Advent Wreath, Narrative Lectionary

Advent Wreath Liturgies, Narrative Lectionary Year 1

Advent 1 – Hope (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:17-19)

One: People of God, prophets like Habbakuk pointed to a future hope, a Savior.
Many: No one knew when he would come.
One: They only hoped they would recognize the Messiah, the Son of God.
Many: We wait with hope for the One who has come and is coming.
One: Today we light a candle to symbolize our hope. We hope in the One who will come.
(Light the candle of Hope.)
One: People of God, a New Hope is coming.
All: We will rejoice in the Lord.

Advent 2 – Peace (Esther 4:1-17)

One: People of God, Esther was a heroic woman who took a great risk to bring peace for her people. .
Many: We want peace to overcome struggle, violence, and cruelty.
One: It can be dangerous to call for peace.
Many: This might be the job God needs us to do.
One: Today we light a candle to symbolize God’s peace. We hope in the One who will come. We pray for God’s peace to prevail.
(Light the candles of Hope and Peace.)
One: People of God, take courage.
All: We take courage from the light of God’s peace.

Advent 3 – Joy (Isaiah 42:1-9)

One: People of God, Isaiah promised a servant God who would come to save us.
Many: The Savior will be a light to the nations.
One: People everywhere are eager for the justice he will teach and the joy he will bring.
Many: We will see prison doors opened and people set free.
One: Today we light a candle to symbolize the joy we anticipate. We hope in the One who will come. We pray for God’s peace to prevail. Our joy will come with God’s servant.
(Light the candles of Hope, Peace and Joy.)
One: People of God, great change lies ahead.
Many: We wait to see it with joy!

Advent 4 – Love (Matthew 1:18-25)

One: People of God, today we hear the story of an angel appearing in a dream.
Many: Joseph was a righteous man who heard God’s messenger.
One: Because of his deep faith, he trusted in God’s steadfast love.
Many: When we know God’s love, we can extend it to others.
One: Today we light a candle to symbolize the steadfast love of God. We hope in the One who will come. We pray for God’s peace to prevail. Our joy will come with God’s servant. God’s love never ends.
(Light the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.)
One: People of God, remember you are God’s beloved children.
Many: We celebrate God’s steadfast love!

Christmas Eve – Christ Candle (Luke 2:1-14, [15-20])

One: People of God, when the angels appeared, the shepherds were terrified.
Many: We will not fear, for this is the night of Good News!
One: We celebrate the good news of a baby, born in a stable.
Many: Tonight we light a candle to mark his birth.
One: We hope in the one who has come, Jesus Christ.
(Light the Candle of Hope.)
We pray for God’s peace to prevail.
(Light the Candle of Peace)
Our joy comes with God’s servant.
(Light the candle of Joy)
God’s love never ends.
(Light the candle of Love)
Born as one of us, Jesus became God’s living Word of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
(Light the Christ Candle)
Do not be afraid! The Good News is here!
All: Glory to God in the Highest!

Looking for a carol of response? Now It’s Time to Light the Candle includes Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love.

Liturgies (2014) and carol (2015) are copyrighted by the Rev. Martha K. Spong. You are welcome to use these liturgies, based on the Narrative Lectionary Year 1, in weekly worship at your local church. You are also free to adapt them to your circumstances (using multiple readers, for instance). Please leave a comment to let me know where they will be used. This does not constitute permission to publish the readings as a set or to claim credit for them online or in print. Thank you, as always, to Working Preacher, for inventing and refining the Narrative Lectionary.

Reflectionary

Book Review: Loving and Leaving a Church

Her story begins as did many of ours.

They couldn’t really afford a full-time pastor, but they were determined to have one anyway.

In Maine in 2002, in Maryland a few years later, in Missouri and Mississippi right now, our stories begin in church council rooms and on neutral pulpit weekends, in conversations with judicatory staff and congregational meetings. The Rev. Barbara Melosh relates her version in Loving and Leaving a Church: A Pastor’s Journey (Westminster John Knox Press, 2018). A second-career pastor, Melosh experienced a midlife conversion and became ordained in the denomination of her childhood, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Pastor readers will recognize the idealism we bring with us from seminary, the sense that we have something unique to offer that will surely change the church that so clearly needs us. In this case, a declining congregation in a shifting neighborhood responds to attempts at outreach in ways that will resonate in many quarters. While Melosh is aware that she is unequipped – it’s the title of the first chapter – she must grapple with the facts.

