Longing for Home: An Advent Journey, 2016 — Day Nine

Today’s post is a little bit different. I offered the prayer of consecration and supplication in  yesterday’s worship service and am posting that prayer here. It comes out of the same set of readings we looked at yesterday and seemed an appropriate way to launch into this third week of Advent. We will be back on schedule with our daily readings/reflections tomorrow.

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An Advent Prayer

2nd Sunday, December 4, 2016

Montecito Covenant Church

It’s the Sunday of peace, Lord, and we gather now around your table
to remember how you chose to come to us,
as one of us,
to be our peace.

Yes, it is your death we remember
as we gather round today.
When we come to this table, we remember your sacrifice on our behalf,
and we thank you, with our whole hearts.

But on this particular Sunday of the year,
we also remember your life among us,
as one of us, and we remember it from that very first moment
when your mother heard 
a special word from your Father,
from our Father.
And oh, we thank you for that, too, with our whole hearts.

We also must admit that some of these hearts of ours
feel far from peaceful this morning, Lord.

Some of us are grieving the loss of a person we love very much;
some of us feel utterly exhausted — by school, by life, by illness;
some of us are worried about people we love; some of us are frightened about
something we ourselves are facing into right now.

In this moment of silence, we lift those concerns before you now.

— SILENCE —

And now, as we gaze on this bread,
as we consider this cup,
will you help us to remember
that this ordinary, torn-up loaf
and this common purple liquid
become something more, 
for us and in us, on this day.

We offer these simple things to you now,
and ask you to bless them, to set them apart,
and to make them uniquely beneficial to us, in body and in spirit.
May they become emblems of your love,
and strong, clear symbols of your Peace.

Even as Gabriel spoke to Mary those strange and wonderful words of invitation,
may you speak to us through
this time at the table.
Help us to hear you,
help us to be open to whatever invitation you are extending to us,
both individually and communally,
and help us to say a resounding,
“YES — let it be to us according to your word!”

And then, Lord, as we gather our belongings and turn to head out the back door into the sunlight and the friendly chatter of the patio, will you help us to remember that there are “Elizabeths” all around us today — male, female, young, old — all sorts of folks who have in some way or another experienced the reality that for you, “nothing is impossible.”

Give us eyes to see and ears to hear
the miracle stories that are all around us.
No, not all of those stories have what we might label a ‘happy ending’ —
Mary’s story wasn’t exactly all sweetness and light, was it?

But all of us who have walked with you for a little while or for a lifetime —
all of us know
that your faithfulness can be trusted,
that your goodness is unassailable,
that your peace is ever and always available,
even when the tough stuff happens.

Help us to live those truths, those stories, out loud, Lord.
Help us to be encouragers in all our interactions with one another
and within the larger communities
where we live and work.
Help us, dear Lord,

to seek peace and to live it.
For Jesus’ sake.

Amen.

 

A Prayer for Communion, Two Days Before An Election

Our sermon text on Sunday came from the end of the Sermon on the Mount — Jesus’ words about the narrow way. Pastor Jon did his usual excellent job of parsing and paying close attention to the text and to life. Perfect timing for the morass we find ourselves facing at this juncture in our national history. May grace prevail, no matter the outcome today.

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We’re gathering ourselves around this table again today, Lord God, grateful for it, grateful for the story it tells us, glad to do it together.

And today, we’re going to come to it one by one, a physical and tactile reminder that sometimes, it is good to be deliberate about finding that narrow way, the way that leads to the real, the wonderful.

Please take these simple things in front of us — this torn up bread, this poured out purple — and bless them. Breathe on them and breathe on us with the gift of your Holy Spirit, your Holy Spirit of love and invitation.

Some of us really need to hear the love in your voice this morning, dear Lord. We’ve been listening to so.many.voices. for the past too-many months of electioneering, voices that speak ugly words, voices that tell lies of expediency and excuse, of dissatisfaction and disdain. Help us to hear your strong, clear words of truth, and grace, and acceptance amid the word overdose that clutters our life in this season.

As we listen for your voice of love today, we also ask you to forgive us for giving into fear, for speaking words of judgment, for caring too little for the ones you’ve commanded us to love — the least and the lost. And forgive us for sometimes forgetting that also includes us, Lord. Truth be told, we are all little and frequently lost.

So we ask you to hear now our prayers of silent confession, our prayers for forgiveness for the ways in which we fall short of your dream for us, your call to us.

