O God of supreme power and Creator of all creatures, we humbly come before thee this morning to praise thy name and thy wonderful works on our behalf. We know that what you curse is cursed and rejected from thy blessings and that what you bless is looked upon with thy favor. In spite of our sinful ways, of our self-centeredness, of our cantankerousness, of our slippery tongues that arrogantly condemn others, and of our war-machines that crush enemies, it is a great wonder to us that you still seek to bestow blessings upon us. Yet, we confess that we are inclined to think that blessings are those sorts of goods that make us successful and safe and hefty in the eyes of the world. We gather this morning having been jerked awake by thy Gospel words that tell us what is cursed and condemned and frightening and what is blessed and hopeful. Even though we stand cursed in our sin by thee, we cling to the gracious blessings you have given in Christ Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life of blessing.
You bless us when you call us into obedience to thy way of life in contrast to the ways of death and death-dealing, when you forgive our sins against thee and against others, when you give us crosses to bear on behalf of thy kingdom, when you stir our hearts with a joy the world can neither confer nor take away, when you fill us with hope in desperate situations, when your Spirit whispers love songs into our souls bedraggled with doubt, guilt, and shame. We would have no clue about these extraordinary blessings were we not confronted with the sheer awesome and gracious beauty of thy coming amongst us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Because we have breathed deeply of thy gracious Spirit in Jesus, we trust thee with our lives and we come to thee now with our concerns and prayers.
We pray for the sick and dying in our midst; may they know thy tender care and receive hope from thee. We pray for this town of Muskogee that it might find better ways of living together and paying heed to the neglected and impoverished among us, and that it might deal more peacefully with those smitten with addictions and with a seething anger toward the powerful in the town. We pray for those who are lonely, isolated, and friendless and who know no blessings; help us to be-a-blessing to them. We pray for the wealthy among us that they may not be consumed by their own guilt and greed, but may come to know the blessings of being a blessing to those in need. We pray for ministers who are burdened with criticism and gossipy rumors that they do not deserve and from which they cannot escape; give them a passionate courage to endure and upbuild thy church in truth.
Teach us, O Lord of all creation, how to live in this world as though it is thy world and not ours. Teach us how to mourn for the sake of righteousness in thy kingdom. Teach us how to speak the truth in love. Teach us how to discern the blessings of thy kingdom. Teach us how to give of ourselves boldly, even recklessly. Teach us the ways of thy peacefulness and peace-making that we may learn to rest peacefully in thy arms even in the midst of war.
All this we dare to ask in the name of Jesus, who is thy glorious blessing to us all. Amen
O Lord God, we gladly come before thee on this day of worship. You have invited us to share our concerns with thee, to lay our hearts out before thee, to search our souls for those passions that might give life to us and to others.
We lift up to thee those already mentioned in our bulletin as those who are ill or in special need of comfort and strength. We pray for their endurance and courage in the midst of their distresses.
We pray for those in our midst who are dying, who are slowly slipping away from us. May they know thy presence even in the midst of their uninterruptible decline. Give comfort to their families and friends and shield them and us from that fear of death that betrays thy presence in our lives.
We pray for those in our midst who are unhappy with their aging bodies, who find day to day living painful and distressing, and who are inclined to lament the fraility of their minds and bodies. Remind them gently that we are finite and made from clay, and yet are destined for fellowship with thee.
We pray for the youth in our midst whose bodies are growing rapidly beyond their capacities of understanding and patience. May thy Spirit whisper gently to them that there is wisdom available from those parents and others who, surprisingly enough, once knew the restless passions of new sprouting bodies.
We pray for those in our midst who are disappointed with themselves, with the patterns of their lives, with those self-imposed barriers they seem to butt into everyday. Give them the courage to change, to seek thy guidance and to follow it, to cease blaming others for their failures.
We pray for those in our midst who are genuinely confused about what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus. Bring them into contact with those wise others in our midst who might patiently respond to their doubts and questions, and who might shed light on their confused but searching minds.
