Our Shepherd in Heaven: A Liturgy

To be read in one of two ways: bold print read by the congregation, light print by a reader; or as an antiphonal reading, with one half of the congregation reading Psalm 23, and the other reading the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father in heaven,
The LORD is my shepherd,
Hallowed be your name,
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me, all the days of my life.
Give us today our daily bread.
I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, 
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever.
I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Amen.

Psalm 100: A Thanksgiving Liturgy

A Thanksgiving liturgy based on Psalm 100. Bold print to be read by the congregation. Light print to be read by a single voice. The psalm is intentionally repeated by the congregation at the end of the liturgy so that it’s meaning may sink in a little more deeply, and as a final act of praise and thanksgiving.

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Shout, sunshine. Shout, fields and mountains and rivers. Shout, spring green and vibrant fall colours. Summer heat. Winter cold. Wind and rain and snow. Grass, stone, and flower. Shout for joy. Make us shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.

Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Do not let the stones cry out alone. Lift your voices in praise, in joy. Let your gladness, however small, lead to worship—for we are entering, we have been invited to enter, the presence of the most holy. Let joy open your mouth!

Know that the LORD is God.
For the LORD is God. For the LORD of grace. The LORD of mercy. The good, patient, kind LORD we serve—is God. The all-powerful One is all-goodness. The all-knowing One is all-forgiving. The all-present One is all-comforting. Rejoice, knowing that this LORD is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;
And it is His care that made us, that formed us, that guides us.

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
And it is His care that feeds us, that leads us to water, that restores our souls.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
And surely goodness and mercy will follow us—as we enter such a place. With songs. With laughter. With joy. We are invited to the King’s banquet hall. We are invited to share the King’s feast. To share in all that he has created—in all that he governs. In his feast, his work, his bounty, his suffering, his joy.

give thanks to him and praise his name.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your name has given us a new one.

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
You are good. You are good. Your love has made us whole. Your love has saved us. Your love sustains us. Your love is our food, and our home, and our strength. Your love is the comfort for our past, the guide in our present, and the hope for our future.

his faithfulness continues through all generations.
And your love never changes.
Thank you.
You are faithful.
Thank you.
You have promised to never leave or forsake us.
Thank you.
May we, too, be faithful. Spreading your love, preaching your faithfulness to all generations. May our children’s children’s children know—through us—your great love for them.

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Thank you.

A Season of Thanksgiving

This Sunday, September 22nd, our little church entered a “season of thanksgiving.” Every Sunday from now until Advent, several members of our congregation will stand up, before our congregational prayer time, and name some of the things they are thankful for at this point in their lives. Nothing fancy. Just simple thanks. This is my introduction to that season.

Thanks and HopeMy parents moved recently. This, of course, means that all the boxes that I have stored, out of sight and out of mind, in my parents’ attic for x number of years have come to light – and have come home to roost in my garage. As we sifted through some of their contents, I came across a small disco ball with a tiny pair of Japanese shoes attached to it.

When I lived in BC – 3 years before I moved back to BC to attend Regent College—I went through a deep period of depression. There were a number of circumstances involved, but chief among them: I had just returned from a two and a half month trip to Ethiopia. I returned on an incredible high – sure that God was going to move in my life, sure that big things were going to happen. And they did. Our house burnt down, my childhood home. I had to resign from my job in a very messy set of circumstances – without a safety net. I was unemployed for more than six months, living in my friend’s parents’ home, with no idea how to move forward in any aspect of my life.

It was winter changing to spring at that point. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, Canada, this means grey, grey, grey, grey, grey. The weather was no help at all.

I can’t remember how I ended up with my little disco ball. Did someone give it to me? Did I see someone else with one, and track one down for myself? I don’t remember. But I hung it from the rear-view mirror of my little Subaru. Not, I think, with any real purpose; I may have thought it made my car look cool.

And then – one day – the sun broke through the screen of grey. And my car was filled with all these little dancing points of light. And I was so thankful. So thankful just to see the sun. Thankful every moment the sun shone. That little bit of thanks, those little points of light, kept me going through a very dark time.

Then I went to Japan for a year. Again, when I came home I was convinced I would participate in big things. Momentous things. I didn’t. I ended up living back at home with my own parents. With minimal employment. In the middle of a long, cold Albertan winter. Again unsure of how to move forward.

