Saturday, December 12, 2009

Devotion XVI at Bethany Village

My sixteenth devotion at Bethany... amid all the Christmas joy and sugarplum fairies and stuff, sometimes it's good to remember that for some Christmas brings pain and loss of their loved ones, and it is good to stand with them during this time and support them. What is the spirit of Christmas, the true spirit?

Matthew 1.32b “…‘and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”

The spirit of Christmas is found in stillness.

In Oberndorf, Austria, there is a church named Nicola-Kirche (the Church of Saint Nicholas). 24 December 1818, the pastor, Rev. Josef Mohr, and the head musician, Franz Gruber, realized that the organ was no longer working, apparently, the bellows had been eaten through by mice. The bellows are essential to the organ because it keeps the air pressure at a steady rate, which allows for the movement of air through the pipes. In other words, holes in the bellows meant no music. So, Mohr went to his study, grabbed a poem he had written some time earlier, and had Gruber compose it to music. The Christmas service that night was played solely on guitar, with this one new song not being played masterfully on the grand organ, but instead on the quiet strings of the guitar. The song was, of course, “Stille Nacht,” or “Silent Night” as we know it.

Of course, the whole organ story is legend, no one knows for sure anymore the particular motivation for this song being written on guitar instead of the organ, but I think it is a likely story. And, even if the story is false, it still holds the beauty of Christmas, the beauty of simplicity.

Certain churches have the tradition of, during “Silent Night,” having a candle lighting where all the lights are turned off, sometimes even the organ will go silent, and you’ll just hear the voices of those around you singing the words “Silent night, holy night/ all is calm, all is bright,” where the good singers and the bad singers are drowned out by the music of the people around you, and you hold you light close to the book so you can attempt to read the words in the darkness, trying not to catch it on fire where kids fight behind you, trying to purposefully catch each other on fire.

There is something about the faith expression there, something in it, that our culture’s rushed, hurried, and perfectionist view of Christmas has never quite captured. Regardless of what your faith is, the simplicity carries forth the faith. Even those who do not believe sing the words, relying on the belief of others to fill their hearts and minds, knowing that when, not if, they return to belief, the others will return the favor.

Christmas spirit comes in the silence. It comes when you’re completely exhausted and sit down for the first time in what feels like days and you just are quiet. Pensive. Peaceful. It is the long needed rest for the weary.

Christmas is also in the expecting. The Advent which proceeds Christmas. The long awaiting of something… that knowing that something better is yet to come. That is the Christmas spirit. It is silence. It is expectance. It is rest. It is peace. It is not doing for once.

I remember how my brother, sister, and I used to sing together in three part harmony, standing next to each other in the pews on Christmas Eve. The music was glorious. My brother, sister, and I even made homemade recordings of us, me on piano, my sister on flute, and my brother on cello or guitar, and then we gave those out to family members for Christmas.

My brother passed away unexpectedly two years ago at the age of eighteen. And the hardest time of the year consistently is Christmas, where all the joyous family traditions we had—the singing together in a pew on Christmas Eve, the playing our instruments together, decorating trees, all of that is different. Christmas can be a very joyous time for many. But for those who have lost loved ones, Christmas may be a heavy-hearted time.

When I miss my brother this season, I cannot help but think of that first night that “Silent Night” was sung, just the simple guitar. Christmas is about family and love, true, but sometimes I feel more Christmas “spirit” when I’m alone, maybe just decorating my little apartment, humming a Christmas carol to myself. I feel it in the absence of Justin. Where he is no longer with us. I feel that. And I feel the Christmas spirit in his absence. The knowing that he’s gone now, but something better is yet to come. Peace of mind? A harmony that is now only the sound of one voice, united, sad, but peaceful? A voice that begins in silence before the first note even begins. That has silence in the spaces between each note, each phrase. That silent night where a nation heavy with mourning, under foreign occupation, had all their dreams realized in a tiny, little child born in the most humblest of places, a lowly cattle stall. That is where the Christmas spirit lies.

Let us pray.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe. Be with us this advent season, help us prepare for the advent of your reign, an advent realized in the birth of our king in lowly and humble attire. Be with us, we pray, in the name of your son, whose name is a promise in itself: Emmanuel, God is with us.

Let us pray the prayer your son taught us:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bethany Village Sermon IV: Part 3

This was the final sermon on Mark 13.1-8 that I preached at Bethany Village. This sermon was at the "main" service which was broadcasted throughout the Bethany campus on channel 98.

It was probably a warm day on June 22, 1963 when President John Fitzgerald Kennedy climbed up the podium steps in front of a crowd amassed in West Berlin. Soviet occupation in East Berlin and all of Germany had created much tension within the city as people feared that their very freedom would be taken away. Just under two years earlier a great wall was built, splitting the once thriving city in two, separating families and friends and neighbors. And Kennedy looked over the crowd and said:

"Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is 'Ich bin ein Berliner'... All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'"

It was another warm day, I am sure, almost twenty four years later on June 12, 1987, when President Ronald Regan stood in front of the Berlin Wall and spoke a phrase that reverberated through the streets of West Berlin. Regan looked over the crowd, the monumental wall standing silent behind him, addressing the General Secretary of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and said:

"Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

A few minutes later in his speech, Regan said:

"As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, 'This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.' Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom."

It was perhaps a cold day, twenty –nine months later on 9 November 1989 when the doors of the Brandenburg Gate were finally opened and inevitably soon after the wall was torn down, stone from stone. When families and friends separated were able to meet once again, when a city broken, torn in two, was able to begin the journey towards healing and wholeness.

I can only imagine what that wall—that silent presence—looked like, looming above houses and streets, a silent sentinel. It must have been an awesome, terrible sight to behold.

