Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An answer to the question we did not know we were asking...a sermon on Luke 11:1-13

A sermon preached at Luther Seminary Chapel on 7/24/2013.  
A pastor friend of mine has a toy called an “Answer Me Jesus.”  Also informally known as a “Jesus Magic Eight Ball.”  It is a pink, velvet Jesus, about a foot tall, that when turned upside down, will issue an answer to your question, just like the magic eight ball toy of the mid-nineties.  With such answers as, “Yes, my child”, “Wait for a Sign”, and “pray harder”, it is clearly a joke.  Yet, these on-demand answers to questions asked of the velvet Jesus are not too much different from the way that we often find ourselves in prayer.  From the anxious prayers before important job interviews and classroom exams in an attempt to harness the powers of God for our own success, to the desperate pleas to avoid heartbreak, to the painful questions asked at the time of sickness or death.  “Why is the cancer back?”  “Why did you take my loved one so soon?”  “Why me?”  We want answers to our prayers and we want them now.
In today’s Gospel text we hear Jesus instructing the disciples on how to pray.  Jesus returns from his own time in prayer and one of the disciples asks, “How are we to pray?”  Jesus instructs them in the familiar words that we know as the Lord’s Prayer, encouraging them to ask for what they need, to beg for forgiveness from their sins, and ask for help in times of trouble.   To encourage perseverance in prayer, Jesus uses a parable of a man knocking on the door of a neighbor asking for bread in the middle of the night.  Finally, Jesus continues with the most difficult part of this passage, So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”   
Except for when we don’t receive what we ask for.  When we don’t find what we are looking for despite relentless searching.  When the door is slammed closed AND bolted shut.  Decidedly not opened.  These perceived unanswered prayers are really painful.  We have all been on the brink of this despair.  We have all watched loved ones suffering the ravages of illness and age. We hear about tornadoes and wildfires and earthquakes that ravage creation.  We pray that God would make the violence stop on our city streets when we hear about another shooting. 
There are no simple answers, although simple answers are often given.  And we’ve all heard these nice answers given before, “God answers prayers according to God’s will”, “God will give me what I need even if is not what I am actually asking for”,  and “The more we get to know God, the more our desires will be in line with God’s” and so on.   There is something very powerful in naming the grief of feeling like our prayers are not heard, that the world can be a very cruel and unjust place, and that we wish more than anything that God would respond to our prayers in a way that is equal to the effort that we put into them.   A friend of mine remarked this week, “If Jesus knew the world was a seriously messed up place where good prayers might seem to go unheard, where desperately-needed justice was slow in coming, and where he was about to be crucified, why did he still say this so confidently to so many people? What do we pray for that is good? And when will God give it?” 
The answer…well…there isn’t one that is singularly satisfying.  Nor should there be. 
Prayer is when we bring our whole selves to God.  The broken, messy, desperate parts as well as the parts that we want to show the rest of the world.  We hear in the Gospel text today that we are to pray with persistence and God will listen.  God wants to hear our prayers, and there is much freedom in the asking and we are to turn to God again and again in prayer. Except sometimes, we think if persistence is good, then talking nicely and asking for the right things is better and going to make God even MORE likely to listen to our prayers. 
The problem with approaching prayer in this way is that it makes the answering of our prayers a value judgment on our worthiness.  If our prayers are not answered in the way that we wish for them to be, it must be because we are not good enough or should have prayed longer or harder or better. We put ourselves in charge. 
This passage is far too often preached as a command to pray more fervently, and as you pray more often, you will know what God wants from you and soon, your prayers will be more in line with what God will have them be. Except we are not Jesus, our prayers will never be like Jesus, and at the end of the day, we are all selfish enough to ask only for what we want, no matter the consequences for anyone else. 
We sometimes view our prayers as a vending machine.  Like the cash that I put into a soda machine to get an ice cold Coke, I should be able to put in my effort in prayer to God, and get what I want in return.  The problem is that we are applying the logic of the world to our prayers, and it just doesn’t work that way.  God simply doesn’t play by human standards of what appears to be fair and just.  We like to think that if we work hard enough or do enough good things or pray in just the right way, our prayers will be answered in the way that we want because we DESERVE it. 
Or, perhaps we do not ask for what we need because we are afraid of unmet expectations.  If we pray as we are commanded and yet we still do not hear an answer, are we going to lose our faith in a God who is listening to us?  Or what if we do not like the answer to our question?  When we approach prayer in this way we are making prayer a one-way transaction with some far-off God and we put ourselves squarely in charge of orchestrating the outcome. 
In the last part of today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus asking the disciples how they respond to the requests of their children.  He asks, “if you, who are evil” (or another definition of the word evil used here could be “broken or weighed down by the weariness of human affairs”) “ if you know how to provide good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?!”
This comment about the Holy Spirit, I think this is the turning point of this Gospel text.  Jesus does not say that God will answer every prayer in the way that we think it should be answered because we asked nicely.  Or because we deserve it.  Or refuse to listen because we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.  No, Jesus makes the bold statement of, “God is going to give the Holy Spirit!”  But what does this mean?  It’s certainly not a nice little thing that you can box up and bring home with you and put it on a shelf.  The Holy Spirit is wild and unpredictable and is more likely to break you wide open and transform your heart than she is to give you comforting answers and easy solutions.  This indwelling of God’s presence by the Spirit provides for a new reality, a new creation, a new healing that we could have never imagined. 
When we read today’s text in the larger context of Luke’s Gospel, we hear about a God that so deeply and passionately loves the world, the entire world, no exceptions, that he sent his only Son to be salvation and good news for ALL the people.  This Holy Spirit will stir up new life in the midst of death, creation in the midst of destruction, and hope in the midst of despair.   So bring your prayers and your whole self to God.  Bring your tears.  Bring your disappointment.  Bring your anger.  Bring your joy.  When you cannot think of words to pray on your own, be swept along in the prayers of others.  When we come to God in prayer we are making a radical confession, whether we know it or not, that we are utterly dependent on God for the things that bring us life, daily bread, forgiveness, hope and the kingdom. 
 When we pray the words that Jesus taught us, and say, “your kingdom come” this is the new reality to which we are testifying.  It’s scary.  Because it means that we cannot control it.  We cannot do anything to earn it.  And we cannot stop it.   God wants to hear our prayers.  God wants to provide for our needs.  But above all, know this, God wants to transform us through the Holy Spirit.  God is relentlessly for us and for our salvation.  This is the answer to the question that we did not know that we were asking.  Amen. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Liturgy Series Part VIII: The Offering

