2022 Advent Peace Candle

3000 years ago the prophet Isaiah shared his vision of lions lying down with lambs, and humans beating their swords into plowshares and not learning war any more.

And we’re still waiting.

2000 years ago John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness, and the angels over Bethlehem delivered the birth announcement of a baby who would bring peace on earth.

And we’re still waiting.

Sometimes it feels so foolish to light a peace candle every Advent. Bombs are still dropping on Ukraine and young Americans are still dying from senseless gun violence.

And we are still waiting.

But we who know Jesus continue to believe. We know Jesus can calm a raging sea by simply saying, “Peace be still.” We know he can calm our fearful hearts when we think we can’t go on. We know Jesus showed us how to conquer fear by the way he died non-violently and rose again victoriously. Because we have known his peace in our hearts we are able to wait as long as it takes. And while we wait we light the candle of peace to renew our allegiance to Jesus, the Prince of Peace

[Light 2nd Candle]

Let us pray: Holy God of all people and all of creation, touch our troubled hearts with your Spirit of holy peace. Remind us again that we are not called to passively wait for peace to miraculously appear. Human nature is too flawed for that to happen. We are not called to be peacekeepers who want only a lack of conflict and preservation of the status quo. Instead you call us to be peacemakers, co-creators of a just and loving world order. Show us the way, heavenly parent, to make peace wherever you have planted us. Whether we are refereeing a squabble between our children or solving a complicated situation at school or work, let the peaceful ways of Jesus be our guide. Help us let go of things we cannot change so we can be your agents of peace in places where we can make a difference. May we act as we pray, in the name of Jesus. Amen

Thanksgiving/Advent Prayer

O merciful God, as we worship on this pivotal day between Thanksgiving and Advent give us faith to wrestle with the hard truth that so much of our American pursuit of happiness is based on one of the seven deadly sins, namely greed.  Nowhere is that tension between Jesus’ values and our culture’s more obvious than this time of year where we devote just one day to celebrating gratitude for what we have in the midst of the biggest season of consumerism that begins earlier every year. .

Jesus said it as plainly and clearly as possible in the Sermon on the Mount. “You can’t serve God and money.” It’s a simple either/or, and yet we are still trying our best to prove Jesus wrong.

Choices about our basic human and cultural values are hard because they are so important, and in this case Jesus is a prohibitive underdog. He is up against a multibillion dollar advertising industry telling us 24/7 that we are what we wear, drive, live in, and how we look. Our consumer goods are made to be obsolete sooner rather than later so we will fill the landfills with last year’s gadgets. 

The choice between your way, Holy God, and humanity’s foolish pursuits is what Joshua addressed the Hebrew people about centuries ago on their long journey to the Promised Land. When they were tempted to worship other gods Joshua said, “If  serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 

Gracious Lord, I confess, I love my Apple gadgets and the new car I bought a year ago as much as anyone else. And yes, I know my iPhone and Apple Watch were made by abused Chinese workers. And yes, I also know I am called to be the keeper of those very sisters and brothers who made these devices I take for granted every day. It pains me to be reminded of that injustice, but so far not enough to do anything about it.

Ever-loving One, we do know that greed has been the root cause of most of the injustices in human history. Every economic, government, or religious system that perpetuates the power of the haves over the have nots has greed for wealth, power, or control at its core.

O God, with heavy hearts we confess our own complicity in systemic greed because we know the first step to addressing any injustice is to admit we are part of the problem.