It was perhaps a very hot day almost two thousand years ago when the disciples of Jesus entered into the court of the temple compound. Surrounding them were huge walls of magnificent stone, ornamented with gold leaf and marble. There was probably a sweet smell of burning incense and offerings. There was probably a loud roar of the crowds interchanging monies and animals and all sorts of things. And in the center, looming above the crowd was it. The temple itself, a square building that was over five hundred years old at the time. Inside were several chambers, each more holy than the last. And in the very center was the Kodesh Hakodashim, the holy of holies, as it was called, the resting place of the arc of the covenant, the very throne of God. Only the most holy were allowed to enter, the rest of the crowd kept out by beautifully decorated curtains for fear that their unclean hands might taint God’s throne.

The disciples were in awe, I am sure. One of them called out “Look, teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Jesus turns to his disciple, his follower, his friend, and perhaps with sad eyes, perhaps not, tells a chilling prophecy: “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

It was probably a very sweltering day almost forty years later, on August 4th in the year 70 AD when Jesus’ prophecy came true and the Romans, who were occupying Jerusalem at the time, responded to a revolt and tore the temple apart, stone from stone, so that all that remained was the temple mount and the west wall, known today as the Wailing Wall.

The very walls and curtains which were meant to separate the clean from the unclean were destroyed. The walls were torn down, stone from stone, so that there was nothing left to bar access to God for all the unclean. Let me say that again. The walls, which kept all but a very, very select few from God were now destroyed.

God was supposed to live in the temple. But, the temple could not contain God any more than a bucket could contain an ocean. God is greater than the temple walls. I imagine a cathedral today. Like the giant ones in Europe or even the massive National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Those places make you feel awe and wonder. But, does that cathedral contain God? Can we build walls high enough to hold God down? No! God is bigger than the largest cathedral. God does not live in the cathedrals, but God lives and dwells with us.

Jesus invites us to imagine a world without walls separating the clean from the unclean, the pure from the unpure, and the holy from the unholy. Jesus invites us to imagine a world where nothing can separate us from God and nothing can separate us from living together as one, as a community, as the very children of God.

I want you to stop for a moment. Let us stop and imagine a world with no walls. Where men and women are paid equally for doing the same amount of work, where there is no slavery or where people can be treated the same no matter what race or culture they come from. Where the chains and walls that bind all of us are laid aside and broken down for good. A world where class, social status, politics, none of that matters. Where us on the East or West side of our own Berlin, wherever that is, can see that wall come down.

Even just imagine Bethany Village with no walls. Our community and all the walls taken down, so that the Assisted Living and the Skilled Nursing and the Bethany Towers and the Court Apartments and the West Apartments and all the cottages and estates had no walls so that we were forced to live together as a community. Close your eyes and just imagine this. Count to ten…

Pretty interesting, huh? There would be no more financial, health, or social barriers between us. I’m obviously not telling us to physically tear down the beautiful brick walls of the Bethany Village Community, because there are different levels of need that are important and are strived to be met within the various locations. However, I do want us to look at ways where we can make these walls—physically and metaphysically—smaller in our community. Here and now, how can we make Bethany Village ONE community, not six.

How do we build walls up between us? Maybe we say unkind words to one another. Maybe we hurt one another with our actions. Maybe we spend our time thinking only about ourselves and our possessions instead of sharing our time and our passions with one another.

My challenge for us is to tear down these walls we have built up. Instead of blocking people out, invite people in. How do we do that, you might ask?

Chaplain Sharon Miller gave us a wonderful sermon last Sunday about volunteering our time, possessions, passions, and talents here. I have seen wonders untold—people sharing their artistic gifts, people sharing their musical talents in the choirs and playing the piano for our services, people donating their time by volunteering at activities. These are all ways where we chip away at these massive walls between the “us” and the “them,” where we can uplift our brothers and sisters and become one community. But there is always need for more, more volunteers. We each have talents, let us use them to the best of our abilities. And even if we are in poor physical health, we have one very, very powerful gift. The ability to pray. And to gather as a community—even via channel 98—and worship as one the God who tears down walls so we can be built up.

You see, our God is not a God of high ceilinged cathedrals, as beautiful as they might be. Our God is a God that loves us so much that God become human and sacrificed his life for us, so that the walls between humanity and God that our sin built could be torn down forever. And the good news is that when other people build up walls—metaphysical or physical—to keep us out, when we feel lonely, lost, lifeless, hopeless, any of those things, Jesus tells us that one day all those feelings will perish. All the walls that have kept us down, all the chains that have kept us tethered, will be broken. God says that all the turmoil that we feel is but the pangs of birth—the pain and trials of being in labor.

Next Sunday is Christ the King, and then the Thursday after that is Thanksgiving, where we gather together with family or friends or gather here together as a community and share our thanksgivings. And do you know what Sunday follows Thanksgiving this year? The first Sunday in Advent. How appropriate is it in today’s Gospel that we are told to keep alert, to keep watch. Because soon we will enter into the Advent season where we pay special attention to the expectancy of Christ’s return. When Christ returns… When all the walls that we have built up ourselves or the walls that have been built up around us so that we are separated, like East Berlin from the West, will be torn down. When truly we will be as one people with no separation between us, nothing holding us back from being loved for who we are. When we will be able to lift every voice and sing as one, until earth and heaven ring and the stars and the sun and the very earth itself vibrates with our songs of thanksgiving, as we can shed and lay aside our weary, toiled past at last. Where no stone will be left on top of stone. All the turmoil we live in is but the birth pains, and then… on that day… all of creation will finally be reborn and overwhelmed with love and peace.