We pray for those in our midst who are teachers in our schools. Give them intellectual audacity and courage that they might model for their students how joyful it is to inquire, to raise questions, and to learn about thy creation, that they might also model and speak a language that excites and stimulates their students to continue the inquiry on their own. And in all things empower them to be grateful for being a teacher of youth, even though sometimes the youth seem distracted or undisciplined or even ungrateful.
We pray for those in our midst who have broken hearts, who have experienced grievous disappointments about those significant others in their lives and who now seem bewildered about what the future might hold. Mend their hearts and open them to a surprising future of self-giving to others.
We pray for those in our midst who are haunted by their lonely singleness. Give them the courage to be friends of others, to give of themselves to others, and to know friendship from us and the friendship of thy Spirit.
We pray for our pastor in his earnest struggle with thy Word and how to interpret it with faithfulness and verve and truthfulness. We pray for his wife and children that they might know from us how deeply we care about them and how much we appreciate their sharing him with us.
O Lord, we pray that we all might find guidance in how to live before thee and before our neighbors in the world in that inescapable everydayness that rises before us as we awaken in the morning and as dreams occupy our nights. Give us a sturdy faithfulness and boldness of intellect and heart and resoluteness of will that we might live joyfully without illusions.
In Christ name we have dared so to pray. Amen.
Maundy Thursday Communion Service
O Lord Jesus, you lived amongst us, called us to participate in your Father’s coming kingdom of peace and reconciliation, called us to come to thy Passover table to feast on a new forgiveness and to become servants of that impinging kingdom. But even as we gather now to feast again at thy table of forgiveness, we are in awe—in fear and trembling—of what we know was ahead for thee as Prophet and Priest of the Kingdom. The principalities and powers that ruled the worldly kingdoms struck thee dead with horrendous brutality, announcing to all in their worlds that they were the real rulers who are in charge of order and safety in the world. Yet we know from thy resurrection that what you taught about reconciliation and peace and how you lived that reconciliation and peace is the true nature of how things are ultimately before thy Father.
We gather tonight to partake of thy feast of goodness and hope, even as we know in our hearts that we too have crosses to bear if we are to become thy disciples. We pray for courage and faithfulness as we—like Peter—are tested as to whether we will follow thy way of truth and peace or the way of those who rule by killing, by the brutal exercises of power and armaments.
We pray these things quite simply as people who feel threatened by enemies and by military saviors and the calls to hatred and revenge. We are burdened indeed as just the people we are here in Muskogee, bewildered by war. As we partake of thy bread and thy blood, teach us how to trust thee and to hope in thee in all that we do and live.
We have so prayed as the ones invited by thee to the table of forgiveness and hope. Amen.
O Lord God, Giver of all mercy and everlasting Lover of us all, we gladly come together this morning to sing praises to thee, to celebrate the gift of motherhood and mothers, to pray for those among us in need, and to pray for peace in thy world. We are grateful that you have invited us to pray the concerns and passions of our hearts and our hearts are indeed full this morning.
There are many of our church family that we lift up to thee for safe-keeping. Some dwell in such pain and decline that it darkens their souls. We pray for their healing and that they might know thy presence and that their families might learn to trust in thee even more deeply. Do not leave them to their own wits and resources.
We come before thee remembering that each of us was born from the womb of a mother. We rejoice in our births and that a particular woman endured our birthing with all its attendant pains, fears, and hopes. Many of us were nursed and lovingly and wisely nudged patiently but firmly into adulthood by marvelous mothers, and we remain grateful for the many gifts they conveyed to us. Yet we also know that some of us were hurt in childhood by mothers absent or unskilled in mothering, and we bear the scars of that neglect. And there are mothers among us this day who have suffered the disappointments of ill health, of estrangement, and of early or tragic deaths of their children.
We are not sentimental and foolish that all mothering has been a blessing to the mothers or to their children. Just so we do not indulge the falsehood that all fathers are kind, strong, attentive, and loving. We mostly know the frailty of our own lives, the frailty of our parents, and the frailty of our own parenting. But in the mystery of thy creating, we are thankful for our mothers in bearing the gift of life to us. And many are the mothers among us who are grateful for the sheer beauty, blessing, and grace of bearing and raising their children.
