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Showing posts from 2012

End of year reflection

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A few days ago, the snow was falling and I paused for a brief walk through an old cemetery. An interstate highway runs by it, but it was quiet and unnoticed. Some of the headstones were decorated with small American flags, and many had small bronze stars denoting the deceased as veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, fighting on the Union side during the American Civil War.

This year has seen a renewed focus on honoring our nation's military veterans, especially in providing some measure of services to help those who have been physically and emotionally wounded.

As this year ends, this nation has been at war for more than eleven years in Afghanistan. (By contrast, the U.S. waged the Civil War for four years, World War II for 3 2/3 years, and World War I less than two years.) Few anticipate the true the costs when the blood runs hot and war seems to be a national imperative. And as the soldiers die and are wounded, it becomes difficult to end a war whose justification now dep…

Prayer on the longest night

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O Rising Sun,
splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.


Great God, in northern climes, this night is the longest of the year. Yet in every place we await the coming light, the sun of righteousness, the dawn of redemption. Come, Lord Jesus, come. We wait this night with those who lack shelter, who sleep outside not by choice, who ride the late night buses and trains and diners and waiting rooms, who are imprisoned, who are unnoticed and disregarded, who are near death, and together we await the coming of the light. In this light, we pray, all people will see that God has given enough to share, all people will see their neighbors through the eyes of love, and all people will know God's presence, with us, Emmanuel. Amen.


Responding to violence

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I have been fortunate not to have much violence directly inflicted on me. But I live in a violent world.

I have studied violence academically, and worked with victims/survivors of violence. I have hit others and been hit. My immediate family has been affected by a domestic violence murder. I have been closely involved with a large mass murder. I live in a city where there are weekly shootings. I watch the news, which emphasizes violent crime and war. I grew up with violent stories, from westerns to WW2 dramas to cop shows to comic books. I played games with pretend and real violence. I live in a culture which in ideology if not always in practice valorizes those in violent professions (military and police). I live on land taken from others, I enjoy the privilege of labor taken from others in prior and current generations, and my tax dollars support killing and torture. My DNA - like everyone's - comes from history's victors as well as its victims.

All this is a roundabout way …

Prayer for a holy city

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Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp "Righteous Peace, Godly Glory."
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp look toward the east,
And see your children gathered from west and east
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp at the word of the Holy One,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp rejoicing that God has remembered them.
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp Baruch 5:1–9

O God, restore the fortunes of your holy city. Realize the dream of exiles, returned to live together in peace. Replace the affliction of violence and fear with the Glory of promises…

Thanksgiving

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(16)Rejoice always,(17)pray without ceasing,(18) give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


These seem impossible. I won't speak to our ability to literally carry out the Apostle's advice in verses 16 and 17. But today we might consider verse 18. Note that Paul does not say "give thanks for everything" - thank God! It would be spiritually destructive to bless evil or rejoice in injury.

But he does suggest that in any circumstance - illness, prison cell, poverty, persecution, grief - we can be attentive to those things which are also true, also real, and worthy of praise. Even in the midst of grave distress, a thankful heart is God's will for us. It is at least a partial remedy for our suffering. And it points us to the hope of redemption, seen in the grace which is continually at work in our lives.

This day, which in the U.S. is nominally a national day of thanksgiving, may we remember all for w…

Woe to you, destroyer - prayer for peace

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Woe to you, destroyer,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp you who have not been destroyed!
Woe to you, betrayer,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp you who have not been betrayed!
When you stop destroying,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp you will be destroyed;
when you stop betraying,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp you will be betrayed.
Lord, be gracious to us;
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp our salvation in time of distress.
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp Isaiah 33:1-2 (NIV)

The prophet cries out, warning at the disaster which is to come. War respects no one.

Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets;
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways are deserted,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp no travelers are on the roads.
The treaty is broken,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp its witnesses are despised,
&nbsp &nbsp &nbsp no one is respected.
The land dries up and wastes away...

Hurricane Sandy - Jersey City

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cityofjerseycity.com contains current info. This is an aggregate of best information as of Monday 3pm.

PUBLIC SAFETY

You should be inside unless you are evacuating to safety or an emergency responder.

As winds pick up we will get downed power lines. Please call them in to the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM), 201-319-3871. PSE&G is staffing that office 24 x 7 and they will get it into the system. For trees on county roads or parks, report to Hudson County OEM.