Until then, let us continue on this journey helping each other along the way. Until then… Ah, until then…

Let us pray: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Bethany Village Sermon IV: Part II

This sermon was also on the Mark 13 text and was presented to the Assisted Living and the Bethany Towers area. The Bethany Towers is a government HUB building. The text was the same as first sermon, Mark 13.1-8, Mark's mini-apocalypse.

Do you remember the great snowstorm of 1994? It was in February. I remember it clearly, even though I was only eight years old. We were coming home from church late that night—after children’s choir practice. I remember walking out of church to see flurries coming down. And then we went to Burger King for dinner. On the news they were talking about the storm that was headed our way, but we did not need the news to tell us. In our short meal at Burger King we could see the snow rising up and up on the ground. I remember that night being excited because I knew it had snowed so much already there would be no school the next day. And then, I woke up the next day and ran outside to see that the snow was taller than I was!

It was an exciting time to be a young person. Snow holds a special fascination, almost magical, in the hearts and minds of a child. I remember my brother and I built a fort out of the snow. It was quite magnificent, if I do say so myself. The walls were probably three feet high of snow. There was a tunnel to get into the fort, and a hole dug into the bottom of it full of snowballs for snowball fights.

And my brother and I decided that no girls should be allowed in our fort.

And, then, guess who came outside to play? My sister Jenna. She was only four at the time. Well, she asked if she could play in the fort, and I said, “No! No girls are allowed!”

And Jenna said “But I want to play in it!”

And do you know what I said? I said “No! You’re not good enough.” You’re. Not. Good. Enough. As soon as I said those words I knew I had said something I should not have said, even before I noticed the tears forming in my sister’s eyes. I built up a wall of snow, and how easy it was for that wall of snow—of frozen water and air—to come between me and my sister. Before I could say anything or apologize, my sister ran back inside, crying. And I got up to follow her and tripped on my snow boots, which were a little too big for me anyway, and fell face first into the snow, on top of my snow fort’s walls, crushing them. All that hard work that my brother and I put into those walls was gone in an instant, the walls now nothing more than a pile of snow.

Why do I tell you this story? Well, in the Bible story we heard about Jesus today, the disciples are looking around at the temple, this beautiful, magnificent sight. It had gold and marble and huge, giant stones. It was an enormous complex of several buildings, not to mention the most holy of holies—the Kodesh Hakodashim—where the arc of the covenant was held. Only the most holy priests were allowed behind the beautiful curtains that hid the holy of holies from the rest of the temple complex. It was said that God dwealt there, that God actually LIVED in the Kodesh Hakodashim. And so, out of respect for God, there were many purity rituals that people had to take before they could enter the temple, let alone the holy of holies.
And the disciples, the followers of Jesus, marveled at the temple and said “look at this beautiful place!”

And Jesus said “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Well, guess what? Jesus was right. The temple was destroyed in 70 AD (CE). The temple, which was built to be a house for God was taken apart, stone by stone, until there was nothing left but the mount it was fixed upon.

God was supposed to live in the temple. But, the temple could not contain God. God is greater than the temple walls. I imagine a cathedral today. Like the giant ones in Europe or even the massive National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Those places make you feel awe and wonder. But, does that cathedral contain God? Can we build walls high enough to hold God down? No! God is bigger than the largest cathedral. God does not live in the cathedrals, but God lives and dwells with us.

Jesus said that nothing on earth shall last but my words endure forever.

Just like in my story about my walls of snow, the temple walls were used to separate the clean from the unclean. We build up walls all the time, don’t we? I’m not talking about walls of brick and stone, but the walls we build on our lives that keep others away. What kind of walls do we build today? How do we keep people out? How do we make people feel unwelcome?

Maybe we say unkind words to one another. Maybe we hurt one another with our actions. Maybe we spend our time thinking only about ourselves and our possessions instead of sharing our time and our passions with one another.

My challenge for us is to tear down these walls we have built up. Instead of blocking people out, invite people in. How do we do that, you might ask?

Well, being here is one way. Coming together as a community to worship God. Inviting people to come to worship. Volunteering time to help those in need. And even if you have poor health and cannot do any of these things, there is one powerful way, one very powerful way I think we can help one another. Do you know what it is? Prayer! We can pray for one another.

You see, our God is not a God of high ceilinged cathedrals, as beautiful as they might be. Our God is a God that loves us so much that God become human and sacrificed his life for us, so that the walls between humanity and God that our sin built could be torn down forever. And the good news is that when other people build up walls—metaphysical or physical—to keep us out, when we feel lonely, lost, lifeless, hopeless, any of those things, Jesus tells us that one day all those feelings will perish. All the walls that have kept us down, all the chains that have kept us tethered, will be broken. God says that all the turmoil that we feel is but the pangs of birth—the pain and trials of being in labor.

Bethany Sermon IV: Part 1, Skilled Nursing

Hello, all! I'm posting my sermons from this past Sunday at Bethany Village Retirement Communities in Mechanicsburg, PA. There are four different services that I preached at, each in a different level of care. Sometimes, this means that I will write a different sermon for each, and sometimes it just means that I will preach the same sermon, but with a slightly different twist, relying on context. Well, this particular Sunday was a particularly hard text, so I decided to preach three different sermons, one for the Skilled Nursing facility, one for the Assisted Living and Bethany Towers services, and then one for the "main" worship service at 7:00 in the community room that is also broadcasted throughout the Bethany campus on channel 98. Anyway, I decided to share all three sermons. This sermon is for the Skilled Nursing facility, which includes people of various mental and physical health states.

This is the text: Mark 13.1-8 (called Mark's mini-apocalypse)
1As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"

2"Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

3As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4"Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?"

