Leader: The God of boundless compassion waits for us with patient expectancy.
All: The God of our ancestors stands in the doorway and continually calls us home.
Leader: God’s unconditional love cannot be earned, only accepted.
All: May our worship reflect God’s infinite embrace.
Gathering Prayer (Unison)
God of our aimless wandering, God of our longing for home, with a broken heart you patiently await our return. Teach us to see ourselves and each other as you see us: your children, made in your image deserving of unconditional love. We don’t always show each other the same love you show us. We have a tendency to sort people into categories of those who deserve love and those who don’t. Shake us out of our limited perspectives. Give us the courage and the skills to listen deeply, to speak the truth in love, and to embrace our brothers and sisters even when it’s difficult to do so. Amen.
Prayer of Dedication
We offer our lives in service as we offer our gifts to you, Holy God, in gratitude for the gift of your child, Jesus, who died and rose again that we might have abundant life now and eternal life in the world to come. Amen.
Creative God, baptize us with your Holy Spirit. Create in us a new heart, one attuned to your love, one filled with your life, a heart that radiates warmth and generosity. The world is full of suffering. We, too, suffer. Heal us so that we can be your hands of healing for others. Amen.
The holidays bring with them a mix of emotions: nostalgia, anxiety, anticipation, hope, joy, grief and more. Some of these emotions are more welcome at this time of year than others. We might feel pressure to act happy because it’s Christmastime when inside we don’t feel that way. That’s not the true message of Christmas. God sent the Christ child for the very purpose of sharing our common lot with all of its circumstances and emotions pleasant and unpleasant. In becoming one of us, God accepts all of us. So bring yourself, just as you are to grieve, remember, celebrate, and cherish loved ones who have passed on and the God who embraces us all.
God of mercy, we pray for ourselves. We pray for our dear ones. We pray for those who have passed on. We pray for our neighbors and communities. We pray for all of us, who in one way or another have been affected by this year of global pandemic. Because of the pandemic, some of us haven’t had the chance to say good-bye in a way we had hoped. Our grief is complicated; our loss ambiguous. Wrap us in your boundless embrace. Heal our hearts made heavy with sorrow. Lift our spirits so that we might join the heavenly chorus singing, “Peace on earth and good will to all.” Amen.
This Advent we light the first candle acknowledging our grief and inviting God’s consolation into our hearts.
Lights the first candle.
We light the second candle accepting our pain and inviting God’s comfort.
Lights the second candle.
We light the third candle noticing our fears and remembering that God’s perfect love casts out fear.
Lights the third candle.
We light the fourth candle honoring our struggle as a sign of the divine life that lives in and through us.
This week Beth Lindsay, Kerri Crough, and I along with a couple others from the Vitality Team visited Life Church New England to learn about their partnership with Food Share. Food Share provides low cost food to partner organizations that serve as distribution sites to food insecure people. The Vitality Team has a vision that First Church could serve as one of those sites. The need is great. The mission of the Vitality Team is to grow the church. Food ministry in itself doesn’t necessarily grow the church. But food ministry can provide the context in which a church might grow if the ministry is designed in such a way that it gets us outside the church walls and provides opportunity to build authentic relationships with people who are not yet members of the church.
Clearly this has been the case for Life Church. Volunteers take the time to get to know clients, pray with them if that’s appropriate, and otherwise walk with them as the hands and heart of Jesus in their lives. Volunteers also invite their friends and neighbors who aren’t food insecure to join them in this ministry. In this way Food Share not only meets the real needs of hurting people but also provides another “entry point” for people who may not have food needs but who may have spiritual needs like needs for purpose, meaning, and community.
Not only am I excited about the possibility of reaching new people through a Food Share ministry but also about building a partnership with Life Church. Vital partnerships are another strategy for building vital ministry–particularly when those partnerships bridge racial, cultural, and theological differences. I’m grateful to Beth and Kerri for finding new ways to lead us beyond our walls.
Holy God, clearly you love stories. Thank you for the teaching stories lovingly curated and handed down to us in Scripture. Teach us to find ourselves in Jesus’ stories. Open our hearts to their disruptive and freeing power. Open our eyes to suffering. Reach us at a gut level that compels us to respond with compassion. Amen.
[Explanation: For over 20 years my spiritual practice has been Zen meditation. I am currently a member of Boundless Way Temple, Worcester, MA. I study koans under the instruction of David Rynick, Roshi. “Koan” comes from the ancient Chinese practice of law and simply means “case,” as in the record of a legal proceeding that points to the truth of the matter at hand. Koans are statements of proceedings usually in a monastery context, that point to truth. Another one of David’s students and I have taken up the practice of writing verses in response to some of the koans we study. My dharma name is “Setsusho.” Below is the koan. The koan translation from the original Chinese is by poet David Hinton. Rather than transliterate the character names (in the example below, “Quingrang”), Hinton uses a literal translation of the Chinese characters, so Quingrang becomes “Light-Inception Peak.” Confusing, but perhaps opening up more nuance of meaning. Following the koan is “Setsusho’s” response!]
A monk asked Master Light-Inception Peak: “The Buddha of Vast Insight and Surpassing Wisdom sat in meditation for ten kalpas on Buddha-Way Terrace, but the Buddha-dharma never took shape for him. How is it, in all that time, he never wholly became Buddha-Way’s turning seasons?”
“A question to the point exactly,” replied Light-Inception.
But the monk persisted: “After all that meditation on Buddha-Way Terrace, how is it he never wholly became the Buddha-Way?”