Hopeless

I have some not-so-polite things to pray today, God,
starting with:

You suck.

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Also:

You’re falling down on the job.

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Where is your balm to the brokenhearted
when pain is looped publicly on video
for voyeurism and ratings?

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Is there no more freedom
your Spirit can breathe upon those
most strangled, most strained, most encumbered
by centuries of hatred?

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Where is your fulfillment of justice
in heaven or on earth?
Have the stars taken all your attention
in resolving their quarrels with far-flung moons?

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Did you stop helping
after you fulfilled your promise to Jacob?
Were you too tired after the journey across the wilderness?
Was it just too much when they killed Christ?

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Have you kept faith forever
to yourself while we cast around
looking for hope worth holding onto?

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The prisoners are on strike,
the hungry are desperate,
the ignorant feel righteous,
the bowed down are drowning,
the strangers are turned away,
but sure: let’s carry on with loud praises to
the God who teases us across generations.

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on Psalm 146
cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals

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HOPELESS: a sermon on today’s Revised Common Lectionary texts

Tell me who you think will solve this. Tell me who you think can fix our collective state of being, the status quo of our living that includes as a foundational truth the devaluing and criminalizing of Black and brown bodies to the point of death.

Who do you think can fix this?

Who do you hold responsible for fixing this?

I talk with friends, I follow conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and I read books & blogs on racism, and it’s clear that there are many fixes. There are many good and necessary efforts toward uprooting racism, and truthfully we need every tool at our disposal to uproot racism. People I know and read have a variety of opinions about where to start or which efforts to prioritize:

  • The police system needs to be overhauled: not because every police officer is problematic, but because the historic foundations of policing are inherently racist and so the system of law enforcement needs revision if it’s going to be proactively anti-racist.
  • The justice system needs to be exorcised of its demons and redeemed of its biases against Black and brown persons: from public defenders’ offices to the selection of juries to mandatory sentencing laws to the privatization of jails & prisons.
  • It’s also essential for white folks to account for our participation in and our unwillingness to stand against racism. More than that, white folks need to talk to white folks about racism, we need to hold each other accountable for our prejudices, we need to teach each other that the white experience is not the only experience. In particular we Christians who are white need to speak up to other white Christians and testify that Christ’s commandment to love one another is at risk if we do any less than work wholeheartedly against personal & systemic racism.

Those are just a few tools and avenues in the work against racism. Where do you look for solutions?

Where and with whom do you place the responsibility for change?

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals,
in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth
and their plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)

In this particular season of American racism, this is what I hear when I read Psalm 146:

Do not put your trust in police systems,
in which there is no help.
Do not put your trust in justice systems,
in which there is no hope.
Do not put your trust in white folks,
in whom there is no hearing.
These are all mortal
and by their mortality, inherently sinful.
When their self-righteous breath departs,
they will return to dust.
Only when they return to dust will their plans perish.

It’s a dismal paraphrase of the psalm, perhaps, but then again several of our scripture readings this morning have a rather hopeless cloud hanging over them – did you notice?

Amos 6 is less than reassuring: “Alas to to you who relax on their couches, who drink a glass of wine, who pause to enjoy a bit of musical harmonization, not minding the suffering outside your doors. You’ll be the first to be punished for the injustices of the world when the LORD finally holds us accountable for failing to love one another.” How bad were their injustices and negligence? Amos wrote that the people’s living was so outrageously contrary to God that it was as if they were trying to plow the sea to reap a harvest. (Amos 6:12)

The thread of biblical misery continues in Luke 16: Jesus tells the parable of a rich man and a poor man who die. In the afterlife, the poor man is waited on by angels while the rich man is tormented by flames. For the first time in his life (and death), the rich man is in need and dependent on someone else for relief. And Abraham, who’s monitoring the whole situation, shrugs and says “Too bad for you.” When the rich man asks if the poor man can be sent with a warning message to the rich man’s brothers, Abraham shrugs again and says, “People don’t really like ghosts.”

Far from a parable of good news, Luke 16 discourages the notion that all will be better if we can just be patient for the sweet by-and-by. To the extent that we look at the pain & suffering, racism & hatred of the world around us and believe that heaven will be the great equalizer, that God’s grace will comfort all who have suffered and cover all who have sinned, Jesus disrupts us in the most strident terms, “Woe to you who have anything to do with the suffering of another. It would be better to throw yourself into the sea. Otherwise, plan to repent and confess at least seven times a day.” (Luke 17:1-4)

Who do we look to to fix this world of ours?

In what or in whom do we hope against the hopelessness of racism?

If we’re waiting for our sins to turn to dust along with our mortal selves, if we’re waiting for God’s grace to make us all one in the afterlife, Luke’s parable of the rich man and the poor man paints a picture of a judgment day that will feel worse before it feels better.

So then, hoping in heaven seems to be less than a guarantee.

