Weekly Worship Thought – The Immigrant Apostles’ Creed

(this was tweeted by Shane Claiborne yesterday)

THE IMMIGRANT APOSTLES’ CREED
by Rev. Jose Luis Casal

I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.

I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home,
who fled his country with his parents when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,
the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages, lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints begins
when we embrace all God’s people in all their diversity.

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Weekly Worship Thought – Hurricane Liturgy

hurricane liturgy

As a resident of the Houston area, Hurricane Harvey has made an impression on me. We take storms of this caliber very seriously. So seriously that schools close for multiple days and churches cancel Sunday worship services. We are better safe than sorry. Flooding and dangerous roadways are the biggest concern.

With so many churches canceling worship services on Sunday, there have been several devotions made available for home use. Here is a list of litanies, prayers, and devotions I found for use in times of inclement weather. Feel free to share others that you may know.

Weekly Worship Thought – Hymn Paraphrase of “Children of the Heavenly Father”

Putting the text of a hymn in your own words is a wonderful exercise for devotion and reflection. Here is my paraphrase of “Children of the Heavenly Father”:

1 All God’s children have a safe haven where they gather in God’s Spirit.
Rescue is found in God’s Spirit, embodied in the community of God’s people.

2 All people have an advocate and a provider in God.
God shelters from hatred and harm and raises up in the power of the resurrection.

3 There is no thing, good or evil, in all our living and dying that can separate us from God’s love.
All God’s children receive mercy and pardon because God knows their stories. God knows their troubles.

4 In times of plenty, and in times of hardship, God is there.
God is purifying us so that we might last longer and flourish.

Original Text:

1 Children of the heav’nly Father safely in his bosom gather;
nestling bird nor star in heaven such a refuge e’er was given.

2 God his own doth tend and nourish, in his holy courts they flourish.
From all evil things he spares them, in his mighty arms he bears them.

3 Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord his children sever;
unto them his grace he showeth, and their sorrows all he knoweth.

4 Though he giveth or he taketh, God his children ne’er forsaketh;
his the loving purpose solely to preserve them pure and holy.

Text: Carolina Sandell Berg, 1832-1903; tr. Ernst W. Olson, 1870-1958
Text © 1925 Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, admin. Augsburg Fortress.

Prayers of Intercession after the Election

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It is a humbling honor to craft the prayers of intercession for an assembly gathered to worship. I took extra care this week in writing the prayers on the Sunday after such an eventful week. 

A: With the people of God gathered here and throughout the world, we offer our prayers for our nation and those in need of peace during this time.

A brief silence.

A: We pray for the health, well-being, wisdom, and judgment of President-Elect Trump and all who were elected to office this week. Grant our government an orderly and peaceful transition in the months to come, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

A: We pray for those who feel like their deepest hopes were dashed and greatest fears were preyed upon in this election. Grant comfort and courage to our Muslim and LGBTQ sisters and brothers during their time of distress, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God. 

A:  We pray for peace among the nations. Make our elected leaders quick to welcome ventures in cooperation among the peoples of the world, so that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God. 

A: We pray for those who hunger or thirst, for those who doubt or are terrified, for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, for our (specific needs), that all experience the healing and comfort given through Christ, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

A: We pray for those gathered in this place to hear the gospel and receive the good gifts of God through Christ Jesus, that guided by the Holy Spirit, we will serve our neighbor and stand against the injustices we might face, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

A:  We give thanks for men and women of every time and place who have died in Christ, and we follow their examples of faithful living, let us pray.

All: Have mercy, O God.

Weekly Worship Thought – New Creation

473071_381360811909765_143418169037365_1103946_468045949_oWhen we are baptized, all of our life is baptized. Every portion of our mind, body, and soul is washed in the cleansing stream of the river of life. Every corner of who we are is wholly dead to sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. When we are baptized we are claimed as God’s child, brought into the loving embrace of God’s body, the church, and wrapped in the arms of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We are then free to find our calling and serve in God’s kingdom, no matter what type of occupation we hold. Everything about us is put into service of making God’s plan of new creation happen where we are.

Weekly Worship Thought – Sung Prayer

clayton guitar smallAll of our worship is prayer. All the music we offer in worship can best be understood as sung prayer. This gives me hope, because I suck at prayer. Most of the time I feel self sufficient in my life and not needful of God’s assistance. My problem is pride, the sneakiest, most original sin of all. I am encouraged when I think about singing my prayer to God. All my prayers of praise, confession, lament, and intercession can be carried on a tune from our heart to God’s ear. Jesus told a story in Luke 18 about a pesky widow who would not leave a judge alone. She pestered the judge day after day, and he finally bent to her pleading to avoid the insanity. So may our songs never stop ringing in God’s ears.

How to Use an Advent Wreath at Home

advent_wreath-1An Advent wreath is a great opportunity to ground yourself or your family in a spiritual practice throughout the hectic holiday season.

The tradition (which dates back to the early sixteenth century) involves placing four candles on a wreath and a fifth in the center of the wreath. One candle is then lighted each Sunday during the Advent season with the fifth candle being lit on Christmas Eve.

