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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Prayer for Christmas Eve

When I retired from pastoral ministry three years ago, I assembled a small booklet of prayers I had used in worship over the previous few years, a gift of thanks to the people God called me to serve. This is a prayer from 2008, which I have edited and shifted a bit, in answer to Faith Barista Bonnie’s invitation this week to choose a character in The Story that we relate to. Several of the characters are noted in this prayer, and with less than a week to go before Christmas, I’m not sure exactly which one is closest to where I am tonight.

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It’s Christmas Eve again, Lord, and here we are.

Gathered in out of the rain, our Christmas finery on,
our spirits eager – or weary
            our ears and our hearts open – or not;
            our families nearby,
            our dinners either digesting or awaiting us soon.
We’re here.

And for some of us, Lord, that’s just about all we can manage.

We’re just barely able to stand with those shepherds,
            tired and cold from their nighttime duties,
            confused about the strange singing in the skies above,
            wondering about that tiny newborn in the corner.
“So,” we wonder with them, “what’s the big deal with this little one?

Some of us come, willing only to stand at the edges, perhaps somewhere near those wise ones from the east. Because we’re searching tonight, Holy Friend, we’re searching for truth, for insight, for strange portents in the sky that will give us the answer to the mysteries of the ages. 

“Could this be the one?” we wonder with the oriental kings.
“Could this be the answer we’ve been searching for?”

And thankfully, God, there are some of us in this lovely room tonight who are a lot like Joseph.
            Steady and stalwart, well-versed in the traditions of our tribe,
            yet open to something new that God might be doing.
            We struggle to be obedient to what we think God is saying,
            to be sensitive to what we think God is doing.

But…it’s been a long, hard journey getting here,
            and, to tell you the truth – we’re tired,
            through and through.

“Here he is, at last,” we say to ourselves.
But we wonder…”What’s coming next?”

And, Gracious God, there are even some of us here tonight
            who might choose to align ourselves with Mary.
            We’ve just come through a tough task, but we did it!
            The baby is safely birthed, your promises have been fulfilled,
            something remarkable is just beginning and we can feel it,
            we can see it, shining in the unformed future ahead of us.

And mysterious as it seems to be now, we know, because of the grace we have already experienced in our lives, it is all going to be good news.

All of it.

And so, we gather tonight – like that amazing cast of characters
            gathering in this beautiful story
            we repeat every Christmas Eve.

The story that is at the center of who we are,
            the story that speaks to us of Love Unspeakable,
            the story that sings to us of Joy Unsingable;
            the story that tells us.

For all of us are welcome here.

That is the glorious truth we praise you for tonight.

All of us — weary shepherds,
                    searching wise ones,
                    faithful yet fearful fathers,
                    loving yet wondering mothers –
all of us are welcome here.

For that little one in the corner over there, that wee newborn,
            that tiny, weak and helpless One,
            is the same One who blew the breath of life into
            each and every one of us.

“How can this be?” we wonder.  “How can this be?”

And then, we hear again your words of love and promise and power:
            “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…”
            “He shall be called Immanuel, God with us…”
            “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son…”         

And we sigh with relief, we sing with gusto, we remember with joy.

This is Christmas Eve – and we’re here!

Thank you for the story that calls us to this place.
Thank you for the Truth that sleeps in the manger.
Thank you for the chance to begin again at the beginning –

In the name of our remarkable and gentle Savior we pray together tonight. 

Amen.

 Joining this with Bonnie, very late on Thursday night:

Midweek Service: What Are You Afraid Of?

Continuing a summer series of sermons, posting them on Wednesdays to honor
a tradition of midweek services, long since gone.

This one was preached in the summertime about six years ago
and it is one of my favorites. Every sermon I’ve ever preached
has been preached to me first — and this one hit me where I live.
I am so grateful for a strong, healthy, loving Savior,
who is bigger than my fears and refuses to be categorized as ‘nice.’

What Are You Afraid Of?
Luke 8:26-39
by Diana R.G. Trautwein
A sermon preached at Montecito Covenant Church
June 24, 2007

Things that go bump in the night.  Scary stories or movies.  Invaders who do harm to hearth and home.  Kidnappers, car-jackers, rapists or mercenaries.  Cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis.  The list of things that frighten us sometimes seems endless, don’t you think?  There is something to be frightened about on the news or in the papers every single minute of every single day; there are hard and horrible things happening in our neighborhoods, around the corner, across the street.  Scary stuff happens to our friends, our families, even to us.

