Sunday, March 29, 2009

March 29, 2009 - Prayers of the People

Dear God in heaven, you are so very close to us, heaven is near unto us – eternity woven into time, and time enfolded by eternity – heaven and earth are partners - and so we pray this morning with Christ in the Garden “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We kneel with Christ in the Garden.
We find comfort in his reluctance, because we’re reluctant, too.
We wonder if there are other ways of doing your will on earth as it is in heaven.
Ways that require slightly less of ourselves.
A tad bit easier, LORD.
But with Christ in the Garden, we cannot escape.
And finally, we don’t want to escape, LORD.
Where else would we go?

You have called us by your Holy Spirit.
You have awakened within us faith, hope and love.
You have brought us into the kingdom of light, into the fellowship of faith.
Your grace saves us … and none of this is our own doing … it’s all a gift from you, O God; your glorious love, your immeasurable riches … you have saved us, redeemed us, and reconciled us unto yourself, making all things new – you have put us into Christ, and Christ into us.
To him we belong, our dear Savior.
In him, we live and move and have our being.
He is our bright Morning Star.
He is the breath of our life.
He is the path upon which we trod.
He is our forgiveness, and he is our peace.
He is the way to life.
The truth of life.
And life itself.

Dear God in Heaven …
Dear God right here …
We are ever-grateful for Christ.
We’re glad to be here.
In your company, and in the company of one another.
The bond of love.
A band of brothers and sisters.
The church of Jesus Christ.
Covenant on the Corner.
Presbyterians true blue and bold!

Dear God, we can do no less than Christ.
But to give our lives again and again to your kingdom’s work.
Not our will be done, O LORD, but thine done.
Use us, mold us, shape us.
Conform us to the image of Christ.
Fill us with his light.
That we might have a light to shine before others, that they could see our good works and give glory to you, our Father in heaven.

You have shown us, O God, your will:
To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with you.
To love you with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
To do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves.

To this end, O God, we pledge ourselves anew.
To Christ we surrender all the more.
LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, we give ourselves to you in faith and obedience.

In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come …

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Obituary Gazing - by the Rev. Robert Dahl

Written by my good friend, the Rev. Robert Dahl

I'm a male, a clergyperson, a senior citizen at 64 and someone who has outlived his own father by eight years and counting.  These days I'm paying more attention to obituaries and ages of the deceased.

The other morning while sitting in an auto dealer's waiting room while my car was being repaired, I glanced at the obituaries in the Chicago Tribune.  As the saying goes, you know it's going to be a bad day when you see your own name listed.  Actually, the listing was for one Gerta Dahl, 95.  Her late husband was Rev. Robert Dahl, yes, as in "reverend," like me reverend. My grandmother's name was Gerta.  After the initial shock of seeing my name with the prefix affixed, I decided that this was proving to be way too Freudian for me.  I tossed the paper onto the coffee table.  Then I got the estimate for repairs.  The saying held true.

On a more serious note, the obituary section of the April/May issue of the United Church News, a publication of the UCC, listed 32 deaths of clergy since the last listing in March.  The average age of the good parsons at death was 86, including a high of 107 and a low of 50.  Most were in their late eighties and early nineties.  They were all men.  86 from 2009 puts us at year 1923 for the approximate year of birth.

These were not men who grew up in an exercise conscious society.  They were in adolescence during the Great Depression and endured the whole thing from beginning to end, so I don't imagine the choices for food at the dinner table were numerous.  They ate what the family could afford and I don't imagine that was always lean meat, fresh vegetables and a salad.  One positive in all that is that the portions were undoubtedly smaller.

The projected average life expectancy for men in America born after 2000 is 74.5.  The average life expectancy for all men alive today is 72.  This includes all races and, statistically, whites live longer than blacks.  Undoubtedly, most of the 32 male clergy were white, so that has to be factored in, but I doubt the difference would account for the significant difference in life span.

