This morning in worship at our church I included a time of prayer and silent reflection on the scripture text for the day, Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21. We had a water display in front of the altar and I preached my sixth and final sermon in a series on the book of Revelation from the very close of the book, which is also the culmination of the biblical message. Following the service, some of the worshippers asked me to share this text on my blog. So here it is:
A Time of Prayer & Reflection
“Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” (Rev. 22:17) God in Christ wants to quench your spiritual thirst. Christ offers living water to those who seek it. This time of prayer and silent reflection is an opportunity for you to reflect upon the words of scripture, and to ask Christ to come and renew your spirit. We begin by singing verse 1 of song #2076, “O Blessed Spring,” and between verses will pause for silent reflection and prayer.
Verse 1, #2076 “O Blessed Spring” (from The Faith We Sing songbook,
Abingdon Press, 2000)
The water of life is the water of spiritual refreshment and renewal.
Reflect on where Christ is renewing you in your life.
30 seconds of silence
Verse 2, #2076 “O Blessed Spring”
The water of life is the water of joy in the presence of God.
Reflect on where God is increasing your joy in your life.
30 seconds of silence
Verse 3, #2076 “O Blessed Spring”
The water of life is the water of grace to transform you and the world through you.
Reflect on where God is forgiving you and setting you free to live by faith.
30 seconds of silence
Verse 4, #2076 “O Blessed Spring”
The water of life is the water of cleansing and healing.
Reflect on where Christ is meeting you in your brokenness and making you whole.
30 seconds of silence
Verse 5, #2076 “O Blessed Spring”
The water of life is the water of peace for those with heavy burdens.
Reflect on where Christ, the holy Vine, the living Tree, blesses you with peace.
30 seconds of silence
Come, Gracious God. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Spirit of Gentleness. As we receive the water of life, may we be renewed in spirit, be made whole by your grace, and be blessed with your peace.
Words and photo (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson [Permission to use this liturgy in public worship with credit noted].
Pentecost marks the birth of the Christian movement in the first century – when God’s Spirit flowed freely among young and old from near and far, transforming ordinary people into gospel-inspired Christian disciples! They knew that Christ’s message was one of inclusion, grace, and liberty. They knew that if the world, which is so good at making people conform, could see people whom God’s Spirit was transforming by the renewing of their minds, many more would believe in the power of God and place their trust in God.
Indeed, that is what happened. History shows an explosive growth of the Christian movement at a time when it wasn’t even acceptable to be a Christian believer. In fact, it was dangerous. Maybe therein lies the key.
The Spirit of God is still roaming the earth in our day, looking for willing partners who will follow God’s Dream of bringing justice and compassion in all the places they are needed.
For me, that means treating the poor among us as though they are Christ among us. The poor deserve respect, dignity, and a place at the table.
For me, it means praying for and advocating to civic leaders at all levels of government to focus on serving the Common Good, and to worry less about personal legacy and re-election.
For me, it means not only offering meals, clothing, shelter, showers, and other acts of compassion, but also laboring to create a more just and equitable society that values each person as a child of God.
For me, it means remembering that every last one of us began as an immigrant. Our families moved here from somewhere (unless you happen to be Native American).
For me, it means seeing each person who walks through the doors of the church (as well as everyone we meet in our daily lives) as a person of sacred worth. I believe any church that claims to follow Christ will open its hearts and its doors to our lesbian, gay, and transgendered neighbors, and fully include them in its life and ministry.
At the close of my sermons I often say, “Let all who have ears, hear what the Spirit says to the Church!” That is always our first and last task as a Church – to listen to the Spirit and to move in concert with the Spirit, as did the saints and witnesses in ages past! We build upon the foundation others have laid. We reach for God’s Dream of a world renewed and made whole.
Words (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson (part of my newsletter remarks to my congregation, May 2013)
When we dream of a better world, we take one small step after another toward creating it. The church I serve partnered with two other congregations last summer to get a ministry off the ground to help our neighbors in need. As is always true of ministry that we do in the name of Christ, it creates a sense of beloved community that transcends categories of those serving and those being served. Everyone involved learns the lessons of our shared humanity!
Here’s an article in this morning’s local newspaper about the “Showers of Blessing” ministry.
