First Sunday after Christmas, 12/29/02
It is with joyous gratitude, O Lord, that we gather this day to worship thy name and thy glorious works of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is with humility and thanksgiving that we remember thy coming to us in Jesus as one born in humble poverty among the least of the persons of the world. It never ceases to utterly surprise us when we grasp how he refused to garb himself in the glories of the world——the glories which even now seem so seductive and attractive to us. As we pray this day, O Lord, we confess we remain uncertain about the full meaning of thy condescension and humility in coming amongst us in such low estate, and it startles us that you ended up strung out on a cross.
As the Advent and Christmas season fades from us and Epiphany arises before us, we confess that we have often been less joyous, more bedraggled, and more on edge during these receding Advent and Christmas times. We wonder what has sapped the joy from us and plunged us into the helter-skelter of buying what seemed like the necessary gifts. Now give us in the coming days the joy we missed in Advent and Christmas.
Because of thy mercy toward us, O Lord, we are bold to pray for those in our community of faith who are stricken with illness and distress or who have lost loved ones to death. May these friends in Christ know the comfort and challenge of thy love and embrace that hope in thee that is secret hope of all nations and all humans: to flourish eternally in health and peace with thee and our neighbors.
As our nation and others march grimly toward war and the kingdom of death, O Lord, empower us to heed thy counsels and become peacemakers. We pray for those who have died or even now are dying or will yet die at the violent hands of human hatred and fear and revenge. We know that thy love will not be defeated by their violent deaths and that thy grace will finally prevail for them. You will surely embrace the dead and the dying by thy tender mercies and transformative life. But O Lord, why do so many have to die as nations in their violence toward others claim only to be doing what justice requires? Why does such presumed justice seem so tattered and unpromising for establishing a peace commensurate with thy Kingdom?
In praying about these matters of concern, O Lord, we are grateful that thy Word in Christ continues to inform and transform us. Many of these thoughts we might never have had in the absence of thy coming to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Teach us even more how to clutch his Word and be freed from sin and be filled with an uncommon courage and undaunted hope.
In Christ’s name we pray.
O triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, and Mother of us all, we gather as thy people, as the ones who were created by thee in love, as the ones who were reconciled and saved from sin by thy incarnate love in Jesus, and as the ones inspired and formed by thy Holy Spirit. We gather with profound gratitude and thanksgiving for the wonders of thy gracious love. We trust in the ultimate triumph of thy almighty love, even as we face the perils of living in these days and times.
You have beckoned us to come to thee in prayer, without arrogance and without expecting that our will should be done instead of thine. We come to thee in humility suffused with hope as we lay before thee the concerns that bear heavily on our hearts.
In particular, Lord, we lift up to thee those members of our congregation and their families, who have experienced sickness, injury, consternation, or grief in the preceding days and whom we now name: [name them] We pray they might know the comfort of thy love and the hope thy Spirit bestows so abundantly.
Even as we know ourselves called and gathered by thy loving gospel, we know that we are not the only ones you love and about whom you are concerned. It is a great mystery to us that not all confess the name of Jesus and live in that pattern of life he exemplified. But we surely know that all those beyond thy church have also been blessed in Jesus’ name by the redeeming power of his cross and resurrection.
Teach us, O Lord, how to be a blessing to those beyond thy church, how to weep for their miseries, how to work for their liberation from oppression, and how to respect the sheer dignity you have conferred on them as thy beloved creatures. Give us the courage, O Lord, to learn how to live on their behalf, how to hear their sorrows, laments, aspirations, and hopes, how to enfold them in our arms as the tender arms of thy mercy.
We pray, O Lord, for the strength to live by faith in thee, even as we confess our own individual and collective tendencies to live in oblivious self-centeredness. We confess how often and how deeply we want our own self-interested will to be done, instead of thy wise and reconciling will. Relieve us from the toxicity of our own desperate desire to have our lives and the lives of many others on our own terms, instead of on the terms you have blessedly revealed in Jesus. Relieve us from that vaunted toughness and insularity in which we are willing to set Jesus aside and do what we might think is compellingly necessary for our good and for the good of those we prefer to love—even to be so tough as to will the destruction of those others we judge expendable. Relieve us from the self-justifying need to be the ultimate judge of others.
