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 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 Spending Money

I’ve been going through Luke, and writing prayers each week for a few months now, and it has been a fruitful spiritual practice. To take the words of Jesus and inhale them so deeply that a congregational prayer may breathe out - well, I recommend it. Read Jesus, then pray about what he says: a formula for transformation.

The discussion has primarily been about money and possessions, about how difficult it is to have them and also participate authentically in the Kingdom of God as it was begun by Jesus. We are forced, in some ways, to acknowledge our disadvantages. We are at a disadvantage because we live in the U.S., and are by and large not debilitatingly poor; and it is the poor to whom the Kingdom is given (1). So by being born in an affluent nation with access to clean water and cheap food and clothing and the internet and iphones, we have to admit that our starting line is farther back; closer to that, say, of the Pharisees, if we’re counting.

When I admit that, I start to see the baggage that comes with it all. I wonder how to simplify. I wonder how to live well and prophetically in this culture and economy. I’ve talked before about all the ways we vote, and it’s an idea I tend to come back to. We have money (or at least we have credit) and we have to use it to survive so how can we use it to help the world survive as well? How can we spend money well, in a way that goes with the grain of the Kingdom of God and not against it?

I have a few ideas. First we can routinely give it away, as much as we can stand to. We can give it to our home churches, and to organizations that do good work, that feed hungry folks and fight injustice and care for orphans. I’ve even started keeping singles in my mom-mobile and giving them away to every panhandler I see at any intersection I pass (2).

Second, we can spend less and buy less unnecessary crap we don’t need so that we have more to give away and more to invest so we can give it away in the future. This is stewardship (3).

Third, we can think about what we are buying when we buy it. Are we supporting sweat-shop slavery when we buy fast-fashion? Are we supporting a sustainable food economy that cares for the earth and the health of the humans it feeds? Are we feeding our bodies in a way that creates health and peace in them? Are we supporting brands that pay workers a fair and living wage? Are we supporting companies that exploit people, animals, and the environment? Are we making peace with our dollar-votes?

These are questions I’m asking myself, and questions I think we have a responsibility to ask if we are trying to honor Jesus with our money. I don’t expect to ever do this perfectly. I don’t expect to ever have a leg to stand on to criticize how another person spends his or her money. I expect to spend the rest of my life on this earth trying to be faithful with money, failing and trying, failing and growing.

 

God of Love and Light,
Our whole lives on this earth, we must interact with money.
We acknowledge that whatever money we have, it’s because you have given it.
We acknowledge that with it comes responsibility.
We acknowledge that with it comes opportunity for doing good.

Help us in our weakness.
Help us when we are tempted to idolize money.
     We want to honor you above all.
Help us when we are tempted to be self-serving and ungenerous.
     We want your generous heart to beat within us.
Help us when we are tempted to gratify ourselves with false consolation.
     We want to be comforted by your presence.
Help us when we are tempted to become miserly and joyless.
     We want to enjoy the fruits of our work, and of the earth.
Help us when we are tempted to be apathetic toward the people who produce the things we buy.
     We want to care for those who are unseen.
Help us when we are tempted to be apathetic toward our own body- and soul-health.
     We want to glorify you in our bodies and care for them as temples.

May we be forces for good in this world,
Courageously examining the consequences of all we do, all we consume.
May we invest in treasures that last, both in this world and beyond it.
May we become peace-makers and peace-purchasers.
As you yourself are our peace (4),
So may we be the peace of the world.

Amen


 

  1. Matthew 5:3

  2. Matthew 5:42 “Give to anyone who asks of you.” I’m not mentioning this as a pat-myself-on-the-back. I’m sharing a practical idea of a way that scripture might come alive in our daily lives.

  3. Matthew 25:14-30, the Parable of the Steward

  4. Ephesians 2:14

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 Goodness and Mercy

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6)

 

God of goodness and mercy: we admit that we have gotten off-track.
We know we need to do justly,
Love mercy,
Walk humbly. (1)

We are enticed by retribution
And take vengeance for ourselves (2).
We are enamored by damnation
And forget about goodness.
We are in love with judgement
And disregard mercy.

We need a change of heart.
Christ, have mercy on us.
We need to look into your eyes and have our inner world transformed,
Before we begin work on the world around us (3).

Transform and renew us now (4)
Into the image of Christ,
Into a peace-making people,
Into a just and merciful people.

May we scatter seeds of goodness and mercy wherever we go,
And live in the light of your presence always. (5)

Amen

 

  1. Micah 6:8, which Phyllis Tickle says is the motto of the Great Emergence.

  2. Romans 12:19

  3. Matthew 7:3

  4. Romans 12:2

  5. Psalm 23.6

Litany for 9/11

Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This litany will also be posted on Godspace. I have reposted it here for the sake of my catalog.