I hung up my little disco ball again – this time adding to it a little cell-phone charm I had purchased somewhere in Japan. A little pair of shoes: a little pair of Geta – Japanese flip-flops (although they are usually made of wood, and so are neither flippy nor floppy) – summer shoes. They reminded me that all I had to do was to keep putting one foot in front of the other; they reminded me – spring will come, darkness will end, winter cannot last forever.

Thanks and HopeThese two things – the disco ball, my little pair of flip-flops – were the only two things that came out of those boxes immediately. Much to Andrew’s annoyance I hung them in our new car immediately, realizing that I need that message again: thankfulness, hope.

I wondered if others might need the same message: simple thankfulness, quiet hope. So we will spend some weeks together, in Bon Accord Community Church, simply telling each other the little things – and sometimes the big things – that make us thankful. Maybe there is some small item, some reminder that can hang in your room, sit on your bedside table, or hang from your rear-view mirror to prompt you to thankfulness, and to keep you putting one foot in front of the other.

We want to be a church, we are a church, that is honest with each other – that lets the cracks show – a church in which the answer to “how are you?” does not always have to be “fine.” Because sometimes you’re not. Sometimes I’m not. But sometimes the darkness that we face, and even the little annoyances we deal with on a daily basis, can become so overwhelming that we see nothing else. We lose sight of the good. We can’t see any more that the sun is shining. But it is! And taking the time to notice that little good might push the darkness back a bit and help us to refocus.

It may be that some of the things others are thankful for are things that you lack. Things you want – maybe desperately. I know that will certainly be the case for me. That’s ok. Because we all, every single one of us, have something, somethings to be thankful for. And if we can be a church that both cries with those who mourn and laughs with those who rejoice – then we will always be a place of welcome. And you might find, maybe you will find, that by taking a moment to celebrate what someone else has, and you don’t have, some of that darkness lessens in you as well. Because it’s out there. There is hope. And even if the sun is not shining over you right now. It’s there. And it’s as bright as ever.

So…
…………………………………………………………………………..
I am thankful for sunshine.
I am thankful for my body:

it will never be on the cover of Vogue, but it works—in a basic kind of way—well enough for me to function and to get things done. I can walk, and run, and jump, and almost reach the highest shelf in my kitchen. I’m kind of happy about that.

I am thankful for my friends and family:

Too many people to mention. None of them are perfect. But they are all a joy – at least some of the time.

I am thankful that I am greeted with joy, exuberance, and great hairy wagginess every time I come home:

Finn (our dog) is pretty great too. ;) Andrew and I have walked through some pretty dark moments together, but somehow we still find the time and energy to be silly with each other. And we still find the time and energy to get out and walk with our dog. I’m so grateful.

Finally, I am deeply thankful for this church:

for the warm, generous, and occasionally raucous crowd we have found ourselves in. And that they have graciously allowed us to lead – even experiment. I am humbled and so very grateful for the opportunity to be here in Bon Accord.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

How about you?

300 Quotations for Preachers/400 Prayers for Preachers: A Review

Logos Pastorum Series

Every worship leader should be actively looking for resources. Some of us, however, are better at this than others. I am not one of those “better” people, which is why I have a blog that pushes me to find worship resources that will be of use to others as well as myself. While I write many of the liturgies and prayers for our church myself, I currently have a number of good books on my shelf to which I refer when I’m looking for a prayer or a quote that I can use to frame songs or provide food for contemplative or congregational prayer. When I want to use one of these books, however, it means embarking on a long hunt through indexes of various qualities. Enter Logos Bible Software. Logos has recently released a series of e-books in its Pastorum Series that provides quotations and prayers “for pastors.”

I’ve been asked to review the first two resources in this collection 300 Quotations for Preachers and 400 Prayers for Preachers, but it should be noted that there are five additional volumes in the collection that provide quotations from different periods and groups in Christian history: the early church, the medieval church, the reformation, the puritans, and the modern church. These give you an additional 1500 quotes to peruse.

