A Planetary Prayer

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Flags in New York
Having participated in an Interfaith Prayer Vigil for Peace today in Santa Barbara, and seeing the wonderful involvement of persons from many religious traditions, I was reminded of a prayer I wrote several years ago.

A Planetary Prayer

In a world aching to be healed,
among nations longing for peace,
on a planet wealthy in resources,
in a time ripe for change,
for a dream greater than us all,
with divine aims to guide us,
we dare to face this day with hope.

Power higher than the heavens,
Song sweeter than the birds’,
Strength more enduring than the hills,
Peace more resilient than discord,
Passion breathing life into our lives,
Presence both fierce and tender,
keep us ever in love with you,
with one another,
and with creatures great and small,
so that our labors for justice
on this fragile, swirling planet
may bear the fruit of wholeness,
as you call us forever forward
into a new and brighter day.

In your many names. Amen.

Words (c) 2009 Mark Lloyd Richardson

God of Earth and Sky and Sea

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A Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent:

God of earth and sky and sea,
God of rich and poor and in-between,
God of lost and God of found,
God who is like a shepherd to us,
we walk the path of Advent awakenings,
mindful of your call to repentance and change,
thankful for your offer of mercy and grace.
You are ever before and behind us.
You are the one constant amid a sea of change.
You are the shepherd who feeds his flock,
the one who gathers the lambs in his arms (Isa 40:11).
You long for us to receive your word of comfort.
You announce that our penalty is paid,
that we are free to live with godlike compassion,
that we are empowered to bring comfort to the world.
Still we turn away,
and walk in paths that suit our own interests,
and fail to welcome the one who is different,
and justify our prejudices with Scripture verses.
Forgive us our sins, and change our hearts, O God.
In this time of waiting and watching,
we pray for all who need the comfort of your presence,
for all who need the comfort of your Church.
To those who are sick or in pain, bring wholeness.
To the lonely and discouraged, renew hope.
To the grieving and troubled, speak comfort.
To any who struggle with self-judgment, extend your grace.
To any who are exiled from your Church, awaken their faith.
(We silently bring our prayers for particular persons now.)
Make of us your forgiven and reconciling people.
Use us to welcome others into your kin-dom.
Stir up within us the faith to trust you with our blind spots,
our shortcomings, our very lives.
And even though our lives are transient like the flowers of the field,
feed us with your word that stands forever (Isa. 40:8).
In the name of the Christ who comes among us to heal and to save. Amen.

Words (c) 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Song of the Ages

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Song of the ages,
you sing across the glistening waters of time.
You sing with an eternal enjoyment
of everything your hands have made.
Your song is a gloria carried on the winds
and punctuated by pulsating waves.
Your song sings itself into our lives
for our very being is hidden within you.
Song of the ages,
may all of our days harmonize
with your deep notes of justice, compassion and peace.
May our lives sing out with joy too
so that all may hear of your blessing
and want to join in your unending song.

Words (c) 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Inhabiting a Common and Precious Space

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"Reach" Photo credit: Dallis Day Richardson

“Reach” Photo credit: Dallis Day Richardson

Methodists have a way of envisioning and living out our faith that is expressed in three simple rules:

  1. Do no harm
  2. Do good
  3. Stay in love with God

Bishop Reuben P. Job describes the first rule in such a way that we can see its potential to change the world one relationship at a time. We live in a time of intense culture wars, political battles, religious squabbling, and international tensions. We see the huge scale of harm being done in the world through both careless and deliberate acts, too often by people of faith and religious institutions. So it helps to hear Bishop Job describe the first simple rule as an “act of disarming, laying aside our weapons and our desire to do harm.” Healing the world requires change from within the human heart as well as outward behavioral change.

For years now the United Methodist Church has been doing considerable harm to our LGBTQ neighbors, family members, and friends. We have had language in our guiding document The Book of Discipline that marginalizes a whole community among us. A day will come when the language will be removed and the church will repent of all of the harm it has knowingly or unknowingly done to peoples’ lives. Especially painful is the legacy of young people who have felt rejected by the very church that exists to nurture love for God and one another.

Bishop Job writes that the act of disarming and seeking to do no harm is revealing in other ways: “We discover that we stand on common ground, inhabit a common and precious space, share a common faith, feast at a common table, and have an equal measure of God’s unlimited love. When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly. Disarmed of the possibility to do harm, we find that good and solid place to stand where together we can seek the way forward in faithfulness to God” (Reuben P. Job, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, Nashville: Abingdon Press, © 2007, pages 23-24).

We, the people of the United Methodist Church, need to remove language from our Discipline that continues to harm individual lives as well as the heart of our spiritual community. We need to listen deeply and intently to the stories of our LGBTQ neighbors, family members, and friends, about how the gospel is being misrepresented in our broken institutional life. We need to look deeply and intently into our own hearts for the places we are armed with weapons of fear, mistrust, and judgment, and seek God’s help in laying those weapons down. We need most of all to repent of the harm the church has already done to persons of sacred worth and commit ourselves anew to manifesting the beloved community where God’s justice and righteousness reign!

