prepared by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber
As we continue the selfless practice of restricted physical contact, as we adapt and welcome new ways of being communities of faith, our souls need special care. This service is one of a series designed to align us with the Living God during these pandemic-impacted times as social justice reforms arise.
- You may wish to arrange to worship distantly with others at the same time.
- Read through this service beforehand to assemble items needed.
- A “Christ Candle” can be any sort of candle or object which represents Christ’s presence.
- Choose songs to sing (our suggestions or your favorites). Assemble what you’ll need to sing.
- Ensure an uninterrupted place to worship.
- Decorate your space to welcome God’s presence as we do at church.
Time for Children of All Ages
“Out of the Bag: Wish Lists” on YouTube channel: Kathryn Schreiber
Please adapt to make this worship service your own. Your intention is what is important.
Call to Worship
Let us come together – people hungry for human contact.
Let us come together – folks who find our way forward one day at a time.
Let us come together – worshippers eager for a community of hope.
Let us come together – believers held by God’s Big Dream for everyone. Amen.
We call upon the ever-present presence of God:
The Creator of All That Is,
The Redeemer of All Who Have Sinned,
The Animator of All That Lives.
Holy God, be known to us this day as we gather in Your name. Amen.
Light the Christ Candle
Song for Welcoming the Presence of God
We Unburden and Gather Hope
Naming Our New Reality
Whether you are alone or with others, let this be a time of private reflection. How is it with you today? How is your heart, your mind, your body, your soul? What journey did you make this week, travelling with other pilgrims on our life journeys during this time of Covid-19? Review the past week noticing the best moments, the most unexpected moments, the most challenging moments. Through it all God was there and is here now, listening. Let us offer to God anything that asks to be shared – anything. God has heard it all many times before, and yet, God eager awaits hearing directly from each of us.
We shift from speaking to God to sitting with God silently. A helpful way to enter sacred silence is to offer this simple prayer based on Psalm 46:10:
Be still and know that I am God. (pause)
Be still and know that I am. (pause)
Be still and know. (pause)
Be still. (pause)
Try to sit quietly in a state of calm devotion. It can be very hard to still the mind. Our thoughts wander, feelings arise, our bodies wiggle. It can be shocking how quickly our good intentions go astray! Do not fret, dear one. The mind is like an antsy toddler. With compassion, acknowledge what rises but try not to engage any thought or feeling. (Important matters will return later.) Practice choosing to refocus on God. Take a breath and try again. Each time we choose to return to God, gently turning away from our over-active mind, is a gift we give God. Let’s be kind to ourselves. When you’re ready to move on take a moment to thank God saying, “Amen.”
Acts of Unburdening and Affirming
Place pebbles or small items at the base of the Christ Candle thinking or speaking whatever you wish to offer to God for release or gratitude. These offerings need not be named. The soul knows what to give to God and God knows what to receive.
Whenever the ancient ones lamented, they also praised the Living God. The psalms reveal a God who is always faithful, even during times of hardship and suffering.
God endlessly pours out divine mercy, forever giving us what we can never earn. This is grand evidence of God’s divinity, only a deity could do that, flawlessly forgive and uplift no matter what.
We dwell in the pool of God’s grace. There is no admission price, no ticket to punch. All that is required is an awakening to what has already been given. Receive the holy gift of grace today.
May it be so. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Psalm 69: 13-18 (New Revised Standard Version)
But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of Your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress—make haste to answer me.
Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.
May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.
Reflection Upon “God’s Ways of Answering Prayer”
(This content is created for private reflection. If your pastor has prepared a written or recorded message you may use it instead of, or with, this material.)
Jews, Christians, and Muslims are co-inheritors of a rich prayer book – The Psalter – also known as “The Book of Psalms.” These 150 songs (a psalm is a poetic song-prayer) cover the range of human discourse with God. They reveal the depts of suffering and the heights of joy. They carry the stories of individuals and nations.
Most of the psalms of lament, those that address God about painful matters, also contain praise. Today’s psalm, 69, is such a psalm of lament – blending words of adoration and faith in God amid the tale of disappointment and possibly, vengeful abuse.
At the center of this psalm is a powerful lesson about prayer – verse 13b:* “At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of Your steadfast love, answer me.” Read that sentence again: “At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of Your steadfast love, answer me.”
This is a very affirming expression about how God answers our prayers. God answers “at an acceptable time” – God knows when we need what we need. God answers from “the abundance of God’s steadfast love” – God responses from the depths of God’s dependable Big Love. God answers – God never ignores a prayer request. This passage assures that even when we are hurting, even when our people are suffering, God is listening and replying to our prayers, even if it appears that God is silent.
Country singer Garth Brooks co-wrote a ballad entitled “Unanswered Prayers.” It is sung by a fellow newly reunited with his high school sweetheart many years later. As a youth, he’d fervently prayed that God would make her his wife. That didn’t happen. His prayer wasn’t answered, so he’d thought. Upon seeing his former girlfriend many years later, he realizes that God had answered his prayer – by leading him to another woman, the one he married. The chorus ends with these words: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” With that in mind, maybe, this long season of restricted human activity is God’s answer to some of our seemingly unanswered prayers?
When we pray to God, when we ask God for God’s help, we do so with our wishes in mind. We know the outcome we’d like. When we earnestly pray, however, we perform an act of surrender. We invite God into our lives to impact us in ways we mortals can’t imagine.
Right now, all around the world, because of Covid-19 our lives have been seriously changed. We have been forced to reconsider so much – even learning how to wash our hands! We are hearing each other in new ways especially the cries of those wounded by systemic racism. Parents know first-hand the many skills needed by those who professionally teach their children. Our fellow creatures have received a break from heavy human activities. We are testing our personal human connections – some are strong, others aren’t. Amazing reunions and heart-breaking separations have taken place, including deaths without tried and true rituals.
