Worship Words-Psalm 139 as Confession

Sunday’s Psalm reading is 139:1-12, 23-24.
When I visit a hospice patient and am asked to read Scripture, I ask what they would like to hear. Many times the response is a request for me to pick something good. Psalm 139 is a reading I return to regularly. No matter where we are in our lives, we all need a reminder that God is with us right here and right now. I encourage you to read this Psalm on good days and bad days whenever you need a reminder of God’s constant presence in your life.
Call to Confession

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

Faithful God, You know each one of us. You see us. You listen to us. And yet, we still run. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? Holy One, we know the answer, and yet, we keep running. So forgive us for doubting your faithfulness. Forgive us for doubting the gifts you have bestowed upon us. Forgive us and help us to forgive ourselves and each other.  Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness

Beloved children of God, Remember you are fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator of the Universe. God knows you and loves you. Live your life remembering you are forgiven and loved. Amen.

 

The words in italics are from Psalm 139 in the New Revised Standard Version.

Litany on Psalm 119:105-112

One-Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

All-Light our way, Loving God, so we may travel in your way.

One-I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances.

All-Keep us faithful to the promises we have made and forgive us when we fall short.

One-I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word.

All-Hear us and heal us, God, for we need you today.

One-Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances.

All-We seek your acceptance and your wisdom, Holy One.

One-I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.

All-Even in times of trouble, we turn to you because you are faithful, God.

One-The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.

All-With the support of this faith community, we do not walk alone no matter what.

One-Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.

All-We are thankful for our ancestors in the faith who lived their faith.

One-I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

All-Give us the strength to remain faithful for you are faithful, Loving God.

 

The words in italics in the litany are Psalm 119:105-112 from the New Revised Standard Version. 

Thoughts for a Memorial Service

Today I am speaking on behalf of my hospice team at a service for a patient who has died. My hope is that the short reflection I share will bring peace to the family and friends gathered and remind them of God’s unending love for all of us. When I was asked to pick a Scripture to read, I immediately turned to the verses that bring me comfort and hope.

21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope: 
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end; 
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. 
24 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’ 
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.                         -Lamentations 3:21-25

I will talk about how it was a privilege to serve as part of his hospice team as we watched him transition from living at home with his wife to living in a nursing home. I will share how I hold in my heart the stories he shared about his time in the military, raising his family, working hard to support them, and enjoying retirement surrounded by family. And I will remind those gathered that this man’s faith was important to him and helped him cope with the changes in his life. As he is laid to rest today, I hope we all remember the faithfulness of God today and everyday.

Deuteronomy 6 Sermon Team Preached with My Dad

This week I am spending a week with my family. I thought I’d share a sermon I team preached with my Dad on July 18, 2010. We were invited back to St. John UCC in Maeystown, Illinois for their 150th anniversary. This was the church my Dad served for 13 years. It is the church where I was confirmed, ordained, and officiated my sister’s wedding. My niece and nephew have been baptized there too. It is a church with much history for my family. It is still filled with people who nurtured my faith and supported me from my junior high years until adulthood.

You’ll notice that my Dad and I have very different preaching styles. Enjoy!

 

Dad-

Do an introduction and say we are glad to be here.

 

Susannah-

Then I can say where I am living now and lead into…

 

This Scripture passage from Deuteronomy is a call for all of us to love God and share stories of faith with others.  Here we are called to teach our children well.  Some of you may think this doesn’t apply to you because you don’t have children or because your children are grown and have children of their own.  This call for instilling God’s word into the next generation is aimed at each one of us.  When a child is baptized we make promises to help the parents raise the child in the way of faith.  The pastor asks the members of the congregation, “Do you who witness and celebrate this sacrament promise your love, support, and care to the one about to be baptized as she lives and grows in Christ?”  The congregation responds with, “We promise our love, support, and care.”