— SILENCE —

Thank you for hearing, for offering us the grace of forgiveness, and for calling us forward to a better way, a more narrow way.

We also ask you to bless all those whom we love who are struggling this day. And sometimes that group includes us, too. I think it is fair to say that all of us are carrying around a fair amount of grief these days. Will you bring comfort, please? And will you help us to be comfort for one another?

Through it all — all the grieving, the worrying, the wondering, the recognition of our own contribution to the ugly voices all around us . . . and sometimes, inside us, too — in the midst of it all, please give us ears to ear your voice of love, your words of invitation.

Grant us grace to choose, day after day, minute by minute, the narrow way, the way of love, the way of Jesus. 

In whose name we pray, Amen.

A Prayer for Those Who Ask, Seek, Knock

Our worship service yesterday morning was filled with many lovely things, including a final song arrangement that was one of the richest worship experiences of my life the past dozen years or so. Our brand-new, quite young Interim Music Director took two songs we love to sing and braided them together, alternating men’s and women’s voices, including our singing the choruses simultaneously at one point. These two favorites were: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and “Great Is Our God.” 

Our prayer time was led by a long-time member, a Professor of Communication Studies at nearby Westmont College named Greg Spencer. The gospel text was from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7, and included Jesus’s strong words about our need to take care when we are judgmental. That passage ends with Jesus’s 3-fold command to “ask, seek, and knock.” Greg led us in a moving meditation on what that asking, seeking and knocking looks like in the dailyness of our lives. 

Several in the congregation asked for a copy of it, and as Greg does not yet have a blog of his own, I offered to post it here. It blessed us all very much.

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Lord, we come to you for many reasons, to learn from you about how to live, to sit with you and talk about our day, to worship you—but we also come for gifts. We ask. We seek. We knock. And so we do this morning.

We’ve asked, Lord, and you’ve answered. We’ve asked you for help and help has come—to overcome our temptations, for help with our children and their foibles, for good diagnoses, and easy passage. And this is what we’ve been given: this power to overcome, this guidance in relationships, this fear of disease removed, this mercy in our travels. Thank you.

But we’ve also asked and you’ve given us this, this answer that seems like a question: this on-going struggle, this wandering in brokenness, this accident.

We trust that you will not give us a stone when we ask for bread. We pray this morning for friends struggling to overcome addictions, for strength to triumph over besetting temptations, for our family members in trouble. We ask, Lord, we ask.

We’ve sought you, too, Lord, and you have delivered this, this thing what we have sought: a marriage, a baby, a job, more love for you. Thank you.

Sometimes we have sought and you’ve given us this, this solitary life, this childless marriage, this unemployment, this dark night of the soul.

We trust that you will give us what we need, that our nets will be full of fish, not snakes. You want to set the best before our table, so we seek you this morning. We pray for work for those who need better work. We ask for wisdom for this church as we are in transition. We seek, Lord, we seek.

We’ve knocked, Lord, and you have opened the door. We’ve knocked, we’ve pounded even, about our pain, about our loss, about our worries—and you’ve given us this, this relief, this consolation, this hope and contentment. Thank you.

But sometimes we knocked and we received this, this increase of pain, this separation or death, this fulfillment of our worry.

We trust that you love us as a father does his children. Though we aren’t always sure of the immediate answer, we know the ultimate answer comes from your loving heart. So we knock this morning.

We knock about the pain in our Church body—for those who are sick or care for those who are sick. We knock on your door for those with loss, that you would comfort them and remind us to come to comfort also. We knock on your door about our nation and world, our angry citizens in this election. We knock about war and strife and refugees. Peace, Lord, we knock for peace.

We’ve asked you, Lord, for salvation, we’ve sought relief from our guilt, we’ve knocked on your door for redemption—and you’ve given us this, this Jesus, this substitution for us, this death for our life.

Thank you for keeping your promises.

Amen

A Prayer for Those Who Worry

It was my privilege to lead the congregation in prayer this morning. Our texts for the day included Proverbs 3:1-8, 1 Peter 5:5-9 and Matthew 6:25-34. The song just before the prayer was a lovely arrangement of James’ Ward’s “Consider the Lilies,” which is based on the gospel text of the day. 

