Advent Candle Litanies, 2016

This is my third Advent as a pastor at Central Presbyterian, and I’ve had the joy of writing advent candle litanies every year. I am glad to share this year’s litanies with the church and the world. As the words build and change each week, I pray that they guide you on your journey toward the manger.

First Sunday of Advent:

As we light the Advent candles,

We awaken our spirits to the coming of God.

Remembering the shalom of God,

We light a candle for peace.

In peace we pray, and in peace we sing,

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

 

Second Sunday of Advent:

As we light the Advent candles,

We awaken our spirits to the coming of God.

Remembering the shalom of God,

We light a candle for peace.

Leaning on the promise of God,

We light a candle for hope.

In hope we pray, and in hope we sing,

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

 

Third Sunday of Advent:

As we light the Advent candles,

We awaken our spirits to the coming of God.

Remembering the shalom of God,

We light a candle for peace.

Leaning on the promise of God,

We light a candle for hope.

Basking in the presence of God,

We light a candle for love.

In love we pray, and in love we sing,

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent:

As we light the Advent candles,

We awaken our spirits to the coming of God.

Remembering the shalom of God,

We light a candle for peace.

Leaning on the promise of God,

We light a candle for hope.

Basking in the presence of God,

We light a candle for love.

Awaiting the coming of God once more,

We light a candle for joy.

In joy we pray, and in joy we sing,

Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

 

Christmas Eve or Christmas Day:

As we light the Advent candles,

We awaken our spirits to the coming of God.

Remembering the shalom of God,

We light a candle for peace.

Leaning on the promise of God,

We light a candle for hope.

Basking in the presence of God,

We light a candle for love.

Awaiting the coming of God once more,

We light a candle for joy.

Living the Christmas story again,

We light the candle of Christ.

In Christ we pray and in Christ we sing,

Glory to God in the highest!  

Alleluia! Amen.  

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Write Songs and Help Us Sing Them: A Prayer for Election Season

 

This prayer was written for worship at Central Presbyterian on October 23. The prayer is inspired and shaped by Luke 18:9-14–an exaggerated parable about the exalted and the humble–and by our current election season–a lived experience that feels like an exaggerated parable.

As you read the prayer, I pray that you feel the words in the core your being, and know that the words as true for you as they were for the tax collector in Luke 18. God is love, and you are beloved.

O God of justice and mercy,

We give you thanks:

For your spirit breathing life into the world,

For your Word bringing hope into our hearts.

You alone are God, and we are not alone.

You are Love, and we are beloved.

You are Creator, and we are created.

You are our God, and we are your people.

 

Give us a glimpse of your vision for the world:

Where the humble are exalted,

The exalted are humble,

And mercy flows like water.

 

Motivate us to reflect your love to all we meet:

Even those who we are sure are wrong.

Challenge us to see the good.

Convict us to hold ourselves accountable.

Inspire us to work for your peace and justice.

As we hear the reports on battleground states,

Remind us of people for whom “battleground” means something different.

We pray for your children in Yemen, in Aleppo,

And for the ones seeking refuge around the world.

 

Where there is war, O God, plants seeds of peace,

and help us water them.

Where there is violence, O God, write songs of compassion,

and help us sing them.

Where there is suffering, O God, paint banners of hope,

and help us carry them.

We remember the people in our church family

Who are in special need this day:

(Name your own prayer concerns.)

 

 

Breathe peace, deep peace, O God,

And empower us to care for one another

With a compassion that comes from you.

We join our voices now with the faithful across time and place,

Praying the prayer that Jesus taught us, saying,

Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.

Amen.

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Call in a Crisis

It is my practice that I am off the grid during vacation, except for pastoral crises.

World, this is a pastoral crisis.

Last Sunday, I preached on Galatians 5. Today, I need to hear the words I preached last week.
There is evil in the world, beloved ones. Be careful not to add to it.
But the spirit of God is working among us, and the fruit of the spirit is love.

Find the love, everyone, and help it grow. That is our call.

Breathe deeply. Do not add to the hatred. Help the love grow.

In a “normal” pastoral crisis, I sit vigil with the grieving or hurting people. I wait with them. I pray with them. I lament with them. I listen to them. I hold their hands and point to the faithfulness of God.

So today, I do those things with the world. For the family of Alton Sterling. For the family of Philando Castile. For the family the Dallas officers whose names have not been released. For your family. For my family. For every family, and for everyone without a family.

Find someone to sit with you, to wait with you, to pray with you, to lament with you. Find someone to listen to you, and listen to someone. Find someone to point to the faithfulness of God.

Breathe deeply. Do not add to the hatred, and help the love grow.

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Earth Day: Prayers of the People

This prayer was written for worship at Central Presbyterian Church on April 24, 2016, as we celebrate Care for Creation Sunday. 

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One of my favorite creation views in Edisto Island, SC


Hear these words from Revelation 21:6.

“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”

Let us bring our prayers before the mother of all creation, the spring of the water of life.

Holy One, Holy Three, mother of all creation:

We give you thanks for who you are,

who you have been,

and who you promise forever to be.

Yours is the womb of all life.

Yours is the fountain of living water.

Yours is the voice that breaks down walls.

Yours is the love that cannot be contained.

 

For the thirsty, you give the water of life.

For the hungry, you offer the bread of heaven.

For the weak, you carry our heavy burdens.

For the joyful, you shout in holy laughter.

For the anxious, you pray showers of peace.

For the suffering, you breathe sighs of comfort.

For the earth, you send winds of creation.

 

As we pray for the new heaven and new earth, O God,

We give thanks for this earth, our partner in your service.

Forgive our abuse of the creation you called good,

And make us worthy stewards of the world around us.

