a litany in the wake of terror in Brussels

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litany / terror / tragedy

Lord Jesus, you are the Prince of Peace and the Great Physician, and it is to you that we pray.

We pray, O Lord, for those who were so tragically killed in Brussels. We pray for all who love them, and all who grieve. We pray that they might find strength in you, and not be overwhelmed by their loss.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray, for those who were injured. Those who lost limbs. Those who are in great pain. Those who lives will forever be changed.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray, for those who witnessed horrible sights, for innocent bystanders, for the first responders, police, nurses, doctors, and all who are shaken to the core.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are caring for the injured at this hour, that through them you would offer healing and life.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for the men and women of law enforcement who have long and difficult days ahead of them.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for the clergy and lay ministers who will tend to the needs of people in fear and grief.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all the people of Belgium, and everyone across the world who live under the threat of terror.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In the spirit of you, O Christ, who commanded us to love, and pray for, our enemies; we pray for those who seek to do others harm. We pray that their hearts be turned, and their minds and souls find healing.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are called to keep us safe. We pray that they might have wisdom and strength to do the task that is set before them.
Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer.

And, we pray for the day when evil takes its last gasp. When the light finally, and thoroughly, snuffs out the darkness in this world, and the darkness which infects the hearts of people who do unspeakable wrong. Amen.

If this litany is helpful to you or your community of worship in any way, please feel free to use it, and to use it freely. You may amend, add, adapt, etc. in any way that you see fit. For this litany, attribution is not necessary.

Review: How To Be Here by Rob Bell

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book review / ministry resources

How To Be HereIf you’re a take-no-prisoners kind of person with unending-creative-energy, who has great boundaries and a humble-yet-bold understanding of your place in the universe… Then this book isn’t for you.

But, if you’re an aspiring creative who’s also from time-to-time a hot mess, then this book is exactly what the doctor ordered.

I was privileged to attend a two-day event with Rob in West Hollywood earlier this year on the creative process, and he noted that the number of people who just can’t get up off the couch is astounding. Midway through How To Be Here, I thought, “those are the people that Rob is speaking to with this book.”

Viper Room

Rob at The Viper Room on the Sunset Strip.

The more I read on though, the more I saw Rob’s target demographic being me. I mean, I love to create things, but I get scared-to-death too. I love to speak on a Sunday morning, but by Sunday lunchtime I’m mentally revisiting what I said earlier and cringing, furious with myself for being so embarrassingly bad.

I might seem pretty confident, but when it comes to swimming in self-doubt and loathing, I can be frequently found in the deep end.

I can also get stuck. My first book took me 8 years to write. Not because I’m that slow of a writer, but I kept shelving it. Over and over again I doubted that there was anything there that didn’t sound stupid. And so years would go by before I could summon the courage to pick it up again.

Rob’s new book is inspiration for anyone who is struggling to find the thing they were meant to do, for anyone who is struggling to see what they are doing right now as having any value, or anyone who is struggling with burnout and self-doubt.

In classic Rob Bell style, it’s written in such a way that the words just fall off the page. There was part of me that wanted it to be longer, but now I’m glad it’s not War and Peace, because what I really want to do is read it over and over again.

The part that I really needed to hear was his emphasis on surrender. You do what you do, but you have to surrender the outcome. What you do might become a bestseller or hang in a museum, or it might sit in a broken down box in your garage. You just don’t know. And you can either give into the fear of failure, or you can just do it and see.

You might just have lightning in a bottle, but you’ll never know if you don’t do it.

The part that I want to photocopy and hand out to most everyone I love (And, no, HarperOne I won’t be doing that.) is that the first thing you have to do is take what you’re doing right now, and do it as best as you can. You take what you do and turn it into a craft. If you’re stocking shelves, make it rain. If you’re flipping burgers, do it like an artist. If you’re making excel spreadsheets all day, then do it so well that the universe is a little easier to grasp in your rows and columns.

And then, with that as a springboard, find your path, and walk it fiercely.

Thanks Rob. Again.

flannelgraph: epiphany 3c

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flannelgraph / Uncategorized / Year C

About 600 years before Jesus, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, killed most of its inhabitants, and took some of the survivors back to Babylon as slaves. Eventually the Persians defeated the Babylonians, and Nehemiah, a Jewish man, was the Cup Bearer to the King of the Persians. Nehemiah

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convinced the king to let the Israelites go, AND to provide enough money to help rebuild Jerusalem, its walls, and its Temple. Today’s lesson (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10) picks up the story after the rebuilding was largely finished and the people gathered to hear the Word of God, and to recommit themselves to the Covenant.

When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he was writing to a church that was in conflict. Here (1 Corinthians 12:12-31a), Paul is reminding the Corinthian christians that everyone deserves respect, and everyone is needed, because we are all the body of Christ. We need each other, he says, no matter who we are, what gifts we have or don’t have, or how good we are.