O Lord God, as we pray to thee we know that you are in dismay at the suffering and blindness of thy children who war incessantly, who have constructed societies that celebrate conflict and breed superiority over others and who need enemies in order to induce their own social solidarity. Many are thy children who have constructed religions to do their own bidding and meet their own twisted desires. We know that many of thy children ask for victory in war and the death of their enemies. We know that many leaders of nations and peoples seek their own power and betray their people. We know the world stands on the brink of cascading violence and enmity that will poison human life for decades to come.
Our worship of thee this day, O Lord, would be pagan and unfaithful if we did not pray for peace on thy terms and not on our own terms. And we earnestly pray, O Lord, that you will teach and lead each of us in the paths of forgiving justice and truth-telling in the days ahead. Disabuse us of our illusions and falsehoods and throw thy loving light upon us that we might be faithful to thy kingdom in the days ahead, in the months to come, and in the remaining years we have to live. Teach us the special disciplines and joys of being lovers of thy kingdom and followers of Jesus.
All this O Lord, we have prayed in the name of Jesus Christ, who also taught us well how to pray.
O Lord God, Father of us all, the One who sent Jesus the Son into the far country of human goodness and rebellion, of human beauty and ugliness, of human grandeur and misery, we come together this morning to praise thy name and to remember thy ways among thy creatures. You are the One who called thy church into being as those summoned to follow Jesus and his way of life and to witness to new possibilities of living lovingly and peacefully with neighbors, with strangers, with enemies.
We come to thee this day as just those people who have heard Jesus’ summons. But we confess that we are weak and that we often stand on the sidelines of faith, unwilling to live as he lived, unwilling to love thee before all the other idols that claim our loyalties, unwilling to care passionately about thy peace. We pray for the strength, courage, and grace to refuse to live amidst the wastelands of self-centeredness, of idolatry, of wanting to be and act as the final judge of those about us that seem to threaten us.
Many of us this day are fathers who have bred children from the loins of our bodies. And some of us have been fatherly to our children as you have taught us to be, and some of us have been absent, neglectful, and even hateful in repudiation of the gift of being-a-father. Those among us who had good, wise, and dependable fathers are grateful for their loving care, and those among us who had less dependable fathers seek from thee that forgiving heart about which Jesus taught. Yet we pray that we might learn how, without lies and delusions, to honor our fathers just because they bore life to us and upon them we are forever dependent as the agents of thy bringing us into the world. And O Lord, we fathers, now with children of all ages, pray that we might find ways in which to upbuild our children with many acts of tender mercy and wise counsel. Teach us fathers how to teach thy ways to our children by daily acts of faithfulness, of love, and of justice.
Many are they, O Lord, among us this day who are filled with gratitude by the abundance of life they have experienced this past week. May you know in this prayer of ours how profoundly grateful they are. And many are they, O Lord, among us this day who are filled with doubt, remorse, unbridled anger, sick and deteriorating bodies and languishing souls. May they know the transforming comfort of thy love. And may we all know the burning depths of thy gracious truth about us—each and every one of us in the particularity of our lives—for it is a truth that destroys arrogance and slothfulness and yet gives strength and hope. Great is our wonder at your everlasting mercy, upon which we are learning how to depend.
All this we have dared to pray in the name of Jesus, who taught us in our hesitations and confusions how to pray. Amen
O Lord God, we rejoice this morning as we are called together by thy Gospel. It is thy Word in Jesus Christ that has changed our lives and called us to live in ways different from the ways of the world. It is thy Word that conveys thy abundant grace to us, calls us to attention, and gives us direction into the future. It is thy Word that has taught us how to think about ourselves, about the meaning of life, about thy power and love. Without thy Word in Jesus Christ we would still be enthrall to idols, we would be pagans full of fear and violence, we would be barbaric warriors among the peoples of the world. But with thy Word we have become cross-bearers who love peace and who put the good of others above our own appetites and inclinations.
Because we are a changed people with an absolute loyalty to thee above all else, we lift up to thee those individuals and families in our congregation who suffer disease, who find themselves with declining bodies, who are stalked by depressed and confused minds, who bear an anger so deep that it poisons their hearts. We pray that all of these may know the light of thy powerful Word and Grace and the comfort of thy unwavering mercy.