5Jesus said to them: "Watch out that no one deceives you. 6Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and will deceive many. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

Have you ever expected something, hoped for something so much? Maybe in school, you hoped for a good grade. Or you hoped for good test results at a doctor’s appointment.

Have you ever been to a baby shower? I don’t mean like a miniature shower to bathe children in, or that babies came down from the sky like rain. Isn’t that strange that they call it a baby shower? But anyways, a baby shower is a celebration for people who are expecting a baby. People often come and give presents—things like diapers and baby clothes and all sorts of things. It is usually a hopeful time for the family and friends of the future parents.

What are some of the emotions that you think a couple expecting a baby must be feeling?

Hope? Love? Joy? Happiness? Excited? Scared? Fearful? Pain?

A friend of mine recently had her first child. She told me that during her pregnancy, while she was expecting her first baby, she said she was very scared. She was worried, hoping that the baby would be born healthy. She was also worried that she would be a good enough parent. Her pregnancy was a very hard pregnancy; she had a lot of illness that made the doctors’ concerned for her and the baby. So, on the one hand, she was very excited about having her first baby, but on the other hand, she was also very scared.

Well, we talked about some of the emotions that a couple has who are expecting a baby. What about some emotions that someone might feel when their baby is born, and they get to see their baby for the first time?

Joy? Happiness? Love? Maybe be a little scared, too?

Well, when my friend had her baby and got to see her baby for the first time, she said that it did not matter how scared she was, it did not matter how hard her pregnancy was or how painful it was or any of that. When she saw her baby for the first time, she said she was overwhelmed with love and joy. Sure, raising a child can be scary, sometimes, but in those first few moments after she had her baby and saw her child for the first time, all she could feel was love.

In the Bible story today about Jesus, Jesus tells us about all the bad things that happen in the world. Jesus said the temple will be destroyed. Jesus talked about lots of wars, like the wars we are in today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jesus talked about famine, where people go hungry. About sickness, like the H1N1 virus we’ve been hearing in the news that has been taking so many lives of young people, killing over 6,500 people so far worldwide. People we love and care about will get sick and die, and how there will be earthquakes like the one that caused the tsunami in India that killed all those people, over 300,000 people. All these bad things that are going on in our world. Sometimes, it can be scary. Sometimes, we can almost feel hopeless. But, what does Jesus say about all of this?

Jesus says “do not be alarmed.” Jesus says that all things will eventually come to an end, but Jesus’ words will never die (Mark 13.31). Jesus says that all these bad things happening are like the birth pangs. Remember in the beginning of my message I asked you what some of the emotions were? And I told you the story about my friend who was scared when she was pregnant? Jesus said that all these bad things are like that, scary and painful. But, remember the feelings that you have when the baby is born? And how my friend said none of her fears or pains mattered, all she could feel was love? Well, all these bad things can give us fear and pain, just like being in labor. But, Jesus promises that one day all things will be better. That all the bad things I talked about—the H1N1 virus, the famine, the wars, all of that—will go away. And what will be left? The same love that my friend had when she saw her baby for the first time. All the bad things will pass away, but God will create—give birth to, in a sense—a new creation, where nothing bad can happen anymore. Where we will all live together in harmony, where there will be no wars, no sickness, no earthquakes. No fear, no hopelessness. Where all will be well.

Let us pray: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Here are some poems from my Canticle of the Sun project. The first, Brother October, is in memory of my brother, Justin Warfield (5/25/89-10/17/07). The second, Luther to Ancient and Beautiful Rome Came or The City of God is inspired by Luther's journey to Rome, which inspired him to write the "95 Theses."

Brother October

Mother earth, sister sky
Brother October with your falling leaves and silent birds
night of the eagle’s eye

the frost that kisses the grass so lightly
the quiet ambient noise of wind passing
through the solid trunks of the giant sturdy trees
dressed in vibrant colors or some naked without their leaves

gentle snowfall and the burning smell of leaf and fire
red and orange and yellow
golds and silvers
oh October, where have you gone?

I want your confident voice back
the music that only autumn provides

a frosty warmth,
wild and fancy free, spirited hellos and farewells and
the wind pulls the leaves into cartwheels on the earthen floor
no more.

Instead, Jupiter winter, you give no consolation
no warmth or tender touch
hyper bright snow reflecting glaring sun
barren ashy desert of snow

serene and gentle, perhaps
but cruel and bitter, too
Bleak: snow on snow, snow on snow

oh Brother October, where have you gone?

Luther a bellissima e antica Roma e' andato or de civitate Dei

Carried on the back of a horse
the texture, the movement the slight of hand
to the city of God

in each hand you hold the truth
of each and every day
countless backs upon them whipped
and broken down and hurt inside
and that’s the way it goes

into this earthen mess
the snow flies up from ground
into sky to swirl free
before being cast abroad

and here that mess and mixture brings
a heart of toiled pain
a movement in your deepest guts
compassion to set free

and with the winds the earth does shake
and loose it’s slumbered hands
upon the shoulders of Atlas great
the sky does sit to stand

the trees too sway and bend and bow
in a fervent dance
beneath the sun and moon and sky
and saints and sinners both

a sound of trumpet sounding out
the city of God appears
the world opens up to show
its broken heart emerge

in this city a castle’s built
from the blood and sweat of all
the broken backs of countless ones
who under soil lie

take a look at the dirt its rusty color
and taste the earthen soil
it tastes like blood and iron too
and hooven shapes do form

don’t forget the lyre song
its sweet harmonies
they tell the tales of prophets fierce
forgotten with the time

let the spire of this full tow’r
upon your backs to break
the truth will come at last to free
and lay these chains to rest.

Bethany Sermon II

My second sermon at Bethany Village, on the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 10:17-31. Those of you who were in my preaching class last year might recognize the beginning, lol.

