Tag Archives: healing

Longest Night: For those that mourn at Christmas

This is a liturgy I wrote for a service I have called either a “Blue Christmas” service or a “Longest Night” service.  Where I am, the longest night of 2012 will begin at 4:35 on Friday, December 21.  If you are a worship leader, I suggest you start this service half an hour before sunset.  Send out letters now to all families that have had funerals in the last year, and also to local hospital chaplains.  I believe this is a beautiful way to make space for those that mourn at Christmas. You have permission to use as much or as little of this as you wish.  I’d appreciate a small credit somewhere in the bulletin.  If you plan on using it, I’d love it if you told me in the comments section.

Set in a prominent place in the sanctuary should be vase with water and dead, gray sticks coming out of it.  Each person, as they enter, shall be given a blue or purple carnation or rose.  These probably need to be ordered ahead of time, as most florists do not have them on hand.  Placed around the vase may be votive candles as well as the bread and cup for Communion.

The candles for the Advent wreath should be lit before the service.  If this service is held on the Longest Night, the fourth Advent candle – the candle of love has probably been lit.  Later in the service, each person will be invited to take the flame from the candle of love – which cannot be extinguished by death- and light a votive for the person/persons they mourn.  They then place a blue carnation in the vase amongst the dead sticks.  After all have placed in the vase, it becomes quite a beautiful winter arrangement.  This arrangement can be left in an inconspicuous place in the sanctuary for the Christmas Eve celebration.

Music can be used in this service, but as an undertone to set the mood.  If you have a musician available, then they can play calming music at the beginning of the service, and possibly some recognizable hymns (not Christmas carols) during Communion.  One song that is suggested can be played as a CD, but permission from the artist must still be granted.   I do not have the right to grant usage rights, it is merely a suggestion because I think it is a beautiful song.

Words of Welcome

The Advent season is one of wonder.  For so many it is a time of hopeful anticipation.  It is a season of promise.  The longer nights and the gray clouds seem to provide the perfect background for the lights and the tinsel.  The decorations are everywhere we turn.  For so many, this is a time of hopeful anticipation.  But for many of us, especially those of us gathered here, Christmas is a harsh reminder of life that once was.  So we gather not so much in hopeful anticipation, but in the cloud of despair.   While so many are ready to sing “Joy to the World,” we gather as those that mourn.   We gather now to carve out a time of quiet reflection.  We gather to shed tears if they come, to hold hands if they are available, and to know that we are not alone.  Whether this is the first Christmas without someone you love, or if you seem to be hurting from loss for as long as you remember, We gather to be reminded that it is okay to mourn, even at Christmas.

Prayer for those that mourn at Christmas

In this season of anticipation, we seek the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  We ask for your blessing this night upon those that mourn, for the pain at Christmas seems sharper.  We remember the words of Jesus, who promised comfort to those that mourn.  All around us are reminders of the joy that the world tells us we are supposed to be feeling.  Forgive us, O God, for not joining in the celebration with our whole hearts.  Guide us now, O Holy One, that we may move in still small steps from mourning to comfort.  Help us to find healing in the midst of the pain, and order in the midst of chaos.  Lighten our burden.  Give us rest.  Amen

Song – “Come to Me,” by Christopher Grundy (or another song)

Words of Grace

The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to the faithful.  For the Lord knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust.  But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon the faithful, and the righteousness of the Lord to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103: 8, 13-14, 17-18)

Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Version)

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke, and learn from me.  I’m gentle and humble.  And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

John 14:1-4, 16-20, 25-27  (Common English Version)

“Don’t be troubled.  Trust in God. Trust also in me.  My father’s house has room to spare.  If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?  When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.  You know the way to the place I’m going…

I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion who will be with you forever.  This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him.  You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.  I won’t leave you as orphans.  I will come to you.  Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.  Because I live, you will live too.  On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you…

I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.  Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  I give to you not as the world gives.  Don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Words of Reflection (From “Longest Night” from the blog http://fatpastor.me)

On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people.  The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide.  People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles.  Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”

Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?”  For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.

The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by.  The night is so very long.

My mother died at this time of the year.  Christmas won’t be the same.  I miss her smile.  I miss her words of wisdom.  I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.

For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my husband.  He held me in his arms as we watched the children, then the grandhcildren, open their presents.  He made hot cocoa every Christmas morning.  I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.

The onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic.  Never worn.  Never held.  I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.

The night can be so very long.  The night can be so very dark and cold.

Some say that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control, and has a plan.  But what kind of God could plan such things?  Is this the God that I am supposed to celebrate?  Is this the God that I am supposed to worship?  How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?