 

These words from Deuteronomy are urging us to teach all of our children well just like the promises we’ve made.  This passage fits well with Proverbs 22:6 which says, “Train children in the right way and when old, they will not stray.”  We are all here today because someone (or many someones) supported us on our faith journey.  It may have been your parents, a Sunday School teacher, a pastor, a kind person in the church, or a friend who invited you to church.

 

Many people who supported me on my faith journey are here today in these pews.  It is because of you and many who are no longer here that I stand before you today.  Without the congregation of St. John UCC in Maeystown, Illinois I would not be preaching today.  Some of you may have been here for my first sermon ever which was preached from this pulpit on a youth Sunday.  I do not remember what I said.  I do remember 2 things about it.  1-My sermon was very short.  2-Everyone in worship that day offered me support and blessing on my sermon.  Not only do I have the privilege of preaching to the congregation that nurtured me in my youth, I am preaching with my Dad.  As you know, he was the pastor of this church for 13 years and my pastor from birth.  More importantly, he is my Dad.  And in all these roles instrumental in my faith journey.  Other congregations and other family members have played significant roles in my faith journey.  I could spend days telling you stories of support and care and instruction I remember from my childhood and youth.  Instead, I’d like all of us to take a moment and think about who you remember reciting God’s word to you when you were a child or a youth or an adult.

 

Dad-

Anniversaries  – remind us

How long we have been doing something…

How long we have been somewhere…

How long a church or family or anything has existed….

How many people have been apart of the group…

How times have changed…

How the story has been passed on and expanded…

How much has been accomplished by the group…

Of life and death – of gladness and sorrow – successes and failure…

Of every element of life — and — I pray — How God has been apart of it…

In 1985 this church celebrated 125 years as a gathered people of God and to honor

that event, to remember the past, and to look to the future — a book was written

Grace in the Past… Faith for the Future

 

 

Susannah-

As the book of Deuteronomy begins the Israelites are remembering God’s grace in the past.  They are preparing to enter the promised land.  These are not the slaves who Moses led out of Egypt.  This is the next generation who have spent their whole lives anticipating the promised land.  Before they enter the land flowing with milk and honey, Moses gives them some last instructions to help them live well with each other.  Chapter 5, just before what I read in Deuteronomy is the 10 commandments.  Moses is reminding them that they need to know these and live these.  And then comes the chapter we heard today.  If the people remember and live the commandments, life in the promised land will be as God had promised.  Moses is reminding them that they will need faith for the future.  It is because of these faithful followers or as we say in our communion prayer-faithful men and women that we can celebrate this anniversary today.

 

As the Israelites prepare to enter this new land and as we daily prepare to go out into the world, we are reminded to love God and love our neighbors.  This is how Jesus summed up the 10 commandments that Moses is imploring the Israelites to remember and live.  Loving God and loving our neighbors allows us to remember the grace we’ve experienced in the past and we’ve heard other tell us about.  It also strengthens our faith for the future. I may not be here for our next anniversary but someone will.  What a gift.  And what a story this congregation has lived through the years and shared with many others.

 

Dad-

Isn’t that exactly was the story has been all about……

First — because God has created us and continually loves us

God has shared with us God’s grace – that wonderful blessing

that helps us relate to God and one another — and keep the relationship in order

as God forgives our sins, guides our path, and points us to the hope of a life eternal

Second — being each one of us and all those others who have or will share here at St John have been filled with and guided by God’s grace  – through the sharing others… we have become people of Faith and that faith will guide us into the Future so we can continue to Tell the Story — Pass on the Good News —

So not only those like Lois who was a 1st generation Christian or Eunice who was a 2nd generation Christian or Timothy who was a 3rd generation Christian — but each one of us also might be a 1st generation Christian or a 3rd generation Christian or a 33rd generation  —- it continues to happen because SOMEBODY told SOMEBODY ELSE the story — and that PERSON — BELIEVED….

And TOLD still ANOTHER PERSON….

