Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, June 21, 2015

Pastoral Prayer
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Creator of heaven and earth, eternal God … the news of the day won’t let us rest … and that’s all right, O LORD… we’ll not shy away from the cross of Christ; in his name, we will carry the burdens of justice and love, and the pain and sorrow occasioned by fear and hatred… we will, dear God, to the best of our abilities, defend our neighbors against all forms of bigotry and mistreatment.

But neither are we pure, LORD. We know that, and it pains us to say so.

There is something of Cain’s instinct in each of us, perhaps quiet and not so violent, but Cain nonetheless, skulking around the edges of our soul … protect us, we pray, from evil influences; help us to look to Jesus all the more, and with his Spirit, confront our own demons and help the world find its goodness.

With your Holy Spirit, dear God, empower us to work all the more to make this a just and peaceful world … to live the glory of the beatitudes … to honor the Sermon on the Mount … to love as our LORD has loved us, for there is no greater power than love, and love no greater, than to lay down our lives for one another.

We pray for the families of the dead … may the love of friends and neighbors be deeply felt in long hugs and shared tears … may the hymns of faith bring comfort … may the Word of Life proclaimed bring new resolve to work for racial healing.

We pray for those who have given themselves unto hatred … who look upon the world with fevered eyes … eager to kill for the sake of bad dreams and bitter lies. We pray that some influence, some word, some moment of sanity, will break through the walls of hatred and fear, to cleanse their souls and change the course of their lives, to a course of life set upon good rather than evil.

And may our nation, dear God, use this tragedy to think a little more clearly about the violence that courses through our cities and towns … racial and ethnic hatred, hatred for gays and lesbians and transgenders … so much hatred, O God, and a lot of it in the name of your Son, Jesus.

Here in this place, we would be different … true to Christ, welcoming all, and lifting up the truth of all religion: to love one another is salvation.

For our leaders, O God, grant wisdom to craft legislation that can put the brakes on violence … legislation that promotes the dreams of our pilgrim mothers and fathers - a land of opportunity, where anyone can be president, and everyone can find a safe place to live out their hopes and dreams.

Be with us, then, dear God, in the remains of this day … whether it’s back to work, or back to bed, or out to celebrate Father’s Day … help us, we pray, to be of good cheer, love much, think deeply,  read widely, forgive quickly … brave in the face of adversity and kind in all our ways, eager to put our hand to the plow and never ever look back … Amen and Amen!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pastoral Prayer, June 14, 2015

Pastoral Prayer - June 14, 2015
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Vast are the heavens, O God.
Glorious is the earth upon which we live.
Remarkable in all ways is the carnival of life that sings and dances across the ages … all creatures, great and small … the curve of a gull’s wing and its raucous cry as it wheels through the morning sky … from the tiniest bug that bites us to the mighty creatures of forest and prairie … each, O LORD, a living being crafted by your hand in the eons of time and the mysteries of biology.

We are humbled and blessed by the world around us, O God … and amazed that it’s ours to batter or to bless … to manage well is our prayer, as you have invited us to name the animals with care and to dress and replenish the earth … to exercise the care and love with which you created the heavens and the earth in the original moment, when your Spirit moved over the face of the deep and light shattered the darkness.

Grant us, we pray, the encouragement of your Holy Spirit this morning, that we might catch our breath, find hope anew, and leave here ready to embrace the times in which we live: to learn all that we can, to redouble efforts as peace-makers in a world of too much war, and to regard well the lilies of the field and the ravens of the air.

To this end, O God, we pray for the welfare of the church here and around the world … that the gospel be preached with integrity and intelligence and kindness, that the church would reflect the very welcome and affirmation of Jesus Christ our LORD.

We pray for the welfare of all houses of worship … for synagogue, temple and mosque … for rabbis, monks and imams … for all who lift up the hopes of humankind in prayer and deed … and especially, we pray this day, for the Guibord Center and its efforts to build bridges between the great religions of the world, to lessen the tensions of misunderstanding and to create trust and appreciation for your manifold glory, O God, the many pathways you’ve created, revealed in every sacred text and in every prayer.

We pray for leaders of industry, O God … leaders of government around the world … into whose hands, O God, you have placed great responsibility. May the demons of profitability be challenged by the angels of responsibility … may the madness of greed be tempered by the powers of mercy … may the interests of the few be supplanted by the needs of the many.

O God, we pray, with heart and mind, body and soul, giving thanks that our prayers are heard, our needs acknowledged, our sorrows taken up into your great heart … as your providential care weaves mercy and kindness into the folds of time and into the very fabric of lives, working in all things for good.

And so we say Dear God: you are worthy to receive all that we are and all that we have … for thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever, world without end. Amen!

Monday, June 1, 2015

God and the Weather

God and the weather.

Various conservative pundits and preachers boldly announce that the latest weather catastrophe (whatever it might be at the moment) is of God, and likely related to God's displeasure and subsequent punishment. From hurricanes to drought, God is in the weather business.

Reading in Deuteronomy the last few mornings, weather was clearly a part of the god-story, vital to an agrarian society. Moses makes clear: love and serve God faithfully and the climate will be good for crops, with adequate rainfall, early and late, just right.

And should the people fail to honor God, then God will shut up the heavens and the crops will fail for want of rain.

Tit for tat ...

So when Rev. So-and-So decries the sins of some city, or nation, as the reason for the hurricane or flood or drought or earthquake, the Rev. is simply echoing what's in the Sacred Text: Morality and faith, or the lack thereof, are directly linked to the weather.

Hence, the denial of human-influenced global warning, and the affirmation that "only God can change the weather."

What do I do with this?

First off, the easy association of human behavior and God's manipulation of the weather is just "too easy." We know that the earth revolves around the sun, and the world isn't flat. We know that vast weather patterns and earthquakes are the result of a living planet and eco-systems. Dead planets neither shake nor have weather, either the pleasant kind or destructive.

So, simply to say, "the sin or New Orleans brought the hurricane," or the flooding in Texas the result of "witchcraft and sodomy" is simply a manipulative device to frighten people, even as it encourages spiritual smugness on the part of those "safe in the LORD."

What we know scientifically (God be praised) makes such simple and simplistic associations untenable.

Yet, in spite of themselves, conservatives have a point (contrary to their assertions): Human activity does influence the weather!

While their love of capitalism and money keeps them from seeing just how deeply influential on the environment is human activity, as in fracking and the use of fossil fuels, they've managed to hoist themselves on their own petard (sort of like the sermon illustration of finger-pointing - there may well be one finger pointing at someone else, but there are three pointing back at us). Indeed, Moses was right, not quite in the way Moses might have thought, but in the reminder to the people that human activity has a bearing on the weather and the earth.

What we know about our living planet and its vast weather systems no longer allows what I call a simple "punishment model." But the text does remind us, as scientists are telling us, that human behavior is connected to the weather and now we know to earthquakes, too.

Connected, not quite in the moralistic way that Moses might be suggesting, but in a way deeper and more profound and a whole lot more dangerous.