Maundy (a poem)

Sometimes it’s hard
to love one another,
To love into the foibles
instead of around them.

Mine are uncountable;
Unaccountable, too.

I leave the lights burning,
Turn up the thermostat,
Slip off my shoes anywhere at all.
I turn on televisions then walk away,
Forgetting, the sounds white noise
Underscoring my life.

It must be hard.

...a small portion...

…a small portion…

I have more yarn than
I could ever knit,
Projects begun, put down,
Why I loved the color
Or the texture
Forgotten.

To love each other transcends forgetting.
We know and care, but know the truth.
He told us to love so others can know us–
Know him–
It’s a mandate, a commandment,
A rule for living,
Loving orders.

~ Martha K. Spong (originally blogged April 1, 2010)

Maundy Thursday Liturgy for Narrative Lectionary Year 4

Call to Worship             (based on Psalm 26:3-12)

God’s steadfast love is before our eyes.

We walk in God’s faithfulness.

We wash our hands in innocence.

We go around your altar, Lord.

We sing a song of thanksgiving

And tell about your wonderful deeds.

O Lord, we love the house in which you dwell.

We love the place where your glory abides.

In the great congregation, let us bless the Lord.

God’s steadfast love is before our eyes.

 

Hymn                  Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts (or Communion hymn focused on body/blood)

 

First Lesson                    John 6:1-14

Reader 1: After Jesus healed a paralyzed man near the Temple and argued with the Jewish authorities, he went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.

Reader 2: Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.

Reader 3: Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”

(Communion elements are brought forward by an adult and a child.)

Reader 1: One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”

Reader 2: Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.”

Reader 3: So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten. When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.”

Prayer of Confession

Holy One, forgive us. We believe only the things we can see. We want to be faithful to you, but we get caught up in the numbers. A year’s salary will only go so far. Our time gets spent just as fast as our paychecks. We look around and see “not enough” instead of rejoicing that you have given us more than enough. We hold onto what is ours for fear it will all disappear.

Bend back the fingers we have clenched tight shut around the last piece of bread or the last bit of fish. There is more left over than we can calculate. Help us to see it.

(Silent confession)

Assurance of Pardon

Our God is not a cruel parent. Our God seeks to be in relationship with us. Our God loves us enough to take on our form and live among us.

God will not turn us away when we have come confessing with open hearts.

God offers forgiveness and welcomes us to the table of grace and plenty where all the faithful gather. This is the Good News that brings new life.

We thank God for it.

Communion Invitation           

The same people who ate the loaves and fishes followed Jesus the next day, all the way to the other side of the lake. Did they follow him hoping for more signs that he was God? No. Jesus said to them, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Friends, we gather at this table not to fill our stomachs but to be fed by spiritual food. Jesus told the people, “The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Believing in him, we come to this table to share a holy meal.

Communion Prayer  

Let us pray. Lord, we come to you looking to be fed. We remember the stories of miraculous feeding, of manna in the wilderness, and the abundance of loaves and fishes, and the miracle of the wine at the wedding in Cana. We ask your blessing on these ordinary elements, the bread and the juice. We believe you feed us in ways that go far beyond our literal understanding. Through the awesome wonders of creation to the joy of human love and the power found in a group of people working on your behalf, you have blessed us. You became present to us in Jesus and blessed us further with your grace and mercy. You remain present to us in the working of the Holy Spirit. We give thanks for all the ways you show your love for us as pray together using the words Jesus taught us:

Our Father, etc. Amen.

Words of Institution

Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

This is the bread. This is the cup. These are the things of God for the people of God. Come, for all things are ready.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Holy and gracious God, for the meal we have shared, for the nourishment of the spirit and for the life of this community, we give you thanks. Help us to see miraculous signs wherever we see you. Help us to work always for the food that endures, in Christ’s name. Amen.

Anthem/Hymn                             Ah, Holy Jesus (or similar hymn)

Second Lesson                              John 19:23-24                (Reader Three)

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and his sandals, and divided them into four shares, one for each soldier. His shirt was seamless, woven as one piece from the top to the bottom. They said to each other, “Let’s not tear it. Let’s cast lots to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill the scripture, They divided my clothes among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing. That’s what the soldiers did.

Lord Jesus, we divide you. We claim you belong to us. Others claim you belong to them. Help us to see you in your wholeness, pouring out your love for all people.

(Reader Three leaves during hymn, to be followed by choir members, Deacons/Elders w/ chancel items.)

