An Open Door

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Photo credit: Brad Smith, “An old door in an abandoned log house”


Listen!
Someone is knocking.
Wait a moment.
Do you hear it in the silence?
There it is again — a knock —
gentle, patient, knowing.
A voice sings through the air
and lands on your heart!
“Will you open the door?
Will you welcome me in?”
Christ is seeking your company.
Now is a moment pregnant with hope.
“I will come in to you and eat with you,
and you with me” (Rev. 3:20).
Open the door, and when you do,
the spirit of the risen Christ
blows through the body’s temple.
Let the feast of grace begin.

(c) 2005, Mark Lloyd Richardson

Thirty Five Years

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cross-simple

Today is the 35thanniversary of the day I was ordained to the pastoral ministry. Thirty-five years ago on this day my friend Kendra and I were ordained in my home church in Aurora, Illinois. The denomination in which we grew up – the Advent Christian Church – was a loose affiliation of churches with a congregational form of governance dating back to the 1860s. Because of the biblical literalism in the DNA of the church from its earliest days when William Miller combed through the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation to determine a date for Christ’s return, there was also a tendency to read scripture through patriarchal lenses. The denomination had ordained some women across its history, but generally women were not viewed as pastoral leadership material. So Kendra and I enjoyed that Sunday afternoon sharing the spotlight and demonstrating for our local church at least that women and men are equal in bringing leadership gifts to the ministry of the church. She was the Minister of Education and I was the Minister of Parish Life. We worked with a Senior Pastor to create the programs and ministries for a 550-member college-affiliated congregation. We had several good years of working side by side before Kendra’s life was cut tragically short by a brain tumor.

As I reflect on this anniversary, I can’t imagine my sentimental journey holding much significance for anyone else. I simply feel an inner need to mark this date as a way of honoring the work I do. It is so amazing to me that I have spent 35 years caring for congregations and communities with love, hope and a passion infused by the Holy Spirit. Although I did not remain in my inherited denomination in spite of the fact that both my grandfather and great grandfather were ordained Advent Christian ministers. I knew that I needed to spread my wings and grow into a larger vision of God’s work in the world. I even talked with my grandfather about my exploration of the United Methodist Church before getting serious about connecting with those who would open that door for me. He gave me his blessing without hesitation, something I have always cherished. If he were still alive today though, I doubt that he would fully understand some of the personal choices I have made or the theological/moral/ethical positions I have taken on social and political issues of our day. However, he would respect and love me still, of that I am confident.

Over these years of ministry I am aware of many personal failures, and in my private reflections I confess these to God. Times of insincerity, timidity, laziness! Times of pride, uncaring, impatience! Whenever I have transitioned from one place of ministry to another I have made sure to incorporate the liturgy for parting from our Book of Worship that allows pastor and people to celebrate the gifts that have been shared freely with one another and to acknowledge mistakes and ask for forgiveness. I have been helped in each ministry setting by being able to admit my sins to the Christ who reconciles all things so that I am free to move on to new adventures by the grace of God.

So today I remember some ministries I have launched over these 35 years in various places. I’ve served in suburban, urban and rural settings. I’ve served in Californian desert and coastal communities, Hawaiian tropics, and the good ole Midwest. I’ve done local church ministry, campus ministry, and military chaplaincy. As I look back, it’s been a fun, meaningful, challenging, rewarding, and fascinating ride! God is a God of amazing surprises, and perhaps foremost among them is being called to ministry myself! If I had ever doubted that God called me into ministry, I would have immediately stopped and found something else to do. I am not naturally gregarious, extroverted, erudite or talkative. I work deliberately and thoughtfully at everything I do. I have to stretch myself and risk a great deal to simply get in the pulpit on Sunday mornings and speak the truth God has placed on my heart. But the Gospel keeps drawing me in and I can do no other than proclaim the grace, mercy and acceptance of the one I call Savior and Lord!

Among the ministries I’ve helped start in various places over the years: Evergreen Outreach (a social and spiritual gathering for elderly homebound), PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter, an ecumenical housing option for houseless persons near Chicago), a young adult ministry at a San Diego church, a one-room Sunday School with more than a dozen children at a small rural church (where my 1-year-old son was the only child when we arrived), Messy Church (for children and families), CROP Hunger Walks (raising tens of thousands to alleviate hunger through Church World Service), People of Faith for Justice (an interfaith group in San Luis Obispo County), an ecumenical centering prayer group, Showers of Blessing (providing showers, toiletries and other supplies for houseless persons), summer outdoor worship at a local state park, and Easter sunrise services for the community at a local nature preserve. I’ve maintained a public witness through speaking, writing, and organizing for the common good, and have especially appreciated the shared community work with persons of other faith traditions and all persons of good will.

In my current pastoral appointment, what brings me the most joy is the process our congregation has gone through to become a Reconciling Congregation, giving testimony to our commitment to welcome all people into the community of faith regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We’ve participated in the annual Pride Celebrations in Santa Barbara the last several years and have hosted a PFLAG group in our church facility, as well as Fratelli (a Men’s Chorus for gay men and straight allies, providing rehearsal and performance space). Through our hospitality and active engagement we are announcing that God’s unconditional agape love embraces our LGBTQI siblings just as they are!