And so as we move from this Thanksgiving holiday into the season of Advent, our hope and prayer today is that the gratitude of Thanksgiving will inform everything we do this Advent season. And as we light each Advent candle may we remember to not let the true light of the world be hidden under a bushel. It’s time for love and hope to stand up to the forces of greed, to make this the year we don’t ask for everything we want, but give thanks for everything we have.  And so we humbly pray in Jesus’ name, saying together the words he taught us to pray…

Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH, November 27, 2022

Hallows Eve Prayer

O divine Creator, in our topsy-turvy world it is so important to spend time with you as the one true North Star that is our unwavering guide through all the joys and sorrows of this mortal life.  Your eternal and constant presence is so vitally important to us In a world where Prime Ministers rise and fall faster than the stock market; where prices keep rising, where election ads bombard our airwaves and inboxes, and political violence reigns from San Francisco to Ukraine.  The change of seasons is bittersweet as we relinquish the warmth of summer for the beauty of fall, but we draw comfort from the assurance than the seasons come and go on your dependable schedule no matter what craziness we humans inflict on your creation.  

We count on the steadfastness of your grace even as we are ashamed of how far we humans drift from your plan for us and your creation.  In this season of ghosts and goblins we are often so embarrassed that we want to hide from you in costumes that disguise us from our own sin and selfishness.  It is so easy to get swallowed up by our own privilege and comfort where the false idols of materialism and the prosperity gospel wait to ambush us on every billboard and in every commercial.  We know better, Lord.  We know we can’t serve you and money at the same time. But like St. Paul we often do the very things we know we should not do and vice versa.  

We admire the heroines and heroes of the faith who bravely stand up for your truth at great risk to themselves.  They trust that you have power over death itself, but so often our faith is weak in the face of the sacrifices it will take for us to truly follow you.  And so we come to worship putting on a smile even when we are dying inside.  We pretend we are fine when we feel lost and broken-hearted.  Or we are afraid to share our joys and successes because we know others are grieving and lonely.  

Open our ears this Sabbath day, O Holy One, to hear again the wonderful news of your amazing grace.  Pull away our masks and costumes and liberate us from the fear and doubt that keeps us hiding out light under a bushel.  Remind us again that Jesus didn’t just invite a select few to his table.  With open arms Jesus says, “Come to me ALL who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  He broke bread with sinners and tax collectors because he knew they are your beloved children also.  

And so are we, not because we are better than anyone else, but simply because we are a part of your heavenly family.  We all matter just as all the parts of our anatomy matter to our bodies.  We are not made to be self-sufficient or alone, but to be members of the church, the body of Christ.  We give thanks for this community of believers called to put our faith into action and to transform our broken world into your beloved community.  Thank you, O God, for sending Jesus into the world to show us that we need not hide from you no matter what but can humbly come to you anytime and anywhere just as we are.  In that assurance we boldly offer our prayers and our lives to you in the name of Jesus our liberator, saying as one the prayer he taught us to say…

Pastoral Prayer, Sunday, October 30, Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH

All Nighter Prayer

Hey God, do you ever have trouble sleeping? Oh, if you are omnipresent, I guess you can’t ever sleep can you? Or do you let the angels take over sometimes to give you a break? Yes, I know that anthropomorphic stuff isn’t real, but it’s 1:20 am; and I can’t sleep. I don’t know anyone else who’s awake at this hour that I can talk to; so you’re it. My sleeping pills have let me down. Reading and doing Wordle haven’t worked; and my blasted neuropathy has my feet feeling like they are on fire.

The more I think about my feet the more they hurt. The harder I try to shut my mind off, the louder the racket in my brain seems. At this hour all my aches and pains seem worse, and my list of things I need to get done in the next few days looms like some Sisyphusian boulder daring me to push it up that damn hill again.

I’m actually scared, God. The pain in my feet has never been this bad before. I’ve always been able to manage it with cream, drugs, and/or ice; but tonight/this morning nothing is working, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t handle sleepless nights like I used to when my youth groups did all night lock-ins at the church, or when I pulled all nighters to study for an exam or finish a term paper.

When you wrestled with Jacob all night long I guess he must have had a lot of adrenaline flowing to keep him going that long. That night near the Jabbock river Jacob had even more things on his mind. He was about to face the music of meeting his brother Esau years after he had swindled him out of his birthright and their father’s blessing. Jacob has sent huge amounts of cattle and other gifts across the river to assuage Esau’s anger, but restless Jacob is afraid it is not enough to buy his brother’s forgiveness. This one who has stolen his brother’s blessing is not satisfied with all his ill-gotten gain. What he asks of God to end their marathon wrestling match is a blessing. Will that salve his guilty conscience? Does a divine blessing imply grace and forgiveness?