Today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 4:14-21) is where Jesus claims his mission statement. He enters his hometown synagogue and picks up the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, and he begins reading. The passage from Isaiah speaks of one who is to bring Good News to the poor, release those who are captive, make the blind see, set those who are oppressed free, and proclaim the year of Jubilee. Then, he blows everyone in the synagogue away by telling them that he’s the one that Isaiah was writing about. This mission, is his mission.

Call and Response
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows God’s handiwork.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts,
be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.
(Adapted from Psalm 19)

Discussion and Question
Jesus’ mission, as expressed in Luke 4, is to 1) bring good news to the poor, 2) release the captives and the oppressed, 3) bring sight to the blind, 4) and set people free (which is what the “year of the Lord’s favor” is all about). What do you think about this mission statement? Is this really what Jesus was all about? Anything left out? Could this become YOUR mission statement? Could this become OUR church’s mission statement?

Lord Jesus, give us the power of your Holy Spirit, that we might be set free, that we might be brought good news, and that you might open our eyes when we have forgotten to see. Amen.

flannelgraph: baptism of Our Lord

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Epiphany / flannelgraph / Uncategorized / Year C

The first forty chapters of Isaiah offer words of warning and doom to the people of God who had gone astray and were about to be punished by the Babylonians. Our lesson today from Isaiah (Isaiah 43:1-7) is part of the second part of the Book of Isaiah which is written to people who had already been taken off to Babylon as captives. His message to them here is “do not fear.” The people of God are reminded that God created them, redeemed them, and has saved them in the past — so, of course God would save them again. Saving people is what God does.

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In the Book of Acts, written by the evangelist Luke, we find the story of the growth and development of the earliest Christian communities living in the wake of the Resurrection of Jesus. In today’s lesson (Acts 8:14-17) we’re told that the people of Samaria had come to believe in the Good News of Jesus, and had been baptized. However, they had yet to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Two of the apostles travel to Samaria to pray that they would be filled with the Spirit, and indeed they are.

We read a portion of this Gospel lesson (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22) a few weeks ago on the Third Week of Advent. In Advent this passage focused our attention on John the Baptist as the one who prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. Today we read this passage on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and therefore we’re obviously to focus our attention on Jesus’ baptism.

Call and Response
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, and you are mine.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
For you are precious in my sight.
(Adapted from Isaiah 43)

If you were baptized, what was it like? Who was there? Where was it? Did anything particularly memorable happen? Are there pictures? Do you remember it?

Have a conversation about the baptisms in your family. Break out the scrapbooks. If you haven’t done so already, figure out the date of your baptism, and mark it in your calendar as something to remember this year.

Gracious God, we thank you for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation, through it the children of Israel walked into their freedom, Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 6.54.09 PM.pngn it Jesus was baptized by John. Help us remember and be grateful for our baptism, for in it you have called us by name, and claimed us as your own. Amen.

flannelgraph: advent 4c

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Advent / flannelgraph / Uncategorized / Year C

Mary, pregant with Jesus, has left her home and gone to be with her older cousin Elizabeth, who happens to also be pregnant with John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-55). I tend to think that Mary comes to the home of Elizabeth and Zecharish to seek refuge from the her own small-town life where being an unwed pregant woman would have gotten difficult. She does not come timidly though, for she bursts out in song, singing the Magnificat; a song based on some of the great songs of the Hebrew Bible, which regails us with the reminder of God’s heart for the least of those among us.

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In Hebrews today (Hebrews 10:5-10), a New Testament sermon by an unknown author, we hear that the coming of Christ fundamentally shifts the relationship with God and God’s People, especially regarding the cultic practice of sacrifice. No longer do the bodies of animals need to be offered, for it’s Jesus’ body that is offered to us; first in the manger, then on the cross.

The Book of the Prophet Micah (Micah 5:2-5a) is not a particularly happy one. Micah had harsh words for a people who were living in sin and forsaking their covenant relationship with God. But, in one of the more tender sections of Micah’s writing we find God’s plan to come forth from an insignificant town which was part of a small clan. Micah warns his readers of all that will befall them if they do not walk in the ways of God, but he also comforts them with the image of a shepherd-God who will stand and tend to his flock.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
God has come to the help of his servant,
For he has remembered his promise of mercy.
The promise he made to our forebearers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. What would it have been like for her? What might she have been feeling? If you were Elizabeth and Zechariah greeting her at your door, what would you say to her? How would you take care of her?

