Categories
lent Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer to the God who flips tables

Dear friends, please join me in raising all our prayers —
all our joys and griefs, gratitudes and longings —

to the God who helps us discern
when to hold fast and when to let go,
which tables to fix
and which ones to flip.

As one, we pray:

For those who engage in the long and thankless labor
of stripping tables of their unjust trappings:
who drag folding chairs into the rooms where decisions get made
and refuse to shut up until every voice is heard —
for the ministers, teachers, advocates
calling for reparation and constant reform,
we pray.

And also for those courageous ones who recognize
that some tables are beyond refurbishing —
who refuse to cover up rotten foundations with surface fixes —
for the protestors and activists who cry
for abolition, for revolution
we pray.

For those who struggle with anger, anxiety, or trauma,
who lash out at the wrong targets,
who sabotage themselves and their relationships —
or else who keep their anger bottled up,
too tangled up in niceness and respectability
to make their hurts known and set boundaries,
we pray.

For those whose trauma stems from Christianity,
from churches claiming to act in God’s name —

for persons of color, disabled persons, women, LGBT+ persons, and others whose dignity has been denied and gifts rejected;
for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of faith leaders;
for ministers wounded by backlash and burnout;
and for those impacted by antisemitism, islamophobia,
and attempted genocide against Indigenous religions and cultures;
we pray;

and also for those who fight the good fight
to put an end to such injustices in our midst
through education, reparations, and collaboration,
we pray.

O God, Incarnate in the person of Jesus,
you teach us how to be fully human
with all the emotions involved therein —
teach us how to comfort the afflicted
and afflict the comfortable.

Teach us to be kind to ourselves;
give us the courage to face our grief and trauma with tenderness,
giving them the time and space they deserve
so that we can move forward.

Teach us to be kind to others
both by responding to their pain with grace and understanding,
and by loving them enough to tell them when they are doing harm,
offering to work with them as they make things right.

O God with us, You who dwell in the midst of our struggling,
for these things and for all the wordless yearnings of our hearts,
we pray.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-22.

All of us involved in the service and sermon planning were grateful to find Jewish professor of New Testament Studies Amy-Jill Levine’s commentary on the “cleansing of the temple” story. She combats traditional readings of the text with their antisemitic layers by evincing how Jesus’s anger reflects the anger of his predecessors Jeremiah and Zechariah — an anger focused not on the simple fact that sacrificial animals were sold in the Temples’ outer courts, but on the way the Temple (like many of our own worship spaces) had become a safe place for corrupt oppressors, who behaved as if their daily atrocities would be overlooked by God if they paid for a sacrifice every now and again.

Levine also discusses Jesus’s (and Jeremiah’s and Zechariah’s) anger as holy anger thus:

“…There are times, we may find, that business as usual is not only inappropriate, it is obscene. Something has to be done. If we do not become angry when we see images of suffering children, if we do not feel some sort of rage when preventable tragedies occur, if we do not feel compelled to act, then something has gone terribly wrong, with us.

Some of my students insist that anger is a sin. I think whether it is a sin depends on the type of anger we manifest. It is true that the Wrath is among the classical “Seven deadly sins” (the others are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, and sloth). But “wrath” here refers to a temper out of control, to rage, and so to hate and the desire for revenge. That is not the same thing as righteous anger. Righteous anger seeks restitution, not revenge; it seeks correction, not retribution.

We can see the different types of anger manifested in the Gospels: Jesus forbids anger against a person. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22), he states, “I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” The anger he forbids is anger against another person. But he does not forbid anger against systemic evils: hypocrisy, exploitation, harassment, molestation, drug pushing, and so on. Such forms of injustice should make us angry, and that anger should lead to constructive action.

Categories
Holy Days lent Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessions: for those desperate to be named, known, loved

My siblings in Jesus who earnestly asked his friends,
“Who do you say that I am?”,

I invite you to pray with me for all those made in this God’s image who are desperate to be known, to be named, to be respected and remembered. Let us pray:

For the Black lives stomped out by police brutality and white supremacy, for whom we shout “Say their name!” — from Breonna Taylor to Ahmaud Arbery, from Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, from Michael Brown to George Floyd, we pray.

For the Black lives that have shaped our world, who have labored and lamented, invented and constructed, yet whose names are not printed in our history books — or whose names are shared only during Black History Month, the shortest month of the year — we pray.

For the trans person whose chosen name, whose true name, is rejected by the ones they love the most;
or who must keep their true self hidden to preserve their job, their home, their safety;
or whose very grave is marked by a name that is not theirs — the final insult in a world bent on destroying their dignity — we pray.

