Choosing a Word of the Year

For the past few years, I’ve chosen a word for the year. Well, the word actually chose me. Yes, there are online quizzes or reflection questions you could try, but I’ve found just opening yourself to receiving a guiding word will bring one your way. Just listen for it.

In 2019, my word was practice, as in try and try again. Practice gave me permission to experiment, risk, prototype, and fail. Growth, progress, and skill take time. She’s the word of grace this perfectionist needs.⁠

My word for 2020 was rhythm– the movement of practice. Intentionality, flow, consistency. I imagined a spiritually rich and disciplined year. Ha! Instead, it was a boatload of practice. Rhythm was jazz, not a march. Improvise. Keep showing up in the midst of constant adaptation, heartbreak, and lament. Rhythm has so much more to share with me.

My word for 2021 was truth. She arrived in the middle of a Zoom gathering with my author buddies at the Light House. Truth was the permission I needed to make space for deep conversation, especially the uncomfortable and taboo.

When things got tough and I wanted to hold back, I’d find myself saying, “My word for the year is truth” and what I needed to say made its way out of my heart. Every time this happened, the gift of truth broke the conversation open in beautiful and needed ways.   

Truth was the exact word I needed to companion me through the major transitions of 2021

  • a six-week renewal leave which included some travel and a much-needed counseling intensive at Quiet Waters in Colorado
  • saying goodbye to my congregation in Sarasota and hello to my new congregation in New Smyrna Beach, Coronado Community United Methodist Church
  • Ed and I buying a house. We never dreamed we’d have this opportunity before retirement. Plus, we’re finally under the same roof after decades of separation due to work.
  • my mom’s cancer diagnosis and my sister’s incredible caregiving of her. Mom’s doing well.
  • the marriage of our beloved Laura and Kevin
  • the scary and exciting decision to start a publishing business for my writing called Via Lexi. More to come as that unfolds.
  • a new partnership with the good folks at The Pastor’s Workshop as a contributor of prayer, liturgy, and sermon resources
  • the surprising birth of our beloved Lily Joy, our first grandchild, to our beloved Elyse and Sam. She arrived two weeks early and was a girl instead of the boy they thought they saw in the ultrasound. Elyse, Sam, and Lily are living with us, so I get to hold her every day. I’m over the moon.
  • starting 2022 with Covid. I’m quarantining in our travel trailer this week.

That’s a lot.

What’s surprised me most about receiving a word for the year is the way they abide. These wise companions don’t come and go. They move in and continue to offer grace year after year like a tribe of dear friends. They collaborate with one another and encourage one another to share even more with me as I’m ready to receive it.

So, who’s moving in this year? Curious.

Curious showed up bags in hand last week as a total shock. I even kept her at the door a while thinking she’d made a wrong turn, but no. Curious is here to stay. She knows I need her to help me with my dualistic thinking and my ugly bent to judging. So welcome sister Curious. I’m ready to receive.

What word is choosing you this year? I’d love to hear your story.  

Order of Worship for a Blue Christmas Service (also known as a Longest Night Service)

blue-nativity

A Blue Christmas Service is offered especially for those hurting during the holidays. It’s often offered December 21, the longest night of the year.

Some come because they are mourning the death of a loved one. Some are far from home. Some suffer from illness, addiction, or estrangement. Some are lonely, struggling financially, or in conflict with another. Some hurt because of the great pain, need, and violence in our nation and world.

The reasons for coming are many. We gather in the midst of suffering to remember God is good. God is strong. God is near. We are not alone and we have every reason to hold on to hope.

Pre-Service Set Up
People to greet and pass out programs
Blue strips of paper in the pews
Evergreen clippings placed at the prayer rail
Anointing oil for prayer helpers
Tissues at the prayer rail and in pews
A table with 4 blue pillar candles and 1 white pillar candle
A box of matches
Blue tablecloth or white with blue runner for the table

Gathering Music

Welcome
This might include a brief explanation of the purpose of the service

Opening Prayer
One or All praying
Merciful God,
In this season of rejoicing, we come to you weary and grieving
In this season of feasting, we hunger for healing and relief
In this season of light, our hearts are veiled in sorrow and shadow
Will this season ever end?

“Yes.” We hear your, “Yes.”
Those who are weary will find rest
Those who mourn will be comforted
Those who hunger will be filled
The Light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness will not overcome it.

Lighting the Christ Candle
Strike a match and light the white candle

One voice We welcome you O Christ, Light of the World. In the midst of our suffering, help us to worship you in spirit and in truth.

Song
Suggestion- a soloist singing Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant

Scripture Isaiah 11:1-5, The Voice Translation
One voice
On this humbled ground,
a tiny shoot, hopeful and promising, will sprout from Jesse’s stump
a branch will emerge from his roots to bear fruit.
And on this child from David’s line, the Spirit of the Eternal One will alight and rest.
By the Spirit of wisdom and discernment, He will shine like the dew.
By the Spirit of counsel and strength, He will judge fairly and act courageously.
By the Spirit of knowledge and reverence of the Eternal One,
He will take pleasure in honoring the Eternal.
He will determine fairness and equity;
He will consider more than what meets the eye,
And weigh in more than what he’s told.
So that even those who can’t afford a good defense
will nevertheless get a fair and equitable judgment.
With just a word, He will end wickedness and abolish oppression.
With nothing more than the breath of His mouth, He will destroy evil.
He will clothe himself with righteousness and truth
The impulse to right wrongs will be in his blood.