O Lord, we confess our hearts turn to icy stone when we are dominated by fear, and we confess that faith then flees from our judgments and feelings and actions. It is so hard to give up the fears that stalk us, so we seek in thee that faith that casts out fear and that empowers us to be courageous peacemakers, to be lovers of thy creation and of all those creatures for whom you constantly search and upon whom you have never abandoned hope.
The joy of thy grace does still stir our hearts, and it is in earnestness for thy grace in Jesus that we have dared so to pray.
Dear Lord of all creation, we come this day to celebrate the crowning moment of thy incarnate life with us in Jesus Christ. On this Easter morning, the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead and thy eternal verdict on his life and brutal death was made manifest to his closest disciples.
While we, the people who claim to be the body of Christ in the world, do indeed marvel at the splendid mystery of Jesus’ resurrection, we are also baffled about how we are to take it. We confess that it is not the simple, magical belief that just any dead person came back to life. But it is the resurrection of Jesus who preached thy coming kingdom and who was brutally slain by the reigning powers of the world. We know that when they crucified him those powers were declaring to Jew and Gentile alike that their power to dominate and impose their will on others was supreme.
Even as the disciples fled the scene of the crucifixion, they were haunted that perhaps the only real power was Rome and they feared Rome. Rome was trying to put an end to that life that had proclaimed thy coming kingdom in which peace, love of neighbor and enemy were the supreme and defining powers of a new, resurrected world.
We too, Lord, are as bewildered as the fleeing disciples. We too fear the kind of power Rome had, even as we secretly admire the sheer coercive, dominating strength of armies and weapons. We confess that too often we think that Roman power is what is decisive in human history, because we trust that power more than we trust the power of Jesus’ way of life. We do not want to be crucified, but we pray that we will not become the crucifiers of others.
Yet we cannot escape the testimony of the disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead and declared the real Victor and the final, ultimate power in the world. When you raised Jesus from the dead, you declared that the power of his life and kingdom is the real power in human history.
O Lord of life, we too know that we are in a war, intending to use the supremacy of new precision weapons to impose our will on unruly nations and declared enemies. We are stalked by fear of others, and we have an uncanny pride in the presumed discriminating powers of our weapons. Teach us, O Lord, as thy people, what it might mean to believe in Jesus’ resurrection as that way of life that is indeed the Alpha and Omega of all things in heaven and on earth.
As thy people, we pray for soldiers who are commanded by authoritative others to slay and subdue and place themselves in harm’s way. Even if you cannot place thy blessings on this war as a just war, we pray for their safe-keeping.
We also pray for the people of Iraq, a people strange to us, who seem full of bitterness, fear, hostility, and hopefully a desire for a peaceful and free life. We confess that they too are thy creatures and are included in the ones for whom Jesus died and was raised. In the confusion that will engulf them in the days ahead, O Lord, guide their leaders and ours that they might love peace and justice more than the power to impose their wills on others.
As thy Son Jesus is raised from a death at the hands of the world’s principalities and powers, then teach us how to have an uncommon faith and hope in him as the true revelation of thy will and the real Lord of history. Teach us how to live the way he lived. Teach us how to hope in the face of death and domination and despair. Confer on us the resurrecting power of vulnerable love that we might be faithful witnesses to thy love in Christ.
It is with hopeful joy that we pray in the name of the raised Jesus. Amen.
Third Sunday of Easter, 5/4/03
O Lord God, we gather on this third Sunday of Easter, remembering the days in which Jesus was appearing and teaching his astonished disciples and friends. We know that his rising and his appearing to others is the great miracle of thy life with the world. We are thankful that our gathering today would be inconceivable without the magnificence of Jesus manifesting himself to others in the days following his repudiation of death’s tomb. We praise thee that Jesus is not among the dead and that he gives us hope about our lives now and in life beyond death.
It is because of the power and grace of his resurrection that we dare to hope in thy Son Jesus as the hope for the world. It is in that hope that we pray for those among us in this gathered congregation who feel hopeless or who are in desperation because of illness or the death of a loved one or who are in despair about their own possibilities in life or who are in sorrow about the losses of war and conflict in our world today. We pray that they might know thy peace that builds hope. In all these ways we pray for a resurrected future in which thy peace might prevail among the people of thy world.