Hymn                                  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (or similar hymn)

Third Lesson                                  John 19: 25-27               (Reader Two)

Jesus’ mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood near the cross. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Lord Jesus, some of your followers stayed with you to the end. We want to have that kind of faith. Give us the strength to see things through, even in the midst of darkness, danger and despair.

(Reader 2 leaves as hymn begins, to be followed by remaining choir members, Deacons, etc.)

Hymn                                  Beneath the Cross of Jesus (or similar hymn)

Fourth Lesson               John 19:28-30                                (Reader One/Pastor)

After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips.

Lord Jesus, you showed us God’s abundant hospitality and turned water into wine. We showed you human hospitality and let things go sour. We showed no mercy, and yet we ask for your mercy, Lord.

When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life.

(Reader One closes Bible, carries it out of sanctuary.)

*************************

Although this liturgy gives general stage directions for stripping the chancel, simply reading the text and responses and singing the hymns should also have an effect of depth and seriousness. Bold lines indicate unison.

I’ve used the Common English Bible throughout the service for any scripture quotations, with a few minor adjustments for narrative clarity. The actual Narrative Lectionary texts for the day are John 19:23-30 and Psalm 26:3. You are very welcome to use or adapt this liturgy. If you do, please let me know in the comments here, and tell me where you are using it.

What’s Next?

I just spent half a week at the NEXTChurch gathering in Minneapolis, put on by a hopeful (no whining allowed!) cohort of creative and faithful leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The theme text was Jeremiah 29, which has been a crucial text for me over the past year, as I adjusted to a new geographical location and the sense of exile I feel from pastoral ministry now that I no longer serve a local church. Jeremiah exhorted the exiles in Babylon to seek the welfare of the city in which they lived. I have been asking, what is my city? For the purposes of this blog post, I will claim it to be the cyber-diaspora of the RevGalBlogPals.

A major goal of our expansion of RevGals’ ministry has been to provide more opportunities for members to gather in person and form the deeper relationships treasured by those of us who have already had the chance to live into those friendships. I expected that our ever-growing Facebook group and our 300+ member blog ring would generate plenty of people interested in attending regional ReGroups. I also anticipated that the large group who have not chosen to attend our annual Big Event cruise would provide attendees for a similar event such as REVive, planned for this summer.

It seems the downside of being ecumenical and far-flung is that we don’t have the obvious lines of communications a denominational or local group might have. We are truly grass roots. If you want to host a ReGroup in your area, *you* need to be sure there are enough people to cover the costs. I can’t do that from where I am. It has to come from you. We also don’t have the access to funding that a denominational group might have. If you want our ministry to continue, you need to give to make it happen.

But is it our ministry? What does that mean, really?

image“This is God’s ministry. Not ours.”

RevGal ring member Kara Root offered a testimony at NEXT about the practice of Sabbath in her congregation (in the hereandnow is Kara’s blog), and when this slide went up on the screen, I felt them, hard. What does God want from RevGalBlogPals, for RevGalBlogPals? How is God working among us? Kara reminded us that we are not inventing things ourselves, much as we might like to think we are. The ministry is God’s. In a local church setting, we could gather together and work at discerning God’s call for us. RevGals exists in the Celestial Cyber City, and our coffee shops are as dispersed as our sanctuaries and board rooms. I had to fly from Harrisburg to Minneapolis to see group members in person this week, ranging from a board member, to blog contributors, to former and current bloggers and one-and-many-time-attenders of the Big Event and at least one lurker at the Preacher Party. We all have ideas and opinions about what would be good for RevGals.

A selection of RevGals in attendance.

A selection of RevGals in attendance.

We ALL have ideas and opinions about what would be good for RevGalBlogPals.

But here is the bigger question, which came next in Kara’s presentation.

“How are we participating in God’s ministry?”

What is God calling us to do and be? Honestly, we started out as 12 or so people who wanted a t-shirt. We debated the use of the word “butt” if printed on a mug vs. a t-shirt. Most of us blogged in secret in those days (pseudonymously). We encouraged each other to undertake self-care in the form of mani-pedis. It sounds pretty lightweight now.

Over the past nine years we have stood witness to each other’s lives. We have helped each other sort through crises both vocational and personal. We have evolved in unexpected ways. Blogging has declined in recent years as Facebook has expanded, with its capacity for quick responses and no frustration over Blogger’s security hassles or the sometime difficulty of signing into WordPress.

We have an ever-expanding Facebook group that reached 1360 members this morning. Many of those people have no idea of our history, nor do they even necessarily know we have a blog or that we offer events designed to build face-to-face community as a subset of our online community. How do we let them know? Dear readers, you play a part in that. When you see us link to the blog on Facebook, share the link, or in the Facebook group, comment on the post to keep it coming back to the top of the page. Even if you can’t come to an event, share it so that others might do the same. Tell them what RevGals means to you.

