Shanah Tovah

Shana Tovah, my friends,
those near and far,

and in Israel with a new lockdown,
Shana Tovah
a year of blessing –
blessing in the midst of illness,
blessing in healing,
blessing in new peacemaking,
blessing in justice and in hope for all.

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Guest post from Rosalie Sugrue, Aotearoa New Zealand for Bible Sunday

Rosalie Sugrue led worship this year for Bible Month -– in Aotearoa New Zealand it falls in July. In the Northern Hemisphere it is a single Sunday, this year October 25, 2020. You may want to use some of her resources or and look as well online for shared resources. Other happy practices include asking people to share their favorite Bible story (there will be a lot of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and a lot of surprises) or to bring in a physical Bible that has meant something to them (and bless them) and give away Bibles to everyone who wants one or wants a new translation.

A Prayer for Bible Month

Holy One whom we call God,
Help us to appreciate that all cultures experience
a spiritual dimension that is greater than themselves
and define this reality in different ways.

Help us respect the stories of all cultures
while ever-seeking to better appreciate
stories known and honoured by our forebears.
Give us a greater appreciation of the Bible.
Your Holy Stories show humans as they are.
Your Holy Word tells us how humans could be.

Help us accept that all humans make mistakes.
Help us recognise the mistakes we make –
things that the Book of Common Prayer describes
as ‘sins of omission, and sins of commission.”
When identified may we be quick
to use the word “sorry” with true intent.
Liberate us from tunnel vision, give us insight
into those whose actions we cannot understand.

Forgive us when we accept discrimination, make exclusive remarks,
or have exclusive thoughts about you and your favourites.
Open our hearts to fully accept that you love
those who we have chosen not to know.
Open our ears to hear the stories of those we marginalise.
Challenge us to recognise, and change actions that exclude or reject.
Challenge those who exclude themselves, to realise they are worthy.

May your stories not become dull to us.
Renew us with excitement for the anti-hero, Jesus,
who revealed a new Divinity and new way of being.
Show us how to be your loving and accepting heart,
May we understand your healing hands and your wounded feet,
in ways that enable us to share in creating your Kingdom
here in our present. Amen.

Some liturgical resources

A Call to Worship

Kia ora tatou! Kia ora!
God be with you! And also with you!
Gather to ponder the wisdom of the Scriptures;
Draw near to share God’s strength and power.
We come to meet with God, to sing God’s praise,
to hear God’s word, and to engage with God’s will.
Let us worship God.

An Opening Prayer

God of all the ages,
We ask to be aware of your presence with us here today
As you have been with our forebears throughout countless generations
Remind us of the stream of history in which we stand,
The faithful people of every age, who have struggled to bring meaning,
And purpose, and renewed faith from the stress and challenges of their lives,
Certain only of their relationship with you and of the faith that drove them on.
In the Scriptures we read stories of faithful commitment to you,
And we learn of failures and sorrows along with hopes and joys.
We live in a time of testing, but so did those who came before us,
And, as it was with our predecessors, the faith was passed to us.
Forgive us for our forgetting, our despair, our turning aside from faith;
Help us to keep faith alive when we become discouraged or worried,
Call us to join the eternal parade of those of those who have kept the faith,
Those who have lived triumphantly, filled with commitment and compassion
That we too may be faithful witnesses to those who follow us;
Cheered by your love in Christ’s name we continue with confidence. Amen

Prayer after reading scripture (read antiphonally)

We give thanks that your Holy Bible has always been accessible to us.
We have been able to engage with your Holy Word throughout our entire lives.
Your scriptures are part of the fabric of our lives and have shaped how we live,
We acknowledge this privilege with deep gratitude.
We offer thanks for those who made your word available to ordinary people:
Publishers, printers, translators, and missionaries.
We give thanks for those who made the holy stories live for us:
Parents, teachers, preachers and companions on the way.
We give thanks for those who have devoted their lives to the study of your word:
priests, presbyters, pastors, scholars, theologians and ordinary saints.
We give thanks for the billions of ordinary folk through the ages
Who have been inspired to small acts of greatness by your holy word.
We pray for all Bible mission agencies who seek to better lives,
Be with those who distribute and explain the Scriptures.
Bless their work and grant them insightful understanding,
May they be ever sensitive to the needs of those they seek to serve.
May Your Word continue to live for us and in us,
[All] Open us to the truth and light breaking forth from your word. Amen

 

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September 15, 2020, United States – 200,197

Two hundred thousand,
one hundred and ninety-seven deaths
in this country from this illness this year,

and I am thinking of heaven
not as a house with many rooms,
(or mansions, depending on the bible-reader’s age),
or a city with streets lined
in trees for the healing of nations,
or a banquet table for the poor,
who never had enough
and saw at a distance the greed
of those who would not share …

but as an evacuation shelter.