In a way yes because the blessing God grants to Jacob is a whole new beginning – a new identity in the form of a new name. He is “born again” long before that New Testament term is coined. Jacob no longer is stuck with his birth name which means “heal grabber” because he tried to yank Esau back into their mother’s womb so Jacob could be the first born. His new name/identity is “Israel” which means “one who contends with God.”

I could use a new identity too, holy parent. My physical aches and pains try mightily to label me as a victim of old age, but when I am caught up in that identity I have little to offer you. I am like a fly trying to escape from a spider’s web, turned in on my chronic ailments instead of focusing my energy on all that is right for me and how blessed I already am.

I could do a lot worse for a new name than “one who contends with God,” even if that means walking with a limp. Please help me, eternal Being, to appreciate my gray beard and arthritis as reminders that I have been blessed with decades of life to wrestle with you and your call upon my life. Like Jacob let me know again that you are not far off at the top of some stairway to heaven, but right here in the sweaty ring of life with me even in the wee hours of the night.

Thanks and Amen

When, Lord, when?

Oh Holy One , I am feeling like pharaoh must have felt during the plagues. Fire, floods, Covid, monkeypox, and the stupidity of gun violence and war bombard me constantly from my newsfeed.

As the anniversary of 9/11 approaches once more I remember those pesky words from Jesus that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That was hard then and still is, oh so very hard.

Never did I imagine back then that I would see the day when political foes in our own country would be the enemies that I struggle to love or even forgive!

I know it’s wrong but I find myself longing for the God of Exodus who drowned the Egyptian‘s in the Red Sea. Or even for the God of Mary who promised us that the rich and powerful will be sent empty away. When, oh Holy One? When will justice roll down like waters? When will we beat our swords into garden tools and never learn war anymore? When, Lord, when?

In the words of one who survived one of the darkest hours of human history, Corrie Ten Boom, “Lord if you want these people forgiven you are going to have to do it because I can’t.“

And yet I give you thanks, Lord, for modern day prophets like Diana Butler Bass, Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and the dear departed Rachel Held Evans. They give me hope even in the depths of despair about the future of humanity.

And it’s not so much for myself that I pray, Holiest One. It is for those I love the most, my children and grandchildren, that I weep. They will inherit the mess my generation has made.

Please send your miracle-working spirit to renew a right spirit within us, to help us repent of the greed that is destroying our planet and the fabric of our society.

Oh how I hope that it is not too late. And I give thanks that in your eternal, cosmic power it is never too late. Amen

Prayer for an Ordinary Day

Holy One, it’s just another ordinary day.  My calendar is clear but my to-do list is long and getting more so every day.  How do I rejoice and be glad in this day you have made?  On Sunday we were reminded in a sermon on the book of Esther that we are made “for such a time as this?” (4:14) If I read those words in context I see that Esther is being called to engage in civil disobedience by confronting her husband the king.  She is a biblical profile in courage and I admire her greatly for that.  But as I read just two verses later I am not so bold any more.  Esther says, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” 

How do I translate Esther’s call to my ordinary life and day?  What am I created for in this time and place where our way of life is threatened by calls for civil war; where autocratic political leaders in Russia, China, Turkey, and our own nation continue to threaten our peace; where experts warn us of more brutal heat, fires, draught, and floods that will become the norm unless we take drastic measures to save our planet?

O Holy Parent, those macro measures make my puny to-do list look like someone rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Am I called to fiddle with daily chores while Rome burns?  I know that “for everything there is a season,” (Eccl. 3:1) but sometimes I wonder how mowing the grass or taking out the trash fits into your purpose for my life.  Yes, Lord, I know things are usually both/and, but where is the holy balance point between doing justice and doing the dishes? 

