Tag Archives: worship

Suicide: Nothing Separates

This is my sermon from January 24, 2016, preached at Two Rivers United Methodist Church in Rock Island, Illinois. It is about the importance of compassion and care for those that are both contemplating suicide, and for families who have endured it. Any conversation about suicide must begin with the truth that “nothing [not even suicide] can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-8255.

Breaking the Silence Series

Mental Health: Silent No More

Suicide: Nothing Separates

Domestic Violence: Call Police, Not Pastor

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Mothers’ Day Litany

One:      All who gather here are sons or daughters.

All:         We praise God for the women who gave us life.

One:      For mothers brave, strong, compassionate, full of wisdom and grace,

All:         We give God thanks and praise.

One:      For mothers vulnerable, worried, frustrated, and hurried,

All:        We pray for peace.

One:      For relationships that are strained and no longer a source of joy,

All:         We pray for healing.

One:      For mothers who have died, that live no longer with us, but whose light shines on in our hearts and memories,

All:         We pray for those that mourn, and give God thanks for life eternal.

One:      For mothers who grieve, who have lost children born or unborn,

All:         We weep with those with broken hearts.

One:      For those who are struggling to raise children, who are tired and weary,

All:         We pray that we may be their village, offering real help in hard times.

One:      For those who are preparing emptier nests,

All:         We both celebrate and mourn with you, and hope their wings are as strong as their roots are deep.

One:      For stepmothers, navigating the pitfalls and joys of creating a new family,

All:         We pray for wisdom and patience.

One:      For Grandmothers who are doing the hard work of raising children again,

All:         We pray the caregivers have those who care for them.

One:      For those who are waiting and sometimes struggling with the biological process to bring new life, and for those who are waiting for adoptive process to be fulfilled.

All:         We wait eagerly with you, and offer you our hand to hold in the trial.

One:      For women who do not have children, but instead teach, lead, care for, and guide the children of others,

All:         We give God thanks and praise.

One:      For the mothers, sisters, daughters in our midst and around the world. For the women who, created in the image of God, give not just life, but abundant life. For women fighting, struggling, and sweating for the sake of others. For women caring, compassionate, and crying with the heart of Christ. For the caregivers, prophets, preachers, teachers, leaders, shepherds, healers. For Moms, in their wide variety and many forms,

All:         We give God thanks and praise.

Permission to use this litany for public worship is granted. If it will be reprinted in worship bulletin, please attribute with link to http://fatpastor.me. Also, leave me a comment and let me know you’re using it, you don’t have to wait for me to reply. It just makes me happy to hear when other congregations use liturgy I write.

A refection on the social justice origins of Mother’s Day

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Stations of the Gospel – Reflections for Good Friday

The idea that I am presenting here is a series of ten reflections. In my setting, I will be printing several small books with these ten reflections on it. The booklets will be placed right inside the entry of our church. At each station there will be a number, and each number will have a corresponding page. Some of the stations have objects to place there. All could be easily modified to not include the object in case you are doing some last-minute planning. All of the Scripture passages come from the Common English Bible.


BEGIN – BAPTISM

Object: A small table with a bowl of water.

Instructions:

You are invited to dip your fingers in the water before you, and place a drop on your own forehead. Feel the water, and remember your baptism.

Mark 1:4, 9-11

John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Reflection

This journey begins where Jesus’ journey began—at the water. The water of baptism is a sign of rebirth. To be baptized is to die to your old self, and to rise out of the water as a new creation.

In the United Methodist Church we baptize infants, not because they are sinful and need to be cleansed, but because they are members of the Body of Christ, and are worthy of being marked as such. At baptism, the Holy Spirit makes a special claim on a person. This is claim that cannot be revoked. There is never a need to be re-baptized. The first one counts. No matter what.

From here we will proceed through Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, betrayal, and death. We will reflect on these things, and may encounter trouble along the way. Know that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.


REST ONE – LIFE AND MINISTRY

bread and fishMark 6:35-44

 Late in the day, his disciples came to him and said, “This is an isolated place, and it’s already late in the day. Send them away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy something to eat for themselves.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

But they said to him, “Should we go off and buy bread worth almost eight months’ pay and give it to them to eat?”

He said to them, “How much bread do you have? Take a look.” After checking, they said, “Five loaves of bread and two fish.”

He directed the disciples to seat all the people in groups as though they were having a banquet on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.  He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, broke the loaves into pieces, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  Everyone ate until they were full. They filled twelve baskets with the leftover pieces of bread and fish.  About five thousand had eaten.

Reflection

You cannot separate the life of Jesus from the bread and the fish. One of the only stories that all four gospels tell, it is clear that feeding the hungry was a vital part of what Jesus did. The people came looking for life, and he gave it to them in the form of loaves and fish.