How tenderly each is received.
“Here,” says an angel
the one who kisses a holy breath
into those who have not been able
to breathe,
“rest now, be calm, know you’re loved.”

And in a strange reverse
of all the shelters on earth,
caring for those who flee fire, hurricane, flood,
these new arrivals
desperately want to be assured,

that they will not see anyone they know.

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A Litany for Welcoming Week… When One Door Opens …

There is an old saying so often repeated that some people think it makes it true. (There are a lot of things like that) The saying is – when one door closes, another door opens. Perhaps occasionally that may be true, but it is certainly true that sometimes when one door closes, a lot of other doors slam shut. That happens for many new Americans. However, it surely is true that — when one door opens, another door can open, followed by another and another.

May our hearts and homes, our streets and playgrounds, our schools and churches welcome our neighbors and our new neighbors.

When one door opens, another door opens.

May our schools and workplaces be enriched by opening to the gifts and insights of those newly come to this country.

When one door opens, another door opens.

May our faith communities be strengthened by interfaith conversation. May we pray together.

When one door opens, another door opens.

May our compassion be informed by the experiences of those who have given and received care, and may our struggles for justice be empowered by those who have worked for change in places far away.

When one door opens, another door opens.

May restaurant doors open that all may taste the world. May books be translated into English and from English so that knowledge is shared. May art be seen, poetry be heard and dances set our feet tapping.

When one door opens, another door opens.

May our words and actions open the minds of those who hesitate to offer hospitality to someone from another country because of fear of a different religion, fear for their own job security or the job security of children and grandchildren, confused and formless (but very real) fears implanted by malicious and self-serving politicians, or the simple discomfort of meeting someone with a new language, faith or custom.

When one door opens, another door opens.

May we boldly go where every idiom has gone before!!!

May it be said of each of us that we don’t “darken the door” but rather we brighten the door.” May it be said of our new neighbors not that they have “a foot in the door,” but that they have “a heart in the door.” May it be said of the leaders of this country that they “make better doors than windows – for we want to open this nation to political refugees and economic refugees, those who need healing or education and those who can offer healing and education, and to mothers and fathers, grandparents and cousins, families made whole again.

When one door opens, another door opens.

Conclusion: Gracious God, oil the hinges of our hearts’ doors that they may swing gently and easily to welcome your coming. Amen (Prayer from New Guinea)

To know more about Welcoming Week and Welcoming America https://www.welcomingamerica.org/programs/welcoming-week

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Prayer for the Wildfires in the US West

God, across the fires of Oregon,
of California, of Washington,
of Colorado,
weep down your blessing.

Comfort those who grieve
those they have loved –
family, friends, neighbors,
from the oldest to an unborn child.

Home around all
who have lost house, land, work,
places where food was grown
and beauty was found.

Send faces of compassion,
masked faces, who understand
people’s doubled fear
of evacuation in a time of pandemic.

Sustain those who rescue and respond
and those who fight the fires.
Give breath in the smoke
escape for creatures,

and hope in tomorrow.

May there be rain from the clouds
and a rain of kindness. amen.

This is a small prayer for every time I wash my hands, which is something I do often since March. Words like these (not exact, just simple ones) help children who want to pray.

God, as I open the faucet,
open my heart to those facing fires.
As water pours here,
may help and hope flow there.
Like a soft towel,
wrap your love around loss,
and your safety around firefighters.
amen.

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Pause for September 11

Don’t say – remember.
Some of our remembers
are complicated
by what was happening to us
and some of us do not remember
because we are too young.

Pause for September 11.

Don’t say – pray.
Some of us want to pray
about the fires ravaging the west,
the terrible losses
of the coronavirus pandemic,
and some want to assign God
a personal agenda
of the first two amendments,
immigration, or masks.

