Church as Communion of Saints, Cloud of Witnesses

cloud-of-witnesses

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Hebrews 11:32-12:2 NRSV
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

The saint is precisely one who has no “I” to protect or project. His or her “I” is in conscious union with the “I AM” of God, and that is more than enough. Divine union overrides any need for self-hatred or self-promotion. Such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway, so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try above all else to be loving. – Richard Rohr

Saints do not possess an extra layer of muscle. They are not taller, and they do not sport superior IQs. They are not richer, and their parents are not more clever than yours or mine. They have no bat-like perception that enables them to fly in the dark. They are flesh and blood, just like you and me, no stronger, no more intelligent. And that is the point. They simply offer themselves to God, knowing they are not the elite, fully cognizant that they are inadequate to the task, that their abilities are limited and fallible.
– James C. Howell, Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs

Authentic Christianity is an intensely personal matter, for the living Christ invades us at the core of our beings. But it is never a private affair just between us and God. The broader Christian community provides the means of support to stay on the road and the corrective against going down our own paths of self-obsession and sometimes self-destruction. – Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life

Loving the Church often seems close to impossible. Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church – whether powerful or powerless, conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic – belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared. When we remember that, we may be able to say, “I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it….Loving the Church is our sacred duty. Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace. And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it. – Henri Nouwen

What we celebrate when we celebrate All Saints is not the superhuman faith and power of a select few but is God’s ability to use flawed people to do divine things. We celebrate all on whom God has acted in baptism, sealing them, as Ephesians says, with the mark of the promised Holy Spirit. We celebrate the fact that God creates faith in God’s people, and those people through ordinary acts of love, bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth. We celebrate that we have, in all who’ve gone before us, what St Paul calls such a great cloud of witnesses and that the faithful departed are as much the body of Christ as we are.
Nadia Bolz Weber, Sermon for All Saints Sunday: Small Acts of Love

Every now and then, something special happened, and my children asked questions about the saints and their work. We talked about racism and slavery in the United States when we remembered Absalom Jones and later Frederick Douglass. We talked about how sometimes people are killed for what they believe and for standing up for the poor and the oppressed when we remembered Polycarp. We talked about standing up for oneself and for others, even when the powerful disagree with you, when we remembered Martin Luther. We talked about poets, and teachers, and priests, and prophets modern and ancient. We talked about the women and men who lived holy lives. We learned about Christianity together, not through repetition of doctrine or theology or Christology but through seeing it in practice by people like us, our brothers and sisters in faith from all over the world. – David Henson, The Patron Saint of Poop: How My Kids Fell in Love with the Saints

You are witnesses of these things by Lena Warren
… Witnesses.
That’s an interesting designation.
a witness sees something, experiences something.

It’s kind of a passive thing, being a witness.
Something happens and you simply observe it. And that makes you a witness

Yet, we don’t tend to leave it like that.
We tend to think of one being a witness as someone who
is compelled to speak about the witnessing
and more than compelled to speak
to testify
to make claims
to have had the experience of simply observing change one’s life.

Witnesses.

The Greek word for witness is the same root word from which we get martyr.

One whose life bears witness
One whose life is changed by witnessing
and whose life is given to witnessing.

You are witnesses…

It’s as much a promise – of transformation that we have simply in seeing God at work

as it is an obligation
a call, a command,
a need placed on our hearts
first of all, to just simply notice what is happening
and then
to tell SOMEBODY what we’ve seen
what has changed us
what has made us new.
witnesses.

You are witnesses…

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

Release and Rest, a Prayer for the Stressed

swan sheltering chick under wings

For yourself…
Merciful God,
our Peace and our Hope
Shelter me, your beloved, beneath your healing wings
Raise me to the safety of your breast
so I may hear your heart
Hold me
Hide me
Help me to release and rest
release and rest
release and rest

Offered for another…
Merciful God,
our Peace and our Hope
Shelter your beloved NAME beneath your healing wings
Raise NAME to the safety of your breast
so she may hear your heart
Hold her
Hide her
Help her to release and rest
release and rest
release and rest

Release and Rest © 2015 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.

Advent Wreath Prayers: Let in the Light

pink_candle_light_flame_hope adventFirst Sunday in Advent: HOPE
READER ONE: Let in the Light

READER TWO: Psalm 84:11-12
The Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is everyone who trusts in you.

READER ONE: Let in the Light
Light the candle of hope

ALL: The following prayer by Dimitri of Rostov or a verse or two from the song I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (United Methodist Hymnal #206)
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart with the flame of your love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there,
for you alone are my King and my Lord.
Amen.

Second Sunday in Advent: LOVE
READER ONE: Let in the Light

READER TWO: John 3:16-21
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

READER ONE: Let in the Light
Light the candles of hope and love

ALL: The following prayer by Dimitri of Rostov or a verse or two from the song I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (United Methodist Hymnal #206)
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart with the flame of your love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there,
for you alone are my King and my Lord.
Amen.

Third Sunday in Advent: JOY
READER ONE: Let in the Light

READER TWO: John 12:46, John 8:12
Jesus said, “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness… I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

READER ONE: Let in the Light
Light the candles of hope, love and joy

ALL: The following prayer by Dimitri of Rostov or a verse or two from the song I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (United Methodist Hymnal #206)
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart with the flame of your love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there,
for you alone are my King and my Lord.
Amen.

Fourth Sunday in Advent: PEACE
READER ONE: Let in the Light

READER TWO: 1 Peter 2:9-11
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.

READER ONE: Let in the Light
Light the candles of hope, love, joy and peace

ALL: The following prayer by Dimitri of Rostov or a verse or two from the song I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (United Methodist Hymnal #206)
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart with the flame of your love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there,
for you alone are my King and my Lord.
Amen.

