Advent Liturgies (Narrative)

Already posted: SIGNS, SAVIORS, SERPENTS, SONGS on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings and WAITING, PREPARING, SINGING, LABORING on the RCL’s Old Testament readings.

Still to come: Two sets of Advent liturgies on non-lectionary themes (Nativity-through-Advent and Object Lessons).

Up now: WHERE JUSTICE GETS DONE, Advent liturgies on the Narrative Lectionary’s scripture readings. “Where Justice Gets Done” is one of several Advent sermon series ideas that I developed for the Center for Progressive Renewal’s 2015 Advent webinar bundle. For in-depth reflection on this sermon series and others, check out my webinar for CPR.

Advent 1 (IN WORDS) 2 Kings 22:1-10 & 14-20, 23:1-3

Candle Lighting
In word and work,
We walk in the sight of the LORD.
In love and learning,
We walk in the sight of the LORD.
In generosity, in faith,
We walk in the sight of the LORD.
[first candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
You would be right, Most Holy God, to rain disaster on us because of our unfaithfulness, because of our self-loathing and other-hatred, because of our carelessness with creation, because of our quickness with war. You would be right to do so, but have mercy we pray. Hear the confession of our sins and the humility of our hearts. Put your word within us, and we will live by your ways. [silence]

Advent 2 (IN PLACES) Isaiah 40:1-11

Candle Lighting
From wilderness to city,
From desert to highway,
Make space for God!
In field and valley,
Across seas and mountains,
Make space for God’s people!
[second candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We cry out, “Comfort us, O God!” but we have not comforted others. We pray, “Speak gently to us!” but we have cursed neighbor and stranger. We ask, “Make a way for us, O God!” but we have not made a way for you or for the refugee. We yearn, “Reveal to us your glory!” but we watch for you only on Sundays. We invite, “Come and be with us!” but we turn away sisters and brothers from the table. [silence]

Advent 3 (IN COMMUNITY) Ezra 1:1-4, 3:1-4 & 10-13

Candle Lighting
God is good!
This is the foundation.
God is love!
This is the bridge.
God is beautiful!
This is the community.
[third candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
O God: Make us new, but don’t make us change. Bring us together, but don’t challenge our perspectives. Guarantee our purpose, but do not shake our foundations. Fill us with praise, but spare us from tears. [silence]

Advent 4 (IN MYSTERY) Luke 1:5-13 & 57-80

Candle Lighting
Blessed be God.
Blessed be the Mystery.
Blessed be God.
Blessed be the Silence.
Blessed be God.
Blessed be the Insight.
[fourth candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We confess, Eternal God, that we love to know. We love to tell you what we know and how you should be. We love to impress others with all that we know. We envy experts and soothsayers. We especially love to be right. But you, O God, are right and wise — not us. You are most high and merciful — not us. You are the insight to every question. You are the question that leads to conversion. [silence]

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You are welcome to use and adapt these liturgies and sermon series ideas for your faith community. Please credit this source just as you would credit a printed source: with a citation printed in your worship bulletin or displayed on your projection screen identifying the author and website — Rachel Hackenberg and rachelhackenberg.com — as well as the date of this blogpost.

Advent Liturgies (RCL OT)

Already posted: SIGNS, SAVIORS, SERPENTS, SONGS on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel readings.

Still to come: Advent liturgies on the Narrative Lectionary and two non-lectionary themes (Nativity Through Advent and Object Lessons).

Up now: WAITING, PREPARING, SINGING, LABORING, Advent liturgies on the Revised Common Lectionary’s Old Testament readings. “Waiting, Preparing, Singing, Laboring” is one of several Advent sermon series ideas that I developed for the Center for Progressive Renewal’s 2015 Advent webinar bundle. For in-depth reflection on this sermon series and others, check out my webinar for CPR.

Advent 1 (WAITING) Jeremiah 33:14-16

Candle Lighting
We wait… With each second, with every hour.
We wait… Through each day, through each season.
We wait… God’s day is coming.
We wait… God’s work will be done.
Like a burning candle that stands watch through the night,
We wait.
[first candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
Like farmers watching the land after a planting, we are expectant before you, Most Holy God. You are the seed of possibility, the root of life, the growing harvest of justice, the off-shooting branch of salvation … and we are impatient for it all. Impatient to know what might be. Impatient to forecast our lives and to secure our futures. Impatient to see the fruit of justice. Impatient for your salvation and healing. We forget that this is your work, O God, not ours. Forgive us. Grant us the faith to wait and to watch for what you will do. Amen.