Pause for September 11.

Don’t say – be a patriot.
That has too many meanings,
mostly full of
this-is-the-right-way
and the rest of you are wrong
and can also be confused
with a football team, TV show,
or surface-to-air missile.

Just pause for September 11.

In 2001 particular people died.
People who helped continue to die.
People died in acts
of response or retaliation.
People who live still grieve.
People who live
try to make the world better
because of that day.

Pause.

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“You ain’t no better or worse than the person next to you or the stranger who is not yet a friend.” – Guest Post by Justo Gonzalez II

I am delighted to post from Rev. Justo Gonzalez, II this remarkable reflection / retelling / revelating / re-knowing of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary passage. Justo is Pastor, Mental Health Counselor, Professionally Trained Chaplain, Life Coach, and recently the Interim Conference Minister for the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ … and a remarkable carer-of-souls and rouser-of-us-rabble whom I am honored to call friend.

Pentecost 15, September 13, 2020
“You ain’t no better or worse than the person next to you or the stranger who is not yet a friend.” Based Roman 14:1-12

1Welcome to all of us who are weak in faith. Come on admit it. I’ve had to because I’m no saint. I wish I could say that my faith was greater than those who stand atop a mountain, but I don’t know if they are there to praise God or call it the end of their lives and pain. I like to think I’m strong, but I know better. We try to be faithful and strong and some days it feels like we have met our goal. Yet, the reality is that those days are far and few in between. Let’s not get into a debate or a fuss and go after each other quarreling over your opinions or mine. How is that even helpful? It’s not and we know that, but we like to be right. Right isn’t always merciful, loving or Godly.

2 Some believe in standing firm for justice and others would rather just pray on their own. And other groups say, “Leave it alone. It’s not your problem. Keep your mouth shut. There are some who will eat anything. Life is short; let’s eat. While others cannot and will never eat animals; they have chosen to only enjoy vegetables and other natural foods.

3 Those who eat according to your will must not judge, ostracize and despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not assume their virtue based upon what they abstain from and then pass judgment on those who eat those meat; for God has welcomed and welcomes todos/as (all) of us. “You ain’t no better or worse than the person next to you or the stranger who is not yet a friend.”

4 Who are you to pass judgment on another, their beliefs, values, spiritual practices or the foods they partake in? Stop the, “I know better than you” nonsense. Yes — and I know I’m pushing you — both the ones with masks and the ones who won’t wear them. They are, even if you don’t like it, Children of their God, just like you. I’ll say it again, “You ain’t no better or worse than the person next to you or the stranger who is not yet a friend.” We will all, at times, stand and fall. Our lives are like a rollercoaster, we will raise and fall, twist and turn. We will be comfortable and uncomfortable. And we will be upheld, for our Sovereign, our God, known to us in many ways and names who journeys alongside will make sure we all stand. God’s got our backs.

5 Some of us judge today to be better than our yesterdays, while others of us conclude that all days are alike. We are gifted with many opinions. Let us not simply decide that our beliefs, values, customs, understanding are “right” or the “Godly way” as that says more about you than you think you’re saying. Ok, let’s stop being nice. When we are so full of ourselves, we can’t see our own bias and the violations on others that we perpetrate. It’s ok to believe what you believe. It’s not ok and never has been to try to impose it on others. This isn’t Terminator Judgment Day. Chill out, be cool and listen because you might actually learn something. That is, of course, if you don’t already know everything. Sadly, some think they do.

6 Those who observe life, the day, or feel compelled to start judging others, please take your anti-arrogance pills. Observe everything knowing that God honors that which we often criticize, ridicule and detest. Also, those who eat, whatever you decide on, eat it in honor of the Lord, since they, like you, give thanks to God. And honor those who abstain, as they too are like you, they abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We’re all giving thanks to God.

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.

8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Pues Si Vivimos para Dios Vivimos…)” Did you hear that? Everyone belongs to God not just your social club that looks, acts, talks, thinks and believes like you.

9 For this judgment and separation to end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be the Holy One of Israel for both the dead and the living. We have much more in common than separates us. Humanity matters. Compassion matters. You matter and so do those that are the polar opposite of you.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your global siblings, brothers or sisters? Or you, why do you despise your siblings, brothers or sisters who think, act and believe differently than you?

