Litany for the Widow’s Mite (Year B, Proper 27)

This litany is inspired by this week’s Lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark.

God, many of us don’t think we have much to offer.
We discount our gifts, creativity, or abilities;
Or we have trauma that keeps us from offering,
Or we don’t trust ourselves.

But we know that you see us and are inviting us to give,
No matter how small the gift.
We know that you accept us,
    Even our two-bit gifts,
    Our meagerness,
    Our poverty of heart;
Because you are abundantly loving,
    Abundantly patient,
    Abundantly kind,
    Abundantly generous.

And we know that when we offer up ourselves,
Our time,
Our resources,
Our attention,
You make miracles with what we’ve offered -
Water becomes wine (1),
Loaves and fishes become food for thousands (2),
Streams flow in deserts (3).

No gift is too small in your eyes,
No start is too humble,
No moment too late,
No effort unseen.

The smallest seed becomes the largest tree.
The most ordinary generosity changes the world.

So, we offer to you our mites and bits
And ask for them to be enlarged,
That you would expand our efforts and our seeing
So that we may be part of the transformation.

Amen

  1. John 2:1-11

  2. John 6:1-14

  3. Psalm 107:35

Epiphany Seventh Sunday: Litany for Aliens and Evil-Doers

This week's Lectionary passages are PREACHING to me. Unless you read them, particularly the Leviticus combined with the Matthew 5, you probably won't connect with this litany. Those church folks who scheduled the readings really were thoughtful and thorough in their choices, because these four passages are like bells that chime in harmony.

 

God, we hear you asking us
To extend the bounds of our love,
To consider new groups of people worthy of our regard.
To cast a bigger net.

We are supposed to love widely
To forgive deeply
To share sacrificially
To give generously
Even to those we consider undeserving
Even to those we consider dangerous.

Strengthen us, Oh God,
to follow your ways:
Because loving our enemies is not for the faint of heart (Matt 5:44);
Giving to the poor decreases our profit margins (Lev 19:10);
Welcoming the alien makes for awkward cultural situations;
Caring for the differently-abled is inconvenient (Lev 19:14);
Not resisting evil-doers interrupts our self-defense mechanisms (Matt 5:39);
And grudges are our favorite burdens to bear (Lev 19:18).

We would often rather be normal, nice, politically-correct people.
And normal people don’t do the things you recommend.
But you aren’t asking us to be normal.
You’re asking us to be Kingdom-people.
You’re asking us to live by the law of love.
You’re asking us to lay down our lives

Strengthen us, Oh God, to follow your ways,
And to love neighbors, aliens, and evil-doers as ourselves (Lev 19:18).

Amen

Litany for Money

The Lectionary text from the Gospels for September 18, 2016, Proper 20 (25), is from Luke 16:1-13.

I recently listened to a sermon from Brian Zahnd entitled “How Much a Dollar Cost.” Every year he does a series called “Finding God on your iPod” in which he takes popular songs and examines what they might teach us as Jesus-following folks. Kendrick Lamar’s song “How Much A Dollar Cost,” is a rap song about a time that God spoke to Kendrick about reevaluating his attitude toward money. It is very compelling and I recommend taking a listen.

In his sermon, Zahnd says (I’m quoting from memory here, so might be imprecise) that one of the greatest obstacles to the Kingdom of God that a person can face is economic self-interest. We can find this time and time again in the teachings of Jesus. The passages I’ve written along with from Luke over the past couple of months have continuously addressed this. Today’s passage does as well, but this time we are told outright: “You can’t serve both God and wealth. You have to choose.”

It’s a powerful message we can’t ignore. I can’t. The culture I live in values prestige and success and possessions and power; and the culture Jesus is asking me to invest in has an entirely different set of benchmarks. Resisting the one and embracing the other is not going to be convenient.

 

God, who sees behind appearances to the heart:
We know that one of the biggest obstacles we face in living out your kingdom
Is our own self-interest.
We know that we must learn to regard money as a tool
And not a prize.

Help us not to capitulate to the ways of the world, to resist:
Dishonesty and exploitation,
Vengeance-taking and competition,
Power-seeking and violence-wielding.

Yours is an altogether different economy
In which mercy is valued over judgement
Care for the least is valued over self-promotion
Meekness is valued over popularity,
Generosity is valued over accumulation,
Spiritual riches are valued over financial wealth.

Help us to understand your values
And live in light of them.
Help us to be faithful in the smallest responsibilities:
Acts of kindness
Gifts given generously
Words spoken gently,
Finances stewarded faithfully,
Peace offered freely;

So that when our destinies arise before us,
We are ready to meet them.

Amen
 

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