Gracious God, in sending your son among us, you have shown the strength of your arm. As you sent your son to Bethlehem in ages past, we pray you to send your son to us today, that we might proclaim your greatness, and that our spirit may rejoice. Amen.

flannelgraph advent 3c

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Advent / flannelgraph / Uncategorized / Year C

The third Sunday of Advent is also known as “gaudete,” the Latin word for “rejoice.” It takes its name from the words of our epistle lesson today (Philippians 4:4-7), part of which was traditionally sung on the third Sunday of Advent when we are preparing for the impending joy of the celebration of the Incarnation. This is the day when the rose colored candle on the advent wreath is lit, and in some places rose colored vestments are used.

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Of course, nothing says “Christmas is coming” and “rejoice!” quite like John the Baptist calling people who are seeking baptism a “brood of vipers”… This passage from the Gospel of Luke shows the foundational role that sharing has in the kingdom of God. Those who have plenty are to share with those who don’t have enough. This is a common theme in Luke’s writings, and honestly, it’s a core message of our celebration of Christmas. To not share puts you in the company of the vipers and the trees with axes sat at their base.

The Hebrew Bible lesson is from the book of the Prophet Zephaniah, a contemporary of Jeremiah’s who spoke the word of God during a time of great turmoil. In this lesson (Zephaniah 3:14-20), he calls God’s people who are about to undergo a great tragedy that they should “rejoice,” for God is with them, and will one day bring them home.

Call and Response
Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
(From Isaiah 12:2-5)

Our Gospel lesson this week is all about sharing. John the Baptist is asked by the crowds what they need to do to be saved by God, and he tells them to share. What does this mean to you? What should we share? Why do you think this is so important?

O God, may our hearts be filled with expectation, and may our lives be filled with rejoicing. Let our gentleness be known to everyone. Let us forget about worry and anxiety, but keep our minds busy with prayer and thanksgiving. And may your peace, which passes all understanding guard us day by day and night by night in Christ Jesus. Amen.

flannelgraph: advent 2c

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Eastern Orthodox icons often depict John the Baptist with wings. Strange, right? He’s showed as a winged man, not because anyone thinks that he actually had wings, but because he was a “messenger,” sent to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. And, the Greek word for “messenger” is the

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same as the Greek word for “angel.” So, obviously… Wings! But, it’s the message that’s important, and today (Luke 3:1-6) we see the dual nature of his message. First, he calls people to repent, to return to God and God’s ways. And second, drawing from Isaiah chapter 40, he says that when the Messiah comes that the valleys will be lifted up, the crooked will be made straight, and the rough places will be made a plane. What does that mean? In Jesus, everything that is amiss will be fixed. All that is wrong with the world will be made right.

In the epistle lesson (Philippians 1:3-11) Paul is preparing the people of the Christian community in Philippi for the “day of the Lord.” This is referring, of course, to the second coming of Christ. Remember that the season of Advent is not just about the coming of Christ at Christmas, but about waiting for the day when Christ comes to God’s People once again.

Baruch (Baruch 5:1-9) is the first option for the Hebrew Bible lesson. Baruch was the scribe to the Prophet Jeremiah, and some have suggested that he edited a large portion of the whole Old Testament. The Book of Baruch is not included in most Protestant Bibles, but is given a “secondary” status in some churches. The Book of Baruch is said to be Baruch’s words to the king, during the captivity in Babylon. In today’s lesson we see the sorrow of the captivity completely overtaken by the impending joy of returning to Jerusalem.

The second option from the Hebrew Bible today is from Malachi (Malachi 3:1-4). The word “Malachi” simply means “The Messenger,” and so some doubt that this book refers to the name of an actual prophet, but to the title of a prophet. Regardless, this passage foretells the coming of the Messiah, who arrives not to just comfort, but to purify with the flame of fire.

Family Liturgy

Every valley shall be exalted,
Every mountain shall be brought low.
Every fragrant tree shall offer their shade,
And God shall lead us with joy.
Adapted from Baruch 5

Things are not always as they should be. Some people always seem to prosper, and others always seem to struggle. People always seem to be hurting other people, and while we all say that we want peace we don’t always look like that’s what we want. God sent Jesus into the world so that Jesus would begin to right the things that are wrong, and challenge s that have gone bad. And, yet, although Jesus came 2,000 years ago, it doesn’t look like much headway has been made. Theologians call this the tension between the “already,” and the “not yet.” Jesus has “already” come and rescued us from the power of sin and death, but the powers of evil have “not yet” been defeated. As Christians we bear this tension in our worship, and in our lives. How do you struggle with this?

Come among us O Jesus, and set right all that is wrong; so that your kingdom may truly come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

an advent email devotional

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Use the form below to sign up for my Advent Email devotional on the family tree of Jesus. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in Advent you’ll get an email with a short piece of scripture, a short reflection, and a prayer to help give your Advent some special spiritual meaning this year.