The clergy beat the projected life expectancy of those born after 2000 by 11.5 years and by 14 years for the general male population.  That's those born around 1923 vs. those born in 2000 with all the benefits of medical science, diet, exercise, etc.  How do you account for that?

This certainly wasn't a scientific study; it was only one random sample of thirty-two men, but my guess is that if I kept records for the obituaries in the United Church News for a year or two or three, the results wouldn't be significantly different.

You think maybe there is a spiritual connection going on here?  Yes, people who describe themselves as religious live longer than those that don’t, statistically.   All factors being equal, the only variable other than race is the "religious" part.  Oh, I forgot military service.  I don't know how many of the 32 were veterans. They would have been draft eligible for WWII but they may have been deferred for religious reasons.  Those who might have served obviously were fortunate to have survived the fighting.  As a generalization, clergy aren't inclined to join the military except as a vocational calling as chaplains.  As the saying goes, "War isn't good for people and other living creatures."

I would probably reduce in significance factors such as exercise and diet in the men who died since the last issue of United Church News.  They also lived most of there lives through a time when medical technology was far less advanced than it is today in life saving factors.

And so, we are left with the unmeasured factor:  faith and the life style factors chosen because of faith (which surely includes the choice regarding military service).  This probably involves voluntary participation in a caring community, which can offer encouragement, support and love. It involves participation in a domestic family situation that, in spite of whatever hardships and conflicts might emerge, is seen to be worth keeping and working on. Values of fidelity and commitment undoubtedly play a role.  It involves a personal understanding that life holds meaning and purpose and that, in spite of evidence to the contrary, life is basically benevolent.  I imagine it also involves a life style choice of moderation in food, beverage and exercise.

I believe strongly that all of life is connected.  I think this is being shown to be true in the body, mind, and spirit connection in individuals.  I don't read the Heidelberg Catechism much these days, but I remember that the first question and answer in its question and answer format are "1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ."

I might chose to reword that as "I, body, mind and spirit...," but however it is worded, that testimony does remain my profound comfort in life and in death, which I hope is still many, many years away.

Yours in the Journey,

Robert E. Dahl

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 22, 2009 - Prayers of the People

It is good, O God, for us to be here this morning, our sabbath time … to mimic the pattern of pilgrimage – to your House we go, with friends and family, new friends, growing in our faith.
It is good and right for us to do this, O God …
To step out of ourselves … to confront and confess the relentless self-interest that threatens to overwhelm our thoughts, our homes, our work and our lives.
Because of your great love, O God, we are not consumed, but consecrated … we are not overwhelmed, but overcome with hope!

We pray, O God, for our youth in Big Bear this weekend, for their leaders, Mikal Kartvedt and Deondra Morris – we pray that your Spirit will abide with the children and youth of this church, perhaps calling some to be pastors or missionaries … bless their time together, O God.
Help us, we pray, as parents and friends, as adults around them, to bear witness to them of the best things of life and to surround them with our prayers – to show them our love, and our faith, and our hope in Jesus Christ.

We pray for our Presbytery and its staff … for our churches and pastors … for Elders and Deacons … for Sunday School teachers and musicians – for faithful members and for those who need to be more faithful … help us all, O God, to deepen our understanding of the Gospel, to walk more closely with Christ, to be glad servants of his, bearing the cross and lifting high his name.

We pray for CLUE and LAANE, for La Mikia and Rabbi Alli and for everyone who seeks justice in our land …

We pray for the nations of the world, O God – for leaders and legislators, for judges and for juries – we pray for democracies and we pray for the dictators – we pray for everyone who holds power, that power will be used to promote peace and prosperity for the peoples of your world.

We pray for our president and his family, for those who wield the reigns of government – those who guide the engines of our economy … we pray for editors and journalists and talk-show hosts – anyone who uses words to persuade and to empower.
May we all choose our words with care, to honor Christ, the living Word – your Word to us, O God – a faithful and accurate word leading to life, liberty and love.

We pray for those who’ve lost job and home … for families living in cars and shelters – we pray for retired folks who’ve seen their income drop precipitously and wonder how they’re going to pay the bills.