Honestly, it is a wonder that we ever leave our homes at all – except for all the scary things in that place!  Spiders in the corner, bathtubs to drown in, showers to slip in, steps to fall down, windows to be broken into, doors to be jimmied….there are days when it feels like they’re (whoever ‘they’ may be) out to get us!  Days when the onslaught of dangerous forces from without makes us want to curl into a fetal position and stay under the blankets all day long.

You think I’m exaggerating – and perhaps I am.  But here’s something I know to be true and not an exaggeration at all.  If you think the stuff that’s outside of us is really, truly scary: just wait ‘til you take a good, long look at the stuff that’s inside of us – that stuff can shiver your timbers, and send you scuttling back to bed for good.

That is, if we’re brave enough to take more than a peek at what’s in there.  Most of the time, it’s easier, and much, much safer, to look to the outside of us . . . and then get to work and build up those walls of resistance, dream up those plans for escape, invest in those security systems, add that extra alarm to our car, buy more insurance for our possessions. The inside of us is much harder to manage, much more difficult to protect, much more terrifying to examine.

There is a series of stories that have come down to us from the 13th century about a fabled wise fool named Nasrudin.  One of my favorites is this one, and I found it in this great little book titled, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, written by Dr. David Benner :

 “Nasrudin – the protagonist of many Middle Eastern, Greek and Russian folktales – was approaching the door of his house one night when he suddenly realized he had lost his key.  He tried to look around for it, but the night was so dark he could hardly see the ground.  So he got down on his hands and knees and examined the ground where he was standing.  But it was still too dark to see anything. Moving back toward a street-lamp, he again got down and began a meticulous examination of the area.

        “A friend came by and, noticing him, asked what he was doing.  Nasrudin replied, “I       lost my key and am looking for it.”  So the friend too got down on his hands and knees and began to search.

       “’After a while, the friend asked,  ‘Do you remember where you might have lost the key?’   “’Certainly,” answered Nasrudin.  ‘I lost it in my house.’   ‘’They why are you looking for it out here?’ Because,” answered Nasrudin, “the light is so much better here.””

It’s so much easier to look outside for things, and then try to arm ourselves against all the scary, hard stuff in life that comes at us from ‘out there,’ than it is to look inside, to examine the tough, scary truth about ourselves, as we really are, and by God’s grace and through his powerful word of authority, become who we can be.  It’s that internal look, that interior examination, that wrestling with the demons within that can make the difference between a life that’s lived in fear and denial and a life that’s lived in power and hope.

Our gospel story for today outlines this powerful truth in some interesting and thought-provoking ways.  Will you hear the word of the Lord as it is recorded for us in the gospel of Luke, chapter 8, verses 26-39:

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

       Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

    “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

    A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

    When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

    The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Oh my, what a story.  It comes second in a series of four stories in Luke’s gospel, four stories which tell us about the authority and power which Jesus had in several different realms of human existence.  It directlyfollowsthe story of Jesus calming the stormy sea, simply by the power of his word.  It comes justbeforetwo interwoven miracle stories – one illustrating Jesus’ power to heal chronic illness and one illustrating Jesus’ power over death itself.

In this story, Jesus has just calmed the chaos of the storm, thereby taming the beasts in the natural, created world, and now he proceeds to calm the chaos in this strange, wild, frightening beast of a man who wanders the tombs.

The presence of the swine in this story tells us that Jesus and his band of followers have entered Gentile territory; they’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee and entered a new and different place, only to be immediately accosted by a man described as demon-possessed.

We can’t even begin to understand all the layers of meaning implicit in the use of the word ‘demons’ in this story about Jesus and his word of authority.  21st century westerners are uncomfortable with the idea of evil forces inhabiting human persons.  Many, if not most, people walking the streets of Santa Barbara this morning would deny their existence outright.  Yet missionaries who carry the gospel to less sophisticated cultures than our own, tell stories that sound a whole lot like this one.  Perhaps what one commentator said is true, “Satan has less need to manifest himself openly in a culture that denies his existence.”