Our nation is saddened by the tragedy that took place at the finish line of the Boston Marathon today. It is a reminder that there is evil in the world and that innocent people often suffer because of it.
When my children were young and 9/11 occurred, I remember holding them close knowing that something changed that day. A sense of vulnerability to the whims of ideologically driven terrorism shook me. A feeling that this world in which I was raising my children had become even less safe saddened me.
As I write this post, among the three confirmed deaths is one 8-year-old boy. Well over a hundred people were injured. As I processed what happened today, I was helped by what some people posted on social media.
Singer James Taylor wrote, “Bostonians are rightly proud of our Marathon. It is a uniquely American event that opens its arms to the world. Any and all are welcome: men and women, able-bodied and disabled, young and old across the races and religions of the planet. That anyone could target this celebration of global family is impossible to conceive.”
A popular quote by well-known TV personality Fred Rogers circulated today: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
Performer Patton Oswalt wrote, “If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people (who caused this), that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. … This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.
But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. …
So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’”
Poet Jelaluddin Rumi, many centuries ago, wrote,
A dragon was pulling a bear into its terrible mouth.
A courageous man went and rescued the bear.
There are such helpers in the world,
who rush to save
anyone who cries out. Like Mercy itself,
they run toward the screaming.
And they can’t be bought off.
If you were to ask one of those, “Why did you come
so quickly?” He or she would say, “Because I heard
Mathnawi II, translated by Coleman Barks in Delicious Laughter
Finally, as a person of faith, the words my Bishop, Minerva Carcaño, posted today resonated with me: “This is an opportunity for all of us to be in holy conversation with our God, with each other, with our neighbors, and with our children about violence in the world. We live in a time in which we can raise our voices for peace and commit to being peacemakers in the world, the very peace of Christ Jesus. May Christ the Prince of Peace be with us.”
“Life on earth is a whole, yet it expresses itself in unique time-bound bodies…. So there can be no one place to be. There can be no one way to be, no one way to practice, no one way to learn, no one way to love, no one way to grow or to heal, no one way to live, no one way to feel, no one thing to know or be known. The particulars count.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are
Our lives can change in an instant!
Four weeks ago today, my wife Dallis had surgery for a tumor that was discovered on one of her ovaries. The surgeon was fairly confident going into surgery that the tumor was benign. There had been no symptoms, and the only reason it was even found was because of an MRI done for a completely different medical condition.
The surgery went much longer than anticipated, and as I waited with friends in the hospital’s waiting room, the feeling that something wasn’t right began to sink into my bones. Hours later the surgeon came to meet with me in a small consultation room, and the first words out of her mouth were, “It’s not good. We found cancer. We’re not sure yet where it came from.” After she uttered these words, I struggled to remain present, to listen carefully in the hopes of remembering something, desperate to grab hold of words or phrases that sounded encouraging – “She came through surgery well;” “She’s recovering, and will be able to see you in a little while.”
I was the first person to receive this life-altering news, and for several moments I simply tried to catch my breath. Dallis was not yet alert enough to be told. She and I had both been encouraged by the doctor’s gut instinct before surgery that the tumor was benign, and at the same time I think we both retained a cautious concern that maybe it was not. Speaking for myself, throughout this ordeal I have preferred to hear facts first and then decide how to process my feelings, instead of hopping on board the already bumpy roller coaster ride of speculation.
A lot happens very quickly when a person receives a diagnosis of Stage 4 breast cancer – PET/CT Scan, MRIs, blood work, mammogram, biopsy, and more. Dallis attests that she has begun to feel like a guinea pig because of all the poking, prodding and invasions of privacy. Most of the doctors and nurses have been wonderful – caring, sensitive, responsive to individual needs, and good at communicating human warmth. Even so, the indignities of constant medical procedures and a disease that invades one’s body eventually take their toll.
I have not written anything for my blog in the intervening weeks because my focus has been on being present and available to Dallis. Close friends, family, and our church have also provided practical support and caring. Our mental/emotional/spiritual wellbeing hinges on being able to recognize our blessings and to believe in the healing potential of the prescribed treatment.
There are moments though … moments when fear grabs hold of you and you’re not sure how to shake it!
