trial


Almighty Creator,
we bow before you in hope,
grateful for our many blessings.

Open our hears to hear the praise-song of creation,
the stars and winds singing their joy,
that we may join in their tune.
May your Word soak into us
like rain on a grateful autumn field,
refreshing us in abundance.

We repent of all our sins,
and our silences in the face of wrong,
our casual acceptance of suffering and want.
Remembering all that we have been forgiven,
help us to find our way to forgiveness.

Unify us in faith, O Savior,
and by your loving hand uphold us in adversity or trial.
Awaken us, O Spirit,
to walk gently with each other,
and call us to holy love
as we remember before You these beloveds.

Amen.