Yet despite our own culture’s struggle with the idea of Satan or the devil or his demons, no one living in the here and now can deny the existence of evil in our world and in ourselves.  A great old southern preacher named Fred Craddock says, “All names of the enemies have been changed but the battle still rages.” And while we may not know too much about the kind of demon possession that is pictured here, we certainly know about our own personal demons.  Those things that cripple us and trip us up, big-time.  Those addictions and behaviors and thought processes and reactions that hold us captive, that keep us wandering in the tombs, lonely and frightened and disconnected from our best selves, disconnected from God.

A look at just a few recent news headlines reminds us of this truth:

Last week, police around the world arrested hundreds of people involved in the internet trafficking of child pornography.  31 children – so far – have been released from captivity, some of them involved in horrific, sexual abuse, shown world wide through live video streaming.

Over 6 million Americans aged 12 and over have used crack cocaine at least once in their lives.

5 percent of high school students have used crystal meth.

A US Dept of Health and Human Services bulletin from January of last year, showed that 11% of 8th graders, 22% of 10th graders and 29% of high school seniors had done intense, heavy, binge drinking within the two weeks prior to the survey being taken.  Now, consuming large amounts of alcohol at any age is dangerous, but it is especially calamitous for adolescent brains, causing permanent damage and leading to a lifetime of risky, dangerous behavior patterns.

Every one of these terrifying statistics has at its base the reality of demons within. Because we live in the computer age, we can cover up the mess in there a tad better than the Gerasene man was able to do.  The pedophilia ring that was broken up last week named it’s website “Kids: the Light of Our Lives,” for heaven’s sake.

No, most of our ‘demons’ don’t cause us to wander the cemeteries without our clothes on, yelling at the top of our lungs.

Yet the truth is that every one of us in this room deals with now, or has dealt with at some point in the past, our own particular and unique set of demons.  We each have our shadow side, those areas of pain and difficulty that need to be named and then opened to the healing power of Jesus so that we, too, might become those who are, ‘clothed and in our right minds, sitting at the feet of the Lord.’

Please hear this wonderful truth, however: whatever it is that you’re dealing with inside, it is not outside the reach of Jesus’ authority to resolve.

Look at what happens in our story.  Jesus sails into foreign territory, and makes it his own.  He remains completely calm and unflappable throughout his confrontation with the demon-possessed man, never raising his voice, never saying or doing violence of any kind.  He immediately takes charge of this chaotic and chronic situation, commanding the evil forces to leave the man alone.  Those forces recognize the authority of Jesus, calling him “Son of the Most High God,” and begging for mercy. Jesus calls the demon by name and exercises complete authority over it.  In an almost humorous turn of events, Jesus agrees with the demons to send them into the nearby herd of pigs (one unclean thing into another, I guess!), clearly not allowing them to dictate their ultimate destination.  They end up in the abyss, despite their pleas to the contrary.

Jesus is in charge, from beginning to end, and his authority over the evil that dwells inside of us human creatures is complete and sure.

The man himself is able to witness the resolution of his long-term suffering and imprisonment – he can see those pigs running right off the cliff into the water, and he knows that his healing from the inside out has been accomplished.  He literally becomes a new man.  Discovered by the frightened townspeople to be – not a raving madman, haunting the lonely, desolate places outside of town – but a disciple – (the language of ‘sitting at Jesus’ feet’ is a dead giveaway to his new status) – now they find a learner, a quiet, calm, clear-headed, fully clothed, fully released, God-possessed human being.

Wow!  Time to bring out the fatted calf, right?  The people in the town must have wanted to have a big, old party, don’t you think?

Well . . . not exactly.

Apparently, the evil they knew was far less frightening to them than the power they didn’t know.  So their primary response to this strange Jewish man from the other side of the lake is one of fear, perhaps, even of terror.  Because the authority of Jesus is a very scary thing.  When Jesus comes on the scene, he shakes things up.  He rattles the cage, he upsets the status quo, he does startling things, he can’t be tamed, or put in a box, or sent to the tombs to wander around alone.

Too much modern Christianity forgets this truth.  We’ve tried pretty hard to make Jesus a really nice guy, with a nice smile and great hair. He loves little kids (and indeed, he does), he hunts for little lost lambs (and indeed, he does), he tells quaint stories, he helps people out a lot, he’s just a really great guy, you know?