This was so important that the earliest symbols of Christianity was the fish—a reminder of how Jesus responded to those in need. The need today is no less demanding. There remains thousands of people in our midst who are hungry. They hunger for bread, comfort, forgiveness, and fellowship. Pause for a moment and ask Jesus what we can do, but know that his answer may be, “You give them something to eat.”


REST TWO – PREDICTION

Object: A blackboard, dry-erase board, or large pad of newsprint

Mark 8:27-33

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

Reflection

In the matter of a few moments Peter goes from insightful disciple to vile tempter. In one breath he is able to make the bold claim that Jesus is the messiah, the anointed one of God. In the very next he demonstrates how little he understands about what the messiah must do.

Jesus understood that what he was teaching and doing would get him into trouble with the authorities. He understood that they could not let him live, and he understood that his mission could not be thwarted by their acts of violence. Peter could not accept this. He never did—on this side of the Cross.

Instructions:

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” On the chalkboard in front of you, answer this question. Who is Jesus?


REST THREE – SUNDAY: ENTRY

Object: Palm leaves, possibly saved from Palm Sunday.

Mark 11:7-11

 They brought the [donkey] colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields.

Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple.

After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.

Reflection

This story is usually described as “Palm Sunday.” It is on this day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. He entered as the city was getting ready to celebrate the Passover, a festival that remembered when the people escaped the power of Egypt, and God threw the Pharaoh into the sea.

Now occupied by the forces of the Roman Emperor, this was a dangerous time. Tempers were high. Rebellious fervor was rampant. In this climate, as the Roman governor entered the city astride a war horse, Jesus entered the city on a donkey. As Pilate entered surrounded by Roman soldiers, Jesus entered while people shouted “Hosanna!” Hosanna means “Save us.”

Instructions:

The Gospel of John tells us that the people cut down palm branches and waved them. Take one, and wave it back and forth. Feel the weight of the leaf in the air. Feel the resistance. Imagine more branches like this one. Imagine the scene. Given the climate of the city, can you imagine the tension? Can you feel the weight of the moment as Jesus made his alternative entrance into the city?


REST FOUR –  MONDAY: TEMPLE

datesObject: A bowl of figs or dates

Instructions:

Take one of these fruit, and eat it as you read this story.

Mark 1:4, 9-11

From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs. So he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.

They came into Jerusalem. After entering the temple, he threw out those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He didn’t allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He taught them, “Hasn’t it been written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you’ve turned it into a hideout for crooks.” The chief priests and legal experts heard this and tried to find a way to destroy him. They regarded him as dangerous because the whole crowd was enthralled at his teaching.

When it was evening, Jesus and his disciples went outside the city. Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up.

Reflection

On the surface, the odd exchange with the fig tree seems random and out of place. Placed here, before and after Jesus goes into the Temple, its meaning becomes more clear: Worship without justice is like a fig tree with no figs.

All things are to bear fruit. The fruit of the Temple is not idle worship, it is the realization of justice. The Temple is a place of sanctuary. When the worship leads to justice, then it is the house of God. When the worship perpetuates injustice, it is just a hideout for crooks.

Jesus came on Sunday to mock the power of Rome. He came on Monday to disrupt the religious capitulation with that power. The withered fig tree was a sign of the impending doom of the Temple.


REST FIVE – TUESDAY: TESTED

Mark 12:28-34

One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”

The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Reflection

“You are not far from God’s kingdom.”

When do you feel close to God’s kingdom?

This passage is the last of a series of contentious questions. The legal experts and religious authorities have had enough of him. He is stirring things up too much. He made trouble at the Temple, and they are afraid. They question his authority. They try to trap him with tough questions. Tuesday is full of these kinds of exchanges, but this one is different.

The adversary seems to become an ally, and the rest of the leaders quit while they’re ahead.

“You are not far from God’s kingdom.”

Are you far or near to the Kingdom? Do you understand this commandment? Understanding it draws you near. Live out the commandment, and the Kingdom is at hand.


REST SIX – THURSDAY: BREAD AND CUP

Object: A large loaf of bread and cups of grape juice

Instructions:

Take a piece of bread off of the loaf. Please, don’t be shy. Take a good piece. Take off a piece that you actually have to chew. Eat it slowly. Taste it. Drink the cup of grape juice. Allow the sweet tang to fill your mouth. Breathe deeply as you chew and as your drink. Read this story as you eat your piece of bread. Really—take a big piece, even a second piece if you want. It’s okay. Remember, it only took two loaves to feed 5000.

Linger here with the bread. Linger here with the story. Hear Jesus’ words and know that YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST. Read them again and know that YOU ARE FORGIVEN. This is not just some symbol. This is the very real presence of God in the bread and cup. Allow that fact to fill you as you read.

Mark 14:22-26

That evening, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. During the meal, Jesus said, “I assure you that one of you will betray me—someone eating with me.” Deeply saddened, they asked him, one by one, “It’s not me, is it?” Jesus answered, “It’s one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread with me into this bowl.