Denver,  2012.  A. Hanson. 
My congregation here in St Paul, Humble Walk Lutheran Church, has a really healthy attitude towards the offering.  In our worship bulletin it simply states, "We were created with a need to give."  There are no apologies about asking for money.  We are simply provided with the opportunity to give.  And we do.

The offering is one of the most awkward parts of the liturgy for many people.  As a culture, we are afraid to talk about money.  To ask for money.  Especially in church.  Because if we do, we are afraid that we are going to alienate someone.  So much of our attitude around stewardship (financial giving that provides for ministry) in the church is fear based.  Fear that we will not have enough.  Fear that if we ask we are going to offend someone.  Fear that if we ask and don't receive we are going to look foolish.  Fear, fear, fear.

In my previous career, in non-profit organizations, we talked a lot about giving.  There are a few basic premises surrounding healthy giving attitudes.  First, people give because they are asked.  They very rarely intuit what you want from them.  Next, people want to give  out of abundance towards something that is abundant.  People do not give out of desperation or to a "sinking ship."  They want to know that their contributions are going to towards something that makes an impact.  They aren't necessarily giving to keep the organization from going under.  Third, giving is not all about money.  Time is just as valuable if not more valuable than money.  Finally, people give to causes and people they care about.  Very few people will give to a church or organization just because of some intrinsic, altruistic responsibility to do so.  They will give because they are about what your church or organization is doing. So tell them about it.