God, we remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.
We know that you remember them too, and are keeping them in your care.

We acknowledge the pervasiveness of violence in our world:
    Sometimes it explodes with intent to kill
And has its success, as on 9/11.
And sometimes it creeps in subtly:
    In attitudes and mindsets, in worldviews and passing words.
We find it even here in our own hearts.

Cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and restore us to justice.
We rely upon your mercy.

Grant that we may forgive those who have committed atrocities against us
And remember them also to your merciful love.
We hear your words to us: “Do not resist an evil person;” (1)
We are baffled and astonished at this instruction.
We have no paradigm for understanding a peaceable kingdom,
Other than your example.

Console us in our grief, Oh Lovely One.
Speak to us in our confusion.
Guide our feet on the path of peace. (2)
Be to us a light in darkness,
A lamp of peace drawing us lovingly in.

Amen


(1) Matthew 5:39
(2) Luke 1: 78-79
 

Litany for Guidance

“For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” Psalm 48: 14

God, we find ourselves at a moment
When a decision must be made,
A direction must be chosen.
We seek your light and your guidance.

We desire to honor you in all that we do
In each breath we take,
Every goal,
Every action,
Every thought,
Every interaction.

We acknowledge that our choices matter,
But that you are Author, Creator, Beginner.
We acknowledge our smallness
And our potential.
We acknowledge that we are connected to a great big world
Parts of a body.
We acknowledge that acts of love reverberate
To all the world (1).

May all we do, and all we choose,
Be done and chosen with love;
That we may be, not a clanging cymbal or gong,
But a beautiful music filling the earth.

Help us to bravely step out into the path of peace (2),
Trusting in your help along the way (3).

Amen
 

1) Psalm 119:64 “The earth is filled with your love, Lord; teach me your decrees.”
2) Luke 1:78,79 "...because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."
3) Exodus 3: 11,12 "Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."

A Bilingual Litany: Litany for Wars (English/Arabic)

My friend Sara, who is from Jordan, helped me with some Arabic phrases for bilingual litanies. "Emnahna al salam" means "grant us peace."

em-NAH-HH-nah AHL sa-LAHM (you make the H-sound as a syllable)

I encourage you to try saying the phrase out loud, even if the words feel strange in your mouth, to speak in solidarity with those Arabic-speakers whose nations are at war and in deep suffering. Your willingness to discomfort yourself in this small way then becomes its own kind of prayer: stumbling, mis-pronounced, and self-conscious, but heart-felt. I have Syria in mind for this litany, but the name of any war-torn nation may be substituted.

God, wars rage and nations are in turmoil.
Emnahna al salam.
Only the power of God can turn hearts and minds toward peace.
Emnahna al salam.

In your mercy, look upon the people of Syria.
Emnahna al salam.
Look upon the poor and vulnerable;
Emnahna al salam.
Look upon the sick and wounded;
Emnahna al salam.
Look upon the government and political leaders;
Emnahna al salam.
Look upon those whose pockets are lined by war;
Emnahna al salam.
Look upon those who are caught up in violence and cannot see a way out.
Emnahna al salam.
Bring your justice and mercy swiftly.
Emnahna al salam.

Spoil the plans of those who instigate trouble because of greed and power-hunger.
Emnahna al salam.
Rescue those who are suffering from violence and unjust government.
Emnahna al salam.
Fill the hearts of those who can help with compassion and strength.
Emnahna al salam.
Empower leaders whose hearts understand the goal of Love, and who enact justice.
Emnahna al salam.

May the spirit of Christ, the Prince of Peace, be strong in that region.
Emnahna al salam.

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 Trauma

“Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (Hab 1:3)

“The grave is greedy and death is never satisfied.” (Hab 2:5)
 

I was on vacation last week, taking a break from most media, blissfully without cell service. I’ve returned home to learn of yet more incidents in the unending cascade of violence the world is subjected to. To name a few: A terrorist attack in Afghanistan killed upwards of 80 civilians. A suicide bombing in Germany on Sunday, on the heels of a prior attack there which happened on a train on Friday. Another bomb in Iraq. And just this morning, a police officer shot in his home, here in the Austin suburb where I live.

I am baffled. I knew the world was a place where violence is a strong force, a tool for the power-hungry and vengeful. My adulthood began with 9/11, after all. But I feel like I know it more deeply now.

