Ordinary Time (Year B): Litany for The Seed

This week's Lectionary text includes the passage in Mark 4 where Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a seed.
 

God, we know that your kingdom, your kin-dom, the Community of Heaven
Is like a seed -
It’s potential unknowable;
The smallness of the seed
Defying the magnitude of its becoming:
Bursting with life.

We don’t always know the end result
Just by looking at the seed.
Infinitesimal, full of potential, the seed is the start,
The prime of possibility.

The smallest of seeds
Can become the tallest of trees
Bearing fruit and shade,
Nourishing creatures,
Fractalizing, reproducing, and expanding,
Continuing out infinitely.

How should we understand big things?
By looking closely at small things.
How should we understand God’s Community?
By looking at its seeds among us.

This is what we want to be part of:
This ever-growing
     Ever-including
     Ever-sharing
     Ever-nourishing
     Ever-creative
     Ever-expanding, ever-life-giving communion.

May the seed find good soil in us. Amen

Litany for Re-Birth

This litany is based upon the Gospel reading for Trinity Sunday, Year B, the story of Nicodemus and his nighttime run on enlightenment. If you're looking for a litany more specifically geared toward Trinitarian themes, please see this one.

 

Christ, we hate to admit that we can identify with Nicodemus,
Who had a reputation to uphold;
So he came to visit you at night, through the back door; (1)
Burning with curiosity,
Hoping for enlightenment on the sly.
You know how secretly needy we are.

You are a leader of rascals and rebels,
Keeper of mysteries,
Able to reach over the laws of nature
And grab hold of the miraculous,
Pulling it into our here and now:
Miracles of healing and transcendence.

We are fascinated by you,
And a little confused.
We are humbled by you.
You teach us how little we know.

You are like a telescope,
Showing us the mysteries of heaven.
You are like a mirror,
Showing us our potential.

You seem to speak to us in riddles: To get to the end,
We must go back to the beginning.
To get to the Community of God
We must be re-born. (2)

Well, birth is a messy business,
A rite of passage for all.
Grant that we may participate in this mystery:
To be born of spirit
From the womb of heaven
Into the arms of heaven.

Amen

1) John 3:2
2) John 3:3

Epiphany, Year B (Week 5): Litany for Healing

God, we look to you as Healer.
Heal us, oh God.

We look to the message of Christ for our hope:
The Kingdom, the Way of God is near.
You give power to the faint,
And strengthen the powerless. (1)
You heal the brokenhearted
And bind up their wounds. (2).

From our physical infirmities
Heal us, oh God.
From our spiritual blindness,
Heal us, oh God.
From our emotional woundedness,
Heal us, oh God.
From our weakness and corruption,
Heal us, oh God.
From our mental illnesses,
Heal us, oh God.
From our brokenness and trauma,
Heal us, oh God.
From our carelessness and apathy,
Heal us, oh God.
From our generational burdens,
Heal us, oh God.
From our hatred and violence,
Heal us, oh God.

Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (3)

We wait for you,
God, our healer.
Amen.

 

  1. Isaiah 40:29

  2. Psalm 147:3

  3. Isaiah 40:31

Litany for Jacob’s Ladder

The account of Jacob's dream of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending it, and the words of God to Jacob, is part of the Lectionary for July 23.

God, in our dreams we see you;
Even in our sleep you speak to us.
Oh, that we would be so conscious in our waking,
So aware of you in our daily lives!

We dream of angels.
We dream of heaven.
We dream of ascending.
We dream of your kingdom coming down.

You were always with us,
Even when we didn’t realize.
The house of God is here,
The gate of heaven is here (1).

Let the blessing that began with Jacob (2).
Continue in us:
That you are with us, and will keep us wherever we go,
Always bringing us home to you;
That promises of your goodness
Will be fulfilled in us;
And that we will bless the world
By our presence in it (2).

1) Gen 28:17
2) Gen 28:14

Pentecost: Litany for Spiritual Gifts

Pentecost is the day on the liturgical calendar in which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts 2, and predicted earlier by Jesus. I've drawn from the Lectionary texts for this week, specifically Acts 2 and John 7, for this piece.

Divine Being,
From whom every miracle has come,
Every artifact and invention of creation,
Every living thing from your imagination:

Pour out your Spirit upon us
That we may dream dreams
See visions
And speak with prophetic imagination*. (1)

Pour out your Spirit upon us,
That we may have the gift of faith,
Rivers of living water
Flowing from our hearts. (2)

Pour out your Spirit upon us
That we may bring your ways here to Earth
Live out the compassion of Christ,
And embody your kingdom.

Pour out your Spirit upon us,
That we may speak to all in ways they can understand
Of your lovingkindness --
The great lengths to which you’ve gone to draw us close.

Pour out your Spirit upon us,
That the world in which we live might be changed
That heaven might be found here
And that hope and life may be realized by all people.

Amen

(1) Acts 2:17
(2) John 7:38

*Prophetic Imagination is Brueggemann’s term, not mine.

Litany for Kindness

God, make us attuned to your compassion,
To the kindness of your heart.

Transform our hearts and minds so that in kindness
We weep with those who weep.
In kindness
We rejoice with those who rejoice.

So that in kindness
We listen to the stories of others.
In kindness
We regard them as more important than our own.
In kindness
We allow ourselves to see hidden broken hearts.
In kindness,
We perceive a greater story.