Look again.  This is one gutsy guy, not intimidated by the crazy man wandering around naked in the graveyard.  This is a guy who talks right back to the demons, who clearly is in charge here, who is willing to do a daring and economically threatening thing like destroy an entire herd of pigs to salvage one human life.  This is a demanding guy, who tells the newly re-born Gerasene that, no, he cannot leave his home and follow him.  Rather, this new disciple must stay put and be a witness in his own hometown. He must tell the story of what God has done for him – he must go back to the town from which he had been ejected and isolated, back to the people who were even more frightened by the dramatic change in his demeanor and behavior than they were by his previous lunacy, back to the very ones who wanted him kept at a safe distance, outside the city gates.  And he must tell them of freedom and of healing and of God’s power.

These are not the responses, these are not the actions, these are not the words of a “really nice guy,” a really “great guy.”  Maybe this air-brushing we do so easily and so frequently is one of the ways in which we, too, ask Jesus to leave, to get away from us, because we cannot understand his power, we cannot accept his authority.  We domesticate him right out of the picture.  Dorothy Sayers, British writer and theologian from the early 20th century, put it this way:

“The people who hanged Christ…never accused him of being a bore. On the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up the shadowing personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the lion of Judea, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”

May God forgive us for trying to smooth off the brave, outrageous edges of our magnificent Savior!

If we are to face our own demons, we need Someone who is strong and unflappable, One who is centered and authoritative, a Friend to stand with us, to go before us, to show us the truth about ourselves, to name that demon within and to tell it, in no uncertain terms, exactly where it can go!

Jesus is that Friend.  Thanks be to God.

 

Let us pray:

Holy God, Brave Savior, Powerful Holy Spirit,

Oh, how we thank you for this story.  For the clear evidence of your deep desire for our wholeness, for the word of authority that only you can speak to the demons within.  They have lots of names, Lord, and sometimes we’re too frightened or too proud to acknowledge their presence.  Deep and dark sexual fantasies, addictions to alcohol, or pornography, or drugs, or food, or shopping, or gambling.  An untamed tongue that too often flares in anger, or cuts in criticism, a spirit of despair that feels increasingly familiar and comfortable, an unwillingness to extend ourselves in your name to people we find scary or odd, a spirit of lethargy or apathy that keeps us at a distance from people or projects that would bring us good and build your kingdom, a debilitating shyness that inhibits our ability to offer that cup of cold water, a refusal to think of those from other cultures or other races as creatures also made in your image.

You know us better than we know ourselves, Lord.  Show us what we need to name.  By your grace, enable us to release authority over our demons to you, embolden us to ask for help, if we need it – medical or psychological or recovery help – all of them instruments of your healing power – then continue to heal us from the lingering aftereffects not only of our own demons, but also of the denial, of the wrong behavior, of the wrong choices that such demons produce in us. Then we will gladly bear witness to all that you have done for us, O Lord, because of Jesus, in whose name we pray, Amen.

 

 

The Call to be Wise – A Prayer for Worship

It’s been a while. Twenty two months, to be exact. Twenty-two months ince I’ve prayed in public, in a Sunday morning worship service. I am rusty, and I am nervous. Really nervous.

We’ve been studying the book of James this fall, trying to discover what this small book might teach us about living the life of a disciple, a disciple who makes disciples. This small epistle is part of the lectionary readings as we cycle through the last weeks of Ordinary Time and this week’s reading is from chapter 3, verses 13-18 – words on wisdom, true wisdom, godly wisdom. And, of course, the kind of ‘wisdom’ that is far from godly.

The gospel reading in Matthew 10 includes the words of Jesus, sending the disciples out on their own for the first time, encouraging them to be ‘wise as serpents…’ Oh  – and we’ll be singing, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” just before the prayer. 
Will you join me as we pray together this morning? 

It is good to praise you, Almighty God.
It is good to sing loudly, tapping our feet – at least
on the inside – joining right in with those angels,
the ones who are adoring you,
the ones veiling their sight.
Because even the angels cannot look directly
at you, O Lord of Glory.
They cannot behold your splendid and radiant Being,
because you are just  . . . too much.
Too much for them,
and surely too much for us,
“frail children of dust” that we are. 