The other day Dallis wanted to get out of the house but she didn’t want to ask me in one of the busiest weeks in the church year to go with her. So she said that she was going to drive to the beach and take a walk by herself. I didn’t want her to have to go alone unless that was what she preferred, so I said to her, “There is no more important place for me to be than with you.” I assured her that I was okay with her going by herself, but that I didn’t want her to think that she couldn’t ask me or that I wouldn’t want to go.
So together we enjoyed a long walk on a stretch of beach with our dog Bailey!
It was a reminder that each day is to be prized for the gift that it is!
Words (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson
An unmistakable longing
Reverberating from deep in the center of being
Its source unbound from all the limits we know -
And in the twinkling of an eye
I am overcome with gratitude
For the pure boldness of such love.
Words (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo (c) 2013 Dallis Day Richardson
A pear seed grows up into a pear tree,
a nut seed grows up into a nut tree–
but a seed of God grows into God, to God.
~ Meister Eckhart
Lent is an invitation to reflect on our faith experience, a time to delve more deeply into the spiritual meaning of our lives. We study the life and ministry of Jesus for clues about the will of God and the work of the Spirit in the world. We seek fresh insight into the basic patterns of the Christian life – prayer, worship, reading Scripture, and giving our selves as servants of Christ.
During this 40-day period, we begin with ashes and commit to a discipline that we believe will ultimately be resurrecting! It may involve fasting from certain foods or activities. But it will certainly involve feasting as we gather on the Sabbath and receive the bread and cup of communion with Christ as nourishment for this spiritual journey.
We have an opportunity in these forty days to renew the commitment of our way to Christ. This is our chance to put our faith into practice in new ways. This is a time set aside for us to “grow into God, to God.”
A short piece from the curriculum The Whole People of God provides an opening for us to choose how we will use this holy season. We are invited to…
Fast from pessimism, and feast on optimism.
Fast from criticism, and feast on praise.
Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy.
Fast from bitterness, and feast on forgiveness.
Fast from idle gossip, and feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from jealousy, and feast on love.
Fast from discouragement, and feast on appreciation.
Fast from complaining, and feast on hope.
Fast from selfishness, and feast on service.
Fast from fear, and feast on faith.
Fast from anger, and feast on patience.
Fast from self-concern, and feast on compassion for others.
Fast from discontent, and feast on gratitude.
Fasting and feasting – not just for the experience, but for the same reasons Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit following his baptism by John. Jesus was preparing for the saving mission of a loving God – the mission of restoring creation, the human family, the sick, the lonely and isolated, the marginalized and vulnerable, back into the truth of who they are, beloved ones made in God’s own image!
Just as Jesus was baptized and given a blessing, and then sent into the wilderness to contemplate that blessing, so it is for us. You and I – Christ’s body on earth – have a mission, to share God’s gracious love and resurrecting hope in every possible way!
The season of Lent calls us to choose: Choose life! Choose grace! Choose compassion! Choose justice! Choose blessing! In the desert experience of Lent, may God grant us to the grace to grow in wisdom and in love. In the wilderness of this holy season, may God lead us along the resurrection road to a place called hope.
What is your commitment this Lent? What do you choose to do or not do as a way to move toward the Center of this human adventure where we meet God?
Words (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Dallis took the photo while we were on a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii several years ago.
Love’s song is already being sung–
the deep resonant notes
grounding our affections to earth,
the vibrant sensual notes
keeping us in our bodies,
the light laughing notes
lifting us in unguarded moments,
the crucial melody line
honoring our need for constancy,
the sound of our own voices
blending easily into one,
the desires within us
getting lost in love’s song.
Words (c) 2010 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo (c) 2007 Dallis Day Richardson
The Blue Edge of Time
My eyes, my heart, are often drawn to a distant line,
Where I am told the future lives, as yet unknowable,
Indiscernible, unrequited, like an artist’s blank canvas.
I am pulled back from the blue edge of time
Through waters pulsing with life,
Over rocks the ages have sculpted,
Across fragile wind-blown dunes,
To the eternal now -
This wild and holy moment in the sun.
Words and photograph (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson
I wrote this contemporary psalm based on Psalm 71:1-6 for my sermon today. It is a movement from lament to praise!
In you, O God, I take refuge
from the noisy clamor of this hectic life,
with its ubiquitous social media
and easy access to every imaginable entertainment.