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“Seek first the kingdom,
keep the righteousness of God in view;
(you better) seek first the kingdom —
he said, all of these things will be added to you.”
                    (from ‘Consider the Lilies,’ by James Ward)

Such truth, Lord. Our songwriter this morning has borrowed the words of our gospel lesson and written truth. Good truth. Necessary truth. But such hard truth for us to live!

“Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you,” says the writer of Proverbs, “bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart . . . Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.”

 Again, Lord. Truth. Good and necessary and hard.

And one more time today, we hear your word to us in Peter’s letter: “Cast all your anxiety on him,  for he cares for you.”

 We’re gettin’ it from all sides this morning, Lord God. It seems what it all comes down to is this idea of trust, isn’t it? It’s about getting our priorities in the right order, about paying attention to what we look at, it’s about remembering who we are, and — most importantly — it’s about remembering who YOU are.

Why is that such a tough thing for us to do? We are puzzling creatures, Lord, choosing, time and time again,

     to look in the wrong direction,

     to follow our worst instincts,

     to try like crazy to keep some kind of ‘control’ over our lives,

         our loved ones,

         our plans,

         our minds,

         our circumstances . . .

Yet what we really know to be true . . . what we really know is this: there is not much in this life over we which we have any real control.

You know us so well, don’t you? You know our penchant for anxiety, our desperate need to hold onto the reins, our yearning for all those puzzle pieces to fit together perfectly.

And so you teach us this good, necessary and oh-so-hard truth over and over again:

Trust.         Let go.         Believe in your goodness.

Relinquish our conniving, and all our anxious plotting, and rest in the truth that YOU are the one who sees the end from the beginning. YOU are the one who cares for us, who promises to walk with us, no matter what life throws our way.

We lost a good friend this week, Lord. We loved Arvid and now he is gone from us. Too soon — at least to our way of understanding. And we have other friends who are walking through difficult times, facing things that are hard and that we do not understand. Maybe we ourselves are the ones hearing news we did not plan on and do not want to hear.

And, of course, everything we see in the media causes that anxiety level to mount, from the election carnage to the wars in the Middle East, to the storms threatening the west coast this week, and the continuing, deeply rooted and festering racial tension, prejudice, and fear that rise up like the sins they are and seem to shake the foundations of our union

When these hard things happen, our go-to mode is almost always exactly the opposite of what our song and your word are saying to us today. We do worry; we are anxious. We do forget to trust you, only you, to set things right with this world of ours.

Will you forgive us, please? Forgive our faithlessness and our disloyalty. Forgive us for allowing our fears to push us into trying to manipulate people and circumstances, to pull strings, to work behind the scenes in a feeble attempt to make everything turn out the way we think it should.

Hear our prayer, O Lord!

And help us to bind your goodness and your loyalty and your faithfulness around our necks, like a beautiful, shimmering shawl, one that can wrap our worried hearts and over-anxious minds in warmth and release. One that can help us learn to trust.

For Jesus’ sake,

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lenten Prayer for Dusty People — A Companion Column

Every two months, it is my privilege to write a regular column for a newly re-formatted denominational publication called “The Covenant Companion.” I write these columns approximately two months in advance. The most recently released edition contains a Lenten prayer I wrote at the end of last year. I was tired, distracted by the holidays and had just arrived at a lovely motel for an anniversary getaway with my husband. On December 18th of last year, we hit #50. The deadline was looming and I was out of ideas. I knew this issue would appear in the middle of Lent, so I chose to write a prayer. The words that came tumbling out seem quite appropriate for the quagmire in which our nation finds itself politically just now. And once again, I am amazed at God’s grace and the Spirit’s prescient power within us, even when we haven’t a clue. Here is that column/prayer:

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This is what the LORD says—”Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland…I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

O Lord, how we long for you to do a new thing in our midst.

How we long to see the way made in the wilderness,

            the stream flowing through the wasteland.

For we are indeed your people, formed to praise you.

And so we do.

We praise you that you are the God of new things.

            That you are the God of wilderness way-making,

            that you are the God of life-giving water in the midst of life’s wastelands,

            that you are the God who reminds us to ‘forget the former things,’

            because you are in the business of making all things new.

Start with us, please, Lord. Start with us.

Make us new, inside and out.

Teach us to live as new creatures –

            not because we’re fad-hungry

            or driven to own the latest new tech device;

            not because we’re bored with life and need a new kick;

            not because we’re in need of a diversion.

Make us new because we need your transformational energy at work within us

            in order to live as whole and holy people.

