Gathering Prayer for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

You, who summon us from the depths of human struggle and into the bright light of day, we extol your name.   Clinging to lifelong patterns of hiding our insufficiency, our gnawing inadequacy, and darkest shame,  You, in Your Mercy, You in Your Glory, summon us to stand in the light of day.    Who would have ever guessed that boasting of the very things that terrify us – could be the means of your saving grace?    Who would have believed it is that which torments us and not our obvious strengths that lead to the perfection of your power?

God of Amazing Grace, whose grace is sufficient and whose power is perfected even in the likes of us, we implore you to open our hearts and minds to hear your unwavering Words of promise.    And giving thanks that you continue to walk alongside us even in the worst of times, let us pray as Jesus taught us saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

 

 

Gathering Prayer for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 5:21-43

Gathering Prayer: You who take us from the shores of Galilee to the byways, zoom sessions, and the post-vaccinated sphere of common life, we praise your name.   Though relying heavily on electronic communication and physically separated from loved ones these past sixteen months, You, in your majesty, You, in your glory, invite us to stand in the light of your countenance.   Even when overcome by the darkness and uncertainty of it all, You, in your audacious love assure us, saying, “Do not fear,” and “Go in Peace”

God of all Solidarity, during this worship hour, we beseech you to open our hearts and minds to hear your word of restoration and hope, so that by your grace, we may be empowered to live out a new story.

Giving thanks that You staunchly refuse to give up on us, let us pray as Jesus taught us saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

When You’re Summoned to Write to Your Representative(s)

Dear Readers and Friends:

In response to the humanitarian and environmental crisis that continues to unfold in occupied Palestine and the egregious loss of lives on both sides, I’ve written to representatives concerning the passage of HR 2590.   It is a bill to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.   I would encourage you to consider reaching out to your representatives as well.   A copy of the letter is below:

May 19, 2021

The Honorable Senator…(followed by address)

RE: H.R. 2590 A Bill to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and to ensure that US taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detentions of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.

 Dear Senator…,

My name is Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle.  Ordained in the United Church of Christ,  I am an Environmental Justice advocate whose work includes challenging the systemic impact of unjust and predatory practices directed against communities of color, indigenous, and other vulnerable populations.  In particular, the occupation and aggression against Palestine and Palestinians in favor of illegal Israeli settlements, has devastated the already limited water supply, uprooted established agriculture, accelerated soil erosion, and has increased toxic waste and dumping.

I support this bill for the following reasons:

1) As we strive to reposition ourselves as a world leader in terms of humanitarian rights, holding the Government of Israel or any nation that benefits from US taxpayer funding accountable, is paramount: Humanitarian Rights at the Center of Current US Policy

2) Along these same humanitarian lines, the displacement of Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlements, violates international law: Violation of International Law.

3) The continued occupation and aggression against the Palestinian peoples including the illegal seizure of their property, has devastated arable land, led to the depletion of water resources and increased toxic waste and dumping: Environmental Degradation of Land Due to Occupation

On a personal note, I saw this flagrant violation of the land and its people firsthand when visiting Palestine several years ago.    Traveling with a seminary delegation, we stayed overnight with Palestinian families in occupied Bethlehem, toured a Palestinian farm whose lush olive trees were later uprooted by Israeli soldiers, and met advocates who against overwhelming odds sought to provide a measure of protection and well-being for their communities.   Throughout our visit, the barrier that cut deep into Palestinian-occupied territory loomed large.  Still, through it all, I observed an unparalleled commitment to human dignity, was afforded generous hospitality, and experienced a quality of kindness that touched me deeply.

As a minister, advocate, and constituent, I urge you to support the passage of this bill.   Given the current escalation of violence in this region, I believe this bill addresses some of the root causes behind it.   As your constituent, I would appreciate knowing where you stand, relative to this issue and in particular, this bill.

