A Prayer for the Ones Ailing and Dying Alone

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Peace-bearing God-
We know that your presence fills each space and time in our universe.
When we cannot enter a space,
You are present.
When our loved ones are on the brink of Sheol, the roughest of spaces,
You are present.

So many who are on our hearts are in hospitals and care facilities.
The doors are locked to the outside world,
And loved ones are barred from entering.

Their bodies ache and may be failing them,
And what they want most-
To be surrounded by the ones they love-
Is a privilege denied.

So many are about to go on ventilators,
And all they want to do is share love with their dear ones-
A small consolation that is near impossible.

We ask that they find bedside friend through you, Holy Attendant.
May final breaths be filled with memories of loved-filled times.
May moments of healing be invigorated by hope seen in small moments
And friendly strangers.

And for the loved ones outside of doors
Whose deep desires are to be at bedsides
Instead of in silent homes-
May they find peace through you God.
May they find ways to share their love
Before the end arrives.

May your Divine Comfort give all who ail and all who love them
The strength they need.
If death nears,
May they find all of the peace they need from you, God.
We thank you for all of the caregivers in hospital rooms and care facilities
Who can give the ailing a little bit of comfort.

May hearts that are shattered find the healing they need through you.
And may we realize that none of us are every fully alone.

Amen.

Quarantine Worship – Lent 5 and John 11

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Entry into Worship
Some enter worship with bubbles of joy in their souls
and some come to this time with dread-painted spirits.
Some enter worship with pitchers full of hope
and others only bring bowls of despair.

You may be carrying a myriad of emotions
or feel like your emotions have run dry.
This is the space to bring your fullest selves-
whether withered or flourishing.

No matter where you are spiritually or physically,
Your tears and laughter are welcome here.

Invocation
Cradling God, as emotions swell in our minds
and our souls feel a disconcerting ache,
be our source of comfort.
In this boundless night of our existence,
be our light.
In a wilderness that has no end,
be our guide.
May we encounter your fountains of hope in this exile.
Amen.

Prayer of Reconciliation
We are overflowing with emotions right now God.
Some we understand.  Others we do not.
And with this overabundance of feelings
comes an overabundance of reactions.
Some are healthy.  Others hurt.
Forgive us for acting out of our grief.
Assist us in understanding our emotions in new ways
so that we don’t hurt our neighbors again.  Amen.

Assurance of Grace
Jesus got angry.  Jesus wept.  Jesus grieved.
Like Jesus, our full humanity will shine in this world-
from our lamenting to our laughter.
Like Jesus, the Divine Image will be seen in us
through our tears and our grins.  Amen.

Reflection on Giving
In our individual spaces, we recognize the privileges and gifts we bear-
the time that we give,
our special talents,
and our financial treasures.

While the world may seem like it’s slowed quite a bit,
our building still stands,
some programs have become virtual,
and our staff still sustains the work of the church.

With the gifts you give,
the endeavors of the congregation progresses in transformed ways.

So we pray together…
May God bless the gifts we’ve been given
as they will be used to continue our mission
whether within or outside of the church’s walls.
We thank you for technology that we use each day
to promote the mission of the church-
bringing good news and hope to the children of God.
Amen.

Benediction
Cradling God-
May our tears bless the ground on which we walk.
May our breath sustain our bodies which houses our souls.
May our beating hearts remind us of your love for us all.
Through our hearts, our breathing, and our tears, let us care for your children in this Lenten wilderness.
Amen.

(c) Rev. Michelle L. Torigian  Permission to use with attribution.

Coronavirus is in the Body of Christ

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One of the most memorable sermons I remembered was (I believe) from my friend Rev. Jack Lewis.  He delivered the sermon as his senior sermon around the early part of December.  The title was something like “The Body of Christ has AIDS.”

When the Body of Christ has a virus or an illness, the entire body has it.  Viruses aren’t exactly like breaking a foot or straining a wrist – which still impacts other parts of the body to an extent.  Rather, viruses impact the entire system.

Which is why I have to say this: Coronavirus is in the Body of Christ.

