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.

Longest Night Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service

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This was written for a service that will be used in Belleville, Illinois on December 21, 2019.  The term “homeless” is used to describe this day as seen as at NationalHomeless.org, my hope was to be sensitive to the people experiencing lack of housing, hoping to look at “people first.”  Feel free to adapt as needed with attribution.

Opening Prayer
Spirit of God who hovers around all of us-
Whether we abide on the highest peak or in the lowest valley,
Whether we abide in lengthening shadows or growing light-
Fill us with peace that comes from you.

Night has reached its pinnacle,
But the victory has not been delightful.
With it comes the chills of shadows-
The frigid loneliness of grief.

In this season when daytime’s gloom sneers at all of us,
Nighttime’s shadows are anything but cover.
Night has shed it’s duty to its people,
To the ones looking for its stars of hope. 

Scripture: Luke 2:1-7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Meditation
Burdened with worry and overwhelmed with joy, Jesus came into the world displaced.  Stories say he was a refugee – on the run to save his life. Later stories say that he spoke to his followers ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Luke 9:58)  The one that people have called savior, teacher, friend, beloved found himself living an itinerant life for different reasons at various times.

Scripture: Psalm 91
1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
   who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,*
2 will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;
   my God, in whom I trust.’
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
   and from the deadly pestilence;
4 he will cover you with his pinions,
   and under his wings you will find refuge;
   his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
   or the arrow that flies by day,
6 or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
   or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
   ten thousand at your right hand,
   but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
   and see the punishment of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge,*
   the Most High your dwelling-place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
   no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
   to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
   so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
   the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
   I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
   I will be with them in trouble,
   I will rescue them and honour them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
   and show them my salvation.

Prayer
For the ones struggling with severe mental health
Who can’t see the world through a clear lens
And exist with a view of the world which is contorted-
A permanent place to stay is not in their path:
May we journey with them to find answers
And places of refuge in the nighttime of their lives.

For the ones with PTSD
Hurt by wars and the world:
May their spiritual wounds heal.
And in this meantime
As their life is lived under stars and clouds
May your light give them promise.

For LGBTQ children who find no place at home
Forsaken by family,
Deserted by friends:
May your light guide them to families of the soul.

For the ones struggling with addiction
Whose life shifted because of this health crisis
And no home fits their current shape of life:
May the power of your love strengthen them
And gift them the courage of newness and health.

For the ones who live in the system of eviction-
Surviving on couches,
Crouching in car seats,
Trying to sleep in spaces so small
And find a place of their own:
May our world work together to lead them to homes
And pathways of hope.

For ones living among violence
Who wonder if every tomorrow will be the end of their journeys:
May our communities find ways to find the refuge of peace they need.

For the ones who have perished by violence, from suicide
From overdoses, from the frigid chills of the air,
From the lack of medicine and lack of food.
For their loved ones who grieved long before their deaths
And will long after-
We pray for their everlasting peace.
We pray for their loved ones’ comfort will cover them during the longest night of the year.

May our systems change.
May our hearts transform.
May we repent and change the ways that have held others back.

We pray this to you, Divine Love, Spirit of Hope.
Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 139
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
   intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
   all the days that were formed for me,
   when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
   I come to the end*—I am still with you.

Meditation
They didn’t have the world’s refuge.
They didn’t have overhead protection.
Their blankets were torn.
Their coats light.
There was no refuge, we know this to be true.
And yet God was their refuge.
It’s hard to see this when they often had no cover
From violence, from the chills, from viruses, from medications.
Maybe it’s time for us to answer the call to be God’s refuge.
We may be the ones God’s commanding.
We may be the ones to sit with them in Sheol,
To follow them to the farthest places of the world,
And into the long night of the soul.

Remembering the Ones Lost
Please write the name of your loved one on the paper
And place it within the box.

Prayer
Loving God, we know you accompanied these loved ones to their shadow-filled corners.  No matter how far they could flee in this world, they could never flee from you.

We commend their spirit to you knowing they abide with you forever, knowing they live in your eternal refuge.  May their spirits be free from the pains of this earth, and may they see your everlasting light. Amen.

Benediction
As night recedes
And the days now lengthen,
May we share the light of hope with our neighbors,
May we abide in Divine peace,
May we walk with God, our Holy Sojourner,
And may we embrace the comfort of the Spirit
Who is forever in our company and forever our refuge.  
Go in the peace of the Divine Love.  Amen.

