Litany for Strength (Proper 16, Year B)

Much of the book of Ephesians is a re-imagination of how followers of The Way should respond to ordinary yet oppressive paradigms, subverting and disarming them. This litany is inspired by a reading of the Lectionary epistle for the week, from Ephesians 6, in which the author re-imagines weapons and weaponry in light of the paradigm of Christ. We no longer require conventional weapons and armor - they won't get us anywhere in this work. We need imagination and presence and persistence instead, the mind of Christ. We are invited into a new kind of strength, one that looks altogether different than violence, subjugation, and hierarchy; one that elevates Love's authority above all.

 

God, we live in soul-testing times
God, give us strength.
Times when evil is cloaked as politics and religion
God, give us strength.
When moral catastrophe is normal
God, give us strength.
When lies are told more often than truth
God, give us strength.

We put on the whole armor of God,
Belt of truth,
Breastplate of righteousness,
Peace at our feet,
Shield of faith,
Helmet of salvation,
Sword of the Spirit,
Daily rhythm of prayer (1).

We strengthen ourselves - not to kill
But to bring life!
To set free!
To wage peace!

Because we know that our enemies don’t wear human flesh,
But are found in systems, power structures, age-old traditions,
Powers of darkness,
Forces of evil;
And our best arms and ammunition
Are the love and light of Christ.

For freeing prisoners and making the dead rise,
God give us strength.
For breaking down injustice and resisting despair and apathy,
God, give us strength.
For undoing broken paradigms and rebuilding healthy ones,
God give us strength.

We ask for help, that we may be strong in times of trouble,
Steadfast under pressure,
Kind in the face of evil,
Peaceful in the wake of chaos. Amen

1) Ephesians 6:13-17

Litany for Meditation

Meditation has become in the last couple of years the single most spiritually enriching practice I do. Many Christian traditions refer to it as Centering Prayer. It takes patience to learn, but pays for itself many-fold. I don't intend for this litany to be a stand-alone meditation. I mean for it be a preamble to silent meditation/prayer. You can obviously do what you will with it, but this is what I envision.

We are beings, existing in the Universe,
Beholding God.

We can see you in the design of Nature,
     The cosmos,
     The creatures,
     Each other,
     Ourselves.

Let us go to our inmost being
And be as we are:
     Deeply spiritual
     Deeply human
     Temporally minded
     Eternally conscious

Let us connect with the spark of you that is there
Waiting to be rediscovered
Waiting to be fanned into flame.

Set us aright
In our connection to you, loving Life-giver, Instigator of Goodness;
Plus us in to the circuitry of your Spirit.

Set us aright
As conscious souls in the midst of a conscious universe
Created by a Great Intelligence: You, the Force of Love.

Set us aright:
Among creation, among ecosystems, climates, and cultures,
As participants, care-givers, co-creators.

Set us aright:
As spiritual beings inside corporeal bodies, dust and breath.
Give to us health and connectedness, wholeness, and joy in existing.

Set us aright:
As a human family,
Making peace and learning to love another despite earthly differences.

Set us aright:
As members of the Body of Christ on Earth;
As a productive, cohesive unit, desiring love and wisdom for all.

Set us aright:
As reflectors of you;
As God-bearers, God-perceivers, and God-receivers.

Set us aright:
Here in our inmost beings,
Still and quiet before you --
Opening to your light.

Litany for Song

This litany was written by special request, specifically for an event put on by friends in Kentucky. It may be my favorite litany I've ever written.


God, it was your voice, the vibration of your words, that set the first molecules into formation and motion.
You sang the universe into being.
Your breath first nudged planets and atmospheres into existence, by the rasp and melody of your speaking.
You sang the world into being.
Like the cascade of waterfalls, the rumble of thunder, the whir of wind, and the soft breath of infants - so is the beauty and power of the voice of our God.
You sang creation to life.
You moved air through lungs of dust and called us Beautiful, named us Beloved, and shared with us your energy and your art.
You sang humanity to life.

When we say that we live and move and have our being in you, God, we mean that from wave to particle to atom to molecule to cell to organ to body - you are within and throughout.
Your voice makes us.
You are love, and Love set the earth spinning and the stars shining and our hearts beating.
Your voice makes us.
Love that sings and vibrates, dances and gyrates; Love that never stops being and becoming.
Your voice makes us.
Love that energizes and ennervates, uplifts and invigorates; Love that multiplies and amplifies.
Your voice makes us.

In Christ, Love put on a human face; took on vocal cord, consonant, resonance, and sustain.
Hallelujah!
In Christ, Love decided that dying was dancing and resurrecting was to be expected.
Hallelujah!
In Christ, Love said that loss is gain and death is life and power is weakness and dissonance is harmony, and then proved it.
Hallelujah!
In Christ, Love is re-making every broken thing; every off-key note and accidental, every counterpoint, coda, and hum is arranged to beauty.
Hallelujah!
In Christ, Love is singing again, and still singing: a song of redemption, invitation, and new creation.
Hallelujah!

Amen


 

Litany for Not Losing Hope

The Lectionary text for October 16 is Luke 18:1-8.

I have been thinking a lot about how easy it is for me to become overwhelmed with the suffering of the world in the Smartphone age. We have twitter and facebook and all manner of news at our fingertips or in our pockets literally all day long. I can know about nearly every terrible thing that happens on the earth at any given moment and become crippled with sorrow, a crumpled mess. And I have. Which is ok sometimes to do, even recommended. But I think I have work to do to figure out how to be engaged and aware and prayerfully participating but not consumed and overwhelmed.