My phone is always by my side
sounding off when texts or emails arrive
teasing me to open them asap!
My annual physical raises the alarm
of slightly elevated blood pressure
and high cholesterol.
The doc says, “Let’s watch ‘em for a while,
and see if lifestyle changes make a difference.”
Okay, but I wonder – am I headed for a heart attack?
Is the pressure of meeting work demands
and the expectations of those I love
doing damage to my health?
Source of life and Ground of our being,
you are the one I run to in my need.
You are the one who offers peace in the storm.
Do not abandon me, I pray.
Enfold me beneath the wings of your grace,
that I might know the liberating strength
only your Spirit is able to breath into my life.
In your righteousness
you make known your will for my life:
that I walk in your ways
and observe your commandments,
that I choose life -
loving you, obeying you,
and holding fast to you (Deut. 30:16, 19-20).
You want nothing more for me
than that I embrace the person I am meant to be,
the creation of your loving and generous heart,
so that I can offer this world you created in love
the very best of myself,
the very giftedness I discover in you.
You call me to orient my life in your direction,
to strive first for the kingdom of God
and your righteousness (Matt. 6:33).
Deliver me, Lord, from the flashy allure of things.
Remind me often to use things and love people,
not the other way around.
Save me from my stingy self-centeredness –
the times when I think the world revolves around me
and I forget my sister or brother in need.
You have always been like a Rock for me,
a place of refuge where I know I am protected -
from life’s incessant demands, to be sure,
but also from my own inner strivings.
You save me from myself –
from thinking that I must achieve importance
when all the importance I really need
comes from joining you
in the unveiling of your gracious purposes for the world.
You are for me a strong fortress, O God,
and always have been,
shielding me from the harm others seek to do me.
In this world where evil so often flourishes –
where malicious viruses are set loose on computers,
where whole identities are stolen from people,
where those in whom we place our trust betray us
with lies that cheat us out of our life savings
or deceit that destroys our innocence
or violence that robs us of peace of mind -
you remain the one trustworthy place of refuge.
Rescue me, O my God, from all of the voices
that tell me to depend solely on my own strength,
that tell me to create my own life on my own terms,
that tell me I am not meant to be deeply connected to others.
Rescue me from the crass commercializing of life,
always throwing in my face the manufactured images
that falsely promise happiness and fulfillment.
Rescue me from thinking that I am immune to suffering
simply because I come to church
and read the Bible sometimes
and pray almost every day
and try to be a decent human being!
Rescue me from pious platitudes and cheap grace.
Rescue me from the polarizing influences
that pit neighbor against neighbor
in ideological battles
in which no one truly wins
and the fabric of society is torn and trampled.
Rescue me from those who spread misery
by their greed and lack of compassion.
Rescue me from the loss of hope
the loneliness of isolation
the trap of fear.
For you, Lord of life, have walked with me
from the day of my birth
when you took me from my mother’s womb.
You call my name
and seek my companionship each day.
You speak to me in whispers –
through the quiet breathing of a newborn,
the silence of contemplative prayer,
the breeze touching lightly on the trees.
You say that I am one of your own,
that I have always belonged to you.
You give me confidence enough
to trust in your tender mercy and amazing grace.
You, Lord of eternity, are my hope.
You are my refuge.
You are my strength.
I will not be shaken.
Praise wells up in my heart and soul.
Praise that your glory shines upon this world
in spite of our constant fighting
and our shameful willfulness.
Praise that the power of your love
dawns upon us as surely as the morning sun.
Praise that you fully know me,
and the content of my heart,
and still you love me.
Let praise be the language of my being.
Let hope be the attitude I carry into the future.
For just as my past has been lived in you, Lord,
so my future depends on your ever-flowing mercy.
You will comfort me again in my times of need.
You will guide me in right paths.
You will continually offer me abundant life.
You will give me faith’s assurance
even when I come face to face with my own doubt.
You will restore my soul.
You will manifest yourself in the world
through the witness of courageous people,
through the hospitality of strangers,
through the presence of the poor and the needy.
You will not allow me to forget
that ultimately nothing is able to separate us
from your love in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39).
You will follow me throughout my life
with your goodness and mercy
so that I am able to dwell with you
my whole life long (Ps. 23:6).
Words (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo (c) 2008 Mark Lloyd Richardson