Advent 2 (PREPARING) Malachi 3:1-4

Candle Lighting
Prepare the way:
To the north, south, east and west.
Make room for God’s work:
In our hearts, in our world, in our church, in our relationships.
Be prepared: like a refiner’s fire, God will work to make us more beautiful than gold, more precious than silver.
Prepare the way.
[second candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
Have mercy, O God: we want to prepare the way for you, but we don’t know which way you are coming. Have mercy, O God: we want to prepare the way for you, but we are so easily distracted. Have mercy, O God: we want to prepare the way for you, but if you come then we will have to put aside our agendas and our egos. Have mercy, O God. Have mercy.

Advent 3 (SINGING) Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Isaiah 12:2-6

Candle Lighting
Sing aloud, o people, sing and shout!
Rejoice with all your heart, o church!
Set your feet firmly on the ground, open your mouth,
And sing! Sing to bless the LORD who is in your midst.
Here is our song: a triumphant light against the long shadows.
With joy, we sing!
[third candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
Forgive us, O God. Too easily we give in to fear and we forget to sing your praise. Pour your joy over us and renew our hope. [silence] Forgive us, O God. Too easily we doubt our strength to do your work. Pour your song over us to wash away our shame and hesitation. [silence] Forgive us, O God. Too easily we forget to see ourselves and one another in your image. Pour your love over us so that we recognize your beauty in our midst. [silence] Forgive us, O God, and restore us we pray. Amen.

Advent 4 (LABORING) Micah 5:2-5a

Candle Lighting
From the smallest
To the greatest,
From the least
To the most,
In each one, there is a light to shine brightly.
We labor together for the light!
[fourth candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
It is so hard, O God — this work that you are doing, this work that you are asking us to do. It is so hard to wait and work, to love and labor, without seeing immediate results. It is so hard to care and imagine, to welcome and risk, without knowing what exactly you are doing or how exactly your kin(g)dom will come to pass. We are anxious. We are tired. We are restless. We are cynical. Have patience with us, we pray. Amen.

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You are welcome to use and adapt these liturgies and sermon series ideas for your faith community. Please credit this source just as you would credit a printed source: with a citation printed in your worship bulletin or displayed on your projection screen identifying the author and website — Rachel Hackenberg and rachelhackenberg.com — as well as the date of this blogpost.

Advent Liturgies (RCL Gospel)

Advent! The beauty of a mysterious season that anticipates God’s interruption into the human story.

Or…if you’re a local church pastor who used every last creative fiber of your being to bring newness to the fall stewardship season: Advent! The strain of a countercultural-not-yet-Christmas season that yearns for inspiration but prefers tradition, that resists premature decorations but requires seasonal sales, that asks to be deeply stirred but struggles to be deeply still.

I pray that you who are pastors are not approaching Advent in a state of utter exhaustion or disillusionment, but — recognizing that both states (and more) happen in pastoral ministry — this week I’m posting Advent candle liturgies and Advent prayers of confession for those pastors whose spirits and creative juices are already running low. By week’s end you’ll find here a total of five sets of liturgies on the Revised Common Lectionary (Gospels as well as Old Testament), the Narrative Lectionary, and two non-lectionary themes.

NOTE: These liturgies are written to correspond with sermon series ideas that I developed for the Center for Progressive Renewal’s 2015 Advent webinar bundle. For in-depth reflection on the various sermon series referenced in these Advent liturgies, check out my webinar for CPR.

Here’s the first set:

SIGNS, SAVIORS, SERPENTS, SONGS
(Revised Common Lectionary sermon series on the Gospel readings)

Advent 1 SIGNS: What are the signs? (Luke 21:25-36)

Candle Lighting
Though the earth should quake, though the seas should roar;
Though war begets war, though the climate shudders with change;
Though heaven itself falls, we know that all these are the signs of the world’s tumult.
But this is the sign of the LORD:
a light that is steadfast,
a light that bears love,
a light that welcomes the wandering and weary.
[first candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We are anxious for your coming, O God, anxious and eager for a new day when we no longer hurt or worry or feel afraid. We confess that we do not always trust you to bring about that new day. We confess that we often work against that day. Strengthen our hearts and our hope with a sign of all that you can do. By your grace, let us wait without fainting. By your grace, we will watch for you all the days of our lives. Amen.