We pray for the spiritually confused … for those wandering from one idea to another, chasing the latest fads and fancies, trying to figure out what life and love are all about.
We pray for the digital generation – wired with every gadget, but hard-pressed to know why and what and who and where …
We pray for the embittered and the resentful … for those with anger and those with anxiety …

We pray for those in whom the faith has grown cold and senseless, or hard and dogmatic… for those who worship without wonder … who sing without joy … who pray without compassion … for those to whom the face of Christ has grown dim … and so we pray for renewal, O God; that your Holy Spirit will light the fires of faith anew … that hearts will burn bright with the energy of Christ … that love will be revealed far and wide.

In all of this, O God, we give thanks, for it is good and right for us to do so – we are grateful for our families and our friends, and we count our blessings, both great and small.
Sustain, we pray, the spirit of gentleness and the mind of Christ – that we might have his thoughts and do those things that build up and encourage.

In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done …

Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15, 2009 - Prayers of the People

Eternal God, we thank you for your grace …

You have revealed a great love to us in a thousand different ways … in the bright bloom of a spring flower, the arc of a seagull’s wing silhouetted against the evening sun, the kindness of a friend, a fine glass of wine, a book we couldn’t put down, a musical that made our soul sing, a quiet walk with the love of our life, holding hands …

And when we think about it, O God, it’s you …
Your living, loving presence … all around us, and within …
In the flower and in the gull …
In the sky and in the sun,
In the kindness and the wine,
The book and the music …
The hands of someone we love …

You have revealed your love to us in the pages of the Bible … remarkable stories of faith and failure, hopes and dreams, sadness and sin – stories of folks just like us: finding their way and losing it and then finding it again – because you are the God who finds us!
You are the Good Shepherd leading us to clean water and through the dark valley of death …
You are the bright morning star; the promise of a new day.
You are the wind beneath our wings.

O LORD our God, you have made it possible for us to believe.
On our own, we could not, and we would not.
Our hearts are frightened and hardened.
Our minds steeled against you, even as we cry out for you.
On our own, LORD, we could not, and we would not.

But you have loved us to life.
You have given to us the gift of faith.
You have made it possible for us to believe.
To love and be loved …
To know the name of Jesus … and to follow him.
To live beyond our means, spiritually …
To accomplish great things … to share our daily bread, to forgive one another as you have forgiven us, to stand up for justice and lay our lives down for one another … to seek the welfare of our neighbor, doing unto others what we would expect for ourselves … to let our light so shine, that others could see our good works and give glory to you, our Father in Heaven.

Today, O God, we pray for our community of faith, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Covenant on the Corner … we give thanks for what has been, our journey thus far; and we thank you for what is at hand – these precious moments as we transition from one era to another:
Learning new ways of being the church …
For the 21st century …
Being faithful to you in our time,
Culturally relevant and spiritually alert …
Imaginative and conservative – preserving the ancient stories of our faith, even as we fashion new forms of worship and new ways of doing mission …
Laying the foundation for others who will follow …
Sometimes in our footsteps, and sometimes taking pathways we never dreamed …
LORD, help us to be travelers …to be those on the way … following Jesus …
To get up and get going, like Abram and Sarai, like Moses and Miriam, like Jesus setting his face toward the Holy City, and Paul the Apostle sailing for Corinth.
Help us to be creative and thoughtful … to welcome ideas that challenge the way we think; to think beyond what we already know; because there is always more to faith, hope and love …

LORD, we thank you for the Acts 16:5 Initiative …
A tool, a device, a process …
To help us along the way.
To discern your will for Covenant on the Corner.
Who are we, LORD?
What do you desire of us?
Where shall we go?
And how can we serve?

We are yours, O LORD.
We confess Jesus with all that we are.
We sing the songs of praise with heart and voice.
We study your word.
We love one another.
We are growing and we are learning.
We are Covenant on the Corner.

