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

In the Garden

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Photo credit: Joel Olives, “Through the Trees,” Flickr.com Creative Commons, May 6, 2008.

And Jesus said, “Sit here, while I pray.”

All we must do is sit.
All we must do is recognize this as a time of prayer.
All we must do is stay awake to the present danger.
All we must do is not walk away from the suffering.
All we must do is listen in the stillness of the garden.

Some leaves rustle as a small animal stirs nearby.
A breeze disturbs the branches of an olive tree.
A fellow disciple quietly coughs in the cooling air.
Our own breathing is labored from the hasty night walk.
The fluted song of an owl floats down from the hillside.

All we must do is sit.

Words (c) 2017, Mark Lloyd Richardson

That We Might Be Healers Too

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Pali Coast

Pali Coast, Kauai

The world of your creating is beautiful, O God.

You are master sculptor of imposing mountain ranges,
rugged seascapes, luxuriant valleys, bubbling volcanoes.

You give thought to the birds of the air,
the cattle on the hill, the sea creatures and crawling things.

You orchestrate the sights and sounds of creation
to be a harmonious symphonic masterpiece
that all might know the abundance of your goodness.

There is no detail you leave unattended,
no part of this world beyond your concern.

And amazingly,
you are mindful of human beings –
made in your image,
made for relationship,
made of dust and water,
made of breath and hope,
made of dreams for becoming,
made to live at peace,
made to create,
made with a spark of divinity,
made with a twinkle in your eye,
made to hold and to heal,
made to trust,
made from a deep abiding love.

Our burdens begin
when we misplace our mindfulness of you.

Anxieties follow
when we forget who it is who holds our lives.

Troubles mount
when we boast that this is all meant for us.

Sorrows breed
when we ignore what you intend for our wholeness.

Heal us.
Shake us from our complacency.
Renew in us a vision of life’s harmony.
Restore in us a thriving hopefulness.
Stir up in us a righteous anger at injustice.
Prevent us from doing any more harm.
Call forth from us what is beautiful and true.
Lead us back to our sacredness.
Heal us, we pray, that we might be healers too.

Mark Lloyd Richardson
(c) 2017

The Buoyancy of Prayerful Action

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Camille, David, and Azael as Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, in the Children’s Christmas Pageant at First UMC Santa Barbara, December 2016 (Photo credit: Dallis Day Richardson)

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,
for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins.” ~ Matthew 1:20-21

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God
to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin
engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.
The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said,
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” … “Do not be afraid,
Mary, for you have found favor with God.” ~ Luke 1:26-28, 30

Fear must be released if we are to take the journey to Bethlehem.
Fear obstructs the dream of God for a world healed of divisions.
Fear confines us in boxes of propriety and principle.
Fear prevents us from daring to live fully for God.
Fear holds us back.

Joseph,
had he listened to his inner voice of moral rectitude,
rather than listening to the Spirit stir in his faith-filled dreaming,
might have chosen the lesser path,
the outwardly respectable path,
the easier, more bearable path.

Mary,
had she listened to her inner voice of level-headed reason,
rather than listening to the angel’s announcement of God’s favor,
might have chosen the uncomplicated path,
the less perplexing, more normal path,
the expected path for a young woman of her day.

Instead these two faithful servants,
through the buoyancy of prayerful action,
put aside their fears
and embraced the possibility that God was doing something new!

From their beautifully inspired trust in God’s goodness
the holy child was born
and God’s salvation story took on human flesh,
so that we might see the fullness of grace and truth!

This Christmas
let us cast aside the fear of difference and change
and embrace the self-giving love of Emmanuel –
God who is with all of us the world over,
whatever our nationality, race, religion or creed.

God is with us!
Do not be afraid!

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

An Advent Prayer for All God’s Children

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Photo by Susan Barrett Price on Flickr Creative Commons

God of all the seasons of life,
here we are in Advent –
a season of expectant watching and waiting –
and we are aware of the grand struggles
playing out on this earth …
… struggles for human dignity
… for freedom from oppression
… for sustainable living
… for responsible stewardship of this precious earth.

Holy and mighty God,
you speak of a day when we will know
that Christ is near, even at the door.
You warn us to keep awake
and not succumb to the sleepiness
of casual accumulation and comfort.
There is so much need around us
our eyes and hearts cannot contain it.
So many of the world’s children
whom you love
suffering
through no fault of their own.

In this holy season,
while the world dances transfixed
before the dazzling lights of commerce,
we are invited
to sit in wonder beneath a brilliant nighttime star,
to seek the true light that shines in the darkness,
to follow where the child of Bethlehem leads,
to listen anew to the Word made flesh.

Draw us up short, Lord,
from any pretensions of piety we may have,
and surprise us again by the miracle of hope,
that this child who is to be born
may remind us of all the world’s children
who carry within them your image
your life
your love
your light!
Amen.

(c) 2011 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Let us not grow weary

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When our days feel precarious,
and our hearts are worn down
with the fatigue of worry,
the unsettledness of concern,
your promise, O God, remains with us.
Indeed it resides within us,
burning at the center of our beings,
a flame of hope that will not be extinguished.

