Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Prayer, day 2499

Holy One, 
we lift our hearts to You 
in praise and thanksgiving. 

Envelop us in your light, O God, 
that your radiance may shine 
through us 
into the world. 

Make us bearers of your gospel 
with each step we take, 
and worthy disciples in your Way. 

Purify our hearts 
of all malice, enmity, or carelessness, 
and forgive us our offenses, 
as well as those done in our name. 

Open our spirits to receive your truth 
as we await the coming of your Son, O Almighty One. 

Bend near to those who call upon you, Merciful God, 
and accept our prayers.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Prayer, day 2498

Come, Lord Jesus,
and teach us to follow your path
with humble joy and peace!

Help us to hear your call to transformation,
that we may live by the values proclaimed in your gospel.
Help us stand with the poor and the oppressed,
and bring healing and relief to all who suffer.
Help us learn to live together
in justice and peace for all,
and seek to work alongside each other
for the common good.
Help us worship You
by honoring You and your creation,
not only in our words, but by our deeds.

Holy One,
we are drawn to your light and mercy;
help us to reflect that light and mercy
as your disciples.
United by our hope in God,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-Giver,
we ask you send your Spirit upon all who call upon You.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Beyond Belief: Sermon for the 1st Sunday in Advent, Year A

Why is it, we all must wonder, that the start of the liturgical year—Year A, even, in the three -year cycle—begins with talking about the end? And I don’t mean like reading the last page of a book first kind of end, but THE END. We begin with a vision of the final judgment at Jesus’s second coming, the one we proclaim about in the Nicene Creed that will be when Jesus “will come again in great glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” His kingdom—you know, the thing we celebrated last Sunday.

Eschatology is that branch of theology which deals with “the study of the end of things” (“eschatos” means “last”). The gospel reading for this week is eschatological, as it is traditional for Advent to begin with a gospel reading that deals with this subject. 

It is the end of Year C and the beginning of Year A. It is the end of the Season after Pentecost, also known as “Ordinary Time.” And indeed, Advent reminds us that we do not live in ordinary time during this month of preparation that is at once both joyful and solemn. Thus, in this Advent reading, we have a discussion of the end times, right as we balance upon the edge of the beginning.

This passage we read from Matthew’s gospel today itself was one that was quoted to me often in my childhood churches. Many of them talked often about the “end-times,” and this was one of their favorite images: two people will be working side by side, and one will be taken and the other “left behind” when Jesus makes his “second coming.” 

I didn’t like hearing that back then any more than I imagine you do. It didn’t help when my mother tried to scare the living hell out of me-- yes, I mean it-- by taking me to see some low-budget alleged “documentary”—notice the air quotes I used with my fingers when I said that word— called A Thief in the Night, about what the earth would be like for those who were “left behind.”

Nuclear war, disease, disruption and yes, even mutants—these were all the fates awaiting those who were left after Jesus took the faithful bodily up to heaven and left everyone else down here on earth to suffer—which didn’t square with what I knew about Jesus, either. This one imagined that the United Nations became a tool of Satan during his reign on earth and forced everyone to wear “the Mark” or face execution by guillotine, because why not a guillotine? I remember sitting with my big-haired mama in a darkened movie theatre with a bunch of other families with their big-haired mamas as they, I guess, tried to scare their kids into being “born again.”

It didn’t help that the preacher behind this series of films—yes, he managed to get FOUR of these pieces of cheesy garbage made and actually watched by millions of people—always cast himself in the movies and he looked like Grampa from the Waltons but talked like Oral Roberts when he REALLY got wound up. 

So I sat there in the dark with my arms crossed against my chest, slouched down in my seat eating the margarine-drenched popcorn my mom had brought into the theatre in a grocery sack and waited for it to be all over. I was waiting for, you know, it to end. And then I struggled not to laugh at the absurdity of waiting for a movie about the End Times to end for the last hour, because I was sitting next to a bunch of people who believed that this movie was the best chance to save our souls. 

The problem I had with the strategy behind this movie was that it put all the emphasis on the end. It really didn’t matter HOW you lived your life—so long as you personally accepted Jesus as your savior. You could still be mean to people, and make fun of the poor and hate foreigners and refugees—and I knew people who smugly assured me that they were “saved” who did all those things while also assuring me that the Buddhist family in the newspaper were all doomed to hell even though they cooked Thanksgiving meals for the homeless in their restaurant every year. You could look down your nose at those different from you all day long, only just as long as you believed in Jesus, you would go to heaven, these movies subtly and not so subtly told us. 