The Human One goes to his death just as it is written about him. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays the Human One! It would have been better for him if he had never been born.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”

He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.” After singing songs of praise, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Post Script

As you were eating, did you notice who else was invited? Jesus knew that he would be betrayed by Judas, and what did he do? He broke bread with him. Sometimes the hardest part of the Gospel is realizing who else is invited to this table.


REST SEVEN – THURSDAY: DENIAL

Instructions:

Simply read this story of Jesus’ trial. Do not read it all silently. Read Peter’s words, the ones in bold, out loud.

Mark 6:35-44

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree.

Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ ” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ”

Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and “coming with the clouds of heaven.’ ” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”

But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.”

But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.”

But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.


REST EIGHT – FRIDAY: TRIAL

Object: Bowl of nails

Mark 15:6-15

During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did.

Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead.

Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?” They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!” Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.

Reflection

The crowd had a choice. This crowd, which had kept Jesus protected through much of the week, could now free him. Fear of the crowd’s reaction had kept the chief priests from arresting Jesus earlier in the week. The chief priests understood something about crowds though, they could be swayed.

So the choice was offered. Barabbas was a known insurrectionist. He had been “locked up with rebels.” The people were still looking for the messiah, the one who would deliver them. They could choose between the one willing to kill, or the one willing to die. They could choose between the rebel arrested for insurrection, or the teacher arrested for jealousy.

The choice goes down in history, but it is one we continue to face. What is our path for deliverance? Is it revenge or is it grace? Who do we want to crucify today?

Instruction

If you’ve ever chosen the path of Barabbas, pick up a nail.


REST NINE – FRIDAY: DEATH

Object: Baptismal font in the sanctuary

Instruction

Hold the nail in your hand as you read. Press it into your hand; into your wrist. Not hard enough to hurt you, but hard enough to feel it as you read.

Mark 15:25-41

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the formal charge against him was written, “The king of the Jews.” They crucified two outlaws with him, one on his right and one on his left. People walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself and come down from that cross!” In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts.

“He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him. From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark.

At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.

The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.” Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.

Instruction

As you leave, stop by the baptismal font. Touch the waters again. Baptism is death and rebirth. There is no resurrection without death. Go forth knowing that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.


A Maundy Thursday Liturgy

Good Friday Stations of the Gospel through Luke

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An advent letter to my congregation

christmas eve candleDear Church,

This is our first Christmas together, and I cannot tell you how excited I am for Christmas Eve.  Every year, there are two moments I most look forward to at Christmas.  One is my daughters coming down the stairs on Christmas morning, pausing for a picture, then slowly making their way to see what magic transpired under the tree.  The other is singing “Silent Night, Holy Night,” as the lights are slowly turned down and the candles are lit in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve night.

I know that Easter is supposed to be the big day. Singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” with the throngs and the organ and the lilies and the spring air at Easter is pretty special, but it is Christmas that touches my heart like no other. I know that Christmas is wrought with commercialism, consumerism, and a secularity that some mourn.  Maybe that is why that moment is so special to me.  It is so needed.  It is that moment where nothing matters but joy.  I can block out the noise and the fear and the distractions.  Sure, “Silent Night,” has helped contribute to a falsely idyllic understanding of Christmas, but I’m okay with that.  It is a song that can end war, even if only for a moment.

I get a pretty special view for Christmas Eve.  I get to stand up front and look out at the faces of those gathered.  I can close my eyes and see it through the years.  I can picture each of the congregations I’ve had the awesome honor to serve.  I can see the faces of those who have supported me, shaped me, challenged me, and molded me into the man and pastor that I am today.  I can see the faces of young and old, woman and man, single and married, healthy and sick.

I can see the faces of people lit by the glow of a small candle as we sing those holy words, and I’m very much looking forward to singing it with you.  We haven’t been together very long, but things are going well.  No church is perfect, but I believe that I am right where I need to be.  Already we’ve laughed and cried together.  Already we’ve dreamed of a Kingdom future, and mourned the loss of pillars.  Already we’ve eaten too much, shared some of our scars, worried a little, and stumbled through some movements.   Already I can see the excitement and the energy.  I can see good things happening.  I can see people being fed without asking first if they deserve it.  I can see invitation that is born from joy, not fear.  I can see welcome.  I can see grace, and a desire to share lives,  not just small talk and pleasantries.  I can see the Body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s love, reaching out into the world.

Incarnation.  That is what Christmas is all about.  It is the coming of light in a world of darkness.  It is God breaking through all of the barriers.  It is strength and power and might redefined in the form of a newborn baby.  Christmas is peace, love, joy, and hope.  And just as that candle spreads from the table in the sanctuary to those that are singing in the pews, Christmas is the light of Christ spreading into the hearts of the faithful, and being carried out into the world.  It is not about “happily ever after.”  It is about the presence of God in the midst of real life.

