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Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Charge and Benediction Confession and Pardon easter Holy Days Invitation to the table LGBT/queer Liturgy Opening prayer Prayer after Communion Prayers of the People

Acts 8 & John 15 Liturgy: eunuchs, intersex & trans persons, & all outcasts welcome in God’s expansive love

Call to Worship

Beloved community, let us draw the circle wide!
And draw it wider still.

Each of us is here because something draws us to the Divine
as expressed in the Person of Jesus.
We come to explore what it is that draws us here,
in community with neighbors who can teach us 
what it is that draws them here.

We come with questions, struggles, doubts.
We come with unique perspectives that enrich the whole community.

We come in vast diversity of mind, body, being,
to live into a unity that does not quell our differences, but celebrates them.

We come to abide in the love of Jesus,
and to learn to bear good fruit that lasts.

Come, let us join in worship of the God of love
Who teaches us what true love is.

OPENING PRAYER

O God whose love sustains us, restores us, abides in us,
Send your mischievous Spirit whirling through our midst
in the many different spaces from which we gather.

Let Her galvanize our hearts
so that our worship will empower us for the work
into which you invite us:

For you do not call us servants,
nor does your power rely on dominance;
But instead you call us friends, co-laborers whose joys and sorrows
you know as deeply as if they were your own.

Loving God, Living God,
you guide us into true love, into true life
that consists of enough for all humans, all creatures,
and that will restore all relationships
between neighbors, enemies, strangers
and with you, our Friend.

Amen.


Confession and Pardon

CALL TO RECONCILIATION

Our sin, individual and collective, is almost too much to bear. 
It would be easier not to face it — but to pretend it is not there is to let it fester. 

So let us face it together. 

PRAYER OF CONFESSION 

Jesus asks only this of us: 
that we love one another just as he loves us — 
a love without conditions, a love that liberates!

But again and again, we choose hate, or fear, or control
not only with those we call enemies
but even with our family, our friends.

The love of God is a love that acts,
a love that bears fruit that lasts,
but we continue to think of love in terms of simple words,
saying “love” with our mouths 
but acting in ways that harm,
or failing to act at all.

God’s Spirit bursts through all walls we build
to separate “us” from “them” — 
but we build them back, unsure of what we’d be
without an “Other” on whom to project our insecurities,
on whom to blame our misfortunes 
or the consequences of our own crimes.

Created for abundance, 
we live as hostages of scarcity.
We steal from our neighbors
and hoard whatever resources, whatever power 
we can get our hands on.

_____

Siblings in the One who lived, died, and rose for us,
even when we fail to abide in God’s love,
still, still God abides in us — 
chooses to call us friend,
chooses to lift us up.

Thus we are redeemed — 
not through any effort of our own 
but simply through love
deeper and truer than we can imagine.

Empowered by this remarkable gift of grace,
Let us share Christ’s love and peace with one another.

The peace of Christ be with you. And also with you. 


Affirmation of Faith

Even while celebrating our diversity of thought
and making room for questions and new interpretations,
there are some beliefs that we who join ourselves to the church
have committed ourselves to holding in common.

As one, let us affirm that shared faith:

We believe in the God from whom all life flows,
who created all that is — seen and unseen,
physical and spiritual — 
and declared all of it Good.

Her blessing comes before 
and follows after 
any curse — 

for every instant that
our existence is sustained
attests to Her unfailing love
in which we move, and live, and have our being. 

We believe in the irresistible Spirit
who pervades the world 
and abides with whomever Xe choses
with no regard for the boxes and boundaries 
that humankind constructs.

To the dismay of worldly powers,
this Spirit bestows special care upon the most reviled and despised,
those deemed weak and worthless in human eyes.

Among this number are the eunuchs of scripture
who hail from various cultures and faiths,
who knew both enslavement and status,
whose binary-breaking existence disturbs human norms
but delights the Spirit of Upturned Expectations — 

from the eunuchs who helped Esther navigate a fearful situation
to Ashpenaz, who loved the prophet Daniel tenderly;
and from Ebed-Melech, who saved the prophet Jeremiah;
to the eunuch who encountered Philip
with graciousness and eagerness to learn.

We believe in the Word Made Flesh
whose love for those eunuchs and all whom this world Others
is so strong that, upon entering embodied life,
Jesus identified himself as a “eunuch for the Kin-dom.”

In Jesus, God knows intimately what it is
to be marginalized, misunderstood,
and subjected to bodily mistreatment.

We believe that, after his life among us 
and his rising from death on a Roman cross,
Jesus restored us into right relationship 
with the One who made us, sustains us,
and whose Spirit guides us still
in the work of ushering in God’s Kin-dom.

Amen.


Prayers of the People / Pastoral Prayer

Sisters, siblings, and brothers in Christ,
though already God has gathered us together
to abide as one in Their unfailing love,
still, still so many of us feel cut off, outcast, unloved.

So let us pray:

For those who have been cut off from their communities 
because of who they love, who they are, or what they believe,
we pray that God’s unconditional love will guide them
into chosen families who cherish them as they are.

For those who feel cut off and discarded by societies
that shove people aside when age, illness, or disability 
keeps them from fulfilling impossible standards of productivity,
we pray for loved ones that honor their inherent worth,
and for more just laws to protect them from abuse and neglect 
and enable their full participation in our communities.

For those who feel cut off from their cultures:
For refugees forced to flee their homelands, 
immigrants who leave places and people they love behind,
Indigenous peoples and others whose traditions 
are attacked and targeted for extinction,
we pray for strength and courage to resist assimilation,
for solidarity and resources that empower them
to preserve and revitalize their cultures.

For those who feel cut off from the global community
as they cry out for support — 
particularly for the people of India and Brazil
as COVID19 ravages their nations;
and for the people of Colombia
who are under attack from their own government;
we pray for a global outcry, compassion, and action on their behalf.

O God who gathers the outcasts
and gives them places of honor,
hear and respond to every prayer 
we lift up to you aloud or in the quiet of our hearts.

We give you thanks for your faithful love:
guide us to abide in that love
so that we may learn to love our fellow human beings
and all your good Creation
with the same love you first extended to us.

Amen.


Invitation to the Offering

Only when we all come together, 
only when each person is appreciated
for the different gifts and perspectives they bring
is the Body of Christ whole.

So let us offer whatever we have — 
time, skills, resources — 
to the God from whom we receive all things
for the furthering of Her Kin(g)dom
where all needs are met at Her expansive table.


Invitation to Christ’s Table

If you ask, “Does anything prevent me from this communion table? Would anyone tell me I am not welcome here?” this is Christ’s reply:

“Nothing and no one can keep you from God’s table, from God’s community, from God’s love. Let no one tell you otherwise.”

Friends, come to the feast! You are not only welcome; you are needed and appreciated. 


Prayer after Communion

Words cannot express
the wonder of the Spirit’s gathering power,
the miracle of Christ’s life nourishing us across time and space.

May we who have been fed
enact our gratitude out in the world
by joining the Spirit in Her holy work
of breaking down the boundaries that divide
and building up communities that restore.


Charge and Benediction

Friends in Christ,

In worshipping the God who loves us,
we have been reminded of the goodness of our diversity
joining together in one Body.

Gratitude is our response: 
Gratitude for the God who chose us, who abides in us,
and who goes out with us now
to bring love, justice, and peace into a hungry world.

So let us go, glorifying God with our lives!


I wrote this liturgy for an Easter season service centered around Acts 8:26-40’s story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, also tying in John 15:9-17’s instructions to love one another as Jesus loved us. You can view the worship service here.

You can read my sermon transcript here. In the sermon, I discuss the importance of reading scripture together and interpret Philip through an autistic lens and the eunuch through a trans lens.

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Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Confession and Pardon easter Holy Days Liturgy Multifaith Opening prayer Reflections for worship services

Liturgy for the Ascension: joining the Cloud of Witnesses

Call to Worship 

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

Opening Prayer

God in whose image we all are made,
God who pervades all time and space,
when you died and rose again 
you drew all people to yourself.

We in this congregation,
we in this denomination,
we who live in this small point in time
are not the only ones whom you have gathered
to sing your praise and delve into deeper relationship
with neighbor, with stranger, and with you.

As we join as one to worship you today,
open our minds to experience the cloud of witnesses —
the timeless community of all those who dwell in your love, 
past, present, and future,
whose many voices intertwine with our own
to weave one song of praise 
made richer by every added harmony and chord.

And as we worship as one from under many roofs,
in many different lands and languages and ways of life,
send your Spirit to fill us to bursting
both with joyful anticipation of Christ’s return
and an irresistible urge to seek God’s kin(g)dom here and now.

Amen. 

Reading and Praying with the Psalms

Psalm 47:1-2, 5-7 (my translation)

For the choirmaster of the Korahites, a psalm.

All you peoples, clap your hands!
Shout to God with ringing voice.
For LIVING GOD Most High inspires awe, great sovereign over all the earth.

God has ascended with a rallying cry, 
LIVING GOD with a trumpet blast.

Sing to God, sing!
Sing to our sovereign, sing! —
for God is sovereign over all the earth. 
Sing a wise song!

Silence

Prayer

God of all the cosmos,
whose sovereignty brings 
not subjugation, but liberation,

There are as many ways to praise you
as there are creatures on the earth —
ways familiar and dear to us, 
and ways that we think strange.

Some praise you by the name Allah,
faithfully prostrating themselves
when the call to pray sounds five times each day;

Others call you Hashem, and worship you
through torah and ritual passed down over generations
that many have tried but all have failed to stamp out.

Your children worship you 
with prayer wheels and prayer beads, scriptures and songs,
in fasting and feasting, meditation and dancing

and in the worship of simply being —
the bursting of the bud, 
the burrowing of the worm,
the flashing of feathers in flight.

Let us praise you with all that we are,
O God of many names, God both dear and strange.

For wherever we go, whatever we do,
in life and in death we all belong to you.

Amen.


Confession and Pardon

Call to Confession

Our sin, individual and collective, is almost too much to bear. 
It would be easier not to face it — 
but to pretend it is not there is to let it fester. 

So let us face it together —
first with a moment of silent reflection,
and then with voices uplifted as one to God.

Silence

Prayer of Confession

Risen God,

You call us not to look toward the sky,
but into the faces of those who surround us —
to celebrate their many shapes and shades, wrinkles and scars,
the unique insights only they can share;
and to care for their needs as desperately as we care for our own,
according to the example you left us in your own ministry. 

Yet we live as though you abandoned us
when you ascended into heaven –
as though we should wait, dormant, for your return, 
gazing longingly to the sky 
as we dwell on bygone days 
and wish for an uncomplicated future.

When our siblings cry out to us 
from where they’ve been trampled into the mud
by systems like white supremacy, capitalism, and cisheteropatriarchy

we with eyes glued heavenward shrug off their suffering 
with assurances that it is fleeting –
anything to avoid acknowledging our own culpability;
anything to avoid the endless work of active solidarity.

When we fail to balance our hope in your return
with living out your already-present Spirit: forgive us. 

When anxiety or regret holds us back: encourage us.

When apathy or resignation leaves us feeling powerless: empower us.

Amen.

Assurance of Pardon 

My friends in the cloud of witnesses,

God has called us into a transformation 
of our minds, our hearts, our very lives,
and – miracle of miracles! – 
Xe has made that transformation possible!

Through our Creator, Redeemer, Comforter,
we are forgiven and set free
to be God’s people made whole.
Thanks be to the One Who Gives New Life.
Amen.


Responding to God’s Word        

While making room for questions and fresh insight,
and celebrating the diversity of thought
that sets the cloud of witnesses aglow,

there are some beliefs that we in the church
commit ourselves to holding in common.

As one, let us affirm some of that shared faith
while lifting up the wisdom of some of our fellow witnesses.

We believe in one Triune God, Creator of all things.

In that Beginning told in Genesis,
She brooded over watery darkness
and gave birth to Creation in all its remarkable diversity — 
the day and night, and the varied shades
of dawn and dusk between;
the sea and dry land, and the shifting shores
that blur them together;
the plants and all kinds of animals, and life beyond them
— coral and  seaweed and fungi, unicellular organisms…

Each one created by God, who declared all Good.

Finally, God fashioned human beings
— male and female, and intersex –
in Their own divine image,
intending and blessing
our vast diversity of body and mind.

Transgender theologian Dr. Justin Tanis writes,

“In the story of Genesis, even while God was creating apparent opposites, God also created liminal spaces in which the elements of creation overlap and merge. Surely the same could be said about the creation of humanity with people occupying many places between [and beyond] the poles of female and male in a way similar to the rest of creation.”

We believe that in the Person of Jesus
this same God put on flesh
and dwelt among us,
drawing all of us into abundant life –
not only in some far-off time,
but for right here and now.

Rev. Dr. Noel Leo Erskine writes,

“We are admonished to bear the cross now so that we may wear the crown later. We are instructed to sacrifice and do without shoes now so that we may wear shoes when we get to heaven. But Black religion helps us understand that all of God’s children need some shoes now, right here on earth.

Black religion exposed the false eschatology that taught us to postpone liberation for the ‘sweet bye and bye.’ It exposed the fallacy that we have to wait until we get to heaven to have basic human rights such as access to shelter, food, health care, education, and the other essentials of life.

…Eternal life was not relegated to the after-life but was understood as a new quality of life beginning in the here-and-now.”

We believe that Jesus ascended into heaven
But did not leave us alone:

We believe in his Holy, healing, mischief-making Spirit
who sweeps us up into the work of God’s Kin-dom
that is already transforming the world
even while not yet fully ushered in.

In the body and divinity of Jesus,
heaven meets earth –
thanks be to God!

Amen.


I wrote this liturgy for an Ascension Sunday service for May 2021.

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Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Confession and Pardon easter Holy Days Liturgy

Pentecost Liturgy: Spirit of breath & flame, howling gale & still small voice

Call to Worship 

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!

We are a resurrected people! Alleluia!
Alleluia! We are raised up into new life!

The Spirit of God is upon us! Alleluia!
Alleluia! God’s Spirit dwells
among us, within us, around us, always!

Opening Prayer

Holy Spirit of breath and flame,
howling gale and still small voice,

We praise you in your elusiveness,
how you whirl through the world wherever you — not we — will.

You dodge every attempt to pin you down,
slipping through our fingers like thin air
when we try to claim control of you —

even as you pulse through our cells with every heartbeat,
settle deeper into our lungs with every breath.

Another Prayer

Holy Spirit, Giver of life,
We praise you for your multifaceted movement:

Like gale force winds you stir up stagnant spirits,
upturn tables in high places,
whisk us up from apathy 
into your heady dance;

Like a cooling breeze you comfort battered bodies,
refresh parched hearts;

Like oxygen you resuscitate the hopeless,
bringing life to lifeless places, 
dreams and visions that revivify the future.

As you, Irresistible Wind, pour over us now,
set our hearts on fire with passion
for justice and for your abundant life.   

Amen.


Confession and Pardon

Call to Confession

We have come to worship the Holy Spirit who whirls around us
as wind, as breath, as the air in our lungs,

But so many of our siblings find the breath of life
squeezed from their lungs;
and God’s good creation is suffocating.

Only in acknowledging our complicity
can we join in God’s restorative work. 

So let us confess our failings, 
first in silent reflection,
and then as one.

Silence

Prayer of Confession

We confess that we are bystanders and collaborators 
in the stifling of God’s children —

not only on national and global scales
but here in our own congregation.

Our society teaches us that to admit to being wrong
is a moral failing
instead of an act of courage, 
so we stick to our side out of spite,
resisting repentance,
refusing reconciliation.

In our refusal to budge,
meanness and malice engulf us all.

Lord, we forget that we are one Body, your Body.
We forget that you call us not to complete 
all the colossal tasks that stack up across the world, 
but to do our small part, in our small place, 
and to strive even when all seems hopeless.

Assurance of Pardon 

Look! God is doing a new thing! 
In the hopeless void of suffering and sin, God’s Spirit comes: 

She revives parched hearts and desiccated bones,
opens us to visions and dreams, to possibilities for improvement. 

In the new life won for us by Jesus
and breathed into us by the Holy Spirit,
we are empowered to dream bigger, to act more boldly,
to join together in God’s liberating movement.

Alleluia!


Affirmation of Faith / Responding to God’s Word        

While making room for fresh insight,
and celebrating the diversity of thought
that sets the cloud of witnesses aglow,

there are some beliefs that we in the church
commit ourselves to holding in common.

As one, let us affirm
some of that shared faith
while lifting up the wisdom
of one of our fellow witnesses.

We believe in one Triune God,
Creator of all things.

When God formed human beings from the earth,
They brought us to life by breathing
Their own breath into us,
making us in Their own image. 

Though God made us for interdependence
we play-act self sufficiency,
severing ourselves with binaries and borders
and labels of “us” versus “them.” 

Still, God remains faithful, 
urging us ever towards justice and abundant life for all.

Professor Philip Vinod Peacock of the Church  of North India writes,

“No one human or even a set of humans can claim that they are made in the image of God or are God’s representatives here on earth. Rather, only the whole of humanity together can claim that they are in the image of God. …

[Thus] God is best represented by diversity: Only the whole diversity of the world in terms of different cultures, gender, sexual orientation, and religious experience can represent who God is. This means that no [one] culture, gender, sexual orientation, or religious experience can claim superiority over another. It is only together that all of them represent who God is.”

God’s breath that divinizes all flesh, 
God’s Spirit who whirls through communities
of all kinds of cultures and creeds, 
God’s flame that burns and builds anew
knits all of humanity into one Body.  

All glory belongs
to the God who made us varied
and the God who makes us one. 

Amen.


I wrote this liturgy for Pentecost, May 2021 that centered around Ezekiel 37’s valley of dry bones, but much of it would fit well in any service focused on the Holy Spirit.

An alternative prayer of confession that focuses on the Movement for Black Lives, environmental justice, and other global social justice issues can be found here.

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Confession and Pardon Holy Days Liturgy

Confession: our siblings and God’s world are suffocating

Call to Confession

We have come to worship the Holy Spirit
who whirls around us as wind, as breath, as the air in our lungs,

But so many of our siblings find the breath of life
squeezed from their lungs;
and God’s good creation is suffocating.

Only in acknowledging our complicity
can we join in God’s restorative work. 

So let us confess our failings, 
first in silent reflection,
and then as one.

Silence

Prayer of Confession

We confess that we are bystanders and collaborators 
in the stifling of God’s children.

Eric Garner, George Floyd,
and the uncounted souls of lynched Black folk 
cry out to us even now,

“I can’t breathe!”

But we cannot bear to listen.
We would prefer to bury, not to say, their names.