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. You may choose to place additional decorations on the wreath. Various evergreens, signifying continuous life, can be placed around the circle of the wreath. Pinecones, nuts, or seedpods also symbolize new life and resurrection.

There are several interpretations of the specific meaning of each candle relating to Christ and the Advent season. Those meanings are further enhanced by the colors of the candles. The first, second and fourth candles are purple/lavender (symbolizing expectation and royalty), the third candle is rose/pink (symbolizing the joy of reaching the midpoint of the Advent season), and the last candle is white (symbolizing Christ, the Light of the World).

The Advent wreath can be placed in the center of the meal table or another prominent place in the home. On each Sunday of Advent, the candle can be lit at dinnertime after the blessing of the food. A brief devotion (provided below) can be a great introduction to each week’s candle. Allow your children to have an active role in reading, praying, and lighting the candles.

First Sunday of Advent – December 1 (Candle of Hope – purple)

  • Reading – Isaiah 9:2
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of this candle, whose flame brings warmth to winter and fills this place with the glow of hope. Amen.”

Second Sunday of Advent – December 8 (Candle of Love – purple)

  • Reading – John 3:16
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope and love. Amen.”

Third Sunday of Advent – December 15 (Candle of Joy – pink)

  • Reading – Luke 2:10
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, and joy. Amen.”

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 22 (Candle of Peace – purple)

  • Reading – Luke 2:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, joy, and peace. Amen.”

Christmas Eve – December 24 (Christ Candle – white)

  • Reading – John 1:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of you. Amen.”

Resources:

Devotion on John 4:7-15

John 4:7-15: 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 

Jesus had this knack of doing conversational flybys. He would say something to someone at a profound and deeply spiritual level, and they would hear it nowhere near the level he was communicating. Jesus told the woman he had spiritual water that would take away an eternal thirst, and the woman thought Jesus was talking about never needing a well again. Right over her head. It is also possible that she understood what Jesus was implying, but was uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was headed, and decided to avoid the spiritual probing of Jesus’ inquiry.

Water holds an important place in the rituals of the Jewish people. Ritual washing was part of the spiritual preparation for participation in the community. Houses and synagogues included a mikveh, a pool in which one immersed their whole body to be cleansed from impurities and touching the unclean. As priests, the sons of Levi had to be ritually purified using water before they carried out their religious duties. Even when a Gentile converted to Judaism, his final act was to go through the immersion of the mikveh.

What is this living water the woman inquires about? What is this “eternal life” water that Jesus speaks of? It is the Holy Spirit, gifted to us at our baptism, a constant companion throughout our baptismal journey of death, resurrection, and new life in the Jesus way.

Prayer: God, pour out your Holy Spirit on our thirsty land, creating streams of living water in the dry ground of our lives. Wash away our sin and prepare us as inheritors of your glorious kingdom. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Devotion on Romans 8:31-39

Romans 8:31-39: 31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

In sports, it is easy to size up an opponent. In basketball, if you’re fast and tall you have a natural leg up on the other person. In football, if you have agility and a rocket for an arm you will have an advantage at quarterback.

In the spiritual world, however, sizing up an opponent isn’t as cut and dry. We have an advantage on our enemy that defies logic and the natural order of things. That advantage is provided through the sacrificial love and humility displayed through Jesus in his death, resurrection, and ascension.

Even though we may face suffering in the present, our hope is pulling us through this life and into a glorious future of new, resurrected life. And not only pulling us as the children of God, but all of creation also. Who can stand opposed to God and God’s people as a result of the incredible work of Jesus, God’s own Son? The clear answer is, “No one!” What can remove God’s love from his children? The clear answer is, “Nothing!”

And because there is never a separation from God’s love, because we have nothing to fear, our hearts rise within us, full of adoration and praise for the One Great Love. 

 

Prayer: God of all love and compassion, bless us with the courage and strength to face any day, any situation, any trial with the grace that comes from being your child. Give us an everlasting hope, through Jesus, and in his name. Amen.

 

True Spirituality

jesus_icon_i(Reflection from the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost)

Psalm 15:1-2: LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? Who may abide upon your holy hill? Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right, who speak the truth from their heart;

James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

When we think of being religious or being spiritual, we tend to think inwardly. Perhaps we think about the situations that we have to deal with, or the struggles we have to shoulder, or the battles we fight in our mind. It is widely understood that spirituality is an inward discipline – something shared between God and me.

But Scripture teaches us that spirituality is also about what happens outwardly. Spirituality is about doing right and caring for others. Sharing with those in need is good religion, acceptable to God. Our spirituality is embodied in how we treat people that are less fortunate.

A quote from Robert Webber: “No matter how hard we try, there is nothing we can do to restore our union with God. That is the bad news. But the good news is that God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. . . . So spirituality is not a self-generated achievement but a gift given to us by God. This gift sets us free to see life in a new way and to live life as God intended, in union with the purposes of the Creator and Redeemer of the world.”[1]

God’s purposes for us are actualized in serving others. In the economy of God’s Kingdom, the last are first and the first are last. The best in God’s community are always on the bottom, serving others in humility. When we help people in need, making ourselves available to be used by God, we become truly spiritual.


[1] Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 18.