Categories
Confession and Pardon Liturgy

Confession & Pardon: Learning to Face Hard Truths with the Prophet Amos

Call to Confession

God sent the prophet Amos to Israel
to warn the rich and powerful
that the natural consequence of their mistreatment of the vulnerable 
would be destruction for all.

In many ways, the modern United States 
is not unlike that ancient nation —

A land of plenty only for the powerful few,
while the oppressed go hungry and unheard.

So come, let us confess our failings
by hearing some of Amos’s words
as if they were proclaimed to us.

Prayer of Confession

“Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure…
Alas for those who ignore the evil day
        causing violent rule to draw near:
  for those who lie on beds of ivory,
   and lounge on their couches…” 
(Amos 6:1, 3-4a)

“…They have been led astray by the same lies
    after which their ancestors walked.” 
(Amos 2:4)

We cannot bear to hear of the atrocities
inflicted past and present by our fellow Christians
against Indigenous peoples

such news shatters our faith in the Church,
wracks us with grief and guilt 
we don’t know what to do with.

We cannot bear to believe all the stories 
of violence committed by police
against Black persons and other persons of color

such stories shake our trust in our country,
leave us wondering where else we could go
when our own safety is threatened.

We cannot bear the knowledge that
our world is burning due to human greed
don’t we need the gas that poisons our planet
to power our cars and homes?

God, when we think we cannot bear these truths,
give us the strength to face them — 
for in avoiding them, we move towards our collective doom.

“I raised up some of your children to be prophets…
But you…command the prophets, 
Saying, ‘You shall not prophesy!’”
(Amos 2:11-12)

“[You] hate the one who reprimands in the city gate,
abhor the one who speaks the truth.” 
(Amos 5:10)

We cannot bear the messages of
people we have individually harmed,
or of communities whose oppression
is the price of our own prosperity

because they pierce through our illusions
about ourselves as “nice” people,
and expose the pretty lie of the American Dream
for the nightmare it is, accessible only to the privileged;

they make us feel bad and defensive,
and expose the poison festering beneath
our “respectable” facades.

God, when we think we cannot bear these truths,
urge us all the harder to face them. 
Do not let us look away!

“They do not know how to do right, says the HOLY ONE…”
(3:10)

You alone, O God, can teach us how to do right. 
Open our hearts. Help us lower our defenses.
We will face the harm we have done
so that we can move forward.

Assurance of Pardon 

God declares, “Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”
(Amos 5:24)

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
such justice is possible!

God will make all things right,
and empowers us to join Them in that task.


I wrote this confession for a service centered around Amos chapter 7, which includes the metaphor of the plumbline, which God has used to measure Israel only to find its very foundation is completely skewed; the whole thing must be leveled and rebuilt.

Israel’s high priest Amaziah cries that “the land cannot bear [Amos’s] words,” and tells Amos to go on back home to Judah, because his prophecies are not welcome in Israel. But in reality, it isn’t the message that Israel “cannot bear,” but the avoidance of that message: because Amaziah rejects this message and the repentance and reform it necessitates, Israel will be invaded and driven into exile by the Neo-Assyrian Empire; by 722 BCE, the Northern Kingdom of Israel will have fallen, leaving her sister nation Judah standing alone.

There are so many truths that we likewise avoid because we believe that we and our communities cannot bear the guilt, grief, and upheaval those truths would bring. But to fail to face those realities and respond with active reform spells doom for us all.

As James Baldwin writes in The Fire Next Time, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

What realities are the members of your faith community avoiding? How can the community come together to face them together?

_____

In the case of how white Christians can and must face our complicity in antiblack racism, I recommend Good White Racist? by Kerry Connelly as a good starting point. Connelly goes into the neuroscience behind why we react to our words or actions being called out as if such a thing were a life-threatening attack; how we value being “nice” and not making others uncomfortable to seeking justice; and how to move past that hardwiring.

Categories
advent My poetry Reflections for worship services

poem: God’s Revolution

if you are content now
you will be devastated then

for when the world is flipped upside-down
all your riches will go spilling into space.

a voice cries out in the wilderness
cries out: prepare the way! prepare –
for what? for peace? perhaps, eventually

but first a revolution – woe to you
(to us) who sit too comfortably! for soon
all thrones will be upturned, and those who served
as footstools wear the crown!

(o come, Immanuel! come and turn
the whole world upside down!)

if you are satisfied now
you will be inconsolable then

when all that succeeded in filling you up
is razed to the ground to make way for a table

built of once-rejected stones – the ones
too crooked, too jagged, too small,
too broken to ever be chosen before.

…will those of you (of us) accustomed to
places of honor at the table
accept the humbler seats
when those once trampled underfoot
are seated at its head?


This poem was written by Avery Smith and belongs to them. This is a revised version of a poem included in their volume The Kin(g)dom in the Rubble. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at queerlychristian36@gmail.com for that permission, or just to chat!