Now let me take on a topic from earlier in the week. As the church declines and we serve people who are naturally resistant to change, we were encouraged to look at Positive Deviance – The future lies in the places that seem strange to us now.

How can we be ahead of the curve?

Oddly, we remain ahead of the curve, overall, in understanding women as fully called to ordained ministry on behalf of Jesus Christ. When we collect together on the Internet, it may seem obvious to a lot of us, but on the ground, in the small towns, or the conservative enclaves, in the rural areas where pastors may not have the option of an in-person group of colleagues, it’s not always a safe assumption that people are okay with clergywomen.

Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana, one of our founders, preaching at NEXT.

Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana, one of our founders, preaching at NEXT.

Maybe our mission needs to be doing a better job of getting the word out there:
clergywomen are doing faithful work on behalf of Jesus every single day. We are providing pastoral care, and leading communities in discernment, and preaching and teaching the Good News.

Often we are doing it on a shoestring, although that should never stop us from celebrating with our sisters who are called to larger churches and witnessing in amazing ways that women are called to be pastors and preachers.

We work hard to understand each other and not stigmatize or demonize over differences of nation, denomination, generation or orientation. We work hard to keep it polite and peaceful and edifying.

Some times that work is harder than others.

I’ve come away from NEXTChurch with the following ideas that I think might serve the welfare of this Cyber City:

1) Proclaim – People need to know that women preach. After a great presentation on 90 Second Sermons (90secondsermon.com), I am devising parameters for a video feature on our blog. Whether you have great technology or a Flip Cam, I want to hear from you, and I will send you the basics guidelines. Just like the things mentioned above, we would need all of you to push these videos out, to show the world women proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

2) Imagine – We heard some amazing testimony from pastors doing fascinating things in their local churches. I want to hear from you about the things you are doing that come up out of your context, and I want to share that good news in written or video form on our blog. We’re not looking for best practices to share or programs to drop down out of the sky. We want to spark the imaginations of those watching and listening and reading, to open their eyes to the possibilities where they live and serve.

3) Pray – We feature daily prayers on our blog, and we take unlimited prayer requests on our Facebook group. I propose that we narrow that scope and take all the Joys and Concerns on one thread in the Facebook group. We are often weighed down by the fears and anxieties of others, or feel we cannot share our own because there are so many difficult situations. The overall effect is a dulling of senses and a timeline so crowded that the positive work we are doing has scrolled down the page beyond sight.

I hope you will share your thoughts about any and all of the above in the comments here and share this post via email, Facebook or Twitter with anyone you think might want to read it. My trip to NEXTChurch was my Continuing Ed for the year, paid for out of donations you made to RevGalBlogPals. While my monthly stipend (based on monthly gifts and our Fundly fundraiser) is not near what we hoped it would be (it’s just under $500 per month), the earlier fundraising we did last summer and fall provided enough to make this trip happen. I am grateful for the opportunity; it has been immensely fruitful. Thank you.

Faithfully,

Martha

********************
(Also posted at RevGalBlogPals)

Creating jams (a prayer for pastors)

Not the real sign.

Not the real sign.

Holy One,
Out in the country,
curving our way to the burial,
in the valley before the little mountain
we see the sign:
“Forbidden fruits create many jams”

We laugh.
“Talk about over-simplifying!”
“I would never put that on my sign!”
“That one’s perfect for the Blurred Lines parody.”

Yes.
We feel superior,
more subtle, more evolved,
more in touch with you.

Until things get hard.
Then we understand.

We run the risk of making it too simple.
We want everything to make sense.
We want to explain it all,
in words of one syllable,
or words of many.
We want to control it,
life,
but we cannot.

We cannot control brain chemistry,
or cell division,
or plate tectonics
or the state of the climate.

We cannot go back in time
to make people build in safer places
or tell them not to get on that plane
or convince them that there is some other way.

We cannot control each other,
and even if that wouldn’t solve
all the troubles,
we convince ourselves it might.

Our desire to control the world,
when you don’t insist upon it yourself,
creates jams.

That’s the real forbidden fruit,
not the moral and social ills
implied by the sign,
but our tendency to think
we can fix it,
we know better,
we can take your place.

Forgive us
for taking what is not ours.
Guide us
to the roads you would have us travel.
Unjam us
to serve you fruitfully
in Jesus’ name.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,191 other followers

%d bloggers like this: