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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
Liturgy Prayers of the People

Prayers of the People: we do not yet “lack nothing”

The psalmist proclaims that since God is their shepherd,
“I shall lack nothing.”
Yet in our here and now, we lack much; we want much.

We pray for the future in which all will be satisfied –
when your abundant life, O God, restores and transforms all Creation.

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

In the meantime, we give thanks that you walk alongside us,
shepherding us across valleys of despair
and holding our hand in the midst of our oppressors.

Friends, I invite you to lift up your joys and concerns,
in spirit or out loud.

[Offer up prayers however you typically do.]

Our trust, Shepherd God, is in you.

Amen.