Paul gave us a magnificent illustration back in the first century CE.  1 Corinthians 12:14-26 states this:

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

When a virus attacks the body, we can’t isolate it from other parts of the body.  When we have a stomach virus, we can’t remove our stomach from the rest of our body.  When we had the chicken pox years ago, the entire body would suffer with the red, itchy spots.  Viruses attacks the full system.  “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”

Likewise, when the Coronavirus entered the Body of Christ – just one person – it entered the full human body.  It meant that the Body was going to have to work to rid itself of the disease – new ways of living and caring for one another – even in our isolation or if it’s impacting the world away from here.  As it grows closer, even if it doesn’t impact us directly, we are still impacted by what is going on in our communities and world today.

We can’t spiritually isolate ourselves from what is going on by calling it a hoax, or that people of one party want this or caused this. This dangerous rhetoric needs to change. Coronavirus/COVID-19 is real. It’s impacting people in China who are part of our Body. It’s impacting people in Italy – also part of our Body. It’s impacting people in all corners of the world. It’s impacting poor people with less than the best insurance, notable people like Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. It’s impacting leaders and their spouses – like Sophie Trudeau. It’s impacting older people through illness and younger people through grief.

And it’s going to take ALL of us to “flatten the curve.”  It will take all of us to change the way we are living to slow this virus to the point in which it is manageable for our medical professionals to treat.

If you say that this doesn’t impact you, then you forget about the child who has had an organ transplant or the person with COPD.  If you decide to keep living life the exact same way you’ve been living, then you risk transmitting the virus to someone over the age of 60 or the person going through chemotherapy.

The Body of Christ is already impacted by this disease.  And the Body of Christ will need a long period of healing even after it is “well.”

It will impact our economy.

It will impact the people we love.

It will impact our social connections.

It’s too late to expel it. The Coronavirus is now part of the body of Christ.

So now that it’s infected the communal Body of Christ/human body, what do we do?

First and foremost, we are required to realize that we are all connected. Each decision we make impacts everyone else – even the people who we have never met or the ones we pass by in stores and doctors offices.

Second, we share our resources of time, talent, and treasures when we can.  We brainstorm and become creative when it comes to allowing people to work or finding pay for them.  We design worship for streaming platforms.  We share.  We begin to trust God and love neighbor instead of hoarding for ourselves.

Third, we reach out to our neighbors as more and more events are being canceled.  We may be physically social distancing, but we are not emotionally and spiritually social distancing.  Canceling events may upset us, but it’s keeping someone else alive.  Even in our grief, let’s reach out to someone else who is grieving the loss of socialization or who may be going through a deep patch of depression or anxiety.  We give thanks for the many ways we can keep connected – from phone calls to emails, from FaceTime to hand-written notes.

Fourth, believe that this is real and advocate for/share love with those who are most vulnerable: people with weakened immune systems, people with lack of housing and food, people with depression and anxiety, people who are over 60, people who do not have adequate child care, and people without decent health care.

This extra effort is required because they are part of the same Body of Christ in which you are and I am.  And this Body is infected.

The Body of Christ has the Coronavirus.  Whether you are the foot or the hand or the stomach or the kidneys or the heart – you are affected.

We are a system.  We are the Body of Christ.  Let us heal together.

Mental Health Litany of Wholeness

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Scripture
John 14:26-27

One: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Entry into Healing

One: When the world is topsy turvy around me, and I can’t see reality clearly.  When the medications haven’t clicked in, and I find myself in a manic state, or when depression is weighing me down.  Is this a panic attack coming on?!?

(Sets a medicine bottle on altar/table)

All: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

One: This substance helps me avoid the discomfort of life.  And now, it’s tough to set it down. I need it to function. I need it so I don’t feel everything.  It brings relief… and it’s a weight.

(Sets a weight on altar/table)

All: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

One: Trauma from war has clouded my brain.  All of a sudden mental pictures flash in my mind.  Will these visions ever leave?

(Sets a photo from veterans’ memorial on altar/table)

All: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

One: My dad can’t remember what he had for lunch earlier today.  And he no longer knows my name.

(Takes off name tag from neck and sets it on altar/table)

All: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

One: When you lose a spouse, you lose a part of yourself.  I haven’t been able to sleep as well. I’m not like I was before their death.

(Sets a box of tissues on altar/table)

All: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

One: So many in my pews are hurting – grief and depression, anxiety and trauma, addictions, caregiving.  Where do I go next?