Yes, MOSES told the people what to say and how to do it — and they Passed On—– then JESUS — in the flesh — brought the WHOLE STORY to LIFE — and PASSED IT ON…. And then it went to TIMOTHY and his family……………..and now down to US…. And then on to OTHERS…

Yes, the Hymn writer — rejoiced in it…and helps us declare it

I LOVE TO TELL THE STORY……. or

IT ONLY TAKES A SPARK TO GET A FIRE GOING…

AND SOON ALL THOSE AROUND WILL WARM UP TO ITS GLOWING…THAT’ S HOW IT IS WITH GOD’S LOVE —

ONCE YOU’VE EXPERIENCED IT … YOU SPREAD HIS LOVE TO EVERY ONE — YOU WANT TO PASS IT ON

150 years and counting of Telling the Story – Passing It On

Yes…..   that STORY of

GOD’S GRACE that was with US in the Past

GOD’S GRACE that guides US to FAITH Today………

FAITH that will be Ours for TODAY and on into the FUTURE..

Thank YOU — Dear God —

For ALL the PEOPLE who have gathered here in these 150 years

For this PLACE that has SUPPORTED and NUTURED THEM

For all YOUR GRACE that has filled this Place & its People

For the FAITH that is here that will Guide Us into a FUTURE with YOU Amen.

A Prayer for Our Offerings

When I served in churches, I would be asked to lead the prayer after the offering very often. Sunday after Sunday I tried to find a new way to say the same thing. Everything we have is a gift from God and at this point in our worship service we are returning what we think is ours to God. Some weeks I would write out the words before worship. Some weeks I would pray the Holy Spirit would be with me as I closed my eyes and prayed without notes. Some of my churches had the congregation pray the words together which meant they had to be written out and in the bulletin. In my files, I found these words I wrote which sum up what I hope I prayed every week.

 

Gracious God,

We present to you our tithes and offering knowing you have great plans for the money we give.  We, also, offer ourselves for your service knowing you have great plans for each of us.  Use what we have given and use us to share your love with this hurting and hopeful world.  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer for Sunday Worship

Pastoral Prayer for Sunday Worship

In the midst of all that occupies our time and energy, we need sacred time with you, O God, to reorient ourselves. It is easy to get so caught up in what others are doing that we forget that you are our Center, our Rock, our True Home. Nudge us back towards you, Holy One, because there is much to distract us. We want to focus on you. We need to focus on you. For a few moments, let us sit in silence together while we turn ourselves to you, God, and listen for your still small voice.

Thank you, Gracious God, for never giving up on us-for forgiving us countless times and for welcoming us back because we are prone to wander. We pray that others may know your grace and your forgiveness. If there are ways we can show your love to others, open our eyes to the opportunities. Help us to see you in those we meet.

God, we are so aware of many needs in this world. We ask your spirit of wholeness and hope to rest on those on our prayer list, those we know who are in need, and your children around the world who desperately need you today.

We pray this prayer and all our prayers in the strong name of Jesus who taught us to pray saying…

Take Time for Reflection (Confirmation)

Too often, we rush from one activity to the next without allowing ourselves any time to reflect on our experiences. We need to slow down and look over what we have done and then move on to the next thing. These are questions I shared at the final session of a confirmation class to give us time to reflect on what we had done together and what we would do next.

I hope you’ll use these questions in your confirmation classes or adapt them to help yourself reflect on an ending before moving on to your next thing.

What is left?

Any last minute questions?

What do you wish we had done?

What was the best part of confirmation?

What was the worst part of confirmation?

What would you change?

What books of the Bible did you read? And what did you think of them?

Say a little something about your time with mentors?

What did you think about the meeting of the church you attended?

What about your service project?

So where do we go from here? After confirmation, you have the opportunity to be a member of this congregation. We’ve talked about what you plan to do as a member. In youth group, we filled out the time and talents surveys.

What are your hopes for your church?

What do you think you’ll remember about confirmation in 10 years?