11 Don’t you get it? We are all part of God’s joyful creation and the human familia (family). For the 3rd time, “You ain’t no better or worse than the person next to you or the stranger who is not yet a friend.”
We will all be before God at some point. As Christian Scriptures state, “As I live, says Sophia, every knee shall take a bow before me, and every everyone shall give praise to God.

12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God. And God will ask this piercing question, “What have you done to make the world a place where judgment is no more, and hate is replaced with love, compassion and where grace abounds.” Let us live love, compassion, grace and goodness

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For World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2020

Exodus 15:20-21(often considered to be archeologically the oldest words in the Bible)

My friend writes a poem about Miriam
and how she danced and sang
and played her tambourine,
as the Hebrew slaves made their escape –
gasping, running,
hardly believing it possible –
across the parted Red Sea.

And I know she was exhausted,
frightened, desperate,
and I wonder why
she didn’t drop the tambourine
on the long run from Egypt,
or throw it away as extra baggage.

There would be no need for joy
and an extra hand would be useful for,
you know,
useful things.

For all of us who are family or friend
of someone who is at risk of dying by suicide –
that is – all of us,
as we are running alongside
giving support, offering hope, worrying,
watching, watching, watching,
giving advice,
hunting very good internet sources,

don’t forget the tambourine.

Hold some ankle-deep-in-mud joy,
not the frivolous kind,
but a long-noted hope-song for everyone.

Be that one who stops to sing
and won’t stop singing
while others are passing over
one more unexpectedly open way.

And, even for those of us who grieve today,
sing, too, this faith–

God finds those who are drowning
and holds them in the promised hands.

(thanks to Eric Anderson for the original poem about Miriam’s song)

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Sad new for Omar

Larry Trent sent this to the Westwood Church Family

Dear Church Family,

I am writing you with the bad news that Omar was denied bond this morning. There is no way to express the heartbreak that Kirsten (the senior pastor) and I are feeling at this moment. That said, our heartbreak is nothing compared to what Omar is feeling. He is unable to even speak as result of his pain. What this decision today means is he will remain in Adelanto as he awaits a decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, that can be months, even years. That will be so difficult for his spirit.

As we continue to wait, we continue to pray. He needs our prayers, now, more than ever. We will continue to add money to his commissary account. We will continue to write him letters. I will set up a phone account so that he can call me.

Again, I want to thank you for the letters and the overall support. I want to be clear that this decision is not a reflection on us; we have been and continue to be good allies. Immigration judges are notoriously harsh and uncaring. This is especially true under the current administration which has appointed most of them.

I could not continue to do this work without you. You are the ones that provide the food for my soul. I’m grateful for that.

Blessing, (and love),
Larry
Minister to Migrants

32 letters, including mine, were sent to the judge.
If anyone reading this blog would like to send a letter to Omar (because his receiving many greetings of friendship from different places will lift his spirits and will be supportive of other possible efforts), please contact me at giftsinopenhands@gmail.com and I will send you his new address. Maren

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Prayer for Elhajji Omar Touré, September 9, 2020

We have prayed frequently for Omar, Larry W. Trent, Minister for Migrants at Westwood Hill UCC has kept us updated on his situation. Please hold him in your prayers today for this hearing to prevent his immediate deportation.

God, we pray for Omar,
on this day of his bond hearing
that he be released to family sponsors
as he awaits overturning
of the denial of his refugee status,
and escape from the danger
of deportation orders to Senegal,
where he would be killed,
if not by others, by his parents.

We celebrate Omar
for his patience and persistence
waiting for years for asylum
at Adelanto Detention Center.

We celebrate Omar
for his courage naming his sexuality,
traveling to a new country
in spite of the current unamerican
atmosphere of inhospitality.

We celebrate his kindness,
courtesy, absence of complaint,
faithfulness and grace,
and we celebrate the many gifts
Omar offers us,
and the support he has earned
from so many people.

O Holy One, from the bread of ashes
bring the taste of welcome,
from the long waiting,
a return to the arms of love,
from the bars of detention,
the open doors of home,
from a history of injustice,
justice, and, for our friend,
Elhajji Omar Touré,
hope and a new beginning.
amen

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