But when we look at the message of the gospels in their entirety, we see a Jesus who called us to be disciples during our lives right now—to heal the sick and feed the multitudes and welcome the outcast.

For all of this talk about Jesus coming again like a thief in the night in Matthew 24, there’s the outline of what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus in Matthew 25, where the king judges the nations based on whether they cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, and the stranger.

For every place in the scriptures that it talks about Jesus’s second coming, there’s many times as much of an emphasis that Jesus’s birth and life already initiated the coming near of the Kingdom of God.

The judgment spoken of in our gospel passage today reminds us that judgment and justice, both tempered by grace and mercy, are two sides of the reign of Jesus. When Jesus comes to judge us, he will judge us on how well we embodied justice and mercy for those who are forced to the margins in this world we have made and of which we are a part. These people who assured me that they were saved when the rapture came also loved to quote scraps of scripture about terrifying prophecies and about a vengeful God,  one without mercy. But in John 5:39-42, Jesus accuses those who profess their own faithfulness but hollow out their responsibility to others with this observation: ‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you.'

That movie may not have taught me anything about God. But today I went with my husband and our daughters to see the new movie about Mr. Rogers called A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I had heard about how this movie made grown adults cry, including my oldest. But Mr. Rogers was one of the spiritual gurus of my childhood, and so we went.

I was fine until we got to a scene where Mr. Rogers and the cynical writer who is interviewing him are riding the subway in New York. The full range of humanity was in that subway car around them. But all of a sudden a teenager called out, “Hey—Mr. Rogers!” in kind of a tough voice. But when they got his attention, these oh-so-cool teens started singing Mr. Rogers’ theme song, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” By the time they get through the middle of the first verse, the entire car, including cops and tough guys, was singing along, “Won’t you please? Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?” And boom—cue the waterworks.

I thought about how Mr. Rogers embodied Jesus for me, long before I knew he was a Presbyterian minister. I thought about how he was a dependable, calming influence in a time of great chaos in my own life. How he talked about how he liked each of us just the way we are. How he embodied a life of faithful witness without ever saying the name of Jesus even once.

Just like Mr. Rogers, Jesus calls us to be faithful, and Christianity as a whole is judged in our world based on how faithfully we embody the love of God within us, how prayerfully we embody the command to love God and love each other, to have love in our hearts or else faith is nothing. The call of Jesus to us is to embody Jesus’s teachings so faithfully that, as one of my favorite hymns of childhood goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

“Belief” in Jesus isn’t just about heaven and the end times. It’s not just about grabbing a magic ticket to save yourself. Belief in Jesus is about having LIFE, and having it more abundantly, right now.  It’s about transforming our lives through joy, and then using those lives transformed by love to do nothing less than transform the world. 

Jesus calls us to go beyond belief to discipleship. Belief in Jesus is most importantly a call to work for the repair of the world. Belief in Jesus is about nothing if it is not directed outwardly toward those around us—that’s why there are so many commands to love one another in scripture.

Belief in Jesus is nothing if it is not transformative, leading to making us not just fans out to save our own necks, but disciples. Discipleship is about transformation of our lives and our relationships with each other, especially the marginalized, the oppressed, and the helpless, right now. It’s about working to bring the kingdom of God into being the kin-dom of God, to recognize each other as beloved children of the One Who Made Us and Loves Us.

Jesus calls us to be ready. To be ready and watchful, for Christ appears in ten thousand places. But he also calls us to transform our hearts so that we can see him here with us now. He appears—right now-- among those we easily overlook. He appears among those the rest of the world seeks to turn away, among those whose outstretched hand is sneered at not as a plea for help but as a con. He appears among those who are carrying burdens we can never see and may not understand. He appears in the vesture of those whom we tell ourselves are not truly needy or deserving of our time or attention. 

Jesus leaves no one behind, but calls the world unto himself and to his life of joyful care for each other. 

The days grow short—quite literally—as we hear these words. Yet the sure and certain promise that carries us through this darkness is that even in the darkest of nights, the light of a single candle can be seen for miles. Even when we talk about Jesus’s second coming, we are reminded that he is risen and with us even right now, calling us into deeper bonds of kinship and companionship with each other.


Preached at the 505 on November 30, and at 8:00 and 10:30 am on December 1, 2019, at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO.

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Prayer 2497: the 1st Sunday. in Advent

Light of Hope,
shine within our hearts
 that we may waken the dawn with our praises. 

God Of All Wonders,
bring us to new life in You,
that we may cast away the works of darkness,
clothing ourselves instead with your truth,
drawing all the world to your glory.