For the children crying out their parents’ names in ICE’s cells;
and for the over 26,000 human beings deported under the Biden-Harris administration thus far, we pray.

For those most isolated by this pandemic, who hunger to hear their name uttered by someone, anyone, we pray.

For those who are weary with applying for job after job, waiting for their name to be chosen from the pile, we pray.

For those who stand on street corners asking for money, asking for recognition that they too are human beings with a name, with dreams and griefs, with the Image of God glowing within them, we pray.

For the 500,000 and counting human beings killed in the US alone by this mishandled pandemic, whose names are printed in one inky blur, whose lives are unknown by any but those who loved them not as a faceless mass, but as parents, children, teachers, friends, we pray.

For all those desperately calling to Divinity under one of Their many names — Jesus, Allah, HaShem, Mother Earth, Great Spirit — we pray.

And finally, for the groanings and gratitudes, named and unnamed, of this congregation, we pray.

O God of many names, God the giver and restorer of names,

Ignite in us a burning urgency to
SAY THEIR NAMES,
to cherish their names,
to dig up the names
that white supremacy and all unjust powers would see buried.

O El Shaddai, the rain-bringer, the seed-tender, the nursing Mother,
come gently to each of your hurting children; whisper our own names back to us, reminding us of our worth.

Holy Spirit, we thank you for taking the achings and longings beyond words and groaning them out on our behalf. Comfort us, compel us, encourage and empower us, to be your hands and feet in this aching world today.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Genesis 17:1-16 and Mark 8:27-38, with themes of God who names Themself and others; who seeks to be known by us just as She knows us.

Categories
Charge and Benediction Christmas Invitation to the table Liturgy Opening prayer Prayers of the People

Liturgy for Christmastide – God of the manger, God of the stranger

OPENING PRAYER

Immanuel, God with us! 

You are indeed with all of us, wherever we are
across the many miles, under our assorted roofs.

In the birth that we celebrate this Christmas season,

You stripped off omnipotence,
burst through the border between Creator and Creation
to curl Your infinity into a finite form,
a frail, physical, form — an infant 

utterly dependent on others to survive.

You who choose
interdependence over self-reliance,
society’s outcasts over mighty kings,
abundance for every creature over excess for the few,
You are indeed worthy of our praise!

As we worship you today, 
may the same Spirit

who brought new life to Hannah and Elizabeth,
who came in dreams to change the mind of Joseph,
who took shelter in Mary and spoke through Simeon and Anna

come upon us all —

a rushing wind to stir up fainting spirits,
a gentle breeze to refresh the weary body.

Spirit of God! Here today!
Breathe new life into us
that we may join the ones who prepare Your way!


PASTORAL PRAYER / INTERCESSORY PRAYER

Like Simeon and Anna, we eagerly anticipate God’s restoration,
which is unfolding even now — yet is not fully here.

We look forward to the future in which all needs will be met,
all cruelty will be transformed into compassion,
all sickness and suffering will give way to flourishing 

for all of humanity, and all of Creation.

In the meantime, we pray for those whose needs we can name –
and for those whose needs we do not know,
those who do not know how to ask for what they need.

Join me now in offering our joined prayers up 
to the God who loves us, who is with us, who is bringing about abundance for all.

God of the Hope born anew at Christmas,

We pray for persistence as we continue to keep each other safe 
in this time of pandemic, even when it means keeping physically apart.

Make your warming Presence felt to all those struggling with loneliness or depression, O God,
and pour your blessing upon those who reach out to their fellow human beings 
in large ways and small.

Encourage and protect all who act in solidarity
with the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned, the oppressed.

We give thanks for protestors who continue to demand justice and equity,
For those who speak out against the violence we wage against this good world you created,
For those who dream of a better reality for all peoples, all creatures,
And who invite all of us into the hard, holy work of making those dreams reality. 

We pray also that those in positions of power will be moved
to take the steps that only they can to reduce sickness and suffering.
We pray for a major transformation of the heart 
in those who shrug off wearing masks,
And in those who perpetrate hate crimes — or who by their silence enable them.  

And God, we offer our deepest gratitude
for the vaccines that are rolling out:
Bless and hover over those who create them,
those who administer them,
those who have received them, those are still waiting to receive them.

As we live into this new stage in our long waiting, revitalize us.
Empower us to be your Presence in the world,
helping others where we can
And attending to our own spirits when there is little else we can do.

God of the manger, God of the stranger,
Carry the most vulnerable of us safely into the future that is coming,
that we can almost reach out and touch, and that we continue to wait and work for.

Amen. 