(Sets a stole on altar/table)

All: Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Scripture Isaiah 41:10

One: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”

The candle is lit.

Prayer of Healing

Gracious God, Divine Travel Companion,

On this journey filled with worry and grief, our souls feel unsettled.  Our hearts rattle with the notion that something about our bodies and minds will fail.  Will illness and death surround us? Will the ones we love desert us?

Such anxiety sometimes needs additional help, God.  We thank you for counselors, therapists, psychologists, and others who offer a listening ear and constructive feedback.  With their help, we may begin to understand ourselves in new ways.

Bless the medications that we take each day which keeps our minds and our bodies in balance.  Bless the doctors who prescribe and consult and the pharmacists who care for our safety.

Bless the clergy who offer prayers when life crumbles and who will rush to bedsides when illness has overtaken us.  We give gratitude for their words of comfort when grief rolls in like storm clouds.

Through our trauma and our mourning, our anxiety and depression, when substances take the place of healthy living, and as our bodies begin to fail us, comfort us on this journey.  May your peace strengthen us. May your warmth give us hope for the future. Through your gifts and your presence, we see a future with hope.

Amen.

(c) Michelle L. Torigian 2020 – – Permission to use with attribution

It’s Not Easy Being Purple

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I’ve been looking ahead to texts that I will be preaching in the next few weeks.  After recent news stories, I feel that many texts that I’m coming across makes me want to run in the opposite direction.  “Too divisive!” I think to myself.

And some of these texts are as simple as “Love your enemies.”  These are sentiments that have come out of the mouth of Jesus, and all I want to do is avoid them.

Some of you reading this will think to yourself “You aren’t doing enough to drive this issue!  You must preach on this!”  Some of you reading this will think to yourself “You’ve done too much.  Back off this issue!”

Welcome to the purple church of the twenty-first century!

As I overanalyze my sermons, prayers, posts, conversations, etc., I ponder if I’m living into my calling by God.  “Be strong and courageous” as God says to Joshua.  But I feel less than confident preaching anything that relates to something that sounds remotely like we’ve all heard on the news.  And then I remember what Karl Barth said:

Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.

Which makes me feel the need to address the following…

To some, the scripture may seem too political.  And your pastor probably has had a good talk with God on why this is part of the lectionary for THIS. PARTICULAR. WEEK.  Or maybe they have begged God not to call them to preach on a particular text.  And God laughed and them and still called them to preach on the text.  Unfortunately, some issues are too relatable – whether it happened during the time of Jesus or the Babylonian Exile or now.  The whole situation may seem like they hand-picked all of this out and wanted to speak specifically on a subject.  Yet sometimes the text leads the preacher to the subject, and there is no where else to go except preaching through and wrestling with the text.

Some of these texts appear to speak for themselves.  Take care of the foreigner?  What more should we need to say?  The struggle is that we may see immigration laws differently.  Yet, a text like this asks us to ponder “How are we treating our refugees while they are being detained?”  Does separating children from parents and not allowing doctors to administer free flu shots to refugees in detention centers mean that we are properly caring for the foreigner?

You will probably feel like your pastor has gone too far one way from time to time.  And they may have.  But they’re trying to figure all of this out as well.  They are trying to be as faithful to the scripture, to where God is calling them, and to create a loving world.  They are trying to say what they believe God is calling them to say in ways that is not over the top.  And there will be times in which they must speak out against an injustice which is creating hardship and oppression in the lives or well-beings of people.  There were pastors who did this in 1930’s Germany and some who did not.  Ultimately, your pastor must live with themselves, and not speaking out against oppression is not always an option.  It may seem partisan and political, but for them, it’s Biblical.

Your pastor has personal views that they may express in other spaces.  They are allowed to.  They are expressing themselves because they want to see God’s kingdom here on earth.  You never have to agree with them.  Yes, they want you to treat your neighbors with love and dignity.  But it doesn’t mean you will agree on how to make health care more affordable or reproductive health issues.   This is where dialogue comes in…

Dialogue is crucial.  If you are struggling with anything they said during a sermon, Bible study, or outside of church, have a conversation with them.  Understand why they believe what they believe.