My heart is full. I feel privileged to have been given the position to be able to offer something of value to the Kin-dom of God! As have so many others in the great cloud of witnesses! It is a blessing, a joy, and an honor to be among the followers of the One who came that all may have life, and have it abundantly!

Thanks be to God who can use even me – to contribute to the common good, the beloved community, the Kin-dom of all creation! I am deeply blessed!

Mark Richardson, June 26, 2018

Come to the Table of Grace

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We used this communion liturgy I wrote in worship this morning, playing off of the words and music of the lovely communion song by Barbara Hamm titled “Come to the Table of Grace,” found in the songbook Worship & Song. Please feel free to use in your worship context if you find it meaningful.

Liturgy for Holy Communion
(Singing #3168 “Come to the Table of Grace”)

This is God’s table.
Here we are invited to taste grace,
the grace that lightens the human heart
and widens the human soul
by creating an opening for God to enter –
the God who brings healing to bodies, minds, and spirits,
the God who meets us in the deep center of life itself
where we discover truth that sets us free.
This is a feast of grace
for the saint and sinner in each one of us.
Let us come to the table of grace.

Sing verse 1: “Come to the table of grace.”

When we gather at the table of our Lord
it is an invitation to live in peace with our neighbors.
The Prince of peace comes among us
and extends a word of peace –
peace for our troubled hearts,
peace for our troubled relationships,
peace for our troubled neighborhoods,
peace for our troubled environment,
peace for our troubled global community.
In Christ we are empowered to lay down our swords,
whether they be cutting words or violent actions,
whether they be divisive symbols or self-justifications,
and yield ourselves to the Savior
who comes with peace on his lips,
peace in his very presence.
Let us come to the table of peace.

Sing verse 2: “Come to the table of peace.”

When Jesus met with his friends
on the night he was betrayed and arrested,
he took the bread that sustains life,
and he blessed and broke it before them.
He took the common cup filled with wine
and he claimed that these ordinary parts of their meal
were in truth sacred reminders of the gifts of God.
The bread reminded them of the manna
their ancestors received to ease their hunger in the wilderness.
The cup reminded them of the miracle of new wine
at a Cana wedding and at the heavenly feast to come.
Together these ordinary signs tell the story of God’s love
being expressed to all generations.
They show how Jesus himself modeled divine love
as he welcomed the outcast, forgave the sinner,
healed the sick, showed compassion for the hungry,
and called a child to come sit on his lap and be blessed.
Now it is for us to live the way of love of Jesus,
to love outside of our comfort zones, our arbitrary walls,
to love extravagantly as though it can’t run out.
Let us come to the table of love.

Sing verse 3: “Come to the table of love.”

God who sets this bountiful table before us,
a table of grace and peace,
a table of love and joy,
pour out your Holy Spirit upon us
and upon these gifts of bread and wine,
that through Christ’s presence here
we may become a people of grace,
a source of joy, a witness to love,
and instruments of your peace.
By your Holy Spirit,
make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
one with all who walk in your light,
and one in ministry to the whole world, no exceptions,
until we feast at the heavenly banquet.
Let us come to the table of joy.

Sing verse 4: “Come to the table of joy.”

Words (c) 2018 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Be

I’m missing the posts of my blogging friend, Sharon, which I haven’t seen in awhile! This post from a couple of years ago reflects her Bahai faith, and has an optimistic tone of lovingkindness to it.

A Leaf in Springtime

Nature Series Day 6.

Never before has the word Be carried so much light. Sharing with you one of my dearest and most sacred instructions for living.

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Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity.

Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face.

Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge.

Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech.

Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men.

Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.

Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts.

Be a home for the stranger…

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An Ash Wednesday Prayer

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God of all creation,
you are gracious and merciful, slow to anger,
and you abound in steadfast love.

Today as I enter the closet of my heart,
I discover a lifetime of memories stored there –
some I would prefer to forget and leave behind,
others that remind me how truly blessed I am.

Today I hear again your invitation to renewal –
I hear it with every fiber of my being,
having been created in your image,
formed of the dust of your earth,
enlivened by the breath of your spirit,
established in the strength of your grace!

In these forty days of Lent, it is my heart’s desire
to surrender old harmful habits that yield nothing,
and to take up new holy habits that lead to life.

May this Lenten journey return me to a place of trust,
where my fear is conquered by your holy unshakable love,
where I am healed and made whole in the aliveness of life,
where doing justice,
and loving mercy,
and walking humbly with you,
are the ways of being that matter most.

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Copyright (c) 2012 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Prayer to Begin the Day

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Blistery blustery beautiful day

Photograph “Blistery blustery beautiful day” by Dallis Day Richardson

God,
I want to see you
in each person I meet today
in each conversation I have with another
in each joy discovered
in each suffering shared.

I want to know
in my inmost being
the humanity of Jesus
whose constant prayer was
to be intimately connected with you
in the doing of justice
the enactment of peace
the power of sacrificial love.

