Epiphany Week 4 (Year C): Litany for Parts of a Whole

I find it interesting that the Lectionary always seems to speak so keenly to the current moment. The past few days I’ve contemplated the state of things, and Dr. King’s legacy, and how the Church (capital C) is doing, and how the country is doing. And I attended an MLK memorial/celebration march and service at a local sibling church, which was inspiring in some ways, but sobering in others. We have so far to go with dismantling white supremacy in this country, and within the American Church; and that is not a new or disputable fact.

What I’m learning from listening to and reading BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) activists is that we white people need to listen humbly, educate ourselves and our communities, and support the work. And a great way to support the work is by financially contributing to organizations that uplift BIPOC communities and meet their needs. I’m doing this as I can, and I encourage my white siblings to as well. Here are a few I’m particularly inspired by*:

Equal Justice Initiative
Million Hoodies
A Voice for the Unheard
Black Women’s Health Initiative
Partnership with Native Americans

I’ve written this week’s litany with the Lectionary selections in mind, which remind us of our unchangeable status as parts of a whole, as siblings, and as co-laborers. What hurts one sector of our Beloved Community, hurts us all. What uplifts, uplifts us all. Christ’s stated mission in Luke 4 is our mission, too. And…


We are all part of each other.
Our connectedness is unbreakable.
Any separation is only imagined.

If you’re looking for other litanies surrounding these topics, please check out
Litany for Justice and Equality
Litany for MLK Day
Litany for Addressing Racism
Litany for Embracing Race

*Even small amounts matter. But I know, not everyone can contribute financially. Do what you can, educate yourself via the multitude of free resources in local libraries and the internet, be curious, be humble. And may God bless your efforts.

Litany for Addressing Racism

Hello, my name is Fran and I’m a racist.* I don’t intend to be a racist, and I don’t want to be a racist. I’m committed to uncovering and clearing it out from within myself. This may take my whole life. I know I can’t easily escape hundreds of years of cultural imprinting. This kind of deep principality can only come out by means of prayer, fasting, and long-term intention and work.

I’m less of a racist now than I used to be, I think. Which is good. But I’m nowhere near done with my transformation. I don’t have any degrees or credentials in the subject, nor have I read all the books (I’ve read some). My street cred as an advocate is next to nothing. I defer to folks who have done this work far longer and far better than my imperfect bumbling. And I defer to my sisters and brothers of color who have lived experience inside racist culture.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been pondering a few things related to current events and cultural programming. One is Thanksgiving - how the narrative taught to school children regarding the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving is largely inaccurate and whitewashed, as well as hurtful to Indigenous people.  Another is the tear-gassing of impoverished Brown people at the US border. Another is the result of recent elections, particularly those in Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi; all of which were influenced by racism against Black people (example).  

People of color have been seeing racism all along - they bear its effects in their family histories, their bodies, their bank accounts. This is not new. It’s us white folks who have waking up to do. It’s up to us to pray with humility and educate ourselves. Also: not enough white pastors are preaching about it. So this litany is for us; for white individuals and congregations who want to pray into this deep-rooted system of injustice, and posture ourselves to work for the liberation and restoration of our siblings; and who want to uncover racism where it lies hidden in our own hearts.

Oh God, we are gradually waking up
To the knowledge of our deep and hidden sins;
Most particularly, to the sin of racism
Which has affected our culture, psyche, and practice.

We thought we could say, “Oh, those racist generations have passed on. The civil rights movement already happened.”
We thought we had leveled the playing field.
We thought we could ignore Whiteness.
We thought we didn’t have to see color.
But we know that we have more work to do,
To cleanse, heal and establish justice.

We quit before the work was finished.
We were wrong.

Help us to see what we couldn’t see before.
Help us to examine everything:
Every custom and system,
Every group dynamic and assumption,
To leave no stone unturned in our mission
To rout out injustice;
To take every thought captive (1)
To the loving ethic of Christ.

This work is messy.
We feel sensitive about it.**
We feel overwhelmed and ashamed.
Help us not to minimize or shirk,
Nor capitulate to our fragile egos,
Nor be blinded by our privilege.
Give us robust hearts,
Willing to take an unflinching look at the racism within us.

And as we sift through our habits, culture and customs,
Examining them with a new sensitivity to injustice,
Help us to embody hope,
Peacemaking,
Restoration,
And above all, love for our neighbors.

Make us aligned to the Community of Heaven,
Diligently working for liberation.

Amen

1) 2 Corinthians 10:5

*If you are a white person of privilege and you say you aren’t a racist, well, you’re probably wrong and it’s best to just face it. Read more here.

**Our feelings of sensitivity as white people are small compared to the feelings of people of color who experience oppression and fear for their lives. But that doesn’t mean the feelings don’t get in our way regardless.


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
 

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 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

For Alton Sterling and Philando Castile: Prayers from the BCP

I sat down yesterday to write a litany about Alton Sterling. To offer some mourning or lament or ask God for a fresh round of hope, a dose of something alive that might help. I had nothing. And then I looked at a news site this morning and discovered that another black man, Philando Castile, was killed last night, also by a cop.

Still I have nothing. Maybe tomorrow I will have a prayer to pray of my own. Not today.

So, I went to the BCP. That’s the Book of Common Prayer, for all the Protestant Evangelicals who, like me, had never seen a prayer book other than Psalms. There I found a few gems of helpful goodness that could .

I was especially inspired by a few phrases from a Prayer for Ordination of a Deacon, which says:

...[C]arry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord...  (p 540)

Racism and violence have grown old and must be made new. From the ground up, we need a new paradigm. We have outgrown them, but some parts of our society are not letting go; some are choosing to remain enemies, mired in corruption. Kyrie eleison.

This is, for me, the beauty of written prayers: to have somewhere to turn when my own emotions have overwhelmed me and dried up my ability to pray on my own; or when the thing I need to pray about is unthinkable. This is why I write prayers, and why we can lean on the prayer books that have been handed down to us. Pray with me now from the Book of Common Prayer*.


Prayer for the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son;
Look with compassion on the whole human family;
take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts;
break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love;
and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth;
that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen (p 815)

Prayer for the Future of the Human Race
O God our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth: Increase our reverence before the mystery of life and give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future in accordance with your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen ( p 828)


Here I have pulled out some lines from The Great Litany

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared,
Good Lord deliver us.

That it may please you to bless and keep all your people,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to make wars to cease in all the world; to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord; and to bestow freedom upon all peoples,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to have mercy upon all mankind,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please you to grant to all the faithful departed eternal life and peace,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world,
Grant us your peace.

Kyrie eleison. (Lord, have mercy upon us.)

 

Grant us grace to entrust Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to your never-failing love; receive them into the arms of your mercy, and remember them according to the favor which you bear unto your people.
Amen (from “Burial I” p 481)

 

Thanks Be To God
for the collection of prayers of the saints throughout the ages
which give a light in dark times.
Amen

*I use The Book Of Common Prayer according to the use of The Episcopal Church
Oxford University Press, New York.