They didn’t care about my degrees or my theological insights, my years of experience as a professor, my story of midlife conversion or my passion for language. At most, they were prepared to put up with it all, it that was what it took to get a pastor in place. (p. 32)

As Melosh grew into her call, she faced a familiar array of challenges: an inadequate budget, a neglected physical plant, competition between pillar families, a failure of hospitality to newcomers, and a church basement full of junk. The reader feels her cringe of disappointment when a visitor turns around and leaves with her child as soon as she sees the Sunday School room, and also shares her embarrassment when an urgent request is forgotten in the wake of an unrelated church crisis.

In all accounts of her ministry, Melosh is unflinching in her honesty about her own passions and failures as she recounts the events of her ministry with the congregation she calls the Saints. Through common trials and local peculiarities, the first wedding and the hardest funeral, she risks writing what many of us would rather not have to admit even though our stories contain similar chapters. Her equal frustration with and love for the people she served emanate from the page. The book reflects her academic background in her research about the community, and in her care to be truthful even though some names and locations are cloaked with pseudonyms.

I highly recommend this book for readers willing to reflect theologically and practically on the life of the church, the essentials of ministry, and the reality that all pastors and priests enter into it as Barbara Melosh did,

Unequipped. I had prepared for years, and learned more in my years with the Saints. But I was not equipped for what mattered most. Not equipped to deal with the deep questions. Not equipped to stand with people at the edge of life and death as they raged or grieved. Not equipped for the suffering or betrayals or violence that came without warning to shatter an ordinary life. No one is, and part of the work was learning to do it anyway, to come with empty hands and open heart, and let that be enough. (p. 154)

Amen to that.


In the interest of full disclosure, I used to be in a writing group with Barbara Melosh, and I read some of the chapters in earlier forms. I purchased a copy of the book for myself. This review is cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals.

Church Life, Psalms, Reflectionary

If two preachers…

Like many churches, the Presbyterian congregation my wife serves has seen what we used to think of as the fall return to a regular schedule pushed back from September to October and into November by travel team soccer and fall baseball, 5Ks and half-marathons at popular regional locations, Penn State football games (in our area), even cheerleading for elementary school girls. This year the staff decided to offer a worship opportunity late on Sunday afternoon, from mid-September through October, lined up with the time parents typically drop teens off for youth group. Kathryn planned a simple service using an Iona liturgy. After she joked several times that she would be reading it alone, I offered to come over to church at the appointed time. 

It was just the two of us the first week. And the second week. The third week Kathryn was out of town, and a few people joined the Christian Ed director, so we were hopeful that week 4 might bring more.

It was just the two of us again. 

We prayed and sang and engaged in lectio divina, just the two of us, for the third time in four weeks. This past Sunday’s psalm was 26, and we listened for the phrases that stood out for us, and talked about what was different for each of us and how we heard the verses for ourselves and for the other. It’s ironic, in this time of #ChurchToo, and knowing how important it is to be outside the walls of the church to be in ministry, and perhaps most of all because no one else had come to worship, that this verse popped for me.

If two preachers pray in the sanctuary, but no one else sees them, do they make any sound at all?

By all the metrics that matter in denominational surveys and material assessments, the 5:30 Sunday service could be called a failure. Yet as we left to walk back across the street to the manse, I thought, I would love to keep doing this, whether anyone else ever comes or not.

A version of this post appeared in the RevGals Weekly e-Reader

Reflectionary

My cup runneth over

Here in South Central Pennsylvania, my Jersey Girl wife and I have been happy to patronize a new-to-us sandwich chain, Jersey Mike’s. In the category of small pleasures, she likes the subs that remind her of childhood adventures with her dad, and I appreciate fountain Pepsi. When we met a friend for lunch there last week, I was stupidly excited to get that Pepsi.