It’s hard for us to even begin to wrap our minds around 
the Truth that is you,
the Immensity of you.
You are the Wild and Untamable Source
of all that is beautiful,
mysterious,
awe-inspiring,
and powerful –
in this universe;
on our planet;
in these bodies, which we treat with such casual neglect;
this natural world in which we live – 
this world that speaks to us of 
your creative genius and
your overwhelming attention to detail.

And yet . . . you are the very same God who 
guides the likes of us, day by day,
and who invites and encourages us 
to join you in the ongoing renewal of creation. 

So, YES!!
It is good to praise you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God of Immensity,
Son of Humility,
Spirit of Comfort and Conviction.
Help us to do this always,
to offer our songs,
our words,
our hearts
in joyful thanksgiving for who you are,
and how you are working to revive and restore and refresh
all that you have created,
most especially each and every one of us. 

And some of us truly need to find that refreshment this day, O Lord. 
We’re wondering what’s coming next –
feeling overloaded at school,
maybe worried about our jobs, or our children, or both.
Some of us are waiting on doctor’s diagnoses,
some of us have already heard hard news.
Some of us wonder if we’ll have enough money to cover the month,
some of us have plenty of money, but not much joy in it. 
Some of us are young and curious, 
often thinking we know more than we actually do.
And some of us are old and failing, 
not sure if we know anything at all. 
Some of us are worried about a lot of things,
and getting plenty sick of worrying.
And some of us are just plain sick.
Sick and tired of all kinds of things and wondering
where you are. And even there, Lord God,
even there, it is good to praise you.
Maybe even especially there. 

So, Only Wise God,
will you help us to become wise people
who know how to praise you well? 
Because wise people are people who know how to say thank you,
even when we have to stretch pretty hard to do it.
Wise people are people who do good deeds,
even when that’s the last thing we feel like doing.
Wise people are people who don’t give in to 
bitterness, or cynicism, or sarcasm,
but choose words that honor, and uplift and encourage.
Wise people are naturally generous,
offering what they have to others,
sharing the gifts they’ve received.
Wise people are people who look like the folks Jesus is
talking about in our Gospel lesson for the morning. 
People who are ‘wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.’ 
Yes, Lord – that’s exactly who we’d like to be. 

But we readily admit that we are not all that wise a lot of the time. 

So, will you remind us to say we’re sorry,
to admit our frailties and flaws
and to consistently seek to grow into the people
you have in mind for us to be? 
O Lord, if everyone in this world who says they are a 
follower of yours would do this –
if we would all admit we’re far from perfect,
if we would ask for help when we need it,
and if we would seek to be wise –
what a different place this old planet of ours could be! 

So, begin with us, will you, please?
Soften our hearts,
open our wallets,
give us words of peace to offer,
wherever we go, whomever we meet.
And we’ll end right where we began,
by praising your Holy Name,
O, God Only Wise.
Amen. 

Joining with Michelle’s Sunday invitation and Jennifer’s sisterhood:





A Prayer for the End of the Year…

Christ the King Sunday, 2010

written for worship at Montecito Covenant Church

by Diana R.G. Trautwein

You may not be aware of this, but today marks the last Sunday of the year – the church year, that is. Today is the last Sunday in the longest season of our liturgical calendar, a season which is called Ordinary Time. Next Sunday, the New Year begins as we step into the first Sunday in Advent. As each year comes to its close, the church has chosen to remember that the baby whose advent we await is, in fact, our King. So I begin our prayer time today with the collect – or short prayer – for this Sunday in the church year:

“Almighty and merciful God,
 you break the power of evil and make all things new
 in your Son, Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.


May all in heaven and earth 
acclaim your glory and never cease to praise you.


We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
 who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
 one God, for ever and ever.”

We offer heartfelt thanks today, Lord God, that you are indeed almighty and merciful.

We humbly recognize that we desperately need you to be both of those things – mighty to save and merciful to forgive.

Thank you that even in the midst of the most ordinary of our days, you are still and always God, that your son Jesus reigns in heaven with you and the Holy Spirit, and that we – for some miraculous, hard-to-fathom reason – are invited into the fellowship which you enjoy together.

Thank you that we have been born into a life of privilege and of blessing; that we live in a place of beauty and abundance; that by virtue of our birth in this great land, we are granted the grace and the freedom to gather in worship together any time we choose.