Move us to hear your voice in the song of sparrow,

To see your face reflected in the river.

Empower us to feel your grace in sand between our toes,

To smell your peace in the mist of morning dew.

Enlighten us to hear your prophets in the croaks of evening frogs,

To read your gospel in the webs of writing spiders.

 

Just as you called your apostles into a holy bond,

You have called this church to care for one another.

We pray for those in this congregation in special need this day:

 

[List prayer concerns specific to your congregation.]

 

Yours is the womb of all life, O God.

Yours is the fountain of living water.

Yours is the voice that breaks down walls.

Yours is the love that cannot be contained.

Amen.

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Great Prayer of Thanksgiving: Easter Season

The God of Easter be with you.

And also with you.

People of Easter, lift up your hearts!

We lift them up to the Lord.

People of Easter, give thanks to the One who raises us to new life.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

 

God of Easter, we give you thanks for life:

Life born in waters of creation,

Life drawn from the dust of the earth,

Life molded from the clay of your wheel,

Life stitched in the womb of a woman.

Today we remember that death does have the final word,

For yours is life beyond our imagination.

 

God of Easter, we give you thanks for new life:

New life, that speaks truth in love to the old,

New life that overflows with grace,

New life that teaches us how to live,

New life that beckons us to respond in faithfulness.

Today we remember that sin does not have the final word,

For yours is grace beyond our imagination.

 

God of Easter, we give you thanks for life:

For the lives of the faithful who have come before us,

Prophets who pointed to your love and justice,

Saints who taught us to how to be broken,

Christ who showed us how to be whole.

Today we remember that resurrection has the final word,

For ours is a story of an empty tomb.

 

God of life,

Breathe life into us again today,

and breathe your Holy Spirit into these gifts of bread and wine,

that they may be for us the body and blood of the Risen Christ.

As we join in this joyful feast with the faithful across all time and place,

Join us also with you and with one another,

that we may be the body of Christ in the world.

 

Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,

All glory is yours, now and forever more.

Amen.

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A Prayer for Nominating Committees

A Prayer for Nominating Committees

God of grace and wisdom,

Bestow those gifts upon us this night.

Grant us patience, as we wait for the work of your spirit.

Make us humble, that we may hear your voice louder than our own.

Make us quiet, as you say in a sacred whisper

the names of those you would have lead your church.

Most of all, O God, remind us

that the task before us is holy one.

A hard one.

A faithful one.

For we are members of the body of Christ

seeking to be your church in the world.

Amen.

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Dust: Ash Wednesday Reflection

Ecclesiastes 12:1-8

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; on the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.


 

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“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I have proclaimed those words in two spaces at Central Presbyterian Church: the chapel on Ash Wednesday and the memorial garden, where green grass grows above the ashes of beloved church members. I have stood on the holy ground by that grass to pray, weep, and sing of resurrection as we buried the ashes of people we loved.  

At the end of this Lenten journey, the church will gather in that grassy patch on Easter morning, to proclaim that the truth of life is good news for the dead.

Today, though, we proclaim some form of the opposite. If on Easter, we preach that the truth of life is good news for the dead, then, on Ash Wednesday, we preach that the truth of death is good news for the living.

Last week, I found myself chatting about Ash Wednesday with some church members. We were on a trip to visit our partner church in Haiti, and the slow journey along bumpy, unpaved roads provided plenty of time for theological reflection. We got to talking about the meaning of the day and, I began, “The ashes are a sign that we are finite, and broken, and…” Another person piped in, “And we are going to die!” We laughed at the truth of her point. Maybe we laughed because it made us uncomfortable. Maybe we laughed at the irony of discussing the meaning a high liturgical day while being tossed around the back of Toyota Landrover.

Vanity of vanities, says the teacher, all is vanity.

We bumped on along the road, crawling over every boulder and bouncing with every ditch. We arrived at the village of Trou Jacques to visit with the school children and see the school lunch program that our church sponsors. We met with women in their microloan program, started by our Haiti partnership. We visited the site of their new church, being built in memory of beloved church members. We talked about plans for a new cistern, to provide water for the village. I walked around with precious Haitian children holding my hands and tugging on my skirt, trying desperately to make me understand their creole words.

The day was filled with hope and joy, but I found myself feeling burdened and overwhelmed. There is so much need, both there and here. It felt like the weight of the world, or at least the weight of one village, was resting on my shoulders.

On the way back down the mountain that day, we split into two vehicles. Blake and I decided to make the return trip in the back of an open air pickup truck. The difference in comfort between the two cars is minute; you have to hold on equally as tight in each, and the air conditioning is no cooler than the breeze in the truck bed. The main difference between the two is the dust.  

I started noticing it within the first few minutes of the trip. As our tires spun on the rocks, clouds of dirt kicked up behind us. Fine, red dust began collecting in my clothes and hair, and it made the bench seats slippery, as if covered in baby powder. I sat in the relative quiet, listening to the hum of the truck engine, feeling the dust on my skin and in my lungs, and I felt these words, deep in my soul:

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

For a moment, I remembered that God was in charge. I remembered that it is not about me. I remembered that the weight of the world is not mine to carry, and my breath returned.

If on Easter, we preach that the truth of life is good news for the dead, then, on Ash Wednesday, we preach that the truth of death is good news for the living.

The good news of Ash Wednesday is that it is not about us. The weight of the world is not ours to carry, for we are dust. Beloved, baptized dust.

“And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to the God who gave it.”

When we start to think that it is all about us, when we inflate our own self importance and start to suffocate under the weight of the world, let us stop to feel the dust on our skin and under our nails.

Remember that you are dust, and breath returns. 

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