Make us new because we’ve worn out the old ways,

            we’ve tried them repeatedly and learned the hard way that they just don’t work.

Make us new because we want to be people

            who radiate the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus –

            that amazing, multi-faceted, lovely fruit-of-nine-sides that Paul listed out for us:

                        Love, Joy, Peace,

                        Patience, Kindness, Goodness,

                        Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control.

So…start with us in this making-new business.

Because if we’re truly open to the newness your Spirit can bring,

            and if we truly live out of the fruit your Spirit grows in us,

            then we can carry that newness into every situation and relationship

                        we find ourselves in whether that’s

            our family home, our dorm suite, our place of business,

            our classroom, the grocery line, the traffic jam,

            the blog comments, the political debate,

            the kitchen table or the table at our favorite restaurant,

            the well-worn beach path or hiking trail,

            or the sidewalk right in front of where we live –

wherever our lives lead us –we can bleed newness, your newness, into our world.

So, we ask that your church worldwide might be a sign of newness,

            a whisper of beauty, a word of kindness,

            a presence of hospitality, a ray of civility

                        in an increasingly uncivil and terrifying world.

Convict us when we fall short of this worthy goal;

            convince us that we, with you at work within us,

            have the inside scoop on the hope this world needs.

Consider that we are but dust – but then . . .

            continue the work of new creation even in our dustiness.

 

And please, bless our very dusty leaders, denominational and political,

            who are engaged in important decision-making on many fronts.

Grant us peace in our churchly dialog and in our civic discourse,

            wisdom in our personal and our national decisions,

            and grace with one another when the day is done.

Thank you, Great God of all things new,

            for your everyday goodness and grace,

            for your mercies which are new every morning

                    and which sustain us our whole life long.

In the name and for the sake of Jesus, your son,

                    who makes it possible for us to be made new each and every day.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Asking: Am I ‘All In?’

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I was invited to participate in worship leadership yesterday, the first time in a while I’ve been asked, and the first time in a longer while when I felt I could reasonably say ‘yes.’ We enjoyed a relatively quiet weekend for the first time in too long, so there was space, both on the calendar, and in my spirit, to think creatively about a passage of scripture and attempt to lead God’s people in prayer.

The sermon was from a short text in Ephesians 6 — the two verses immediately following that long list of ‘armor’ that every follow of Jesus needs to live fully, carefully and creatively in this world of ours. The verses that talk about Paul being an ‘ambassador in chains,’ the ones that talk about being  full-out followers of Jesus, the ones that encourage us all to be people of prayer. . . all-the-time prayer, not just special-event-as-the-needs-build-up prayer.

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As always, the altarpiece helped us to ‘see’ the passage, and Pastor Don’s sermon unpacked those words very well indeed. After the sermon, the worship team led us through 3 rounds of that wonderful, small Taize chorus, the one that goes:

O Lord, hear my prayer; O Lord, hear my prayer.
When I call, answer me.
O Lord, hear my prayer; O Lord, hear my prayer.
Come and listen to me.

And then we prayed a community prayer in three parts, the first and last from me, the middle one from Don, with the chorus sung liturgically between each part. It was good to lead in prayer again; I’m grateful.

We’ve heard a word from you today, Lord.
A good word, but also, I must admit,
a hard word.
It’s hard because today you’re asking us to be ‘all in.’

All of us, all the time, everywhere.

Gulp.

Somehow, it’s easier for us to be partly in, you know?
Especially on days like today, when we can come here,
to this beautiful space, and specifically focus on you —
on who you are, on who you call us to be.

It seems simpler for us to do that when we gather with your people,
when we sing the songs and pray the prayers and hear the words.

But today, your word is asking something else entirely.
And that something is important, and inclusive,
and — let’s be honest here — more than a little bit demanding.
It feels uncomfortable, maybe even disorienting,
because you’re asking us to be ambassadors, out there, in the world.

The world we live in, and study in.
The world we shop in, and work in,
the world where we converse with other people, all kinds of other people,
some of them really difficult.
The world where too many problems seem to have no answers,
where ugly things happen — things that scare us and overwhelm us.

But that is the world you made, the world you have set us in, the world you love.
And if we’re going to call ourselves your friends, then that’s the world where we must be.

Will you help us, please?
Lean in close and whisper words of truth and courage,

remind us of the depths of your love,
tell us the truth of who we are as your called,

and gifted
and empowered
representatives.