Giving out of a sense of abundance is what inspired the photo above.  An overflowing sense of gratitude for the blessings that one has received.  Many people in the church tithe for their offerings.  Tithing is a biblical concept in which you give 10% of your income to the church.  My pastor in Denver describes tithing as, "I give 10% of what wasn't mine to start with back.  It's a great deal, because I get to keep 90%!"  Getting into a giving routine is a bit scary.  What if I don't have enough?  What if I can't buy that thing that I want when I want it?  I am on a fixed income? Or worse yet, I am on an UNFIXED income and have no idea what I can afford.  I think starting somewhere with giving, any kind of giving at all, is the place to start.  Because when you start giving away money, it feels good.  You get to support people and organizations and ministries and causes that you care about. And when you start giving, you are swept up in it like a stream of water and you are buoyed along.

What if we stopped being apologetic about asking for money and started thinking about it as a way of providing an opportunity for people to do what is important to them?  What if we stopped operating out of fear and operated out of abundance instead?  What if we stopped worrying about what we CANNOT give and focused instead on what we CAN?  And we all said thank you and celebrated how good it feels to give.

Part IX: The Eucharist (otherwise known as communion)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Liturgy Series Part VII: Sharing of the Peace

I really wish I remembered where I found this bumper sticker.
No clue.    A. Hanson 2013
The sharing of the peace is one of my favorite parts of the liturgy.  It occurs after the prayers of the people and before the meal.  The sharing of the peace is often seen as merely a time of greeting.  But it is so much more.

The sharing of the peace is a communal absolution.  In the words of the preacher, we are all making a confession of our human sinfulness.  And in the sharing of the peace, we acknowledge the freedom from that bondage.  We absolve one another when we say, "the peace of Christ be with you...and also with you!"

I have often wondered what our world would be like if we shared peace with one another on a more regular basis.  A sort of greeting that states, "I see the humanity in you and you see the humanity in me.  And we are bound together by our common identity in Christ."  We frequently hurt, disappoint, and otherwise harm others.  We in turn are hurt, disappointed and harmed by the human failings of other people.  What we are saying when we greet one another with the peace of Christ is "I forgive you in the name of Christ."

Our theology states that the forgiveness is not done by us.  Rather, it  is done through us by God in Christ and the Holy Spirit.  So, sin boldly.  But also forgive boldly.

Up next...

Part VIII: The Offering

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Liturgy Series Part VI: Prayers of the People

Prayer Candles
St Thomas Episcopal, Denver.   A. Hanson, 2012.
The prayers of the people are also a part of the Word section of the liturgy.  These prayers are addressed to God the creator, the first person of the Trinity.  The prayers of the people are of ALL the people, so we voice them in first person plural, using "we" language.  They are a collective prayer, offered aloud by one speaker. Different congregations have different ways of voicing these prayers. My home congregation in Denver provides the opportunity to write prayer petitions at a prayer station, which are then read aloud.  At my church here in St Paul, prayers are spoken aloud during an appointed time in the service.

Each congregation also has a distinct tone in their prayers of the people as well.  One of the things that I often notice when worshipping in more evangelical (less liturgical) churches is that there is a certain prayer vernacular.  Those in prayer will say something along the lines of "Jesus, I just want to thank you.  Jesus, I just want to ask that you..."

This is a pet peeve of mine.  This sort of prayer feels apologetic.  It makes one kiss the feet of God and does not boldly ask for anything.  Jesus gave us the Lord's prayer and instructs us how to pray in Luke 11:1-13.  We are told to "ask and it shall be given to you...for anyone who asks receives."  Jesus boldly asserts, "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  We are commanded to pray for what we need and to ask boldly for it.

The prayers of the people include several general categories:

-For the church universal, its ministers and the mission of the Gospel
-For the care of creation
-For peace and justice in the world, the nations and those in authority
-For the poor, oppressed, marginalized, sick, bereaved, and lonely
-For all who suffer in mind, body, or spirit
-For the congregation and local and specific concerns
-For the faithful departed

I am in the process of writing the prayers of the people for the chapel service where I will preach next week. I am going to keep an eye on the liturgical propers for the day (certain prayers and prefaces), the news for current events, and any specific prayer requests for the seminary community.

up next...

Part VII: the sharing of the peace

"Who is My Neighbor?"

"The Good Samaritan" by He Qi.  (Posted by Patheos 7/2/13)
This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach extemporaneously at my congregation here in St. Paul, Humble Walk Lutheran Church.  In the month of July we are gathering in the park and our liturgy is more informal and  we join in a potluck together.

The lectionary text (for more about what a lectionary is click here) for this past Sunday was the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Luke 10:25-37

This is the most frequently retold parable and is deeply culturally ingrained.  We talk about being a "good samaritan" and we have "Good Samaritan Laws."

We usually hear it preached or re-told in a certain way.  Usually it is something along the lines of, "When you see someone hurt by the side of the road, you should find it in your heart to help them.  Be like the Good Samaritan, do not be like the Priest or the Levite."  And we like to imagine ourselves right into this specific parable as the Good Samaritan.

But the fact of the matter is that we are not the Good Samaritan.  A Samaritan at the time was part of a very reviled and marginalized group.  They would have been instantly recognizable for their style of dress.  Any self-respecting person would not have accepted help from them. But we have essentially mythologized this character of the "good samaritan" and seem to have forgotten that this was a very real person from a very real social class.  At my text study last Wednesday we tried to come up with modern day comparisons for the Good Samaritan.  We talked about witnessed someone in Islamic dress or the Hijab.  We talked about encountering someone on the street who appeared to be homeless and mentally ill.  We talked about encountering someone who is of a different race.

Then the George Zimmerman verdict happened on Saturday night.  For those of you who do not know, George Zimmerman  is a man who was recently put to trial for shooting and killing an unarmed African American teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida in February 2012.  George Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury on Saturday amid much public outcry.  Some people are proclaiming triumphantly that justice was done because George Zimmerman used his own gun to shoot someone he found threatening.  More people are crying out in lament that this misguided neighborhood volunteer shot and killed a teenager who was walking home from the convenience store carrying only Skittles.  No gun.  We will never really know what happened because George Zimmerman did not testify and Trayvon Martin is dead.

In liturgy on Sunday night, one of the questions that I asked small groups to reflect on was "Who would you cross the street to avoid?"

Some of the answers I received (these are multi-generational small groups): 

a bully, someone who looks different from me, someone who is asking me for money, someone who smells bad, someone with a weapon, etc.  

All this felt terribly poignant in the face of this latest news on race relations in the United States.  I am part of a privileged group.  I will never understand what it is like to be a racial minority.  And as I read the Gospel, as it talked about the priest and levite passing by the wounded and beaten man on the side of the road, I wondered how often we are actually those people, passing by our neighbors in need.  And all I could think about was a mortally wounded black teenager in Florida.

Who is my neighbor?  Why?  Is it only someone who looks like me?

And how are we the wounded man and in need of help?  Would we be willing to accept help from someone who is so different from us?  We generally only break down our strict cultural delineations when it's life or death.  Natural disasters, communal grieving, etc.  I am not an expert on racial matters.  But all I know is that George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin are both my neighbors.  It's easy to want to care for the wounded.  I find it a little more difficult to want to care about George Zimmerman.  But no one won with this verdict.  We all lost.  My pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, laments the place where we find ourselves with violence and guns in A Lamentation of Sorts for Sunday July 14 (A Day after the George Zimmerman verdict).

Who is my neighbor?  I have no clue.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Liturgy series part V: Sermon

Preaching on Epiphany at HFASS,
January 2013.  With the Abelkis clan.
Apologies that I am a day late with this post.  I have been working on producing a sermon for tonight at my congregation, Humble Walk Lutheran Church.

Preaching is one of the most misrepresented parts of the liturgy.  I think we often view it merely as a preacher standing behind a massive stone pulpit and issuing pedantic edicts to us in some sort of holier-than-thou persona.  If that is all that preaching is all about, why wouldn't we have a huge distaste for it?!

Preachers are portrayed in popular culture as buttoned up men who preach fire and brimstone judgment of others.  This rests on at least two problematic assumptions.  First, there are many different types of people who are called to be ministers of Word and Sacrament (in other words, pastors).  My denomination ordains women, LGBTQ persons, and so on.  Next, that it is the preacher's role to be above judgment and to tell others what God thinks of them.  This could also not be further from the truth.

My own understanding of what it means to be a preacher has been profoundly shaped by Gordon Lathrop's book, The Pastor: a Spirituality.  In this book, Lathrop discusses the pastor as being a broken symbol that points ever more closely to God as seen in Christ on the Cross.  The pastor is just as broken as all others.  Another formative piece for me is the Lutheran understanding of the priesthood of all believers.  This underscores that as a result of our baptism, we are all charged with preaching and carrying out the Gospel.  Some of us are set aside to preach and preside, but never set above.

The sermon is the point in the liturgy where the scriptures interact with the world.  Today as I prepare to preach on the Good Samaritan text, I am finding myself being ripped apart by the news of the Zimmerman verdict.  "Who is our neighbor?"  Stay tuned, there will be a blog post about this.

There are all sorts of methods for producing a sermon. Probably as many different methods as there are preachers.  I thought I would share my method.

1. Determine what text I will be preaching on (sometimes determined by the lectionary, sometimes selected based on a theme, sometimes picked for me by the pulpit supply congregation, etc.)

2. Read that text in a couple different translations and in my Greek-English interlinear Bible.

3. Begin mulling over the text.  I ask questions of it.  Pray about it.  Talk about it with a ton of people. Sometimes I crowd source my sermon questions on social media.

4. Go to text study.  A text study is a group of pastors, church leaders or other interested folks who study the texts with the intent of preaching them.  We talk about the implications of the text for our contexts and I draw on the wisdom of others.

5. Sometimes I consult commentaries and other resources.  Sometimes I don't.  One of my favorites is The Hardest Question, which reflects on the most difficult parts of the text.  I sometimes consult Working Preacher and usually look over The Text This Week.  I sometimes will do a google image search for images to pique my thought process.  I participate in the blogging discussion at RevGalBlogPals to engage with others about the sermonating process.

6. I usually begin my sermon with my own description of the text.  I refer to this as "opening up the text."  As I do this, I find that there are different things that stick out to me and I see things in a new way.

7. I sit quietly and wait for words to come.  Sometimes they do and I start writing.  Sometimes they don't, so instead I go for a walk or do some chores around the house to make space to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying.

8. I generally end up writing two or three drafts of a sermon.  It always feel inadequate. But I choose to trust that the Holy Spirit will make something out of my words.

9. I pray a silent prayer that God would have my words be what they would be.  Then I preach.

10. I set aside all of my feelings about the way I preached the sermon and let it be.

Here are a few things that I hold true about preaching:

a. Preaching is a dynamic art.  A sermon is something that occurs for a specific community at a specific time.  Those same circumstances will never be replicated again.  This is why I do not believe in recycling sermons in their entirety.

b. Preaching is not a one-way communication, from preacher to congregation. Rather it is a continuation of a conversation that has occurred all week about the text.  The preacher is speaking to a specific community, and they should see themselves in the sermon.  The essence of the Gospel is "for you."

c. Sermons tie together the text with the times.  You cannot ignore what is going on in yourself, your community, and the world.  Keep one eye on the scriptures and one eye on the newspapers, as the old quote goes.  Or more accurately in my case, one eye on the twitter feed.

d. There are many ways to preach. It is not just someone standing behind a pulpit.  You can engage in conversational small groups, you can act out the scriptures, you can do a literal crowd sourcing sermon during the service.  The possibilities are endless.

Jesus watching over my Greek translations

Up next:
Part VI: Prayers of the People

Friday, July 12, 2013

Liturgy Series Part IV: Reading the Scriptures

A. Hanson, Luther Seminary.  2013
The next portion of the liturgy is the Word portion. In this portion of the liturgy, we hear the scriptures and hear the word preached in a sermon.  We then proclaim that word with the hymn of the day, confess our faith with one of the creeds, offer prayers of intercession, and finally share the peace with one another.

We read from the Bible each week as part of our liturgy.

There are many different translations of the Bible into English from its original language of Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).  My favorite translation is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and is also the most widely accepted for academic study.  

The Old Testament (more correctly called the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible) includes three parts: 

The Torah: First five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)

The Nevi'im: Prophetic books. There are major and minor prophets

The Ketuvim: The writings (miscellaneous collection of books including Psalms, Song of Songs, etc).  

The New Testament includes four Gospels.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke are considered to be the Synoptic Gospels because they have many similar stories and tell the story of Jesus.  John's Gospel also tells the story of Jesus, but does so in a way that has a higher Christology (which means that Jesus is said to be the Son of God, God incarnate, etc).  The Book of Acts is the second part of Luke's Gospel and was written by the same author or group.  The remaining books in the New Testament are letters written by Paul and other early Christian leaders to specific Christian communities.  

The Bible is best viewed as a library of individual books instead of one cohesive whole.  This library is called a canon and represents the books that are generally agreed upon to be authentic.  There are also non-canonical books, called the Apocrypha, that are used in some traditions, but have some more disputed origins.  

The readings from scripture each week include a First Reading (usually from the Old Testament), a Psalm that is chanted or sung, a Second Reading (also called an Epistle and from the New Testament) and a Gospel reading from one of the four Gospels.  

There are several ways to select readings for a given Sunday.  The ELCA usually uses what is known as the Revised Common Lectionary.  This is a three-year plan for reading scripture and focuses on a different synoptic Gospel each year.  Year A is Matthew, Year B is Mark, and Year C is Luke (which is what we are in presently).  Readings from the Gospel of John are used in the seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter.   The lectionary attempts to tell the story of our Christian faith in a way that corresponds with the church year. 

There is a downside to using this lectionary because the readings appear to be fragmented and there are huge chunks of the Bible that never appear in lectionary texts.  In an attempt to tell a more cohesive story, two professors from Luther Seminary, Rolf Jacobsen and Craig Koester, have developed the narrative lectionary, a relatively recent invention.  This is a four year lectionary cycle that covers the sweep of the Biblical story from Creation through Paul's letters to the early Christian church.  The aim behind the narrative lectionary is to help tell our story as people of God.  

Additionally, congregations can select their own readings to correspond to a sermon series or theme for the congregation.  The preacher will build their sermon off of one or more of the readings.  

Part V: Sermon

Liturgy Series Part III: Prayer of the Day/The Church Year

A. Hanson, St Paul, MN. 2013.
The prayer of the day is when the community is gathered together in prayer.  The prayer of the day concludes the "gathering" portion of the service and leads the assembly into the Word portion of the liturgy.

There is much variety in the way that an opening prayer can be written.  The prayer includes an opening address to God ("Gracious and ever-living God"), the body of the prayer, and a closing address ("In your holy name we pray") followed by "amen."  The prayer can be written by the presiding minister or assisting minister, or a prayer from a worship book can be used that is appropriate to the season in the church year.

Yes, the church has a calendar of its own.  You might have noticed that throughout the year the vestments of the pastor (the stole) and the paraments on the altar (fancy cloths that are draped upon it) will change color.  The ELCA site has a larger description of what the colors signify here.

The church year begins with Advent.  Advent is the the season of preparation that occurs in the four weeks before Christmas.  Despite what consumer culture would have you believe, it is not a ramp up to Christmas. In fact, it is a distinct season with its own hymns and practices and is more solemn than Christmas.  The color for Advent is blue.

