Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Prayer 1859


Creator God, Source of Our Being:
We praise and bless your Holy Name,
and offer ourselves to your reconciling will.

Blessed Jesus, Beloved Shepherd,
draw us under your mantle of grace,
and lead us into hope,
that we may live into your life of healing.

Breathe upon us, Breath of God,
Engendering Spirit, Wisdom and Holy Light:
revive our spirits to proclaim your Love.

Almighty One, Holy Trinity,
we place ourselves into your tender care,
and lay before you the concerns of our hearts as we pray.

Amen.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Prayer 1858


Almighty and Everliving God,
Creator and Healer,
work within our hearts, we pray,
that they may be restored to steadfast faith and hope.

May we choose this day to be gentle and loving
in all our ways, O Holy One,
remembering and admitting our own faults
and seeking reconciliation for all wounds we have inflicted.

Forgive, restore, and strengthen us
that we may walk in love with each other
as Christ blazed the path before us
of healing, wisdom, and compassion.

Send your Spirit, O Merciful One,
to uplift all who are bowed down,
for you are our sure foundation,
and your love is from everlasting.

Eternal One,
You know our cares and concerns even before we ask:
extend the awning of your mercy over all for whom we pray.

Amen.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Prayer, day 1857


Almighty One,
we bow before You in humble prayer,
our hearts filled with gratitude
for your grace and mercy.

Merciful One, we have offended against You and each other
with willful pride, through our own fault:
forgive us and heal us, we pray.

Lord, You are our food and drink,
our portion and our cup:
may we open wide our hearts to receive You.

Fill us with wisdom,
that we may sing out your praise
and testify to your saving deeds in all the world.

Offering up our cares and concerns before You, O God,
we ask that You grant your blessing to those we now name.

Amen.
1131

Sunday, February 25, 2018

One Wild and Precious Life-- Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, Year B


Y’all, I have something to share with you.

I hate winter.

I am one of those people who walks around in January and February asking myself why, exactly, I live someplace where the AIR hurts my FACE, and where even the act of walking can become an act of bravery.


What could go wrong? Yeah... no.
And then there’s the Winter Olympics, which combines sport with misery in ways that boggle the mind. I mean, one of the main sports in the Olympics involves couples throwing each other around and twirling each other over their heads while there are knife blades on their feet, and trusting that no one will hurt the other!

And if ever there was a metaphor for marriage or any long term relationship, there you have it.

I watch the Olympics, and I wonder who in the world invented curling-- except as maybe a drunken joke that the Canadians are pulling on the rest of the world. Only Canadians could combine shuffleboard with housework and put it on ice. We’re actually watching people trying to influence the course of a rock with a handle on it slide on an ice rink. Maybe it reminds me too much of watching people drive during the ice storm on my ordination night the December before last, but I don’t get it. 

I’m a summer kind of person. Summer is glorious, but winter. Lasts. Forever. Summer is lush and abundant, while in winter, everything shrinks. And gets chafed and raw.

That’s why I love this poem by Mary Oliver(1), called “The Summer Day:"


Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?


It’s that last line that gets me, every time.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

It goads me into a sense of appreciation of the blessing of every day, even in—maybe especially in—this winter time, when there is not a grasshopper to be found, and when I am ashamed to admit that probably the last time I was idle was during my last retreat back in late June before I was ordained a priest.

I thought of the challenge of that last line of that poem when I was reading this morning’s gospel, because I think that Mary Oliver’s challenge embedded in that question is exactly the same challenge Jesus is posing to the crowd in our reading from Mark today.

I think it’s important to remember that the meaning of the word “gospel” is “good news.” I repeat: “gospel” means “GOOD news.” And I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but I bet a bunch of us initially hear this challenging gospel, and draw back, a bit scared, even, just like the disciples and especially Peter were, at Jesus’s talk of suffering, and death, and giving up your life, and crucifixion. Those words start to make our heads buzz. Especially with what’s going on in the world today. Kids massacred in schools. Wars. Famines. And even beyond that, the everyday careless way we sometimes treat each other that just begins to gnaw around the frayed edges of our hearts until we wonder if there is any safe place for us.