Advent 2 SAVIORS: Who are we following? (Luke 3:1-6)

Candle Lighting
Cry out for the LORD! Cry out for God’s nearness!
Cry out for help! Let a savior come soon!
A savior — not a superhero or a soothsayer, not a politician or even a pastor.
Let the savior come from God. Let the Anointed One draw near:
to upend our upheaval,
to uphold every heart,
to spark a fire that we can follow.
[second candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
“Prepare the way” we hear, but we are uncertain of your way let alone our own. It’s so much easier to follow the loudest voice with the most convincing argument: whether friend or famous, scheming or self-serving. We are so eager for a savior that we would follow anyone, but you along deserve to be followed. You alone can save us. You alone can make mountains low and raise up valleys. You alone can take our uncertainty and give us peace. We long for peace. Amen.

Advent 3 SERPENTS: What should we do? (Luke 3:7-18)

Candle Lighting
The LORD is coming; how should we get ready?
The LORD is coming, but there are serpents inciting fear, there are snakes in the shadows of doubt;
There are vipers undermining life — and those fears, doubts, and oppressions are within us, not just around us.
What can we do differently?
Repent and share.
Repent and love.
Repent and shine a light.
[third candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
Too often we live and act out of fear. Far less often, we live and act with joy and gratitude. Too often we fail to see our need for repentance, the harm we do to others and to ourselves. Far less often, we trust the love within others and the abundance of your possibilities. Forgive us, O God. Show us what to do, and then burn a fire within us to do it. We pray in the name of the One who is coming. Amen.

Advent 4 SONGS: What songs do we sing? (Luke 1:39-55)

Candle Lighting
Listen: a song is being hummed to bring comfort to the discouraged.
Listen: a song is being sung to help the weary stand with strength.
Listen: a song is building across creation to tell the story of God.
Sing and rejoice, o people!
Sing and magnify the LORD!
God has done great things!
God’s love shines eternally!
[fourth candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
For the times we have failed to lift our voices in praise, forgive us. For the times we have not joined the chorus of your love, forgive us. For the times we have not listened to your melody to inspire new ways of living, forgive us. Yours is the song of promise we cling to you, from day to day and generation to generation. Fill us up again with music to encourage our hearts, we pray. Amen.

Up next: Advent liturgies for the Revised Common Lectionary’s Old Testament readings.

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You are welcome to use and adapt these liturgies and sermon series ideas for your faith community. Please credit this source just as you would credit a printed resource: with a citation printed in your worship bulletin and/or projected on your screen identifying the author and website (Rachel Hackenberg and rachelhackenberg.com) as well as the date of this blogpost. 

 

A Lectionary Meditation on #BlackLivesMatter

The following readings and liturgies offer a #BlackLivesMatter reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary texts for this coming Sunday, the 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B). 

CALL TO WORSHIP (Psalm 34:1-8, adapted)

One: I will bless the LORD at all times; God’s praise will be ever in my mouth.
Many: My soul will find its confidence in the LORD; I will be humble and glad.
One: I will look to God and shine! This is the One who hears and answers my cries.
Many: This is the One whose angels encamp around those in need of refuge.
One: I will seek the LORD in times of trouble;
Many: I will taste and know the LORD’s goodness. I will trust my life to God.

CONTINUING TESTAMENT (2 Samuel 18:5-9,15,31-33, adapted)

This is the story of 2 Samuel 18, as it is told in the ancient scriptures and is still unfolding today: Now King David ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying to them, “Deal gently for my sake with young Absalom, my son who has ousted me from the throne and named himself king.” All the people heard David as he gave these orders to his commanders concerning the safety of Absalom.

So the army went out into the field against Israel, for all of Jerusalem had been persuaded to follow Absalom as its king. The battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim, and the men of Israel were defeated soundly by the servants of David. The slaughter of the battle was great on that day — twenty thousand men — and as the battle was fought all across the countryside, the forest claimed more victims than the sword.

Absalom, the son of David, happened to cross paths in battle with the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth while the mule that was under him went on without him. Ten young men who were Joab’s armor-bearers saw it happen, and they surrounded Absalom as he hung in the tree and they struck him. Joab himself took three spears and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak.

And still today, David’s beloved son is mocked and beaten, hung and killed:

In Mississippi, they pulled him from a buggy while he was giving his horse its evening exercise, and when he was on the ground, they choked him. For thirty minutes he lay face down, hands behind his back, unable to breathe.

In Michigan and again in Los Angeles, she was shot to death on the porch of a home where she was seeking help.

Without mercy they put a knee in her back — on a sidewalk in Cleveland and alongside a road in Waller County. She died in a prison in New York and Alabama, in Charleston and in Cleveland Heights.

From trees and from horses, on streets and on playgrounds, they worked together to kill them. And Absalom was left dead in the oak.

