Where Does Love Come From? An Affirmation from 1 John 4

Where does love come from?

Love is from God.

Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

 

What does God’s love mean for us?

God sent God’s only son into the world

so that we might live through him.

Since God loved us so much,

we also ought to love one another.

If we love one another, God lives in us,

and God’s love is fulfilled in us.

The commandment we have from God is this:

those who love God must love their siblings also.

 

Why should we take the risk to love, when it is easier hide behind fear?

We love because God first loved us.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God,

and God abides in them.

Amen.

 

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Good News to the Poor: A Prayer from Luke 4:16-20

The following prayer was written for worship at Central Presbyterian Church on January 27, 2019.

Hear the words Jesus reads to begin his earthly ministry:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

  because he has anointed me

    to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

  and recovery of sight to the blind,

    to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

 

Let us pray.

 

We pray, O Lord, for people who are poor:

the ones to whom you came with good news.

Challenge us to bear that good news:

to be agents of change and witnesses of love;

to be makers of peace and sharers of bread.

 

We pray, O Lord, for people who are captives:

the ones to whom you came with release.

For people who are victims of war or violence;

for people who are captured by ideologies and systems.

Release us, O Lord. Release them, O Lord,

and teach us to unbind one another’s chains.

 

We pray, O Lord, for your spirit,

the spirit which blew over the waters of creation,

the spirit which was upon you at baptism,

the spirit which sustains your church through the ages.

As the spirit was upon you, O Lord,

may we notice her in our world:

Calling us to lives that reflect your justice and your mercy.

Amen.

 

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Near To The Brokenhearted: A Prayer After the Tree of Life Shooting

Thistle- ATGT

I wonder if the tree of life looks more like a thistle.

Psalm 34:15-18

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

  and God’s ears are open to their cry.

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,

  and rescues them from all their troubles.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,

  and saves the crushed in spirit.

 

Hear our prayers, Lord.

Hear the prayers of friends and family of the shooting victims,

grieving for loved ones lost.

Hear the prayers of Jewish communities,

reeling in fear and anguish.

Hear the prayers of people who feel isolated, afraid, angry, or guilty.

Hold the range of our prayers and emotions, O Lord,

and draw them all into your mercy.

 

You are near to the brokenhearted,

and save the crushed in spirit.

 

Hear our prayers, O Lord.

Forgive us for the ways we have been complicit in hatred;

for the times we have not spoken out against myths of supremacy

or patterns of violence;

for the ways we have watered seeds of division

for the sake of the status quo;

for the times we have set out to quench the flames of hatred,

and found ourselves just warming our hands by the blaze.

Forgive us, Lord, convict us and challenge us.

Love us into wholeness.

Carry us, and help us carry your message of costly peace.

 

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

and your ears are open to their cry.

 

Hear our prayers, O Lord,

for all who are brokenhearted or crushed in spirit;

for all who are ill, grieving, or recovering;

for the people we love, the people we have forgotten to love,

and the people we cannot bring ourselves to love.

Hear our prayers, O Lord.

 

We pray specifically for our Jewish friends and family,

and for synagogues in our city.

Hold them as you have, O Lord.

Love them as you do.

Call us as you will, to sit with them in their grief,

and follow their lead in walking toward peace.

 

We pray in the name of the one who was and is near to the brokenhearted,

using the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying, Our father…

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Rooted in Your Love: A Prayer

Moon Flower Vines

You are the vine, O Lord,

and we are the branches.

Our life stems from your life.

Our love is rooted in your love.

 

When we fear scarcity, O Lord,

remind us of your abundance:

Plenty for all, if all will share.

 

When we fear loneliness, O Lord,

remind us of your presence:

You abide with us in good and bad,

in joy and in fear,

and in the sacred tension between those things.

 

You are the vine, O Lord,

and we are the branches.

Our life stems from your life.

Our love is rooted in your love.

 

We pray to you, O vine and vine grower,

for all the places and people in our lives in need of your abiding presence:

(Offer your own specific prayers, aloud or in silence.)

 

We give thanks for the beautiful diversity of your creation:

We pray for all people who are LGBTQ who have been hurt by the church,

and we pray for your forgiveness and their healing for any part we have played.

