A Prayer for Those in Need of Goodness and Mercy

Whenever I am invited to pray in public, I try to post those prayers in this space. Sometimes, people ask me for a copy and this is the easiest way to make that happen. In our church community, we find ourselves in a surprising season of discord and misunderstanding. We’re working on it! And the sermon for the day helped, as did the song that just preceded this prayer, “Psalm 23,” with the chorus that begins with, “Surely goodness, surely mercy” Yes, indeed. Please, Lord. (Our primary teaching text was Zechariah 8)

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Oh, Good Shepherd, we gather together in this place,
at this time in our history and in the history of the world, to acknowledge —
out loud and with all of who we are —
that we stand in need of goodness, we stand in need of mercy.
Every last one of us as individuals, and all of us together as your people at Montecito Covenant Church. All of us.

We need to remember, and to give thanks for, the truth that You are on our side,
even though the valley be dark and the way ahead, uncertain.

Lead us, O Lord, into green pastures. Restore our souls, refresh us with the water of life, remind us that we belong to You, and remind us that You are good.

Even as we acknowledge that goodness in You, O God, we must also own the truth that we are sometimes not so good.

We step on toes, 
we say harsh things,
we talk about others when they are not present,
we make judgments with incomplete facts,
we make assumptions,
and stand on entitlement,
and fail to practice grace and peace.

Forgive us, O God. Forgive us. And help us to forgive one another, too.

The climate in the world around us right now is not particularly conducive to forgiveness, nor to goodness and mercy. So it seems even more important than usual that we — as members of Christ’s body — practice what we preach. Will you help us to do that, please?

The text before us today reminds us of some of those things we preach, and we need to hear them, we really do. Bless Pastor Jon as he brings us your word for today. Give us ears to hear, O God, give us hearts to understand, and give us feet that walk out that truth into our world, beginning with the patio, and then the lunch tables we will share together a little later today. May your grace and joy infuse every conversation, guiding us into wisdom, and good decision-making.

Most of all, Lord God, will you help us to let your goodness and mercy inform what we say and do in our day-to-day living? That is not always easy for us. Some of us are in the throes of deep grief during these days of summer —

loved ones die,
relationships dissolve,
circumstances take a nosedive,
hard decisions must to be made,
ugly voices rise to the top in too many dialogues,
children suffer,
politicians seldom tell the truth,
poverty of all kinds surrounds us,
wars never end.

To us, the world feels a shambles, and we forget about goodness and mercy.

But we are not YOU, O God. Help us to look around us and see what you see — a world in need. . . yes. But a world that is also deeply loved, a world held in place by a Good and Merciful Sovereign, a world in which we are invited to partner with that Good Sovereign in the necessary work of restoration, reconciliation, recovery, and renewal.

We give you thanks this day for the evidence of that good work in the lives of those graduating from Bethel House and the Rescue Mission last night, celebrated right here, in our sanctuary. And we give you thanks for the changed hearts in thousands of teenagers, including some of our own, who were at the CHIC conference in Tennessee this past week. Thank you!

Bless and encourage every hurting heart in this room, O God. And use each of us to make that blessing real. Help us to be good neighbors — to each other, and to all those we meet day by day. Because everybody, from the grocery clerk to the rude driver behind us, needs a little goodness and mercy in their life, too.

They need the truth that we already know: that all of us belong to you — every last, mixed-up, weird and wonderful one of us.

Glory be.

In the name of Jesus — who loves us, who died for us, and who, by the power of the Spirit, was raised to new life, the One who dwells today in the church, including this one, in that name, we, together say,

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wide Believing — For SheLoves, April 2018

I took a month off from SheLoves in March, but I’m back in the April edition, pondering some words that I found in the memoir I reviewed here last week — “Forgiving God,” by Hilary Yancey. Come on over to their site to finish this reflection. Click here.

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“If I could ask anything of us, this ragged band of us looking for a way home, crossing the Jordan River, it would be to believe wider for each other.” — Hilary Yancey,
in “Forgiving God: A Story of Faith,” pg.57.

