Altar Tables: Baptismal Reaffirmation and Holy Communion

In worship we encounter God through proclamation, hymnody, and fellowship.  But the encounter reaches its climax in the sacraments.  In baptism we experience living faith as the sign of initiation.  In Eucharist we experience living faith as the sign of continuation.  The Water of birth, followed by the Bread and Wine of life.- Steve Harper

The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church had their annual meeting recently. Every year representatives from across Florida gather for worship, workshops and the necessary organizational business. I bet you aren’t surprise to discover worship is my favorite part.

Ever year includes many worship services, but I was especially moved this year by the service where we had a chance to reaffirm our baptismal vows and the service of Holy Communion. So many elements came together to awaken us to God’s presence, including the altar tables. I was thrilled to receive permission to share pictures of them on the blog.

Both altarscapes were completed by Mr. Timothy Rounsaville, the Director of Worship Arts at Reeves Memorial United Methodist Church, Orlando Florida.

baptismal reaffirmation service altar tableFor the baptism scape he wanted to play with different flowy and multi-dimensional fabrics to represent water and how light is in them, catches them, how the wind moves them, and how the water flows in numerous directions. I thought his use of plastic wrap was really clever. The light caught it in beautiful ways, like flowing water. It was especially effective from a distance.

communion service altar table AC 2013For the communion scape he wanted it very organic, rustic, arid, and almost harsh with the use of burlap and dried wheat, driftwood, suede and leader. He wanted the burlap for it’s reference to sackcloth – how we come repentant to the altar to receive and leave a changed individual. Wow! I appreciate his vision for emphasizing the beauty and differences of each sacrament.

How are you preaching God’s Word visually in your worship services?

Worship Resource: Take My Life

Horsing Around by David Pasillas

Horsing Around by David Pasillas

This worship resource was inspired by a sermon on Jesus’ blessing in Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

When we hear the word meek, we tend to think timid, passive, wimp, doormat. In Jesus’ day, the word he uses for meek actually refers to a powerful, wild animal who is now trained for work. Think of a stallion and rider, a mighty force of perfect collaboration and unity. A meek person is one who follows Jesus in a disciplined way in order to join Jesus in his saving work. Thus meek means strength under authority, power under discipline, a teachable spirit desiring God’s greater good. – Lisa <><

Worship Resource: Take My Life
ALL SINGING
Traditional Setting: Take My Life, and Let It Be
United Methodist Hymnal #399, verses 1 and 2

Contemporary Setting: Take My Life
Arranged by Chris Tomlin (CCLI #4162843)
Verses 1, 2 and chorus

Instrumental music continues under the scripture reading.

VOICE ONE: Psalm 25:4-5 NIV
Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths;
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
For you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

VOICE TWO: Psalm 25:6-7 NIV
Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love,
For they are from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
According to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.

VOICE ONE: Psalm 25:8-9 NIV
Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

ALL SINGING
Traditional Setting: Take My Life, and Let It Be
United Methodist Hymnal #399, verse 3

Contemporary Setting: Take My Life
arranged by Chris Tomlin (CCLI #4162843)
Verses 3 and chorus

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Be sure to check out the beautiful photography of today’s featured artist David Pasillas at his blog iPhone Photographer. You will also find him on Facebook.

Worship Resource: Take My Life compilation © 2013 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia.
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

For more information on the art, scripture translation and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Being Present to God

If you know the name of this work or its creator, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

If you know the name of this work or its creator, please let me know so I may give proper credit.

Psalm 46:10 NRSV
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.

Honestly, I think I did feel God’s presence more clearly in Costa Rica. But it’s not because He was more present, it’s because I was paying more attention. I was lonely, scared, and anxious, and totally dependent on God to sustain me. So I looked for Him everywhere. – Jamie Wright, The Perfect Shade of Greige

If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace. In that stillness you will know what His will is. -Amy Carmichael

If I did not simply live from one moment to the next, it would be impossible for me to keep my patience. I can see only the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to think about the future. We get discouraged and feel despair because we brood about the past and future. It is such folly to pass one’s time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus. – Théresè of Lisieux, quoted in A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People by Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck

It is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment,” that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is. When you can be present, you will know the Real Presence. I promise you this is true…. Presence is the one thing necessary for wisdom, and in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all. Just try to keep (1) your heart space open, (2) your mind without division or resistance, and (3) your body not somewhere else—and all at the same time! Most religions just decided it was easier to believe doctrines and obey often arbitrary laws than the truly converting work of being present. Those who can be present will know what they need to know, and in a wisdom way.
Richard Rohr, The  Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See

What would my life be like if I just stopped praying altogether? I mean, what if God promised me that things would stay the same regardless of whether I prayed or not: would I still continue to pray? That’s a hard question. But I’ve thought about it because on a whole other level I’m a little curious about why some of us feel compelled to pray, even when our scales of belief are tipped toward the negative. But even with a sporadic prayer life, I can’t imagine a life without prayer, without some effort to reach for God with all the cares and worries I drag with me wherever I go, and without some effort to invite God to speak to me in the times when I am sensible enough to just be quiet. Plus there’s a side of me that doesn’t really know how to express my love for God without prayer in my life. I’m not sure when or how I started feeling this way, but somewhere along the line, I’ve discovered that when I do pray, I am reminded of who God is and who I am. It’s hard to pray for anything without at some point naming God as one who is capable of all things. – Enuma Okoro, Reluctant Pilgrim

Exodus 33:12-14 NIV
Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian. ― Brennan Manning 

The spiritual life is a journey to the center, the center in which we come in touch with the pain of God as well as with the love of God, the pain of our world as well as the hope for our world, the pains of our own lives as well as the light that breaks into our darkness. It is a journey in which we resist the many distractions that pull us away from the center with an endless number of things that quite literally “occupy” us. And it is a journey of prayer in which we stand in the presence of God with a listening heart.
– Henri J.M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming

Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

The closer we wish to come to God, the more of our carefully constructed selves we must relinquish. We have to give up our illusions, our defenses, any selfish personal goals, our carefully designed sense of who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do. This sounds terrible, and it can be painful. However, as we give up these areas, we open ourselves, and God enters more fully.
– Sarah Parsons, A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent

The Word is God knowing us deeply. God’s Word is the act of paying attention, more like listening than speaking. The Word of God is a presence—indeed, a person— who knows you, who understands what moves you, who feels your reality form within you…
– For the rest of Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ powerful post, Piercing Word, click here

For a prayer by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled You Are Here, click here

Extended quote by Steve Harper from a blog post entitled See God in All Things.
I especially appreciate how Harper quotes so many well know Christians to remind us that God’s presence is a long standing Christian belief. – Lisa <><

We call God “sustainer.” That means there is not a split second or square inch where God is not present and active. Discernment is learning to look for God in every moment and every event of our lives.

In the Christian tradition this is called “ordinary holiness.” Jean-Pierre de Caussade called it “the sacrament of the present moment.” Oswald Chambers put it this way, “One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is revealed” (My Utmost for His Highest, February 7).

One of our best examples is St. Francis of Assisi, who expanded the vision of God beyond the monastery, convent, academy, and cathedral—and helped Christianity see God in Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

John Muir did similarly as he discovered the wonder of nature in lands “out West” that (thanks to his untiring advocacy) became National Parks. A Christian himself, Muir believed “God’s Cathedral” always surpassed human cathedrals.

Discernment means being on the lookout for God all the time and everywhere. As John Wesley said (borrowing from the Puritan tradition), “Every moment is a God moment.”

John 15:9 NRSV
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”

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For more information on use of the scripture, art and this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page

Prayer: Equity for Workers

Garments Factory in Bangladesh, photo by Fahad Faisal via Wikimedia Commons

Garments Factory in Bangladesh, photo by Fahad Faisal via Wikimedia Commons

This prayer comes in the light of the Bangladesh garment factory building collapse.

James 5:1-5 CEB
Pay attention, you wealthy people! Weep and moan over the miseries coming upon you. Your riches have rotted. Moths have destroyed your clothes. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you. It will eat your flesh like fire. Consider the treasure you have hoarded in the last days. Listen! Hear the cries of the wages of your field hands. These are the wages you stole from those who harvested your fields. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of heavenly forces. You have lived a self-satisfying life on this earth, a life of luxury. You have stuffed your hearts in preparation for the day of slaughter.