And it’s no different in Mark’s gospel. Jesus no sooner gets recognized as the Messiah by Peter than he adds a great big qualifier to that announcement—almost like he won’t allow himself to be proclaimed Messiah until his disciples know exactly what that means.

After Jesus rebukes Peter, he starts delivering some of the castor-oil side of the good news: he is going to suffer, as the gospel he brings is not only rejected by the powerful, but seen by some as a threat to their existing power structures. And we have to remember that Mark’s audience was being persecuted even unto death, just like Jesus was. This prediction Jesus offers is reality for Mark.

As Jesus does over and over again, when he challenges us to take up our cross and follow him, he is talking about the upside down world of the gospel. If you want to save your life, you must lose it, Jesus says—and the tendency is that all we hear is the word “lose,” just like Peter. More importantly, if we want to follow Jesus, we are called to “deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus.” Even less appealing! Who would want to sign up for that?

But listen carefully to what Jesus said: he would suffer and be killed, but then rise again. We see here, even at the start of Lent, the precious Easter message of resurrection, at the same time that Jesus then calls US to new life. THIS is the good news!

The time in which Jesus lived was a time in which the vast majority of people in the Roman Empire lived in abject, crushing poverty. Scarcity and want were real and pressing concerns. And the thing about living in a scarcity mindset is that it heightens one’s sense of disconnection and competition against one’s neighbor.

But how can we understand this gospel reading in our own context? I think we need to start by understanding that these readings are rooted in not just faith but hope, and hope is rooted in the future. Looking forward in expectation, and then calling us to act to make our hope reality.

The cross in Jesus’s time was something shameful, yet for us now it is a sign of faith and hope; we wear the cross around our necks as jewelry, even! It is such a symbol of hope that we now regularly make the sign of the cross over ourselves as we are blessed or absolved. Think of that! The cross itself now awakens us to faith and hope, for it leads to the conquering of sin and death within us when we embrace it.

After Jesus rebukes Peter, he turns to the crowd and reminds us that following Jesus means not been conformed to the ways of the world. We see this same concern reflected in our passage from the letter to the Romans. However, we have to be careful here do not take these verses out of context. Throughout Christian history, some Christians have read these verses as meaning that it is our lot in life to suffer, and that our own personal suffering is all apart of God’s plan and has been pre-ordained just so we get our reward in heaven. Notions like these deny the underlying principle of free will, and risks making God seemed like a puppet master who doesn’t care about our suffering and pain, and frames creation as something broken. And that’s as wrong as it could be.

Instead, from our side of history, we know that the cross led also to the resurrection. For us, we are reminded here that the way of discipleship will not always be easy or without cost. But it is up to us to see that the cost is worth it in giving us new life in Jesus—not just some time in the future, but right now here on earth, as well.

Looked at from this angle, I think that might have some applications for us in our current situation. What if we understood that denying ourselves and taking up our cross is meant to remind us that we are called as Christians into community? We are called to love each other, be compassionate toward each other, and take care of each other in faithfulness, in good times and bad. What if taking up our cross today and denying ourselves were understood as swallowing the harsh word rather than unleashing it on someone in the heat of the moment? What if denying yourself and taking up your cross was understood as giving up something you have a right to, if that would spare someone else pain or suffering? What if denying ourselves and taking up our cross means that instead of using people and loving things, as so much of society tells us to do, we loved people and used things to help us accomplish that?

What if denying yourself actually means being true to what makes us children of God, made in God’s image—that we are called together to live in community, loving our neighbors as ourselves and not trying to draw lines about who are neighbors are, and who are neighbor’s aren’t.