In just four months, globally, more people are cooking at home and spending time with members of their households – human and non-human. Our religious groups are learning who we are without our property and churchy things. Universal challenges to public health care are revealing which governing bodies are truly civic-minded and which aren’t. We daily witness the fragility of warehousing people in nursing homes, detention centers, and prisons and the enduring strength of the human spirit.
During this imposed time-out some of us have turned inward to clean out literal closets as well as meander beyond the closed doors of our hearts. We have learned the names of neighbors and the gift of virtual connection. We have gone for more walks and taken more photos appreciating the ever-changing beauty of nature. We’ve fed our curiosity by learning new things. Powerful songs have been written and performed by artists separated by space and time. Bold ideas have made new friends and created new communities of hope. Flexible businesses, organizations, and families have quickly learned to adapt and re-invent a “new normal.”
Not to diminish the devastation this coronavirus has brought – taking so many lives, wounding others; knocking out jobs and incomes with abandon; upending daily lifestyles and securities – not to mention to the human cost paid during this universal public health crisis — can we not also pause and see something more? Maybe, this pandemic is also a matrix for answered prayers? Look at all that has taken place in a few months. We could have never imagined so much change could happen in so few weeks. It’s downright biblical!
Like the psalmist who penned Psalm 69 we rightly lament what has hurt us in the past and what causes us suffering today, yet we also celebrate a God who hears our prayers and replies from great love in the perfect moment. Don’t we perceive God’s faithfulness rising up among us now in some places? Isn’t God currently answering generations of prayers for some peoples?
We will be forever changed by this time. Maybe God is inviting us to be transformed – to be the answer to God’s prayer for us? Dear ones, sit with this notion that God is using this time to answer many, many prayers. Listen for God’s Big Love as it responds to each prayer in its perfect season. Trust what the best and brightest in your soul and you’ll know what is true. Soli Deo Gloria.**
*When a verse of scripture contains many parts, or even more than one sentence, the different sections can be labeled “a” “b” “c”. In this case, in Psalm 69, verse 13b refers to the middle part of enumerated text.
**Latin for “Glory to God Alone.”
Suggestion: “Gebet” (Prayer) by Hugo Wolf, performed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 2018. Organist: Henry Lee. (used by permission, MP3 sent via email to BCCC folks)
Prayers of Petition
Though distant, when we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, we are connected one to another in the Holy Spirit. We never pray alone. What prayers does your soul ask to be lifted up – joys and concerns? Speak them. If your prayers don’t fit words today, use your body to give your prayers to God through movement or sound, dance, tears, or silence. If your community shares prayer requests please include them as you continue your prayers of petition.
Chant of Response
Suggestion: “O Lord Hear My Prayer” by Jacques Berthier of Taizé, performed by St Thomas Music Group (used without permission)
O Lord hear my prayer, O Lord Hear my prayer. When I call, answer me.
O Lord hear my prayer, O Lord hear my prayer. Come and listen to me.
The Lord’s Prayer (unison)
Imagine a place where you feel close to God, maybe a sanctuary where you’ve worshipped. Welcome the memory of your Beloved Community filling your soul with companionship as we pray together the prayer Jesus taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
We Give Thanks
Who taught you how to pray? Maybe it was a family member who prayed grace at the dinner table or a nighttime prayer at your bedside? Maybe it was the Beloved Community praying together in worship? Maybe it was a bird singing on a branch proclaiming the wonders of God’s Creation? Maybe it was all of these and more? Offer a word of thanksgiving for your prayer teachers who have given you gifts which will last throughout eternity. (see donation footnote)
We Continue in Hope
Song of Hope
Suggestion: “Great is Your Faithfulness” – T O Chisholm, FAITHFULNESS (#86 Chalice) Performed by Selah, video by Epic Goblin Videos (used without permission)
Words of Hope
From On the Road with the Archangel, by Frederick Buechner
“Some prayers I hold out as far from me as my arm will reach, the way a woman holds a dead mouse by the tail when she removes it from the kitchen.
Some, like flowers, are almost too beautiful to touch, and others so aflame that I’d be afraid of their setting me on fire if I weren’t already more like fire than I am like anything else.
There are prayers of such power that you might almost say they carry me rather than the other way around – the way a bird with outstretched wings is carried higher and higher on the back of the wind.
There are prayers so apologetic and shamefaced and halfhearted that they all but melt away in my grasp like sad little flakes of snow.
Some prayers are very boring.”
No matter how we pray, no matter what we pray, our prayers are heard by an Always-Loving God who always replies when the time is right, even if it takes years for us to realize the blessing in God’s response.
Go forth with hope, praying. God is Still Listening. Amen.
(the service is concluded)
Online Chalice Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/CH1995
Online New Century Hymnal: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/NCH1995
HOL: Hymns of Life, bilingual hymnal. ©1986, China Alliance Press.
YouTube Music Videos: search by title AND one of the authors for best results
Worship Resources: All content prepared and written by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber unless attributed to another source. (NRSV) New Revised Standard Version ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (Chalice) The Chalice Hymnal and (New Century) The New Century Hymnal, among other worship publications, have suspended copyright restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Worship Credit: © 2020, Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber, Living Liturgies
Permission: Permission is not granted to share or distribute this resource beyond your community without additional permission from the author.
Donation for Use of Content: Due to the current coronavirus pandemic this content is offered free. However, you may express your gratitude financially by making a donation to an organization that is reinventing itself to better live its mission. If you’d like to support the congregation I serve as pastor – Berkeley Chinese Community Church – we’d be most grateful for your support. Please send checks to: BCCC UCC, 2117 Acton Street, Berkeley, CA 94702, Attn: Diane Huie, Treasurer. Thank you!
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