Due to high winds, heavy rain and low visibility, residents are prohibited from operating motor vehicles on all Jersey City streets and highways beginning at 2:00pm on Monday 10/29 and continuing until further notice. All public transit is suspended including PATH, light rail, and buses.
Curfew from 6pm Monday 10/29, through 1pm, Tue 10/30 in the following areas:
1) Washington Blvd. east to Hudson River
2) Areas of State Highway 440 West to Hackensack River & Bayonne City Line
3) All pedestrian traffic pro…

Prayer awaiting a storm

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God of heaven and earth, the eyes of all wait upon thee. We seek to be far from the tempest and storm. Yet turbulence and danger swirl around us. Our preparations can only carry us so far. Surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach the faithful, O Lord, our rock and refuge. See us to a place of shelter. Strengthen and sustain us, that even in the midst of the storm, we may stand secure in faith, surrounded by your love, in Jesus Christ. Amen.


Hurricane Sandy generates waves on the coast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, 10/25/12, Orlando Barria/EPA.
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Prayer for eager disciples

God, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. And you are gracious enough to ask us what we want. Grant that our desire may be for your kingdom, where your glory is seen in the service of others. May we drink without fear from your cup, overflowing with love and mercy, and sustain us through every trial, in the mighty name of Jesus our redeemer. Amen.

Prayer based on Mark 10:35-45.

Prayer for new possibilities

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God beyond our imagination, the way to eternal life is not smooth or easy. In fact, so many things seem beyond us: conquering addictions, living with grief, opening our hearts and hands in generosity. We attempt less than we ought, or even give up hope, when the burden we carry is camel-sized, and the way through seems impossibly small. Yet you invite us to walk with you, that we may see for ourselves your healing power and the miraculous possibilities in your kingdom. Give us hope, and strengthen us in faith, in the name of Jesus, our companion. Amen.

Prayer evoking Mark 10:17-31.

Tunnel to Towers 2012

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One of the many heroes of 9/11, Stephen Siller was a NYC firefighter. He had finished the late shift at his Brooklyn firehouse and was on his way to play golf when he heard about the WTC attack. Returning to his firehouse and finding his company already dispatched, he grabbed his gear. When stopped at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, he donned his gear and ran through the tunnel to join his colleagues, and was killed in the collapse of the South Tower.

His family honors his memory through programs for first responders, military personnel, and children who have lost one or both parents, a special interest of Steven’s whose parents died early in his life. In the annual Tunnel to Towers run, people retrace his steps and remember the sacrifice Steven and so many others made. Many firefighters and military make the journey wearing full gear, like these firefighters from Jericho, Long Island. The Lieutenant is securing the emergency locator on one of his companions.

This year, I made that journe…

11 years after

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On this 11th anniversary, let us remember in prayer all those who died, those who were injured, those who mourn, those who stepped forward to extend a helping hand, those who suffer 9/11-related illness. May God bring healing to all touched by these attacks, and to each of us. On this day, let us care for one another, help us take care of ourselves, and seek to live in peace. Amen.&nbsp facebook.com/groups/911prayer

Forget for a moment the issues with the Memorial, with the Port Authority and the Mayor and the Zadroga bill and Homeland Security. Remember the people of 9/11, the victims, the survivors, the responders.

Behind every name there is a face, and many, many stories. Here are a few. (This page will be updated throughout the day of September 11, 2012.) I invite you to consider your own remembrance at Remember Me: The Virtual Facebook September 11, 2001 Memorial.

Remembering JOSEPH LOVERO, of Jersey City, NJ. Joe was chasing firetrucks before he could add. Growing up, he lived …

Temple Talk

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13th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10–11] 22–30, 41–43
Sermon preached at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church,
Jersey City, NJ, August 26, 2012.

Have you ever been to a holy place? Not necessarily the places called “holy,” but a place where you could sense the spiritual power, the uniqueness, the extra-ordinary nature of the place?

Throughout time, people have found it crucially important to know these points in the natural landscape, and later in the architected human landscape, where the powers of the universe are most powerfully present. Maybe you want to access them – maybe you want to stay away from 'em! But as people, we have wanted to understand where they are.

I don't know if this is more of a statement about God or about people, but there are places which are special, where God seems more obviously and powerfully to dwell. The book of Genesis tells how people found these places in the landscape, mountains and springs and river fords. In the journey out of slavery,…

Divine love

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The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle...

Song of Songs 2:8-9a
O God, you love us in every way. Like a human lover, you court us, you desire our love, and you seek our "Yes" in a partnership that is loving, lifelong, and faithful, that will fulfill us and bless the world. Grant that we may recognize your approach, that we also may seek your face and return your love, and that we may be transformed in your grace. Amen.