One early morning during our trip to the mountains last week, as I sat out on the deck alone drinking coffee and watching the morning mist rise up out of the mountain hollows, God visited me in a different-than-ordinary way. The best way I can describe it is that it felt as if I were a tiny rowboat gently brushing up against a whale. Calm, peaceful, benevolent.

That moment, that serene and loving Presence, is what I want to hold onto this week. I want to know goodness and mercy. I want to contemplate instead of react. I want the Holy Spirit to give me perspective I can’t get with my own eyes, through the fog of my own instincts for self-protection, retribution, and fuzzy ideas about justice. So I’m praying to be set right in my own mind, informed by the trauma, but not motivated by it.


God of peace and healing:
We have witnessed evil.
We have seen terrified communities.
We have seen innocent civilians hurt and killed in conflicts with which they have little to do.
We have seen people killed in cold blood.
We have seen mass murder.
We grieve with mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, friends.

We cannot unsee these things.
We do not even comprehend the damage done to our souls,
     how numb and scarred our minds become by violence.
We are disheartened by the frequency and magnitude of traumas.
It is a sad day when such evil is commonplace.

In these times
Remind us of your vastness
And the vastness of your creation.

Help us to be creative in utilizing the tools you’ve given:
Mercy, Kindness, Gentleness
Words and gestures of comfort and solidarity.

Help us to be strong in our minds
Able to withstand struggle
Able to retreat into your presence for peace.

Help us to be disciplined in maintaining our connection with you, Giver of Life
Even when the news feels all-consuming and urgent.
Especially then.

We do not know what to do
Except sit with you
And let your nearness transform and heal us.

We long for the day when the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea. (1)

Amen


1) Habbakuk 2:14


 

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 Listening

If we are going to keep praying for reconciliation among the races; if we are going to keep praying for reconciliation between hetero culture and the LGBTQ community; if we are going to keep praying for reconciliation among differing religious paradigms; if we are going to keep praying for reconciliation among nations; then I wonder if we should start by asking for help with listening.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:18-20)


God, who so graciously speaks to us and is present to us,
Help us to be present to you, and to your people.

We confess that we are distracted and noisy people.
We confess that we have avoided quieting ourselves before you.
We confess that we’ve been afraid of what you might say to us.
We confess that we are often so busy speaking that all we hear is our own opinions.

We turn now to you, knowing that you are love,
And that love is what you are always telling us,
Even when you are gently correcting us.
We need gentle correction now.

We confess that we have not listened to our neighbors.
We confess that we have not made time and space to hear their stories and concerns.
We confess that we have allowed our differences to put us off.
We confess that by not engaging, we have stifled love.

Show us how to listen attentively,
And to love our neighbors near and far.
Show us how to open our ears and hearts
To those of different cultures, races, backgrounds, belief systems.
Show us how to embody the mission of Christ:
To prepare a great banquet and invite everyone to feast.

May we make space in our lives to hear your voice and do your good work.
May we know your voice.
May we overcome our fears of shame, and our reluctance to experience awkward moments.
May we follow the promptings of your Spirit without hesitation.
May our hearts be big enough to hold the stories we hear.
May we live love loudly, and listen quietly.

Be near to us as we do the work of quieting our souls (1),
That we may listen and learn from those around us.
Amen

 

(1) Psalm 131:
O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
            Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
            Or in things too difficult for me.

 Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
            Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
            My soul is like a weaned child within me.

  O Israel, hope in the LORD
            From this time forth and forever.

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

Litany for Refugees

I am hoping that this prayer can be a practical way that congregations of Jesus-followers can engage with the European migrant crisis. It is a responsive prayer intended for congregational and small group use. May we all have the mind of Christ toward refugees.


God, we lift up to you the plight of our sisters and brothers fleeing from their homes
Escaping war, extermination, persecution.
We pray in solidarity with those who must uproot themselves and their families in order to survive.
Be with them now, Oh God.

We remember that Jesus himself, along with his parents, were refugees escaping genocide.
Give us Christ's compassion for those endangered.

For refugees from [Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq] we pray:
For provision for practical needs,
For safe passage through distressed regions,
For a home, a hope, and a future.

For aid organizations and workers in those regions, we pray:
For the love of Christ to flow through them,
For world awareness and support of their needs and work,
For effectiveness in helping distressed people.

We are reminded of mandates you’ve given us, to extend hospitality to strangers,
To love our neighbor as ourselves.
May we live in light of your commands, and in the light of Your love, even when it is inconvenient.
We love because You first loved us.
May we generously give, serve, and listen, sharing in the richness of the Kingdom of God,
Extending grace and mercy to all.

Amen