300 Quotations for Preachers spans hundreds of years of church history. You can search by author, theme, or Scripture reference. 400 Prayers for Pastors contains written prayers by mothers and fathers of the Christian faith, as well as prayers found in scripture. Prayers may be searched by theme, type (intercessory, confessional, etc.), Scripture reference, or author. Both resources contain bibliographic information for each quote and prayer, making it easy to track the excerpt back to its source.

What I like about these resources is how easy they are to use. This Sunday, for example, the message at Bon Accord Community Church will be from John 6:1–15, the healing at the pool. A search for this scripture passage pulls no result. I can, however, also search for “healing.” Among other results, this yields: “A Prayer for the Sick in Hopes of a Recovery, by Richard Baxter; a beautiful prayer by Clement of Rome entitled “Be Our Help and Relief”; an excerpt from Psalm 30; and a quote by John Newton about how assurance grows through repeated conflict. If I hadn’t already written a prayer to read this Sunday (in addition to asking a member of our congregation to write a prayer for mother’s day), I would definitely consider concluding our service this Sunday (perhaps I still will) with “Be Our Help and Relief.” I will mentally file away the John Newton quote for future use—perhaps when we come up against the inevitable question: why do Christians suffer. My experience with these resources thus far is that your difficulty when you choose to use it will be which quote or prayer to use—not whether you can find one.

Most of the quotes and prayers included in this collection are over a hundred years old. G. K. Chesterton is, as far as I can tell, the youngest of the bunch. This is probably my main criticisms of the series. It may be more difficult to find “enduring” quotes and prayers in current times, but it would be helpful to have some current options available. I would encourage Logos to pursue “300 Quotations from the Post-Modern Church,” if they have not begun work on it already, including authors such as Frederick Buechner, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen, Elizabeth Elliot, John Stott, Anne Lamott, and N. T. Wright (I’m going to think of at least twenty additional people for this list as soon as I post this review).

This is not to say that the quotes and prayers included in the collection are not pertinent for today’s congregations—you just might have to work at it a bit. Although archaic language has been somewhat updated, many of the quotes and prayers are still quite dense and will be difficult for the average congregation to grasp in a single reading. For example, for the season of Easter (the seven Sundays between Easter weekend and Pentecost Sunday) I have chosen to begin each service with the lighting of a “Christ candle” and a congregational reading of the following prayer:

Almighty God, who by the death of your dear Son Jesus Christ has destroyed death, by his rest in the tomb has sanctified the graves of the saints, and by his glorious resurrection has brought life and immortality to light; receive, we ask you, our unfeigned thanks for that victory over death and the grave which he has obtained for us and for all who sleep in him; and keep us in everlasting fellowship with all that wait for you on earth, and with all that are around you in heaven; in union with him who is the resurrection and the life, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

A. A. Hodge[1]

It’s a beautiful prayer. A rich, dense prayer. However, the first time we used it my mother cornered me after the service and asked if we couldn’t change the punctuation to make it make more sense. You see, congregations tend to read quite rhythmically, and there are a few phrases that become confusing without clarifying punctuation (i.e. when read congregationally, it sounds as if Christ has obtained a grave for us—a somewhat disturbing idea, to say the least). As we have adjusted the line-breaks to ease the reading, and as we have repeated this prayer over seven Sundays (our final reading of it being this Sunday), it has become a weighty and meaningful entrance into worship. One would do well, however, before using a prayer congregationally, to attempt to read it aloud in that sing-songy voice that congregations inevitably slip into. Some prayers will work. Others will not, and may need to be parcelled up between the congregation and a lead reader.

My advice should you use these resources (and I do recommend them), is to give your congregation time to absorb them. Use the slides Logos provides and put quotes and prayers up on a screen so absorption can happen through ears, mouth, and eyes. Embrace repetition. Take denser quotes and tease out their meaning by feeding them to your congregation line-by-line, interspersing congregational response, musical response, or congregational prayer. Be creative. A quote can be more than a simple sum-up of thought. It can be a prayer, a response, an invocation. A prayer can be more than a stiff congregational reading. It can be a song, an antiphonal rejoicing, a layered text that is uncovered bit-by-bit.

If you already use Logos, I would encourage you to explore this series further. If you don’t use Logos – you might want to think about doing so. And keep your eye on additional offerings by Pastorum. It’s not just for pastors anymore.