We give you thanks for the life and love shared in this world:

Love that is rooted in your love,

life that stems from your life,

for you are the vine, O Lord,

and we are the branches.

Amen.

 

 

 

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Remembrance: A Baptismal Prayer

Central Presbyterian Baptismal FontIn water, you create life, O God.

In water, you wash us.

In water, you claim us.

In water, you bind us in the presence of the Spirit.

In water, you mark us in the love of Jesus Christ.

 

In the act of baptism,

we hear your promises and we make our own:

promises to teach the stories of your love;

promises to support one another in faith;

promises to care deeply for your children:

not only the children in our own churches,

not only the children in churches,

but all the ones whom you call blessed.

 

We give you thanks, O God, for baptism

and ask for lives shaped by its waters.

Pour your holy spirit out on these waters,

that they may be the sign and seal of your grace for us.

In the name of the holy trinity we pray. Amen.

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Christmas in July: The Prayer of the Angels

I have the joy of serving as liturgist for a conference at Massanetta Springs this week, and tomorrow in worship, we will hear the Christmas story.  Turns out the song of the angels was just what I needed on a steamy July week, and I hope it sings to you as well.

Massanetta Font

Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and peace on the earth God loves.

That was the prayer of the angels, O Lord,

and that is our prayer as well.

Glory to you in the highest heaven,

and peace on the earth you love.

 

We pray for peace indeed, O Lord,

peace that is not the absence of conflict

but the presence of justice and love;

Peace that is not bound by our attempts at compromise

but is stretched across the world in the fabric of your love.

Glory to you in the highest heaven,

and peace on the earth you love.

 

We give you thanks for that earth, O Lord,

and for all the good things in it:

For the mountains which hint at the beauty of your reign;

For the waters which carry the message of your grace;

For the fruits which teach us the sweetness of your love;

For the animals which show us what it is to be joyful;

We give you thanks, O Lord,

For friends and family united by blood or spirit;

For the church seeking to be your body;

For your spirit, guiding us all along the way.

Glory to you in the highest heaven,

and peace on the earth you love.

 

Peace, we pray, O Lord, for the earth and all people in it.

Where there is strife, make peace rain with the waters.

Where there is violence, show us how to start again.

Where there racism, convict us, challenge us,

forgive us, and transform us.

Wherever we are broken, love us into wholeness.

Glory to you in the highest heaven,

and peace on the earth you love.

 

We pray all these things boldly in love,

in the name of the one who was Love for us. Amen.

 

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Splashes of the Spirit: A Reflection for Pentecost Week

A sermon based on Acts 2:1-21 

pentecost

“When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language… you are saying to them… I see you as a human being.”

Those words are from the memoir, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” by comedian Trevor Noah. As the title suggests, Trevor Noah’s very existence was a punishable crime under South African apartheid. His father was Swedish, his mother black South African, and neither culture had any room for a child like Trevor Noah.

There are eleven official languages in the nation of South Africa, and Noah talked a lot in his book about the challenges and gifts of language in his childhood.

At home, the Noah family spoke Xhosa, a native South African tongue.  When it came time to pray, though, they always prayed in English. Trevor’s grandmother asked him to pray, because his English was the best. “The Bible is in English,” she told him, “so English prayers get answered first.”  

It’s funny, but I can imagine how Trevor’s grandmother came to that conclusion, even if no one ever explicitly said it: she first heard the Bible in English, verses of freedom from the lips of people who oppressed her. She saw white people in their comfortable lives, without the curfew or travel restrictions that she and other black South Africans faced. She prayed, certainly, but God must have been busy answering English prayers first.

Of course, we know that the Bible was not written in English. We know that, intellectually. But I can’t help but worry about whether we, whether I, have carried on the hurtful assumptions that white South African Christians taught to Trevor Noah’s grandmother. Are we still making the same mistakes as James and John, imagining English speakers–imagining America–at the right and left hand of Jesus? Have we been saying “God bless America” for so long that we’ve forgotten that God blesses other nations, too?

Deep down, do we think our prayers are answered first?

God must have thought of those questions before the church even came to be. God saw our failures coming, saw our pride and limited worldview, and answered our questions in the form of a drama.