In kindness
We care for the orphan and the lonely.
In kindness
We care for the sick and the prisoner.
In kindness
We care for those whose lives are just beginning and those whose lives are at an end.
In kindness
We care for those in crisis and in need of refuge.
In kindness
We care for those disregarded, disempowered, and marginalized.

In kindness
We consider how to maintain our hope.
In kindness
We consider how to serve our communities.
In kindness
We consider money and power as tools for good, not end-goals.
In kindness
We consider all humans to be made in your image.

The precious kindness of Christ,
Which firmly corrected and firmly forgave;
The precious kindness of Christ,
Which prevailed over death, violence, and empire;
Guide our hearts and mouths
And keep us in perfect peace.

Amen.


 

Litany for Humility

The Lectionary passage from the Gospels for October 23, 2016 is Luke 18:9-14. And, well, I encourage you to read it because I'd say here’s a passage we can use about now.

In fact, just the other day I read an article written by a pastor which declared that anyone who stood against his preferred presidential candidate to be under no uncertain terms a “pharisee.” I confess I was a bit offended and judged that pastor to be judgemental and pharisaical himself. After all, I’m only trying to navigate these murky waters as best I can, just like we all are. And they are VERY MURKY, stick-your-hand-in-and-it-disappears murky. And besides, I think you are wrong, nameless pastor. Dead wrong. Actually I’m certain that you are. And I am right, and I see through these murky waters more clearly than you do because I am further along on the path of enlightenment than you are, obviously.

And my certainty and righteousness leave me no room for humility. My defensive stance leaves no energy left in my heart for self-reflection. My internal list of all the good qualities I possess, which I immediately begin to recite whenever someone questions my motives, drowns out the small voice that invites me to spiritual formation, to consider how I might be part of the problem, what I might do to be part of the solution.

Does this narrative sound familiar?

I think we can subvert it. I think we can, in a sort of grassroots, guerilla way, which in my experience how mercy usually operates, BE THE CHANGE. We can reject mudslinging and turn our cheeks. We can lower our defensive fists and invite contemplation. We can loudly and decisively reject oppression, and then live prophetically and humbly into what comes after it is gone. We can listen to the chorus of angry voices around us, find where the pain is, and set about healing it. We can do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

At least I hope we can.

 

God, we turn toward you now.
Be merciful to us, sinners.

We feel we must defend ourselves.
We take refuge in you.
We feel we must silence others.
We choose to be still instead.
We feel we must rebut every argument.
We look to you for what is right.
We feel we must make ourselves appear powerful.
We remember that your power is made perfect in weakness. (1)

Help us to not point fingers or launch accusations.
Help us to quietly and peaceably stand up for what is good.
Help us to take care of our own hearts before criticizing others.
Help us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

We recognize that we are sinners
In need of mercy.
We recognize that we all see in part,
In need of divine perspective.
We recognize that we are all fighting a great battle,
In need of kindness. (2)

May we imitate the humility of Christ,
Who accepted punishment,
Who endured humiliation and slander
And used them for good.

We turn toward you now.
Be merciful to us, sinners.

Amen
 

  1. 2 Corinthians 12:9

  2. Quote attributed to Ian McLaren

Litany for Diversity

Do I have to say anything about this litany? Do I have to point out the headlines, the twitter feeds, the political season? I think not. I think we can acknowledge that we have some problems accepting one another, problems loving one another, problems with being kind. And I think we can acknowledge ways in which this political cycle has shown us our own hearts and characters in ways we needed to see. Some have said that it is God's judgement. But I am inclined to think it is God's mercy, moving us forward.

God, you have made people of every imaginable kind
Colors and shapes,
Privileged and marginalized,
Rich and poor.

We have differences of every imaginable kind
Perspectives and worldviews,
Countries and cultures,
Philosophies and theologies.

We acknowledge that we tend to fear what we don’t understand,
And that love is more powerful than fear.
We acknowledge that we must work to understand each other
And that this work is Kingdom work.
We acknowledge that each perspective brings your nature into clearer picture
And that we need each other’s points of view.

Help us to love one another
Even though we are different.
Help us to celebrate one another
Even though we may not agree.
Help us to be kind to one another
Even when we have been hurt.
Help us to open the doors to our churches
    Homes
    Organizations
    Governing bodies
    Dinner tables
Even though it may feel awkward and impractical.

We know that the diversity of the people of the world is a good gift
For our growth and edification;
To help us see your vision for the world
Where there are neither slave nor free,
Male nor female,
One race nor the other;
But we are all free, beloved, and united
In the peace of Christ Jesus.

Amen


 

Litany for the Unworthy Servant

The Lectionary passage from the Gospels for Sunday October 2, 2016 is from Luke 17:5-10. I read it in the TNIV.

This passage feels disconnected to me. The disciples say “Increase our faith!” and Jesus starts talking about walking mulberry trees. Then suddenly he’s talking about an unworthy servant.

I feel bad for the servant in this scenario. He works all day in the field, and then has to come back and prepare a dinner and serve it to his boss before he’s able to rest and eat himself. Despite working all the stinking day long, he’s called unworthy, because he’s “only done his duty.” What, Jesus? What more do you want from a person who has labored all day, only to come home and labor some more at preparing a meal for his lazy boss?

I’m confused by this “unworthy servant” business. Seems to me like if you work all day, then you work all evening, you should get a rest and a thanks. But you only get thanks if you go beyond your duty? UNFAIR! And how this is tied to the disciples original question about faith? This feels like I will never measure up to Kingdom standards, even if I collapse at the end of the day with exhaustion.