Psalm 90:2 and a Reflection

My days are spent visiting people. Some are happy to see me and want to tell me all their stories. Others say very little to me. A recent visit has stayed with me because my hospice patient was so peaceful. When I entered her room she was laying in her bed with her eyes closed and her hands folded on her chest. The expression on her face was one of peace. She wasn’t smiling and she wasn’t frowning. She looked content. 
I said hello and introduced myself. I asked if I might read some Scriptures because I knew from previous visits that this was something she enjoyed. She agreed. When I began to read, she closed her eyes and folded her hands. She assumed the posture of listening and receiving God’s Word. It was inspiring. After reading a few passages, we talked about how we do not spend enough time reading and listening to Scriptures. We talked about all that is contained in this book we love. And she asked me to read more. So I read on and then I prayed for her. 
I left that visit feeling as if her peace had rubbed off on me. I felt calmer. My outlook felt brighter. I wanted to spend more time in Scripture. So today I thank God for the wonderful woman whose peaceful spirit inspired me and urged me to spend more time reading the Bible.
 
Loving God, Thank you for the people who enter our lives to teach us, to inspire us, to guide us, and to love us. Open our eyes to the opportunities we have to teach, inspire, guide, and love each other. It is so easy to get wrapped up in our busy schedules. Slow us down, Holy One, so we may see you in the people around us. Slow us down and bring us your peace. Amen. 
 
Before the mountains were born,
    before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world—
    from forever in the past
    to forever in the future, you are God. -Psalm 90:2

Thank you, God, for summertime!

Thank you, God, for summertime!
Last weekend, my husband and I went kayaking. Finally the kayak we purchased in the middle of winter left our yard and floated across the water. It isn’t a long trip from our backyard to the water, and yet, it took more than six months for this to happen. As we paddled around our lake/pond (depends on who you ask), we saw turtles, a heron, so many geese, and a frog. It was peaceful and beautiful.
This is my yearly call to go outside. Get out and enjoy God’s amazing creation. Sit and read a book outside. Go for a walk. Head to the beach. Come visit me and we’ll go kayaking together. Take a drive and roll the windows down! Go explore, enjoy, and thank God for the amazing place we get to live.
Creating God, Thank you for this world you gave us to tend and cultivate. Thank you for plants and animals with whom we share this planet. Thank you for days of sunshine and thunderstorms. When the temperature warms up, coax us back outside so we can enjoy and experience the world around us. Thank you for sunscreen and big hats! Thank you for quiet time alone in creation and gatherings with others to celebrate. You have entrusted this planet to us, so remind us to enjoy it and care for it. Amen.

A Prayer for Technology And All of Us Who Use It!

I wish I could say I’ve unplugged lately because I knew it would be good for me. Sadly, no! The truth is I received a text alerting me that I was nearing my data limit. As someone who refuses to give any unnecessary money to my cell service provider, I turned off my data for the rest of my billing cycle.
Here’s what I learned-
Without my GPS, I had to pay attention. I followed directions, watched for street signs, and kept my eyes open. Also, I turned around in driveways and met a nice man on a quiet street who directed me to his neighbor’s home knowing his neighbor was my new hospice patient. Lest you think this is a HIPPA violation, the man said, “If you are looking for _____’s house, it is right there.”
I reach for my phone whenever I have an extra moment or things are quiet. Without access to social media, I listened more. I looked people in the eye. At first I was picking up my phone all the time until I realized, it was only a phone and I couldn’t access the internet. Soon the habit was unlearned.
As I reflect on my unplugged time, I plan to keep this practice up for periods of time each day. I enjoyed being more engaged with those around me, and I recognize the importance of social media in keeping me connected with those I love.
Loving God,
Help me to put down my phone and see creation and the people around me. Help me to acknowledge the ways technology helps me and hinders me. Grant me discernment so I may use my time wisely. When my plans change, open my eyes to the ways small changes in my life can become life changing spiritual practices. Amen.