The apostles are gathered in a house, praying and waiting for God to make the next move. A violent wind fills the house, a wind that is unmistakably God. The Spirit moves them outside the house to preach of God’s power, and a crowd gathers, Jews from every nation. I imagine them like a scene from Trevor Noah’s book, a street full of people speaking eleven languages. When the apostles start speaking, everyone hears the words, all at the same time, all in their own native tongues.

On that first Pentecost day, the Spirit could have come with any miracle under the sun; the apostles could have been miraculously healed of their ailments, or lifted off the ground, or given a power that any superhero would envy.

But instead, the Spirit gives them the gift of communication across languages.

If those first apostles found themselves tempted to think that God answered their prayers first, the Spirit burst on the scene and blew their assumptions out of the water.

God will pour out God’s Spirit, the scripture says, on men and women, young and old, slave and free, that all will prophesy and all will be saved.

That’s the thing about the Holy Spirit: she does not have patience for the structures of our world. She does not care who holds the cards, who has the curfew and who has free reign. The Spirit is a leveling power, and the wind blows where she chooses.

I am a Presbyterian pastor, and Presbyterians talk a lot about the spirit. Every Sunday, we pray for the spirit to be present in our service. Before we read the holy scriptures, we pray for the spirit to illumine their words. When we celebrate the sacraments, we pray for the Spirit to make the elements holy. Then, at the end of every service, a pastor stands before the congregation with arms raised, praying for the spirit to travel with them in the week to come. We love spirit talk during the week, too, working in the word “discernment” whenever a decision has to be made.

The Spirit is the presence of God, gifted to the church, witnessed in the powerful Pentecost story. It is good and right that we lean on the Spirit the way do.

But we have to be careful not to domesticate the wild wind of our God. The Pentecost story comes as if with a warning label: When the Spirit comes, she comes with fire. If we are going to pray for Spirit’s presence, we better mean it.

A friend of mine [oh hey, Jamie] spent a summer working at Montreat Conference Center, and I will never forget the first time she led worship there. The congregation in Montreat worships in their 1200 seat auditorium in the summers. In a church that big, everything on the chancel has to be big, too. The table is twice the size of most, and the baptismal font has a shallow, clear bowl roughly the size of a bathtub.

It came time for the Assurance of Pardon, and my friend picked up the ceramic pitcher of water, to pour into the baptismal font. The pitcher was the size of her torso, and once she started pouring, gravity took effect and she could not stop. The water went into the font with a gush, created a wave out the other side, and soaked the front of the church with a splash.  

Maybe that is something like the way the Holy Spirit came to the apostles: not a conservative drip, carried out decently and in order, but a baptismal tidal wave across the world, with splashes of the Spirit everywhere.

I have been hearing the Pentecost story my whole life, but I noticed something this year that I had never really heard before. When the spirit comes to the apostles, and they start speaking in tongues, it is the crowd outside the house who hears and understands the words.

The Spirit comes to the church, of course, but she is not bound by our walls.

When we see a place where differences are respected, and barriers are shattered, surely that is a splash of the spirit.

When we see a place where differences justify division, where barriers are built high and strong, surely the spirit is calling us there to find unity in our diversity.

This week, we Christians whose God came as a Palestinian Jew cannot ignore the bloodshed at the Gaza border. We Christians whose God promises life even for dry bones cannot ignore the lives lost to gun violence. We Christians whose God speaks every language cannot pretend that we do not contribute to global injustice, or to the myth of white supremacy, or to the devastating assumption that God answers our prayers first.

“God will pour out God’s Spirit on all flesh,” Peter said, and even he did not realize the implication of those words.

Last week, 24 prominent clergy came together to write a new confession, which they titled “A Confession of Faith in A Time of Crisis.”

“We believe Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples,” they say. “Therefore we reject ‘America first’ as a theological heresy for followers of Christ… Serving our own communities is essential,” they write,“but the global connections between us are undeniable.”

Church, the holy spirit is not our mascot, not a name to be said flippantly, or a prayer to be offered only when it is convenient. The Holy Spirit is God is in our midst, calling us out of the church and into the world, making waves in places we would rather keep dry.

Hear this good news of the Pentecost story:

The Spirit hears all our prayers. The miracle is when we each other. 

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