A woman is in line at a department store, her purchases in tow, during the Christmas Rush. The line is going by quickly, and the woman is happy—maybe she’ll be in home to catch her favorite television show, and even relax before her children get home from school. She gets to the cashier and pulls out her cash, and realizes that she does not have enough money to pay for the dresses. The line comes to a screeching halt behind her and people become angry as they are forced to wait while the woman fumbles around, trying to find out what item to take off of her total. Suddenly, a voice from the heavens sounds down “What’s in your wallet?” And then the logo for Capital One credit cards appears across the television screen.

I’m sure you have seen commercials like this one on your television in the past five years or so for Capital One Credit cards. It seems that in every commercial, you have to have this special card or you’re a nuisance to those around you. If you have this special capital one credit card, life will somehow be easier.

The Bible passage also makes me think of the pyramids in Egypt. These great big tombs which are full of gold and riches. You ever hear the phrase “You never see a U-haul behind a hearse?” Guess the Egyptian pharaohs of old missed that memo. Maybe a voice out of the heavens should have asked “What’s in your pyramid?”
Well, in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is approached by a rich man. We know the story—the rich man asks Jesus what he can do to get inherit eternal life. And Jesus asks if he’s followed the commandments—the rich man says yes—and then Jesus looks on him with love and says then give away all your possessions and come follow me. The rich man, probably with head hung low and tail between his legs, probably mumbling and grumbling to himself, goes home sad because he had many possessions. Jesus tells his disciples the famous saying: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get inherit eternal life. This makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Let’s let this sink in for a little bit… count to five…
Hmm… So, apparently Bill Gates does not have a place at the great banquet, huh? Just kidding, it’s easy to point the finger. But what about us? Is this lesson supposed to be a warning for us? Well, I heard earlier today that if you make only $1,000 a year, you are richer than over fifty percent of the world. Can you imagine? Only $1,000 a year and you are already sitting pretty compared to some of our brothers and sisters around the world. Even in an unstable economy, we are still one of the wealthiest nations in the world. I think this is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. Like the disciples said, “Who can be saved?”

In the words of a friend of mine, “Oh Lawdy, this passage is makin’ me sink! Let me up for some fresh air!”

But Jesus answers them, “For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Jesus is saying, with love—remember, he looked at the rich man with love, not with anger—Jesus is saying that we can’t do it without God. God has to be present and active in our lives, because if we want to inherit eternal life on our own we’d never be able to do enough. So often we can be like the rich man, saying “Well, I follow all the rules, I got to church every Sunday, I read my Bible every day.” Jesus points out that we can do more. But with God, all things are possible.

I think Jesus is telling us to be responsible with our resources. It certainly is impractical in this world to give up everything. We would not survive. To purposefully give up our house and all our money and all our family and all our possessions, to become a homeless person, wondering the streets is to be irresponsible of what resources we have, and to become a burden to others. But we can be more intentional about where we spend our resources.

What’s in your wallet might be a good question for us—we could take out our bills or maybe our calendars and see where most of our time and money is going. For instance, I love reading and books. I love spending time with my friends. Maybe next time I’m at Borders and I want to buy a book, I’ll stop, and I’ll give the money that I would have spent on that book to an organization designed to help illiteracy rates. Maybe next time I plan on spending time with friends, maybe I could invite them to go to church with me instead. Maybe next time I plan on watching a movie I’ll pray or read from the Bible instead. What can we do in our lives to be better stewards of our resources?

Well, I would like to say in my short time at Bethany I have had and continue to have the privilege and blessing to work alongside and with many of you. I have seen people give up their time and their talents for the good of this community and use their resources in ways which blow my mind, sharing with one another the good news and helping one another. The seeds have been planted here—wondrous seeds of truth and love and hope. But the road still stretches out before us, the journey is not over until it’s over, so let us continue to grow in the rich goodness God has given us. Let us continue to look out for our sisters and brothers around us. Each and every day we are given the choice to use our richness—the blessings God has given us, friends, family, time, and talents, and so much more—to give to others and by giving we are following Christ. In uplifting the poor and weak and last among us, we are doing the work God commanded us. And even when we do not feel good enough, God is good enough. Through God all things are possible, and through God even the rich can pass through the eye of a needle.

Jesus tells them that the last will be first, and the first will be last. Jesus looks on the disciples with love; and tells them that when things are given away, or even taken away, that we can rest assured in the promise that one day will come when all things will be made right again, where things are not taken, but are given, where illness fades away and wellness blossoms, where loved ones and old friends who have gone will welcome us home, and where the last among us and the least among us will be first, and where our broken bodies will be made whole and one again. And we will be met with the old and beautiful words, “Well done, good and faithful soldiers, well done.”

Let us pray: Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Bethany Devotion VII

My seventh devotion (I think?) at Bethany Village in Mechanicsburg, PA.

John 6.35b “[Jesus said] whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.

Before I went to seminary this year, my mother gave me a plant. I don’t garden nor have I ever tended one, so I am not sure why she gave me this plant. It is a basil plant. I have it situated by a window so it gets plenty of light and warmth. Although I have never really kept a plant before, the plant seemed to be doing very well, its long green leaves reaching up towards the sun, the green a healthy and vibrant color. This past weekend I went home for a few days, and I forgot to water the plant. I came back to the seminary and saw that the once strong green leaves were now drooping, not just a little, but a lot. Some of the green had faded and some of the leaves began to turn brown around the edges. I had only not watered it for three days, and it was already drooping. I immediately gave the plant plenty of water, hoping that it was not too late to save the plant.

By the next day, after just watering the plant, the basil was already returning to it’s healthy self again. The color was restored to the leaves, the plant was once again reaching its viney tendrils towards the sun. The basil plant filled the air with its sweet aroma once more, its leaves growing in that sweet flavor that is so unique to basil.