 But maybe I’m getting it wrong. Maybe it’s an invitation, and not a noose around my neck. Maybe Jesus is inviting me to think beyond the bounds of my “duty.” Maybe faith is about thinking outside the realm of the probable or expected (moving mulberry trees with a word?). Maybe being a person of faith is less like being an employee, and more like being a freelancer of extravagant kindness?

What if the servant had worked all day, done his duty, fixed supper, served it up; and then also made a decadent dessert? Would he still be unworthy?

 

God of Extravagant Kindness:
You have gone above and beyond your duty to us.
You have given second, third, fourth, gazillionth chances.
You have given fullness of joy and life everlasting.

When we have given way to violence and chaos,
Still you regard us with love.
When we have made a mess of a culture based on exploitation and heirarchy,
Still you regard us with love.
When we have taken the legacy of Cain (1), and perpetuated it for millenia,
Still you regard us with love.
When we have rejected the Way of Peace that Jesus offers,
Still you regard us with love. *

Help us to see beyond the bounds of our duty:
Our immediate families,
Our work responsibilities,
Our debts and debates;
To the realm of the improbable and unexpected,
To the mountains that need moving within and without,
To problems of injustice that seem impossible to fix,
To the beggar outside our gate.

Help us to release into the world your Extravagant Kindness,
Your moving-mulberry kindness,
Your walk-on-water kindness,
Your decadent dessert kindness.

And may we, by imitating the love and grace of Christ,
Be regarded as worthy servants of God.
Amen

(1) Cain, who killed his brother Abel over a land dispute.

* Look, I know this section is heavy. But look what is going on in the world? Look at the violence and racial injustice. Look at what's happening in Charlotte. We have gotten a lot wrong and I believe God has things to say to us about it. We need to listen. We need to counteract the prevailing culture with extravagant love and kindness.

Litany for Compassion

The Lectionary text from the Gospels for Sunday, September 25 (Proper 21) is from Luke 16:19-31. It is the story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar.

Here are things I’m coming to believe:

Compassion = Heaven on Earth

and

Compassion Bridges Chasms

 

God of Compassion and Love,
You care for sparrows and sinners.
Your heart is bent toward the disadvantaged
Your justice covers the rich and the beggar.

We acknowledge our obstacles in participating in your work:
Self-centeredness
Apathy
Disgust
Blindness
Pride.

These things keep us from seeing the beggar at our gate.
We need you to teach us your way.
We need you to forgive us
And have mercy upon us;
That we may, by having compassion, bring heaven to earth
And break down the walls of hell.

Give us courage to face the agony of those around us
And strength to help.
When we are asked to get our hands dirty, to stoop to lift the downtrodden,
Help us to be faithful and obedient.
 

Amen.
 

Litany for Doing Hard Things

The Lectionary reading from the gospel of Luke for Sept. 4, 2016 (Proper 18, year C) can be found here.

Wow, Jesus, you really know how to throw down a challenge. Sometimes it feels like you are just trying to make things hard. Why can’t we have a nice gospel? Something pleasant, with sparkles and comfortable pillows and cocktails? But no, you are here going on about “carry your cross” and “hate your father and mother.” I thought I was supposed to honor my father and mother! To love them!

Here is where it becomes helpful for me to read commentary.

I am trying to catch the spirit of this, and indeed the spirit of every challenging thing Jesus is saying in this journey through the gospel of Luke. And I am struggling with it, wrestling with what is black and white on the page, and what is meant, and all the hidden context I don’t necessarily see from a 21st century perspective.

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am slow. And that it will most likely take me my whole life to wrap my brain around what Jesus is explaining to me, which is, as best as I can describe it now, this: the goodness of the Kingdom is not in material things, nor is it necessarily in those relationships which come easily to us - among people who are like us, the same skin color, the same language, the same economic status. The goodness of the Kingdom is in the invitation, the giving-away, the sharing, the awkward feast, the open-handed posture, the asking for help, the venturing out, the making connections, the lost and found, the embracing Other.

 

God, We hold our lives loosely before you
Offering them up to you.
You have asked us to trust in you.
We trust in you.
You have asked us to be loyal to you.
We give you our loyalty.

Help us to get our priorities straight
To honor you with everything we own, and everything we relinquish.
We entrust you with the people we love
Understanding that your love is greater.

We acknowledge that following Jesus won't always be easy.
We acknowledge that we will be asked to Do Hard Things.

Help us to become willing
To follow you,
To endure whatever suffering we must encounter,
To humble ourselves,
To let go of things that hold us back,
To risk our security,
To embrace awkwardness,
To go all-out for love.

Everything we have, every relationship, every possession
Is nothing compared to the richness of your kingdom.
Everything required of us in following you,
Is nothing compared to the joy of your presence.

May we faithfully follow the example of Christ,
And live in his light.

Amen

 

Litany for Freedom

The lectionary reading from the Gospels for August 21 is from Luke 13:10-17.

I love this part of the story. I get a smile on my face every time I read it. In part because I enjoy breaking rules and sticking it to The Man. It’s the stage-3, rebellious teenager in me. No actually I wasn’t very rebellious until I became an adult and I started to see the cracks in the whole faith-schematic that I was a part of. I came to adulthood in a denominational world of fundamentalism, rules-adherence gospel, and church power struggle. Pastors were routinely “voted out,” having had factions rise up against them from within churches. Families who didn’t follow the rules were made unwelcome.

I witnessed all this. I witnessed an aversion to ecumenicalism, resistance to anything “tainted” by any other theological perspective, and unwillingness to build community bridges. My perception of the church was colored by the fact that there was always drama and disagreement within it. Calvinism was gospel and the gospel was Calvinism, and war was a valid tool for spreading it. The message to me as a young woman was: God is happiest with you if you are married, mothering children at home, submitting to your husband, being quiet and dressing modestly. My interests in theology and leadership were misplaced, so I was told, so I shut them down for many years. I don’t say all this as a judgement; I say it as part of the story of what I experienced as a young person, and what brought me to where I am today.

Eventually that vague sense of dread became a personal revolution. I came to a place in which I said: I don’t want this anymore. This is not good news. I am not sure who I am, but it isn’t who they say I am. Scratch it all, start again. But keep Jesus, I like him even though he confounds me every time I open the book.

Jordan and I married and moved far away from home. We flipped a coin to decide where. We landed by the grace of God in the bosom of a little community that was trying to follow Jesus together, to be emotionally healthy, to work through disagreements in raw but authentic ways. The little church was, of all sacrilegious and heretical things, pastored by a woman! We were a bundle of misunderstood theology, church resentments and wounds, and in the midst of a great deal of life-shock; but gradually we moved toward healing and towards Jesus.

That church broke all the rules we had been taught. Talk about our feelings? Emotional health is important? Reconciliation is a thing? Women can do stuff and the wrath of God won’t descend? We don’t have to choose between faith and science?! There are other ways of approaching scripture?!! ...So many yes’es and so many broken rules that healed our sore hearts, and so much freedom.

So when Jesus does this in Luke 13: breaks the Sabbath, which is a gift and an invitation to be free, and sets a woman (a woman!) free from literal physical bondage on entirely the WRONG DAY OF THE WEEK; I just want to dance a jig, and often do. I think of that woman, how Jesus took hold of freedom on the day which most people considered their hands to be tied: Oh, we can’t do anything to help, it’s the Sabbath too bad so sad we won’t risk incurring God’s anger for one little woman. And Jesus said nope; you’ve got it wrong, the Sabbath is meant to free you not to bind you, the Kingdom is here now and everyday I’m letting freedom ring! Hallelujah! The entire crowd was rejoicing (verse 17), and so am I! Oh, hallelujah.

If you have been freed, or are hankering for freedom, I invite you to pray.

Jesus, so often we miss the point of your invitations.
We strap them to ourselves as weights and constrictions
When you meant them to free us.

You invite us to Sabbath
To rest
To contemplation
To community.

You invite us to think differently
About rules
About assumptions
About what the Kingdom of God looks like.  

You invite us to your revolutionary idea
That the Kingdom is now
That freedom is now
That Resurrection is resurrecting everything.

Help us to go to the scripture, to the rules, hand in hand with you.
     You guiding our thinking,
     You keeping our foot from stumbling
     You pointing out the most important bits.
Help us there to find all the freedom we expect from you
     Peace in every encounter,
     Love in every interaction,
     Joy in every invitation.

Amen

Litany for Changing Times; and, Why I Often Want to Wring Jesus' Neck

The Lectionary reading from the gospels for August 14, 2016, Proper 16, is from Luke 12:49-56. I found it helpful to read Eugene Peterson's translation of it, to get the spirit of it.

I nearly gave up on this week’s gospel Lectionary passage. <Why, Fran? Why did you nearly give up?> Because sometimes Jesus frustrates the hell out of me. I have been following Jesus, with various fits and starts, for something like 26 years. Obviously, something about him compels me. Yes, he does. He is the most compelling character in history, the most pivotal person ever to walk the earth. His coming initiated changes even the secular world admits have profoundly affected the course of history. Not only that, but I really do believe he was/is God in human flesh, walking among us.

Yes I find him compelling, but actually engaging with him can sometimes be a little crazy-making. How can I simultaneously want to worship at someone’s feet and wring his neck? (1) (I am not the only person who occasionally wants to wring his neck, seeing as how an entire group of people did a whole lot worse than that, killing him for no real reason except they found him frustrating. I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here but not too much.)

My journey through reading the gospels is, every single time I go to them, heavy with questions. Why did you curse that fig tree, Jesus? Why did you write in the dirt? Why did you say you didn't come to bring peace, when a few chapters later all you seem to say is "Peace be with you" (*pulls hair out and emits swear-words*)? And this passage is no different for me. Frustrating and compelling in equal measure.

But what I find very comforting here is that Jesus seems to acknowledge my frustration. He just comes right out and validates it: yep, the good news I have to tell you is going to disrupt you, and go against your grain and be counter-cultural and antagonize the powers that be and make you feel uncomfortable feelings and puzzle you and confront all the darkness in you and it’s going to be great so come on let’s go; oh and by the way I’m shifting the entire paradigm of the universe and all your ideas about economy and power and justice are going to need to go out the window.

Thanks, Jesus. Thanks for that. And I don’t mean that sarcastically at all. I’m actually trusting you more because you’re not pulling any punches here.

What he said has proved, in the two millennia since, to be true. What Jesus has to say has been divisive. If you don’t feel like admitting it, just look at the sheer number of denominations of Christianity in the world: it’s estimated to be somewhere around 33,000! (Phyllis Tickle also told me that.) Nobody can agree on how to do faith. But even that is beautiful. We have this beautiful diversity of thought and expression and culture and language and art; all because we disagree.