The season of Christmas takes place beginning on Christmas Day and running through Epiphany, which is twelve days.  It celebrates the birth of Christ and the incarnation of God (God made flesh).  The color for the season of Christmas is white.

In the time after Epiphany we celebrate the baptism of Christ, as well as the Transfiguration of Christ.  We celebrate light in the darkness of winter and Christ as the light of the world.  The color white is used for festivals in this time, while the color green is used for other sundays.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the season of Lent.  On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge "We are but dust and to dust we shall return" and that we cannot save ourselves from sin or death.  Many Christians receive the imposition of ashes upon their forehead as a sign of outward mark of penitence.  The ashes are made from the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday.  The color for Ash wednesday is black.

The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days.  This time echoes the time Jesus spent in the Wilderness and Moses' time on Mt Sinai.  It is a time of contemplation and preparation for Easter.  Lutherans do not understand Lent to be an entirely penitential season, but rather, a season of confession of sin rooted in the promise of God that comes through Christ on the cross.  The color for the season of Lent is purple.

Lent ends with the start of Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday.  I have written at length about Palm Sunday , Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil in previous posts.  This is the highest holy time in the church year.  The color gold is used for Easter (or white if gold is not available), the only time in the church year one would see these vestments and paraments.  We tell the story of Holy Week and Easter each year using the Gospel of John because it has the highest Christology out of the four Gospels.

The time after Easter is celebrated until Pentecost.  Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter and celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit and the mission of God extending to all of humanity.  We hear the story of Pentecost in the book of Acts 2, and how we are all filled with the Holy Spirit.  The story of Christ is no longer just among the disciples.  The color for Pentecost is red.

The time after Pentecost is known as "ordinary time."  Ordinary time includes some lesser festivals and occurs until Christ the King Sunday, just before Advent begins the following November/Early December.  During Ordinary Time we hear the story of God in Christ and in us.  The color for ordinary  time is green.

Up next...

Part IV: Reading the Scriptures

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Liturgy Series Part II: Kyrie

A. Hanson, Salzburg, Austria. 
Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

The Kyrie is a sung or spoken verse that is a part of the Gathering portion of the Liturgy.  Kyrie Eleison is derived from the Greek words for Lord, Κυριος,  and Mercy, Ελεος.

The Kyrie is derived from a story in Mark 10:46-52, in which Jesus and the disciples come upon a blind man named Bartimaeus sitting by the side of road near Jericho.  Bartimaeus, hearing that Jesus was nearby cries out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  The crowd tells the blind man to be quiet over and over again.  Jesus stopped and says, "bring him here."  Jesus heals him and says, "Go, your faith has made you well."

When we cry out, "Kyrie Eleison" we are acknowledging our utter dependence on Christ for healing.  In the last 20 or 30 years, as liturgy has been re-imagined in an attempt to be relevant, one of the trends has been to create an up-tempo, festive rendition of the Kyrie.  This sort of liturgy has made the unfortunate (and confusing) move of essentially turning the Kyrie into an opening hymn and/or canticle of praise.

One of my pastor friends remarked upon hearing a particularly festive arrangement of the Kyrie, "Are we or are we not begging for mercy from the God of heaven and earth?"

Now, worship is often joyful, but the Kyrie is a prayer for God's mercy to continue to be present in us and in the assembly.  We often say upon hearing particularly painful news, "Kyrie Eleison.  Lord have mercy."  This is what we say when we are so at a loss for words that we know not what else to say in the midst of our grief and pain.  And we come to worship each week weary and hungry and desiring to be filled up with God's mercy and grace.  This is what we ask for with the words "Kyrie Eleison."

So the Kyrie is a prayer sung or spoken as part of the liturgy to bear witness to our dependence upon God for healing and strength and to ask for God's mercy to fill the church and the world.

Up next...

Part III: Prayer of the Day