Thank you that even our darkest days can be lightened by your presence with us; that the most tangled of our problems do not overwhelm you; that the worst we can do to ourselves or to others is never beyond your willingness to forgive and to redeem.

Thank you that you are God, King of the Universe and King of our lives.

Help us to acknowledge your reign in the daily doings of our lives; to seek your guidance and direction in the making of our decisions, both large and small; to yield to your truth, to trust in your faithfulness, to live in your light.

Forgive the many and various ways in which we sin against you and against one another. Give us eyes to see our own foibles and failings and to offer those places of struggle up to you. For it is in our brokenness that you can bring wholeness, it is through our battle scars that your light can shine, it is by your grace that we can begin to see ourselves as new creatures, those who are slowly but steadily taking steps toward transformation and redemption.

As we celebrate a national holiday built around the idea of giving thanks, help us, O Lord, to truly cultivate grateful hearts. Because it is gratitude which can soften the rough edges, open our hearts to the beauty around us and help us to see one another as reflections of your glorious son, Jesus Christ, whose kingship we celebrate today and always. Amen.


A Prayer for the Faint and Weary…


written for worship on October 17, 2010 by

Diana R.G. Trautwein

“This is the air I breathe…this is my daily bread…”

“Abba, Father…”

“Allelu, alleluia…”

Oh Lord, I am so glad that we can sing our prayers to you.

Because sometimes – actually, a lot of time! – singing

is the only way we can muster up the words,
connect with the emotions,

get in touch with those central pieces

and parts of ourselves

that most need to be opened

to the reviving,

rejuvenating,

encouraging,

challenging work of your Spirit.

So, hear our songs today, Lord, as our earnest and heartfelt prayers to you:

our cry for mercy when life feels overwhelming;

our desire for forgiveness when we’ve gone astray;

our exuberant ‘thank you’ when we’ve seen grace;

our exhausted ‘where are you’ when we’ve lost our

bearings.

We sing these prayers of ours with full hearts,

and also sometimes with tired bodies and

puzzled minds;

with contrite spirits,

and just plain empty gas tanks.

And we sing them to YOU, O Lord, because…

we have no other.

You are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

You are the God of Deborah, Ruth and Hannah.

You are the God of Peter and Paul and Mary and Elizabeth.

And you are, most of all, the God of Jesus, the incarnate one;

Jesus, the savior and healer;

Jesus, the living water and bread of life;

Jesus, our hope and our redeemer.

How we thank you for Jesus and for the gospel good news he brings us!

How we thank you for the promise of Presence made real

by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit.

How we thank you for loving us in spite of the messes we make and the messes we inherit;

for loving us enough to call us to be better than we know, better than we are.

And we thank you most of all this day,

for the gift of prayer – which is the primary way we experience your presence with us. We thank you…

for prayers with words

and prayers without words;

for prayers of hope and delight

and prayers of discouragement and despair;

for prayers of contrition and repentance

and prayers of thanksgiving and praise;

for all manner of conversation,

interaction,

silent communication,

noisy jubilation,

or unconscious groaning – all of it

welcomed by YOU –

the God who sustains us through all that life throws our way.

Grant us grace and strength to pray without ceasing through all of our days. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

A Prayer for the Table…


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Diana R.G. Trautwein

It’s table time, again, Lord,

when we come together as your family,

broken and bruised as we are,

and take a little bite

and drink a little sip

and remember who you are

and what you’ve done for us.

Some of us are a little surprised to find ourselves here,

to tell you the truth.

We’re here to see and be seen,

to do the Sunday church-going thing,

and the call to the table is not what we had planned

on, not what we’d planned on at all.

And some of us are here today out of habit –

today is Sunday; on Sunday we go to church;

therefore – we are in church.

And we know enough to track that this is the 1st

Sunday of the month, so…

it’s time for communion.

And we’ll take the bread and we’ll sip the juice…

because it’s familiar and comfortable

and it’s comforting

it’s what we do on this day.

But some of us are here today because we just plain have to be here.

Participating in this sacramental meal is not just important,

it’s crucial.

It’s a lifeline that we grab with fierce gratitude and a ready

admission of our deep need for it.

And so the whole motley crew of us gathers around your table, Lord. All of us together,

the looky-loos,

the regulars,

the desperate ones.