In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name …

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lessons in a Used Christian Book Store

I’m a bookophile … for most of my ministry, I worked hard to create a functional library of current and classic materials, a library of which I was proud because of its breadth and depth, a library that kept me reading far and wide in pursuit of the holy grail: the one and final book that would definitively reveal the secrets of preaching. Alas, after nearly 40 years of hot pursuit, like an Indiana Jones, browsing out-of-the-way places and following endless footnote trails, I have yet to find my holy grail.

And now that I’m nearing the end of the arc of ministry, having disposed of 90% of my library and thrown out a near-40 years of sermons, I’m still reading, of course, but reading fewer books, while trying to read them more deeply.

Needless to say, I’m still a bookophile, and the feel of a new book, or that of a well-worn and underlined volume, offers a living day dream of ideas and wonderment: the writers who crafted them for love or money, and maybe both, and in those used volumes, the mystery of why such-and-so was underlined, and what did they mean with that cryptic note hastily scribbled in the margin.

Browsing, or some would say, carousing, in a used book store, filled with the passions and dreams of last year’s top-selling, hot-button, guaranteed-to-win promises for church growth, over-coming whatever the sin might be and prevailing in every and all circumstances, I suddenly stopped in my tracks before an 8-foot high book shelf stretching 30 feet, perpendicular to more bookshelves, with more to be found in side-rooms, and tucked away in every nook and cranny, and thought to myself: dust to dust, ashes to ashes, earth to earth.

What suckers we Christians are. All of these promises for whatever ails the soul and plagues the church – we buy this stuff by the ton, marketed by giant publishing houses, tantalizing us with glory while subtly condemning us for our many and repeated failures thus far. However, this could all change, if only, we’d buy the latest offering, the latest course, the newest research, and, of course, the musings of the latest star-preacher who’s meteoric rise to fame must be only a few days shy of the Second Coming of Christ Himself.

There, by the hundreds, nay, the thousands, the marvels of yesterday’s publishing phenomenon, the one book you need right now, the last book you’ll ever buy – there they are, gathering dust, dust jackets faded or stained, looking slightly out-of-date, some never sold at all and shuttled around the country in UPS trucks from one giant clearance sale to another, or if sold, never opened, gilded with promises, of course, to be read next month.

I watched some young theological students (that’s my guess, being in Pasadena near Fuller Theological Seminary and San Francisco Theological Seminary, Southern CA) madly dashing about in search of their holy grail.

Of course, they’re young. Let them build their libraries now, and may they read voraciously, stretching mind and heart as far as they can go, and then some, enjoying the mysteries of God’s love and the frustrations of never understanding such love, or even grasping much of themselves, not to mention, others.

Yet the lesson lingers – like so much in America, we consume vast quantities of sugar and processed foods with all sorts of promises of health and vigor, if not delight, and if not satisfied, if not healthy, just wait: there will be something new on the market next year, or maybe tomorrow.

To all the preachers who enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame, who made a killing, or maybe didn’t, and to all those who bought the books, who may have read them and told others about them, saying, “This is the latest and the best” – well, hats off to you for giving it a good try.

But today, in that store, I paused to look, even as I smelled the dust of time, and wondered, where’s the dream and what’s the dross?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Prayers of the People – Sunday, March 8, 2009

We lift our voices in grateful praise – thankful for creation, and marveling at our lives …
We join hands and hearts with women and men of conscience and faith, all around the world, and across the expanse of time …

Ever-faithful God, that we should have the opportunity to know your grace and to love one another is quite amazing, and we thank you.
Your love makes us mindful of the spiritual depths all around us – the wonder of your Spirit still creating and making all things new – give us, we pray, the eyes to see your glory in the bud of a tree and in the eyes of a friend … the ears to hear the sounds of hope churning away in the tides of time, and to hear the millions of our fellow human beings who quietly cry for help.