A brief message of hope is offered based on the Isaiah reading

Candle Lighting
Instrumental underscore- O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Light one blue candle
One voice- This candle represents our suffering and the suffering of the world.
In the light of God’s love, we claim God’s gift of truth.
There is no need to hide or deny. God welcomes us as we are.

One or All voices
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. ~Psalm 86:1

Light one blue candle
One voice: This candle represents our suffering and the suffering of the world.
In the light of God’s love, we claim God’s gift of lament.
We recognize our wounds and cry out to God.
We accept God’s invitation to express every feeling and question.

One or All voices
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. ~ Psalm 22:1-2

Light one blue candle
One voice: This candle represents our suffering and the suffering of the world.
In the light of God’s love, we claim God’s gift of courage.
Courage to be honest, to seek help, to comfort one another.
Courage to dare to love and dream again.

One or All voices
The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. ~ Psalm 28:7

Light one blue candle
One voice: This candle represents our suffering and the suffering of the world.
In the light of God’s love, we claim God’s gift of hope.
God is good. God is strong. God is near,
leading us to a day without tears and pain, without sin and death.
Healing and deliverance are coming; if not now, then on that day.

One or All voices:
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. ~Psalm 65:5

Song
Suggestion- a soloist singing Cry out to Jesus by Third Day

Instructions for Prayer Time

  • You are encouraged to write your burdens and sorrows on the blue strips of paper and then place them on the table with the candles
  • Following that, make your way to the prayer rail
  • Persons are available to pray with you as you stand or kneel
  • Anointing oil is also available.
  • Please take an evergreen clipping with you as you return to your seat as a reminder of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness

Instrumental underscore following the instructions

Prayer after everyone is seated.
One person praying as they place their hand on the blue strips of paper.

Jesus, you are full of compassion, you understand our pain. Our suffering changes our experience of you and the celebration of your birth. We are caught between remembering happier times and grieving what might have been. In our loss we feel cut off- disconnected, adrift, alone.

Root us in your steadfast love. Anchor us in your faithful promises.
Hold us, and all who weep this holy season throughout the world-
those who mourn, those far from home, those looking for work,
the lonely, the addicted, the abused,
the estranged, the oppressed, the enslaved,
the poor, victims of war, the sick and dying.
Shelter and sustain us all with your healing and hope, your peace and light.

We love you, we need you, we trust you,
We ask this in your name Jesus, praying as you taught us…

All praying
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen

Song
Suggestion- The Only Real Peace I Have by Allison Speer

Affirmation of Faith for Christmas
Adapted from the poem First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle.

One Voice: Christians, what do you believe?

All Voices: God did not wait till the world was ready,
till nations were at peace.
God came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.
God did not wait for the perfect time.
God came when the need was deep and great.
God dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
God did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy God came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame,
God came and God’s Light would not go out.
God came to a world which did not mesh;
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh,
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
For to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Passing the Peace

Song- Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
All singing
Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest,
Well-spring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our brother,
All who live in love are thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the mighty chorus which the morning stars began;
Love divine is reigning o’er us, binding all within its span.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.

Announce before the blessing- Following the blessing, you are welcome to stay as long as you like. Persons are available to speak with you further about your situation. You are also welcome to set an appointment with the pastor or director of congregational care. (give contact information)

Blessing

***********
This prayer is printed as a gift for persons to take home along with a piece of evergreen.
I pray for the grace to bear my sufferings as Christ bore his for me
With Dignity
Humility
Forgiveness

I pray for the grace to bear my sufferings as Christ bore his for me
With Compassion
Truth
Enduring

I pray for the grace to bear my sufferings as Christ bore his for me
Knowing my sufferings are not like his
and not like others
yet shared with the universal longings of all humanity
Real and Painful and Deep
No need for comparison
Only companionship

I pray for the grace to bear my sufferings as Christ bore his for me
As Christ bore his for all
All I will ever suffer
All we all will ever suffer
Will be made known
Will be made whole
Through his love and self giving

In this I believe
and trust
and follow
and hope
In this I am made new
Thanks be to God!
Hallelujah!
Amen!

For Grace to Bear Suffering © 2014 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

Blue Christmas Service © 2016 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in devotional settings with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Soft and Steadfast, a prayer based on Hebrews 3 and James 1

soft-heart-cruel-world-2

Based on Hebrews 3:7-14, The Voice Translation and James 1:19-25, NRSV

Merciful One, soften my heart

Save me from hardheartedness
From evil and deceit
From mutiny and unbelief

Turn and return me
From wandering away
From petrifying slowly

Make my heart pure
Open to you
Wanting what you want

Make my heart true
Confident in you and your Word
Hearing and Doing

Make my heart noble
Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger
Rejoicing in your direction

Jesus
Heart of my heart
Keep me soft and steadfast in your nail scarred hands

Extended quote by John R. Wimmer, Blessed Endurance
The words joy rejoice as they appear in James and First Peter do not mean what they seem at first glance. The rejoicing we find here is not a shallow, syrupy, or optimistic refusal to admit that problems exist; instead, it is the realistic recognition of struggle bolstered by the decision to rejoice in knowing that God is working to bring us through strife to greater spiritual depth. Yes, it may be tough if not impossible to rejoice when suffering, but such joy will not take the form of emotional jubilance or elation.