And the miracle of this table is this:

we’re all welcome here,

we’re all invited,

we’re all included.

Any one of us who has faith the size of a mustard seed,

our scripture for the morning told us;

anyone with just the tiniest bit of hope and belief

that Jesus’ broken body and shed blood can

change us and shape us and re-make us-

any of us

and all of us

are invited guests at this, the table of the Lord.

Thanks be to God!

So, Lord, we’re all crowding around now,

we all want to be ready.

Will you, then, hear first our prayers of confession and need

as we offer them silently to you?

–Silence–

And then, we want to offer our prayers on behalf of others

who are in trouble, looking for healing and help.

Will you hear our prayers for these dear ones we name

out loud right now?

And finally, Lord, we all want to say a huge ‘thank you,’

for this table and what it means to us.

Thank you for simple gifts that take on sacred meaning.

Thank you for the story that these simple gifts tell.

Thank you for Jesus. For his life, for his death, for his

resurrection from the dead, for the new life he

makes possible for us.

Continue to change us more and more into the image of that

crucified, risen one we worship and in whose name

we pray today and always, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Prayer for Disciples Who Struggle

prepared for worship at Montecito Covenant Church
September 6, 2010 by
Diana R.G. Trautwein

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, we discover that,
“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 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.






A Prayer for Father’s Day, 2010

In my weekend reading, I was struck by this powerful paragraph written by Ann and Barry Ulanov, in their book, “Primary Speech: a Psychology of Prayer.” Please listen carefully as it is a dense bit of writing, but oh! – it offers us such a rich understanding of what prayer is truly all about:
“Prayer articulates our longing for a fullness of being, our reaching out of the mind for what is beyond it, and [prayer] helps us find and love God and grow with our love. It is like the sun warming a seed into life, like the work of clearing away weeds and bringing water to the interior garden of St. Teresa’s inspired imagery. Prayer enlarges our desire until it receives God’s desire for us. In prayer we grow big enough to house God’s desire for us, which is the Holy Spirit.”

Let us pray together, articulating our longing as we do:
Great God,
Creator of the universe,
Redeemer of our souls,
you are indeed beyond, far beyond what our minds can grasp.
And we do long for you –
as a lost child longs for a parent,
as a lost sailor longs for land and home,
as those who grieve long for those they have lost.
Help us to grasp that all our longings
are really longings for the same thing –
we long for you, O God.
We long to be known,
to be heard,
to be understood,
to be loved.
And something within us knows that what we long for
cannot truly be found anywhere else but with You.
Sift through the weeds of our lives,
the distractions,
the divided loyalties,
the difficult memories,
the demands we place on ourselves that are
unhealthy and unholy and unnecessary.
Water us generously with grace and forgiveness,
refine and expand our desire for you!
Strengthen our resolve,
empower our wills,
transform our minds,
warm us into life,
as the sun warms the seed – warm us into real, true life.
And help us never to settle for anything less than that,
never to give our ultimate allegiance to anything other than that,
never to shirk from offering that kind of life
to those you put in our way.
Many of us today are celebrating – celebrating the wonderful truth
that we have or had fathers
who helped us to see and value real, true life,
whose desire for you was refined and defined and clarified
over a lifetime of devotion,
and who taught us to pay attention to our heart’s desire.
Thank you for loving, believing dads.
Some of us today are missing those dads, those Good Dads,
because they’re no longer here with us.
Help us to celebrate anyhow,
‘to remember them with joy and with gratitude.
Some of us never really experienced that kind of father
in our lives at all,
and we’re still trying to learn how to fill in the blanks
left over from difficult parenting.
Help us to celebrate progress made,
and to recognize the depth of our desire
for you to be our Good Father.
We ask you blessing this day
on all those in our community
who are now dads themselves –
may they feel blessed and valued and affirmed.
May they – and we – seek to
enlarge our desire for you
until we are able to receive” –
miracle of miracles! –
“your own deep desire for us.”