We especially lift up those brothers and sisters in our nation who are out of work and who are in despair of finding the sort of work that is meaningful and financially sufficient. We know that these unemployed folk are subject to a terrible fall into self-accusation and feelings of worthlessness. Not many of us, O Lord, understand that the real source of our final worth is in relationship to thee. Empower us, however, to understand clearly and practically that those who cannot find work are those about whom Jesus summoned us to love and to whom we can offer our own assets and securities. Save us from the demonic thought that these folk have brought their unemployment on themselves. We pray as well for an economy that values honesty, fidelity, justice, and truthfulness and that is not engendered by greed and selfishness.
We pray for the little ones around the world who lack power over their lives and destiny, who are continually subject to the neglect and oppression by the powerful. Give them power, O Lord, to maintain and assert their own dignity before thee and as our brothers and sisters.
All these words, O Lord, are but our own earnest searching to understand what it means to believe that Jesus is raised from the dead. Teach us how to hope in thee in all things, how to become the sort of folk who raise up and encourage others, how to be the sort of folk consumed by an miraculous generosity, how to become the servants of thy kingdom of grace and life, resisting and thwarting the kingdom of death and death-dealing.
We confess that if Jesus still lives, then we should not live as though he is dead and irrelevant to our actual living. Teach us how to live as he lived and how to hope in the final joy of that sort of resurrecting confidence.
It is in Jesus’ name that we have prayed these concerns.
O Lord God, we gather today as thy people, praising thy wondrous works of creation and redemption and giving thanks for thy coming amongst us in Jesus Christ. We seek to be conformed to his life and in that way to be in conformity with thy life.
You have taught us that whether we live or whether we die, we are thy beloved children and friends. We confess that we do not often live as though we believe that. Rather we know ourselves as inclined to fear death above all things and we are often confused as to how to live. We pray that you will not give up on us in the bitter depths of our failures and in our foolish desires to have life on our own terms.
We are thankful that we can gather as a congregation amidst others who can teach and upbuild us in the faith. We pray that we might be open to the guidance of those wise saints among us and to the guidance of thy Holy Spirit.
We pray for the one sent to pastor us in faith and life, even thy servant Kevin. Give him the courage he will always need to be a faithful and truthful interpreter of thy Word, to be a bold conveyor of thy justice, and to be a resolute proclaimer of thy unfailing grace. Give him that keen vision of the cosmic sweep and grandeur of thy life and works and the almighty power of thy grace. Keep him mindful of his own spiritual needs and preserve him from the peril of trying to run on empty. We also pray for his family that we might be a blessing to them and that they might find friendship and solidarity with us.
And O Lord, save Kevin and save us from that terrible heresy into which he and we are inclined to fall, namely, that he is the one who does the ministering and we are the ones who get ministered unto. Keep us all mindful of our common priesthood and ministry as believers in Christ and witnesses to Christ’s Gospel.
Dear Lord, there is much in the world today that distresses us and strikes dismay in our hearts. The world seems so out of control and so full of uncompromising hatred and selfish violence and arrogant exertions of power aimed at domination and subjugation. Keep us from the temptations of either the despair that nothing can be done or the indifference of not caring.
So once again, O Lord, we pray for thy beloved people in Liberia, torn by a chaos created by violent and reckless men. And we pray for our brothers and sisters in Israel and in Palestine as they struggle to rise above the hatred, revenge, and demonic violence that decades of conflict have made into unbreakable habits. We know that you are always trying to bring good out of the evil that is done by us humans to each other, and so teach us how to find ways to work with thee for good.
O lord we pray for peace, even as we know from thy Word that thy peace can never be achieved down the barrel of a gun.
It is in Christ’s name that we have dared to pray so boldly.
O God, merciful giver of all life and blessing, the fount of all goodness, we come gladly and gratefully together to praise thy name, to confess our sins, and expecting to find ourselves addressed by thy judging and forgiving Word.