Water is such an important part of life. It gives the world life. Growth. Nurture. The flooding of rivers gives rich nutrients to the soil. Rain brings growth to fields. Humans are composed of between sixty to seventy percent water, and if we do not drink enough liquid, we can feel parched, just like my basil plant, only to be refreshed the moment we drink more water.

Many of you I know read your bibles every day, and pray without ceasing. For the word of God is like water. It fills us up, gives us life, and opportunity for growth. Water is used in baptism, and along with the powerful words of the trinity, that water binds us to God forever. The great oceans are full of fish and whales and all sorts of creatures beyond imagination. Jesus said that whoever believes in him is never thirsty. Whoever lets the word of God fill them like water will never be the same again, but will be reborn. Let us continually drink from the living water that is the word of God, so that we may grow in faith and love, and so that we may let justice roll down like a mighty river and righteousness like a never ending stream.

I ended the devotion with Martin Luther's "Flood Prayer," and, of course, the Lord's Prayer.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bethany Devotion VI

I know it's been a while since I posted a devotion, but I've been doing 'em.

Micah 6.8
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

“If you have made another person on this earth smile, your life has been worthwhile.”
~ Sr. Mary Christelle Macaluso

I used to work at Starbucks Coffee as a Barista—a fancy word Starbucks uses for people who serve coffee. I enjoyed it at first—the smell of fresh coffee—that is bitter and sweet at the same time. The atmosphere of Starbucks was one of sophistication and hurriedness, as people rushed in and rushed out with their coffees off to their busy lives. Making the coffee products were enjoyable, too. But, after a while, the days became longer and the business caught up to me. I remember one particular day I was making tea and I tripped, spilling the boiling hot water all over my hands. The day did not get any better, as the lines got unusually long, making customers unhappy as they had to wait, customers who had grown accustomed to their own special routine that included a warm cup of sweet, flavorful Starbucks coffee. And I remember complaining to my manager at the end of the day how bad it was.

“I just feel like I got nothing accomplished,” I said.

He replied, “What do you mean?”

I responded, “Well, the lines were long and customers were unhappy. I burnt myself. I just feel like today was a waste. Like today was a really bad day.”

My manager responded, “But you did your job. Even though the lines were long and people were unhappy, you were able to help brighten people’s days just by being there, simply by listening to their concerns and helping them get their coffee.”

My managers words were unexpected. I had not realized that my job was more than simply getting people their coffee. My job was more than that. It was serving people with a smile, helping them in perhaps the smallest way possible get through their day. And even though serving someone coffee is quite simple, I was able to help people smile, even if only for a few minutes on their way to work in the morning.

In life, so often we can get caught up in the disappointments in life. We can have bad days. Sometimes bad weeks or bad months! And it can feel like we’re not helping anyone. But just by being there, being a listening ear, being someone that smiles and says hello in the hallway, we can brighten someone’s day.

In the Bible verse I read, the prophet Micah is asking what all he needs to do to give God the praise God deserves. Micah asks if ten thousand rams would be enough, if rivers and rivers of oil would be enough. If that’s not enough, then what? Micah offers to give his first born child up to God! And yet, at the end, Micah realizes that all God requires is to love mercy, love kindness, and walk humbly alongside our God.

Just like a smile and a cup of coffee was a very humble means of serving another person, it was still serving them. It was still one small thing I could do to brighten someone’s day. Just by being kind, loving mercy, and walking humbly through the ups and downs of life we are serving our neighbors, and we are serving God.
So for today, I’d like to ask you to reflect on a few questions. How can we walk humbly in our lives? What small ways can we show kindness to one another?

Let us pray. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe. You have protected us all through this night and with each new day comes new opportunities to serve you and to serve one another, so that we may act justly, love mercy and kindness, and walk humbly in your Holy Name O Lord. Let us pray together the prayer your Son taught us:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bethany Sermon I

Scripture: Mark 9.30-37

Title: On RADICAL Greatness

NOTE: the first part of this sermon was extemporaneous, so below I just give a brief description of the gist of what I said.

*I brought in a Superman figurine. I asked who it was. I declared Superman to be the greatest of all superheroes, because he has so many awesome powers such as flight, superhuman speed and strength, laser vision, x-ray vision, etc. I then said that superman has one weakness--kryptonite. It doesn't matter how great he is, this little rock of kryptonite can take away all his powers until he is just an ordinary person like you or me. *
*I then pulled out a nickle and dime from my pocket. I said to someone who doesn't know much about the U.S. monetary system, he or she would probably think the nickle is worth more than the dime--it's bigger and heavier. But for some strange reason, the dime is worth more! Five whole cents more! *
*I then recapped the Gospel lesson, basically talking about how the disciples were arguing amongst themselves who was the greatest, and Jesus asked them what they were arguing about and they were embarrassed and didn't say anything. But then Jesus took a child... then my sermon continued as follows:*

Jesus says whoever welcomes a child welcomes me, whoever welcomes me welcomes Father Now children in the ancient Greco-Roman world were hardly considered great at all. They had no power, no wealth. Have you ever heard the expression children were to be seen and not heard? Exactly the case here. And yet, Jesus takes this child and says that to welcome this child is to welcome Jesus.

This makes no sense—the disciples—who gave up their jobs and homes to follow Jesus should be the greatest. I mean they followed Jesus, they listened to all his teachings even if they didn’t always understand, they shared meals and journeys and all the ups and downs of Jesus’ ministry, and witnessed miracles beyond wonder and amazement. Yet Jesus doesn’t declare one of them to be the greatest—Jesus instead finds a random child, the lowliest of the low, and shows that by welcoming the least among us, we welcome Jesus, and by welcoming Jesus, we welcome God.