For that is the amazing truth
that is at the heart of our story
as followers of Jesus,
as believers in the God of Israel,
as people of the Book.
For that Book, the Word written,
and your Son Jesus, the Word living,
tell us again and again
that it is your longing for us
that set creation in motion.
It is your magnificent,
mystifying,
life-giving love for us,
your desire for us –
that holds this universe together,
that holds the church together,
that holds our hearts together,
that holds us.
So, Lord God, help us to be people of prayer,
for it is in that heart-to-heart communication,
that sharing of our dreams and desires,
our wishes and wonderings,
that we can,
“grow big enough to house your desire for us,”
to fully embrace and welcome the Holy Spirit,
whose presence in us is life eternal.
In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

A Prayer for Ordinary Time…


Wow. Didn’t realize it had been so long since I posted anything. Here is the prayer from this morning’s worship service – a service which I led, in the absence of our Senior Pastor, who is on a much-needed, long-awaited vacation/study leave in the south of France. (A good friend, John Notehelfer, stepped in to preach as there was no time or energy for either preparation or delivery!) Unfortunately, I’m not in tip-top shape even for worship-leading, as it turns out. Still in recovery mode from a scary bout of blood clots in both lungs, which required hospitalization for a couple of days and a continuing – now 11 day – recovery and recuperation. I marshaled my energies for the morning, and then pretty much crashed all afternoon, more tired than I can just about ever remember being. Our bodies are indeed ‘fearfully and wonderfully made,’ and when they get out of whack, one needs to pay attention.

Today is the 2nd Sunday in the season of Pentecost on the church calendar – also called Ordinary Time. And that’s what about 99% of life is, isn’t it? Ordinary time. Here is a prayer for such a time, beginning with a line from our offertory hymn of the morning:
“…his strength shall bear you up, and nerve your heart, and brace your arm.”

There are days, Lord,
when we truly need
to have our ‘hearts nerved’
and our ‘arms braced.’
There are days, Lord,
when it seems as though whatever it is we are carrying
weighs a couple of tons.
There are days, Lord,
when we need to stop on the road a while,
take a deep breath,
and wait;
wait for your sweet,
sometimes subtle,
yet always reliable
strength,
to bear our spirits up.

And for many of us this morning,
today is one of those days.
Some of us have come through
wonderful times of celebration recently –
graduation day,
wedding day,
even a birth-day for beautiful new Isabella Faith.
We’re grateful for milestone celebrations such as these,
because they bring us reminders of your good gifts of
grace and goodness,
faith and faithfulness,
connection and commitment.
But because we are frail creatures of dust,
even parties can wear us out,
can cause rough edges in our relationships,
when schedules have to be set,
tasks have to be done,
deadlines have to be met.
So, will you sit with us,
by the side of the road this morning, Lord?
Help us to breathe deeply of your love,
and to wait for your strength to fill us
for whatever comes next.
For others of us today,
celebration has had to be pushed aside to
make way for more urgent concerns:
failing health,
failing bank accounts,
failing relationships,
exhausted resources.
We are truly in need of a roadside rest,
space to wait,
for our hearts to be nerved,
and our arms to be braced,
and our spirits to be borne up by your strength.

And while we’re sitting here,
on the side of the roadway of life,
it seems important for us to offer to you
some words of apology and contrition.

Because not one of us can manage to get through a single day,
even a single hour,
without revealing the shadows
of sin and brokenness that mar your image in us.
So, please hear our silent words of confession as we offer them to you:

— SILENCE —

Amazingly, dear Lord, we must also declare that there are moments,
here and there, once in a while,
when we know that you’re with us, at work in us,
reaching through us to others in need,
or simply filling us with deeply joyful gratitude –
because we’re alive,
because we’re loved,
because we are.
And for these moments, we want to say, ‘thank you.’
‘Thank you so much.”
-SILENCE–

We’ve brought gifts of love today, Lord God –
money that can be used to bring the gospel good news
of hope and healing into needy hearts and bodies,
both here and around the world.
We set these gifts aside for holy purposes today,
grateful that we can bring them,
grateful that you will use them.
Prepare our hearts to meet you today,
to hear from your word through your servant, John,
to hear your song of love to us,
even as we sing songs together,
to taste and see that that LORD is good
as we share together in bread and cup.
And then send us out,
arms braced,
hearts nerved,
spirits borne up by your strength,
refreshed from our
stopping
and sitting
and waiting,
ready to hit the road again,
with joy that is contagious,
with grace that is generous,
with thanksgiving that is overflowing,
with Jesus himself, alive and well within us.
For it is in his name,
and for his sake that we pray. Amen.