It is a reminder that right here in the world is a promise that God is with us.  Right here with the cancer is hope. Right here with the struggle and upheaval is peace.  Right here in the gathering of Christ’s people is joy.  Right here with our fellow humans, hurting, sinning, and falling, is love.

So I’m waiting for Christmas Eve, and not altogether patiently.  I’m waiting to wish you a Merry Christmas, and to see your face lit by the glow of a candle.  It’s my favorite time of year, and I’m so glad we can do this together.

In Christ,

Your pastor

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Two Rivers United Methodist Church

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A service of Communion for Advent

The following is a liturgy I wrote for use during Advent.  Permission for use in worship is granted.  A note that it was “written by Robb McCoy, at http://www.fatpastor.me” would be appreciated.  If you’re going to use it, I also love hearing about it in the comments below, but that’s not necesarrt.  The musical settings found in the liturgy are Copyright 1990 Steve Garnaas-Holmes. Published by The General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.  The links are to a pdf file.  Some of the Words of Institution are also from the United Methodist Book of Worship.

Communion Liturgy for Advent

One:      In this season of expectant waiting, we are invited to Christ’s table here and now.  Coming to Christ’s table is a way to experience the grace of God.  Therefore it is open to all.  The only requirement is a sincere heart.  The only barriers to the table are created in our own heart.  So we come together as a people to confess our sins to God.  We confess as a people because we all fall short of God’s plan of perfect love.  We do not confess to avoid punishment.  We confess to free our own hearts and minds, so we may remove the barriers we build between ourselves, our God, and our brothers and sisters.

All:          We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.   We go about our lives as if Christmas is an event to be celebrated, but not lived.  We hear the good news, but do not heed it.  We turn away the holy family for there is no room in our hearts.  We hear the cry of the expectant mother, desperate for care and a place to lie, but listen instead to the carols.  We see the lowly children, born in mangers among the filth of the world, but we look instead to the decorations.  We hear the call of the Angels to come and worship the newborn King, but we bow down to the idols of our culture.  Forgive us, we pray.  Forgive us and free us for joyful obedience.  Remove the barriers that we construct, and empower us to be a people doing the real, gritty, holy, graceful, loving work of Christmas every day. In the name of the Holy Spirit, we pray.  Amen.  (pause for silent confession and prayer)

One:      Out of the wilderness a voice calls out.  Prepare ye the way of the Lord.  Prepare ye the way of love.  Prepare ye the way of forgiveness.  The Christ child was born in the midst of darkness.  The waiting is over.  Christ may be born today in your heart.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we are all forgiven.

All:         Joy to the World. Amen.

(Musical Setting)

One:      The Lord be with you

All:         And also with you.

One:      Lift up your hearts.

All:         We lift them up to the Lord.

One:      Now let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

All:         How good it is to give thanks and praise.

One:      It is good to give our thanks and praise.  It is a good and joyful thing always and everywhere to give thanks to you, God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  You create the world from chaos.  By simply speaking, you set the cosmos into motion, and create all things from the dust of stars.

All:         Blessed are you, O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.

One:      God of many blessings, you called out a family to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.  You gave them a land, and promised to make of them a great nation so that all of the nations of the world could be blessed.

All:         Blessed are you, God of Abraham and Sarah.

One:      God of salvation, when the people were but slaves in Egypt you called upon your servant Moses.  You gave him the power to speak salvation to the Pharoah, and led your people out of slavery.  You led them over the water, and helped them Passover into freedom.  When the people were hungry, you gave them food from the sky.  When the people were thirsty, you brought forth water from the rocks.  When the people were no people, you gave them the Law.

All:         Blessed are you, God of our salvation.

One:      When the people asked for a King, you anointed David to be a just ruler. Though flawed, David united the people, and you promised to be with his line forever.  When the Kings rebelled, as you warned them they would, you anointed the prophets, who called the people back to obedience.  The prophets spoke the truth to power, and called the people to remember who and whose they were.  The prophets warned the people of the consequences of injustice and false worship.  When the people fell into exile, the prophets spoke words of hope and restoration when all around them, there was nothing but despair.

All:         A voice is crying out: “Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!

One:      You promised the coming of an anointed one, who would lead the people to peace and righteousness.  You promised that the descendant of David would rule forever.  You promised that out of Bethlehem would come the Prince of Peace.  You promised the coming of your Kingdom, when “swords would be beaten into plows, and spears into pruning hooks.”

All:         “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

One:      John the Baptist came, telling the people to “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”  John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. And so now we come, having confessed our sins, searching for the Holy Spirit to come and fill us with expectant grace.  We come to be transformed by what has already come, and waiting with hope for what is to come.  We deck our halls with joy, but it is our hearts that truly matter.

All:         Prepare the way of the Lord in our world.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our communities.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our churches.  Prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts.

