Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pastoral Prayer, May 29, 2016

Pastoral Prayer
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

To be the church of Jesus Christ, O God.
This is our prayer, this is our hope.
To let our light so shine, O God,
That others might see our good works and glorify your name.

To you, O God, we give the cares of life that besiege and beset every soul … anxiety about tomorrow … the distress of difficult relationships … employment and daily tasks … family life, in all of its myriad shapes and forms … trying to understand ourselves, O God, and why we are the way we are … health issues, dear God - our frailty, our mortality … the passing of time … our desires to love and be loved … our quest for purpose and value … the crushing question of why bad things happen … tears of bereavement and loss … the pain of regret, the demons of impatience and judgment … 

Be with us, we pray, O God, in all the turnings and tumult of life … be merciful to us, in our comings and our goings … in all things, O God, encourage our devotion to you, our love for one another, our faith in your providence … for we are yours, O God, bound with a love that will not cease, nor ever be broken … in this life, and in the life to come.

And so, we pray:

For the well-being of our nation … and for all the nations of the world.

For the economic engines of capital and commerce, to be wisely tuned to the needs of the planet, the needs of its people, and all of its creatures, great and small.

For people of faith, whatever their faith, dear LORD, to shun the ill-turned temptations of religion … temptations of power and domination … temptations driven by fear and ignorance … temptations that reside in all of us, O God, in the dark corners of mind and heart.

On this Memorial Day Weekend, O God, we remember the women and men of our nation who have fallen in war … something they didn’t expect, or want, and maybe even feared … but they faced the day, O LORD, and did their duty … and so we honor them in thought and prayer, and above all else, we honor them  with our sacred pledge to seek peace when and where we can, to hold in check our emotions when the drums of war are sounded, to be serious in our dedication to peace … to always see beyond the boundaries that nations draw, to behold your Kingdom, O God, a kingdom that dawns bright and fair … where the children are safe and war is no more.

Lead, kindly light, we pray … lead us anew to places of love and reason, strength and hope, wisdom and kindliness … lead us, we pray, to life centered in Christ … the truth that sets us free … a living faith, vibrant with courage and commitment … to be visionaries for the future, and in our time, O LORD, instruments of your peace. Amen!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Class of 1966 Reunion

Yesterday, at the Class of 1966 Reunion, I felt nothing but gratitude.
To have made it this far.
To know what I know.
To know what I don't.
To love the folks I love.
And to be loved of them.
Along the way, a lot of friends.
Friends for a bit of time.
Friends for all the years.
Friends forgotten.
Friendship renewed.
Couldn't recognize anyone.
But take a few moments and some chat.
It's the eyes that are the same.
And the smile.
And like wiping a fogged mirror.
Yesterday's image appears.
On the back of the program.
A list.
Of those no longer here.
It's sad, for sure.
My throat clinched.
At the Commencement,
We sang.
Several thousand of us sang.
"This Is My Father's World" ...
I choked a few times.
Thanks to Calvin College for putting it all together.
Not a beat was missed.
Choreographed with kindness.
Memories, laughter, and the steady beat of love.
And the gracious reminders of something divine.
We are not alone in this life.
Nor are we our own.
But we belong.
To a gracious God.
Now, and forevermore.
It's been a remarkable weekend.
Gratitude running deep.
Love all around.
Thanksgiving for what has been.
The courage to live, here and now.
Hope for what shall be.
And that's the way it is for me.
Of the Class of 1966.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Can I Ever ...?

Can I ever get to know myself?
Can I ever get to know another?
Can I ever get to know anything,
Beyond the shadow of a doubt?
I doubt it ... but that's okay.
And that I don't doubt at all!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dangerous Holy Week

Holy Week is filled with uncertainty and danger, peopled with all sorts of characters:

~ the rich and the powerful determined to bring an end to the Jesus thing ... 

~ a man willing to betray himself for 30 pieces of silver ... 

~ another man with a hair-trigger denial when asked if knows the man from Galilee ... 

~ the Procurator Pilate, more than likely frightened of making the wrong decision, and wondering what this all means for his career ... 

~ soldiers doing their job ... 

~ merchants and mendicants ...

~ bystanders and tourists ... 