Your pastor’s job is not to avoid what is happening in the world and make all of this easy.  It’s not easy.  It’s a tough time.  Part of the congregation feels extreme hope by the person occupying the White House.  Part of the congregation feels extreme despair by the person occupying the White House.  And part of the congregation doesn’t care or is trying to avoid this altogether.

For people at churches with more-unified perspectives – WONDERFUL!  You have the opportunity to have the luxury of hearing what you want to hear in church and not worry about what your neighbor thinks. But for those of us in purple churches, we must work together, to be an example to our country on how to communicate with one another when we disagree.

Ultimately, we are all connected.  We are still part of the Body of Christ.  Republican and Democrat.  Liberal, Moderate, and Conservative.  We are connected.  And we must remember this covenant, knowing that when heaven and earth have passed away, all of you will be part of God’s loving energy together.

Worship Service for Epiphany 5A

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Call to Worship
One: As the sun climbs from the horizon
Many: God’s presence endures with us.
One: As the clouds mask the sun’s warming presence,
Many: God’s presence remains with us.
One: As the sun drifts back to the horizon,
Many: God’s presence lingers with us.
One: As light rests until morning,
Many: God’s presence persists with us.

Invocation
Gleaming God-
No matter how cold the winds whip around us,
No matter how chilly stares and words may appear,
No matter how frigid our despairing hearts,
Your light warms our souls and melts our cynicism.

Divine Brilliance-
May your morning light encourage us to walk your way.
May your rays of sun reach us from behind the clouds
And encourage us in these weeks of winter.  Amen.

Prayer of Reconciliation
Holy God, Holy Light who abides within our souls,
We have hoarded the light-
thinking we will spend it on a rainy day.

We have stashed the light far away from our neighbors.
We worry: Would they steal our light from our souls?
Would we have enough illumination when the clouds roll back in?

Through your eternal, inspirational light, encourage us to share the light with our neighbors.
May this light feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick.
May this light draw us closer to one another.
May we become people moved by the brilliance of Christ.  Amen.

Assurance of Grace
Like the sun each morning at daybreak,
God’s grace renews our spirits,
energizing us to start fresh in each moment.
Live in the bright, excitement of this grace!  Amen!

Invitation to Offering
Like a flame spreading from one candle to the next, we, too, are encouraged to share light and love with our neighbors and church. We give because God has given us much.  We love because God’s love is overflowing.  In this time and place, may we give our treasures so that God’s love and light can be experienced by all.

Prayer of Dedication
Gleaming God, with these offerings, may our neighbors experience your love.  With these treasures, may the world know your light and continue to pass your brilliant hope to all.  Amen.

Benediction (Based on Isaiah 58)
May your light break forth like the dawn.
May your gloom be like the noonday.
May God guide each of us continually
So that we live as bright, watered gardens
Where water and light never fail.  Amen.

Public Events and Private Grief

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I have a lot of feelings and opinions when it comes to the current impeachment hearings of the US President.  Now, here is not necessarily the place to insert those opinions (although I may at some point).  But other things are bubbling up as part of this process.

My dad was my civics teacher.  He taught us about the U.S. Constitution, the leaders of our country, and the workings of elections – – and impeachments.

At the time I had had him as my civics teacher (1987-1988), only one president had been impeached.  I believe when the next impeachment hearings rolled around in the late 1990’s, I was far too concerned about frivolous things to engage in a decent debate with dad on the hearings of that time.

Right now, he’s the one person I wish was around so I could talk with him about the happenings in D.C.

We thought alike quite a bit when it came to politics and government.  Yet, we didn’t always agree on every subject.  He and I would debate fiercely on the need of having the Electoral College…

I just wish I didn’t have the last word on that debate so soon.

No matter the direction of our government-related conversations, I would learn much about civics from him – whether it was well before I formally had him as a teacher, in freshman civics class, or in the thirty years following.

And for the first time this year, I won’t get to discuss the results of the Iowa Caucus or Super Tuesday.  I won’t get to send him a selfie of me with my “I voted” sticker.  I won’t get to watch the conventions or fret as we watch the returns on election night.

This is part of grief people forget about.  What happens in our society, on the television, or out in the world can trigger grief.  This secondary grief doesn’t necessarily occur to us when we first lose our loved one.  But as time passes, moments of mourning happen because it reminds us of our beloved.