We have good news to share, to live, to offer.

Make us bold in our living, wherever we are,
from the kitchen to the boardroom,
from the study hall to the golf course,
from the baby nursery to the retirement home.

Wherever we are, whomever we’re with,
help us to radiate your love and grace,

in every conversation,
transaction,
encounter,
and circumstance.

Help us to be all in.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Part Two.

Lord, we confess that we are not always prepared for the battle.
We expect things to be nice and polite and to go our way.
We confess that we get wounded too easily and fight with others too harshly.

And the weapons we use to do battle just don’t get the job done.

So today, O God, would you re-arm our lives with your full armor?

  • Would you belt our lives with your eternal truth?
  • Would you cover our hearts with your breastplate of righteousness?
  • Would you put on our feet those fast shoes that spread the gospel of peace and reconciliation anywhere and everywhere we go?
  • Would you put in our hands that strong shield of faith that can absorb and quench the fiery attacks that often undo us?
  • Would you cover our heads and minds with that strong helmet of our salvation that cannot be taken away?
  • And give us your sword, your Word, anchored in our hearts, that Word which can fell and undo Satan and all his lies.                                                                     Lord, make us strong.                                                                                                     Hear our prayer.

Part Three

Some of us, Lord, have been doing this discipleship thing for a long time now.
Others of us are newer to the journey.
But all of us still have so much to learn about prayer.

About settling into that place where we do what the epistles call us to do with that impossible sounding phrase: “pray without ceasing.”

Maybe we find prayer difficult because we’ve misunderstood the richness of this gift, this means of communion with you.

Maybe we’ve been stuck in a rut of list-making,
and detailed itemizing.

Or maybe we think prayer is some strange specialty that’s better left
to the pastors and the wordsmiths.

Whatever the reasons, Lord, will you help us, right here and right now,
to just relax?

To sit here, in your presence, and say as little as possible.

Maybe a, ‘thank you!’
Or a, ‘bless them.’
Or a, ‘you’re amazing, Lord!’

Because that’s at the heart of it all, isn’t it?
Moving through our days with an awareness of you,
with a spirit of gratitude,
with an eagerness to find you, already at work in the midst of the details
that fill our time and our minds.

So as we sit here in this quiet space, and as we sing this lovely small song,
will you help us to unkink,
to let go of our need to be ‘good’ at things,
and just discover the simple joy of
being quiet, with you?

Thank you, Lord.
Bless us, Lord.
Praise you, Lord.

Amen.

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We visited with some old friends and met a few new ones, too; we picked up some mail at our former home, and then we turned the car around, drove further than we’re used to on a Sunday morning, and spent the rest of the day enjoying the quiet beauty of our new space. I sat on a chaise lounge, in the sunshine for two hours, just being grateful for the ways in which we have been blessed in this life of ours. Not many words were said. And I was happy to be ‘all in,’ if only for an afternoon.

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A Prayer for Disciples Who Struggle . . .

A continuing series of public prayers, offered in worship at Montecito Covenant Church during the years I was an Associate Pastor there. This one was written for worship of September of  2010, the last year I was there before retirement. But I need this one today. Maybe you do, too?IMG_4869

That song we’ve just sung together, Lord – it’s a really great song. 

The words are strong and compelling and on my best days,

            in my better moments –

                        when I’m feeling well and hopeful and grateful –

                        those words are truly the prayer of my heart:

“Send me out to the world. I want to be your hands and feet…

I want to give my life away, all for your kingdom’s sake.”

 

All of us who love you want that to be the deepest desire of our hearts,

            to pass along to others the great good news of your love and mercy.

So, I begin this morning by saying thank you for that news,

            for that love,

            for that mercy.

The good news of Jesus is truly what gives our lives meaning and purpose and we are grateful.

 

But I also have to admit that there’s another side to me,

            and I’m sure to everyone else in this room, too.

There’s the side that gets tired,

            that gets distracted,

            that gets sideswiped instead of sent,

            that gets waylaid instead of led,

            that gets lost on the way —

mired in the demands of daily life.

 

We are your fickle people, Lord, too ready to give up the best

            for the good enough,

to substitute busyness for purpose,

to listen to the desires of our own hearts

            rather than to the desires of yours.

Forgive us.

Cleanse us.

Help us to turn around and begin again,

            with you in the lead this time,

            with you in the lead.