One:      And so, in hopeful anticipation, we give thanks to you, God of Creation,  God of Abraham and Sarah,  God of salvation, God of the Law, God of King David, God of the Prophets, God of hope and deliverance, God of John, and God of us all.  We join in praise and come together to sing unending hymn of the saints of glory.

(Musical setting)

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.  God of power and might adored, heaven and earth are shining bright with the glory of your light.  Loud Hosannas now we sing. In the highest they may ring. Blessed is the coming one. Christ Emmanuel your son.  Glory in the highest. Holy God, your name is blessed. 

One:      Holy are you, and holy is your Son Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who is the one to whom John pointed in the wilderness.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was born to us in a manger, for there was no room in the inn.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who came to show us the way to your love.  He proclaimed good news to the poor.  He restored the sight to the blind.  He called the children to his side, taught the women, ate with sinners, and called out the religious leaders blinded by the letter of the Law.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who was betrayed by those who loved him.  Who was persecuted by those who feared him.  Who was crucified by those who thought that his death would be the end of him.

 

All:         Holy are you, and Holy is your Son Jesus Christ.

One:      Who, on the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

All:         “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

One:      And when the supper was over, took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples and said:

All:         “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.”

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

All:         Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

One:      Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.  Make us a Christmas people, secure in what has come, and hopeful for what is yet to be.  By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.  Keep us vigilant in our Advent waiting until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.

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The Open Table

Click on the picture to see a part of Amy's house concert.

Click on the picture to see a part of Amy’s house concert.

It was a nearly perfect night.  Ever since, I’ve been thinking, “Can we do that again?”

We gathered in at our home.  It was the first cool night of autumn, and we started the night with some chili and hot apple cider around a fire pit.  Then we came inside.  There were 15 friends sitting in couches and chairs around our living room.  Amy Cox, a talented singer-songwriter with a heart for Jesus and a passion for justice, brought her guitar, a mic, and a small speaker.

She sang.  She told stories.  The kids came and went as they pleased.  The older ones stayed upstairs, listened to the music and whispered to each other in their own little world. The younger ones came and went, going from the floor to the basement to play when they felt like being more rambunctious.  The littlest ones stayed in laps and arms – not necessarily the laps and arms of their own parents.  At one point I looked around at this group of people, all of whom I care for deeply, and my heart was warmed.

“This,” I thought, “is church.”

It was a holy moment, one which I want to re-create.  My wife and I have talked since.  “Do you think we could do that again?”  And time and again our answer is, “I don’t know if we can, but we need to try.”  Unfortunately, Amy Cox isn’t available.  She’s busy planting a church in Virginia, and I wish her success.  She was able to come through the Quad Cities on a cross-country trip to San Diego, and I’m so glad she was able share a night with us.

Luckily, I have some friends with some musical talent, and I’m hoping we can create something together.  Picture this:

It’s a Thursday night.  People come to our house at 6:30.  Hopefully everybody’s had dinner, but we’ll have some small snacks, wine, coffee, and we’ll just chat for a little while as everyone arrives.  Eventually, we’ll write down something for which we would like prayer, and throw it in a basket.  All are invited to share if they’d like, but don’t have to.  We share a brief time of prayer and silence.  Someone with a guitar leads sings a couple of songs.  Some sing along.  Some of the kids stick around for the music.  Some have gone down to the basement to play.  Someone reads a passage of Scripture.  I talk about it for ten minutes or so.  It’s not really a sermon – more like a guided discussion.  We wrap up the discussion, then we talk about a mission or ministry – local or global – and take an offering for it.  Sometimes instead of an offering, we might put do some kind of hands-on mission.  Then I get a nice loaf of bread and grape juice, and we share in Communion.  We sing another song or two, and go home.  Before we leave, everyone takes one of the prayers that was written down at the beginning of the night and we promise to be in prayer for whatever we draw over the course of the week.

This is my vision.  It is kind of scary to put it out there like this, but I do so because I wonder, does anyone out there have a similar experience?  What kind of worship have you experienced outside of church walls?  What is the value of gathering in homes?  What are the pitfalls?  I’d love to hear from you.

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Six reasons I share Communion with kids

wine and breadCommunion is one of my favorite things about worship.  It is a ritual ripe with meaning and power.  People ask me sometimes about Communion and children.  I have been giving my daughters Communion since they could take solid food.  Some wonder if their kids are allowed to take Communion, so I offer this as my answer.  As far as I’m concerned, children are always welcome at the table, but I also respect the wishes of the parents.  If there is a new family coming forward, and they have a little one, I always say something like, “Your child is welcome to partake, if you are okay with it. If not, I’d be happy to give her a blessing.”   In that moment, it is difficult to go into all the details of why I invite that child to share in the bread and the cup.  So now I give you these reasons why any child (or any other person for that matter) will always be welcome to Communion at a table over which I preside.