INVITATION TO THE TABLE

My siblings in the Living God,

The infant born to impoverished Jewish parents
is the one who invites us to his table today. 

He who knew poverty and homelessness
Welcomes you, even if you don’t think you have anything to bring to the table.

Having spent some of his youngest years
as a refugee far from home,
Jesus welcomes refugees and immigrants,
As well as spiritual wanderers, those who do not feel at home at church,
And those who deeply miss gathering physically in their church building.
Jesus welcomes you.

Jesus welcomes oppressors who strive to make amends,
The oppressed who seek sanctuary and justice.
Jesus welcomes you.

Whoever you are, whatever you believe,
Whatever hopes and fears, griefs and doubts you carry to the table with you,
You are welcome here.
Come. Eat. This table is for you. 


BENEDICTION

Siblings in Christ,

having been nourished by the Word made flesh,
by songs that welcome in God’s Kin(g)dom,
by bread offered to us from the one born of Bethlehem,

It is time for us to depart:
to carry our renewed hope out to the despairing,
and to seek the Spirit of God
in the most shunned corners of the world.

Let us go now in peace,
rejoicing that the God who creates, sustains, and redeems us all
goes with us.



I wrote these pieces for a virtual service on December 27, 2020 (First Sunday of Christmastide) centered around the story of the Presentation at the Temple as told in Luke 2:22-40. There are also some references to Isaiah 61.

Categories
Christmas communion meditation Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

Communion Meditation for Christmastide – Jesus of the House of Bread

Two thousand years ago, 

Divinity entered the world in the form of an infant 
born in Bethlehem — a town whose name means “House of Bread”!
He was swaddled by parents poor in the eyes of the world,
but rich in love,
and laid in a manger —

a food trough for cattle!

Thus it is that from the very moment of his birth,
Jesus made known his intention to feed the hungry world
with his very being —
to be bread for empty stomachs
and nourishment for flagging spirits.

His life was a continuation of a Movement that God had begun
long centuries before Jesus:

a Movement that glimmered in the starry sky laid out for Abraham,
that invited Jacob to wrestle faithfully and fervently
until he came away wounded and blessed;

a Movement that carried the enslaved Hebrews out of bondage
and taught them how to live into true freedom;

a Movement kept alive in times of corruption, and empire, and exile
by fearless prophets who would not be silenced
and who looked forward to the liberation of all prisoners, the uplifting of the poor.

It was those prophets’ message that was boldly sung by Mary,
and that she and Joseph, faithful Jewish parents,
taught to the boy Jesus
with the help of their community’s synagogue. 

It is this message, the proclaiming of God’s World-Upturning Movement,
that infuses the bread and cup we share today.

Eat, drink, and let the sharing of this meal unite us across the miles
into one Body of the liberating Christ
who walks and breathes among us even today. 


I wrote these pieces for a virtual service on December 27, 2020 (First Sunday of Christmastide) centered around the story of the Presentation at the Temple as told in Luke 2:22-40.

Categories
advent Holy Days Liturgy Reflections for worship services

God’s vastness, fearsome and comforting

When I sit with God in quiet moments, I feel
so small. Sometimes, this is a beautiful thing:
I become a little child in the lap of their mother,
I become a baby chick under the soft, warm wings of their mother hen;
I feel safe, and comforted, and loved.

But other times God’s vastness in the face of my own littleness
becomes overwhelming: then I am an ant
under God’s magnifying glass, I am one atom in the face
of the ever-expanding universe that is God

and I become discouraged. Surely no gift I could bring to the table
is big enough for this God to even notice, is big enough to make any impact
on God’s vision for the health and wholeness of this world!…

so why bother? Why even try? Who am I
to talk to God or about God,
to lead church events, to participate in worship services,
to go to a rally for immigrant rights? What change can I or any of us make?

…Then I remember
that God became little Themself,
as little
as any of us ever was.

The impossible hugeness of God
folded itself down into a microscopic embryo,
was nourished by an umbilical cord, was born as a fragile infant,
dependent
on the love and protection of impoverished human parents.

In this season of Advent looking forward to Christmas, let us pray together
to the almighty God who became small, vulnerable, one of us:

Jesus of the manger,

When we grow discouraged at our own littleness
in the face of the work that needs to be done,
in the face of God’s greatness,
Remind us that you know our smallness, and delight in it! —
that each and every one of us does have gifts to offer to you
and to our fellow living beings, gifts that matter,
gifts that make a difference.

Remind us of your parents,
a poor young couple shut out from the inn,
who made use of what they had to care for you,
for God in their midst.

