Prayer on the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery

pillar candle near clear glass window

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

We light this candle for Ahmaud Arbery
For his family
For those who know him and love him
For those who murdered him

We light this candle
For all who feel unsafe in their own homes
in their own neighborhoods
in their own skin

We light this candle
For all who are followed because they’re labeled suspicious
For all who are targeted, profiled, and hunted

We light this candle
For all who mourn too many precious lives lost to discrimination and murder
For all who cry out for justice

We light this candle
For all who see themselves as more valuable, more entitled
than other people
For all who see themselves as more human, more worthy
because of their skin driven advantages

We light this candle
For all who are unaware or apathetic

God breathe and birth in us the fullness of your Shalom
Save us
Save all of us
Save us now

Save us and send us
Use our voices
Our connections
Our privilege to end our entrenched national sin of supremacy and racism

No one is Supreme but You

Grant us holy anger and humility
Grant us holy wisdom and determination to speak and act now
And to keep speaking and acting
until your truth, justice, and wholeness are known by all

Until your kingdom come, your will be done
On Earth as it is in heaven

We ask this in the name of the Father,
For this is our Father’s will
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
Son, Savior, Shalom
We ask this in the name of the Spirit,
Who leads us into this new life
Amen

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Prayer: on the murder of Ahmaud Arbery © 2020 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
by Lisa Degrenia (www.revlisad.com)
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Praying for Your City

greetings from sarasota flThe good folks at The Center for Action & Contemplation and Mile High Ministries in Denver, Colorado, have written a beautiful prayer adapted from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for a Privileged People. It’s hoped it will inspire Christians to pray for their local communities.

As per their invitation, it’s been adapted for my local community, Sarasota FL. Please feel free to adapt it for your own.  

The prayer may be read in a group with one voice reading the regular print and all voices reading the bold print or it may be prayed alone. After the prayer, please pause for silence.

May the movement of the Holy Spirit through these sacred words and silence birth in us a fresh movement of compassionate action. How fitting as we honor those who have worked for freedom, equality, and justice, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and our Jesus.
– Lisa <><

Loving God, you have set us in families and clans, in cities and neighborhoods.
Our common life began in a garden, but our destiny lies in the city.

You have placed us in Sarasota. This is our home.
Your creativity is on display here through the work of human hearts and hands.

We pray for Sarasota today—for the East Side, West Side, North, and South.
For Riverwood, Siesta Key, Pinecraft, Newtown, Palmer Ranch, and The Meadows.
We pray for our poorest neighbors and for powerful people in offices downtown. We pray for people from the ’hood and the barrio,
for seasonal “snowbirds,” college students, and the new urbanites.

We pray for Sarasota’s neighbors:
Bradenton, Osprey, Nokomis, Lakewood Ranch, Venice, Myakka, and others.
And for sister cities in Scotland, Mexico, France, Israel, Russia, China, and Switzerland —and a thousand other cities connected to our own.

In all our neighborhoods this day there will be crime and callous moneymaking;
there will be powerful people unable or unwilling to see the vulnerable who are their neighbors.
There will also be beautiful acts of compassion and creativity in all these places—forgiveness and generosity; neighbors working together for a more just community.

Help us see this place as something other than a battleground between us and them, where our imaginations are limited by win/lose propositions and endless rivalry.
Show us a deeper reality, God: Show us your playground, and invite us to play.

Like the city of your dreams, make this a city where those who were once poor enjoy the fruits of their labor;
A place where children are no longer doomed to misfortune, but play safely in the streets under the watchful eyes of caring, healthy adults;

A place where former rivals and natural enemies work and play together in peace;
And where all people enjoy communion with you.
We pray in the name of the one who wept over the city, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Time of silence

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Adapted from Beyond Our Efforts: A Celebration of Denver Peacemaking (Mile High Ministries: 2019), 251; and Walter Brueggemann, “This City . . . of God,” Prayers for a Privileged People (Abingdon Press: 2010), 157.

Sermon- Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh (Ezekiel 36)

Sermon Series Parables 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: Parables
Message 3 of 4: Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh
Scripture: Ezekiel 36:22-27
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 8/11/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Reading Ezekiel 36:22-27

Story of My Uncle David Playing This Game:
Person One hides a small object in the palm of their head. They hold their fist over the head of another person and say, “Heavy, heavy hangs over thy head. Animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

The 2nd person makes a guess, one of the three. If they guess right they then try to guess what’s in the person’s hand. If they guess right, they win what’s in the person’s hand.

