Memorial Day Prayer on Trinity Sunday

In the quietness of our own hearts,let each of us name and call on the Triune God, whose power over us is great and gentle, firm and forgiving, holy and healing…

You, Holy God, who created us, who sustain us, who call us to live in peace, hear our prayer this day.

Hear us as we pray for all who have died, whose hearts and hopes are known to you alone…

Hear us, as we pray for those who put the welfare of others ahead of their own—those who have heard your calls for justice on behalf of the oppressed, the poor, and the downtrodden; those who have sought to do your will throughout the ages even at the risk of danger to themselves— We pray that give us hearts as generous as theirs, that we too might see your children when they cry out for the Kingdom that you promise is on its way…

Hear us, as we pray for those of all nationalities who have given their lives in the service of others—for those who have suffered and died on battlefields distant and near to our own shores, and for those who will die today in battles that are raging still. We pray for all people who give their lives in service, and whose names are held in our hearts and for those whose names are known only in Your heart. Help us to remember them with gratitude, just as we lament the human conditions that make war a reality.

Hear us, as we pray for those still living whose service inflicts deep wounds on the soul. We pray for the many veterans of worldwide war who live with the horror of lost friends and comrades, and who struggle to return from the battlefield whole. Grant us compassion and understanding, that we may shine the loving and welcoming light of Christ in their path as they seek healing and wholeness in your arms.

Almighty God, help us to shape and make a world where we will lay down the arms of war and turn our swords into ploughshares for a harvest of justice and peace… help us in the name of Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit to bring forth your kingdom where war is no more and death has no power, where all are healed and tears are dried. Grant us the vision to see your Kingdom and pursue it.

Comfort those who grieve the loss of their loved ones and let your healing be the hope in our hearts…help us as we seek to help your grieving children. Hear our prayer this day and in your mercy answer us.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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I was digging in the dirt outside this morning to get things ready to plant my tomatoes, when I found this:

From what I can figure out, this is either a cottage cheese or a cream bottle from a dairy that once operated at 45th and Parrish Streets in Philadelphia… It certainly isn’t there now, but it was 80 years ago.  And it’s been sitting less than 6 inches under the dirt in my back yard for who knows how long!

Great Day

Well, it probably wouldn’t look like it on the surface… this week was dominated by the sudden passing of Gilbert Smickle, the brother of our clerk of session at UPC.  It was painful, and it certainly was occasion for more than a few tears and sighs too deep for words.  And yet, I am consistently overwhelmed by the goodness of God and the power of community in this sad times.  For quickly on the heels of the tears were stories with great power, power enough to sustain and remind us of connections between the family and friends of the departed, power that knit us all together as one family, a body of Christ, rather than isolating any one person.

I am amazed, I must admit, by the sacred space that I am privileged to inhabit as a pastor.*  I get to be a part of this journey in a way that I could never have anticipated.  Sure, I sit with families in the midst of terrible, horrible, gut-wrenching grief, and sometimes it is true that I am asked to ferry the lost and the despairing the through the dark night of the soul that seems it may never end (in case you are wondering:  I have not special powers or experience in this mysterious territory–all I can do is point to the light and hope folks someday will see it… all I can do is be honest and real and present, which often feels like doing nothing, feeling helpless, and holding trembling hands or rubbing tired shoulders).  But I also get an inside look at the joy that the departed has left behind–and when we are lucky, there is much joy to go around.

This week was tearful, yes, but it was also one of great joy.  I was and am honored to have been able to be a part of it, and it is my prayer that all such departures can be as graceful, faith-filled, and beautiful as Gilbert’s was in our beautiful sanctuary, with these beautiful saints, today.

*speaking of which, who would have thought that the rites that come at the end of life would end up being a space in which I felt so at home?  Death seems scary when it only happens to other people, and by the grace of God I count it a blessing that in my work death comes running straight at me, and those who are left behind cannot be ignored.  I think many more on this earth might feel less scared of death if they were given the opportunity to face it and talk about it as openly as I need to in my own ministry.

Holy Wind

Man it’s only Thursday and I am getting fired up for Pentecost…. I think, in fact, that Pentecost is one of my favorite celebrations of the church.  And this year, it has been made all the more meaningful through the conversations that I have had the privilege of being a part of.

One conversation that sticks out for me most strongly is really a conversation that I have had with many folks that I care about, and for whatever reason they have clustered this week.  And that conversation has to do with community and belonging.  As I was reminded this week, the consequence of blogging about one’s loneliness is that suddenly one is likely to receive a lot of phone calls, emails, and personal check ins from people that care making sure that a person is alright.  Some of those check ins have become important conversations about the experience of true belonging to a place or a people.  Moreover, many conversations have also dealt with the importance of invitation to a person’s sense of belonging.