I think the good news here is that Jesus is calling us to love. Real love. And anyone who has ever known real love—for a parent, or a child, or a friend, or a spouse, or a beloved, adoring pet-- knows that it calls for a denial at times of yourself for the sake of the beloved. Our pilgrimage as Christians—as true followers of Jesus-- is to work toward the vulnerability of loving everyone that fully, because we see the face of our beloved Savior Jesus Christ in everyone, even in those who are different than us.

Christ is calling us to turn from the wintry chill of suspicion and leverage, to opening our hearts to summer abundance. What if we understood what Jesus is saying here as “Take up your love and hope, and follow me in loving each other as much as we love ourselves?”

English poet and priest John Donne most famously expressed this truth in his Meditation XVII(2), which we have allowed to become a cliché. Upon hearing the church bells toll a funeral, Donne’s first thoughts were not about himself, but about his relationship with others, all of whom are beloved of God. Yet let us look at his famous statement again, in light of Christ’s reminder to us to love each other, and completely:

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.


That open-hearted love is at the heart of Jesus’s death on the cross. Jesus did not raise his hand against the fear and evil that led to Golgotha, although he certainly could have, as Satan reminded him during Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness. Jesus’s embodiment of God’s love for us has no limits, and God’s Son becoming human—the “Son of Humans,” as he refers to himself—reminds that we, too, are made by God to take seriously the obligations love puts on us as well as the gifts love brings us. This is where the good news is for us in this gospel.

The season of Lent reminds us forcefully that we are made for God and for each other, not just for ourselves, or even just for a narrow circle of people just like us. We are called to embrace others-- in all their flaws and weaknesses—because, especially as we are reminded in Lent, as well as in times of trial and loss, that we acknowledge our own flaws and weaknesses, and yet receive grace and mercy anyway.

We embrace our cross when we use our treasures to build up our communities, and the miracle of resurrection is, in doing so, we actually end up blessing ourselves. It is when we embrace abundance rather than cling to notions of scarcity that we find true peace and security. That’s Christ’s call and challenge to us. That’s Christ’s blessing to us. New life. Resurrection. Trust. Hope. Faith in each other enough to give each other—our neighbors, our communities large and small--what we ourselves all need, without worrying that somehow that diminishes us.

How can we, especially as the people of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, take up our cross of love today? How can we align our lives with the life of Jesus, which is the only life worth having?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

We embrace and take up our cross today, because it also means we embrace resurrection, the new life of Christ, which is the pearl beyond price. Taking up our cross calls us to understand that we are not fully human without embracing each other right here and now, and without checking ourselves any time we are tempted to seize the opportunity to use others rather than see ourselves as intimately connected with each other, even with those half a world away. We profess that all are beloved in the eyes of God as children of God. We are called, as followers and not just fans of Jesus, to take that simple sentence seriously. We don’t have to be perfect at it, and we will fail sometimes, but right now, with all the fear and anxiety in our lives, might be the time to embrace the abundance of grace with ourselves and each other.

To “deny ourselves,” simply means that in loving, and giving of ourselves without fear, we have everything to gain.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Amen.

Readings:
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:22-30
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38


Attributions:
1- Mary Oliver (1935-), from House of Light, 1990
2-  John Donne (1572- 1631) English priest and poet, excerpt from Meditation XVII, in Devotions on Divergent Occasions, 1624. 

Images:
1- Winter Flight in Snowfall, 2012, photo by Leslie Scoopmire.
2- Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, 2012, by Eileen Langley of LangleySports.com.
3-Friendly Katydid at the Forest of Peace, 2014, photo by Leslie Scoopmire.
4-Cross Sculpture at Forest of Peace, 2014, photo by Leslie Scoopmire.
5- Memorial Cross at Twilight, Sewanee, 2016, photo by Leslie Scoopmire.


Preached at 8:00 and 10:15 am at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, Missouri on February 25, 2018.

Prayer 1856: Second Sunday in Lent


Beloved Savior, Living Lord,
we gather in your courts,
drawn by love to worship and honor You always.