 

I have heard the truth that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not enough. This is a phrase shouted by voices around the world in recent days, words that flow from the painful experiences of those who are oppressed, victimized, traumatized, ostracized, threatened, abused and neglected. And these words are true. Thoughts and prayers are too often not enough, at least in the way ‘thoughts and prayers’ are so often understood and defined.

I find myself wondering if we have allowed our language about prayer to descend into the realm of cliché because we have not fully grasped what prayer is and what prayer can do. I am in the late autumn of my life and I still do not fully comprehend either the definition or the experience of prayer. It is an idea we use (and abuse) far too easily, I think, a word better saved for deep times of soul connection and firm commitment. It is no small thing to promise someone that you will pray for them; no, it is not.

Hilary Yancey’s words, quoted at the top of this post, are from her new memoir . . .

Please do click this link and come join us at SheLoves. After a month off, I’m back in that good space today with some thoughts about prayer, about widening our understanding, definition and practice of it. Just click here!

A Prayer for the Table — Second Sunday in Lent, 2018

IMG_0684A Prayer for the Table
offered on the Second Sunday in Lent, March 4, 2018
Montecito Covenant Church
coming out of a powerful sermon from Jeremiah 29,
preached by Pastor Jon Lemmond

Lord Almighty, you are our God in the midst of life —
in good times and in hard times,
in beauty and in disarray,
in success and in failure,
in life and in death.
Thank you.

Thank you that you know our names,
that you care about our story,
and that you invite us to make our home in you.
Thank you most of all, on this day, on this Lenten Sunday,
that you take the broken pieces of our hearts
and weave them together to make art,
in ways we cannot now imagine.

Even so, Lord, empower our imaginations —
give us glimpses of the possible,
even when everything around us feels decidedly the opposite.
And help us to begin . . . always, to begin . . . with gratitude.

Thank you for today,
for safety through the storm,
for comfort in grief,
for inspiration from the Word.
Thank you for friends,
for beautiful spaces in which to sit,
for music that stirs our hearts and lifts our spirits.

Thank you for faithful leaders who try to listen well
to the movement of your Spirit and who hang onto you
when it gets murky out there.

Thank you for gray heads, and newborn baby heads,
for the laughter of children, and the tears of caring adults,
for the sturdy curiosity of adolescents,
some of whom are traveling back from winter camp today,
and for the burgeoning maturity of college students.
Thank you for the community we enjoy today,
in the here and now, and for the communion of saints,
all those who have moved ahead of us to life eternal.

Special thanks today for the multiple beauties of divine and human creation
all around us in this beat-up-but-not-defeated town we call home.

Thank you most of all on this day, for the table — this tangible reminder 
that even the most horrific event is not beyond the redemptive power of your love. Thank you for the beauty of broken bread and poured out grapes,
for the grace of saying and hearing the words, for the way you,
O God of the Broken Beautiful,
can take the most common, ordinary things and transform them
into nourishment for body and soul.

Thank you for feeding us well.

We began with gratitude, Lord, but we need to also make space for lament today.
Our hearts are broken for the Gross family,
in the loss of Jordan this past week. 

Surround them with your love, help them to find peace
in the midst of their pain,

to find their way to a completely new definition of life
as they have known it for the past 22 years.
Lord, have mercy.

There are others of us in the throes of grief, too, Almighty One. 
We are people who always hold some kind of pain, even as we smile and nod. 
For some of us, the pain comes from the loss of loved ones; 
for some, it comes from dealing with our own illness.
Others are dealing with job loss, or with financial insecurity,
or troubled relationships.

Many of us wrestle with hard questions about faith or about the future.

Hear us now, as we offer names to you,
names that represent some kind of story of need and uncertainty.
Help us to trust that you hear and answer as we lift them to you:

Prepare us now, O God, to receive you anew.
Help us to rest in your healing power and in your forgiveness.
Teach us the truth of Jeremiah — that there is life to be lived,
there is beauty to be found, 
even though we may feel overwhelmed, defeated or abandoned.
Even in exile, you are here, the God who can be found.
Help us, dear God, to make our home in you.

Amen.

.

Walking in the Jesus Way: A Lenten Journey — Day Five, First Sunday in Lent

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1 Peter 3:18-22, The Message

That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.