Stones are:

  • Cold
  • Heavy
  • Old
  • Hard, impermeable, solid
  • Inanimate, sense-less, dead

Stones can be useful. They are useful for building things- a house, a fortress, a wall.

One of the things stones are not useful for is a home for God, a place for the Spirit of God to dwell.

Acts 17:24
The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands.

Sometimes people think God lives in buildings. The ancient Israelites thought God lived in the Temple in Jerusalem. In Ezekiel’s time, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, so where’s the presence of God now?

God reminds the people through Ezekiel that God doesn’t live in stone or things made of stone. God lives in flesh.

Think of Jesus. The Word of God was made flesh, not stone.

Ezekiel 36:26-27
26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you, and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

What Hardens our Heart? So many things can harden our hearts. One thing can make is soft again. The Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit is available to every single one of us. Every person you will ever meet, ever see.

The Spirit is available to turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. So we can be like Ebeneezer Scrooge. We can be like the Grinch. And it doesn’t just happen at Christmas.

Our heart is the center of our being, the birthplace of our motivation. Whatever we place our primary trust in, that is sitting on the throne of our heart. If it isn’t God, its an idol.

What hardens our heart?

  • Revenge, Resentment, Rebellion
  • Control, Perfectionism, Selfishness (Consider Pharaoh in Exodus)
  • Guilt, Shame
  • Loneliness, Betrayal, Disappointment
  • Evil, Trauma

Sometimes we make choices which harden our heart. Sometimes we are not healed of the wounds inflicted upon us and our hearts harden. Sometimes our hearts are hardened by the brokenness of our world.

“Lord have mercy if I hear of another hate crime. I’m not going to stay awake, alive, and open to it. I’m going to hunker down, protect myself, harden my heart to protect myself from all that’s going on. It’s too painful and too much.”

The hardening of our heart due to the hamster wheel of trauma in our world is what most concerns me. Anxiety is rising and people are acting out.

How can we remain soft-hearted in the midst of all of this? It’s about the Holy Spirit of God. We can’t do it in our own strength.

Prayer
Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They run to lonesome places, screaming an alarm
Soften our hearts so we can find you above the fear

Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They race to revenge, pounding with anger
Soften our hearts so we can hear you above the hammering

Soften our hearts when evil abounds
They rush to human strength, grasping for control
Soften our hearts so we can hold to your way, your truth, and your life

Soften our hearts so they may beat in unison with yours
So healing may flow into all brokenness
So hope may fill all devastation
So compassion and peace and unity may rise up among all people
We entrust our hearts to you

heart stone flesh full of eyes

By Chris Powers, fullofeyes.com 

Ezekiel 36:25
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

  • God offers us cleansing and forgiveness for the sin which hardens our hearts- Revenge, Resentment, Rebellion, Control, Perfectionism, Selfishness, Guilt, Shame
  • How was the Grand Canyon built? By water. The washing is stronger than stone.

Ezekiel 36:24
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.

  • God offers us a home and gathers us into a trustworthy people to be our family so our hearts are not hardened by Loneliness, Betrayal, Disappointment

For Evil and Trauma, God takes the heart of stone that we want to fight back with and gives us a heart of flesh. We bring healing to the world the way God brings healing to the world, not by throwing stones.

Ezekiel 36:23
… through you, I display my holiness before their eyes

A heart of stone is cold, but flesh is warm
A heart of stone is heavy, but flesh is light
A heart of stone is hard, but flesh is tender
A heart of stone is impermeable, but flesh is vulnerable
A heart of stone is sense-less, but flesh is sensitive
A heart of stone is dead, but flesh is alive

This is about coming alive and staying alive in the power of the Holy Spirit. So we can share the holiness, goodness, and grace of God with the world.

What is trying to harden your heart? Confess it to God.
God, I trust you to give me a heart of flesh.
Fill me with your Spirit. Give me a heart of flesh.