I want to seek
friendship with the divine
more than right beliefs
dutiful virtues
or accepted behaviors
so that the movement of my soul
might be toward life in its fullness
life in touch with the Center
life contributing to newness
life in communion with others
life as holy gift
life as sheer wonder.

May I embody
what to me is true
what to me is beautiful
what to me is eternal –
a life whose wholeness is found in God,
a song that can only be sung
in concert with all of creation!

© Mark Lloyd Richardson, 2017

The Audacity of Divine Love

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FullSizeRender-2God who watches over our world,
who companions us along life’s way,
who breathes life into our lives,
we come to lift our praise-filled voices,
to utter our heart’s trembling cries,
to be still, and to know,
to be struck again by the audacity of divine love.

Jesus, Lamb of God,
the one in whom we see love most freely given,
the one who is Rabbi, healer, and friend,
this Jesus invites us to open our eyes
and look with compassion on the needs of the world –
needs for basic necessities of food and shelter,
adequate health care and clean water,
needs for spiritual nourishment and hope,
a cup of life-restoring water,
needs for community and solidarity,
bridging differences with other children of God.

Jesus, the Christ of love’s kingdom,
in whom broken places are mended
and neighbors find common cause healing the world,
this Jesus invites us to open our ears
and hear the summons to follow –
following the Master’s voice,
becoming people brimming with holy grace,
following to places where our comforts are put aside
by the one who disturbs the status quo,
following the call to reshape the world around us
by going where Christ’s love and footsteps show.

Spirit of love, holy wind, breath of life,
replenish our spirits and claim us anew.
Grant us the strength we need
to break down walls of injustice,
to speak up for those on the margins,
to stand with all who are suffering,
to follow all the way to the cross, no turning back.

Spirit of truth, holy word of life,
charge us with a mission of mercy,
a partnership of peace,
that we might more fully live
into your vision of wholeness & shalom.

May your Church,
Creator, Christ, and holy wind,
be faithful in service,
courageous in witness,
steady in fighting injustice,
loyal in our allegiance to the gospel,
savvy in confronting evil,
persistent in walking the path of peace,
and above all,
loving in our actions toward friend and foe.

Bless this earthly home with protection and care.
Bless your people with resurrection power.
Bless decision-makers with a compassionate wisdom,
journalists with the boldness of truth,
and citizens with boundless energy
in the pursuit of the common good.

We pray all of this in the name of Jesus,
who pronounces blessings upon anyone seeking
to align their lives with your kingdom of love. Amen.

Words (c) Mark Lloyd Richardson, 2017

Like a River Flowing

This coming Sunday we celebrate Peace Sunday at First United Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, CA. (http://www.fumcsb.org) We will sing this hymn as our opening hymn.

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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…

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Sunlit Grace

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Red Bluff Church

Church on Red Bluff Road, south of Quesnel, British Columbia, Photo credit: blog Cruising Canuckistan

Bless the people
who labor for a better life
a better neighborhood
a better country
a better world,
who love family
create community
and give of themselves
so that seeds of hope
planted in places of despair
may be watered
and grow
and emerge as new life!

Bless the artists and poets
who see what might be
with a piercing clarity
of what now is.

Bless the journalists
who ask uncomfortable questions
and expose inconvenient mistruths
in their dogged pursuit of truth.

Bless the churches and mosques and synagogues
that dot the prairies, hills and valleys
of this precious landscape,
breathing a spirit of prayer and goodness
into the shared life of their communities.

Bless truck driver, crop picker, waiter and cook.
Bless coal miner, windmill farmer, and solar installer.
Bless single mother, newly married, aging couple, and widowed.
Bless teacher, student, leader, and follower.
Bless dreamer, shaper, thinker, and friend.

Bless the fraying edges of relationships,
the absences and separations,
the losses and heartaches,
the holy disruptions,
the sacred silences of peace.

Bless it all, Creation’s Lord.

Let the sunlight of your grace
shine upon poor and rich alike
exposing the treasures nearest each beating heart –
love of neighbor,
love of God.
Bless the whole world, we pray –
no exceptions.

 
Words Copyright (c) 2017, Mark Lloyd Richardson

Christ of the Lakeshore

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Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center, Lake Tahoe

Christ of the lakeshore,
come beside me this day
as my eyes soak in
the blueness spread before me
geese gliding effortlessly
inches above placid waters
slender pencils of pine
garbed in glorious green
a light blanket of snow
draped over neighboring peaks.

Christ of the lakeshore,
come beside me this day
as my ears take in
the songs of the birds
the lapping of the surf
the laughter and crying of a child
the soft whispering breeze.

Christ of the lakeshore,
come beside me this day
as my heart lets in
the pain of the world
of immigrant and refugee
the poor
the houseless
the lonely
the pushed aside
the wounded
the broken-hearted.

Christ of the lakeshore,
come beside me this day
that my praying
my dreaming
my hoping
my longing
may be in conversation
with yours.

Words (c) 2017 Mark Lloyd Richardson