Remind us of how you adored
the little ones among us:
the children who were meant to be seen and not heard
but to whom you said, “Come to me!”

And in the remembering of your love for the littlest ones,
the poorest ones, the scorned ones,
may we be inspired to use our gifts
for the betterment of your world, to do
small things with great love, to keep hope burning bright
for the coming of your Kin(g)dom, where the small are lifted up.

Amen.


If you want to make this a call to the passing of the peace,
you can add:

Friends, now that we have recognized that our littleness
is not something to be lamented
but embraced, we can share the peace of the One who became small to live and love among us.
The peace of the infant Jesus be with you.

And also with you.


About this piece:
I wrote this for a Advent worship service some years ago; it was our pageant day, when the children enact the nativity and we sing songs of how the divine Word became human flesh, how the great became small so that the small might become great, how each of us has a gift to offer God.

I was also channeling something I’d learned from classmates in a seminary class where we’d been discussing Psalm 139, that Psalm where the speaker wonders at how there is no place they can go that God is not there, knowing their every move:

To me, this has always been a very comforting and indeed awe-some thing to marvel at! But for one classmate, it was a thing of terror – she said it made her feel trapped in past times when she’d been desperate to escape the image of God that had been forced on her, a God who is judgmental and cruel, ready to pounce on her and damn her for any little slip-up.

She reminded me that God’s bigness can be a terrifying thing, even while it is a comfort when we meet God as a child meets a loving parent. I wanted to hold up her fears as legitimate in this piece, while hopefully softening and soothing them.

Categories
Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession and Pardon: we rush to cheap grace, cry peace when there is no peace

Loving God, as one we confess our failings:

We aim to seek justice, 
but then when it proves too hard, too exhausting, we rush to cheap grace.

We aim to embrace kindness, 
but then snap at loved ones, shut out the stranger, remain ignorant of our neighbor’s needs.

We aim to walk humbly with our God, 
but willfully ignore how our path diverges from Yours.

We cry “peace!” when we mean “compliance!”
We cry “peace!” when we mean “complacency!” 
We cry “peace!” when there is no peace. 


ASSURANCE OF PARDON

Friends, there is a kindness in God’s justice
that hears out our confessions and liberates us to move forward, to build a new and better world.

God’s Word forgives and redeems us. God’s Breath revitalizes us for the journey. Emboldened by this good news, let us share God’s love with one another. 


I wrote this for a virtual service on June 21, 2020 (7A Proper) centered around themes of oppression, patriarchy, and white supremacy; it explored how our world shapes each of us based on our various identities and what kind of reconciliation is possible between oppressors and the ones who oppress.

We also sang “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” at this service, which I reference in the assurance of pardon (“there is a kindness in God’s justice”). Other references in this liturgy include to Micah 6 and Jeremiah 6:14.

My sermon text was Genesis 21:8-21. My sermon, “No Good Patriarchs – Solidarity with Hagar” can be read or watched here.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith LGBT/queer Liturgy

Affirmation of faith in a Queer God

[One:]

To try to define the Divine
in human words is a fool’s errand –
but luckily for us, God delights in making the foolish wise.

Emboldened thus, let us unite our many voices
to confess what little we know of this queer God:

[All:]

We believe in the Triune God, incomprehensible
and yet invested in revealing Themself to us,
in helping us understand and truly know Them
in every place and time, among all peoples –
but especially those the world dismisses
as broken, worthless, foolish. 

We believe that the God who conceived of the cosmos,
brooded over its rolling waters like a mother hen
and then exclaimed over Her newly-birthed worlds,
“Good! very Good!”

is the same God who came to a small and subjugated people
and made them Her own.
We marvel that this God to whom belongs all power and glory
has a soft spot for the world’s outsiders and outcasts –
for She Herself is the ultimate stranger.

We believe that in the Person of Jesus Christ,
that same God – despite being beyond human constructs
like class and ethnicity and gender –
entered an impoverished household, entered a Jewish Palestinian body,
became one with that same oppressed and colonized people
with whom Xe had for so long persevered in relationship,
and was assigned male at birth.

But Jesus of Nazareth defied the gender roles assigned to him:
instead of settling down with a wife,
Jesus consorted with strange women, exalted eunuchs,
reached out to Samaritans and Syrophoenicians,
and traipsed across the region with a motley crew
of the very kinds of folk no respectable man would even greet.

A parable in himself, he shared queer stories
of a world turned on its head, where the last are first
and the powerful must relinquish their power –

And, in the ultimate display of solidarity
with all those whom the powerful persecute across the ages, 
Jesus was executed by Empire on a cross, dying between
two other “common criminals.”

