Beatitudes for Clergy for a New Year

Blessed are you who are showered with gifts and cards and gratitude this holy season, for your worth is known far and wide.

Blessed are you whose people greet Pastoral Appreciation Month with a deafening silence, and yet you care for them; for your persistent, relentless love reflects God’s love for us.

Blessed are you who are burned out on ministry or the church; for your charred flesh, too, is sacred, and your wounds shall be healed. Read more

Four white candles sit in an evergreen wreath against a dark background.

Communion Setting for Advent

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

 

In the beginning there was Love, Love so radiant it could not be contained–bursting forth as the sun, filling the sky with light, then breaking off into tiny pieces, into stars, to brighten the dark night sky.

In the beginning there was Love, Love so bountiful that it needed something to love, so it created the earth and filled it with all sorts of good things: sheep and horses, cats and dogs, fish and birds. Love made people in Love’s image–made us!–with lips to smile, lungs to laugh, and warm hearts. It didn’t take long for us to learn the opposite of love–we learned to beat one another with our fists instead of hugging one another with our arms and to offer words of hate instead of praise. Love’s heart ached because of the broken world, so Love spoke through prophets and priests, calling us back to our Creator’s embrace.

And so with your people on earth, and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn:

 

Sanctus                                                                                                                                                                                     FWS 2257b

 

When our hearts were too hard to hear the words of the prophets, Love came down to earth, in a form that we would recognize. So Love became Jesus, a baby to be cuddled and kissed, who would fall down and skin his knees, who would wrap his arms around those he loved. Love came down and lived among us, teaching us how to love one another. He filled the hungry with good things, gave words of comfort to those who were hurting, and spoke of the day when Love, not power or wealth, would rule the world.

But there were those whose hearts were still hard. They refused to believe such a thing was possible. So they tried to quench the Love of God, crucifying him on a tree, broken by a world of hurt and pain.

On the night in which he gave himself up for us, Jesus sat at a table with friends. He taught them that they must love one another just as he loved them. He taught them that everyone would know they were his followers and friends if they had love for one another.

Then he took bread, blessed it, and shared it with those around him, saying, “This is my body, given for you. Whenever you eat it, remember me.” When the supper was over he took a cup, again he blessed it and gave thanks, then shared it, saying, “This is my blood, given for you. Whenever you drink it, remember me.”

And so we remember as we gather around this table and proclaim the mystery of faith:

 

Memorial Acclamation                                                                                                                                                                      FWS 2257c

 

Pour out your Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and cup. May they be for the living body and blood of Christ, Emmanuel, God’s Love with us. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church all honor and glory is yours, Almighty God, now and forever. 

 

Amen.

Four white candles sit in an evergreen wreath against a dark background.

A Prayer for the Wave of Light

On what was supposed to be my daughter’s due date, we went up the hill on our farm. My spouse brought his banjo to play “I’ll Fly Away,” but our almost 2.5 year old toddler wanted to play music too, so some of the ritual and liturgy I planned for the three of us fell by the wayside. We did end up eating a picnic dinner and lighting a pillar candle with my daughter’s name and birthdate inscribed on it. We will light that candle again on October 15, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, as we remember her, our fourth child who was born too soon. 

A tall, white candle, in a glass with an intricate design in black and the name Autumn and the date November 18, 2021 written in gold, sits in a field of grass with a farm building in the far background.

A candle lit in remembrance of the author’s daughter.

Since my daughter’s death, I have often found solace in candlelight. I was unable to pray after her death, and, even when prayers of thanksgiving began to creep back into my mouth months later, I tried to swallow that thanksgiving away. I was still so angry. Am so angry. But the candlelight was an unuttered prayer, an attempt to reach out to my baby, to help her feel the warmth of love we felt for her. And to help me feel her love, and maybe even God’s.

Lighting candles for the dead is a ritual that is common in many religious traditions and cultures and has been long practiced in Christianity, despite its lack of Biblical origins. There is, however,  a story of God appearing as a pillar of fire to guide wanderers through the wilderness: lighting their path after the sun set and urging them forward, even over unfamiliar terrain. I have had many pregnancy losses and lost many people close to me, and still the terrain of grief is unfamiliar and lonely and even cold. I imagine a pillar of fire guiding me, illuminating the next step ahead, and warming us with the love that persists in spite of death.  