  1. Communion is a means of Grace.  I believe that Communion is a powerful act.  I believe that God is present in the bread and the cup.  In that holy moment of eating and drinking, one can feel the presence of God.  This is at the foundation of my Communion theology, and everything follows from this precept.  God meets people in Communion, so why would I do anything to get in the way of that meeting?
  2. It’s not my table.  One of my favorite things to say during the course of any service is, “This is not my table.  This is not a Methodist table.  This is Christ’s table, and all are welcome.  Come, for all is ready.”  If it is Christ’s table, who am I to guess his guest list?  If Christ wants to meet someone at his table, that’s his call, not mine.  Jesus told a story about inviting guests to a banquet, and one of the most important lessons of that story is that we don’t make the guest list.
  3. There’s no kiddie table.  I’ve always thought of Communion as the family meal, and there’s no kiddie table.  If we consider kids to be a part of the family of God, why would we exclude them from the family meal?  Even at family gatherings where there is a special table for the kids, we always bring food to them too.
  4. No one fully understands what’s going on at this table.  People say to me, “We don’t bring our kids until they know what’s going on.”   My first reaction is to ask that person to explain to me their theology of atonement to make sure that they understand.  No it’s not.  That would be stupid.  We don’t have to pass some comprehension test to be invited to Christ’s table.  My actual first reaction is, “I’m not sure I fully understand what’s going on.”  Yes, I can write about the incarnation.  I can tell you what a Sacrament with a capital S is.  I can tell you about forgiveness, the body of Christ, and sacrifice, but I don’t think I can tell you with any real certainty what happens in Communion.  I believe God is present in the bread and the cup, but there is an element of mystery in the act that is unknowable.  That doesn’t mean we let kids think it’s snack time.  We teach them as we go.  Kids understand the difference between play time and serious time.  They know when something is important, if we tell them that it is.  When I hand a child a piece of bread and a cup of grape juice, I don’t say “this is the body and blood of Christ.”  I tell them, “Jesus wants you to have this so you remember how much God loves you.”  That’s all they need to know.  Sometimes that’s all any of us need to know.
  5. Children might not understand what’s going on, but they have a sharp understanding of what it means to be left out.  That is a feeling I want no child to feel in any church I am called pastor.
  6. Children are a vital part of the Body of Christ right now, as they are, not for what they might become.  I’ve heard many people say that “Children are the future of the church.”  I understand the sentiment, but I vehemently disagree.  Children are the right now of the church.  They are the church just as much as anyone else.  If we only value children for what they might become, or who they might bring with them (get the kids, and the parents follow), then we are not valuing children.  I want to be a pastor of a church that values real kids, not just the idea of kids.  I want a church that loves kids who are loud at the wrong time, who don’t sit still, who make messes when they eat, and ask rude questions sometimes.  Does this mean we don’t provide guidance, or boundaries, or expect good behavior?  Of course not.  It means that we love them as they are, and try to model for them behavior that is life-giving.  We don’t chastise or shame them.  We embrace them for all of their kid-ness.  Children are a vital part of the body of Christ, and I do not believe in treating them as anything less.

So there you have it.  These are six of the reasons why I share Communion with kids in worship.  I always leave the final decision up to the parent, but hopefully all the parents at my church know that when they come, all are welcome.

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Interactive Christmas Eve service: The ABCs of Christmas

I found the original ABCs of Christmas on a website called The Young Clergy Women Project.  I loved the idea of the service, and decided to use it this year for one of our Christmas Eve services.  Every year we have a special “Kid-Friendly” Christmas Eve service.  I love this, because it seems like it will be truly interactive.  Each person coming into the service (or every child) will get to choose to be a Wise One, a Shepherd, or an Angel.  Erin Klassen, the author of the original blog post, suggested making little head gear for kids to wear.  I’m not that crafty.  I’m going to print little paper-sized posters for people to take with these pictures on them:

These are images I took from Microsoft Clip Art.

These are images I took from Microsoft Clip Art.

At the beginning of the service, I’ll tell the people to listen to the Christmas ABCs story, and pay close attention.  Every time I say the word “Shepherds,” the Shepherds are supposed to hold up their poster and say “Let’s go see!”  Every time I say the word “Wise Ones,” the Wise Ones hold their poster and say “Look, a star!”  When I say the word “Angel,” the angels say, “Hallelujah!”

A is for ANGEL. The ANGEL Gabriel began the story by telling Mary,

Luke 1:28-33        “Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty.  Beautiful inside and out! God be with you…. Mary, you have nothing to fear.  God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.”

B is for Bethlehem, where our story takes place.  People traveled from far and wide to get to Bethlehem, which was not a very big village.

C is for Census, which means an official counting of all the people.  The reason so many people came to Bethlehem.

D is for Donkey.  A donkey carried the family on their long journey.  Mary and Joseph had to travel 107 miles along the Jordan River to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  That’s a pretty long journey.

E is for Exhausted.  That’s how everyone must have felt when they arrived.  It would take about 36 hours of walking to go that far.  That’s three days in a row of doing nothing but walking.