Image: Cylinder seal from ancient Israel, probably inspired by the Song of Songs.
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Prayer for holy places

How dear to me is your dwelling,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp for the courts of the Lord...
&nbsp Psalm 84:1-2a

Great God, you have established among us sacred places: in the natural world, in tabernacle and temple, in the meeting places of your people. So too you came to dwell among us, and have hallowed the temple of our human bodies. Help us to care for your good creation, in stewardship of earth, sea, and sky, and in the care for human well-being: body, mind, and spirit. Rest your healing hand upon the wounded and suffering places of this world, and upon our bodies: individual and social. Renew in us a right spirit, and restore us to health, through thy great mercy. Amen.


Image:
Lost World – Temple of Nature. Matte painting by Romanian artist Tiberius Viris.
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Prayer for another shooting

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We know that every day violence afflicts our land, and that only some incidents make "the news," or find their ways to our attention. On Thursday, four police officers were shot and two killed in Louisiana (see "Four deputies shot in two St. John the Baptist Parish incidents"). A friend who serves a church in the area is connected to one of the surviving officers' family and asked for prayer.

There are many ways to work for a more peaceful and just world. But I know of no better start than by asking God to be involved in our efforts. Let us pray...

Look with mercy upon our fallen world, O God. We know not what to do with the violence which afflicts us, nor with the weapons of destruction which we cling to in misplaced faith.

Minister to all victims of violence, especially Michael Boyington and Jason Triche, that wounds of body and spirit be fully healed. Receive into your blessed kingdom all who die while serving their communities, especially Brandon Nielsen an…

It's not about the statue

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It's not about the statue. It's about how Joe Paterno as a person, how Penn State and the NCAA as institutions, and how we as a society deal with power and its abuse.

Look... it's a crappy statue. Joe Paterno was more than this cartoon expressed in bronze. At his best, he stood for excellence on the football field and for the role sports and academics can play in shaping character.

But we know that Joe Paterno was less than his best. Choosing his program, his salary, and a coverup at the expense of children raped by his buddy is a character flaw which pretty well overwhelms anything else he did in his job.

Behind his statue was the legend "Educator, Coach, Humanitarian." Humanitarian is off the table. It was certainly within his power to protect the vulnerable kids who suffered sexual abuse by his colleague Jerry Sandusky. As an educator, at this point Mr. Paterno serves principally as a lesson for how moral failures have a way of catching up with you. As a coach..…

Blessed in Christ - Ephesians 1

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ...Ephesians 1:1-3

Probably the most prevalent image of God in scripture is of God as Father, a parent who conceives and provides for, who watches and worries over his children. In the New Testament, this fatherhood is creatively reimagined as an adoptive relationship. New members are continually being added to the family, not by birth but by rebirth through faith and in the waters of baptism.

In our church, we saw this happen last week with a young woman named Iris, and will see it a few weeks hence with newborn Diego. All because God’s parental vision for us is founded in love. You have seen the way new parents look at their children, beloved and perfect. How much more is this …

9/11 prayer group

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I am posting this announcement about a prayer group for people with ongoing concerns related to 9/11. Some friends and I were talking recently... and now it exists. It's an interesting return for me. I founded an online prayer group (WTC-Prayer@yahoogroups.com) immediately after 9/11, which ran its course and ended in 2002. A decade later, people still live with 9/11 and continue to feel the need for prayer.

ANNOUNCEMENT: New 9/11 Prayer group
Please share and repost

facebook.com/groups/911prayer
911prayer.org

Like so many others, we have been affected by 9/11, our experiences of that day and its aftermath, and the many wonderful people we have met. People move on, and people still struggle with the effects of 9/11.

As our community moves through life, we can remember each other in prayer. Prayer connects us to a higher power, and prayer also connects us to one another.

This 9/11 Prayer group is for people involved in the events of 9/11 to share prayer and requests for prayer. The group …

Prayer for the day

When we are low, O God, send your spirit to set us on our feet,
open our lips and our hearts, and make us able to do your work.

We thank you for the grace you give us each day:
&nbsp&nbsp for breeze and cool water in the heat,
&nbsp&nbsp for companions to care for and to care for us,
&nbsp&nbsp for teachers and preachers and prophets to make your word known.

Grant that we may be faithful stewards of your gifts, and
profligate scatterers of your grace, through Jesus Christ
our savior and Lord. Amen.


Photo: Sugar Hollow Reservoir, 1949. Part of the Dunn-Bing collection.
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Prayer for social justice

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Lord over all, protector of widows and orphans, guardian of the weak, vindicator of the wronged and oppressed: nurture in your people a hunger for justice, raise up defenders and doers of righteous deeds, and make a way to peace. Watch over all who sit in judgment, especially in our courts, that they may rule with equity. And may your name be forever blessed for your saving grace, in Jesus Christ our redeemer. Amen.