But this was not the end of his story, nor ours:
this ultimate breaker of human binaries –
between Creator and creature, man and woman, have and have-not –
demolished the divide between death and life for good.
Jesus rose, lifting all of us with him, from death and into heaven –

but even so, Divinity dwells among us still,
for we believe in the Holy Spirit, the very Breath in our lungs,
the Breeze that comforts us, the Wind that stirs us to action
and sweeps us up into the revolution that is
God’s impossible incoming Kin(g)dom.


I wrote this affirmation for a More Light Sunday service, which is celebrated by the PC(USA) every October on the Sunday nearest to National Coming Out Day.

For more on God as the ultimate stranger, check out Joy Ladin’s book The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective.

The image of God as a bird brooding over the waters of Creation comes straight from Genesis 1:2. See footnote 11 of Genesis 1 on this website for details about the Hebrew verb used to describe “the Spirit of God ‘moving’ over the waters” in this verse.

For more on Jesus as the divine assigned male at birth and living a gender nonconforming life, check out the section “Assigned Male at Incarnation: An Intersex and Transgender Jesus” on my webpage here.

Categories
Holy Days LGBT/queer Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

A queer reflection on the Agony in the Garden – Holy Thursday / Maundy Thursday

Tonight we follow Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. 

As we kneel with him in the dark, see his hands clenched in prayer,
the blood on his brow, in his tears,
as we hear the cry wrench out of him, “Take this cup away from me!” 

…we hear also the cry of so many of our siblings.

“I cannot bear this part of myself, O God. Why are you calling me to this? Why did you make me to be this way, when all it has done for me is cause loved ones to abandon me? Take this cup away. Please take this cup away.”

Let us not be like the disciples who slept,
ignorant of Jesus’s agony.

Let us not be like them when they fled the scene
leaving him to the ones who chained him and dragged him away.

O God, set our hearts on fire with a fierce compassion for your oppressed children, so that we cannot sleep when they cry out. 

We go to them. We stay awake with them. We. stay.

We remember the one who broke bread and called it his body,
who knelt to wash our feet.
We remember the one who commanded us to love in such a way –
to serve and be served.

Let us go now into a world full of cries,
all anxiously awaiting a day that seems far off, a dawn past all suffering
when we will rise transformed,
when relationships will be reconciled
and all will know God’s love. 

In the meantime – this time of anxious waiting – we leave no one alone in their agony. We cry out with them.
We stay awake with them.
We stay.

Categories
Holy Days LGBT/queer Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

A queer prayer for foot washing – Maundy Thursday / Holy Thursday

Jesus,

I do not know if I could let you, my God,
my Savior, to whom I owe all things
kneel below me
and take into your warm brown hands
my feet, dirty and cold.

I also do not know if I could take
the feet of my betrayers, my deniers –

those who declare my identity a falsehood or a phase,
those who sentence me to suffering by their hate,
those who wield you against me,
those who do not yet know all that I am, but when they do
might cease to associate themselves with me –

I don’t know if I could take their feet
in my hands, 
kneel before them in a pose of the same lowliness
they often make me feel

and wash their feet
just as you did for your friends, who would very soon abandon you.

Must I let you serve me?

And must I serve them?


…And if I do these things, will I really grow closer
to you?

to them?

Oh! You who stripped off Divinity
and took on the frail finitude of flesh…for me!
teach me this humility.

Give me the courage to ask them
if they will even let me wash their feet
and whether, maybe, they might wash mine too.

Intimacy like this is a fearful thing.

But if it truly leads to fuller life
and if you are with me,

I will take the bowl of water,
the washing rag,
and I will sit with bare feet
and I will kneel with warm hands.

Categories
Call to worship Charge and Benediction Holy Days Liturgy

Easter Sunday: call to worship and benediction

CALL TO WORSHIP

Today celebrate the joy that vanquishes grief,
the life that outlasts death.
Today we celebrate an empty tomb and full hearts.
Glory Hallelujah!

In rising, Jesus lifted us all up with him.
No longer is suffering, or oppression, or death the end of any story.

Let us worship the Living God, who lived and died and rose again for us, and who dwells among us this very day. 

Amen.


BENEDICTION

Through the Person of Jesus, God has redeemed the world –
yet we still have work to do.

Revitalized by our worship,
let us take the new life that Jesus gives us freely
out into the world – a world that is still hurting,
a world where pain and grief and death still pervade Creation.

There is so much work to do, but we rejoice to know that the God
who Creates, Redeems, and Sustains us
works alongside us, empowering us
to roll back the stones on every tomb.

Thanks be to God!