Give us the wisdom, Blessed Jesus,
to embrace the cross of hope,
and turn our faces toward resurrection.
Help us to embrace each other
and deny the forces of sin and separation within us.
Teach us to take up new lives in faith,
putting aside all that draws us from You,
O Merciful One.

Let us marvel around your altar
at your never-failing love for us,
calling us to repentance and community,
and be made one in spirit and faithfulness.
Hold us within your truth, O God,
and lift up all whose strength and hope is in You,
especially those for whom we pray today.

Amen.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Prayer 1855: In the Power of Hope


Merciful God,
we give You thanks and praise,
and center our hearts within your grace,
breathing out our gratitude to You.

We rejoice that we have been given this day
to proclaim the glory of the Living God,
our Advocate and Shield,
our Savior and Redeemer,
our Fortress and our Comfort.
May all we do testify to You,
and your boundless mercy and forgiveness,
O Holy and Life-giving One.
We resolve to place our feet firmly
upon the path of reconciliation
that we may embody Christ's healing ways
and make present his love wherever we are.

Pour out your Spirit of wisdom and peace upon us today, O God of grace:
comfort the sorrowful
and soothe the anxious or suffering,
and strengthen those who turn to You in hope and trust as we pray.

Amen.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Prayer, day 1854


Come, let us bless the Lord,
who forgives all our sins,
and is with us in joy and in sorrow.

Almighty One, spread the wings of your mercy over us,
and gather us into your embrace,
for we are lost without You.
Soothe our fevered brows,
and place your cooling touch upon us,
for we find our rest and peace in You.
Lift the yoke of uncertainty and fear from us,
and bathe us with the light of your wisdom.

Surround us in the love of the company
of all those who love us,
to bear us up when we falter.
May we breathe out our prayers,
and breathe in your strength and courage,
for You are with us always.
Lead us into the cool valley of your peace,
and make us glad to be at play in the fields of the Lord.

Holy One, we lift up the names of these,
beloved of God, and ask for your blessing.

Amen.
761

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Prayer 1853


Most Holy One,
envelop us in your love and grace today.
Abba, may we bend the knee
of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies,
to live in joyful obedience to your will.
Make us bold to step out, Lord Christ,
upon the path of love that you have set before us,
for the way of hope is the way of blessing.
Guide us, O Holy Spirit,
into wisdom and holiness,
filled with your reconciling power.

Give us the courage, O God, to dare to work for justice and peace for all,
and work for the common good.
Give us empathy, O God, to reimagine our lives with each other,
grounded in mercy and lovingkindness.
Give us the faithfulness, O God, to see that your ways are sure and beautiful,
and work to open the closed fists of our hearts.
Give us the strength, O God, to reach out to those in need,
loving our brothers and sisters as ourselves.

Give your light to those who are lost, O Holy One,
and give your peace to those who are troubled.
For You are the God of Compassion,
and we want to be your people, your beacons, and your witnesses.
Holy Trinity, unite us by your love,
and gather within your embrace those we now name.

Amen.
(adapted from 760)

Photo: Summer light, Antelope Canyon, Arizona, on land owned by the Dine (Navajo Nation).

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Prayer 1852: Confessing Our Contempt


With the rising light
we bow our hearts before You, Blessed Savior,
and center ourselves within your grace,
turning to you as little children
seeking your will in our lives.

Merciful God, we confess our sins to you:
We cast our sins as virtues
and transform "charity" into an expletive;
we turn from You and one another,
trusting only in ourselves;
we exploit the desperate, scorn the poor,
and mock the marginalized.

Forgive, forgive, forgive, we pray:
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
strengthen us in love.

We cast ourselves upon your compassion, O God,
that we be cleansed of our arrogance and anger,
and strengthened to true repentance.
Help us correct our course away from the shoals of contempt
toward the path of life and compassion.