Make us ready and watchful, 
Most Merciful Jesus,
that we may be found worthy of your Name,
living by your kingdom values
of justice, mercy and peace,
ever upheld by your grace.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
kindle the fire of our spirits
to blaze anew within us,
and place those for whom we pray
under the mantle of your blessing.


Saturday, November 30, 2019

Prayer, day 2496: For St. Andrew's Day

Almighty Creator,
Your song of love resounds
within the wave and the shore,
the wind and the trees,
the birds and the sky,
calling us to You,
and we rejoice at your care of us.

May we reflect your love, O Christ,
like the sea reflects the rosy rise of dawn,
and abide within the enclosure of your mercy,
breathing in your wisdom,
breathing out your peace upon all.

Mend the tattered corners of our hearts
by the soothing balm of your compassion,
O Merciful and Beneficent One,
and gather within your embrace
all those whom we lift before You.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Prayer, day 2495

Early in the morning
we lift our hearts to You,
O Wondrous Light:
come, let us add our song
to the wakening Earth's.
Before your radiant goodness
we bow, O Holy One:
may our voices ever sing your praise!
You have laid our your paths before us:
may we ever keep our feet within your way,
that we may worship You in all things.

Lord Jesus,
You lead us with gentleness and truth:
teach us to ever serve You
and one another
with joy.
Make us
a compassionate, faithful people,
living into your gospel of love and faithful action,
we humbly pray, O Lord.
Help us to renounce
the fears and failings that lead into darkness,
and claim our place
within the Beloved Community.

Gather our prayers into your keeping,
O God,
and and bless and keep those whose hope is in You.


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Prayer, day 2494: on Thanksgiving Day

God of Abundant Grace, 
your love preserves us 
and calls us to wakefulness and compassion: 
we raise our hearts in thankfulness and praise. 

You, O God, call all the stars by their names, 
and set them dancing overhead to our wonder and delight. 
You teach the birds their songs 
that lighten our hearts and call us to joy. 
May we tend to the earth, and to each other,
with steadfastness and gratitude, 
always seeing your imprint, Lord Christ,
wherever we look. 

May we treasure friends and loved ones, 
companions and fellow travelers on this earth, 
and reach out to those around us in love and kindness. 
May we seek to mend the wounds we have created,
and forgive those who have hurt us.
May we ever cultivate being honorable and compassionate,
being just while loving mercy and grace,
seeking purity while acknowledging our humanity.
Holy One, send your angels to tend to those
who call upon You and depend upon your care,
especially those away from home,
and those whose needs we place before You,
that your peace, surpassing all our knowing,
may be our embodied prayer.


Shaped by Philippians 4:4-9, the epistle for Thanksgiving Day

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Prayer 2493

With grateful hearts 
we pray to you, O Lord Our Peace and Shepherd, 
to give thanks for your blessings without number: 
Holy One, hear our prayer, 
and let our thanks and praise come to You. 

O Great Life, Life Giver to All, 
sustain us in wisdom and integrity this day, 
that we may tell out your greatness 
and extol your lovingkindness in all our ways. 

Bear us up by your grace, O Sustainer of the Worlds, 
and draw us to you despite our faults, 
that we may be led deeper into holiness, 
transformed by your love into true disciples, 
that we may be blessings to those around us. 

Wonderful Teacher, Spirit of the Eternal God, 
pour out your truth upon us, 
and grant your favor and blessing 
to all those for whom we pray.


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Prayer 2492: Inspired by Matthew 19:13-14

Lord, night is over, 
and we give thanks to You for the gift of this new day: 
may we use it for the bold proclamation of your love. 

Blessed Jesus,
with loving hands and compassionate heart
you welcomed the little children to come to you: 
you rebuked your disciples for their hardness of heart. 
Help us to unstop our ears
that we hear the cries of the little children in our midst, 
crying out from detention for mothers and fathers, 
seeking food for their hunger in a land of plenty. 
Awaken us to their cries, Lord Christ, 
and let our silence not condemn us. 

May we thus live into the wisdom and compassion 
that are the foundation of your path, 
that our souls may flourish within You, 
O God of Salvation. 

Spirit of the Living God, 
who sustains us by mercy and upholds us by grace, 
hallow us to the service of God today, 
and pour out your blessing upon those for whom we pray.


Monday, November 25, 2019

Prayer, day 2491

Most Merciful God,
morning spreads its beauty before us
as the earth awakens from its winter slumber,
as we marvel at the wondrous works of your hands
and your blessing of us with creation.

May we pull back the veil of our hearts,
and turn to true repentance for our sins,
that we may return to following Jesus,
our true advocate, Savior, and guide.
May we make our hearts a temple of your grace, O God,
and a holy habitation for Christ,
empowered by your Holy Spirit.