Christmas does not mean everything is okay.  Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair.  For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone.  I do not offer you simple platitudes.  I do not offer you easy answers.  All I can offer you is my love.

I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  I think there are terrible things that happen every day that God did not plan. If it this were not so, then why would Jesus ask us to pray for God’s will to be done? I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen.  God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.

The longest night can be so very long.  Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.

When we leave this place, it will be into the longest night of the year.  Take this time, and claim it, but do not linger here.  Know that tomorrow the night will be shorter.  Know that soon, the light of God will break through.  Know that on Christmas, God broke through the chaos.  Know that on Christmas, God came to life so that we may have life abundant and life eternal.

We gather here today to acknowledge that our pain is real.  We acknowledge that death has its place in the world, but it is not in a place of triumph.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Act of Remembrance and Communion

We gather in this place with signs all around.  The Advent wreath has been lit, with the lights of hope, peace, joy, and love already lit as we prepare the way of the coming of Jesus.  If, as the Bible says, God is love, and God is eternal, then love is eternal as well.  Tonight, we are reminded that nothing can extinguish the candle of love.  The love that God has for us is steadfast and endures forever.  The love that we have for those we mourn cannot be extinguished by death.

In front of us are sticks.  This collection of dead sticks is here as a reminder that we are always surrounded by death.  The cycle of life to death is in all of creation.  When you entered, you were given a blue carnation.  This carnation is a sign of those for whom you mourn.  Blue is a traditional color for sadness.  It is also a traditional color for the Advent season.  These carnations remind us that even as we prepare for Christ’s coming, there is room for the human reality of sadness.

Also in front of us are the bread and the cup.  These are the elements of our Lord’s Last Supper.  It was a supper he shared with his disciples when he knew that his life on earth was coming to an end.  The bread, which is for us the body of Christ, is broken.  It reminds us of our human frailty, and of our unity as the Body of Christ.  The cup, which is for us the blood of Christ, is shed.  It reminds us of the Christ’s death on a cross, and of the forgiveness that is offered to all.

On this, the longest night of the year, we are reminded of just how dark the world can be.  Yet it was into this dark world that Christ was born.  It was in the midst of death and destruction that a child came so that we may have life.  We gather at Christ’s table in remembrance of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We remember that Jesus walked with us as the Word of God made flesh.

He healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the afflicted, comforted the mourning, worked for justice, and wept for his friends.  He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and calls all people to enter with rejoicing.  He came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly, and he invites us all into life eternal.    By the baptism of his love, compassion, suffering, death, and resurrection Christ gave birth to his Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.

When Jesus gathered with his disciples, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

When the supper was over Jesus took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And so, in remembrance of these mighty acts of Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and grape.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood. By your spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, one with the great communion of saints, one with the great cloud of witnesses, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we all feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours now and forever, and so with the confidence of children we pray:

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

Come now to the table of Christ, for all things are ready.  After you receive the bread and the grape juice, please pick up a votive candle and light it from the candle of Love.  You may also then place your carnation into the vase.

Blessing and Sending Forth

This arrangement, which was once barren and gray, was only a reminder of death.  Now it is something beautiful.  It is a reminder that God take all things and make them new.  Death is a part of our human experience.  It was a part of Jesus’s human experience.  But death is never the final chapter.  The despair of death may last, but we are never called to linger on it.  Go now into the night knowing that you need not go alone.  Go now into the night knowing that the dawn is coming.  Go now into the night knowing that love endures forever.  Go now into the night knowing that the Christ child will come.  Go now, and may the peace of Jesus Christ, the peace that surpasses all understanding, be with you.  Amen.

Other Advent worship resources from the General Board of Discipleship 

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Paterno’s legacy (not his eternity)

I believe in a God whose love is more powerful than the worst of human nature, so I stay out of the guessing game as to who is going to be rewarded in heaven and who is going to face eternal damnation.  I don’t have the theological arrogance to try and guess at that sort of thing.

Joe Paterno died yesterday, and the commentaries, columns, blogs, status updates, and tweets started to pour out.  Some of it has been vitriolic.  Some of it has been too flowery to stomach.  Joe Paterno was a man.  He was a sinner like all of us.  He had some great victories, and some terrible failures.  I would not want to be judged by my worst moments, but I’m not judging him as a man.  I do not venture into that realm.  I am commenting on his legacy – the way in which he is remembered.  His legacy and his eternity are two very different things.