Still, the times are changing, then as now. And we must interpret them. Some of us will get the paradigm shift, or parts of it. Some of us will recognize that what is breaking in is the Kingdom of God, but some of us will think it’s a burglar. Some of us are going to wage war in Jesus name even though he told us that peacemakers are God’s people. Some of us are going to see grace and choose rule-following anyway. Some of us are going to lock the doors of the church against people we don’t approve of and who make us uncomfortable, even though Jesus actively sought those people out. Some of us are going to fall down and worship Jesus, and some of us are going to want to wring his neck.

 

God, things are changing.
The world is changing.
We feel uncertain and shaky.
We feel anxious.

Questions have arisen that we’ve never had to deal with before.
Give us wisdom.
Shifts in culture and technology have brought problems we’ve never had to face before.
Give us discernment.

We are divided in our opinions of how to move forward.
We want unity.
We disagree on policy.
We want compassion.

We know that the Kingdom that Christ began on earth
Is progressing.
The good news
Is expanding;
The momentum of your will being done on earth as it is in heaven
Is unstoppable.

Even as all around us changes
Your love endures forever.
Even in war, and climate change, and social media, and cultural shifts
Your love endures forever.
Even in theological and political disagreement
Your love endures forever.

Help us to love one another as never before;
Better than before.
Help us to not be defensive or closed-minded,
But open to the Kingdom coming in unexpected ways.

Amen.

 

(1) Some are taking good-natured issue with my irreverence in suggesting (or admitting) that I might sometimes want to "wring the neck" of Jesus Christ. I assure you I mean this in the most affectionate way. Kind of like how I sometimes want to wring the neck of my fitness coach when she invites me to do yet another set of burpees. It's an invitation; one that will benefit me if I commit to it -- I will be stronger, fitter, more apt to live a longer, more vibrant life. But there, in the moment, I have some strong feelings about those burpees, and a strong initial resistance to overcome in order to get them done. (YOU MUST BE CRAZY I CAN'T POSSIBLY DO MORE THAN I HAVE ALREADY DONE YOU ALREADY MADE ME DO A GAZILLION SQUATS AND 700 V-UPS AND YOU THINK I CAN POSSIBLY DO MORE BURPEES NOW OK I'LL DO IT.)

This is what I mean. When Jesus digs in to my points of resistance and it's infuriating and I hate him for half a second for challenging me on them but in the end I am committed and if I can just surrender one more inch to his goodness I will get a priceless treasure, even if it is only simple joy. At least this is what happens to me when I go to the gospels. I don't know what happens to you.

A for-instance on points of resistance: the whole sell-your-possessions thing. I have a boatload of resistance to that one and I'm guessing I'm not the only one because several people have told me they hated that post.  Don't wring the messenger's neck, folks; Jesus said it, not me.

 

Litany for Readiness

The Lectionary reading from the gospels for August 7, 2016 (Proper 14) is Luke 12:32-40. Read it here.

 

Recently I’ve been experimenting with capsule wardrobes. A capsule wardrobe is simply a more intentional, minimal wardrobe. I know you’ve opened an overstuffed closet or clothes drawer and felt overwhelmed by the number of items inside. I know you’ve done this because you most likely live in a developed nation (most of my readers are here in the US) and you obviously have access to the internet, and therefore that makes you a fairly privileged person, therefore you are most likely living in a culture where excess is normative. In the developed world, we are much more likely to have to guard against owning excess stuff rather than guard against not having enough. I regularly have to cull my home of items that appear inside it, items that I didn’t intentionally acquire or purchase, that have no meaning or value to me. Clothing in particular is cheap and easy to come by.

In a capsule wardrobe mindset, instead of having a closet full of clothes you didn’t think too hard about buying and that you don’t really like or wear much and don’t suit your needs very well, you evaluate each item of clothing you own with intention and thoughtfulness. You actually think about the items you own and how to make the best use of them. You acknowledge that ownership brings responsibility. You acknowledge that there is effort and hassle involved with owning too much. You acknowledge that weeding through a hundred mediocre options is time-consuming and that time is your most valuable resource. So you pare down to what you really love and use, what really brings you joy and serves you, what helps you get ready quickly and kindly. You figure out how much is enough, but not too much.

So why am I talking about capsule wardrobes? Well, because I find it interesting that in last week’s reading Jesus tells us not to worry about clothes or what we will wear. And this week we are hearing from Jesus a big fat “Be Ready” that directly follows an admonition to “sell your stuff and give to the poor.”

Don't hear me wrong. I'm not saying everyone needs a capsule wardrobe; I just happen to have already been thinking about them and about minimizing possessions in general. But it's not really about that. 

These scriptures give me the sense that part of being prepared for the kingdom to come involves lightening our load, weeding out our distractions and time-sucks, paring down to the essentials; so that we can be dressed and ready quickly, able to pounce on kingdom opportunities when they arise. It makes me wonder if Jesus is not only talking about how generosity affects the receiver; but also how generosity makes clean and light the heart and mind of the giver. And if Jesus is maybe inviting us to be free from worry because we literally own less to worry about.

I don’t think “sell your possessions” is meant as a burdensome request. I don’t think it means we are supposed to deny ourselves aesthetic pleasures - on the contrary; I think Jesus is always bringing the party and with it abundance and enjoyment. And isn’t it interesting that Jesus rarely talks explicitly about gratitude, but is always inviting us into practices that enhance our sense of blessing? So I do wonder if maybe we are being asked to edit things down to what is manageable so that we can both enjoy our lives with less hassle and anxiety, and also have space and time for the unexpected - both the gifts, like the master arriving home to share a meal, and the thief-in-the-night emergencies.