After this happened, the Cushite came to King David and said, “Good news for the king! The LORD has vindicated you on this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.”

But David asked, “What of the young man Absalom? How did he fair in battle?”

The Cushite answered, “May all the enemies of the king, and all who would do you harm, meet a fate like that young man.”

David was deeply grieved and went to the chamber over the gate, and there he wept: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son! O my daughters, my daughters Kindra and Sandra, Ralkina and Renisha! O my sons Jonathan and Tamir, Eric and Freddie! O my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you — my son, my daughter, my son!”

CONTINUING TESTAMENT (1 Kings 19:4-8, adapted)

This is the story of 1 Kings 19, as it is told in the ancient scriptures and is still unfolding today: Many years after King David, when King Ahab ruled Israel and worshiped Baal, Elijah was the prophet of the LORD. When Elijah defeated the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel threatened his life. So Elijah fled — first to Beersheba and then an extra day’s journey into the wilderness.

Weary in body and soul, he sat down under a single broom tree and asked God to let him die. “It is enough,” Elijah prayed. “Now, O LORD, please take away my life, for I am no more than the dust of my ancestors.

“I have fought long enough, O God. Give me my rest. I cannot bear the heartache anymore of those who do not love your people. Let me sleep. My tongue is heavy from retelling the story; my feet are sore from marching in protest; my eyes are red from crying; my ears are bleeding with each new name, each new hashtag; even my grief is weary of grieving.

“And still they come: those priests of power who worship fear and who cloak the work of death.

“And still they come: the spectators and allies who want a piece of God’s fire for themselves but who do not work to replenish the land from its long drought.

“And still they come: with threats and violence, with appeals for peace and a wasteland of silence.

“It is enough, O God. Give me my rest. Let me set down this work at last.”

Then Elijah lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” Elijah looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on the hot stones of the wilderness, and there was a jar of clear water. He ate, he drank, he slept again, and again the angel of the LORD came, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you. Rest will be given when the work is done, but until then I will feed you: with bread and water, with Spirit and strength. I will feed you with the courage of youth who have been unbowed by teargas and arrest. I will feed you with the songs of ancestors, with the support of community, and with the indignation of God Herself. Get up and eat.”

Elijah got up. He ate and drank. Then with the strength of that food, he carried on for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, which is the mountain of God.

SENDING (Ephesians 4:25-5:2, adapted)

One: So then, because we are part of one another and all members of Christ’s body, let us tell the truth about one another and about these times in which we are living.
Many: Do not be angry toward one another, but throw your energy into building up the community that is hurting.
One: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit, as if She is lost or held captive; seek Her out in the grace you extend to one another.
Many: Be kind and generous to one another;
One: And be imitators of God, who knows you and loves you.
Many: Live in love as Christ lived in love: with your feet, with your voice, with your hands together for the sake of God’s realm.

Names of Black persons killed, listed in order of their stories above in 2 Samuel 18: Jonathan Sanders (Mississippi), Renisha McBride (Michigan), Deshawnda Sanchez (Los Angeles), Tanesha Anderson (Cleveland), Sandra Bland (Waller County, TX), Raynetta Turner (New York), Kindra Chapman (Alabama), Joyce Curnell (Charleston), Ralkina Jones (Cleveland Heights, OH), Tamir Rice (Cleveland), Eric Garner (New York), Freddie Gray (Baltimore)

Monday Muse: Doubt after Easter

The Sunday after Easter — officially the Second Sunday of the Easter season — is known as many things in different contexts: Holy Humor Sunday, Bright Sunday, guest-preacher-in-the-pulpit-while-pastor-is-on-vacation Sunday. In the Revised Common Lectionary each year, the Sunday after Easter also brings us the notorious doubting of Thomas (John 20:19-31).

And thank goodness for Thomas’ story, I must say, because it gives us the opportunity to contend honestly with our fleeting alleluias, our flash of enthusiasm for the resurrected Christ, and our rubber-meets-the-road doubt about the relevance of the risen Jesus for a still crucified and crucifying world.

The following original liturgies and scripture adaptations are offered for the Second Sunday of the Easter season to give voice to our own doubts alongside Thomas:

Isaiah 25:6-9 (from Easter Evening’s readings)

A reminder of our ultimate hope and joy: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and well-aged wines. And God will destroy on this mountain the death shroud that is cast over all the peoples; the LORD will swallow up death forever. And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of God’s people will be taken away from the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “This is our God, for whom we have waited so that we might be saved. Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s salvation.”

One: This is God’s promise. Do you believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Forgive our unbelief!