~ travelers from afar ... 

~ disciples on the verge of panic ... 

~ crowds eager to spill some blood and welcome back a champion by the name of Barabbas ...

~ and Jesus who broke bread with his friends, who knew all too well how it was ending, who choose the power of silence when confronted by his accusers, and then beaten to within an inch of his life, needing help to carry the cross ... dying between two revolutionaries who likely had blood on their hands ... he utters words of forgiveness, laments his abandonment, then cries out in loud voice and is dead!

In a world such as ours, with turmoil and trouble on every hand, politicians run amok, violent men and women eager for blood ... children suffering ... fear running high.

I find some strange assurance in Holy Week ... such is life, such is the world into which the Son of Man comes ... the cross he bears is the cross of every moment ... the death he dies is humanity's death ... 

He stayed the course and didn't relent ... the original temptation in the wilderness was defied to the end, and then some.

He's worthy of my love.

In his life, and in his death

And some say, the tomb couldn’t hold him.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Save Us, We Pray

In a world of deep fractures and violence,
We are tempted to allege the guilt of others,
And protest our own clear and inviolable innocence..

Save us, O God, from such childish palaver,
That we might more honestly assess the nature
Of our broken and bleeding world.

For those injured, our prayers.
For the dead, our blessing.
For the grieving, our tears.

For those who can find no other recourse,
But their own death for the death of others,
We pray for the causes of such despair and hatred.

For the nations of the West which have so
Arrogantly toyed with the Middle East; the British
For the sake of India.

France for glory.
Russia for the Orthodox Church.
The United States for oil.

Bombs dropped from altitude kill, as well:
Children and babies and mothers and fathers.
And we say, "We sorry!"

And the rogue State of Israel continues
To foment outrage and instability.
While eradicating the Palestinians.

Where are the innocent?
Not in the capitals of power, that's for sure.
But the children.

Always the children, O God.
They're the innocent ones.
And Moms and Dads on their way.

O God, save us from mindless palaver.
The easy assignment of blame.
The autocratic pretense of political innocence.

Remind us, dear God, of Joshua.
Who ran to the man in the road.
Demanding to know on whose side he stood.

And the angel of the LORD said:
On no one's die.
And Joshua bowed down.

And so we pray, for the mechanisms of justice.
For a new resolve in the West to honor the Middle East.
To corral Israel and free the Palestinians.

And to pay attention to our Muslim neighbors and friends.
To honor those who seek for peace.
And correct the vast imbalances.

In a world of deep fractures and violence.
Hear our prayer. Amen!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Have a Blessed Day"

"Have a blessed day" has become rather common, as a phone sign-off and an email signature ... and I don’t like it.

First off, what does it mean?

Is it the equivalent of “Good Luck” or “Have a nice day!”? 

I suppose it sounds pleasantly religious ... but theologically, speaking as a Presbyterian, isn’t every day a blessed day?

That is, isn’t God’s hand upon us, God’s love all around us ... even when we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death ... and the skies are dark, and the rain is cold, and life has turned to shit, as it sometimes does?

I mean, when David is fleeing Saul, Elijah is running for his life and Jesus hangs on the cross?

The Biblical writers are clear - for weal and for woe, in thick and thin, in sick and sin ... God is there, and God’s love is at work in ALL things for good ... surely for those who “love” God, and for everyone else, too, because everyone is connected, and those who “love” God are connected to those who aren’t too sure about it, and those who aren’t too sure are connected to those who want nothing to do with it, and it’s all mixed up, even for those who “love God,” and God’s work is universal, in all, for all, and with all, 24/7.

I have a “blessed” day every day ... whether I know it or not, whether I’m delighted in God’s hand upon my life or thinking that the “weight of glory” might be better served if it were on someone else’s shoulder.

Might it not be better to say, “Your day is blessed, whether you know it or not, even when it’s raining and shit is happening.” Well, maybe, eliminate the fecal-reference, as to not offend the sensibilities of the more piously inclined.

I’d rather someone say, “Have a nice day,” or even “Good Luck!” (which I’m not inclined to say, since it’s a world of faith and not fates in which I live ... wherein love, God’s love, surely not my feeble effort at love, determines things, not luck, or the throw of a die, or the success of a trite christian mantra.