Christmas Eve
Part One, at or near the beginning of the service
READER ONE: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.

An Advent candle is lit as each name for the Messiah is read:
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

ALL: Prayer by Dimitri of Rostov 
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart with the flame of your love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there,
for you alone are my King and my Lord.
Amen.

Part Two, at the end of the service
READER ONE OR PASTOR
For weeks we’ve been lighting more and more candles on this wreath in preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Tonight we light the final candle, for Jesus, the Light of the World, has come. God has kept the prophetic promise:

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

ONE SINGING
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
United Methodist Hymnal #206, verse 1
Light the Christ Candle during the song

READER ONE OR PASTOR
It’s now our turn. Accept the Light, share Him with others, and carry His peace forth from this place.

The light is passed from person to person as all sing Silent Night (United Methodist Hymnal #239). At the close of Silent Night, sing the following a cappella
Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday dear Jesus
Happy Birthday to You

Follow this with the closing Benediction and/or Postlude

Christmas Day or the Sunday after Christmas
READER ONE: Let in the Light

READER TWO: John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

READER ONE: Let in the Light
Light the Christ candle

ALL: The following prayer by Dimitri of Rostov or a verse or two from the song I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (United Methodist Hymnal #206)
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart with the flame of your love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there,
for you alone are my King and my Lord.
Amen.

Epiphany or the Sunday before Epiphany
READER ONE: Let in the Light

READER TWO: Matthew 2:1-2
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

READER ONE: Let in the Light
Light the Christ Candle

ALL: The following prayer by Dimitri of Rostov or a verse or two from the song I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light (United Methodist Hymnal #206)
Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life, and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart with the flame of your love.
Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there,
for you alone are my King and my Lord.
Amen.

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This worship resource emphasizes the classic Advent candle symbols of hope, love, joy and peace. Since the scriptures center on the theme of light, this resource may be used in any liturgical year. The passages come from the NIV or NRSV of the Bible.

This worship resource calls for “more and more candles” to be lit each Sunday of Advent in order to emphasize “more and more light”. (The present and second coming of Christ growing more near as time passes. The celebration of Christ’s first coming at Christmas growing nearer as well). Thus, no candles are lit prior to the service. Some prefer to have the previous weeks’ candles lit prior to the service so only one candle is lit each week, thus adding light to those already lit. Feel free to use whichever method you prefer. Also, feel free to substitute a different prayer or song choice for the congregation at the end of each reading.

You’ll notice only the Christ candle is lit during the season of Christmas, December 25 – January 5. (12 days of Christmas) Some Christians extend this season to January 11, ending it with a celebration of Jesus’ baptism.

Click here for a post discussing the Christian understanding of Advent.
Click here for a brief history of the Advent Wreath.

Advent Wreath Prayers: Let in the Light © 2015 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.

Call to Worship: Way, Truth, Life

way truth life 900xONE:
A day full of promise
full of hope
full of purpose
from One who is Way, Truth, and Life

ALL:
Thanks be to God!

ONE:
A day full of compassion
full of generosity
full of peacemaking
from One who is Way, Truth, and Life

ALL:
Thanks be to God!

ONE:
A day full of healing
full of grace
full of blessing
from One who is Way, Truth, and Life

ALL:
Thanks be to God!
Hallelujah! Thanks be to God!

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Call to Worship: Way, Truth, Life © 2015 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.

Jesus, The Hen: when it’s time to weep

Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden

Detail from Descent from the Cross by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden

Matthew 23:27; Luke 13:34 NRSV
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Extended quote by Barbara Brown Taylor from The Christian Century (2/25/86)
If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world –wings spread, breast exposed –but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. …

… Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen, who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first; which he does, as it turns out. He slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter.

She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her — wings spread, breast exposed — without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart . . . but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.

Extended quote by Jim Harnish from It’s Enough to Make You Cry
Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.

It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)

Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)

We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.

We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.

We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.

And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.

With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said: “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)

I’d probably not choose the desert. I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.

Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)

I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson. I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist. Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God. Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.

Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.

The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.

Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.

Click here for a deep reflection and call to lament by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled For the Hurt of my People.

Click here for a thoughtful reflecting on the question of suffering by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled Suffering.

In Christian symbolism Jerusalem is everyplace and the ultimate place. Jerusalem is the conflicted city within our hearts and the hoped for heavenly city of promise. Jerusalem is Earth herself. We lament over the world and our continual warfare and our ongoing destruction of land and seas and air. We are the holy place that kills prophets, healers, sages and innocents in the complex chaos of our passions.
– Suzanne Guthrie, Lament Over Jerusalem

The tears which flow from our eyes from time to time are illustrations of the tears which Jesus shed as he looked down upon Jerusalem and lamented, “How often I would have gathered you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not”. They are signs of the pain in God’s heart when even one sheep goes astray. Tears are an acknowledgement of the Fall, but as they flow from a truly-repentant heart, they are also the first signs of hope. The dam of sinful resistance has collapsed and the Water of Life can now flow. – Steve Harper, The Water of Repentance

Prayer: End the Madness by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Hear our cry!
Head our plea!
Hate compounds
Death surrounds
Evil abounds

Relief supplies rotting on docks
Vaccines waiting on shelves
The unsuspecting shot down
Abortions of convenience
The faithful persecuted
Riots in the streets
Human trafficking
Suicide bombers
Genocide
War

End our madness
Deliver us from bloodshed
Deliver us from us

Come quickly
Come in power
Your power, not ours
Rescue your beloved
Lord, where else can we go?

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