He went and proclaimed God’s salvation to earlier generations who ended up in the prison of judgment because they wouldn’t listen. You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience.

Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.

Here’s a powerful word:
baptism.
No, I’m not a Baptist,

but I am a big believer in
baptism.
For any age, stage, situation.

It is a picture for me,
a powerful,
tactile,
incarnational
picture.

When the babe is doused,
or the youth immersed,
or the old man sprinkled,
we are offering our
own bodies
to the story-telling
we do.

We tell our story with our bodies,
you see.
We eat and drink,
and we get wet.
We celebrate Truth
with all of who we are.
There is a dying,
and there is a rising.
There is darkness,
and there is light.
Thus, we keep
the story going;
we tell it in our way,
in our time,
in ourselves.

 

Please consider subscribing to this series by subscribing to the blog — the box is in the right sidebar. That way, these daily devotionals will show up in your inbox each day of Lent, right up until Easter.

Undone: SheLoves — February 2018

Well. The theme this month is “hidden,’ and what came out of my fingertips surprised me. True confessions time, friends, that’s what this one is. Start here and then click over to SheLoves to finish reading and to tell me about how you choose to come out of hiding . . .

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In my therapy session this week (yes, I talk to a therapist every week, have done so for 25 years), the word that emerged was this one: ‘undone.’

Exactly right.

The entire session had felt like a chaotic purge of some sort, one story after another, tumbling out, seemingly unconnected. And yet, as she so often does, at the end of it all, my therapist said to me, “Diana, you are talking today about things that are undone, starting with yourself.”

Ouch.

SO on target, and exactly what I needed to hear. Over the course of my L O N G years of living, I have learned that it often takes this kind of unfettered babbling for the underlying truths of my life to emerge. Why? I think it’s because much of the time, we are hidden people, tucked away, even from ourselves, and turning the spigot of story-sharing to ‘on’ loosens the fences we have built. This is especially true when we are feeling under siege, which has been my default mental setting for many months now. Hard thing, after hard thing, after hard thing — and as I have struggled to make sense of it all, I retreat behind this huge, self-protective bunker.

Sometimes that kind of hidden is a good and necessary thing. When life goes crazy, we need to marshal our resources and hunker down. Pulling in every excess emotion and lining them up in a safe place enables us to more forward, offer help, stand next to others who are fighting similar battles.

But in the long haul, remaining hidden becomes a liability, not an asset. We need to come out from behind the barricade and take a good, long look at everything that is happening — outside of us and inside of us. And for me, this week, that meant admitting that way too many things in my life are in a state of undone-ness.

There are at least two ways to define that word, seems to me. Undone in the sense of incomplete, and undone in the sense of unraveled. Both are true for me — and my guess is, for most people — at multiple points along this journey called life. There are projects to complete, relationships to tend, ideas to make real. And then, there are people in terrible trouble, decisions that cause chaos, and situations that appear hopeless.

Incomplete and unraveled, yea and amen. That is me right now. . . 

Follow this link to continue reading and to join the conversation . . .

Journey’s End! Christmas Day

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Luke 1:46b-55, NRSV

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Yesterday’s reading is the more common one for Christmas morning, but this year, we have the Magnificat. And it is so appropriate! This beautiful song/prayer, sung/offered by that young mother-to-be — it’s remarkable on so many levels. She sings of things turned upside-down — and that is exactly what her baby boy came to do, isn’t it? To turn this world around, to make us think and act and live differently, to help us look out for one another and to praise God for his goodness and mercy. May it be so!

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!!

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-Five — Fourth Sunday of Advent

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Luke 1:26-38, NRSV

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

This is it, friends. The beautiful story we celebrate every year. Take some time this morning to read it through — to mark down your own favorite phrases, the ones that catch your heart or make you wonder. Then ask God to give you some small shaft of new insight and understanding sbout the miracle that is the incarnation. What a crazy idea! God become human, entering into our messy world, becoming small, small, small. 

Oh, thank you, Jesus, for cramming your magnificence into the size of a zygote, for entering the womb of young Mary, for being born into poverty and exile, for living an itinerant yet richly-layered life, for dying in misery and for rising in glory. Hallelujah, hallelujah!