Here are few things I have to start with:

  • God’s grace is offered to all.  I believe in a God of forgiveness, and I do not claim to know the will of God.  I know absolutely nothing about Joe Paterno’s relationship with God – or Jerry Sandusky’s or Mike Mcqueary’s or any of the Penn State board members or any of the former football players that have come to Paterno’s defense.
  • God’s healing is possible for all.  I believe in a God of healing, and I pray that there is healing for all those that are involved.  I pray for the victims, for Sandusky, and for all that have been hurt.  I know that there are a lot of broken hearts, and I hurt for all of them.  I imagine that Joe Paterno has gone through a lot of turmoil these past few weeks, and I take no pleasure in that.  I pray that he may indeed rest in peace, because I believe in the peace of Jesus Christ that surpasses all understanding.
  • Joe Paterno did not molest, rape or harm any child.  Jerry Sandusky is accused of doing those things.  He will get his day in court and face his accusers.  I’ve read some of the testimony, and it looks pretty convincing.  There is little doubt the prime “bad guy” in all of this is Sandusky.
  • We can take a lot of lessons from this tragedy, and one is this: you never know.  Paterno trusted Sandusky.  That trust was obviously mispaced.  I do not blame him for trusting the wrong person.  Any of us can do that.  I blame him for the inaction after he was told the truth.  And to that end, there seems to be plenty of blame to go around.  As I read the timeline of this story, I just wish that one person – ONE – had the courage to address the problems that began to surface in 1994.
  • Another lesson is this: maybe we should stop building up coaches – or anyone for that matter – with so much adoration.  This is something I wrote about in a post called Congratulations Coach.
  • My argument here is about Joe Paterno’s legacy.  Not his eternal salvation, not Sandusky’s innocence, not the the board, or McQueary, or anyone else.  I read the headline of a column that read “Paterno’s legacy outweighs the scandal.”  I disagree, and here’s why:

Joe Paterno built a strong legacy, and it was on the strength of that legacy that Sandusky preyed (I’m going to allow you to insert the word “allegedly” here because it will get tiresome to type it every time.) on children.  Paterno’s legacy gave Sandusky legitimacy.  It gave him access.

Joe Paterno did a lot of amazing things.  I’m sure that I don’t have a full understanding of all of the positive that he did, but that doesn’t matter.  All of the positives, achievements, and good-will that he created gave him credibility and the moral high-ground in almost every matter.  Most people consider him to be the most powerful man at the university – perhaps the most powerful man in the state.  And it was power that he earned.  It was a power that was based on the values he preached.

Joe Paterno wanted to create a football program that was about more than winning.  His “grand experiment” was about melding football, academics and character.  He wanted to mold boys into men and develop leaders.  He preached about things like respect, honor, accountability, and faith.  He wanted to create something that was good, almost holy.  On the surface, that is exactly what he did.  He created a program that was treated as if it was holy – untouchable.  He had the moral high ground.  This article in 2008 talked about how the program seemed bigger than the institution.  And Joe Paterno WAS the program.

Joe Paterno had the moral authority to stop Jerry Sandusky when he was informed about it.  Instead, he abdicated that authority when he was relatively silent when faced with the biggest challenge of his life.  All of his achievements do little more than make his inaction more inexcusable.  Did Jerry Sandusky fail? obviously.  Did Mike McQueary fail? Certainly.  Should he have gone to the police? Of course.  But he was also deeply enmeshed in a culture of cover-up, and he went as high as he could possibly go – to Joe Paterno.  Did the Athletic Direct, President and the Board fail?  Yes.  They were a part of the institutional mess that lacked the courage to do anything detrimental to the football program.  It seems like even the current governor of Pennsylvania failed.  Why? Because no one wanted to cross Joe Pa.

It was only Joe Paterno that could have stopped Jerry Sandusky.  And he failed to do so.  If we believe that Paterno was told about Sandusky in 2002, then there are many questions to ask.  Why was he still hosting football camps on other Penn State campuses?  Why  was Paterno still involved with Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation?  Jerry Sandusky used the legacy of Joe Paterno to prey on children.  He gained access, trust, and funds because of his relationship with Joe Paterno, and Paterno let it happen.

I do not believe that I am rushing to tarnish his legacy unfairly.  I am judging it only by his own standard.  He once said, “Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy.”  It seems to me that Joe Paterno lost his sense of excellence.  That is (by far) not the greatest tragedy of this story, but it is nonetheless the tragedy of Joe Paterno’s legacy.

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Healing

I love Christmas lights.  I don’t put very many up myself, but I love other people’s (from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.  I’m not so much of a fan of them on Valentine’s Day).  I especially love displays that have well-synced flashes.  I remember as a kid there was a house on our block that always had perfectly neat and straight lights running along their gutter, and they blinked in a way that created a wave.  I thought they were so pretty.  The ones I didn’t like so much were the ones that blinked, and you could could exactly how many strands of lights were strung together because each one blinked at a different time.  It seemed like every once in awhile they were merge and it would look like they were synced, but it was just a trick of timing and pretty soon they would all be random again.