Do we own too much? Do we have too many obligations and distractions? Have we built in margin for the unexpected? Are we being intentional about our ownership, our time-management, and our kingdom priorities?

 

 

 

God, you have blessed us abundantly.
We thank you.
At times, in the culture in which we live, abundance threatens to overwhelm us.
Give us discernment.

We hear your advice to be ready.
We are easily distracted.
We want our priorities and possessions to reflect your goals
May we be generous, ready, alert.

Where we have acquired too much meaningless stuff and need to lighten our load
Forgive us and help us.
Where we have allowed too many distractions to clutter up our time and space,
Forgive us and help us.
Where we have missed opportunities to love people because we’re too busy and blind,
Forgive us and help us.
Where we have hoarded blessing for ourselves out of fear of not having enough,
Forgive us and help us.

Help us not to settle for cheap imitations of blessing,
Which moth and rust destroy;
But instead clear out and make space for true value:
Your kingdom come, your will be done.

Help us to be prepared when you come knocking
Dressed and ready to do your work.

Amen

 

 

Litany for Generosity

The Lectionary reading from the Gospels for this week July 31, 2016 (Proper 13, Year C), Luke 12: 13-21:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

I read this passage over and over this week, and each time my question has been this:
What does it mean to be rich toward God?

I wonder if the answer might begin to be found in the section that follows, verses 22-34. Here we are invited to be free from worry about food and clothing because we are assured that God cares for us. Bird and flowers have no storeroom or barn, and God provides for them, so surely God will provide for us.

But if we want to know how to be rich toward God, it’s this part that is the clincher, and the hardest to swallow:

“But seek his kingdom and these things (food, drink, clothing) will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid… for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail.”

SELL MY POSSESSIONS AND GIVE TO THE POOR? Is that what it means to be rich toward God? You’re telling me that life isn’t found in having an abundance of possessions; but life IS FOUND in giving possessions away? And somehow that gets me invisible, indestructible treasure later?

I see why the rich young ruler turned away a few chapters later. It's a hard paradigm to understand. Our culture isn't geared this way. If I had to choose three words to define the culture I live in, they would be More, Mine, and Now.  And I have to wonder: if we could get this whole being-rich-toward-God thing right, if it could somehow miraculously enter our (my) thick skull(s) and take root there, how many problems would be solved?

So here it is my friends, the upside-down kingdom at its finest, most unexpected, most difficult, and most life-giving; where less looks like more, mine becomes yours, and now steps aside for the long view. Let's pray.


God, we know that you have been pleased to give us your kingdom.
Make us generous, as you are generous.
You have been rich toward us, with resources, with love, and with your Spirit.
Teach us how to be rich toward you.

We understand that greed is often rooted in fear.
Of not having enough,
Of not being well-regarded by others,
Of being powerless.

We ask you to transform our fear into radical love
Open-hearted generosity,
Trust in your unending care for us,
Willingness to go all out for your kingdom.

We confess that we have held tightly to our material possessions.
Forgive us.
We confess that we have been afraid we won’t have enough.
Forgive us.
We confess that we are part of a society preoccupied with wealth and ease.
Forgive us.
We confess that we don’t know how to be rich toward you.
Forgive us.

Help us to see our possessions in light of the good news of the kingdom of God.
We seek your kingdom.
Help us to see our lives and work in light of your generosity.
We trust in your graciousness.
Help us to see your face in the poor and powerless.
Your kingdom is abundant with life, enough for all.

Amen

 

 

Litany for Persistence

I liked last week's exercise in which I wrote a litany to go along with the Lectionary text from the Gospels for the Sunday, so much so that I wanted to do it again even while I'm away this week on vacation. So I was pretty enthused when I read this week's sermon text from Luke 11:1-13, in which Jesus himself offers us a litany of his own devising: the Our Father, known to Protestants as The Lord's Prayer. Various translations offer various versions of it, and I read a handful of them. Here it is, simply presented in the NRSV, Jesus' own litany:

Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.

I'm grateful for this prayer. It's so helpful. "When you pray, say this" says Jesus. It's always there when we need it, covering most of our prayer bases, easy to memorize, easy to say under your breath while jogging or cooking or driving.

But then, just after giving them the litany, Jesus starts talking to the disciples about persistence in prayer; about knocking on doors in the middle of the dark night and shamelessly asking for your needs to be met, and doing it even thought it seems like the person you're asking is annoyed or inconvenienced at being asked. It takes a certain amount of audacity to knock on someone's door in the night to ask for bread. It's rude and socially inappropriate and maybe a good way to lose a friend, and yet Jesus urges us to ask anyway.

"For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened."

I wonder if any of us have gotten tired of asking. Or ashamed of being so needy. Especially those of us who are interested in asking for things like peace, racial reconciliation, an end to violence, and healing and rest for those who have been traumatized by evil. I wonder if we are starting to feel that God is sleeping and doesn't feel like coming to the door. I wonder if we would do well to be reminded to keep asking even though we feel ashamed, or doubtful, or fearful, or like we don't even know which door to knock on.

Let me be clear: I don't think God is sleeping. I'm just saying it might be easy for us to project onto God that God might be sleeping, that God is grumpy or curmudgeonly (or an exhausted parent who has finally gotten the kids to bed and just doesn't want to deal with anyone else's problems) and doesn't want to answer the door, drag Godself to the kitchen to rustle up yet more bread for yet another needy person. No. Jesus says God will give us good things (verse 13).