At a young age Jesus had to tell his parents that he was called to be about your business.  I don’t have a Messiah complex, but I answered my call to ministry many years ago.  The pastoral duties I had structured my days for many years, but now in my retirement what does that call look like?  I can rejoice in having a clear day on my calendar, but I know my biological clock is ticking; and every morning I wrestle with what I am supposed to write in that blank space to be a “good and faithful servant” in this final stage of my life.  My spirit is willing, maybe, but my flesh not so much.  I know I will never “retire” from your claim on my life, but I could use some guidance on how to live this ordinary Tuesday.  I’ll be busy doing my chores, but please feel free to interrupt me with a text or a burning bush or whatever it takes to get my attention.  Amen

Pastoral Prayer July 10

O God, we’re here again seeking sanctuary from a broken world.  We need a place to rest and breathe, to reflect on the mysteries of life, and to turn our many cares and concerns over to you.  We confess our prayers too often sound like a shopping list, asking you to heal this family member, to protect loved ones who are traveling or going through a rough patch.  Forgive us when we forget that you already know the cares of our hearts.  Let us listen more than we talk in our prayers.

You have sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us; you have provided us with the necessities of life, usually in great abundance.  You make it rain on the just and unjust alike, and we know it is not our job to tell you what to do.  But just so you know, we really wish you could send heavenly rain to our western states and other dry and arid places where your children are forced from their homes just as the Hebrew people were when they went to Egypt because of famine in Canaan.

Sometimes we get so focused on all the things that are wrong in our lives and in the world that we don’t see the good stuff.  We don’t stop to see the roses, let alone smell them.  We don’t listen to the bird songs, or marvel at a magnificent sunset; or rejoice over children and youth who have learned to share their abundance with their hungry neighbors.  You sent Jesus to give us abundant life, life that cannot be measured in earthly currency.  When we lose our way to embrace the abundance you provide, remind us that Jesus is the way and the truth and life we seek. 

We long for eternal life, but we don’t have to wait till we die to live that way.  Today is a part of eternity, but eternal life is not measured in years or decades or millennia.  It can begin right now on July 10th if we let go of the problems that weigh us down; so many things we can do nothing about.  Eternal life begins when we trust in you, O gracious God, when we surrender our lives and live for your glory; when we live in such a way that we make disciples for the transformation of the world. 

We can never do or say anything enough to express our gratitude for all you have done and are doing for us.  Sometimes the only prayer we need to say is a simple “thank you.”

Amen

Prayer for Freedom

O Eternal Author of all that is, on this Independence Day weekend we celebrate all the freedoms we have, including the freedom to gather here on line and in person to worship you.  We confess we often take our freedoms and privileges for granted.  Help us tap into the well of gratitude we owe to you first and foremost, even as we celebrate the visionaries who dared to declare their independence from Great Britain almost 250 years ago.  Our journey as a nation toward a more perfect union has been a very bumpy ride; so even as we shoot off fireworks and eat too much this weekend to celebrate our freedom, we also lift up our prayers for the broken and divided nation we occupy in this particular chapter of  American history.  

We have come a long way toward fulfilling the dreams of Jefferson, Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, and Dr. King, but we have miles and miles to go before we reach the high ideals of liberty and justice for all.  As we celebrate our own freedoms this year we also pray for those who are not free from food and financial insecurities.  Remind us to pray for those without adequate health care or opportunities for education and training for meaningful jobs.  We pray for those in our nation and others who are not free from the fear of violence in their cities, and for women and girls who still yearn for the wages, rights, and opportunities taken for granted by their male counterparts.  

We offer special prayers for those who are not free from racial profiling and stereotypes that threaten their very lives.  For homeless immigrants around the world and people living on the streets of our own city, hear our prayers, O God.  We weep for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine enduring naked aggression and suffering at the hands of a misguided bully.  But we also pray for all those who feel the need to oppress and are insatiably hungry for power over others.  