Hear the humble prayers of your people,
as we bring before You the cares and needs of your beloved children,
for we all stand in need of your comfort and strength.


Sunday, November 24, 2019

Prayer 2490: For the Feast of Christ the King

Lord Jesus Christ,
we bow before You
and offer you our humble praise
for Your countless blessings in our lives.

Reign over us and remake our hearts, O Savior,
that we may follow you wherever you lead us,
and joyfully bear your gospel into the world.
Give us the wisdom and will
to acknowledge you, O Holy One,
as our teacher, model, and guide,
that we may plant our feet firmly
in the path of justice and peace.
Supported by your grace and mercy,
may we serve You with faithfulness
and be a blessing to others, Mighty Counselor,
standing alongside the oppressed, the poor, and the marginalized,
the stranger and the seeker.

Prince of Peace, grant your healing
to all those in need,
and your blessing to all those we now name,
as we humbly pray.


Saturday, November 23, 2019

Prayer 2489: For the Second Day of Diocesan Convention and Election of a Bishop

O God, You are our wisdom and our guide: 
bless and keep us this day. 

Send your Spirit upon us,
God of Grace and Mercy, 
and lead us into pastures of plenty, 
that we may be refreshed and restored 
to be your light and truth in the world. 

Make us bold in discipleship, 
steadfast in prayer, 
and united in spirit, Beloved Savior. 

Grant us wisdom and courage 
 that we may be resolute 
 in seeking your will, O God, in all things. 

Extend the shelter of your mercy 
over those for whom we pray this day.


Friday, November 22, 2019

Prayer, day 2488: for Diocesan Convention

O God, You are our refuge and our rock: 
we put our trust in You.

Help us to work together in harmony
in the work You have given us,
and let our deeds bring honor to Your name.
Let us make your Word and commandments our sure foundation,
and seek always to forgive rather than condemn.
Let us remember the generous love You have given us,
and uphold each other in our trials and needs.

Help us testify to the world
about your grace and mercy
by our love and example, Blessed Jesus,
and help us lift up the banner of love and compassion.

Extend the shelter of your mercy
over those for whom we pray this day.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Prayer, day 2487

Most Holy God,
whose house is founded on justice,
and abiding faithfulness,
we raise our hearts to You this day.
We humbly confess our sins:
our lack of kindness and humility,
and the injuries we have inflicted on others and against You.
Open our hearts to receive your Spirit, Almighty One,
to remake us as joyful disciples of your Law of Love.
Help us dedicate ourselves
to building rather than destroying,
loving rather than fearing.
Let us remember that
we ARE Christ's body in the world,
and work for reconciliation,
and justice for all.
All creation rests within your loving hand,
O Creator and Redeemer:
increase our faith
a mustard seed at a time.
Bless us with loving, hopeful hearts
and compassionate spirits, we pray.
Gather within your mercy
all those whom we now name in our prayers.


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Prayer 2486

We lift our prayers to You, O God, 
by whose hand we are supported 
in every hour. 
Let our praises rise to you like incense, 
and may our prayer bring us within your sway,
to the renewal of our spirits in love and charity. 

Draw us near to You, O Love Divine, 
and shape us by your truth,
that we may walk faithfully in your paths today.

Keep us in the hollow of your hand, Lord Christ,
and on the lee side of your sheltering love,
that we may be forces of healing and reconciliation
in your Holy Name.

Secure within your embrace, O Holy One,
we ask that your blessing descend
upon those we remember before You.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Prayer 2485: Inspired by Caedmon's Hymn

O God the Maker, whose creation 
brings forth stuttering praises of awe and wonder 
from the untutored tongues of your children,
our hearts overflow with your marvelous love. 

Holy One, you weave the silken tapestry of heaven,
glorious to drink in and refresh our faith, 
spread overhead like the canopy of a mighty oak 
drawn anew to contemplate the depth of your wisdom.

Our feet firmly planted among the grasses, 
our eyes lifted to the spangled expanse 
 of the roof of the world You have made, World-Warden;
we stretch heavenward like tender saplings.
You have fashioned this Earth as our home, 
and made it holy by the work of your fingers 
for all to rejoice in your bounty.
Gratitude and wonder are the foundation of our prayer,
surging up like a spring of water from our souls. 

And now, O Creator, 
gather our swirling thoughts 
within the bounds of your mercy, 
and grant your blessing upon us, 
and all who turn their hearts to your light
as we pray.


Photo: Ruins of Whitby Abbey, from the British Library entry on Hilda of Whitby.