(c) Michelle L. Torigian – free to use and adapt with attribution

Scripture from Oremus Bible Browser – NRSV

Blue Christmas Prayer Service

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Here is the latest Blue Christmas prayer service I wrote for this year.  Feel free to use with attribution!

Call to Worship
One: As we move through the shadows where light finds no home,

Many: God is sauntering with us.
One: As we journey through the desert without direction or goal,
Many: God is wandering with us.
One: As we endure life in the space between grief and joy,
Many: God is trekking with us.
One: Whether we abide in the wilderness or promised land,
Many: God escorts us.

Prayer
Loving God, Divine Sojourner, in our minds we know you are always our partner and you are forever present. Yet in the depths of despair, we can’t always sense your presence.  We move about this earth with the desire that you see us. We cry in our grief, hoping that you will hear the lament of our hearts. As you hold us in the palm of your hand, open our souls in order for us to know the extent of your care in our lives.  Amen.

Hymn Suggestion            “In the Bleak Midwinter”

Scripture              Psalm 88:3-7

Prayer
Some of us are in the depths of the Pit, God of Deliverance.  Our hearts are swallowed by grief, and our souls overflowing with despair.  As the shadows hide your presence, call us with a different voice and reach to us with different hands.  May our seasons of despair evolve from times of loneliness to times of comfort. Amen.

Scripture                Psalm 130

Prayer
Divine Heart of Mercy, in your steadfast love you call us along the journey from despair to hope.  Allow us to see the trickles of light trespassing on shadow’s spaces. May slivers of expectation move us into places filled with your warm promises.  Amen.

Scripture                  Psalm 91

Reflection/Sermon

Prayers of the People and the Lord’s Prayer

Poem Suggestion            Howard Thurman’sI Will Light Candles This Christmas”

Lighting of the Candles

Suggested Closing Hymn              “Silent Night”

Benediction
One: Even when lights have been dimmed
And shadows have lengthened,
God is near.
May the fragments of light and slivers of hope
Nudge all of us to take small steps into Divine anticipation!
Amen.

A Blessing of the Mason Jars

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November 30 is National Mason Jar Day

God of creativity-

As we take a hold of the Mason Jars we have
we share our gratitude with you for the gifts they contain…

from the homemade jars of jam
and the pickles and pickles veggies,
to hot chocolate mixes
and candies.

Thank you for your delicious world and the hands which handed us these gifts.

We give you thanks for the creative possibilities each jar provides…

From being a container for soap
to displaying candles and flowers
and live plants which thrive in these jars.

God, the opportunities are endless!
(And Pinterest inspires us more…)

So bless our pint-sized vessels and quart-sized containers filled with possibilities.

May they help us grow closer to you and our neighbors. May they nudge us to use our gifts to create a beautiful, tasty world.

Amen.

An Advent Communion Liturgy

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Invitation

One: May you know that the God of comfort is with you.
Many: And may you see the God of hope with you.
One: Open wide our anxious hearts!
Many: We open them to God’s peace.
One: Let us give thanks and share our joy.
Many: In this space and time, we offer God our love and praise.

Prayer

One: The dawn of hope rests on the horizon
And beams of love reach our doubting hearts.
We celebrate the newness of this season-
Waiting to see how the Christ will appear in our world.
Even in our despair, a glimmer of hope reaches into our twilight
Beckoning us to breathe and wait…

Our story tells us that the Christ child whose birth we anticipate
Will one day sit at tables with strangers and friends,
Building relationships filled with love and grace.

We see this as he fed the multitude,
Turned water into wine,
And ate with dear ones the night before his death.

He took the bread, blessed it, and broke it.
Eat in remembrance of me, he said.

He took the cup, and in his blessing
Reminded them that when they sipped from the fruit of the vine
To drink in remembrance of him.

Jesus.  The Christ.  Emmanuel – God with us.
Light of the World.  The Word of Life.
No matter how we know him
Or what name we call him,
He is our hope, our peace, our joy, and our love.
May the Spirit bless us and these elements as we commune to remember him.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

For the nourishment of spirit, mind, and body,
For hope that we begin to see,
And for comfort from the Prince of Peace,
We share our gratitude, Gracious God.
Encourage us in these shortened days.
Through the long nights of this season,
May your hope carry us until dawn arrives again.

Amen.

*****

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