Even as we praise thy name, we also confess that we have lived largely for ourselves throughout much of this past week and have neglected loving thee and loving our neighbor. Embrace us with thy forgiveness to remind us how we too must be forgiving of those who harm us. Address us in Kevin’s sermon with thy Word. Give us ears to hear and hearts to feel and minds to think thy Word as it comes into our lives.
There are many, O Lord, in our community of faith who are stricken with illness or decline or despair. We lift them up to thee as the ones who need thy special care and love and restoration. Move within their lives that they may know thy love and be comforted by thy peace.
O Lord, we especially beseech thee about the violence that seems so rampant on our streets, the easy way death comes into our midst, the frightening consequences of guns too accessible to those of us filled with anger and hate. We pray for those families in our town and state this past week that have had loved ones mindlessly slaughtered on our streets, in our stores, and in our homes. Give those families, in their inconsolable grief, the strength of thy love that they may not become further victims consumed by an unquenchable hatred and lust for retaliation. Teach us that thy justice does not require returning evil with evil.
We pray for our youth O Lord. Empower us to be faithful and loving parents living lives worthy of imitation by our children. Give us the peace to be patient, the attentive wisdom to know our children well, and the courage to give them direction and support. Relieve us of that self-centered and careless neglect that leaves our children to their own devices.
We pray for this congregation that we might be faithful witnesses to thee and thy grace. Teach us how to be hospitable to each other and to those who come to worship with us but are not yet committed.
Finally, O Lord of all goodness, it is wonderful to be alive in these times, however challenging and confusing they might be. It is wonderful just to have life from thee and before thee and to have a hope in thy unfailing grace and love.
In Christ’s name we pray.
Third Sunday of Advent, 12/14/03
O Lord of Hosts, we have heard once again the rumblings out of Bethlehem of thy sure invasion of our privacy and our kingdoms. You keep coming after us and disturbing our peace. You will not let us alone and you will not leave us to our own devices. We confess that in our better moments we long for a savior who will do our bidding and take up our private and public causes. But these rumblings of advent warn us that you want to disturb our lives and save us on thy own terms for thy kingdom.
We earnestly pray this third Sunday of advent that you not take from us the warm sentimentalities of our Santa Claus Christmas. Yes, we know we spend too much, and we purchase the sentiments without glad hearts. But at least this hectic season keeps the economy going, people have work, corporations thrive when we buy. Please, O Lord—the One proclaimed by John the Baptist—do not disturb us with any other news than that the real meaning of Christmas simply is the warm fuzzies of family, the lighted evergreens, the tinsel stars, and the cozy songs that wring tears from our eyes.
Do not disturb us with the thunder of war and destruction that the powerful Herods of the world are wreaking on near and distant battlefields. Soothe us with the thought that these battlefields will bring a better future and will surely protect our freedoms and our right to privacy and our right to live our lives on our own terms.
Please, O God of our own desires, just leave us alone. The last thing we want to hear now is that you are coming toward us out of the midst of stark poverty to be born a poor Jew who will challenge the mighty powers of life and death that we both fear and love. Do not beckon us to any kingdom that calls upon us to repent of our illusions and betrayals, that calls us to lay down our security devices and disband our armies, that calls us to comfort the prisoners among us, that calls us to feed the hungry, that calls us to clothe the naked and forsaken.
O God, we are so afraid of being called to these sacrifices that we will surely strike out in violence at any one who lays another guilt trip on us. If you really want to do us a favor, forget that stuff about a new kingdom of peace, about death dealing crosses, about saints who give without restraint. Just leave us to Santa Claus and Wal Mart and peanut brittle and hot chocolate.
O God of all truth, forgive what we have been praying, even as we admit that these are the honest discourses of our hearts. Teach us how to speak of thy coming kingdom, of thy mighty power and love in such a way that we might become thy servants following the way of Lord Jesus, the One we crucified. Teach us once again just what thy kingdom is about and what you want from us and how you want to redeem us. We are really quite lost.
Come, O come Emmanuel. Do not leave us to our own devices. Do not leave us alone in the darkness of this world of selfish conflict and violence that is of our own making. Come Emmanuel, shine thy light into the darkness and we will surely repent and change our ways.
[These pastoral prayers were spoken this past year in my irregular duties as liturgical leader at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma, The Reverend Kevin Tully, pastor. Posted here 1/5/04]