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-Four

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Judges 13:2-24, NRSV

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean,for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” Then the woman came and told her husband,“A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name; but he said to me, ‘You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.’”

Then Manoah entreated the Lord, and said, “O Lord, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born.” God listened to Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “The man who came to me the other day has appeared to me.” Manoah got up and followed his wife, and came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to this woman?” And he said, “I am.”  Then Manoah said, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the boy’s rule of life; what is he to do?” The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her.She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine. She is not to drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing. She is to observe everything that I commanded her.”

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Allow us to detain you, and prepare a kid for you.” The angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat your food; but if you want to prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of theLord.) Then Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your words come true?” But the angel of theLord said to him, “Why do you ask my name? It is too wonderful.”

So Manoah took the kid with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to him who works wonders. When the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar while Manoah and his wife looked on; and they fell on their faces to the ground.The angel of the Lord did not appear again to Manoah and his wife. Then Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “If theLord had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.”

The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.

Many years ago, before I ever entered seminary, before I became a pastor, I wrote a series of small, one-act, readers’-theater versions of several OT stories. This was one of my favorites. I mean, just read it! This woman is the hero of the entire drama, and she is never even named. NEVER EVEN NAMED.

For all of history, she remains, “Manoah’s wife.”

And Manoah? What a dunce! She tells him what’s happened to her and his feathers are ruffled. “Why didn’t that man come to ME? I’m the man of the house!” And then he doesn’t believe what she tells him.

So the angel comes again and decides to depart in a particularly dramatic way. FINALLY, Manoah understands that his wife was right all the time. She did have a visit from a messenger of God. SHE, not he.

Seems to me that the messengers of God have a partiality for women during this Advent season. 

Thank you, Lord God, for all the nameless women who have gone before us, who have been faithful, who have seen you, active in their lives. Thank you for their witness, even without being named. And help us, with the increased power and recognition that has been gained over time, help us women of today to be as faithful and true as this one was. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-Three

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2 Samuel 6:12-19, NRSV

It was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

So . . . why is this passage among our readings for Advent? I’m not entirely sure! But I’ll tell you what percolates in my mind as I read it: dancing for joy. What does that look like? What does that feel like?

Michal, Saul’s daughter and one of David’s wives, didn’t like the look of it at all. And there is something very important about her inclusion in this story, I think. She didn’t approve of her husband’s semi-nakedness, nor of his exuberance. Approval  . . . such a strange idea. If God approves — and clearly God does — then what right does Michal have to do otherwise? 

We can fall into her trap so easily! Someone gets a little too agitated, too noisy, too revelatory in some way — and we pull into ourselves, noses in the air, and decide that kind of behavior is somehow beneath us.

Well . . . maybe not.

How differently this story might have unfolded if Michal had gone out and joined her husband in praising God for the safe arrival of the Ark of the Covenant! How might the troubled family dynamics that were yet to come have been ameliorated if Michal had entered into her marriage relationship with her whole self? We will never know  . . . but, I wonder. I wonder.

Lord, keep me from becoming Michal in any way! Help me to let go of my need to offer either approval or disapproval for anyone else’s behavior/decisions/actions. Keep my eyes and my heart focused on you, always looking for reasons to dance for joy, to lift my hands in praise. Keep me limber, open, and in tune with joy.

An Advent Journey: Reflections for Weary Travelers — Day Twenty-Two

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Hebrews 1:1-4, NRSV

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Somehow, this photo seemed appropriate for the reading today. It was taken on the first day of the Thomas fire and has a slightly apocalyptic feel to it. And there is a very real way in which the first coming of Jesus into this world was its own kind of apocalypse!

Before Jesus, we had the prophets to speak of God to us. Now, we have Jesus, who IS God. “The exact imprint of God’s very being,” the author of Hebrews tells us. Could it be any more clearly stated? If we want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If we want to know how we should live, look at Jesus.

Look at Jesus.

That’s what Christmas, Advent, LIFE is all about.

Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit — teach us to look to Jesus. Always and only. Amen.