It was busy at Jersey Mike’s, and the corner where the drink machine stands on a counter is awkward, so I stood back several paces and watched the tall, slightly disheveled man in work boots ahead of me. When his soda overflowed onto his hand and the floor, I was surprised and a little smug. What was the matter with him? Was he thinking about something else? First time using a drink machine?

I avoided the splash of soda on the floor and approached the machine, carefully getting lots of ice but not too much, then pushing my cup against the lever for the magic elixir …

and when I pulled the cup away, there was a carbonated shudder, and my cup overflowed, too.

The sound, the image, the sticky soda suited this past week. We think we have our actions under control, know how the system should work, make careful steps, do it all decently and in good order, yet things spill over anyway. We try to manage ourselves, our days, our feelings, and then the system we have in place burps, and it’s all on the floor.

The image of anointing in the 23rd Psalm is meant to reassure us of God’s care, but honestly, that had to be a mess, a scene, an over the top – literally – display not just for us but for those who threaten us. Remember, that table was set in front of the psalmist’s enemies.

Whatever feelings are running over the top of your cup, know I am praying for you, for all of us who doing our utmost to be faithful to God’s call on our lives, even when it makes a mess of us.

Originally written for the RevGals Weekly e-Reader.

Living in This World

The Good Place

We’ve had the date on the calendar for weeks. Tonight is the season premiere of the first show I’ve considered appointment television in many years. My family was late to “The Good Place,” but caught up about midway through last season. The show began its first episode with Eleanor (played by Kristen Bell) opening her eyes and learning she has died and is in The Good Place, but we quickly learn that she knows very well she doesn’t belong there.

The basis for this exploration of the afterlife is not religion. As Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of Bell’s Good Place neighborhood, tells her, no religion got it all right, but “every religion guessed about 5%.” Instead, the show explores moral philosophy – yes, it’s a comedy, but with content – and how some scholars have explained what makes our actions good or bad.

The show’s creator, Mike Schur, imagined a point system while stuck in Los Angeles traffic…

A screenshot from Michael’s explanation of the points system.

…and from there he built the concept of the show. (Don’t use “Facebook” as a verb, for instance; it’s -5.55.) The point system mostly revolves around the things we do in relationship to other people; it’s about consideration, respect, and awareness.

Or as Jesus put it,

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.“ (Matthew 7:12, NRSV)

Eleanor is pretty terrible, selfish and defensive and crass and injured and broken. Would she have been different with even so much as a nudge toward goodness?

I hope I’m aware when I get a nudge, but most of the time I fear I am even more aware of the people I think could use a nudge. I wonder why they don’t pay attention to guidance that seems so obvious to me. I resent that many of those people call themselves Christian while committing what I perceive as acts of destruction. And it’s just not satisfying to think they might end up with a negative score. I want something to happen now.

How do we avoid despair? Humor helps, I believe, and knowing there are some people who think it matters how we treat each other, and how we treat the world. Still, we could use some help.

Jesus, be a nudge.

Originally written for the RevGals Weekly e-Reader.

Church Life, Reflectionary, The Inner Landscape

Shake it off? No, sit with it.

Long before Taylor Swift turned it into an ear worm (you’re welcome), my dad used to tell me “Shake it off.” It was a multi-purpose instruction, aimed at minor injuries both physical and social. While that’s good advice for a stubbed toe or even a bruised ego, some experiences jar us in ways that shaking will only amplify, because we are already shook. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a drive-by dagger in the handshake line, or a late night email intended to wound, or a theological snubbing, you’ll know what I mean. 

For me, step 1 is to sit with it. Today I’m doing that sitting in a Starbucks, pampering myself with a piece of coffee cake and a mocha topped off with the whipped cream I usually eschew. I’m thinking about something that happened yesterday, trying to figure out what to do with it, and what the ramifications of sharing the story publicly might be, for me and for the work I do. I’m asking myself, could it be helpful to share, or would I just be relieving my own tension?