Thank you, Senator…, in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle, (followed by your address)

 

 

Earth Day and the Spring Song of Justice

Commemorating the 51st anniversary of Earth Day while speaking to the “spring song” of justice long-denied for those in the black community, a poem by the late African-American poet, Langston Hughes.  Given the events of this past week, his words are timely.
               An Earth Song 
            It’s an earth song,
                    And I’ve been waiting long for an earth song.
                  It’s a spring song,
                     And I’ve been waiting long for a spring song.
                        Strong as the shoots of a new plant
                        Strong as the bursting of new bud
                        Strong as the coming of the first child from its mother’s womb.
                  It’s an earth song,
                     A body song,
                     A spring song,
                    I have been waiting long for this spring song.

Changing God’s Mind

 

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 “When God saw that the people had changed, how they turned from their destructive ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that would be brought upon them.”   Jonah 3:10

How often does God change God’s mind?

The story of Jonah is recorded not as an account but parable.   Here, a prophet called, Jonah, after emerging from the “belly of a whale” astonishingly succeeds.  Cut to the heart by the prophet’s warning, the entire city mends its ways.   When seeing that the people had turned from their evil ways, God changes his mind and spares the city.

But what if God wasn’t poised to destroy the city of Nineveh?  What if Nineveh, like the fall of the Roman empire or the rampant deforestation leading to the collapse of Easter Island and Norse Greenland, were well on their way to destroying themselves?  What if the figure of God in this parable and elsewhere, isn’t bent on bringing about the destruction of whole civilizations as much as trying to get our attention – using prophets like Jonah  – before it is too late?

Prayer: God of the Whale and the Dolphin, who broods over the waters of the deep, in your steadfast love summon us to make amends for the harm we have committed against each other and this planet we call home.   Teach us to turn from the violence that readily insinuates itself into every corner of human life.   Quell our voracious appetite for hoarding, while abolishing the meanness that festers and the parsimony that corrupts.

 In your mercy, transform us by thy grace.  So that you can change your mind about us, once more.  Amen.

 

 

Stepping into the Woods

 

Stepping into the woods and down a narrow path of gnarled branches on both sides, within the span of a heartbeat I entered nature’s womb.   Sometimes straight, other times the trail would veer off and curve into an unbidden direction.   Though not sure what lay ahead nevertheless I walked on, held fast by its raw but tender embrace.

Wrote the psalmist, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” [2]  Though heavy-laden with grief, the tightly knit trees, and forest floor held fast incarnating the Spirit’s embrace.    Lovingly hemmed in from all sides, the sweet caress of your hand was upon me and this sojourner felt secure once more.

Creation’s Glory, be upon us this day and those ahead, we pray.   Lay your hand upon us, and smooth our furrowed brows.    Through your incarnation, surround and sustain our broken hearts, so that we may be strengthened for the work that lies before us.    For just as the path before us is uncertain, hem us in from all sides – so that whatever we say or do – will illuminate your mercy, justice, and steadfast love.  We ask all this in Christ’s name.  Amen.

[1] Photo image by Barry McArdle, Fells Reservation

[2] from Psalm 139:5

Epiphany is no stranger to Herod’s Shadow

 

“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the foreign kings and ambassadors left for their own country by another road.” Matthew 2:12
Of all the dimensions of human experience, some of the most compelling are dreams.   While Herod was compelled to grant three distant Persian kings audience while they sought a newborn child (and even feign interest in seeking him out as well), to their credit the Magi were not fooled.  Perhaps they are best remembered for not only seeking and paying homage to the Christ Child but paying heed to the ominous signs before them.
Writes minister and blogger, Ken Sehested, “By now you may have noticed the odd coincidence of today, Wednesday, January 6th being the date of Epiphany AND the Electoral College Presidental Tally.   [Usually, a proforma ceremony, opposition fueled by the current president is challenging the states’ votes.]” [1]  But then, Epiphany reminds us that blind ambition, feigned motives, and deadly violence are not remnants of a distant past but like Herod, continue to cast their ominous shadow.
Resisting all attempts to sentimentalize this narrative, Epiphany asks, ‘Like those travelers of long ago, will we pay attention to the signs before us?   Will we, like those ancient travelers, risk returning by another way?”