You are always leading us into the new.
You are continually remaking us
into a people formed in your love.
You invite us each morning to yield our hearts
to the work of justice, peace, and reconciliation.
In all times, you call forth our better angels.

Give us, we pray, the grace we need for this day
as we rise to meet the challenges before us.
May we live today from our deepest humanity,
granting to a neighbor the gift of humble listening,
extending to a stranger a smile of recognition,
offering to the other a gesture of welcome,
being gentle with ourselves and those near to us.

The little things are the big things in your realm.
The least are not forgotten,
the last become first,
the lost are surely found.
So help us believe that even the mustard seed
of our small faith makes a difference.
Let us not grow weary in doing good.
Let us rise to meet this day knowing
that your promise remains with us and within us,
indeed it burns with a hope that will not go out.

In your holy love we pray. Amen.

(c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

The Way Forward

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Oregon Convention Center (two towers) where General Conference 2016 was held

The Way Forward proposed by the Council of Bishops at General Conference potentially provides a way to deepen the dialogue within the United Methodist Church on matters of human sexuality. It also gives us some breathing room to see how diversity can actually contribute to unity, rather than trying to force unity (perhaps I should say uniformity) through institutional pleading and legislative action.

As an LGBTQ ally and advocate for an inclusive church I am grateful for the leadership of the bishops in inviting respectful conversation that reflects the wideness of God’s mercy. However, I am also saddened and angry that justice is once again being delayed for many of my sisters and brothers in Christ by the harmful language that will remain in the Book of Discipline for at least two or three more years, and very possibly longer. In the meantime, many more gifted leaders will give up on serving in a church that does not accept them as the beloved children of God they are. In the meantime, many more young people will look elsewhere for open and affirming faith communities where they do not have to wonder if friends or family members will be accepted. In the meantime, many more loving and committed couples will be turned away from the ministries of a church that does not honor their love or value their witness. In the meantime, many more clergy will be forced to risk their livelihood and their future within a church they dearly love because the calling God has nurtured within their lives will not allow them to do otherwise.

So while I applaud the thoughtful leadership of our bishops and will pray and work to support a rethinking of the church’s stance on human sexuality through the special commission to be established, I am mindful of the deep pain and mistrust that many will continue to experience as a result of this outcome. Even though every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality will be examined by the commission and a special session of General Conference could be called in 2018 or 2019 to act upon the commission’s recommendations, we cannot predict how these processes will play out and whether they will create more just and grace-filled church structures and laws. What we do know is that we need to pray earnestly and work expectantly for the future God has in mind for the people called United Methodist, a future shaped by the justice and mercy at the core of the Gospel.

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

It’s Time

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It’s hard to know where to begin as I reflect on my two days spent in our church’s quadrennial meeting known as General Conference. I continue to believe in the incredible gifts our church has been given to offer the world. We are truly a church of social witness from the time John Wesley first took to the streets to announce the good news of Christ to the poor. We have a vast humanitarian reach throughout the world that brings hope and healing to many lives. We are a people who use our feet and hands to move into a hurting world with peace in the name of Christ. We have so much to offer, which makes our persistent wrestling with sexual matters all the more troubling.

Yet there is much pain in the midst of our ecclesial body. There are children of God who feel invisible when others refer to them as an “issue” because of their sexuality. There are children of God who are forced to be secretive about their sexual orientation knowing they may be judged ineligible to be in ministry. There are children of God who know they will not receive the ministry of the church when they commit themselves to one another in marriage. There are children of God who are being silenced and pushed aside by a church that will not recognize their giftedness and beauty as people of sacred worth. The pain is magnified because it is caused by the very church that has nurtured them in faith and trust in God.

It’s time that the church stop harming those who are beloved of God. It’s time to allow ministers and churches to honor and bless the marriages of two persons of the same sex. It’s time to recognize the gift and graces of ministry candidates who identify as LGBTQI and not disqualify them from serving the church solely on the basis of their sexual orientation. It’s time to recognize that the discriminatory language related to sexuality in the Book of Discipline reflects heterosexuality and homophobia and needs to be removed. It’s time to stop acting from fear, misunderstanding, and intolerance. It’s time to reclaim our heritage as a church grounded in Christ’s grace! It’s time to let love overwhelm hate. It’s time to breathe in the Spirit of the Christ who welcomed persons into the presence of God without conditions.

It’s time!

Words (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson

Blessing

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Ganna Walska Lotusland, Santa Barbara, CA

Blessing is
the feeling you get
when the day’s gifts
are more
than your gratitude can hold.

Blessing sings
in the sunlight
and dances in the rain
knowing
each is irreplaceable.

Blessing favors
no one
it is not stingy or reluctant
it seeks new ways
to express itself each day.

Blessing sleeps
on the pillows
of the just and the unjust
yet truly awakens only in those
who seek God with pure hearts.

Blessing reaches
the furthest limits
of human endeavor
and sets those who receive it
on holy ground.

Blessing surprises.
Blessing breaks open that which is closed.
Blessing speaks to our deepest need.
Blessing wraps us in God’s grace.
Blessing completes.

Copyright (c) 2016 Mark Lloyd Richardson