Our siblings across the world
are desperate for vaccines, for resources

but in our dread of scarcity and the idolatry of nationalism, we hoard what we have.

We numb ourselves to stories of their need for oxygen, ventilators, the breath of life our greed denies them.

Others are being stifled by their own governments,
by settler colonialism, by xenophobic regimes:
From Colombia to Palestine,
Uighurs in China and Indigenous populations near and far;

But how can we pay attention to all this suffering? 
We ourselves languish under compassion fatigue,
a sense of helplessness or disconnect.

Our planet chokes on the fossil fuels we rip from its depths
as we burn its lungs, the rainforests, to the ground.

To slow our consumption would mean drastic changes
in our everyday lives, fewer luxuries,
and an active struggle against
the main culprits of climate change
a select number of corporations that seem invincible.

It is just too much. 
O God, it is all too much, and we are too small.

We forget that we are one Body, your Body.
We forget that you call us not to complete these colossal tasks, 
But to do our small part, 
to strive even when all seems hopeless.

Assurance of Pardon 

Look! God is doing a new thing!
In the hopeless void of suffering and sin, God’s Spirit comes: 

She revives parched hearts and desiccated bones,
opens us to visions and dreams, to possibilities for improvement. 

In the new life won for us by Jesus
and breathed into us by the Holy Spirit,
we are empowered to dream bigger,
to act more boldly,
to join together in God’s liberating movement
that loosens the ropes from wrists and throats.

Alleluia! Amen.


I wrote this piece for Pentecost Sunday, but it would work well for any service emphasizing the work of the Spirit or the breath of God.

Categories
Confession and Pardon Holy Days lent Liturgy My poetry Reflections for worship services

Combatting Antisemitism on Good Friday: An Alternative to the “Solemn Reproaches of the Cross”

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

From the moment I shaped humanity from the mud
and gifted you with my own Breath
I delighted in you, and called you good,

invited you to serve my diverse Creation,
promising that as long as you cared for it,
it would care for you  –

yet you trample my good works under your feet!
You consume and consume and consume beyond your need
even while many of your siblings starve.

In sentencing your siblings and the land
to a torturous death,
you sentence me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

I chose the children of Israel as my own
not despite but because Jacob dared to wrestle me;
I chose the enslaved Hebrews as my own
not despite but because of their littleness,
the way their neighbors sought to dominate or destroy them.

My covenant with them is eternal;
My Torah instructs them well on how to love me
by loving the stranger, the Other, the defenseless –

Yet you claim your relationship with me negates theirs!

You call their testament “old,”
and claim the God you find there
is bloodthirsty, barbaric, not the same God;

Across the centuries you have listened to the story
of how I was charged by Roman powers with sedition,
died on a Roman cross –
and then went out and blamed “the Jews” for my death!

You have coerced conversion,
enacted or enabled hate crimes against them;
you have shunned and slandered them
when you ought to have
embraced them as your kin!

When you reject and persecute my Jewish people,
truly, truly you reject and persecute me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

I so loved you, I wrapped my divinity in frail flesh
so I could share with you
both joy and pain, feast and famine, friendship and loss;

I so loved you, I accepted Rome’s cross
to show my solidarity with all
whom worldly powers crush —

But still you idolize the very forces
that brutalized my body unto death!

When you regard a flag above a life
and let your siblings perish
on the other side of a border you invented;

when you wage war against Black and Indigenous peoples
or look away as they are killed
you also kill me.

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us!

Oh my church, my hands and feet on earth,
why do you not heed me on the cross?
Answer me!

Why do you not help me when I cry out
in thirst and hunger, or nakedness?
Why do you not welcome me when I come to you as a stranger?
Where are you when I am sick, but can’t afford care?
Where are you when I am abused or contracting COVID in prison?

Oh, my church! when will you truly become
my hands and feet on earth?
Answer, answer me!

Holy God,
we have no defense.

Holy God,
do what you deem just.

Holy God,
redeem and renew us
and we will be your hands and feet.

We will care for your Creation
and show gratitude for its care of us.

We will respect your Jewish people,
repenting of and uprooting our antisemitism;
we will learn to recognize your face
among persons of all faiths.

We will care for the most oppressed among us,
joining in solidarity with Black, Indigenous people of color,
with the LGBTQA+ community,
with the disability community, and all the disenfranchised,

uplifting their voices
and making good trouble
until the needs of all are met.

Truly, then, you will be my church
and I will give you strength, 
and you shall journey in the name of
God Who Draws All Peoples To Themself. 


You can hear me read this piece and explain it in other words in episode 39 of my podcast – find links here.

I wrote this piece to be used as an alternative in churches that on Good Friday traditionally read the Improperia, the “Solemn Reproaches of the Cross, the original version of which you can read here. My intention is to encourage Christians to examine our antisemitism during this week, rather than fueling it with language that blames the Jewish people past and present for Jesus’s death.