[1] Ken Sehested  www.prayerandpolitiks.org

Morning Star Rising

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“…You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19

You, the lamp that shines in a dark place.  You, the morning star that rises in our hearts.   You, who awakens us, having spoken through prophets of old and your people in this time and place.

Yet faced with the trepidation of yet more chaos, we acknowledge our anxiety and fear.  Unable to hear you above the cacophony of divisive and egocentric speech, we resort to apathy or downright cynicism.  For while there was a time we dwelt securely, we find ourselves at the whim of those who are ruled not by conscience but the unconscionable.

But it is not just darkness that overwhelms us.  Unable to make out even the faintest glimmer of your distant star, we see no future canopy to guide us.  Overcome and in despair, we stumble.  O Divine Maker, what will become of us?

But you – you in your creative power, you in your mercy, you in your paradoxical vulnerability – have not left us without recourse.   Formed in your image and likeness, you do not abandon us, but equip your servants to disempower the diabolical forces that threaten humanity and all creation.

So summon us, we implore you, Sovereign God.    Issue your authoritative warrant, the one we cannot ignore.  Wake us up from stupefying slumber so that we, with eyes wide open, may serve you all the days of our life.  We ask this in the name of the One who was, and is, and is to be.  Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A prayer of lament

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Holy One, you audaciously call us the “salt of the earth,” but who can hear you above the deafening roar of retaliation and mayhem?   You say that your followers are “the light of the world,” but what do you make of us, we who stumble in the darkness of despair?   You insist that “our light shines before others, so that they may see our good works and given glory to God in heaven,” but what if our efforts are insignificant when compared to the degradation and injustice that confronts us?

O Lord, in the face of suffering across our planet and this land now veiled in darkness, can you even hear the cries of your people?    Do you perceive the injustice committed in your name?   Are you aware of the cruelty committed against all your creation, but nevertheless justified by those who pervert your Word?

Yet you have promised that we are your children and will not forsake us – even to the end of our days.   You have sworn to be faithful, even when we have abandoned you.    You have suffused us with grace, so that we may set our sights on your hope once more.

Could it be when even a single voice is raised in opposition to wholesale complicity, it becomes salt for those weary of fabrication and incivility?   What if acts of kindness, however seemingly remote in the face of cruelty, become the illumination that lifts up the discouraged and disheartened?   Imagine if even the seemingly little that we strive to do becomes yeast, expanding the possibilities of what had seemed unlikely at best?

Hear our prayer, Divine Maker.   In your mercy, heed the distress of those who suffer – human and creature alike.   Hear the cry of those who despair of waiting in vain.    In these weary times, cover us with thy grace.  Come and come quickly, we pray.    Amen.

 

Called by name: a recollection of baptism

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43:5 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth–everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43:6-7

    A year and a half ago, overcoming breast cancer consumed me.   Though the tumor was discovered early – its aggressiveness meant undergoing chemotherapy in addition to surgery and radiation.    Recalling the ordeal and how sick one can get during treatment, the passage from Isaiah 43’s theme of exiles came to mind, “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up,’ and to the south, ‘Do not withhold…”

How I longed to be released from the exile of illness and returned to the land of the living.

Throughout scripture, the Sovereign’s mandate bodes with nothing less than the full emancipation of God’s people.    Nor are God’s people summoned out of darkness nameless.   To be called by Jahweh’s name jettisons us out of categories long claimed by mortals.     Whatever our life’s circumstances, we were created for the Sovereign’s glory.

When a child is to be baptized, the officiant standing before the parents, asks, “What is the Christian name of this child?”

Note that the officiant doesn’t ask merely for the child’s name – be it Marie, Benjamin, Cynthia, or Andrew.   Whatever name is to be given to the child, it is not just prefaced but profoundly altered by the addition of the word, Christian.    Looking at its Greek equivalent, the name, Christian or Christianos, literally means “a follower of Christ.”

You and I belong to God-in-Christ.  No matter how long or brief our lifespan, the losses we’ve suffered, the deep-seated regrets we’ve shouldered, the assaults incurred, and the failures endured, the marvelous mystery is this: you and I remain faithfully known and irrevocably claimed by God.

And this is Good News…