Song: O Little Town of Bethlehem

F is for Family.  Mary and Joseph and their new baby Jesus created a new family, one that would bless the whole world.

Luke 2:6-8       “While they were there, the time came for Mary to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn.  She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for in the hostel.”

G is for the Good News about to be shared with all the earth.  This is what the ANGELS said:

Luke 2:10-14   “There were SHEPHERDS camping in the neighborhood.  They had set night watches over their sheep.  Suddenly, God’s ANGEL stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them.  The SHEPHERDS were terrified.  The ANGEL said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.  This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket lying in a manger.”

            At once the ANGEL was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavenly heights.  Peace to all men and women on earth.”

Song: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

H is for Hope.  Now we light the Advent candle of Hope.  Hope is knowing that good news is coming, even when things look bleak.  Jesus is the source of our hope.

I is for Imagine.  If we close our eyes and imagine the scene, we can see the beauty and wonder of the ANGELS proclaiming good news to all men and women.  We can see the SHEPHERDS, first terrified, but then overcome with joy as they hear the good news.  If we try even harder, we can imagine a world where God’s peace reigns, where there is no war or hunger.  And if we can imagine it, we can do it with God’s help.

J is for Joy.  Now we light the Advent candle of Joy.  Joy is a kind of happiness that comes from God.  It cannot be dampened, and is always shared.  The birth of Jesus gives us joy.

Song: Joy to the World

K is for King.  Though Jesus would be King, he was not the kind of King people were used to.  Most kings are born in palaces, surrounded by servants.  He was born in a stable, surrounded by dirty, smelly SHEPHERDS.  Most kings rule with power and fear.  Jesus rules with mercy and love.

L is for Lost.  When Jesus grew up he told a lot of stories, and three of them were about lost things that were found.  He loved to find lost things, and when you are with Jesus, you will never be lost.  He is the good SHEPHERD, who do anything to find his lost sheep.

L is also for Love.  Now we light the Advent candle of Love, Jesus summarized his ministry by saying “Love God…” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

M is for Manger.  A manger is usually used to hold food for animals, but this time it held the baby because he had no crib.

Song: Away in the Manger

N is for Noel.  Noel is another word for Christmas.  It means new birth, and that’s what happened in our story.  That’s what happens every year at Christmas time.  That’s what happens every time we decide to follow Jesus – he is born anew in us.

O is for Offering.  The WISE ONES gave gifts to the baby, and we can offer our gifts every day.  We give our time, our talents, and our treasure to God, and pray that as a Church, we are good stewards of all that is entrusted to us.  So we we share our gifts now.

Offertory – Go Tell it On the Mountain

Doxology

P is for Peace.  Now we light the Advent candle of peace.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and is the source of the kind of peace that surpasses all understanding.

Q is for Quiet.  We begin a time of prayer in quiet, allowing God to speak to us, and joyful when the quiet is broken by small voices.

R is for Revealed.  Revealed means “showing us something that was once hidden.” God revealed to us what love looks like by giving us Jesus.  Jesus is love, and reveals to us the way to love one another.

S is for Star.  One special star guided WISE ONES to come to see the baby.  They were mysterious, and they lived far away, but they brought gifts to Jesus because they knew that he would grow up to be a King.

Matthew 2:9-11 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. 

T is for Table.  When Jesus grew up he invited all to his table.  He gave his friends bread and wine, and told them to remember him always.  When we gather at the Lord’s Table today, we call it Communion because we come together.  So at this table, we also remember the next letter:

U is for Unity.  Communion is a time when all people can come together and be one.  Just as many grains come together to form one bread.  We, who are many people, come together to be one body of Christ.

Communion Liturgy

After the Communion liturgy is read, these instructions are given: When you come to Communion, you will be given a piece of bread by the Pastor.  You may take it with you to the railing, where you will  be given a cup of grape juice.  If you are here as a family, then each family will be given one hunk of bread.  You are then invited to kneel at the railing together.  Take the bread, break off a piece, and give it to someone else in your family and say, “This is Christ’s body.”  If you have a little one, tell them “We do this as reminder of how much Jesus loves us.”  The cups will be brought to you at the railing.  You are welcome to pray together as long as you wish.

V is for Vulnerable.  Vulnerable means, “able to be hurt.”  Every baby is very vulnerable, and so are we when we love one another.  God became vulnerable when Jesus was born, and we are called to be vulnerable when we love our brothers and sisters.

W is for Wonder.  Like the WISE ONES, we stand in awe and wonder of the newborn King.

X is for Christ.  X is the Greek letter Chi, the first letter in the word “Christ.”  The X is one of the most ancient symbols of Christianity.  People have been using the letter X to stand for Christ for centuries.  And now we light the Christ candle, symbolizing the coming of light into the world.  Jesus is born.