And as someone who spends her days as a pastor, all this talk about belonging and invitation, of course, got me thinking about the church.  Because ultimately, what is the gospel other than an invitation to community?  What does Christ do, if he does not welcome outsiders into the family?  Consider Pentecost.  The way I read it this week, the Holy Spirit’s appearance on the scene is primarily a radical invitation to all people.  Scripture says in Acts 2 that every person who was in the room, no matter what their native tongue, heard and understood the words of the disciples as they spoke through the power of the Spirit.  Every person was acknowledged by the Spirit’s presence; no one was left out.  How often does that happen in our daily lives?  More often than not, our common experience is one of being left out rather than brought in, and yet the Spirit makes a space in which the exact opposite is what is possible. That invitation, the offering of the gospel to all people regardless of their language, shifts the conversation from one where the focus is inward to one where the focus is outward.  All those people have heard the invitation:  how will they respond?

Ultimately, what I take away is the following:  we cannot control how people will respond to our message, what they will decide to do with it.  That is between them and God.  But if Pentecost teaches us anything, it is that we are called as the church to offer the invitation that is the Gospel to everyone who has ears to hear, no matter what divides or separates us, to give them the chance to accept or reject the invitation.  This work will take us out of our comfort zone, but the HOly Spirit will be with us.  We will not be alone.  And what’s more, what we offer is so important, because it essentially amounts to us saying, “You don’t have to be alone.  We can be a community, together.  We can work out our differences.  Our language may be different, but the gospel is the same.  The good news is for all of us.”

Not a bad antidote to a lonely few days.

Today’s Subject is Loneliness

Difficult, difficult, difficult.  It has always been so difficult for me to acknowledge and embrace the part of myself that can suddenly be overcome by loneliness, whether I am alone or not.  The person who, in the midst of a room full of people, many of whom she knows, will become increasingly aware in the midst of that room that she feels invisible, unnoticed, passed over.

Perhaps it has to do with who I am and how I see myself.  I am the eldest, and I have always wanted to be liked, to make my parents and those I admired proud of me.  I have always wanted to be someone that other people knew and that folks liked to be around, and I think it would be fair to say that I have coveted the approval of others throughout my life.  But I also know that I like to forget the part of me that was so lonely as a child–I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I often was picked on in school (I was a bit of a nerd, and before that, I liked “little kid” games like make-believe well into middle school, and before that, well, I was sort of a tomboy).  The friends I had were closely held, and often not very many at any given time.  As I got older, I had more “friends,” but almost all of them were not the sort I shared your life with–more the kind that I ate my lunch and took my classes next to.  We were more like friends by geography than choice.

I wonder if that hasn’t persisted to some extent into my adulthood.  Sure, my sister commented in college that I seemed to know everyone, but I rarely felt as though anyone knew me.  MOre often, I felt like folks knew my name, and knew what I did, but didn’t really share my life.  Same with seminary–I was a decent schmoozer, but I left seminary really with one good friend, and I didn’t meet her in school at all.

All of this is prelude to the fact that I am struggling these days with the profound gulf that I will sometimes find myself trapped in.  I know I can’t be alone in this, but I can’t help but feel alone in the midst of it.  My job is one where being extroverted and knowing everyone is good, but one drawback is often that you know a little bit of everyone, and they know less of you.  And given my education I sometimes find myself struggling to analyze my experience, but I am not sure that is the best antidote either… is it really going to help me, for example, to try to try to diagnose my loneliness, or is that just another way to avoid acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, this is a part of who I am?  Maybe I would be better off just sitting in it and feeling it, rather than hiding it away.

I do have to say though, I find it amusing that today I was feeling lonely in, of all places, a church in which the mission statement could probably decently be described as welcoming all people in so that loneliness diminishes and community increases.  And here I am feeling like the odd man out.  I have my reasons, I suppose, but I did find it to be unexpected territory.

If someone brought this problem to me, I suppose I might be tempted to wonder, “Where is God working in this,” or “what lesson might we learn,” or maybe something more clever that connects the spiritual to the emotional.  And I do believe they are connected somehow–I almost never worship myself, these days, and I find it interesting that I feel so lonely when I do.  But I gotta be honest, I don’t feel like answering the questions right now.  If I could be blunt, I just want to feel less like the island I experienced today.  I want to be a part of things, and for others to want me to be a part of their lives, rather than just a number or a person who can give them something.