Often, step 2 is to tell the story to a trusted friend or colleague, or perhaps a therapist, spiritual director, or coach. If you don’t have one of the above, I hope you will find one before the need is urgent. In my two pastor household, we have the trusted colleague available 24/7, and for that I am grateful, this day and every day. Still, for those times I need to tell the story 83 times before I feel finished, it’s good to have more places to put it. 

Step 3 for me is always to write about it. Sometimes that writing is an email I will never send, or a fragment saved in the Notes app on my iPhone that will find its way into a more polished form months or years in the future, when I have more perspective. And sometimes it’s like this, an exploration of how it feels to be injured, without saying anything about what actually happened. It’s an effort to make sense of things, to determine whether I was responsible for something I haven’t acknowledged, and whether I was actually wronged.

In this case, I’m pretty sure I was, but before I take it anywhere else, step 4 needs to happen in conversation with scripture, and in prayer. I’ll confess that since I stopped preaching regularly, I find this part harder, because for years this step took place for me in regular engagement with the lectionary. Having lost track of where we are in year B, I had to look it up. There I found the Syrophoenecian woman, like a trusted friend, ready to hear my story and feel it with me, right here in the Starbucks.

I don’t think this is a situation to shake off, but thanks to her, I’ve remembered where healing comes from ultimately. Now I’m ready to brush the coffee cake crumbs off my lap and go on with my day. Wherever you find your friends, may it be the same for you.


This post originally appeared in the RevGals Weekly e-Reader.

Liturgy, Narrative Lectionary, Reflectionary

All Age Liturgy for Narrative Lectionary Year 1, Week 1 (Noah and the flood)

Noah's Ark by Edward Hicks
Noah’s Ark by Edward Hicks

Call to Worship

One: We come together to read the old stories.

Many: We are looking for God’s word to all people, long ago and today.

One: Some of the stories we remember from Sunday School.

Many: The Lord said to Noah, There’s gonna be a floody floody!

One: Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Many: Get those children out of the muddy muddy!

One: Children of the Lord, let us worship God together.

 

Prayer of Confession

Holy One, you made the Earth and all that is in it. We give thanks for the sky and the seas, the mountains and the valleys, the trees and the flowers, the birds that fly and the fish that swim and all the animals that walk or crawl or creep on the land. You called on human beings to care for Creation, to serve you and praise you by loving all you have made.

We don’t always do it well.

We remember the story of Noah, and a time when people forgot to take care of the Earth and each other. We ask forgiveness for the ways we fail to love your world with our whole hearts. Help us to do better, one step at a time, just the way Noah built the ark one cubit at a time.

Assurance of Pardon

The Lord said to Noah, “But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” God made a covenant with Noah, and God keeps a covenant with us. No one will ever be left behind again. Come into the ark of forgiveness, beloved Children of God!

Passing the Peace

In the Ark of this church, we are one family of faith. Sometimes it feels like close quarters! That’s all the more reason to greet one other with a sign of God’s peace. The peace of Christ be with you.

Children’s Time – Have someone lead “Rise and Shine”

First Reading Genesis 6:18-22 (including Litany of Animals)

Reader 1: Hear the words God spoke to Noah.

Reader 2: Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.

Reader 3: For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.

Reader 4: But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.

Reader 5: And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

Reader 6: Of the birds according to their kinds –

Chorus of Kids: Robins! Sparrows! Flamingos! Ducks! Geese! Chickens! Eagles!

Reader 6: …and of the animals according to their kinds –

Chorus of Kids: Dogs! Cats! Cows! Bunny rabbits! Groundhogs! Deer! Giraffes! Tigers! Lions!

Reader 6: of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind –

Chorus of Kids: Snakes and Mosquitoes and Bears and Honeybees! Elephants and Kangaroosies-roosies!

Reader 6: …two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.

Reader 1: Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. This is the word of the Lord.

Congregation: Thanks be to God.

Second Reading     Genesis 9:8-15 (consider doing some kind of display of a rainbow to accompany v. 12)


I created this liturgy in 2014 for Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Mechanicsburg, PA. To ask for permission to use it, please leave a comment here.