Ordinary Time (Year B): Litany for the Desperate

This week's Lectionary passages contain such amazing stories and David and Goliath and Christ stilling the sea, but also a deep sense of God's care for the afflicted and desperate.

 

God, it’s mostly by our own collective blindness
That we have the poor among us.
This is the pit we have made and fallen into;
This is the net that has caught us (1):
We favored the rich
And disregarded the needy.

But, by your mercy, the needy won’t always be forgotten;
Nor the hope of the poor perish (2).

Over and over in the scriptures, we read stories of people who miraculously overcome great obstacles:
     Boys who slay giants with stones (3),
     Women who defeat armies with tent pegs (4),
     Full jars of oil and grain despite famine (5),
     Desperate fathers whose daughters rise from deathbeds (6),
     Locked prison doors flying open (7),
     Dangerous seas calmed at a word (8),
     Crucified Christ resurrected (9).
From these stories, and many more
We take hope.

For in our deepest desperation,
You meet us.
In our poverty of spirit,
You meet us.
In our blindness and apathy,
You meet us.

Things don’t always turn out the way we want them to in this life,
But your eye is always on the afflicted.
Come to us now, Holy One, in our desperation and need;
Still our storms;
Bring us all to a place of rest,
And make us glad in the quiet. (10) Amen.*


*I recommend including a pause for silence here.

  1. Psalm 9:15

  2. Psalm 9:18

  3. 1 Samuel 17:49

  4. Judges 4:21

  5. 2 Kings 4:1-7

  6. Mark 5:23

  7. Acts 16:26

  8. Mark 4:39

  9. Mark 16:6

  10. Psalm 107:30

 

Litany for Unity

This week's Lectionary litany draws on the passages from Genesis 45, as well as Psalm 133 and Isaiah 56.

 

God, sometimes your commands are baffling! You seem to expect absurd things from us,
Things which go against our grain:
To love our enemies,
To forgive our betrayers,
To provide for our oppressors,
To eat at a table with sinners,
To support sick and poor people,
To renounce violence,
To welcome foreigners
To embrace outcasts (1).

Your paradigm is so different from ours --
Your sacrificial love. Our self-absorbed defense --
We can hardly wrap our minds around it,
And yet it is the most compelling thing we’ve ever heard.

When Joseph saw his brothers after so many years
Who had sold him into slavery and ruined his life,
He wept
And welcomed them.

How very good and pleasant it is
For kindred to live together in unity! (2)

Help us to remember in the midst of conflict and dispute:
We are one.
We are the betrayer,
And we are the betrayed.
We are the poor,
And we are the oppressor.
We are the sinner,
And we are the sinned against.
We are the weepers,
And we are the wept upon. (3)

You, God, have welcomed all to your table; every human being, your own child.
Let us dwell together in unity.

Amen

(1) Isaiah 56:8
(2) Psalm 133:1
(3) Gen 45:14, 15
 

Epiphany Fifth Sunday: Litany for What To Do

This litany is taken directly from Isaiah 58, Psalm 112, and from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount iMatthew 5. Each of those is part of the Lectionary selection for the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany.

Merciful God,
We receive your instructions about what pleases you:
To loose the bonds of injustice,
To free the oppressed,
To share bread with the hungry,
To provide shelter for the homeless poor,
To cover the naked,
To be present to our kin. (1)

You have said: “If you offer your food to the hungry
And satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
Then your light shall rise in the darkness
And your gloom be like the noonday.” (2)

You have said: “It is well with those who deal generously,
Who conduct their affairs with justice.
They are not afraid of evil tidings;
Their hearts are steady;
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
In the end they will look in triumph on their foes.” (3)

We acknowledge that what is wisdom to you seems like foolishness to the world;
    That the commands and example of Jesus seem ridiculous, and risky;
    That if our goal is to save our own lives, we will lose them;
    That, in your kingdom, giving is better than getting. (4)