 

 And we know that you will lead us in two distinctly different

            but equally important directions –

you’ve shown us this in the life of Jesus,

you’ve taught us this in the words of scripture:

            you will lead us out, and you will lead us in

                        out to the world in love and service,

            but also, also,

                        in to the center of ourselves,

where, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us so beautifully,

      “In repentance and rest is our salvation,

       in quietness and trust is our strength…”

       Repentance, rest, quietness, trust…

these are what lead to salvation and strength;

these are what prepare us and position us to

            be sent, to be led, to be disciples.

So…help us, one and all, right now, right here – to repent,

            to rest, to be quiet, to trust.

To take the heaviest thoughts on our hearts right this minute –

            that person we love who is dying,

            that child who is straying,

            that marriage that is foundering,

            that divorce that is looming,

            that illness that is threatening,

            that paycheck that is missing,

            that project that is falling apart,

            that relationship that is churning,

            that school assignment that is overwhelming –

whatever it is that is heavy and worrisome and scary –

help us to hold it before you with trembling hands and say…

            “thy will be done…thy will be done.”

And then help us to open our hands

            and let…it…go.

 

Fill us with your peace,

            free us from our chains,

            feed us from your word,

            empower us to do your work.

For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

 

Slowly, but Surely . . . and My Word for the Year

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Already, this has been an interesting year, marked by events both painful and rich. 

And it’s barely three weeks old.

A dear friend is facing into a difficult cancer diagnosis — for the third time. A young father I love just endured surgical removal of a cancerous body part, prognosis very hopeful. . . but still, difficult and frightening. Another friend discovered some challenging news about her unborn child. My mom forgot where she lived the last time I took her back to her room. And I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. 

On the brighter side, we have these tidbits: A grandson is off to Budapest for a semester. BUDAPEST! We have a great family vacation coming in July. I am walking, gradually building up strength and endurance, and managing about 1.5 miles every other day. This after six months of either NOT walking at all or moving very slowly and carefully everywhere I went. Also? I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. (Some things are both painful AND rich in this life.)

And so we inch along, moving from shadow to light, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Life is like that, isn’t it? A crazy quilt of the hard and the lovely, all of it forming us, shaping us, sifting us. And it’s that sifting part that we resist, not at all sure we want to release the things that need releasing, to let that chaff be winnowed out and blown to the wind.

I’m wrestling with a few small personality issues in my life these days, letting my feelings get hurt too easily and worrying excessively about the underlying agendas at work in some of the smaller groups I belong to. I spend way too much time wondering what I should say, how I should intervene to insure that everything turns out the way I’d like it to turn out.

But here’s the truth of it: it’s not up to me, is it?

This much I know: I am asked to reflect the Savior I serve wherever I am and whomever I find there. And in each and every situation, to trust that ultimately, ‘all things will work together for good,’ that God knows what God is doing, and as long as I enter each tender place with my heart in the right space, nothing further is asked.

But I gotta tell you — for a control freak, like me? Someone who has long believed that competency, clarity and harmony trump just about anything? Yeah, well. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go, to trust that things will work out just fine, even without my intervention and/or feeble attempts at manipulation. It’s tough to keep my mouth shut when it needs to be shut and to speak when I need to speak and leave it at that.

I am a slow learner, it seems, because these are lessons I have to keep learning over and over again. This letting go stuff requires a daily — sometimes hourly — response in my spirit. Will I cease and desist from obsession, over-worry, hyper-sensitivity? Will I breathe in and out, and with each inflation and deflation, make space for the Spirit to rule? Ah, yes. THAT is the question.

So when I asked for a word for 2015, it took a while for me to hear it.

Last year’s word was obedience,  and that proved to be a tough one for me on many levels, perhaps beginning with the very physical act of relinquishment required for that foot surgery mid-year and the long recovery that followed. But there were other areas of life where I watched God do God’s thing in me, asking me again and again, “So . . . is you in or is you out??”

So in the midst of all of this, the word that came to me for 2015 was a strange one, at least to my ears. I like it, but I’m not quite sure what to make of it, and I haven’t a clue what to expect because of it.

So you wanna hear it? Here goes . . .

S T R E T C H

After a year like the last one, that particular word felt wonderful, to tell you the truth. Yes, yes, yes! I want to stretch myself, to reach out physically, to walk more and with greater confidence. To take more trips, see more of this grand world, enjoy these years of retirement and relative good health. Goody, goody!