We inhabit a common and precious space. Let us begin to act like it.

God, in your grace that exceeds our imaginations and confronts our complacency, hear our prayer.

Words © 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo © 2014 Dallis Day Richardson

God’s Year to Act

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Prayer Vigil for Pastor Frank Schaefer at First UMC, Santa Barbara, CA

Prayer Vigil for Pastor Frank Schaefer at First UMC, Santa Barbara, CA

Tomorrow morning in a makeshift courtroom in a Memphis hotel, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church will meet to hear the final appeal of Rev. Frank Schaefer who performed a same-sex marriage ceremony for his son Tim in 2007. Many prayers have been said for Pastor Frank and his wife Brigitte as they have traveled this difficult journey through a church trial and previous appeal process to arrive at this day. Many of us are deeply grateful to Frank for his prophetic witness to both church and society regarding the gospel imperative to offer grace and peace to all of God’s children, including our LGBTQ neighbors!

On this eve of Frank’s appearance before the Judicial Council, many people came together for a prayer vigil in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara. During this vigil, we lifted up Frank and Brigitte, that they be surrounded by God’s comforting and empowering presence. We prayed for the team of people representing Frank and for the members of the council to exercise wisdom and compassion in their deliberations. We prayed for faith communities and followers of Christ everywhere that together we move forward in the ministry of Christ for the sake of the whole world, which is beloved of God.

At this critical time in the life of the church, I am claiming the inaugural sermon of Jesus found in Luke, chapter 4, for all of us. Here’s how Eugene Peterson’s The Message states these familiar words of Jesus to his hometown congregation:

“God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!’” (Luke 4:18-19)

At the close of our prayer vigil this evening we called Pastor Frank and Brigitte and through the wonders of speakerphone we prayed with and for them. We prayed that the church that seeks to follow Jesus fully embrace the ministry of Jesus that extends to all of God’s children. We prayed believing that in the end love will prevail, because it is a force stronger than fear or prejudice or discriminatory church law!

Words (c) 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson

In the Stillness Find Grace

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Meditation Chapel at La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, California

Meditation Chapel at La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, California

Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.

Our hour of centering prayer in the small Meditation Chapel tucked among the oak trees was nearing an end recently when our facilitator, Jeanette, said words to this effect.

I am always grateful to be able to sit prayerfully in silence with others. It is a community of prayer that lends support and peace to my life. Centering prayer is a contemplative form of giving your intention to God, and allowing your body, mind, and spirit to simply be in the presence of the Holy. It’s not about forming words or thoughts, like so much of the prayer I am asked to do in my work as a minister. Even though I am conscious of trying to let go of the need to say the right words or the best words when I pray in public, there is usually a sense that someone (not least of all myself) is measuring those words for an adequate expression of faith.

In centering prayer I let go of any need to satisfy others and simply sit in the stillness that is able to fill the cathedral of my inner being. Even when thoughts arise and distract me from my prayerful intention, I do not worry that my prayer is inadequate. I am aware of the Spirit welcoming me again and again into life and joy.

Jesus said, “The Reign of God has come near.”

For me, one of the most powerful settings for God to release the healing balm of grace is in a contemplative community praying alongside one another.

Words (c) 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Like a River Flowing

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WyomingWe sang this song at the close of worship this past Sunday using the familiar tune FINLANDIA. If you wish to use these lyrics in worship sometime, please let me know.

The peace of Christ is like a river flowing
from God’s own heart in healing streams of grace.
In all our comings and in all our goings,
God’s mercies lead us to a holy place.
Peace like a river flowing through our lives
reminds us what it means to be baptized.

This earthly home we share with one another
cannot withstand our hatreds and our fears.
So when we look and see a sister, brother,
we know Christ’s peace is also coming near.
May we now live into this hopeful dream,
a day made new in shared humanity.

This dream for peace seeks out the meek and lowly,
children of God by blessing and design,
created in the image of the holy,
to reconcile this life with life divine.
Peace like a river flowing through our days
renews our hearts in gladness and in praise.

Copyright (c)2010 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Every Common Bush

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burning-bushIn her poem “Aurora Leigh,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
Earth’s crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.

The story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15) has long fascinated believers. Moses is going about his usual business as a sheepherder when he catches a glimpse of something unusual in his peripheral vision, and decides that he must turn and look. Like other call stories in scripture, this one provides a window into how we interpret the ways God calls us.

The story of Moses, and the story of each person who has been grasped by God’s unconditional love, shows that there is One who knows us and calls us by name. There is One who calls us to a centered life, a life full of burning bushes, a life lived on holy ground. These burning bushes are everywhere. We need only open our eyes.

Our primary source as Christian disciples is Scripture, not because it’s free of error or contradiction, but because it is the remembered story of a people seeking after God. We read it, study it, and wrestle with it. Scripture is a burning bush, demanding our attention.