Lord, give us strength.
We are the salt of the earth.
Lord, give us wisdom.
We are the light of the world.
Let our light shine brightly,
So all may see the goodness of God. (5)

Amen

1) Isaiah 58:6,7
2) Isaiah 58:10
3) Psalm 112:5-9
4) This theme appears multiple times in the New Testament. My favorite is Luke 6:38. Also, Acts 20:35
5) Matt 5:13-16

A Dead Man in LadyBird Lake + Litany for the Homeless

We had a sad and stark thing happen in our family this week. My husband Jordan Gadapee is sharing the tale. A litany from me follows his story.

On December 28, 2016, a man was found dead floating in Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. The man likely drowned, but authorities are not yet sure of the cause of death. He was wearing baggy pants, several shirts, and four neckties. He had a butter knife in his pocket. His name, age, and reasons for being in the lake were all unknown. If you live in the Austin area, you may have come across the story. It’s possible you saw the headline in a passing tweet. Maybe you heard a brief news report on the incident. Or, perhaps, there was an odd odor on your afternoon run. I didn’t run that day.

I work in downtown Austin at 301 Congress St. The lake is a few blocks away from my office, and a lunchtime jog makes for a great pardon on busy days. The man was found floating one mile from my office. That’s 5,280 feet. When the weather is nice, the park around the lake is full of people. You’ll find runners, walkers, and casual explorers. My favorite person is the homeless man who sleeps on the bench. If he’s awake, he’ll give you a high-five as you run past. It was 82° Fahrenheit that day, and I imagine his hand stinging from too many high-fives. I didn’t get a high-five that day.

Lady Bird is a local favorite for recreational watercraft, and the day was perfect for breaking in the kayaks delivered by Santa. Beautiful weather is the upside to Christmas in Texas. A couple of kayakers were enjoying the weather when they spotted the body floating. It’s unusual for people to swim in the lake — thanks to the chlordane, overgrowth, and old debris. The man was unresponsive, so they called 911. I didn’t see the police tape; I was in my office.

I was also in my office on January 03, 2017. It was a week later and cooler outside. The temperature was 74° Fahrenheit. I had just talked to my mother, and she briefed me on the incoming call. I was still holding my phone when it started vibrating. I answered the call at 4:38 pm. Jennifer spoke with a practice cadence of a surgeon, “Hi Jordan. I am Jennifer from the Travis County Coroner’s office.” Pause. “On December 28th your biological father was found dead in Lady Bird Lake.” Shock. Jennifer was excellent at her job. She answered some of my questions: “Yes dead on the scene.” “Drowned, we think. There are other tests still results we need.” “We identified him by his fingerprints.” Silence. “You have an aunt and her name is Jan. She is making the arrangements.” The volley of questions lasted 6 minutes. I wanted to go for a run.

I didn’t know my biological father. I would learn from Jennifer that he was indigent — that’s fancy for homeless. Being homeless means he was a part of society but mostly unseen, unheard, and untouched. He was invisible. Just like in my life; there and not. Present in my enzymes and proteins but not for soccer practice or bed time. No one was looking for him. It took the county seven days to find a relative one mile away. I didn’t even know we lived in the same city. Repeat: I had no idea we both lived in Austin, Texas! There had been divorce, estrangement, distance, and decades. His kinship rights waived long ago. We spoke on the phone once. It was 14 years ago and the conversation was brief. He turned invisible again after that. I never got to run with my father, though we walked on the same streets.

We may have met. I keep spare change and dollar bills in my car to give away to homeless people. I sometimes give away my lunch. I’ve served at food banks and helped box food in South Austin. When my children ask why I give money away, I explain, “This is what kind humans do. We have and they do not, so we share.” I should ask the homeless their names; kind people do that. If I had asked, this story could be different. I am resolved to close the loop and to return kindness for his unkindness. To be present even though he was not. I will be there for whatever service or memorial or tombstone he has. I will try to learn the names of the invisible (especially, high-five-black-man).