Anyway, it’s slightly irritating, and seems to be “christian code,” ... and I don’t like christian code ... things that play around with God, with how it’s all going, and maybe we can tweak the Ol’ Boy’s nose and get some favor.

I mean, if my day isn’t blessed, what is it?

What’s the alternative?

May your day go to hell in a handbasket because God is pissed at you?

May your craven worldliness be struck down by the wrath of God, so that you’ll turn your life around and come to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth ... and then you’ll be blessed?

Or maybe just say, “You better watch out, and if you don’t, you’ll go to hell.” Which might well be a whole lot more honest for those who trade in the blessings of god and believe they have the upper hand in such things.

Or maybe just say: Cordially, and be done with it.

Or maybe add, God’s Peace, if a “religious” note seems appropriate ... as a simple declaration of a universal constant.

Cordially, and God’s Peace.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pastoral Prayer, January 31, 2016

On the occasion of Merton's 101st birthday ...

For Thomas Merton, O God.
We give thanks …
A keen mind, a fervent heart.
Probing the mysteries of life and faith.
Daring to go the limit … pushing the envelope … 

How you led him, O LORD, with your kindly hand:
From an uncertain childhood to Columbia University to a sojourn at the Monastery of Gethsemane … and then your call to the monastic life - behind the walls of a monastery, a place of Trappist silence, worship and study … a life of engagement with you, O God, and with your world … 

We give thanks for Merton’s wit and wisdom, his foibles and his faith … and how your love, dear God, held him and compelled him … and by that same love, Holy God, we’re all held and compelled, to reach higher and deeper and wider, think beyond the boundaries, cross strange bridges … to seek your glory and to give ourselves unto great things, and small things, too - in the whiteness of washed pocket handkerchief or the kindness of a smile, O LORD our God … in the small and in the great, in the mundane and the sublime, we find you, O God, finding us!

And for the rain today, dear God,
And for the snow in the Sierras,

Our Thanksgiving. Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Invocation, January 24, 2016

First Congregational Church of Los Angeles


And so the clock continues to tick, O God …
And the days come upon us, quickly.
And move on, they go … in a mysterious procession …
Of time and eternity.

We are what we are, dear God.
Dust and wind.
And grateful servants of Christ.

In whom our dust and our wind find their fulfillment …
Their glory,
Their hope and comfort.

Even as our days move swiftly on.
It’s in your company, we travel.

You are the companion of our souls.
The Good Shepherd of our days. 
The Alpha and the Omega.
The beginning and the End. 

And to you, we belong. Amen!

Pastoral Prayer, January 24, 2016

First Congregational Church of Los Angeles

Pastoral Prayer

O LORD, our God:
The news of the day comes against us like a harsh wind out of the North … courage fails us … and we know not what to think or how to act.

Yet, here we are, O God, because we believe in the victory of better things … we believe love prevails, kindness wins; we believe justice and peace are part and parcel of the fabric of creation … we believe worship adds to the world’s wellbeing … and we believe in prayer.

So we pray for the leaders of the world - may they resist the temptations of saber-rattling and war … may they be devoted to the high arts of diplomacy and the disciplines of compromise … may they reach for the greater glory of life … bridges of understanding … people to accept one another … honor divergent cultures, celebrate religious diversity.

And may religious leaders be thoroughly disciplined by the demands of love … to proclaim welcome and justice, humility and virtue … to resist the dark side of religion, and to embrace the light … to do your will, and to become people of good will … devoted all the more to non-violence and the ways of love.

Of our nation, O God - America the Beautiful, from sea to shining sea, we are a great power; but temper our thoughts with humility and kindness … lest we be deluded and betrayed by our very own strength … and for our Founders we give thanks; for their vision of a new land and a new world order, wherein all are created equal, and all possess the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

O LORD our God, toward these high and lofty ends:
We pray for our President and Vice President and their families.
We pray for Congress, and the judiciary.
We pray for governors, mayors and county clerks.

And for us here, O God, in this place, the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles … with gratitude for our story, and a promise for tomorrow, we seek the love of Christ in all that we are, and for all that we hope to be … in the name of our LORD Jesus Christ we pray. Amen!