When hearing a father and daughter have died together, certain feelings may bubble up in some people who may have recently lost their father, spouse, or child.  When seeing a royal wedding on television, we may think of the time we watched another royal wedding with our grandparents.  When seeing a storyline on a television show, it may remind us of the trauma we experienced when our family member was struggling with the same challenges.

I miss my dad.  When I really reflect on the fact that I will never be able to discuss current events again with him during this life, my heart aches.  And yet I’m blessed that I had him as my teacher – both inside and outside the classroom.

A Prayer When I Feel Like I’m Getting Sick

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God of the Handkerchiefs, Spirit of the Humidifers,
As my throat increases in scratchiness,
And the chills and aches invade my space,
May your strength fill my cells with health.

Hear my lament: “Nooooooooooooo!  Achoo!”
*Cough Cough*
“UGH!”

If this is, indeed, an illness,
May this be brief, and my I gain my strength back soon.
Give me the patience to rest.
May my schedule be light this week
And my tasks few
So that I can nurse myself back to health.

If this happens to be a false alarm,
May I pay attention to my body
And avoid the plague like the plague.

Amen.

A Prayer on a Bad News Day

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God who fills the cracks in this world-
Today was a horrific news day.

As the world falls apart,
And our neighbors endure pain,
And hate spreads across our planet,
We lament, we weep, we cry for you.

Why have you forsaken us as the earth shakes?
Why have your children screamed words of hate?
Why have bombs and planes and so much else fallen?
Why do illnesses spread throughout our loved ones?

The news was heavy… no, suffocating.
Like the air from fires,
The dust from earthquakes,
The smoke from bombs,
And the fuel from planes.

So we look towards you in our confusion, our pain, our sadness.
We try to makes sense of things that won’t make sense anyway.
And we go to bed, shedding tears upon our pillows-

Hoping that the sun will fill the skies tomorrow,
That pain is alleviated,
That fires are extinguished,
And healing begins.

Amen.

A Liturgy for Epiphany

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Call to Worship (Inspired by John 1)

One: The light shines in dimness
Many: And dimness did not overtake the light.
One: The light shines in each space.
Many: No gloom, no despair will overtake it.
One: The light shines in our souls.
Many: The shadows of life did not shade Divine light.
One: We celebrate the light of Christ
Many: A steadfast presence from the beginning
Which will shine through the end of time.

Invocation

Holy Lamplighter, as night prematurely encroaches upon us each day, may your illumination brighten our souls.  As we wait for dawn’s first glimmer, may the warmth you carry radiate across this community.  Kindle our hearts made cold by the world’s frostiness, and brighten the road ahead as we ponder what is most important in our lives.  Amen.

Prayer of Reconciliation

One: Spirit of God, we have blocked your light and love from our neighbors.  We have barricaded the Divine glow which enlightens and empowers all of us.  We have turned our backs on the gleam of your wisdom, God.

All: Yet no matter how far we flee, your light still flows near.  You will never hide your light from us.  Encourage us to open doors and shutters to your brilliance so that your illumination will reach our souls.  May this enlightenment bring us closer to your intentions for this earth.  Amen.

Assurance of Grace

One: God’s warmth melts our hardened hearts.  God’s brilliance lights the path on which we will start again.  May we embrace God’s luminosity as we start on this new year journey.  Amen!

Call to Offering

As we seek the presence of God in our lives, we will begin to sense how God is calling us to use our gifts to build our church, our community, and our world.  It is a privilege to share what we have been given to love and light this this earth.

Prayer of Dedication

Divine Lamplighter, in gratitude, we share our treasures, our talents, and our time with this congregation.  We humbly ask that you illuminate our minds and hearts as we use all our resources to craft a just world for all.  Amen.

Benediction

One: As we travel dim streets during this new year, God,
Be our Divine Lamplighter.May your light shine on the road ahead of us.
May the warmth from your flame melt the frost covering our hearts.
May our souls come alive at the sight of your brilliance.
And may your light draw us closer to our neighbors as we begin this season together.

Amen!

A communion liturgy for Epiphany can be found here.

(c) 2019 Michelle L. Torigian.  Permission to use with attribution.