I don't think God is annoyed with the prayers of God's friends. (I think God also welcomes the prayers of folks who don't consider themselves God's friends.) I think God is sad about all the bad stuff happening in the world, and has endless grace and love for us all, victim and perpetrator alike. And I do think, in some ways, that it is the middle of a long, dark, night. How gracious for Jesus to offer to let us ask and receive even then, and to remind us that it is when we will need the most persistence and audacity in prayer.


God of heaven and earth,
We exalt you.

Some of us have grown tired of asking
for peace, for reconciliation.
Some of us have grown tired of hearing bad news
of evil and pain.

Yet you encourage us
to keep asking,
keep seeking,
keep knocking.

In a long, dark night, full of evil,
we are knocking on your door,
we ask again for your kingdom to come;
we ask again for peace.

Hear the prayers of your people,
Give bread to all,
comfort those who mourn,
allow the weary to rest,
encourage the disheartened,
show us the path to peace.

May we not grow weary of doing good,
and keep on praying shamelessly and boldly.
May our faith grow, and peace reign in our hearts,
even in darkest night.

Amen




 

Litany for Chaos

Oh God, our hearts are overwhelmed with sorrow for the endless trauma that continues to afflict the people of the earth.
Our hearts cry out.
We lament the violent tragedies that have occurred in recent days both at home and abroad.
Our hearts cry out.

We lift up our eyes to the hills;
Where will our help come from?
Our help comes from the Lord
Who made heaven and earth. (1)

Violence, murder, trauma, chaos - they seem to be unending and gaining momentum.
How long must we wait, Oh Lord?
Governments overrun, children and families killed, tension and fear rampant.
How long, Oh Lord?

We have nothing left but to hope in You, God
Our hope is in You.
Our grieved hearts have nowhere else to turn.
Come quickly to rescue us.

We pray for peace.
Yes.
We pray for violence to end.
Yes.
We pray for your merciful heart to beat inside us.
Yes.
We pray for you to show us how to help.
Yes.

We are pressed on every side,
but not crushed;
We are perplexed,
but not in despair;
We are persecuted,
but not abandoned;
We are struck down,
but not destroyed.

Death is at work in the world,
but life is at work in You.
Come now and bring life.
Our hope is in You.

Amen

  1. From Psalm 121

  2. From 2 Corinthians 4

Litany for Mary, Martha, & The Mess

This week’s lectionary text is from Luke chapter 10:38-42 (Year C, Proper 11), the story of Mary and Martha. Preachers around the world will be preaching from that text on Sunday.


10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

I like the story of Mary and Martha. For one thing, I like it when there is a significant story about women, particularly ones with moxie who dare to sneak in an education at the feet of a renowned teacher in a time when not many families would waste an education on a woman.

I also like the story because I feel a great deal of compassion for both Mary and Martha. Martha is mostly cast as a nagging shrew, which I think is a shame. I imagine Martha as the older sister who has spent her life feeling like she has to carry her sister’s weight as well as her own. I imagine that she is bone tired and resentful that all the work of entertaining guests has fallen to her, and the only help she might have had, her sister, has abandoned her yet again, left her to clean up all the messes. I have heard this exact sentiment from my older daughter in reference to my younger daughter: Mommy, she’s not helping pick up toys! We are both supposed to help! And I myself have felt this way; left alone to deal with a slew of messes, the weighty responsibility of keeping everyone happy and fed.

I imagine Mary as a would-be intellectual. I imagine that she’s spent her life yearning to learn, but was never deemed worthy because she was a lowly girl, purposed to serve and birth. I imagine that she sees in Jesus a new regard, a glimmer of life possibility, and she just can’t let it pass her by, her one shot at understanding, her one shot at something bigger than housework. You’ll never be a rabbi, Mary. You’ll never go to seminary. You’ll never teach or preach. But you can sit at Jesus’ feet and listen right now.

I imagine the mess in the kitchen as the other character in the story. It's behind the scenes, the result of the privilege that a bunch of folks got, which was to eat a nice hearty meal for free that someone else prepared. I imagine that they didn’t care what happened in the kitchen so long as their bellies were full. The kitchen was invisible to them. The dirty dishes were not their problem to solve. I imagine that Martha’s love language is Acts of Service and she is getting no love despite the fact that God Himself is preaching the gospel in the next room. She is so overwhelmed by the enormity of her tasks that she can’t hear Jesus speaking, and doesn’t feel free to.

And here we are two millenia later, hearing the story of the woman who had a hard time swallowing the fate of the dirty dishes, and the fact that she got left out of the conversation because she was too busy dealing with her nemesis: the messy kitchen.

I also feel a little peeved at Jesus in the story, and if I were there I don’t think I could resist shoving my elbow into his side and saying, Look at that pile of dishes, they all enjoyed that meal, why aren’t these bozos helping, tell them many hands make short work!! Better yet, if he’s so humble why doesn’t he go help wash up himself?

I understand that the answer is that the dishes aren’t nearly as important as the gospel of the kingdom of God and the presence of Jesus. I get that. I’m just saying I see how Martha might feel. How can we be expected to listen well when things are such a mess?

No really, how can we be expected to listen well when things are such a mess?

'Cause things are a mess and there are a lot of problems to solve. A lot of dirty dishes, if you will. Our national problem of racism comes to mind, but other issues of injustice also. And we have a lot of Marthas who are feeling resentful and abandoned and overwhelmed and left to fend for themselves with the odds against them. And rightly so.

Let’s pray that, like Mary, we can bask in the presence of Jesus and the good news and allow it to get into our bones and inform our hearts, but let's also help the Marthas so they can hear it too.

