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Call to worship Liturgy

Call to Worship (drawing from Micah 6:8)

We gather to worship
the God who calls us to do justice.

God, here we are!
All glory belongs to you.

We gather to worship
the God who calls us to cherish kindness.

God, here we are!
From you all good things come.

We gather to worship
the God who calls us to journey humbly
side-by-side with Them.

God, here we are!
Give us all that we need
to follow where you guide us.

Opening Prayer

Great God of Justice and of Mercy,

You promised us that your yoke is easy
and your burden light —

not because the path you lead us down 
is never hard,
but because you bear every burden with us.

In this precious time of worship,
open our hearts to comfort and challenge
so that we may be sustained and transformed
to bear good fruit
for your glory.

Amen.

Categories
Liturgy Prayers of the People

Pastoral Prayer for Immigration Sunday: praying for all who know the heart of the stranger

Our God is the Ultimate Other;
Xe knows firsthand what it is 
to be the one who does not fit,
whose ways are not “our ways”
and whose thoughts are not “our thoughts.”

Thus trusting in Her steadfast solidarity,
let us lift up our prayers for all those 
who know the heart of the stranger.

We pray for Indigenous peoples across the globe
who are made Other in their own homelands,
their lands stripped from them and genocide attempted 
against their languages, their cultures, their bodies —

we pray particularly for the First Nations peoples of North America
whose long-held, never yet healed wounds were recently reopened
with the discovery of the remains Indigenous children 
who were forced into residential schools, died, and were discarded;

as well as for Palestinians facing persecution
and expulsion from the homes of their ancestors
with nowhere to go:

O God who saw and saved
the enslaved foreigners Hagar and Ishmael,
whose descendants would one day found the Islamic faith;
hear our prayer.

We pray for immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees
and all who find themselves far from all they know and love

only to face contempt and mistreatment,
often by the very powers that had a direct hand
in the violence they are fleeing:

O God who transformed the migrant Naomi’s bitterness to sweetness;
O God who, in the person of Jesus,
was yourself a refugee, finding asylum in Egypt as an infant,
hear our prayer.

Finally, we pray 
for all who experience double consciousness
in which they feel forced to think always
of how the oppressor will respond to their words and actions,

from Black persons to the children of immigrants
as well as Asian Americans and other persons of color 
who are subjected to the stereotype of the “perpetual foreigner”,
treated always as alien even in their place of birth:

O God of Moses, who felt stuck somewhere between 
his adopted Egyptian family and his Hebrew roots, 
hear our prayer.

Great Breaker of the human Binaries
of blood ties and national borders,

gather us into one community — something fresh, something new! —
where no one’s needs are denied 
on the grounds of being too difficult or strange;

where no one is forced to cut off pieces of themselves 
to fit into a pre-established mold;

where no one is treated like a problem, an afterthought, a disruption
but rather every person is protected, cherished, listened to.

It is you, God of the Stranger, on whom we depend
to right the wrongs of xenophobia.
Teach us to move with you towards justice.
Amen.


I wrote this pastoral prayer to accompany the “prayers of the people” session of a worship service on Immigrant Sunday, celebrated in the PCUSA denomination. It could also suit the UCC’s Immigrant Rights Sunday and, I imagine, other such services across denominations.

For more on Moses as one torn between identities in a way that relates to the second generation Latine experience, I highly recommend “Moses Speaks Spanglish” by Daniel José Camacho.

For more on God as ultimate other, see Joy Ladin’s text The Soul of the Stranger.

The term “double consciousness” comes from W.E.B. Du Bois’s 1903 text The Souls of Black Folk.

See here for the stereotype of the “perpetual foreigner” defined.

Categories
Affirmation of Faith Call to worship Confession and Pardon Liturgy Opening prayer

“God of the cedar tree, God of the mustard seed” – Liturgy for grafting ourselves to the God who makes the dry tree flourish

Call to Worship

Leader:

We come to worship
the God of Justice,

All:

who lifts the oppressed up
and pulls the oppressor down
till justice and equity come to all.

Come, let us graft ourselves to one another
and to this binary-breaking God.

It is good to grow together
amid all that keeps us apart!

It is good to grow in gratitude
for the God who gathers us!

Opening Prayer

O God the Nurturer, God the Transplanter,
God who brings flourishing to those 
whom the world would see wither,

we wonder and delight in your great upturning
of human norms and expectations. 
Let us sing your praises loud and strong!

Amen.


Prayer of Confession

Leader:

God calls us to gather as one grove,
to spread our roots deep in a foundation of justice and love,
to bear fruit that lasts.

All:

But our roots are often disconnected,
shallow, easily uprooted.

