Epiphany, Year B (Week 2): Litany for Being Seen

The account of the calling of Nathanael in John 1 (Lectionary for Second Sunday in Epiphany) has fascinated me for many years. I’ve never been able to definitively puzzle it out. But the narrative of it draws me in. I can imagine how Nathanael might have felt, waiting, hoping for something; perhaps all his life. Perhaps events in his life made him cynical. Perhaps he chose to watch from the edges, partially hidden. Perhaps he thought he’d never been seen, and had given up hope of being seen. Perhaps he’d lost so much he thought he’d never be found.  It seems like he and Jesus have a secret exchange here, buried in the dialogue. And whatever it is, it seems to be what he needs, because we can feel Nathanael’s heart open and his guard drop, simply from knowing that Jesus has seen him.  It occurs to me that this is part of what Epiphany means: we get in on the secret that God sees us as intimately as Christ saw Nathanael.
 

God, we are all hoping you’ll come looking for us,
Though our hearts might be hard --
Or maybe we have been running and hiding for a long time...
We want you to see us.

We want the Creator to pay attention to us
We want to be seen.
We want Someone, Something powerful to take an interest in us.
We want to be known.

Our deepest longing,
Our secret hope,
Our shadowy leaning,
Our mundane pain,
Our hidden dream,
Our forgotten spark:
These are things we long for a savior to save
For a flame to kindle.

You saw us all along:
Quietly observing
Keenly attending
Actively loving.

No matter what fig tree we hide beneath (1),
You see us.
No matter what bravado or sentiment we hide behind (2),
You see through.
We can rely on you to know the truth of us.
We can trust your mercy.

And, when we finally become aware of your merciful regard
We have seen the truth of you.
So, with gratitude and awe
We reflect your love.

Amen

1) John 1:48
2) John 1:46

Lent 4 (Year A): Litany for Blindness

This litany incorporates the New Testament readings from this week's Lectionary passages: when Jesus heals a man born blind in John 9, and a section of Ephesians 5. I am particularly captivated by the image of Jesus smearing mud on the man's face as part of the healing. I think there's all kinds of goodness in that image if we look for it.
 

God, we understand that sometimes, before our eyes can see, they must get muddy.
The mud is a crucial step: Jesus working on us.
We can’t know sight until we’ve tried to see through mud. (1)
We must realize our blindness, and admit it.

The blindness itself isn’t our sin.
It’s pretending we can see when we can’t that is harmful.
It’s judging the mud of others to be worse than our own that sets us back.
It’s being dishonest about our blindness that displeases You. (2)

To all the ways we’ve been blind to our own true selves,
Open our eyes, Oh God.
To all the ways we’ve been blind to the suffering of others,
Open our eyes, Oh God.
To all the ways we’ve been blind to and complicit in our society’s brokenness,
Open our eyes, Oh God.
To all the ways we’ve been blind to the sacredness of human beings,
Open our eyes, Oh God.
To all the ways we’ve been blind to your invitation and calling in our lives,
Open our eyes, Oh God.
To all the ways we’ve been blind to the way of your kingdom coming, now and not-yet,
Open our eyes, Oh God.

We want to live as children of light. (3)
We want to learn what pleases You.  (4)
We want light shined on the deepest recesses of our beings,
So that all that is hidden may become visible. (5)

Amen

 

  1. John 9:11

  2. John 9:41

  3. Eph 5:8

  4. Eph 5:10

  5. Eph 5:13

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 God So Loved the World

This week the Feast of Cross is celebrated in the liturgical calendar. The feast days commemorate the discovery by Saint Helena the mother of Constantine, of the cross on which Jesus was crucified; as well as the subsequent dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Most Protestant folk don't generally know about these feasts, and I only started learning about them when I began following along with the liturgical calendar and lectionary.  The Lectionary text from the Gospels for Holy Cross Day, which is in most traditions celebrated on September 14 (in others on September 16), for the year 2016, is John 3:13-17. 

I am including this text in my Lectionary litanies even though it is not a regular Sunday text, because it contains probably the most well-known verse in Scripture: John 3:16. If ever there were a text that should inspire and has inspired followers of Jesus to pray, it's this one. I find Eugene Peterson’s translation of it particularly compelling.

 

God, Creator and Lover of Humankind:
You’ve been reaching out to us since the dawn of our consciousness;
Extending connection and love,
Explaining yourself in ways each iteration of humanity could understand.

You are always convincing us of your love,
Mercifully covering our shame,
Making sacrifices to clothe our nakedness, (1)
Walking with us in the midst of our propensity for evil.

On our own we tend to choose death for ourselves
Even though you have been offering us whole and lasting life from the beginning. (2)

We still need to be convinced of your love
And of your loving nature.
We still need to look upon the person of Christ
And be reminded of what God is.

Your love reaches to the heavens.
Your faithfulness stretches to the skies. (3)

 

(1) Genesis 3:21
(2) “Whole and lasting life” is part of Eugene Peterson’s compelling translation of John 3:17
(3) Psalm 36:5


 

 

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 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