 

God of grace and peace, give us perspective on our national problems in light of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Give us grace and peace.

Grant that we may have the heart of Martha, understanding our responsibility and calling to peacemaking;
Willing to work hard to set things right.
Grant that we may have the heart of Mary, understanding that the presence of Jesus in our midst is the most important thing to seek;
Willing to seek first your kingdom.
Grant that we may have patience with the mess we are in, understanding that transformation is a process,
Willing to take the first steps.

Jesus, we invite you among us now
That we may sit at your feet.

We say to the worried and distracted,
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
We say to the spiritually hungry,
The Kingdom of God is near.

May we know the treasure of the presence of Christ,
The peace of the presence of God;
God among us,
God with us.

And may we set our distractions aside, making space to hear your voice, and only then setting about our work,
To be the hands and feet of Christ in a worried world.

Amen

 



 

Litany for Racism in the United States

We are in mourning over the events of this week in the United States - black men killed by white police officers, police officers killed in Dallas, presumably in retaliation (the whole story isn't out yet, as of this morning). This litany is a congregational, responsive prayer, intended for use in communal prayer by faith communities. It includes elements of lament and confession, psalmic exhortation, and also the Kyrie eleison, a traditional liturgical phrase meaning "Lord have mercy upon us."

Oh God, visit us now in our mourning
Be near to us in our lament.
Blood has been shed, precious lives have been lost, evil has had its say.
Christ, have mercy.

We acknowledge the hold racism and prejudice have on our national psyche.
Set us free from this bondage.
We acknowledge that violence has been matched with violence, and many are in pain and distress.
Bring healing to us all.

We pray now for the Church in the United States, part of the body of Christ on earth, that it may be a voice of peace,
A light of love,
Working for reconciliation and unity,
Working for justice.

We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters; all races, all skin colors, all ethnicities.
Hallelujah.
We stand against racism and injustice.
Hallelujah.
We stand for love.
Hallelujah.

For all the ways we are complicit in perpetuating racism
Forgive us, Oh God.
For all the ways we have hidden the light of Christ
Forgive us, Oh God.
For all the times we have kept silent
Forgive us, Oh God.
For all the times we have capitulated to fear of ridicule and retaliation
Forgive us, Oh God.
For all the ways we’ve given over to apathy
Forgive us, Oh God.
For all the ways our own prosperity has blinded us to the needs of others.
Forgive us, Oh God.

Protect the innocent Oh God!
Hallelujah!
Open the eyes of the blind!
Hallelujah!
Rout out the unjust!
Hallelujah!
Thwart the plans of the greedy and power-hungry!
Hallelujah!

May Christ, who re-imagined death, give us inspiration for how to move forward.
Love triumphs over hate.
May Christ, who said upon rising from the grave, “Peace be with you,” bring us into his kingdom.
Peace triumphs over violence.
May Christ, who did not retaliate but offered forgiveness, share with us his vision.
Mercy triumphs over judgement.

Lord, have mercy upon us. (Kyrie eleison)

Amen

Litany for Rebuke

Edit: Saturday morning 7/9/16: This litany was written on Thursday before the shooting in Dallas Thursday night. I was feeling angry and grieved when I wrote it. More bad things have happened since then. I still feel angry and grieved and confused and baffled and sad, and more aware than ever of ways that I AM THE PERSON I'M REBUKING. I am complicit. I can change in ways I haven't yet perceived are necessary for me to change. By simple apathy and laziness, I have been an enemy of peace. I need rebuke and correction. I need a fresh dose of perspective and compassion and grace and love. I am still mad at those cops who killed Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile and all the others who have been unjustly put to death. I am still mad at the shooter who killed 5 police officers in Dallas. I'm mad and I want things to change and I want to change. So I pray the traditional orthodox Jesus Prayer:
 


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

You who are enemies of peace;
We rebuke you.
You who are wolves in sheep's clothing;
We rebuke you.
You who govern masses and only consider the interests of a few;
We rebuke you.
You who pay lip service to justice but do evil;
We rebuke you.
You who kill without thinking and have no regard for human life;
We rebuke you.
You who are enslaved to fear of a certain type of person;
We rebuke you.
You who allow evil and corruption and ignore what is right;
We rebuke you.
You who have no language but violence;
We rebuke you.
You who worship money and power over others;
We rebuke you.
You who perpetuate injustice;
We rebuke you.
You who have decided that the white, the straight, the affluent; are more deserving of life than the black, the gay, the poor;
We rebuke you.
You who shed innocent blood;
We rebuke you.
You who choose to remain enemies even while we offer peace;
We rebuke you.

We are all brought to shame by your actions.
We are all brought to grief by your violence.
We are all brought to rage by your power over our society.
We are all brought to repentance by your misdeeds.

We refuse to swallow your lies.
We refuse to bend to your way of violence and power-hunger.
We refuse to be blinded by your distorted version of prosperity.
We refuse to allow violence and fear to found false peace.

We offer you forgiveness and reconciliation.
We offer you a place at our table, generosity instead of greed.
We offer you one cheek, then another.
We offer you our cloaks, and shelter from the storm.
We offer you loaves and fishes, though you’ve given us a snake.
We offer you the Way of Love, an antidote to hatred.
We offer you the Way of Peace, an antidote to violence.
We offer you the body and blood of Christ, who is able to heal your disease.

Come now, Christ, in your mercy and in your peace, in the dazzling beauty of your love, in the creativity of your re-imagining this world, in the justice of your Kingdom.
Amen