To be here this morning, at Covenant on the Corner, is quite amazing.
To the human eye, O God, we’re a tiny place in time, but a place of giant faith and wide vision – connected to the great women and men of faith who have held high the light of reason and hope for their world and in their time, and, LORD, we want to do the same for our world and in our time.
We hope and pray to do it right, so that our grandchildren will look back upon us with gratitude for:
The truths we held,
The values we embodied,
The commitments we made to justice and peace.

Our prayer, O God, is simple: to remain steady.
That in these difficult times, we will not lose sight of your providential care – because you are the Good Shepherd, and you provide a Table set before us in the presence of our enemies – you anoint our heads with kindness and mercy and generously fill our cup to overflowing.

Remind us, O God:
That nothing can separate us from your great love given so freely throughout the ages … a love given in the cry of Moses on Sinai, the cry of the prophet in the city gate, the cry of a babe in a Bethlehem manger, and the cry of Jesus from Calvary’s cross – in those voices, O God, we hear your voice – to love one another as you have loved us … to forgive quickly and deeply … to fling wide the doors of our heart to every weary traveler – to turn no one away, but to offer the cup of cold water, and to prepare a place at our Table.

Help us, we pray, to keep on growing in thought and deed.

Save us, we pray, from weak resignation to the past – from old thoughts and tired ideas … help us to sort out the chaff from the wheat – that which is true for every age, and those things that need to be set aside.
LORD, challenge us with the fresh winds of your Spirit – because you continue to transform the church, revealing to us the ways of love, ever-fresh, taking us places we didn’t dream, and opening up doors of thought and service we didn’t invent.

And bind us together with women and men of faith all around the world … remind us that love trumps all doctrine; that respect is greater than all ideas, that mercy is the universal language everyone understands.

We pray in the name of our LORD Jesus Christ who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name …

Monday, March 2, 2009

March 1, 2009 Prayers of the People

We pray today, O God, for folks struggling to find themselves … hoping to find a little love along the way, some sense of purpose beyond the self … seeking your face, O God, though they may not know it …

We’re all slightly lost, LORD.
We wonder what it’s all about.
Death bewilders us …
We try to be brave, whatever that means.
We’ve all disappointed ourselves, LORD.
Not to mention others.

The economy, O LORD, is on our minds.
Some have suffered considerable declines in income …
Some have lost jobs and homes …
Some are worrying themselves into ill-health, or delaying a visit to the doctor.
We’ve all felt the pinch of the times, O LORD.
Hard times for many …
Troubling times for us all …

We pray for our President and his family …
We pray for those who counsel him …
We pray for the members of congress …
For the courts of the land …
For mayors and governors …
For corporate heads and boardroom directors …
For Wall Street investors and money managers …

In this season of Lent, O God,
Help us, we pray, to take seriously the message of Lent …
That Christ suffered for our sins …
The righteous for the unrighteous …
A message slightly disturbing, LORD.
A message that touches us uncomfortably.
Our world, O LORD, has mostly done away with sin …
We call it misjudgment or simple error …

But it’s more than that, LORD.
It’s worse than that.
Our willfulness, our relentless self-interest … the small sins we commit against one another – the larger social sins in which we unwittingly participate … the dark materials of mind and heart!

But help us be not afraid, LORD, for in your love, much grace to be found … help for the lost, comfort for the frightened, healing for broken hearts, and forgiveness for sinners.

Help us to turn anew to Christ.
To look to him for help and healing.
To be more than church members, but members of Christ himself.

Help us, we pray, in this Lenten season,
To ponder the cross … to stand before it and see our complicity in his death … it is our sin that still wields the lash, our sin that thrusts upon his shoulders the cross, our sin that crowns him with a crown of thorns, our sin that drives the nails … our sin that buries him and rolls a stone in place.

LORD, we’d rather not deal with this.
It’s someone else’s problem, isn’t it?
Surely, not mine.

As Peter said at the Table, “Surely, not I, Lord!”

LORD, help us to deal thoughtfully with Lent, for the health of our soul … that in knowing our need, we might see the glory of Christ all the more … for he suffered for our sin … to bring us to you.

In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name …