Holy Week has long been a dangerous time of the year for Jewish persons (See this article for the history of antisemitic hate crimes on Good Friday in medieval Europe; and this article arguing that “Centuries of Christian Antisemitism Led to the Holocaust“). The scriptures and liturgy that we choose to read in our churches during this time fuels that antisemitism not only this week, but the whole year round. 

As Jewish woman and New Testament professor Amy-Jill Levine writes in this article,

“Jesus of Nazareth, charged by the Roman authorities with sedition, dies on a Roman cross. But Jews ― the collective, all Jews ― become known as “Christ-killers.” Still haunting, the legacy of that charge becomes acute during Holy Week, when pastors and priests who speak about the death of Jesus have to talk about “the Jews.” Every year, the same difficulty surfaces: how can a gospel of love be proclaimed, if that same gospel is heard to promote hatred of Jesus’s own people?”

Among the most poisonous of liturgy read by many churches across the centuries is the “Reproaches.” As Elizabeth Palmer explains in her 2020 article “Thinking about Good Friday during a Pandemic,”

In the Solemn Reproaches, Jesus addresses people who have harmed him — and the text has a long history of stirring up violence against Jewish people. Many times over the centuries, in many places, Christians bowed before the cross on Good Friday and heard or sang some version of these words: “I led thee through the wilderness 40 years, fed thee with manna, and brought thee into a land exceeding good, and thou hast prepared a cross for thy Savior.” Then they’d leave the church, form a mob, and attack Jewish communities.

The “Reproaches” are coated in the blood of our Jewish neighbors. They should not be read or sung in our worship — but neither should they be hidden away outside of worship. We can’t pretend this text does not exist. We must grapple with it, guide congregations in understanding why it is so evil, and in doing so move towards acknowledging and dealing with our antisemitism, past and present.

My hope is that this alternative text, which includes a well-earned reproach for our antisemitism with examples of what that antisemitism looks like in our churches today, can be a jumping off point for conversations on this topic.

For more on antisemitism during Holy Week and what to do about it, I highly recommend Levine’s article ““Holy Week and the hatred of the Jews: How to avoid anti-Judaism this Easter.” In this article, Levine describes how the anti-Jewish language got into the Gospels to begin with; how interfaith conversations today help stem the tide of antisemitism; and explores and ranks the 6 strategies Levine has seen people use when trying to resolve these problems with the New Testament.

From least useful to most useful, she names these strategies as excision (just removing the problematic stuff and pretending it was never there); retranslation (changing up the way we translate problematic texts, such as changing “the Jews” to “Judeans”); romanticizing (this includes Christians holding their own Passover seders – read this part of the article to see why we should Not Do That); allegorizing; historicizing; and, best of all, just admitting the problem:

We come finally to our sixth option: admit to the problem and deal with it. There are many ways congregations can address the difficult texts. Put a note in service bulletins to explain the harm the texts have caused. Read the problematic texts silently, or in a whisper. Have Jews today give testimony about how they have been hurt by the texts.

Those who proclaim the problematic verses from the pulpit might imagine a Jewish child sitting in the front pew and take heed: don’t say anything that would hurt this child, and don’t say anything that would cause a member of the congregation to hurt this child.

Better still: educate the next generation, so that when they hear the problematic words proclaimed, they have multiple contexts – theological, historical, ethical – by which to understand them.

Christians, hearing the Gospels during Holy Week, should no more hear a message of hatred of Jews than Jews, reading the Book of Esther on Purim, should hate Persians, or celebrating the seder and reliving the time when “we were slaves in Egypt,” should hate Egyptians.

We choose how to read. After two thousand years of enmity, Jews and Christians today can recover and even celebrate our common past, locate Jesus and his earliest followers within rather than over and against Judaism, and live into the time when, as both synagogue and church proclaim, we can love G-d and our neighbour.’

For more resources for dealing with antisemitism within our Christian communities, see below.


RESOURCES:

First, let’s get educated on the basic facts about antisemitism in Holy Week’s typical scriptures, and alternatives to concluding that “the Jews killed Jesus”:

Next, let’s reimagine the stories we read during Holy Week in ways that don’t do harm to our Jewish neighbors!

  • I most highly recommend Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine’s book Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week.
  • Get a summary of and link to a pdf of her chapter on Palm Sunday and the “cleansing of the temple” (Jesus flipping tables) here
  • And if reading a whole book isn’t your thing, Levine also has a video series where she talks about the Passion story – here’s the first video, just 9 minutes long
  • And here’s an article interviewing Levine that sums up the purpose of her work with the Christian Gospels – “A number of Christian commentators feel the need to make Judaism look bad in order to make Jesus look good. Instead of portraying Jesus as a Jew talking to other Jews, he becomes in their views the first Christian, the one who invented divine grace, mercy, and love, and all that other good stuff. Such views neglect the presence of these same virtues within Jesus’ own Jewish context. There should be no reason this Jewish Jesus is used to promote anti-Judaism.”