Reawaken our hearts to seek reconciliation,
and make us a faithful people, Beloved Jesus,
embodying your gospel of healing into the world.

Amen.

Image: A mural by South African artist Faith47 in Miami.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Prayer 1851


Most Merciful God,
who is making the heavens and the Earth,
we open our spirits to your grace and blessing,
praising and blessing Your holy name.

We confess to You, Almighty One,
that all like sheep we have gone astray;
we have failed to live by your precepts,
failed to see Your light in each other, O Christ,
and our hearts are heavy within us.
Restore our hearts and minds, Spirit of Holiness,
and purify our desire
that we may discern your loving hand upon us,
and guide our feet in the healing path of Jesus.
For You, Beloved Savior, show us the Way of Peace,
calling us tenderly to repentance and renewal.

Enfold us within your Love,
O Blessed Trinity,
and comfort to all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.

Amen.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Prayer, day 1850: Love Heals


O God of Grace, You are our salvation:
may our eyes behold your light and illumine our hearts with Love.
Your Love, O God, is a soothing balm:
the merciful gift of Love sets us on solid rock when we flounder. 

Let us place before You the hurts that burden us:

your Love heals us and sets us free. 

Let us place before You the aches and pains of weary hearts:

your Love heals us and releases us to joy.

Let us place before You our woundedness and fly free of its pull:

your Love heals us and reminds us to love each other.

Let us place before You the fears that hold us back from loving others:

your Love heals us and makes us whole. 

Let us place before You our failure to see You in each other:

your Love heals us and calls us to be loving in all things.

May our silences and our words,

our actions and our thoughts,
our hands and our hearts
be instruments of your love today.
May your love rest upon all who cry to You,
O God of Tenderness,
especially those whom we now name.

Amen.
380

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Prayer 1849: First Sunday in Lent


Creator God,
we remember your covenant with us,
Your steadfast love and call to repentance,
and we gather to worship You in humility.

The number of our offenses
and their rapacious effects on others grieve us,
yet You are the God of Mercy,
ever teaching us the loving paths to follow,
sending us Your Son to shepherd and heal us.

Through your abundant grace, O Dayspring of Truth,
wash us clean,
and pour out your goodness and integrity
 into our shattered, war-torn hearts.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
may your wisdom dawn over us,
your compassion envelop us,
that we may testify to your greatness
in all we do, O Holy One.

Strengthen us in hope, O God,
and shield and comfort all who seek You,
especially those whose needs we bring before You as we pray.

Amen.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Prayer, day 1848


Most Holy God,
envelop us in your love and grace today.

May we bend the knee
of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies,
to live in joyful obedience to your will.
Make us bold to step out upon the path of love
that you have set before us,
for the way of hope is the way of blessing. 

Give us the courage to dare to work for your kingdom,
proclaiming our love for You to all. 
Give us the hope to reimagine our lives with You and each other,
holding fast to your testaments. 
Give us faith to see that your ways are sure and beautiful,
working to open the closed fists of our hearts. 
Give us strength to reach out to those in need,
loving our brothers and sisters as ourselves. 


Give your light to those who are lost, O Holy One,
and give your peace to those who are troubled. 
For You are the God of Compassion,
and we want to be your people, your beacons, and your witnesses.

We ask that You gather within your embrace those we now name.

Amen.
760

Friday, February 16, 2018

Prayer, day 1847: Faith, hope, and love


Almighty One,
look with compassion upon your entire human family,
and accept our whispered prayers and praises. 

You have given us reason, memory, and will:
guide us to use them for your glory.

Let our understanding lead to faith,
the kind of faith that questions and explores,
secure in your embrace, O Holy One. 

Let our remembrance of your abiding love lead to hope,
the hope that leads us to never surrender
but rest in your mercy,
and act with boldness, in fierce, loving sacrifice. 

Let us use our will and desire
to choose good and act justly
out of love and charity that overflows our hearts. 