In fact, I’d started some notes for a post along these lines, about not losing hope, staying engaged, keeping on praying. And then I read this week’s passage from the gospel of Luke.* How bout that? A parable about our “need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Jesus, you rascal, with your uncanny sense of irony.

So how do we, folks who care, folks who pray, folks who want justice for the oppressed both at home and abroad, how do we not lose hope? How do we find the strength and perseverance to keep on praying, even though new tragedies happen every day and the work is never done? Even though kids are dying of chlorine gas attacks in Aleppo; Hurricane Matthew has devastated Haiti; race relations in the US (and elsewhere) result in death and devastation nearly daily; 1 out of ever 113 people on earth is currently a refugee; women all over the world are marginalized, abused, and underpaid; the U.S. political scenario is currently discouraging (at best!), and on and on.

Well, I’m convinced of a few things:

Contemplative Christian faith has valuable things to offer: ancient practices of the church which inspire peace within and without, and which ground and unify us and give us words and space for lament and grief and heart-change and focus. We would do well to learn them.

Real faith expresses real emotions, even the ones that we might consider negative. We don’t have to do the happy-happy-joy-joy constant victory dance. We can be present to suffering. We can express lament. We can weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. We can feel our feelings and allow others to feel theirs. This is part of our work of compassion in the world, and part of our victory. We can take our example in this from Christ himself.

Sabbath makes sense, and not just for resting from work. We can embrace the divine offer of Sabbath by turning off our personal news outlets one day a week. The world will survive while we take a moment to re-group. I don’t advocate sticking our heads in the sand, except for one day of the week, which you choose in the freedom and goodness of God, to receive the mercy of God in your own heart.

I don't think these are a panacea for hopelessness, but in my life I’m seeing them ground me in hope, and I know I can get better at leaning into them.

If you need help with hope, pray with me.

 

God, our faithful Friend: we know that you are not like the unjust judge in the parable.
You are just and merciful and compassionate,
We often find it difficult to hold suffering in our minds alongside hope.
Our hearts are often fragile and our minds forgetful.

Help us to be ok with expressing a full range of emotions:
Lament and joy
Anger and affection
Gratitude and disgust
Excitement and sadness
Doubt and empathy.

Help us to be disciplined, grounded in practices that bring us life
Prayer
Meditation
Fasting
Sabbath-rest
Worship

May the fruit of our practice be a river of hope
That flows beneath all we do
Into which we may refresh ourselves
Whenever we grow weary.

And help us to be as persistent as the widow
Not losing hope
Praying without ceasing
Seeking and working for justice.

Amen

 

*I try not to read ahead from week to week before preparing the Litany, just as a way of keeping an open mind

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 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 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
 

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 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 Worship

Ruler of heaven and earth:
We exalt you!
We come into your presence with singing and thanksgiving,
Because you are Good! (1)
You have reached out to us with open arms.
Your love endures forever! (2)

Heaven and earth are yours, created by you.
We belong to you!
Your beauty and power astound us.
We want to see your glory! (3)
For you are above all things and before all things,
In you all things hold together! (4)

Everything in the world that distracts and tempts us
Is nothing compared to you!
Everything that would keep us from your love,
You have overcome! (5)
Everything we need
You have provided!

For you are gracious and compassionate
Slow to anger and rich in love. (6)
We want to be in your presence always, every minute, every day.
We worship you, and you only.

Amen

(1) Psalm 100: 4,5
(2) Psalm 106
(3) Psalm 63:2
(4) Colossians 1:17
(5) Romans 8:39
(6) Psalm 145:8

 

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 Privilege

The other day I gave an exasperated lecture to one of my kids. My kids are 3 and 5, so I’ll admit it may have been developmentally inappropriate, but I was frustrated and venting and I figure I may as well start them early at recognizing their privilege. The lecture went something like this:


Why are you whining and complaining all the time?! I’m sick of hearing it. You have a beautiful, wonderful life. You are safe. You have a mama and papa who love and adore you. You have a sister who is your friend and who loves you. You have aunts and uncles and grandparents who love you. You play outside all the time. You go on nice outings. You eat nice food. You sleep in a comfy bed in an air-conditioned room. You have plenty of clean clothes. Every aspect of your life is cared for. Do you know what this whining and complaining is called? It’s called ingratitude. That is when we don’t thank God for the blessings God gives us and we don’t appreciate them, and God doesn’t like it and I DON'T EITHER.

So. This mama may have taken a few deep cleansing breaths after that. This mama may have thought about how this child is unable to see her privilege because she has never known anything else. This mama may have realized she was lecturing herself, and recognized that the lecture may have caused a new swell of gratitude in her own heart, and a new commitment to helping her kids learn compassion.

 

God, this life here on earth is a mixed bag
Of joy and pain
Grief and exuberance
Stillness and frenzy.

We don’t get to choose where we are born, or to whom,
But we know you made us and we are your children.

Open our eyes to all the ways we are blessed
That we may share and bless others.
Open our eyes to all the ways we have been born to privilege
That we may live with grateful hearts.

In many ways we are born to pain.
Let us bear one another’s burdens.
In many ways we are born weak and blind.
Let us be kind to one another.
In many ways we are born to poverty.
Let us know the riches of your grace.
In many ways the privilege we are born to blinds us to the pain of others.
Let us be considerate of our brothers and sisters.

May we spread goodness and mercy wherever we go
Regardless of where we come from.
May we find healing and acceptance with you
And know you as the one who gives good gifts.

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 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