Mighty One
In your justice
In your mercy
bring equity to workers across your world
break the rod of oppressive business practices
free us from our addiction to low cost goods
raise up those who work in danger and discrimination
those who toil in the dirt, heat, and filth
those who care for the vulnerable
those who put clothes on our backs
food on our tables
roofs over our heads

Carpenter of Nazareth
You hear their cries and so do we
Fill us with courage and conviction
Make us instruments of your peace
your justice
your mercy
Amen

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Click here for a worship resource entitled Prayer for Labor Day

Prayer: Equity for Workers © 2013 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia.
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

For more information on the art, scripture translation and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

The Widow Meets the Lord of Compassion (Luke 7)

Christ Raising the Dead by Louisa Anne, Marchioness of Waterford 1818-1891

Christ Raising the Dead, a watercolor by Louisa Anne, Marchioness of Waterford

Luke 7:11-16 NIV
Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.”

Compassion lies at the heart of the authentic Christ-following life. Any spiritual experience – whether it be one of solitude and silence, prayer and fasting, or worship and celebration – that does not result in a deeper concern for our suffering neighbors can hardly be called Christian. The critical test of relationship with the Holy One always involves the quality of our love for those around us. If our communion with God isolates us from the painful realities of our world, inoculates us into an excessive preoccupation with our own well-being, it must be considered suspect. If, on the other hand, it finds expression in greater compassion and a willingness to show care, then it passes the test for genuineness. – Trevor Hudson, A Mile in My Shoes: Cultivating Compassion

The cultivation of compassion is really a process of recovery – of retrieving an inherent capacity that has become, either in the moment or over time, buried and obscured. Jesus’ knowledge, which is grounded in the Hebrew scriptures, tells him that each person is created in the image of God – a God of infinite and extravagant compassion. (See Genesis 1:27; Exodus 34:6.) This image dwells unmarred within each soul. As such, we know how to care. We are wired for connection. We are born to love and to be loved. In truth, our deepest core is naturally compassionate. This compassionate core is our true self – our true face. We are most fully human when we live from this essence. We are most fully our true selves when we love. – Frank Rogers Jr, Compassion in Practice

Jesus disclosed that God is compassionate. Jesus spoke of God that way: “Be compassionate, as God is compassionate.” (Luke 6:36) Compassion is the primary quality of the central figures in two of his most famous parables: the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). And Jesus himself, as a manifestation of the sacred, is often spoken of as embodying compassion.
Marcus J. Borg, The God We Never Knew, Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith

Excerpt of a prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber based on this scripture
Lord of Compassion, who saw the Widow of Nain, we thank you for seeing us.
Seeing our loneliness and our bravery.
Seeing the times we can’t say what we need to.
Seeing the ones who suffer in silence.
Seeing the moments when we are more than we thought we could be.
Seeing what no one else can or will.

We praise you for seeing as beautiful what we call ugly
and that in your compassion you wipe away all tears.

Reach out once again and wipe our tears and raise us Lord of compassion.
Touch us as you did the wood on which the widow’s son lay dead
and speak those same words to us:
Young man arise.
Little girl, get up.

  • To those who think they are not worthy to be loved
    and medicate themselves with food and booze and shopping, say “rise up”.
  • To us who have been hurt by those who say they follow you say “rise up”.
  • To the proud at heart who think they are not dead say “rise up”.
  • To the ones who care for the least of these and who feel too burnt out to keep going, say “rise up”.
  • To we who are holding onto resentments like our own personal security blankets say “rise up”.
  • To those who hide their failings behind good works say “rise up”.
  • To the unloved child who has no idea that one day they will change the world say “rise up”.
  • To the one who has given up say “rise up”

And when again Lord of Compassion, you have raised the dead…
when again you have made whole that which is broken,
when again you have ripped out my heart of stone
and replaced it with a heart of flesh,
when again you have reached into the graves we dig ourselves
and loved us back to life…

help us, like the young man of Nain to sit up and speak.
Give us the words that are not empty praise or platitudes of piety,
but give us strong words,
as real as the very soil from which you raised us.
Give us the words to speak of you.
And then, as you did the son to his mother, give us one to another.
That when we speak others may hear
and know that you are without question
and without end
the Lord of all Compassion.
AMEN.

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I am grateful for the preaching ministry of Nadia Bolz-Weber. The raw honesty and beauty of her posts inspire and challenge me every time I read them. Click here to go to her blog, Sarcastic Lutheran: the cranky spirituality of a post-modern gal.

Nadia Bolz-Weber holds the copy write to this prayer, including this excerpt.