Categories
easter Holy Days Liturgy Prayers of the People

Easter Intercessions: Gratitude for what already is; Dissatisfaction for what is not yet

Dear siblings in the risen Christ,
though we reside in the not-yet world
where God’s Kin(g)dom is still being ushered in,
gratitude still fills my spirit —

for already Jesus has drawn us to himself and holds us close;
already we have the promise that in death as in life, we belong to God;
already the Holy Spirit is at work in solidarity with us.

So I invite you to take this moment with me
to let gratitude grow and glow within you
and lift it up with me to the God Who Lives.

Let us pray:

For this good, good earth
that takes such good care of us
when we take care of it,
we give thanks.

For the helpers,
those who pick up the protest chant, or pick up our to-do lists,
so that we have time to rest and recover;
for these holy helpers, we give thanks.

For the pastors, musicians, church staff, and congregants
who put so much time and energy
into crafting multiple services this week
for the nourishment of our people and for the glory of God,
we give our heartfelt thanks.

For the chances we’ve had to draw together
to serve our neighbors or to study our scriptures;
we give thanks.

For Black Indigenous persons of color, LGBTQA+ persons, and others
who take the hells into which their oppressors throw them
and transform them into Edens —
into refuges for their people
where they can unite, rest from hatred, and create incredible things,
we give thanks.

And finally, for those who find gratitude
hard to muster up right now,
we pray for their courage to reach out to community
for the support they deserve;
and we lift up whatever prayers burn hottest in their hearts.

Oh God Who Lives,
Oh God Who Brings to Life,
Oh God Who Sustains Us evermore with love,

May our gratitude for what already is
beget the energy to act:
Our thanks for Creation moving us to environmental justice;
Our thanks for the helpers moving us to join their ranks;
Our thanks for our church leaders moving us
to participate however we are able.

And may our dissatisfaction with how much is yet broken
fuel our drive to make your Kin(g)dom Come, your will be done —
to demand justice for Black lives,
to demand safety and thriving for trans youth and adults,
to demand resources and respect for
the disability community, for the incarcerated,
for border crossers and Indigenous peoples,
and for all who are most disenfranchised by our society.

Together we lift these prayers
to the God who draws all peoples to Themself.

Amen.


Categories
Holy Days lent Liturgy Other search markers Prayers of the People

Holy Week Intercessions: praying for Jesus – and for all unjustly blamed

Dear siblings in Jesus Christ,
As ever, we have so much to pray for…

But this week, I invite you to do something a little odd with me:
Will you pray with me for Jesus, too?

In this week in which we remember
his most agonizing moments,
his trauma, his desolation, his execution as a common criminal,
let’s pray for him, as he prays and works unceasingly for us.

Friends, let us pray.

For those unjustly blamed
across time and space:


for Jesus, accused and sentenced to death
by the powers who feared his revolutionary Kin(g)dom;

for our Jewish neighbors,
wrongly punished across the centuries for Christ’s death
and for many other crimes of which they are innocent;

for members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community
who have become a hyper-visible target to pin this pandemic on;

for migrants and immigrants who are accused of
stealing jobs and depleting resources
simply for daring to seek a life for themselves and their loved ones;

we pray.

For those unjustly shamed
across time and space:

For Jesus, tortured and taunted by Roman soldiers,
stripped of his friends, his clothing, his life;

For sex workers
whose livelihoods are criminalized
and bodies dehumanized;

For all who have been victim-blamed,
told that harassment, abuse, and even death
are their fault because of who they are, how they act,
or the jobs or beliefs they hold;

we pray.

And for those who go unnamed
across time and space:

for the two men crucified alongside Jesus,
and the countless others who have been
tortured, executed, disappeared
from before the dawn of the Roman Empire
through the current regime the United States;

for all victims of mass shootings,
too many to name, too many to bear;

for the numberless masses of human beings crushed
under the grindstone of “progress,”
the deaths of their cultures and of their bodies justified
in the name of excess wealth for the few;

we pray.

O God who hears the cries
of those unjustly blamed,
those dehumanized and shamed,
those whose names are eradicated from recorded history

and who replies
by becoming one of them,
by entering into ultimate solidarity on a Roman cross,
and by exposing the violence of worldly powers for the evil it is,

Thank you.

Make your Spirit known to us.
Unite and empower us for the work ahead.

Thank you.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for their 2021 Palm Sunday service occurring not long after the Atlanta Spa Shootings and yet another shooting in Boulder, Colorado.

