Undependable – a prayer of confession

In the Book of Common Prayer‘s daily lectionary, today’s psalter readings are taken from Psalm 78. The psalter readings repeat themselves about every 7 weeks, so the next time Psalm 78 will be read in morning and evening prayer will be on a Tuesday in early November.

This prayer of confession is inspired by Psalm 78: Part II, as found in the BCP psalter:

O Holy One of Israel, as you saved your children from Pharaoh, so also you saved me from slavery to sin and death. Forgive me, for I am as undependable as a warped bow. You aim me true, and yet I miss the mark, again and again. I am inconstant, turning from false idols to your constant love, and back again. I yearn for a heart that is faithful and true; reshape me, untwist me, that I may become your reliable servant. In the Name of your Son, Jesus, who with you and the Holy Spirit is worshiped and glorified, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Fireworks

On Wednesday evening, Brian and I and a friend went to see the Minor League All Star game. It was a beautiful night for a game, and the International League won handily. I paid less attention to the game than usual, because I hadn’t seen my friend in awhile, and there was lots to catch up on.

But all conversation stopped when the fireworks began. None of us had realized that there would be fireworks after the game, but we all became excited when the post-game show was first announced, sometime around the 6th inning. Without much discussion, we all agreed we would stay. Why would anyone miss fireworks?

There are few things that delight me so much, that fill me with such joy, as fireworks exploding color in the night sky. The noise which scared me so much as a small child became part of the delight as I grew older. “Boom! Boom!” I feel the vibrations in my chest as the flower of color unfolds high above, hundreds of meters wide.

As my self-conscious brain came back online – as I shifted from watching fireworks to watching myself watch fireworks – I realized another time that I have been transported so far outside of myself: in worship. The connection became clear: why do we celebrate sports and national holidays with fireworks, but churches do not set off fireworks on high holy days?

Wouldn’t it be great if Christians held fireworks shows  on Easter, on Pentecost, on Christmas: “This is how excited we are! This is what a big deal this is for us! He is Risen – Boom! The Spirit has been poured out upon us – Boom! God is with us – Boom! Boom! Boom!”

Yeah, fireworks are expensive. Which means that one congregation wouldn’t get to take credit for it. We would have to work together, across congregations, even across denominations. For instance, figure $15,000 for a mid-sized show – that sounds like a lot, right? But in my town, Durham, NC, there are dozens of churches. Get 40 churches in on it, and the average contribution per church is now down to $375. Which is a great deal, and an opportunity for people from all over the community to get together and celebrate Jesus. And since your average fireworks show only lasts 15-20 minutes, we should probably throw in a hymn sing, or gospel music concert, or something like that. Christmas carols and fireworks! Sponsored by (list of 40 churches here.)

Sadly, churches seem to have confused evangelism with church growth. We are more concerned with reproducing ourselves (“does Main Street Methbyterian have a future?”) than we are with sharing Jesus. Maybe because we don’t have enough faith in Jesus, and we think that we are needing to redeem ourselves (our only shot at eternal life is a name in a stained glass window)… or maybe because we live immersed in a culture of fear-induced self-reproduction, and living in the world but not of it is so very very difficult. Whatever the reason, when we stop to consider it, being the lone stranger at a cookout on the church lawn is more akin to the terror of transferring mid-year to a new elementary school than it is to the joy of believing that God really did love the world enough to live among us in a particular body at a particular time in a particular community. It is hard to say what the Incarnation has to do with a cheap hot dog, and the barely concealed anxious hope that one day you too will join us, and grill cheap hot dogs for the few souls brave enough to endure the onslaught of interrogators that is the average local congregation.

Instead, the combined immensity and particularity of God’s love for us is surprising and painfully bright and loud and beautiful, and I can feel it in my chest and my throat, and I cannot keep myself from gasping outloud, “Oh!” and my smile is so big and unironic that I am a little afraid that someone will see me and realize that I am not cool enough to be above this spectacle, but then I realize that I don’t care, because I don’t want to be so cynical that I refuse to be moved by the truly moving. The love of Jesus swells and bursts me like a firework. Alleluia Alleluia! Boom Boom Boom!

What shall I wear?

This morning, trying to find something that was clean, weather appropriate, and still fit me, I was reminded of my Sunday morning struggles ever since taking leave from pastoring.  Ah, the good old days, when I could pick one of a handful of nearly identical clergy shirts out of the closet, attach a collar, and pull on any pants, as they would be hidden under my robe!

As I asked myself, “What shall I wear? What shall I wear?” I was reminded of the meter and scheme of William Walford’s “Sweet Hour of Prayer” (UMH 496), and I was off and writing.  (The song works best sung to the tune William Bradbury wrote for it, entitled “Sweet Hour,” but anything in Long Meter Double (LMD) will do.)

As with some sermons, this arose out of a need to address this issue / hear this message myself!  But perhaps you will find yourself humming it next Sunday morning, and it will lighten your mood a bit.  I hope so – because “No wardrobe malfunction can compare / to thy return, sweet hour of prayer!”

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What shall I wear? What shall I wear?
Each Sunday morning a world of care!
My dresser drawers have let me down,
Since I have gained this fifteen pounds.
I know that Jesus died for me,
Nevertheless I stand, stymied,
Imagining the children’s stares:
How shall I cope? What shall I wear?

What shall I wear? What shall I wear?
Will this sweater my belly bare?
Church may not be a fashion show,
But all my blouses are stained, I know;
My tights are torn, my shoes are scuffed.
I must be brave, I must be tough,
Or I shall never have a prayer
Of answering, “What shall I wear?”

What shall I wear? What shall I wear?
Do other folks my sorrows share?
This cruelty to self, and shame –
We must find someone else to blame!
No, lift from the floor a pair of jeans,
Matched with whatever shirt’s most clean.
Don’t worry, wonder, or compare,
The lilies ne’er ask, “What shall I wear?”