I confess: I don’t know
how to believe such a
vision. So many tears
say otherwise — 147
dead, too many more
weeping. This is not
resurrection, not a
fancy eternal feast,
this is hell on earth
and you, O Christ,
seem to have left
something undone
in your three days’
descent to hell;
you missed a spot
in your harrowing.
Yes you are God,
O Christ, and we
have waited long
for you…and I say
we are still waiting
for your salvation.

One: We know God’s promise, but how can we believe it?
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:19-23 (Part 1, Locked Rooms)

This is the fear of the disciples following the resurrection, according to the Gospel of John: “Do not open the doors. Do not draw back the bolt or unhook the chain. His fate will be ours, if we are not careful. They will threaten and beat our bodies if we do not behave on their terms. They will not wait to see if our hands are held up before they take our breath from us. Stand guard! Keep watch! Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do? And now all the more: Stay out of sight. Don’t catch the attention of the authorities. Don’t protest or ask questions if they arrest you. Most of all, stay alive! We have to stay alive if we have any hope of changing the system. … Is that Jesus?! It can’t be Jesus. They don’t let anyone out alive who’s caused them trouble. How can it be Jesus? Still with his wounds, but still with his breath. Is it really him?”

One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in life, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much death.
One: Peace be with you.
Many: We want to believe in love, Jesus, but we’ve seen too much hatred.
One: As God sent me, now I send you.
Many: How can we speak to peace when division and debate are so popular? How can we speak to grace in a world so full of unjust justice?
One: I send you.

What can we do?
Maybe Easter saves our souls
but Easter doesn’t save the world.
We hide ourselves in locked rooms
terrified of what we don’t understand —
war and violence and hatred — but
locked with us in those rooms
we still must contend
with ourselves, with the war and
violence and hatred that
we each carry.
If we dare to unlock the doors, to go out,
to be sent out,
what good can we do,
full of sin and doubt and fear as we are?
If we open the doors and dare
to see the pain of the world,
then what can we possibly say?
Do we offer the dying world a resurrected Jesus?
Do we say, “Look and see his wounds”
when the world itself is wounded on the floor
and bleeding out — from Kenya to Rikers Island,
from the forests of Nigeria to a hospital in Idaho
to a traffic stop in North Charleston?
How can we say, “Peace be with you”?
How can you say it, Jesus?

One: Break through our locks and fears, O Christ.
Many: We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

John 20:24-31 (Part 2, Doubt)

This is the honesty of Thomas, according to the Gospel of John: “Don’t come to tell me that Jesus has risen unless you can also tell me that Jesus still bears his wounds. Don’t tell me that Jesus has appeared from the tomb unless you also tell me that he ate at the table with you. Don’t tell me that Jesus has saved you for heaven unless you also tell me that he taught you to live with grace on earth. Don’t tell me that Jesus died for sin if he didn’t also live for the world. Don’t tell me that Jesus brings light if you haven’t learned to seek him in darkness. Don’t tell me lies about Jesus to make me feel better; let me touch Jesus and know that he is real.”

One: Believe because you see.
Many: If we believe, it is because we have touched the hands of fellowship and felt the wounds of love.
One: Believe because you do not see.
Many: If we believe, it is because our doubts are accompanied by hope, because our fears are disputed by holy imagination. We want to believe. Help our unbelief.

Thomas told the truth
that we could not say
especially not in our Easter best
with the bells ringing, with the horns trumpeting,
especially not when we so greatly needed
that one moment of triumphant joy.
But the truth is —
we worry that Easter
doesn’t change daily life;
the truth is — we live as though it does not.
It’s hard to say how resurrection
impacts the crucifixions
still happening all around us
still happening among us.
Jesus, we don’t need you for theological niceties
we need you for miraculous practicalities;
We need Easter to be touchable.
O Lord our God — help us!

One: We want to believe.
Many: O Christ, bless our unbelief.

Psalm 16 (from the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A)

One: Let us find our assurance in a psalm of confession. You are LORD; we have no good apart from you.
Many: You delight in us, by the mystery of your grace.
One: Though life is broken in bits and pieces, you are our piece and our portion.
Many: Though life pours itself out in rage and tragedy, you are our water and our cup.
One: Let us bless the LORD, who walks with us as we wander.
Many: Let us praise the LORD, who whispers a lullaby when the nights grow long.
One: Follow God faithfully, no matter the chaos;
Many: For God does not lose track of us. God alone has power over hell.
One: God alone shows us the path of life; God is our resurrection and our renewal.
Many: In God’s presence there is fullness of joy, the multiplication of peace, and satisfaction forevermore.