Categories
Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer for victims of xenophobia

My sisters, brothers, and siblings in Jesus Christ
who knew what it was to be deeply troubled,

We live in a world roiling with pain and grief,
in desperate need of deliverance.
But we do not go it alone.

Please, join me in weaving our many prayers into one
lifted up to the God who sees us, knows us,
and draws us, all of us, to Themself.

For those who yearn to see God,
but no longer know where to look,
no longer know whom to trust or what to believe,
we pray.

For those who come to Christianity
hoping for a glimpse of the Divine
only to be forced to bow before
an idol to whiteness, to maleness, to worldly wealth and power,
we pray.

For those who go through the motions of worship
but do not feel heard by God
or seen by their faith community,
we pray.

For those who yearn to be known
by their fellow human beings
as kin in the image of God,
worthy of the same dignity and rights,
let us pray:

For every victim of a hate crime,
of white supremacy and white nationalism,
of fetishization, criminalization, and xenophobia,
we pray.

For Breonna Taylor and her family, who still wait to see justice
over one year after her death,
and for those who continue to strive in her name,
we pray.

For unaccompanied minors making the perilous crossing
into the United States, sent by family
who love them desperately enough to lose them,
hoping against hope for them to know safety and prosperity,
we pray.

For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who have seen
hate crimes against them rise drastically in the past year —
and particularly for the eight human beings,
among them six women of Asian descent,
murdered in the Atlanta area this past week,
we pray.

O God of the oppressed,
who in the person of Jesus knows firsthand what it is
to yearn to be seen, to be known, to be welcomed,
and who knows firsthand what it is
to be stripped of humanity by unjust powers,
arrested, tortured, and executed by an unjust state,

look upon the atrocities, hear the desperate cries;
empower us to be your hands, feet, and heart
in this broken world.

Please, give those who are lonely, lost, languishing
in our congregation and in the broader world
a glimpse of your face, shining back at them
in the face of a loved one or a stranger,
or in forest, mountain, ocean.

Make tangibly known to each of us
your deep and abiding love,
your assurance that there will be justice,
there will be peace —
and that, in the meantime,
you see. You know. And you are here in our midst.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12:20-33.

In the John passage, Jesus is courageous enough to be vulnerable enough to admit his psyche is “deeply troubled” — from the Greek word ταράσσω, which also means disturbed, agitated, the setting in motion of what should be still. He is terrified of his impending arrest, torture, and crucifixion — but, in solidarity with all those who have no choice in such trauma, he says yes to it.

How do we say yes to solidarity with those experiencing police brutality and hate crimes, particularly with the rise of hate crimes against the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders)?

Categories
Liturgy Prayers of the People

Intercessory prayer – for those who struggle to love neighbor and self

Beloved,
please join me in lifting up our prayers
to the Creator who loves us so joyfully
that when She finished birthing Her world,
she looked around and cried “Good, very good!” —
to the God who loves us so desperately
that They stripped off omnipotence
and folded Themself into a human body
just to live and love among us.
Together, let us pray:

For those who struggle both to love their neighbor and themselves
after being burned one too many times
by family members or lovers, friends or strangers, bullies or oppressors;

for those who have experienced so much trauma or abuse
that they’re not sure what love looks like
outside of manipulation and humiliation;

for those who fear the vulnerability that love requires
because they still bear wounds from last time they opened themselves,
or because they have been taught
in our world of toxic masculinity and rugged individualism
that to be vulnerable is a weakness to avoid,
we pray.

For those who have been made to feel unloveable
because of their race, their disability, their gender, their sexuality —
those who have been taught that God will only love them
if they play by the rules humans wrote and attributed to God,
if they contort themselves to fit into the status quo,
if they carve out parts of themselves and hide them away,
we pray.

For those who have been taught that love is something they earn
by wearing the right clothes and covering up all blemishes,
by losing that weight or gaining that muscle,
by getting good grades, or getting into the right school,
by having a successful career and making lots of money,
or by having kids and raising them perfectly,
by being nice, by being smart, by being flawless,
we pray.

O God whose blessing is not a trophy, but a gift,
whose love is not control but compassion,
whose power lies not in overpowering but in empowering others,
we offer you our gratitude for hearing every prayer
lifted up in community
or whispered by the cracked and battered heart.

Hold the unloved and love-wounded close;
suffuse them in your love so deep and true
that they can believe how loved they are
and live out that overflowing love among your Creation.

Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer for Grace Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, AL, for a Lenten service centered around John 3:14-21 and particularly what it means for God to “so love the world.”

I had this quote from Kendra DeColo’s “After Seeing The Misfits” in mind as I wrote this prayer:

To believe in a god so obscene
she cannot stop loving us
is to believe in our own goodness, no matter
how rough and unearthed, that one day I will love
back with the indigence of my body. Will hear the roar begin
in my palms and catch fire.

FURTHER READING

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.