Anything that brings our attention to our Creator is potentially a burning bush. Prayer can be a burning bush, as can meditation. Other people can be windows into the divine. Relationships sometimes cause us to look deeply within ourselves to encounter the intrinsically relational nature of life. Events sometimes converge in such a way that we find ourselves brushing up against what it means to be human. As we engage our conscience and take moral stands a bush is burning in our midst!

As followers of Christ, the shape our lives take in the world is the cross, reflective of the self-giving love of Christ. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus tells his disciples, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Jesus knew that the God-centered life always involved a willingness to put one’s life on the line in order to participate in the divine presence in the world.

Therefore a person like Rosa Parks boldly refused to cooperate with the evil of segregation by refusing to sit at the back of the bus that day many years ago in Montgomery, Alabama. Every day, ordinary people work for social justice, among them the advocates for the full inclusion of our LGBTQ neighbors in society and in the church.

Then there are those dear souls who daily show mercy to others – nurses, teachers, social workers, first responders, caregivers, hospice workers. There are those who go beyond what is reasonable to cheer the depressed, to comfort the grieving, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked. Burning bushes, every one!

God cannot be kept on a shelf, or in a private corner of our lives. God tells Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Therefore we walk into the world with this One whose name is I AM, and realize that we can’t take anything for granted, and we surely can’t assume to know what comes next. We worship the God who is the great I AM, whose relationship with the world is dynamic and active. We turn aside often to see what God is doing. We take off our shoes, and feel the holy ground beneath our feet. We remember that in our baptisms we put on Christ. We become the presence of Christ as we move out into the world. We go in the name of the great I AM, the Lord of life and hope!

Words (c) 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson

This Preaching Life

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Pulpit of First United Methodist Church, Santa Barbara (taken by Dallis Day Richardson)

Pulpit of First United Methodist Church, Santa Barbara (taken by Dallis Day Richardson)

Every week
week after week
I put words on a page
and I pray
as I write each one out
it is a word
that in combination with other words
will speak peace into the lives of hearers.

I am a preacher –
not a wild, untamed preacher like John the Baptizer,
whom one might be excused for judging as harsh
as he roared his message of repentance
at the righteous and unrighteous alike,
calling every soul out
to take a clear-eyed look at themselves
and finally grasp that something’s got to change!

I preach with trepidation,
aware that some may find my words inspired
while others seem to know better.

This preaching life does not get any easier.

The preacher stands in need of grace too.

I am a preacher.

Week after week,
the Word who took on flesh calls to all who have ears to hear,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”

Words (c) 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Breaking the Bread of Abundance

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loaves-and-fishesThere’s a Gospel story (Matthew 14:13-21) about a day when Christ’s abundant life was on full display! It begins when Jesus withdraws from the crowds, and goes by boat to a deserted place by himself. However, the crowds follow him on foot. Among them are many sick people, and Jesus is moved with compassion. The day soon passes and evening comes. Jesus’ disciples urge him to send people away into the surrounding villages to get something to eat. Perhaps they are exhausted by the overwhelming need.

You and I can handle only so much too and we get “compassion fatigue.” We grow weary because of the needs presented by particular circumstances. We see the pain etched on children’s faces as we watch the evening news – children in Syria and Lebanon, Israel and Gaza, Haiti, Honduras, or Chicago’s south side – and it is often more than we can bear.

We work all day long doing good things for people, giving back to the community, making the world a better place, and at the end of the day we just want to kick back and enjoy a nice glass of Chardonnay. We don’t want to worry about families without health care, workers losing their jobs, homeless persons sleeping on the church steps, soldiers on the battlefront, or an endangered planet. We don’t want to worry about whether there is still racism, sexism, or homophobia working their ugly campaigns of deception in what we wish were a more humane and decent world. We don’t want to deal with other people’s problems.

“Send them away,” we say. “The hour is late. Let them go and take care of their own needs for awhile.”

That, my friends, is our human reality. The needs are great. The work of justice and compassion never ends. We get tired. We want an easier way.

I believe the reason we sometimes grow weary is because we haven’t reached into the well and taken a drink of living water in awhile. The reason we grow weary is that we have bought the cynical, secular paradigm that says this life is based on scarcity.

But Jesus refuses to send the crowds away, and instead says to the disciples after a long day of serving others, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

Don’t you hate that? Don’t you hate being reminded that it isn’t all about you? Don’t you hate the feeling that Christ has higher expectations of you than you do? Be honest now!

The disciples reply, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” Scarcity! There’s not enough, Jesus. Get your head out of the clouds and listen to the bean counters for a change.

But Jesus says, “Bring the five loaves and two fish here to me.” And he has the crowds sit down on the grass. He takes the loaves and fish, and blesses and breaks the loaves. He gives the food to the disciples and the disciples give it to the people.

Jesus demonstrates God’s generosity. Jesus makes the grace and goodness of God visible to the crowd. Jesus breaks the bread of abundance and shares it with all.

God is the one who gives to us in abundance, and it is from abundance, not scarcity, that we are invited to give.

Too often the message is scarcity on the lips of those who profess to follow the Lord of abundant life!

Where can your faith become more life-giving as you bear witness to God’s abundance?

Words (c) 2014 Mark Lloyd Richardson

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