Perhaps we hope just to live a little better day by day, to keep our priorities grounded in faith according to the wisdom of 1 Timothy 6: to fight the good fight of faith, to hold fast to God’s commandments, to avoid greed, to pursue righteousness. But faith did not save a Black man who was at the wrong end of a police officer’s gun in Charlotte or in Tulsa. Righteous living didn’t save a Black woman who was arrested in Texas for failing to use her turn signal.

God help us, where and in whom are we to place hope?

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD:

the One who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever,
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry;
the One who sets the prisoner free
and opens the eyes of the blind,
the One who lifts up those who are
weighed down and weighted down,
and watches over the stranger;

the One and only LORD
who upholds the orphan and the widow
but ruins the ways of the wicked.
This is the LORD to whom we sing praises
for generations. (Psalm 146)

It is neither easy nor simplistic to say to one another, “Hope in the LORD,” at a time when hope feels so foolish.

But it is all and everything we have.

“Hope in the LORD” is the beginning of our efforts against racism. It is the foundation and motivation for living with love. “Hope in the LORD” compels us to look upward and outward when fear and stress would otherwise draw our shoulders and our spirits inward in self-protection.

“Hope in the LORD” is the rock we cling to at the end of each day, when racism remains even though we are tired. “Hope in the LORD” is the courage we have to sleep, believing that God has dreams still to give us that are more compelling than our nightmares.

“Hope in the LORD” is not a free pass from doing the work. It is not a dismissal of systems from being held accountable. It is the impatience that we will not wait for the princes of Psalm 146 or the rich man of Luke 16 to understand their dust & their sin before we demand the fullness of life. It is the conviction that our own dust & sin must not deplete another’s fullness of life, must not deplete our own full living in unlimited love.

“Hope in the LORD” is not easy but it is a yoke worth bearing — worth sharing and carrying together.

“Hope in the LORD” is a song worth singing through eternity.

Friends, let us hope when hope seems hopeless.

It is all we have.

Advent Liturgies (Nativity)

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

Still to come: One more set of Advent liturgies on a non-lectionary theme (Object Lessons).

Up now: NATIVITY THROUGH ADVENT, a series of Advent liturgies centered on aspects of the nativity story. If you watched my webinar for the Center for Progressive Renewal, you heard me say that there are many approaches to preaching the nativity story through Advent: taking the story chronologically, focusing on individual characters, and examining the places/settings throughout the story, among many other options. While some of us may be liturgical purists who maintain strict boundaries between Advent and Christmas, working through & over the richness of the Christmas story during Advent can add depth to a holiday that otherwise is liturgically limited to December 24/25.

Among the “Nativity Through Advent” ideas, the theme of PLACE holds particular resonance for me, so the following liturgies assume a sermon series on places in the nativity story and in our faith.

Advent 1 (SANCTUARY) Luke 1:5-23

Candle Lighting
In the presence of God,
We are in awe.
Overwhelmed by God,
We are speechless.
Graced by God,
We are thankful.
[first candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We are humble before you, O God. We are in your place, in your time, in your presence, and we confess our awe before you. How can we stand before your power? How can we boast in the presence of your imagination? How can we claim wisdom before your foolishness? Everywhere we go, you stun and surprise us. All the world is your sanctuary, O God. Keep us ever mindful and meek.

Advent 2 (HOME) Luke 1:39-45

Candle Lighting
You are welcome here.
God is welcome here.
You are welcome here.
We are welcome here.
Come and be here.
Come and be you.
Holy God, come among us and be You.
[second candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We are not always welcoming, O God, and we do not always feel welcome. We have not celebrated one another as the good gifts we are. We have not cried together in the seasons when we have needed a good cry. We have not visited one another often enough to gasp in joy or sigh in pain. Forgive us, O God. Teach us again to create home for friends and strangers, loved ones and enemies.

Advent 3 (CITIES/BUSY PLACES) Luke 2:1-5

Candle Lighting
The ways are crowded,
God is not lost.
The days are busy,
God’s time stands still.
The journey is long,
God’s light guides our feet.
[third candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
Our ways are not our own, O God. We hurry and race, twist and turn, trying to keep up, trying to get ahead, trying to stand out in the crowd. We change our ways at a moment’s whim. We change our minds by fear or persuasion. We are told where to go, where not to go. We struggle to listen for you. We cannot sense your way. Where the ways are crowded and confused, guide us we pray. Where the noise fills our ears, bring a quiet piece to our hearts.

Advent 4 (FIELDS/WIDE OPEN SPACES) Luke 2:8-15

Candle Lighting
Field and forest,
Glory to God!
Sheep and sparrow,
Glory to God!
Rock and river,
Glory to God!
Let all creation
Give glory to God!
[fourth candle is lit]

Prayer of Confession
We are longing for wide open spaces to breathe and to be amazed, but so often we do not look up to see them. So often we do not look up to see you. We miss the beauty of a drop of dew, of a single snowflake. We fail to tune in to the bird’s song. We forget to breathe deeply. Startle us, we pray. Wake us up, and our praises will echo across the open fields to your glory.

IMG_0959You 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 (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.