O Lord, we ask for guidance as we are plunged into the midst of presidential politics. Even as we gather this day, there are some among us who admire one candidate as savior of us all and there are others among us who admire the other candidate as savior of us all. It would seem that we are looking for a savior who would do our bidding, keep us safe from harm, lower our taxes, and make us the mightiest and most feared nation on thy earth. Forgive us, O Lord, if we act and sound as though we have no savior, as though our loyalty to thee is second in line to the candidate we think is the righteous savior, the everlasting truth-teller, the most just of all the nations’ leaders. Forgive us when we act like pagans, creating idols that serve our own selfish interests and refusing to trust in thee.
The weather this past week has been a delight. The rains have been cooling, the sun has been soothingly bright. Teach us, O Lord, how to enjoy thy creation without destroying it, how to live gratefully amidst the lilies of the fields and the foxes and the coyotes of the forests, and even the armadillos of the night that dig up our lawns. We want to live well and honestly, O Lord, even as you have taught us a new way to live as a people who forgive, who love earnestly, and who refuse to slay others out of fear and hatred.
All this we ask in the name of Jesus, thy Word made flesh, thy Word spoken to us in words and actions. Amen
O Lord God, Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, the One in whose image all humans were made, and the One who came searching for us in Christ Jesus, we come this day with our hearts and minds full of the sounds of disarray in our world. We pray this day as the people of thy church, confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior. But we also pray as Oklahomans and Americans who still live under the haunting spell of the frightening crimes of what we now simply call “9/11.” And we confess we sometimes do not know whether we are first disciples of Jesus or disciples of our nation and its present government. We are torn and we are frightened and we are often confused.
As Christians, O Lord, we are truly dismayed why others of thy human creation find us Americans so hateful and dreadful, why they should take delight in killing us. We think, as Americans, that we do not want to dominate the world; we just want to live in peace and that we never go to war without a just cause. Are we deluded in that, O Lord? Are our skirts really so clean? Give us guidance here. We confess that we are not inclined to love these enemies and that we do want to return evil for evil, we do want revenge and to protect ourselves whatever the cost. Do you look kindly, O Lord, on these thoughts and actions of ours? Is the sword what you are summoning us to draw out and use? What, O Lord, we want to know, does it mean in these times to take up the cross and follow thee?
Even as we pray this day for guidance and illumination in the midst of our fear, anger, and pride, we know we must earnestly pray for those who are daily dying in this project many call “The War on Terror.” The families of our fallen and wounded soldiers are suffering grave losses, and their grief is not easily consoled. We lift them up to thee for comfort and hope. The families of the fallen Iraqis and other Arabs cry long and sobering laments as well. O Lord, it is only in thee that we and they might find a grace that gives hope. We pray as well for the families of those civilians slain by wayward shells. We pray that the illuminating light of thy peaceful Spirit might cover the Middle East and bring all together in a reunion of peace and hope.
We lift up the families of those who were killed or wounded on the dark day of 9/11. We see some of them on television and it breaks our hearts that ones they loved met such horrendous deaths. We pray thy Spirit might fall upon them and comfort them in a hope not dependent on revenge. We pray as well that they might all know that firm hope for themselves and their dead loved ones that you have disclosed in the resurrection of Christ Jesus: that he is the ultimate gracious Lord who contends eternally with death and all forms of violence.
To pray, O Lord, with such directness and pathos exhausts us. We want to run and hide or we want to kill without restraint the ones we call evil-doers. But we know you call us to raise our heads and hearts to thy truth and to thy eternal Gospel. We pray for release from the fear, anger, and hatred that imprisons our hearts. O Lord, give us and our enemies peace and much grace.