Prayer: Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

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Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Sermon- The Plumb Line (Amos 7.8)

Sermon Series Parables 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: Parables
Message 1 of 4: The Plumb Line
Scripture: Amos 7:8
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 7/28/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Rev. Jose Nieves

  • Pastor First UMC, Kissimmee
    • Leads school/church partnerships with several local schools
    • A faithful man of God, a powerful man of prayer
  • Two weeks ago, preacher for the High School students, while I was the preacher for the middle school students at camp
    • One morning at camp, I see him, he looks awful. I thought he was sick.
    • He was brokenhearted- Up late following the developments in Puerto Rico
    • He was born there and much of his family still lives there

I suspect you’re brokenhearted over Puerto Rico as well

  • The recent confirmation of extensive corruption among the ruling elite
    • Extortion, Fraud, Favoritism, Mishandling public funds
  • The injustice, abuse, and neglect are hard to take. It rends your heart. But at the root of what makes this possible, is how the ruling elite viewed those they were elected to serve.
    • The revelation of deep-seated disrespect, mocking, contempt of the people, people still trying to recover from hurricanes

People rose up, they joined together and used their voice to speak out against the evil, the injustice, the oppression, and the devaluing of human beings. The people rose up and became prophets. They spoke. truth to power and called for change.

A prophet is empowered by God and called by God to speak truth to power. This is hard, uncomfortable work. It takes tremendous faith and courage and discipline to speak what people don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

How many of us like to read the Old Testament prophets? Not many. It’s hard to read them, the level of truth-telling and pain.

We’ll be spending time with the Old Testament prophets for the next few weeks. The prophets feel very fresh in our day and time. We need to read the prophets regularly.

  1. I need their example of truth-telling and courage. I need the reminder as a child of the One, True, Living God, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I too have a calling to be prophetic. To use my resources, and my influence, and my resources, and my voice to speak out against evil, injustice, and oppression. It’s a part of our calling as the people of God.
  2. I need to hear their message. This is what happens to the people of God when things get twisted and crooked and we lose our way. I need the reminder so I don’t do it. And so that I don’t condone it by my silence and my apathy.

Some of you are asking, but I thought we were going to be studying parables? We are: Old Testament Parables

  • Parables are stories and metaphors with deep spiritual meaning
  • Parables are used by prophets to help people listen; to call people to justice, righteousness, and action.
  • Where do you think Jesus got the idea to use parables? From the prophets!

Amos helps us to have a heart after God’s heart, not a crooked twisted heart. 

  • Amos was a very ordinary person. A shepherd and sycamore-fig farmer.
  • Called by God to be a prophet (not his family business, not a professional corrupted prophet)
  • Lived in the southern kingdom of Judah, traveled to Bethel in the northern Kingdom of Israel to speak truth to power

That power was King Jeroboam II

  • Powerful King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel
  • Successful military leader
    • won battles
    • enlarged their territory
    • generated great wealth for some, a ruling elite
  • Misused his power as king of God’s people
    • Promoted the worship of false gods. As the worship became false, twisted and corrupted, so did their hearts.
    • Promoted corrupt, predatory business practices, an injustice especially harmful to the poor

Amos 8:4-6, The Voice. Like a bowl of ripe fruit, the time was ripe. God would overlook their injustice no longer

Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor to ruin, Who asks, “When will the new moon festival be done so we can sell our grain? And when will the Sabbath end so we can sell our wheat? Then we can tamper with our scales and make the bushel measure smaller and the counterweight heavier to cheat our customers. We can buy the needy for silver and the poor and their property for the price of a pair of sandals. We can even sell the chaff we sweep up as grain.”

  • False weights and measures, selling food that was inedible, human trafficking, taking over people’s property and lives

People with voice and influence were either and active part of the corruption or fat, happy and apathetic to it. 

I read that and ask, “Lord is that me?”     

Amos begins speaking out against the injustice. Speaks truth to power so things can change.

  • How could this injustice come from people who were once denied justice and enslaved in Egypt?
  • How could this be if you are children of Abraham, chosen and privileged and covenanted to be a blessing to the nations, to care for the stranger and the poor, to proclaim the salvation of God in word and deed?
  • How could you do this to fellow human beings beloved of God, made in the very image of God?
  • How could this happen if you still worship the One True Living God who rescued you from oppression and established you in the Promised Land?

That was the problem- Their worship was full of hypocrisy, all show. We show something but it’s not the truth of our hearts and souls. It was crooked and their hearts grew crooked  

  • People faithfully attended worship- making offerings and ritual sacrifices
    • Yet became apathetic to injustice or downright embraced injustice
    • Their worship did not change their actions, affect their choices, give them eyes to see every single person as a beloved child of God worthy respect, dignity, and access to resources we all need.
    • Their worship was disconnected from how they treated people
    • Lord is that me?