A. A. Hodge Adapted from Hodge, Manual of Forms, 76–77.

[1] 400 Prayers for Preachers, ed. Elliot Ritzema (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

A Prayer for Mental Health

The week of May 6th is mental health awareness week – a friend asked me to write a prayer that Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries could circulate to churches (check out their website for some great resources and events). As someone who struggles with depression, and has witnessed family and friends also wading through the mire of mental illness, it was a task I was eager to undertake. Mental illness carries a heavy weight of stigma and misunderstanding. In reality, it is both subtle and pervasive. It is varied. All of us swing somewhere on its pendulum. This prayer is intended to reveal Christ’s presence within the pain and difficulty we all experience. Then, out of that state of sympathy, we can pray more fully for those who struggle with profoundly damaging levels of mental illness. May we pray with passion and with enduring sympathy.

Please feel free to take and use this liturgy in your church.
 
The bold print is to be read by the congregation. The plain print and the italic print by two different readers. The final section of the prayer may be read by either of the two readers (or both), or by a third reader. The first section of liturgy incorporates Psalm 23, and parts of Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1.
 

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Although sometimes we feel we lack everything. Sometimes we cannot see what you have given us through the lie of what has been taken away. Show us how to see your blessing. Show us how to see your provision when the world teaches us an economy of fear and scarcity.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

Refresh us, Lord. Let the raging waters be quite. Let dry pastures be watered. Let us lie down and rest without fear.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

We so often turn from your path—believing lies about ourselves, about others, about you; taking on burdens that are not ours to bear; struggling to entrust you with ourselves, our family, our friends, and our circumstances. Guide us along your path of trust and contentment.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

The valley of depression, the valley of medication, the valley of sorrow, the valley of pain and abandonment, the valley of past wrongs done to me, the valley of despair, the valley of derision, the valley of fear, the valley of waiting, the valley of misunderstanding.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of the valley in which you walk, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

Although we sometimes feel abandoned, you have not left us alone. You have not left us alone with our depression, with our sorrow, our pain, our illness, our despair, our fear, our waiting. You have not left us alone with the past wrongs that have been done to us, with the derision and misunderstanding of others. You have not left us alone. You are with us.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

With your rod, you protect us from ourselves. With your staff, you protect us from the harm of others. Your truth comforts us, as we find our identity wholly and firmly locked up in you.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

Although we are surrounded by people who do not understand the weight we bear, the struggles we face, we gather to eat at your table. Although we suffer ignorant comments, laughter, and sometimes shame—we are worthy to eat at your table. We can eat our fill—even feast—because you have not despised us. You have made us welcome.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

You have made us worthy. You have made us chosen. You accept us with all our flaws, with all our illness and frailty, with all our failings. You have anointed us, us, to serve with you—our cup overflows with joy.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

Surely goodness and love will follow us. Surely goodness and love will chase us down—despite ourselves, despite others, despite our circumstances—goodness and love, by the power and grace of your Spirit, have found us. And will never let us go.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Forever. In health, in strength, in love, in mercy. Forever. Amen.

The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

And as we rest in that assurance, we pray for those who live without it, and who live with the pain and stigma of mental illness. We ask that you would watch over those who live on the street, without the medication they so desperately need. We pray that you would hold accountable those systems that have let these precious children of yours down, that have left them destitute. We pray for those who are in positions of power—that, as they make policies and work to improve existing structures of care, they would faithfully and carefully consider the welfare of those who struggle with mental illness. We pray that you would prevent us from putting distance between ourselves and those struggling with mental illness. That you would grow in us the love we need to take action, and to make their struggle our own.

Comfort those who live with the darkness of depression. May we be a light in the darkness for them. Teach us to avoid false cheerfulness, and instead give us wisdom to know how to help our friends and family who struggle in this way to come up for air. To see, again, your goodness. Lord, watch over those who are, even now, contemplating suicide. Stop their hands. Send someone to intervene.

Guard our tongues from unthinking and unkind words that contribute to feelings of worthlessness. Empower us to use our words, instead, to speak for those who cannot. To proclaim your worth over those our culture denigrates. To defend the powerless, and stop others from contributing to the stigma that mental illness so often carries.