James proclaims that suffering may be considered as joy when the encounter produces the spiritual virtue of steadfastness. And steadfastness, when allowed to flower into fullness, produces the most attractive bloom of all qualities: Christian maturity.

Authentic Christian maturity, then, is a steadfastness that we attain not by denial. It is a quality that, like any other kind of maturity, accrues with age, hard work, and a lot of bruising experience. It is the ability to redirect our thoughts beyond immediate woes in order to realize the spiritual growth that results from tests of faith.

*************
Prayer: Soft and Steadfast © 2017, updated 2021 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please leave a message for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Prayer: Wisdom and Reverenace, based on Psalm 111


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. – Psalm 111:10

Wisdom consists in doing the next thing that you have to do;
doing it with your whole heart and finding delight in doing it.
And this delight is the sense of the sacred.- Helen Luke

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.
– William Shakespeare

Observation
In Psalm 111, the author praises God’s works (great, full of honor and majesty, wonderful, faithful, just) and God’s character (righteous, gracious, merciful, provider, trustworthy, redeemer, eternal covenant keeper, holy, awesome). All of this leads up to the last verse, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”

Are we to fear God? For most of us, fear implies dread, horror, and terror. We fear bullies, monsters, or tyrants- powers far greater than our ability to oppose.

This understanding of “the fear of the Lord” isn’t helpful or truthful. It doesn’t encourage growth or trust. It doesn’t draw us to God or reveal the true character of God. It often results in a less than healthy fear response- fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.

The point of the psalmist is literally lost in translation, the translation of the word fear. I find it helpful to replace the word fear with respect or reverence. When the deepest understandings of respect and reverence are linked with God’s awesomeness and otherness, we have a translation that draws us into worship, relationship, and the pursuit of God’s transcendent wisdom.

Reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.

Assuredly, Loving Souls, you should go to God with all humility and respect,
humbling yourselves in His presence,
especially when you remember your past ingratitude and sins.
– Alphonsus Liguori

Truly humble people are grounded in reality;
they neither preen under illusions of greatness
nor suffer agonies of self-hatred.
– Paula Huston, Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Re-new Your Spirit

Fullness of knowledge always means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance; and that is always conducive to humility and reverence. – Robert Millikan

Prayer: Wisdom and Reverence
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord
Great and Faithful One
God of Honor and Majesty
Wonderful and just are your deeds
Your ways are trustworthy, gracious, and merciful

Draw us into reverent relationship with you
Save us from shallow understanding and falsehood

Pour out your wisdom upon us
That we may know you and adore you
That we may trust you and follow you
That we may receive your gifts
and use them to heal and bless and welcome
as you do

We ask this in the Name of Jesus,
Your Truth made Flesh,
Your Light to us and the world. Amen.

***********
Wisdom and Reverence © 2021 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Prayers based on Matthew 25.1-13

week 9Prayers Based on Matthew 25:1-13
The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

Prayer: Good Bridegroom
Jesus, Good Bridegroom
Prepare us
for the long night of enduring
Fill our lamps for active waiting
and trusting
Light the fire when the time is right
to respond to your call

Reveal our true readiness, Good Bridegroom
Your truth is grace
Your delay is grace
So all may prepare
So none may be lost

Hymn Text: Ten Maidens
Meter 88.88 LM with Refrain
Suggested Tune- HE LEADETH ME (United Methodist Hymnal #128)

Ten maidens step into the night,
the bridegroom still beyond their sight.
They watch and wait till caught by sleep,
for he’s delayed their time to meet.

Refrain: Good Bridegroom we await your day.
Help us to watch. Help us to pray.
We know not when the hour will be
to join you in your majesty

At midnight comes the rousing shout!
The Bridegroom comes without a doubt.
Five foolish ones have not prepared.
They seek more oil as he appears. (Refrain)

The Groom, Christ comes, His hour draws near,
the unprepared will gaze in fear,
to see the banquet door closed fast,
the time to enter long since past. (Refrain)

Refine my soul, renew my mind
Reveal each fault that you may find
Expose my heart, make my life true
So at that time, I’m known to you (Refrain)

______________

For the next few months, I’ll be posting prayers to accompany Bishop Ken Carter’s Bible Study on Facebook. Each week, Bishop Carter will bring in a guest to speak about the passage. We’ll be walking through the last chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. 

You’re most welcome to read along and to join this Facebook discussion group. You don’t need to be a Methodist or attend a Methodist church. All are welcome and all means all.

May the grace of God’s word, the challenge, and the call, inspire us to great faith and great good works in Jesus’ name. – Lisa <

Good Bridegroom © 2020 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Ten Maidens © 2011 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.