I’m sure it stunned the disciples, because it certainly shocks me. Like the nickel and dime, it doesn’t make sense for a child to be greater than a disciple. And yet in this radical kingdom of God, a child is greater than the disciple. To welcome a child is to welcome God! It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

This reminds me of a joke, actually. You may have heard it before. In a synagogue, congregants are gathered around, praying to God. A Rabbi shouts out in prayer “Oh Lord, I am nobody!” Another Rabbi is inspired and shouts out, too, “Oh Lord, I am nobody!” A visitor to the synagogue is inspired by the Rabbis and adds her own prayer, “Oh Lord, I am nobody!” The one Rabbi says to the other “Who is this person to think she’s nobody?”

We laugh, but how often do we find ourselves doing the same thing! I’m sure if we reflect, we can probably think of a time when we were like the disciples, are arguing amongst ourselves as to who is the greatest! Who here is the greatest? Who here is the cream of the crop? Perhaps the hostess with the mostest? The master maestro? The head hancho? The best as sports? The best at art? The best theologian? And yet, what does that mean? The prophet Isaiah writes “All flesh is grass, and the glory of the flower is grass. The grass withers, and the flower fades” (Isaiah 40.6). Greatness can be taken away. Just like kryptonite does to Superman, sometimes what we work hard for can vanish. The grass withers. And then what greatness are we left with?

Jesus is showing us here that what the world considers great, what we consider great, is not that great after all. It comes and goes. And, even worse, to be greatest inevitably means to have preference over others. One can only be great because someone else is not. That’s not a happy thought, is it? Instead, Jesus is showing the disciples here a new, radical form of greatness—the greatness that is found in hospitality for the least of these. Of helping those who need help, loving those who need loved, and comforting those who need consoled.

That is where the hope is. Because, sometimes we are like the child, aren’t we? Sometimes, we work hard, put our hearts and souls into something, and yet it falls through. Perhaps you worked your whole life in a company only for them to fire you in favor of someone younger? Or, maybe we find an illness keeping us from reaching our full potential. Or sometimes, other people are keeping us from reaching our full potential! How many times is it where we feel the exact opposite of great? Where we are discouraged, meek, or even afraid? We might be forgotten or sad or lonely.
We might feel hopeless in those times. But! Ah! This is where the hope comes in this gospel message today. Because Jesus promises us that he will be with us in those times. Jesus took the child in his arms—a child who was by no means great by the standards of the world—and told the disciples that whoever welcomes that child welcomes Jesus! That Jesus is with that child. Jesus is with us, too, when we are by no means feeling great. Jesus foretold his death and resurrection to the disciples, reminding them and us that by his death on the cross, a death as a criminal, the farthest thing from greatness you can imagine, that by his death and resurrection we have the promise that Jesus will be with us always. When we’re at our lowest, Jesus promised to hold us in his arms as he did to that child, and to provide us with comfort.

You see, in the radical world of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus empowers those without power, strengthens those without strength, comforts those who are comfortless, and gives greatness to those without greatness. And in this radical world we are called to welcome the least of these, we are the ones God calls to empower, to give strength to, and to comfort. There is no earthly greatness in the kingdom of heaven, only those who are last and servants of all. That is a greatness that no one can take from us, no kryptonite is strong enough to weaken the love of God in Christ Jesus.

So, I invite you this week to reflect. First, in what ways are we like the disciples in this passage? But also, reflect on this. Who is like the child in this passage? Who do we know that feels the absolute opposite of great right now? And, how can we welcome them? How can we remind them of the promise Jesus said, that by welcoming the weak and lowly, we welcome Jesus himself?

Let us pray***: O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all bad thoughts and deeds, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

***The prayer was adapted from the prayer of the day found in the ELW for the pericope.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bethany Devotion III

A reading from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

If you have been watching television at all this past month, then you have probably seen a commercial that has a familiar road as a fabulous foursome walks across the street, soon followed by a large crowd of people, coming together over music. The street is the famous Abbey Road in England, and the four young men, of course, are the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The commercial is advertizing the release of a video game called the Beatles Rockband, where people can use a special videogame controller to play alongside the famous rock group.
It is amazing that thirty-nine years after the band broke up their music still has the ability to speak to new generations, as people come together over such famous songs as “Let it Be,” “All you Need is Love,” and “Hey Jude.” You know, for all the controversy and ups and downs in this famous band’s career, the music still speaks true to us all these years later. John Lennon’s song, “All You Need is Love,” perhaps speaks the most true to me. The repeated refrain “All You Need is Love” echoes the words of Saint Paul from the scripture today. “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,” John Lennon sings, and it is true. Saint Paul writes that even if I could speak with the tongues of angels! Angels! I would sound like a clanging gong—this loud, banging noise that rattles the brain almost—if I did not have love. Without love, nothing I can do would matter, it could not be done. It is love that drives forward all our heart’s desires, and enflames our speech with passion and truth. Love gives weight to our lives, meaning and power to our lives.
It is important to remember that this love is a gift from God. It is because God loved us first that we are able to love one another. In all we do, we must remember to love one another. God made us all in God’s own image. So when we have differences or disagreements, we have to remember to look past that and to see the image of God in the other person. And then, to reach out to that person with love.
And when times get tough for us, and when it seems all the color has drained out of the world and we are left with nothing, it is God’s love for us that will carry us through. Perhaps it is the love of a neighbor or friend or family member that will remind us of God’s love, or a favorite passage in scripture that can give us hope for better and brighter days.
So, as the Beatles music hits the charts again, bringing a whole new generation of fans, let us remember that no matter what happens in life, there is hope, faith, and love. And as Saint Paul—and Paul McCartney and John Lennon put to song—out of those three, “All you need is love! All you need is love! All you need is love, love, love is all you need!”