And then I began to remember that stretching, as great as it as, as good for me as it is, can sometimes hurt. Sometimes it’s difficult to reach for something just beyond your grasp. And God has this way of pushing against the very places in me that are resistant, that curl up in a ball and hide away from the light, that whisper self-protection, isolation, and fear. 

Maybe I’m going to be asked to stretch in ways that are scary, to step outside my very familiar comfort zone and do some things that I’m afraid to do. 

Am I willing?

I want to be . . . I think. 

Interestingly, the very first way in which I think I’ve been asked to stretch is to take a step back, to unsubscribe from a long list of blogs that I’ve read for the last 4-5 years. Not because I no longer wish to read what I find there, but because I sense I’m being asked to simplify, to pare down.

Why?

Because I am being ever-so-gently-but-ever-so-firmly pushed to tackle some things that are (to me, at least) big projects. These are major challenges to me, they are the Large Overwhelming Anxiety-Producing Things. And in order to stretch into those areas, there has to be some give in my schedule, and in my spirit. 

I promise to keep you posted as the year progresses. Should be interesting, right? Let me know your word for 2015, if you have one, and tell me what you think it means now, as the year is new. Maybe we can check in again at mid-year and in December and see what we’ve learned. What do you think?

Linking this with Bonnie, the FaithBarista 

A Prayer for the Weekend — and for this year


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I am blessed to be part of worshipping community that I love, where the music is varied, the preaching is solid, and the lay leadership is invited to participate. Each week, our community prayer time is led by a member of the congregation — old, young, male, female, erudite, humble — we get a rich variety. And each one is a blessing, an invitation to remember that we belong together, as different as we are. That we stand together, in the presence of a Holy God who chooses us, over and over and over again.

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Our pray-er this morning was Dr. Richard Pointer, Professor of History at Westmont College and an all-around great guy — known to us all as Rick. He took the three scripture passages for the morning – Psalm 139:1-18, John 1:43-51, and Philippians 2:1-11, plus some words from a favorite old hymn, and wove them together into a beautiful tapestry of petition and praise. It is with his permission that I post it for you tonight. (May I humbly suggest that you pray it aloud? Speech that is written feels different when we hear it than it does when we read it, don’t you think?)

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Lord God, the Psalmist tells us that you search us and know us.  You know all about us — that’s very good news. You knew us from before we were conceived; you will know us to our final breath; you will know us for all eternity. You knew Nathanael enough to call him into discipleship.

Lord you are acquainted with all our ways and with all of our needs. You know I.J. in his need right now for healing from cancer surgery.

You know A. and A.B. in their need right now for a new measure of strength to face a third round of cancer.

You know dozens of hospice patients across Santa Barbara right now in their need for mercy and peace.

You know thousands of beautiful kids and teenagers in Uganda and Kenya right now in their youthful exuberance and promise but also in their poverty and need for hope.

You know the Christian believers in Niger whose churches have been burned in the last few days and their need for courage and perseverance.

You know every one of us gathered here for worship today better than we know ourselves.

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Lord God, you search us and know us, and know all about us – that’s very scary news. You know all our insecurities, all our anxieties, all our small jealousies and not-so-small prejudices.

We confess that we don’t always want to be known. Lots of times we just want to run and hide from you and ourselves. But this Psalm reminds us that we cannot go anywhere where you are not with us. Your love and grace and forgiveness pursue us even when we don’t want to be found – and then when we do, your love rescues us.

And then Lord, in this text from Philippians you audaciously ask us, command us to be like you – to have the mind of Christ. How is that possible when we are so broken – broken in spirit but even more broken by our sin?

Some of the time we think too little of ourselves; save us from forgetting that we are your beloved.

Much of the time we think too much of ourselves. We are swelled with foolish pride that we are better than others — better because of what we own, or where we live, or how we look, or what we’ve attained, or how much we know, or the color of our skin, or the national heritage of our family.

What could be more different from your example, Jesus, than us proud ones who have allowed our pride to make us so arrogant, so complacent, so silent, and even worse, who have created systems and structures of injustice that look to our interests and not the interests of others? Forgive us, Lord.

On this holiday weekend, may we be inspired anew by Dr. King and countless other believers who have cried out, “Let your justice roll down and let your glory and righteousness fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

And then like them, let us go and actually do something to bring about more of your kingdom reign on earth.  Save us from our self-absorption, from our selfish ambitions, from our vain conceits – set us free from being captives to the trivialities of our lives, to the banalities of our culture, to the false idols of our age.