I think our lives are a lot like Christmas lights.  Sometimes it seems like everything is happening at random and there is no way to sort out the mess.  Things are happening, but there is no way to make sense of any of it.  Then there are the times when we are synced up.  There might be a lot happening, but we feel like we can handle it.  I know that there have been times when the Christmas lights of my life looked liked this:

This is an amazing video to watch.  Isn’t it great when our lives feel like this?  When everything just seems to fit.  To me, this is what healing is all about.  Healing is not the absence of disease. It is the presence of order. The source of cure is the chemical compounds that I do not unerstand. The source of healing is the mystery of God that creates order out of chaos, creates light out of darkness, and gives new life to what was once dead.

Healing was a huge part of the ministry of Jesus Christ, and as Christ’s Church it needs to be a part of what we are doing.  Unfortunately in most churches healing is seen either as a money-making gimmick of sheisters, or it is limited to the “concerns” part of the congregational prayer.

I believe we need to reclaim the healing ministry of Jesus.  We need to stop focusing on cure, and start thinking of how Jesus orders our lives.  That amazing light display took hours of time.  It took a central computer to coordinate all of the parts.  All of those blinks and flashes, if seen on their own, would have appeared to be nothing more than a random display.  But since all of those lights were plugged into the central source of power, you get to see this remarkable display.

Our lives are no different.  If we are not connected to the central source of power – the Holy Spirit – we will be nothing more than a collection of random blinking.  When we connect to the power that is offered in Jesus Christ, watch out.  Amazing things can happen.  Much more amazing even, then the video above.

So this Advent season, as we prepare the way of the Lord, let us first prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.  Do as Jesus said, and “Open Up.”  Open up to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Open up to healing.  Open up to forgiveness.  Open up to reconciliation.  Open up to grace.  Open your heart to the power of the Holy Spirit, and watch what can happen.

At Riverside UMC, we will be offering people a chance to open up every Wednesday evening in Lent.  We will come to the chapel with the sacrament of Communion laid out in front of us, and we will open up to the power of the Holy Spirit.  So come every Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. and be healed.

Advent Poem

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The Pastor on the prayer list

Every week we have a list of people on our prayer list.  Because of privacy laws, we don’t get real specific.  There is a category called “Those in need of healing, comfort, or guidance”  It is usually about 15 people.  It fluctuates a little as people are asked to be put on, and are taken off.  On Sunday there will be a person on the list that has never appeared there before: me.

I’m not sure why this is such a big deal to me.  It really shouldn’t be.  Yet I thought about putting myself on the list last week and didn’t.  I’ve been having headaches for the last three weeks.  I’ve got medicine for them now, and it seems to work.  When the medicine wears off though, it can be miserable.  Last week I had an MRI just to rule out the worst-case scenario.  Today I found out that my brain image is normal (which, I assume, is a relative term).

In between the scan and the results was a Sunday in which I was not on the prayer list, and I cannot help but wonder if I failed my congregation in not including myself on the list.  I talk a good game about being a community of faith.  Whenever we share prayer concerns and joys, I talk about how great it is that we can come together and lift up each other in prayer.  Yet when it was my turn to be lifted up, I resisted.

I think I resisted because I was mixing concepts of spiritual and secular leadership.  As the primary leader of our congregation, I lost sight of an important aspect of spiritual leadership – the ability to be vulnerable.  Culture tells us that leaders need to be strong and resilient.  Leaders are supposed to be Superman, invulnerable to the frailties of the rest of us.  I spend so much of my energy rejecting that cultural myth of masculinity, leadership, strength and power; and yet when it came to me being in a time of need, I fell right back into it.

I remember though, that being a leader is not about being invulnerable.  Acts 6 tells us that being a spiritual leader is about being “of good standing, full of the spirit and of wisdom.”  In this case, it was wise to ask for prayers.  My head is killing me sometimes, and I desperately want to know why.  I am in need of prayer.  Besides that, I am risking my body two times a week on a football field like an idiot.  I am in need of prayer.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I need to be a fixture on the prayer list.  I put myself on the list today, and I’m having trouble imagining a time that I will think to myself, “Well, I’m good – I don’t need prayer anymore.”

So the pastor is on the prayer list.  I am in need of your prayers too, and that doesn’t make me any less of a leader.  In fact it makes me a better one.

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