Bring the comfort only you can bring to those who have lost a loved one to mental illness. And use us to bring comfort. May we, your church, be a healing presence, a safe community, a strong advocate for the mentally ill.

Thank you for the assurance that you do not let go. That you are always with us. May we in turn extend that hope to every person we encounter.

Amen.

A Liturgy for Easter Sunday: Dry Bones

Taken from John 20 and Ezekiel 37

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.

The Lord asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

The disciples went back to where they were staying. But Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

The angels asked Mary, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Jesus asked Mary, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said to Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Then the Lord said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to Israel: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.”

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Say to them: “Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.”

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

A Liturgy for Good Friday

Taken from Matthew 27 and Psalm 22

Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.  When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?”But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed over to be crucified.

Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

They took Jesus to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.

 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.

Two rebels were crucified with Jesus, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”  In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.

You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

 

This Lent, I’m Not Complaining (Except When I Am)

Complain, httpwww.flickr.comphotos20918261@N002053243383

Photo credit: Britta Frahm, (b.frahm on flickr)

This Lent, I’ve been thinking about the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of this particular time in Israel’s history, I mostly hear the whining. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Ex. 14:11). “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex.16:3).When reading passages in Exodus, I often want to grab Israel with both hands and shake. They have been led, miraculously, by the hand of God, out of slavery and into freedom. So why are they, as God himself names them in what almost reads as a fit of pique, a “stiff-necked people”?

The Nile basin is a fertile strip that travels (for much of its journey) through arid and un-productive land—desert. On satellite maps it shows up a vivid strip of green amidst sand and rock. Leaving this fertile strip, especially as a large group, meant certain struggle and possible death through dehydration and starvation. Perhaps Israel could have trusted God more—but was it really that unreasonable for them to complain?

When I considered what I would give up this Lent, I read through parts of the Exodus story, and through Jesus’ temptation, and I wondered what it would look like to not complain for 40 days. I’m still wondering. My husband seems to rather enjoy drawing my attention to a facial expression, or a snort, or a bald-faced whine. The thing is, I do have some reason to complain—a body still healing from a major surgery, the pain and grief that comes with infertility, a career that has once again taken a sharp left-turn—and my research and experience of biblical lament tells me that it is right and good to direct these complaints to God.

Complaining in itself is not an evil.

Yet these larger, legitimate complaints are not the ones that are difficult to hold back. No, what I can’t seem to stem are the

  Photo credit: kaibara87 on flikr.

This cat is me whining.
Photo credit: Umberto Salvagnin (kaibara87 on flikr).

little sighs and comments when a board game (that’s right, a board game) doesn’t go my way; the groans of an unusually early morning; the whine that develops when one more “roll up the rim” cup (if you’re not Canadian, this will make no sense) tells me politely to “please play again.”

What I have discovered thus far into Lent is that I am a whiney and annoying person. Because—although I have not managed to stop complaining—I am, for the first time, hearing all my complaints. And I have to say, I am at least 200 times more annoying than Israel in the desert. Of course, the main difficulty with these thousands of minor whine-sessions is that they mask an equal number of blessings that I simply stop seeing. When I complain that my numbers aren’t rolling in a board game, I fixate on that and lose sight of the fact that I am able to spend an evening in comfort, with good food, in the company of good friends. That I have the time to play. When I roll myself, groaning, out of bed I forget to be grateful for a job that puts money in the bank and gives me the flexibility to continue to pursue other things. When I whine about not having a winning Tim’s cup, I lose any joy I might experience in drinking the coffee it contains.

Stop Complaining, httpwww.flickr.comphotos1c114230175179

Photo Credit: Alan Turkus (aturkus on flickr).

Maybe, when God called Israel (and us) a stiff-necked people, he meant that we turn our heads and focus in one direction only. We have a tendency to fixate on all the little things we have to complain about and, in doing so, our necks become stiff, and we can no longer turn and see the many millions of blessings—big and small—we experience each day. We lost the ability to be grateful.