Let us pray: O God, King of the Universe, you gave us the gift of love so that we may share it with one another. Help us to see your love for us in our lives, open our eyes and our hearts to the work and movement of the Holy Spirit in this place. Through your Son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.

And now, let us pray the prayer your Son taught us. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

And may the Lord bless you all on this day.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Devotion 2

My second morning devotion at Bethany Village Retirement Home.

A reading from Lamentations, chapter 3, verses 22-23(a).

22The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,

His mercies never come to an end;

23they are new every morning

This past summer I traveled to Cape Cod and the surrounding areas for the first time with my family. There we visited many historical sites, things and places that amaze and cause me wonder. But nothing shines so clearly in my mind as one morning—one of the last days of the vacation—when I went out to watch the sunrise over the ocean. Here I was—the vast ocean before me, alone on the beach except for the sound of waves making towards the sandy shore, the smell of salt in the air. The beach was empty. There were no footprints, not a single one was left over from the many people who had been here the day before. The sky was empty, just a slow grey in the horizon that slowly began to melt to a blue before, in an instant! The sun appeared over the horizon. In that moment the sea sparkled and shone with such brilliance. The sky burst into colors I had never knew even existed, as if it were painted by the hand of God.

In that moment, I felt like I was the very first person to set foot on the beach, that I was some unknown traveler discovering a new ground—this is what the pilgrims must have felt when they first touched foot onto these same sand beaches.

Soon, the afternoon would come and the beach would become crowded with summer tourists and sunbathers and children building sand castles. But then! The night will come, people will go home. The high tide will wash away any sign that people had ever been there before, leaving an undiscovered land for sojourners the next morning.

In that sunrise was revealed to me the never ending mercies and grace of God. I was on a beach that was completely empty, spotless—not a single footprint in the sand. Yet just twelve or so hours before it had been bustling and busy. The grace of God I think is like that. Every morning, every sunrise brings new grace and mercy. A chance to get up, a new person in Christ Jesus, free of the worries of yesterday.

Each day brings new faces, each day new challenges, each day a chance to do good, however small that chance is. Every day is an opportunity. A slate wiped clean, a beach washed clean from the tide, every day brings hope, and the steadfast love of our God. So, I ask of you, what will you do today? Where will God speak to you? Where will your chance to do good come? And even if today is a bad day, remember that this sun will set, and a new one will rise. For it was grace that brought us safe this far, and grace that will lead us home.

Let us pray together the words our savior taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.

O God, you have called us your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bethany Devotion I

My first morning devotion at my CPE in Bethany Village--this is recorded live and broadcasted throughout the facilities on Bethany's local channel. It was kind of inspired by a sermon Dr. Marty Stevens shared with students when she guest lectured in the Homiletics class. It is meant to be a light, brief invitation to think. Keep in mind, I wrote this how I speak, not how I write :-P

A reading from 1st Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 12.

12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I used to love hide and seek when I was a little kid. On warm summer evenings, when the sun was still bright but the air already beginning to cool, fireflies glowing like tangible stars, I would get permission from my parents to play hide-and-seek with some of the neighborhood children. I loved the frantic chase, looking for a place to hide, perhaps here behind the tool shed, or over there! Behind the neighbor’s porch. Perhaps I found a spot behind some bushes. I would hear the person who was “It” call out “Ready or not, here I come!” At first, all goes well. I am proud of my accomplishment—seconds go by, and I’m not found. After all, I found a really good hiding place. And then, minutes go by. And I begin to worry. What if I’m not found? What if the person who is “It” finds all the other girls and boys and then, when he can’t find me, gives up and goes home? What if I’m stuck, hiding here, alone, as the sun slowly sinks down and colors fade into night.

Or, maybe I’m “It,” standing alone in the back yard as the other children all run off. My eyes are closed and as I’m counting up to fifty I hear the rustling around, the giggles as people rush to find a spot to hide. And then, at around the number thirty-five, I don’t hear anybody anymore. The giggling stopped, only the sound of buzzing cicadas. I begin to worry—what if all the neighborhood kids decided to play a cruel trick? What if they all decided to go home, and when I open my eyes and start looking around, I’m looking in vain, behind bushes and under porches for someone who isn’t there at all?

You know, I think sometimes we can play hide and seek with God. Something happens in our lives, perhaps: a death of a loved one, illness, pain. And sometimes after that you wonder “Where are you, God?” Is God hiding in the bushes, or are we looking in vain? Or sometimes, we’re waiting in the bushes—we’re waiting for God to answer a prayer, perhaps, or we’re waiting to be pulled back up onto our feet again after we hit a stumbling block on our journey.

In the book of Isaiah, the prophet calls out “Where are you God? If only you were here, then everything would be better! The people would stop treating each other badly, the land would grow! Come down out of the skies like you did for Moses!” Isaiah is playing hide and seek with God, looking for God, hoping and praying that God will answer his prayers.

But do you know what I think? I think Isaiah is looking in the wrong place! And sometimes, we look for God in the wrong places, too. For instance, I have yet to see a burning bush that talks. You see, God is in the small things. God promised to us that when we are sick, grieving, or in pain, God promised that God would be present in our lives. God might not be showing up in roaring pillars of fire, but God is in our laughter, God is in our tears. God is in this place, in every breath. The Holy Spirit is working, here, now, in your hearts. God is in every moment we share with one another. So, I ask you today to keep your hearts open. Where will you find God today at work in your life?

Let us pray together the words our savior taught us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.

O God, you have called us your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.