In Christ we pray. Amen
Sunday before Election Day
O Lord God, giver of all life and goodness, we come this morning rejoicing in thy great gifts of love to us in Christ Jesus and in the saints of the church over the centuries. While we were yet sinners, you did not count our sins against us. Instead, unlike us—who hate enemies and are reluctant to forgive harm done to us—you came among us in Jesus, forgiving our sins even before we asked and calling us to love thee and thy kingdom above all else. We confess before thee this day that we struggle with thy calling and with thy forgiveness. We struggle with being thy people who seek in all ways to be reconcilers and peacemakers in thy world. We confess that we have used many excuses to avoid being such reconciling peacemakers.
But O Lord, we come before thee this day seeking thy guidance in these perilous and threatening times. We are coming to the conclusion of a long and bitter public election at all levels of our civic life. We feel quite beaten up with the sound and fury of incessant ads, of lies, of obfuscations, of evasive and poisonous sound-bites, and of unrelieved mendacity. We have found it difficult to sort through the issues and to find a firm perspective and truth from which to vote—especially to vote in such a way that we reflect the imperatives of thy gospel as made known to us in Jesus. We confess that we are haunted by fears: fears of a malevolent enemy threatening our lives; fears that our preferred candidates might lose; fears that we might descend into a whirlwind of endless war, staggering debts, and vicious conflicts among the people.
We worry that we are a divided people, both in thy church and in this nation. We are beset with anger toward those with whom we disagree. We are inclined to think those who disagree with us are selfish, stupid, mischievous, and just plain evil. O Lord, we are inclined to demonize those who oppose us and disagree with us, and we are drowning in a sea of bitterness and suspicion.
In short, God, we need thy help. Guide us to do what is acceptable in thy sight. Give us the courage to think deeply and honestly and to vote without rancor. We want to be thy people called to manifest thy love and grace in a world that seems bereft of grace and love and mercy. We want to be thy people called to care for the least of thy children that are largely neglected by the world. We want to be thy people who do not simply seek our own selfish interests and look for candidates and referenda that support our privileges and our wealth.
We pray, O Lord, that we might simply know thee as the Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer of the whole world and the One before whom we all stand in judgment and grace when we step into the voting booth.
We also pray, O Lord, that when the votes are counted and the winners announced, we might seek reconciliation among the people and find hope for a time of peace and justice for all. We also pray, O Lord, that we might have the courage after the elections to continue to be thy people, full of mercy and grace, and full of hope in thee as the Final Merciful Judge of us all. May we all be winners as we trust in thy mercy to heal our wounds and disappointments and to empower us with new hopes.
In Christ’s name we have dared to so pray.Amen
Second Sunday of Advent
O God of fierce judgment and unlimited mercy, we gladly come this second Sunday of Advent to praise thy name and to remember again that you came among us in humility and great determination. As we gather now, we pray that this season of Advent might be a time of solemn preparation and unrestrained joy and that we might not fall into the trap of confusing the mythical coming of an overweight Santa Claus with the coming of Jesus the radical prophet.
We pray that we may take delight in the giving and receiving of gifts, remembering how you have given life and hope to us and remembering that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Yet, O Lord, empower us to be grateful and humble when others—family, friends, and strangers—give generously to us. Overwhelm us with the simple joy of giving and receiving without expectation of repayment or exchange.
Even as we remember that the baby Jesus grew into that sort of divine prophet that ended up crucified by the powerful leaders of his day, so to let us remember those who live in terror in the midst of battles, guns, and the dreadful fear of sudden death. We pray that soldiers might be safe from harm and that they might not be called upon to do harm. We pray that our brothers and sisters in Islamic lands might lay down their swords and fears of us and join Christians around the world in praying and acting for peace and justice.
We know, O Lord, that many among us in this congregation are entering into Advent in the midst of illness, decline, sorrow, confusion, and unrelieved anxiety. May they know the comfort of thy sustaining love and Spirit, even as their bodies and spirits are healed and infused with hope in the finality of thy Incarnate love in Jesus.
We pray in gratitude for our pastor and his family. May they all know the tenderness of our concern for them and may they know the blessings of receiving our earnest prayers for their well-being.
All this, O Lord, we have dared to pray in the name of Jesus. Amen
[These are prayers offered as an occasional liturgical assistant in worship at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma, the Reverend Kevin Tully pastor. Posted here 12 8/04.]