Artwork:
K├Ąthe Kollwitz, Widows and Orphans, (1919)

Prayer for the Second Sunday of Pentecost

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Afraid to stand naked before you, we cover up with fig leaves of pretence and deceit. Yet you, O God, stand ready to clothe us with righteousness, with wedding garments knit from truth, lovingkindness, faithfulness. Grant that we may be unashamed to be clothed by Christ, freed, justified, renewed, and ready for that great feast of justice which is your will for the children of Adam and Eve, in Jesus' name. Amen.

Walter Wink

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I just received news that Walter Wink, one of our greatest theologians and scholars, died peacefully last Thursday at his beloved home in the Berkshire Mountains. My thoughts and prayers go out to June, his wife and partner.

Walter Wink had an immense influence on me personally, and on those who study and/or follow Jesus in this age. We justly laud him as a scholar. His declaration of the bankruptcy of historical criticism was timely and correct - especially in his formulation which did not reject the method, but the way it had become disconnected from the living life of faith. He helped pioneer the formal use of psychological criticism as a legitimate way of reading Biblical texts. And his work on the Powers not only helped make Biblical language and worldviews more available to the modern reader, but sounded a clarion call for the Bible's role in confronting and redeeming the systemic powers which dominate and oppress.

If his books were all he gave us, it would be a rich feast. …

Going wild

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I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.... My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.John 15:1-2,8

Much of the comment and preaching on this passage focuses on its role as one of the great "I am" passages that John relates. "I am the vine," says Jesus, "and you are the branches." And we rightly think about Jesus as the connective tissue between his disciples, and as the source of nourishment, bringing life-giving water and nutrients to the branches.

Vines are amazing plants. They are prolific, productive. They do not stay put, but grow in every direction if given the opportunity, and something to support them (the ground, a tree, a fence or building). Some of our favorite food plants are vines (tomatoes, grapes, squash, cucumbers, kiwi fruit, melons, beans, and peas).

However vines are a…

Prayer for a baptism

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Spirit of love,
Sign of promise,
Word of life,
Lucas, water, Jesus
Now and forever. Amen.


Poem/prayer for the baptism of Lucas Avery Van Aken,
Sunday, April 22, 2012 at St. John's Lutheran Church,
Jersey City, NJ.
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What love - prayer for Easter 3B

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See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called 
children of God; and that is what we are.1 John 3:1
Loving God, with tender mercy you nurture us, with care you correct us, with compassion you give yourself to the world that we might see and touch and know your goodness. Thank you for this family into which you have called us, this strange assembly called church, and this holy family of life in your Spirit. Lead us in righteousness, encourage us in truth, and develop in us a forgiving spirit, filled with the love that is your gift, in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Into your hands I commend my spirit

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“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

Sermon for Good Friday

[Preached in a service as a reflection upon the final of seven last words of Christ from the cross.]


In putting these seven words together, the church gives us a text different from that of the gospel writers.

It’s always a question about how we tell the story. Do we put the four gospel accounts together and try to harmonize them? Do we focus on the story as each evangelist told it? Do we let the particular gospel voices speak to one another in our hearts and minds?

It matters. In today’s readings, we could easily think that “into your hands I commend my spirit” is simply the coda to “It is finished.” Now that he is at his end, he tells us where he is going.

But Luke, who gave us these words, does not report that it’s over. In Luke’s version, Jesus first prays to his Father for forgiveness of those who are killing him. He announces forgiveness to the thief (or rebel) next to him. And then, just before he dies,…

Looking to Lent

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It will soon be Lent. And again the Church will try to understand what it means to turn towards the cross. And people, touched by Christ, will try to walk the Jesus Way.

You might not get this immediately, given the way Lent focuses on our legacy of sin, and in accurately knowing where we are now.

But the season of Lent is inherently forward-looking.

“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”
Anne Lamott

In Lent we look back not out of nostalgia, nor out of obsessive fixation. And we focus on where we really are not out of excess narcissism, nor to wallow in shame. We simply need to get our bearings. And we look ahead to the cross, because of the way it reveals not just the old ills, but the new life God is always bringing forth.

Picture: Release, by Random Cathy .
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Does Mitt Romney have another tax problem?

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Overlooked in the news over the large size of Governor Romney's income and small size of his tax bill is the issue of his faith, expressed in donations to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church).

Mr. Romney has served as a Mormon bishop (head of a local congregation) and as a stake president (head of a regional group of congregations, equivalent to a diocese). His faithful church membership has been part of his public resume.

Yet the tax returns reveal an interesting anomaly. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints practices a tithe as a requirement of its members. A Biblical tithe is usually thought of as 10% of income. While there is some debate within the LDS church as to what constitutes a tithe,* official church policy sets the tithe at 10% of gross income. "...[T]he simplest statement we know of is that statement of the Lord himself that the members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually, which …