I think that is what the Wave of Light does for us Loss Parents on October 15. Lighting candles with anyone who gathers with us that night, and knowing how many others are doing the same around the world, guides us in our grief, illuminates a supportive community, and keeps us warm in our love.

I offer you this prayer if you are lighting candles for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day:

O God, who once traveled as a pillar of fire to guide the Israelite people,
help us to see you in the Wave of Light this night as well, guiding us.
You know the pain that our bodies and souls harbor after losing our children;
you know how lost and unmoored we feel,
and how angry we are with you.
As we wander in the wilderness without these children,
remind us that in your love,
our love for our babies and theirs for us will never end.
That love will be a guiding light for us throughout our lives,
calling us back to each other even when the flame seems faint and flickering.
Surround us with a community of support, who will speak our children’s names,
who will light a candle with us, and remind us that,
even though we are far from our children
and often feel far from you,
we are not alone.
Love journeys with us.
Amen.

Famous Last Words, Part 3

Famous Last Words” is a 4-week sermon series exploring the final words of four different books in the Bible. This week, we turn our attention to the book of Hosea, a resilient prophet who has spent his life enacting the relationship between God and God’s people. After harsh language and deep judgment, the book’s final words remind readers of the hope and love that are everlasting in the relationship between God and God’s people. You can read the previous week’s post here

A forest of tall pine trees stand under a partly cloudy sky.

God’s love is likened to an Evergreen tree in Hosea’s final words.

November 13, 2022 – Hosea 14:4-9
RCL texts: Isaiah 65:17-25; Malachi 4:1-2a; 2 Thess. 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

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Famous Last Words, Part 2

This sermon series focuses on how the end of a scriptural book is not an end, but sometimes leaves the door open for change or a new beginning. What better time to explore endings, completions, and closures in scripture and faith than the end of the liturgical year, the month spanning Reformation Sunday to Christ the King Sunday? For All Saints’ Sunday, we chose this ending from 2 Corinthians because even though Paul had a difficult relationship with the worshipping community at Corinth, he did not cut them out, but left the door open for reconciliation. Sometimes All Saints’ Day brings up feelings of loss and reminders of  broken relationships for people. In this post-Covid, world many people did not get to say their farewells in familiar, traditional ways. This scripture can point us that with God’s love we can mend our relationships. From the creators of this preaching series, we pray that it would be a breath of fresh air for you and your worshiping community. You can read the previous week’s post here

An empty labyrinth in a grassy clearing on a sunny day is viewed from under the trees around the clearing, with a partial view of the back of a bench in the foreground.

The Paths Between Us

November 6, 2022 – All Saints Sunday – 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
RCL texts: Haggai 1:15b-2:9; Job 19:23-27a, 2 Thess. 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

Opening Prayer (Call to Worship)
written by Alison VanBuskirk Philip

God who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,
as we seek to worship, live, and relate faithfully,
order and re-order us,
encourage us and inspire us to encourage others,
and let our voices and actions harmonize with yours.
May peace be the kiss that seals our stories
and makes us ready to tell them,
to see you reflected in them,
and to recognize your beauty breaking through all along the way.
Amen.


Hymn Suggestion
 In Peace and Joy I Now Depart (words by Martin Luther, tune mit fried und freud)


Light text commentary with preaching suggestions
written by Michelle de Beauchamp

These last verses of 2 Corinthians out of context sound like a nice little farewell of love and peace, when in reality it is a final try at mending a broken relationship. How many of us have tried and tried to keep our emotions in check when we disagree with a friend or family member? Do we keep silent or reach out? In our world and communities that are so divided today, this letter is very poignant and timely.

It was written sometime around 50 CE by Paul, and composed only a few months after his first letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians). After he sent his first letter, it is assumed Paul went back to follow up with a second visit to the Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:5-7). When Paul writes this letter, 2 Corinthians, Paul is back in Ephesus. However he makes it clear he will not return for another “painful” visit (2 Corinthians 2:1). Paul is setting a clear boundary of what needs to happen from both sides to mend their relationship.

In 40 CE, Paul founded the Church in Corinth, which were a collection of small house churches. The people who made up the church in Corinth were very diverse socioeconomically and culturally. The church membership was primarily Gentile. Corinth was a wealthy port city in Greece, and the church in Corinth easily had access to new ideas and different teachers of the Way.  

Paul was not happy with the church in Corinth because they were hosting other preachers that taught differently from him. Paul was concerned the churches in Corinth would not keep supporting the church in Jerusalem and his movement. Throughout this letter Paul is tactful with his words, trying to not explode in anger, because he does not want the relationship between them to completely deteriorate. 