Y is for You.  You ANGELS.  You WISE ONES.  You SHEPHERDS.  You sons and daughters. You mothers and fathers.  You friends and strangers.  You are all here to worship and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Z is for Zeal.  Let your zeal for Christ burn brightly.  As these lights are passed out, know that the light of God burns much, much brighter.  Though these lights will die out, the light of God is steadfast, and endures forever.

Glow sticks are distributed by the ushers.  Sometimes these sticks are difficult to crack, so they should be lit before the service and kept in a box.

Song: Silent Night

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Sermon: Let No Prison Hold You

From the sermon below:

“‘Are you the one?’  John the Baptist asked. ‘Or do we need to wait for another?’ 

I can understand this question John asked.  I can see the prison walls around me.  That we build up with violence, war, and poverty.  I see Newtown and Columbine.  I see apartheid South Africa, and oppression and racism that exists today.  I see hunger amongst us, hurting people in our pews.  I see my own heart, my own failures, and the hurt that I cause.  I see the times when I’ve failed to love God the way I should, or participated in the unjust  systems.  I can see the walls, and they are thick, and they are strong.  And I can ask too, ‘How long must we wait?'”

For a full blog post, go here.

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Communion Liturgy lifting up Extravagant Generosity

The following is a Communion liturgy that I wrote for use at the opening worship service of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference.  The service took place in Peoria, Illinois on June 5, 2013.  It was a great honor to be asked by my friend and colleague, Eric Swanson, to write this liturgy.  It was a great experience to be in worship with 1000 of my clergy and lay brothers and sisters to hear Rev. Jan Griffith and Bishop Jonathan Keaton read these words, even if there was a slight technical glitch.

 

The Lord of be with you

And also with you

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, creator of heaven and earth, giver of all good gifts, and source of all blessings.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is right and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.  You formed us in your image and breathed into us the breath of life.

You created us man and woman in your image, and provided all that we would ever need.  You placed us in a garden to care for your creation so that we may know peace.

You delivered us from captivity.  Through days wandering in the desert you sent to us manna from heaven so that we could eat.  You let water pour from the rocks so that we could drink.  You commanded us to trust in what you provided, and warned us against hording.

You made covenant to be our sovereign God.  You gave to us the Law, the great gift that could guide our ways.  The Law commands us to honor the Sabbath, and to be satisfied with what we have.  Above all, the Law reminds us that there is but one God, and we are to love you with all of our hearts, our mind, our soul, and our strength.

You spoke to us through your prophets, who reminded us to care for the widow and the orphan.  They spoke the truth of your Word to the powers of the world, and stood up to injustice.  They raged against those that would gain wealth on the backs of the oppressed.  They commanded kings to follow God first.

And yet we fell away.  Our love failed.  We choose disobedience.    We try to horde the bread.  We pursue our own goals on the Sabbath.  We mock the Law.  We deny the prophets.  We forget your promises of plenty.  We ignore the needs of others so that we might protect our own interests.  We hold onto blessings with white knuckles, not trusting enough to let go.  Forgive us, O God, for the times that we have failed you.

 Hear the good news.  God’s love remains steadfast.   God’s Law is righteous.  God’s prophets still speak   the truth to power.  God’s promises endure.  God’s grace knows no bounds. Despite our sin and brokenness, God calls us to this table.  Even while we wander, God invites us to return.  Even while we cling to the things of this perishable world, God calls us to extravagant generosity.  In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Thanks be to God, Amen.

And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven we praise your name and join their unending hymn:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.

Holy are you, and blessed is your Son Jesus Christ.  Your Spirit anointed him to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty with those who are oppressed, and to announce that the time had come when you would save your people.

When no one thought there was enough, he fed the multitudes.  When no one thought the lepers could be healed, he cleansed them.  When there was no way to cross social boundaries, he talked to a Samaritan woman.  He told stories of a wasteful forgiveness, and unfair generosity.   When hope was lost, he raised the widow’s son and called Lazarus out of the tomb.   Here today, while we wonder if there is enough, Jesus reminds us that there is plenty.  There is enough food for all to be full.  There is enough water for us all to drink.  There is enough joy for us all to dance.  There is enough forgiveness for us all to embrace.  Here in this place, Jesus reminds us that there is enough love for us all to live abundantly.

By the baptism of his suffering, death, and resurrection you gave birth to your church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit. When the Lord Jesus ascended, he promised to be with us always, in the power of your Word and the Holy Spirit.

On the night in which he gave himself up for us, he took bread, gave thanks to you, 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, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, 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 forgiveness of sins.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

And so, in remembrance of these mighty and generous acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice.  Let the generosity of Jesus, which enabled him to pour himself out for us, be embodied in all that we do.  May our every word and deed reflect a spirit of thankfulness for all with which we have been blessed, so that we may be in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ; that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.  By your spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we may feast at his heavenly banquet.

Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty God, now and forever.  Amen.

 

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