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, said he came to set the captives free, and so we pray for true freedom:

Freedom from extreme temperatures, droughts, and storms caused by climate change.

Freedom to be better stewards of your creation.

Freedom from systemic racism and discrimination against our LGBTQ siblings.

Freedom to offer hospitality to all of your children.

Freedom from addiction in all its forms.

Freedom to offer support to anyone struggling with disease and chronic pain.

Freedom from depression and. hopelessness.

Freedom to be open and vulnerable enough to share our own struggles with those who need a friend they can trust to hear their story without fear of judgment.

Gracious and loving God, you already know the cares and concerns of our hearts, yearning to be free.  Send your Holy Spirit to bring blessed assurance to each one worshiping with us.  

Remind us again that your reign of justice and peace does not come with swords loud clashing nor roll of stirring drums, but with deeds of love and mercy.  We know that true freedom will not come until we dwell again in heavenly peace with you.  But until that day comes empower us with the courage to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you as we offer the freedom of your grace to all we meet.  We ask these things, as well as our unspoken prayers in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

[Pastoral Prayer for July 3, 2022, Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH]

Pentecost Prayer

Oh, dear God, sometimes we feel like those first apostles, confused and grieving over the violent death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans.  Given the horrific events in Uvalde, Ukraine, Tulsa and the nightly multiple deaths on the streets of Columbus and other American cities, we like Peter and the other disciples feel adrift and overwhelmed with doubts and fear for the safety of our children, teachers and for all of us.  

We humbly pray, O Holy One, that you will bless us this Pentecost day with the assurance and power of your Holy Spirit as you did so long ago.  As your current disciples we stand in the need of the strength and power you alone can provide for us in the living of these difficult days.  We may not feel a mighty wind or tongues of fire, but we ask that you reveal to us your ways of peace and justice in whatever form you choose in your wisdom to know the needs of our hearts.

The Pentecost story reminds us that you alone can break down the language barriers that divide your children from each other. We pray for your Spirit to build bridges over the gaps that separate us into different camps.  May the winds of Pentecost knock down the barriers between political parties, between the NRA and those asking for stricter gun laws, between law enforcement and those who fear or criticize them.  Touch us all with your universal tongue that breathes love into broken hearts, peace into fearful children and parents, and into all those on the margins of society who feel helpless to have their voices heard.

We pray that you will inspire this congregation of your church to grow in our ability to be a place where the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed in word and deed in ways that are understood by all of your children, no matter what languages we speak.  Help us articulate the good news that no matter what happens in our earthly lives you continue to love us and assure us that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from your eternal love.  Your holy wind is stronger than inflation, more powerful than any weapon of mass destruction, mightier than our grief and fear, and better than any app that translates our human words into a common language.  Your universal language is agape love where we understand that we are all loved and embraced by you no matter what transpires in our nation and world.  We are humbled and our hearts are filled with gratitude and trust that you will make a way for us in the days ahead as you always have.  

We pray as always in the name of the risen Christ who in his death and resurrection conquered all fear forever.  And so we join our voices now in the prayer Jesus taught us…

Preacher’s Saturday Prayer

O God why must you work in such mysterious ways?   Couldn’t you just give me a message straight without so much work?  Your spirit came through again today as always, but couldn’t you have done that two or three days ago!  Why do I have to worry and wrestle with your Word like Jacob to find a 10 minute sermon?  Yes, the process is good for me, but I’m already limping from way too many years of sweating Saturday sermon preparation.  I do believe, Lord, honest I do.  I’ve literally experienced this miraculous process hundreds of times, but I’m old and tired and it’s harder work than it used to be.  Is that because I am afraid that I don’t have many more times to get this right?  Preaching is an awesome and awful privilege.  How can I dare to get up and presume to speak for you?  Yes, I know John Wesley said, “Preach faith till you have it.”  That’s why I’m still at it.  And this time, really “Let the words of my mouth be truly acceptable in your sight,” for I couldn’t do this if you were not my rock and redeemer.  Amen