So throughout the letter, he begs the Corinthians to be reconciled to God and to him. He defends himself against his opponents, and he keeps appealing for funds to be sent to the church of Jerusalem. He ends with these last words of love and peace, hoping for a full reconciliation. Now it is up to the Church in Corinth to respond.

A preacher could take this in many different ways. One way is to focus on the idea of reconciliation. It takes two, well actually three (each party involved plus God), to allow healing. Sometimes in our culture, we put the pressure on one party alone  to “fix” a relationship when it takes both parties and God calling us to restore a relationship. Moments like these are when we need to trust in God’s presence. We as preachers, and our church leaders as well, tend to overextend and overfunction to keep a relationship going. That is not healthy. Reconciliation is about restoration.That includes setting healthy boundaries like Paul. Sometimes this starts with how this letter to Corinth ends…with a prayer and a blessing for the other’s journey in life. Like Paul, we have to trust in the love and power of God to open our hearts and minds to reconciliation and mutual respect.

Lastly, this being All Saints’ Sunday, the preacher can talk about how through God’s grace, the saints of our own lives that have gone are greeting us and praying for us. In the end, our relationship through Jesus is restored with each other. God’s love and peace has the potential to mend our relationships, those still with us and those who have been separated from us by death. It’s about how we respond. Sometimes like Paul, we just have to give a holy farewell kiss goodbye to a frayed relationship, remind them that God’s love is with them, and that our door is open to allow healthy healing to commence. It is not an ending but an opportunity for healing that Jesus is calling us to.


Prayers of the People Petition
written by Alison VanBuskirk Philip

God, you are the Alpha and Omega.

Thank you for being with us in our beginnings and endings and everything in between. 

Thank you for the words of encouragement you’ve given us in Scripture and the ways you invite us to encourage one another. 

Thank you for community where we belong, where we sing with others in harmony, and where we learn about your story and the possibilities of our stories.

God of love and peace, you are our author.

May our lives sing your story.

Peaceful One, there is discord around us: in our families, our schools, our workplaces, our cities, our nations. Sometimes there is discord in your church. We lift up to you places of discord that are weighing on us today. Pause. Use us to be peace-makers. Use us to listen and understand, to respond and relate with grace and truth. 

God of love and peace, you are our author.

May our lives sing your story.

Holy One, in Jesus you offer us grace, love, and communion. Let our relationship with him nourish and change us. Let our communion with him be the central thread of our lives, the thing we can come back to when we need to remember who we are and how we’re invited to live. We lift up to you people and places in our lives that especially need reminders of grace, love, and communion with Jesus. Pause.

God of love and peace, you are our author.

May our lives sing your story.

Amen.

Famous Last Words, Part 1

I’ve had many opportunities to give sermons on the openings of the books of the Bibles. They are fun sermons to write because you get to dig into the particularities of genre or historical context or even artistic perspective. I realized that I had not had as many opportunities to preach on the texts that […]

A Litany for Changing Season

The air feels crisper this morning. 

The sunlight shines at a different angle. 

Change is in the air. 

 

We feel the change not only on our skin,

But in our souls. 

Something is shifting. 

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A Back-to-School Blessing

A top-view photograph of brightly colored school supplies (colored pencils, tempera paints, tape, protractor and compass, paper clips, calculator, eraser, pencil sharpener) arranged in a loose circle atop gray hardwood floor.

God of all that learns and grows,

Bless our students, and guide them that their minds may grow in wisdom and their hearts may grow in compassion. Help us to nurture their questions and encourage their curiosity that they may learn more about the world You created and the people around it.  Read more

Blessed are the Abortion Seekers

Blessed are those who seek abortions to save their lives

From ectopic pregnancies, septic uteruses, and miscarriages.

Blessed are those who seek abortions to save their lives

From domestic violence, suicide, and poverty.

Blessed are those who seek abortions for any reason at all.

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  A Father’s Day Litany

 

A Litany for Father’s Day

Leader: Our Lord Jesus Christ called God his heavenly Father and Joseph his earthly father. Let us come before our heavenly Father with our gratitude, praying for God’s blessing and offering up all our experiences with our earthly fathers in prayer.

Gracious God, we pray your blessing upon the fathers, step-fathers, adopted fathers, and grandfathers of our lives.

People: Good God, bless our fathers.

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