Nine days later, the weather has turned. Today the high is 38° Fahrenheit. I do not feel like running. However, I have had many other feels over the last week. Most of all sadness, loneliness, and curiosity. I have been desperate for the nearness of my family. A run with my wife Fran would heal much. I am sad for many reasons. Among them are the circumstances of his dying homeless. Being homeless and dying must be like watching a pot boil. Slowly violent. To die without a place, lonely, and invisible while there is so much and so many around is sad. I’m embarrassed that it happens in our society. I am willing to help.

There are many organizations in the Austin area that provide aid, services, and education to the homeless. Over the next year, I will be giving to money to Caritas of Austin, boxing food at the Central Texas Food Bank, and supporting the Food Pantry at the Austin Vineyard Church. If you’d like to do the same, the links are below. It would make me happy. I will try and run around Lady Bird Lake more often. Most of all, I will learn the names of the homeless I encounter. His name was Johnny.

Caritas of Austin, Tell them Jordan sent you in the comments of your donation.

Austin Vineyard Church, Your donation can go directly to the food ministry. They feed almost 100 families a month.  

Central Texas Food Bank, it’s a great place to volunteer. The people are awesome. It’s great for teams.

If you give to your local charity, linking this article will help them track to source and reasons for your donation.

As a final note I think it’s important to acknowledge that my mother is an incredible woman. The man my mother re-married years later is a loving and caring father. He is my dad. He was always there at soccer practice.

 

LITANY FOR THE HOMELESS

God, we know that many invisible people exist all around us:
People we consider beneath us,
People we judge for what we consider their poor choices or low standards,
People we distance ourselves from because they are unclean,
People who have been ill or made mistakes and fallen through the cracks of society,
The beggars at the gate. (1)

We don't know them,
But you do.
We don't know their names,
But you know each hair on their heads.
We often fail to care for them,
But they are precious in your sight.

Help us to see what your eyes see:
Human beings
Broken and beautiful
Sacred and scarred.

For those without shelter
We pray to God.
For those without jobs
We pray to God.
For those without food, water, and facilities
We pray to God.
For those who have been imprisoned and never recovered
We pray to God.
For those whose minds are befuddled by illness
We pray to God.
For those destroyed by war
We pray to God.
For those overwhelmed by addiction
We pray to God.
For those who have simply lost hope
We pray to God.

In the midst of death and dying,
Of filth and discomfort;
Of hunger, thirst, and exposure,
Come Lord Jesus!

Make us your hands and feet:
Generous sharers and helpers,
Bearers of the good news of your kingdom
Even unto the Invisibles.

Amen

(1) Luke 16
 

Epiphany, Year A: Litany for Good News to All

Epiphany is the day in the Liturgical calendar when we celebrate and acknowledge that even pagan wizards who probably never heard of Yahweh came to pay homage to the Son of God. Even the stars in the sky spoke his name. Even ancient traditions that sprang from entirely other shoots could see that the world had somehow changed, could perceive that a shift had occurred, that the arc of history had changed directions.

The gospel text for Epiphany, Year A is Matthew 2:1-12.

The heavens declare
The glory of God.
Arise, shine,
For your light has come. (Isaiah 60:1)

Even the stars
Speak the name of Jesus.
Even the rocks
Proclaim his works. (Psalm 19:1-4)

The people of earth
Gather together,
Sons and daughters
From far away places.
They bring gifts of abundance and wealth
To honor you. (Isaiah 60:4)
You defend the cause of the needy,
And redeem their lives from oppression and violence. (Psalm 72:13,14)

To wise men from the East
Good news has come.
To Jews and Gentiles
Good news has come.
To the poor and oppressed
Good news has come.
To sons and daughters alike
Good news has come.
To all creation
Good news has come.

Amen

Litany for Money

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Amen
 

Litany for 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