So: I am thankful for a husband who points out my complaints (even when I don’t want him to), and who enriches my life with wisdom and a slightly strange sense of humour. I am thankful to be greeted, every time I return home, by Finn the Wonderdoodle, with his painful, whip-like tail wagging and grinning, shaggy face. I am thankful for our home and deck and garden. Although it is March, I am thankful for the beauty of snow piled up in our back yard. I am so grateful for the warm and generous church in which my husband and I serve. I am eternally thankful for an army of close and far friends and family that care for us in every possible way. And for the little things: for popcorn and tea; for a bathtub and hot showers; for a couch that serves as a playground for visiting children; for sudoku and logic puzzles; for my long-underwear that lets me go for walks in the cold; for good books; for chocolate; for so many, many things.

Sowing and Reaping: A Liturgy

Galatians 6:7-9 

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:7-8 

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. People reap what they sow. Those who sow to please their sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction

 

Lord, we have indeed reaped destruction.

We have sought to please our sinful natures.

We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed,

by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole hearts;

we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on us and forgive us;

that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.

LORD HAVE MERCY, CHRIST HAVE MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY ON US

 

Galatians 6:8

those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

 

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open,

all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:

Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,

that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.

LORD HAVE MERCY, CHRIST HAVE MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY ON US

 

Galatians 6:9 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

 

Father, we are so very weary.

There is so much to do.

We confess that we have been caught up in the false goals of this world.

We confess that we have been sidetracked from the work you have set for us.

We have turned aside to other pursuits that are not of you.

Draw our hearts back to you.

Awaken our mouths to your praise.

Awaken our ears to your words.

Awaken our eyes to your presence.

Awaken our hearts to your love.

Awaken our minds to your wisdom.

Awaken our feet to your path.

Awaken our hands to your work.

In your mercy, do not let us become weary in doing good

LORD HAVE MERCY, CHRIST HAVE MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY ON US

 

Luke 8:11-15 

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

 

Lord, prepare us.

Till us, turn our soil. Remove rocks, pull weeds, clear thorns.

Feed us with your righteousness, that we might be righteous.

Give us the water of life, that we might live.

In your mercy, may your words fall upon us

may they put down roots, may they send up leaves, may they produce fruit – that in turn produces fruit.

Fill us with the power of your Spirit, that we might persevere.

Fill us with the light of your presence, that we might grow.

We want to persevere, to serve you, to produce a crop,

but it is your word that will grow – your word that will spring up from the ground

your word that will produce fruit.

We surrender to you our hopes and dreams.

We surrender to you our plans and desires.

We surrender to you our families, our friends, our work

Lord, sow your seed in our lives

Reach your hands into the soil of our lives and make that seed grow

Grant us the opportunity to see the fruit of your word.

LORD HAVE MERCY, CHRIST HAVE MERCY, LORD HAVE MERCY ON US

 

Isaiah 55:10-11 

God says to Israel, to us: As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. The word that goes out from God’s mouth: will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it.

AMEN

Remaking Christmas

Advent begins next Sunday – but the stores have been decorated and pumping out Christmas music for weeks already. This year makes a record for me: I saw my first tree on August 29. Well done Costco. Each year the music seems to get louder. The tinsel seems more garish. Each year Santa Claus gets bigger, and the manger fades just a little farther into the background. Even in Christian churches. Even in Christian homes. Even in Christian hearts.

That is what makes me saddest.

“How insidiously did the enemy work to slowly hijack Jesus’ birth and hand it over on a silver platter to Big Marketing, tricking His own followers into financing the confiscation? We all know it. We all feel it. Every year we bear this tension. Each December, the world feels off kilter. But in the absence of a better plan or an alternative rhythm or – let’s just say it – courage, we feed the machine yet again, giving Jesus lip service while teaching our kids to ask Santa for whatever they want, because, you know, that’s really what Christmas boils down to.”

A friend of mine shared Jen Hatmaker’s 2011 post “The Christmas Conundrum” on facebook, and I want to share it with you – because it spoke to me, and it might speak to you as well. In it, Jen asks the question: “What if a bunch of us pulled out of the system? What if we said something very radical . . . like: ‘Our family is going to celebrate Jesus this year in a manner worthy of a humble Savior who was born to two poor teenagers in a barn and yet still managed to rescue humanity.'”

What if.

Please follow the link to read the whole post. This woman’s got some great ideas: http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2011/11/29/the-christmas-conundrum