In all we do, Most High, guide us into paths of peace and justice,
and temper all our acts with mercy and humility. 
May we ever feel the comforting weight of your hand upon our hearts,
and remember your lovingkindness as we pray.

Amen.
1379-- adapted

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Prayer 1846: In response to the shooting at Douglas High School in Florida


Most Merciful God, we bow before You,
opening the doors of our hearts to let in your light and truth.
Direct us, O God, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
in paths of virtue, compassion, and holiness,
and strengthen our wills to live by your commandments.

Lord, our hearts are bowed down with grief
for our own sins,
and the sins committed through our inaction:
we weep for the pain our weaknesses have caused.
We have resisted your love, Lord Christ,
worshipping You for our own sake,
rather than following You
and taking up our work as your disciples
for the life and reconciliation of the world.

Forgive, restore, and strengthen us, O God,
that we may dedicate our wills
to fight against the evils of complacency and hopelessness
that allow violence to reign within us and over us.

Pour out your blessing like a balm, Lord Christ,
and gather into your embrace those we now place before You.

Amen.

Photo: Detail from a door on the Passion side of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, depicting Jesus in his abandonment.

Yesterday, February 14, 2018, a 19-year-old with an AR-15 and multiple magazines opened fire in his former high school in Broward County, Florida; at the time of this point 17 were confirmed dead and unnamed numbers were injured.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Prayer, day 1845: For Ash Wednesday


As dawn parts the curtain of night,
let us fall upon our knees
before our Creator and Redeemer. 

Lord God, we confess to You all our sins-
those done by us, and those done in our name. 

We confess to You all our ruptured relationships,
sundered by fear, loss of hope, and idolatry of self. 

May we renounce our casual acceptance
of the pain of others
in the name of our own comfort. 

May we seek forgiveness,
that we rededicate ourselves
to being healing hands in the world.
Let us purify our souls,
and be strengthened to walk
in the pathways of holiness and righteousness. 

Refine us, renew us, O Merciful One:
our hearts are outstretched like open hands,
to be charged with your grace and light. 

We pray now for all who seek You,
and for all who put their trust in You, Gracious Savior.

Amen.
1114

Photo: Detail from Francisco de Zurberan, St. Francis Contemplating a Skull, 1635, photographed at the St. Louis Art Museum in 2011; more information here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Prayer 1844: Preparing to Enter Lent



Most Merciful God,
our souls in silence wait,
and we worship and bless You
as our Creator, Shepherd, and Shield.

Whether we feast or fast, Lord,
we know that all things come from You,
Our Source and our Dwelling-place.

Make us holy and upright, O God,
gentle and compassionate,
to love without calculation,
to serve rather than be served.
Renew and purify our hearts, Lord Christ,
so that we may, in humility and devotion,
love each other as You loved us,
and laid down your life for us.

May we use this holy time, O Holy Spirit,
to heal all that divides us,
to renounce exploitation and violence,
the using of others for our own ends.

Holy One, You know our needs before we ask:
gather within your arms all those who seek your face,
and all whose concerns we lay before You.

Amen.

Image: a collage of depictions of the Rev. Absalom Jones, whose feast day we celebrate today, from the website of the parish he and Richard Allen founded, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia. Their excellent website is found here.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Prayer, day 1843: A Time for Everything


O Merciful One,
we know that there is a time for everything,
for our times are in your hand.

Someone's hopeful, Lord--and You are with them:
May they know your presence.
Someone's laughing, Lord-- and You are with them:
May they know your presence.
Someone's crying, Lord-- and You are with them:
May they know your presence.
Someone's troubled, Lord-- and You are with them:
May they know your presence.
Someone's being born, Lord--and You are with them:
May they know your presence.
Someone's dying, Lord-- and You are with them:
May they know your presence.

With the hands you have given us to do your will,
we raise up these names today,
and ask your care to rest upon them.

Amen.
119, 1108