About this poem: Many of the Bible’s prophets speak of the End of Days and God’s in-coming Kin(g)dom as a fearsome time indeed for any of us who are comfortable with the status quo. In this poem I follow in their footsteps, and hope to remind myself that even though I belong to several oppressed communities, as a white middle-class US citizen there is much indeed I will “lose” when God transforms the world. Will I be ready? Will I be able to let go of my comfortable seat and embrace the revolution?

For more on these ideas, see this sermon I preached in 2018: “When the Good News Feels Like Bad News” on Amos 7 and Mark 6. Here are a few excerpts from that sermon:

“But it turns out that always being accepted, always being liked, is not what following Jesus, what sharing God’s news for the world, is all about. Because sometimes, sharing God’s news for the world comes as bad news for the people who have to hear it, ourselves included. And no one likes the bearer of bad news. …”

“There’s no denying the similarities between our society and the one God called Amos to prophesy against: we too have gross income inequality, the mistreatment of immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable people, the worship of money at the expense of the marginalized…

Our fancy homes and all we have in them, our malls and factories, all razed to the ground to make way for a system that does not exploit the poor?

In theory, sure, I like the idea of no one being exploited…but does it have to mean I must sacrifice some of my favorite luxuries? Must there be chaos, must there be destruction of the old, to bring in this new world of justice?

When we are at the top of the social ladder, when we are the ones benefiting from other people’s suffering, God’s good news about the world flipping upside down sounds a lot like bad news.”

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
Confession and Pardon LGBT/queer Liturgy Weddings

Confession and Pardon for a queer wedding

CALL TO CONFESSION

God desires that all Creation might be one, 
that love be central to human life; 
and that all beings might dwell together in right relationship. 

Trusting in God’s mercy, let us come to God and acknowledge
all that separates us from love’s source, all that wounds creation.
Let us pray:


PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Creator, you fashioned us with care and called us Good. 
Yet we point fingers at one another,
calling each other broken, evil, wrong.

Liberator, you freed us from the captivity of our own limitations and fears, teaching us your Truth, 
yet we continue to subject one another to yokes of falsehood, cruelty, and shame.  

Mischievous Spirit, you flow wherever you will, breathing fresh life into long-dead things and blowing down the walls we build – 
yet we lean into death and division, tearing your Creation apart.
We construct national borders and gender and race
to hold all that is different from us at arm’s length.

Forgive us. Nourish and invigorate us. 
Empower us to love bigger, seek deeper –
teach us how to join you in healing the world where we can.


ASSURING OF PARDON

Hear God’s words of grace for us, for you: 
“And I, once I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

This is the new thing God has done and is doing: 
She has freed us from suffering and injustice
so that we might live into the goodness we were made to inhabit. 

Let this truth liberate you and bring you peace: you are forgiven. 
Let us share the peace of Jesus with one another – especially with those strangers who today become our family. 

(passing of the peace)

Friends new and old, we have been freed from sin and suffering –
and freed for joy and love. 

It is one iteration of that God-given love
that brings us together today:

The love uniting [name] and [name].


This is the liturgy I wrote for the wedding between me and Leah. Some of the sins I bring to this confession are ones inflicted particularly against LGBTQA+ persons. God calls us to a world of joy and justice, where such hatred is no more, so that we all might live and serve together.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith Liturgy

Affirmation of Faith: God of Hagar, Ishmael, Sarah, Abraham; God of oppressor and oppressed

We believe in the God of Sarah and Abraham
who does not let injustice go unchecked,
but who also does not abandon us in our sin.

We believe in the God of Hagar and Ishmael
who sees the outcast, who hears the cry of the oppressed,
and responds with compassion and blessing.

We believe that God is God for oppressor and oppressed alike,
that Her justice rolls down like mighty waters, 
even while her mercies are renewed every morning.

We believe God holds us accountable for our sins, individual and communal,
and shows us a way out of the prisons we build around ourselves and others.

God of Hagar, God of Sarah,
See us. Hear us. Liberate us from our own sin, 
and from the harm others inflict on us.

Amen.


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

Categories
Call to worship Liturgy Opening prayer

Call to worship and opening prayer: God gathers the oppressed, and the oppressors

Beloved community,
We come together as one
while under different roofs.

We come together as one
while holding different ideas, dreams, struggles, fears.

We come together as one
as outcasts, and as those who cast out others.

We come together as one
gathered by the One
who befriended the oppressed
and the oppressor.

Let us worship God.


OPENING PRAYER

Strange God, untameable God,
You will not let us confine you or your children to a box!

You lavish love upon those we call unloveable;
You embrace those we shut out and call stranger;
and you delight in choosing people who shock us
to bring your blessing into the world. 

God who died and rose again,
You look upon barrenness and unkindness and hopelessness 
and say, “I can work with this.” 

When you touch death, it blossoms into life.
You make a way out of no way. 

Fearsome God, gentle God,
When we are merciless
you come in mercy.

When we deny justice
you come with justice.

We come with praise. We come with prayer.
We come with gratitude to you
Our creator, our redeemer, the breath within our lungs. 


I wrote this for a virtual service on June 21, 2020 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. My sermon text was Genesis 21:8-21. My sermon, “No Good Patriarchs – Solidarity with Hagar” can be read or watched here.