Instead, help us to put on your mind, the mind of Christ.

Re-shape our attitudes.
Purify our motives.
Teach us what to think.
Refine our beliefs.
Show us what to value.
Help us to know the truth.
Make us wise enough to obey.

Lord, we know we can’t do any of this on our own. I can’t do any of this on my own. So this morning I simply pray:

“May the mind of Christ, My Savior, live in me from day to day, by his love and power controlling, all I do and say.”

Amen.

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The morning light blazes through our east-facing Holy Spirit window, creating a beautiful reflection on the wall. Yes, it’s distorted, wavy, not as crisp and sharp as the original. Yet, is still beautiful, in its own unique way. Every week when I see it, I am reminded that the Light shines through Jesus to us, and though our reflection is incomplete and inaccurate,
it is still lovely.

Do you know how lovely you look with Jesus shining through you? 

An Advent Prayer: Week Four, 2014

We were looking at Mary this morning in worship. A POWERFUL sermon by Pastor Jon Lemmond, and I was asked to lead in community prayer. I am out of practice, that is for sure! But I’m grateful for the opportunity to think through the text and then pray in light of it.

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A Prayer for Advent 4 — 2014
written by Diana R.G. Trautwein
for worship at Montecito Covenant Church
December 21, 2014, 10:00 a.m.

We’re almost there, Lord.
Almost.

We’ve walked through this season of waiting,
this season of songs in a minor key,
and we’re grateful for it.

This year, more than many, feels heavy,
confusing, and terribly sad.
The world around us is rife with tension,
with pain and loss and too many people living with heartache and fear.

And some of those suffering are friends inside this circle,
sisters and brothers of our community.
Some of that heartache and fear are even inside of us.

So these four weeks that we set aside
to wait, to look for your coming,
to remember the story that centers us —
these four weeks are a gift
in the midst of all that is not right,
all that still needs the redeeming work
of a Savior.

But now the end of Advent is in sight,
just a few more days until Christmas
and oh! — we want to be ready this time.
We want to be ready
for that tiny baby,
for that holy family,
for those shepherds and wise men,
for those heavenly singers,
the ones that lit up the night sky
with a song of good news!

So on this day, Lord,
on this fourth Sunday in Advent,
as we wait here together,
in this space that is so lovely,
with these people whom we care about,
will you help us to look for that angelic light?
And to look for it with hope,
and with expectation,
and most of all, with grateful hearts.

Yes, Lord — in the midst of the busyness,
the gift-wrapping and the baking,
the family gatherings and the carol-singing,
in the midst of our own personal struggles and worries,
will you help us to
hang onto hope?
To grab hold of gratitude?

We confess that sometimes we forget.
We forget to say ‘thank you,’
to slow down,
to look up,
to look around
and tell you and one another
that we are grateful.
We are so very grateful for this story of ours.

We are thankful for its life-changing power,
and we are thankful for its grittiness.
For ours is a story that fairly reeks of
real life — life as we know it,
life as we live it,
and as we see it in the world around us:
families living under oppression,
poverty,
homelessness,
the murder of innocent children,
an unexpected, even scandalous pregnancy.

And this is the story that you — our Great God,
Creator of the Universe —
this is the story that you
deliberately chose
to step right into.

You chose to experience this life,
this human life here on planet earth,

in all its crazy mixed up-ness.

And you chose a girl like Mary,
and a man like Joseph to be the ones
who would help to tell the story,
to live the story.

So we thank you for these good people,
these good parents.
And we ask you to open our hearts,
settle our minds,
and learn what they have to teach us.

Today, we want to learn from Mother Mary,
from that wisp of a girl who
was braver than she knew,
that girl who was pleasing to you,
the one who lay on the straw
and pushed a King out into this world
on a  dark and lonely night,
far from her home.

As we learn from her today,
help us to remember that Jesus learned from her, too.
She was his first teacher, after all,
the one who helped him to grow up,
the one who walked this earthly road with him, right to the end.
I think she has a lot to teach us.
Help us to be good learners today.

And help us to walk into Christmas with open hands and open hearts,
to follow Mary’s example,
and to let you be born in us,
again and again.
“Let it be unto us according to your word.”

Amen.