Amos 5:21-24, NRSV
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Righteousness = right relationship. Equal, compassionate treatment no matter the social differences

Justice = concrete actions to create righteousness. Right relationship in action. Love in action. God’s beauty, power, and grace in action flowing through us.

Our of our worship flows right relationship with others, ourselves, and the earth.

When we see something that isn’t right we act, we speak, we do something to make it right. The flow of worship in right relationship and justice.

Isaiah 28:17, NIV.
I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line.

plumb line

This is probably the most famous image from the prophet Amos. Someone reminded me you could use a plumb bob as a weapon. It’s heavy and pointed.

Its proper use for thousands of years is to make sure what’s being built stays true. If the ground is uneven, what you’re building can stay true if you use a plumb line. If we just eyeball it, it will be crooked.

No matter how you twist or swing a plumb line it will quickly return to true.

Amos 7:8, The Voice.
Eternal One: What do you see, Amos?
Amos: A plumb line.
Eternal One: Watch what I’m about to do! I am going to put a plumb line up against My people Israel to see what is straight and true, And I will not look the other way any longer.

What would it be like for God to hold a plumb line up next to our lives, up next to our hearts? Would they be shown to be true? Would they be shown living and flowing with grace, hope, justice, and mercy out of the very worship of God?

Or would they be shown to be twisted and crooked?

We do not have to shy away from allowing God to hold up a plumb line to us. With God, there is always the chance for change, for mercy, redemption, forgiveness. The chance to repent and turn. The chance for the healing of our hearts.

May we accept our calling to live true. To be a prophet of God. To walk alongside another. To give voice to one who has no voice.

What keeps you up at night saying, “God something should be done about this?” God is calling you to action.

Lord, help us to hear the call. To lead a life worthy of the call and the grace and hope we’ve found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The closing prayer is based on this devotion by Steve Garnaas Holmes.
A plumb line held straight
by the gravity of love,
without curve or spin of human twist,
plumb line of blessing
unbowed by curse,
unbent by fear or greed,
plumb line seeking, unerring, the center,
all creatures’ belovedness and belonging,
the wellbeing of all Creation.

Measure your acts, O human,
judge your policies, O Nation,
by this and no other.
Does it bless without cursing?
Does it serve without stealing?
Does it join and not divide?

God’s plumb line
will not slide sideways
to favor some over others,
but loves all dearly;
it will not sway to sacrifice one’s thriving
for another’s desires.

The ground is uneven but the line is set.
The corrupt tilt their heads;
the wise discern
and build accordingly.

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The Plumb Line © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Independence Day Prayer for Unity (Psalm 133)

Psalm 133 Ben Shahn

Psalm 133 by Ben Shahn

Psalm 133
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life forevermore.

On this Independence Day, I long for our neighborhoods and nation to experience the freedom of this psalm- the freedom of true unity. I long for the dividing walls to come crashing down. I long for an end to destructive division.

In this Psalm, the goodness of God-breathed unity is compared to the anointing of Aaron as high priest and dew on the mountains of Hermon and Zion in Israel.

True unity is precious, like sacred, costly oil or a trusted source of water in the wilderness.

True unity brings abundant blessing to an entire community. It is generous and lavish. There is so much oil it runs down Aaron’s beard and on to his robe. There is so much dew it can sustain plants, animals, and people on a mountainside.

True unity means goodness for all. It is pervasive, crossing unjust boundaries. The anointing oil is mixed with spices so the aroma pervades the gathering. The dew makes way for fragrant flowers, fruits, and crops which are enjoyed by the whole community.

True unity is holy and unique. The oil is set apart for the ritual anointing of a priest or king. It is used for no other purpose. Mount Hermon is set apart for its height and snow, the highest point in the region at over 9,000 feet. Mount Zion near Jerusalem is set apart for the worship of God. True unity sets a group of people apart, a rare and beautiful light in our world.

Holy God
One yet Three
Reach into the abundance of your companionship
Bring forth unity and healing in our land
Pour out peace on violent homes and hearts
Shower compassion on selfish and short-sighted motives
Rain down generosity and understanding
so all are covered in blessing and harmony and life
Forevermore
Forevermore
Amen

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Independence Day Prayer for Unity © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.