Often the soil we settle into
is poisonous, toxic to ourselves and the whole community.

The world is full of conflicting messages
and claims that what is poisonous is nourishing;
what is nourishing, poisonous.

We label God’s children our enemies
to be removed and eradicated,
while enabling cruelty and greed to thrive.

God our Gardener, Spirit of Life,
Uproot what is rotten in us.
Enter our deadness and blossom it into life.
Transplant us from any soil that does not nourish.

Graft us to one another
so that together we may root ourselves in you.

Only in you.

Amen.


Responding to God’s Word (Affirmation of Faith)

Leader:

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

All:

We believe in God the Conceiver of the Cosmos,
who with a Word and a Breath
burst the universe into expansion
from one small seed.

We believe that God pervades and sustains
all that She created
with Her all-embracing love.

As Julian of Norwich wrote in the twelfth century,

“[God] showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I…thought, ‘What may this be?’ 

And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ 

I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. 

And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.”

We believe that this God of love is the God
of David the overlooked son
and of Ezekiel the exile;
the God of the mustard seed
and of the cedar tree.

In deep love for us, God grafted Themself to us,
joined us in the beautiful frailness of our flesh
in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Catherine of Siena wrote in the fourteenth century:

And you, high eternal Trinity,
acted as if you were drunk with love,
infatuated with your creature.

When you saw that this tree could bear no fruit
but the fruit of death
because it was cut off from you who are life,
you came to its rescue
with the same love
with which you had created it:
you engrafted your divinity
into the dead tree of our humanity.

O sweet tender engrafting!
You, sweetness itself,
stooped to join yourself
with our bitterness.

In joining with our bitterness,
God transformed it into sweetness!

Jesus proclaimed good news
for the despised and discarded of the world.

Having been lifted up himself,
Jesus drew all peoples to him;

And we remain engrafted to Divinity
through the Holy Spirit who dwells among us still,
breathing life and wisdom into us
so that we might do God’s will
as many branches reaching from one tree,
many members enriching one Body.

Amen.


I wrote this liturgy for a service centered around Ezekiel 17:22-24, a parallel text offered for Mark 4:26-34 (the parable of the mustard seed). In the Ezekiel text, God proclaims that Xe makes low the high tree, and makes the dry tree flourish — an upturning of expectations, indeed!

Categories
Affirmation of Faith LGBT/queer Liturgy

Responding to God’s Word: God’s binary-breaking chosen family

Leader:

As one, let us affirm some aspects of
the faith that binds us into one family.

All:

We believe in a God
who made all of us in Their image
and proclaimed every member of Their creation
Good.

We believe that Xe extends a special care towards those
whom the world calls “broken,”
“worthless,” “unclean” —

and that Xe calls us to repent, reform, and rebuild
when we are the ones who call others broken,
when we are the ones who aim to break them.

We believe in a God who gathers
more and still more people into Her own family,
a family that breaks human binaries 
of blood ties and national borders,
demographics and doctrines.

We believe that She extends a special invitation
to all those who find themselves cut off
from their human family:
to the orphans, the eunuchs, the foreigners;
to immigrants, the imprisoned, and the institutionalized,
to members of the disability community, LGBTQA+ community,
and all those whom our societies shuns and shames.

God has this special care for the disowned and disenfranchised
because Xe Xemself knows what it is to be the stranger, 
the one who does not fit, 
whose ways and thoughts are deemed 
incomprehensible, incompatible, or even insane.

Leader: 

As Jewish poet and professor Joy Ladin writes in her book The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective,

“…The human rebellions and divine rages of the Book of Numbers make it clear that even after decades of wandering with God in their midst, to the Israelites, God remains a stranger, a deity whose feelings and actions make no sense to them. Perhaps that is why God repeatedly commands the Israelites to accommodate and include ‘the stranger who dwells among you,’ the non-Israelite who embraces the Israelite community as home. For God, the inclusion of those we see as different is not a disruption or a distraction for religious communities; it is an essential religious practice, part of making a place for the ultimate stranger, God.”

We believe that God commands
any community that professes to follow Them
to do Their will
by acknowledging when we have shut out
members of God’s family,
seeking meaningful reconciliation,
and drawing our circles ever wider.

We believe that the Holy Spirit
empowers us in this work 
so that we may join Her in ushering in
the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed:

A Kin-dom without hierarchy,
where all oppressive systems will be broken down
and all live in true kinship with the God who made us.

Amen.


I wrote this piece for a worship service on Mark 3:20-35, the famous “house divided” passage. The sermon and service theme was this:

Jesus redefines family in a way that defies any human-created definition of superiority, and in that definition, Jesus renounces the behaviors from within the community that threaten the people he gathers.

Categories
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.

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
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.