Content prepared by Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber (c) 2020
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.
Time for Children of All Ages
Out of the Bag “Sun and Moon” https://youtu.be/urPEvPhcnBo on YouTube channel: Kathryn Schreiber
Please adapt to make this worship service your own. Your intention is what is important.
Call to Worship and Invocation
Holy God, gather all beings into one orbit, one harmony of existence; all siblings of life; all children of You.
May we be like Sister Moon circling around luminous Brother Sun reflecting back the Great Light we have received shining toward our neighbors. Amen.
Light the Christ Candle
Song for Welcoming the Presence of God
“Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” Written by Walter Chalmers Smith, ST DENIO (Chalice #66, HOL #35),
We Unburden and Gather Hope
Naming Our New Reality
Whether you are alone or with others, let this be a time of private reflection. Take a few moments to reflect on the past week. How are you – heart, mind, body, and soul? What weighs you down? What lifts you up? Tell God. And if you have no words – offer a smile or your tears, a heartache or the bird-like flicker of hope.
Acts of Unburdening and Affirming
It can be helpful to physically acknowledge the burdens and weights we carry. Place pebbles or small items at the base of the Christ Candle as you offering God released concerns. If you do not have words, do not be concerned. The soul knows what to give to God and God knows what to receive. Whatever you give, however you give it, Christ will receive your prayerful offerings.
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 knowing that thoughts and feelings will occur. This is natural. Return focus by chanting a name for God or Christ – such as “Abba, Abba, Abba.” Or by focusing on your breath resting into the ultimate reality of God’s Lovingkindness. Rest in God’s holy presence. When you’re ready to release this practice, take a deep breath, let it out, thank God, and say, “Amen.”
The sun appears to rise and set. In reality, it is the earth that turns into and away from the sun’s light. The moon appears to rise and set becoming full and then fully diminished. In reality, it is the moon orbiting the earth, orbiting the sun, that impacts what we see on earth. The size and shape of the moon never changes, though the amount of sunlight we see reflected off the surface of the moon does. Our planet, earth, blocks the sun’s light casting portions of the moon into deep shadow.
Across the Milky Way there are 200-400 billion stars, only 35-76 billion like our sun. Imagine that – a cosmos filled with wonders we see but dimly, perceive in part. The same is true of God’s grace. Eternally offered, we only glimpse a portion of God’s endless mercy and unfathomable compassion. Praise be to God. Amen.
Song of Comfort “Psalm 121 (He Watches Over You)” Written and Performed by The Psalms Project (used without permission)
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-5, 14-19 and Psalm 148:1-5 (NRSV)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
(second and third days of creation skipped, verses 6-13)
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise God in the heights!
Praise God, all God’s angels; praise God, all God’s host!
Praise God, sun and moon; praise God, all you shining stars!
Praise God, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for God commanded and they were created.
May God add a blessing to the reading and reflecting upon God’s Holy Word. Amen.
Reflection “St. Francis: Cosmic Siblings”
(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. A related video sermon with different content appears on YouTube channel: Kathryn Schreiber)
This service is the first in a series reflecting upon the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Inspired by the work of such popular theologians as G. K. Chesterton (English, 1874-1936) and Father Richard Rohr (American, 1943-) we will meet Francis through his most profound teachings, rather than the simplistic stories told about him. Warning: the St. Francis you’ve come to know may be challenged.
Francis was radiant with God’s Big Love at a time and in a place rife with much that was just the opposite. He lived his Christian faith so profoundly that he inspired a religious movement and so prophetically that his words still sound fresh, and rightly challenging, to us today.
Joseph F. Girzone, writing the introduction to Chesterton’s Saint Francis of Assisi, in 1957 comments: “When we look upon the lives of the saints we run headlong into the same phenomenon [i.e. discounting a child’s world view]. Their lives appear to be almost fiction, make-believe, and not reality. We call them dreamers. We call them psychotic. We call them a variety of names because we cannot grasp the significance or the relevance of their actions to our world of make-believe. We make statues of St. Francis and recite his prayer of peace. Our frightened world desperately grabs hold of his memory in a frantic attempt to protect our environment from pollution, but we don’t really take him seriously. We have merely adopted him as a pet or mascot, without ever really grasping the real meaning of his life.” (gkc)
Rohr’s Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, 2014, includes these introductory words: “I want to illustrate here what Francis clearly changed and did differently, and what flowed from his unique wholeness. We will see that Francis was at once very traditional and entirely new in the ways of holiness, and he is still such a standing paradox. He stood barefoot on the earth and yet touched the heavens. He was grounded in the Church and yet instinctively moved toward the cosmos. He lived happily inside the visible and yet both suffered and rejoiced in what others thought was invisible. Again and again, he was totally at home in two worlds at the same time, and thus he made them into one world.” (rr)
It is not surprising that St. Francis’s modern appeal began to appear as new environmental crises loomed large in the 1960’s. Humans were hungry for a faith in God which held humanity accountable for right relationship with all living beings. Among the dormant voices being unearthed was that of a radical Italian Christian born into great wealth in the Umbrian city of Assisi in the year 1182. He was a soldier transformed by war into a prophet of peace; an inheritor of great wealth who embraced and required a life of poverty for himself and his disciples; a cradle-born Christian whose faith was turned inside out when he met the Living Christ whilst kissing a leper.
Meeting the real St. Francis is not for the faint of heart! Nor is encountering the Living, True Church of Jesus Christ. Christ’s Church thankfully continues to survive our human plans and policies. We grow mighty structures that often plod further and further away from the life and teachings of Jesus. Francis came to understand this well.
As we begin a journey to meet the True Francis the Harvest Moon is about to become full. For many cultures this is an auspicious time of year when people gather to celebrate, eat, and give thanks – a time of acknowledging a web of interdependence among all living beings.
In the stories about St. Francis, “The Little Flowers” gathered by his followers, Francis’ radical belief in the siblinghood of all created beings appears often. This is not true of most Christian teachings. Christianity, which meets God in the person of Jesus Christ, has long been androcentric – focused on the well-being of human persons. Francis, not unlike other Christian mystics throughout the ages, deeply understood the intrinsic value and co-dignity between all created beings. Francis called all beings sibling because we are all the beloved children of a singular Beloved Creator.
St. Francis’ “The Canticle of the Sun” or “Canticle of the Creatures” (Latin: “Laudes Creaturarum”) best capsulates these beliefs. Consider this reflection written by a member of the Society of Friars Minor (SFM) known more commonly as “Franciscans.”
“The Canticle of the Creatures is a hymn of praise that recapitulates Francis’s journey to God in and through the beautiful things of creation. For Francis all creation became a theophany, a manifestation of the goodness of God. But the Canticle also represents a lifetime of conversion, as Francis strove to be a brother to all things and to praise God in the cloister of the universe despite his sufferings, feelings of abandonment and darkness. In the Canticle, composed one year before he died and while he was laying ill in a small dark hut near San Damiano, Francis sang of the human family (brother-sister-mother) as the model for all relationships. The Canticle of the Creatures is the capstone of his theological vision.” (id)
The canticle includes these lines:
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.*
We will spend weeks with St. Francis who has come to be with us during a global pandemic amid various climate crises as human rights failures are revealed. The whole world is being called to experience ourselves as sibling beings, sibling species, sibling races. We are being asked to let go of ways of being which cruelly separate us from each other, ways that turn each other into things — commodities. Whenever we diminish the siblinghood of any creature, we also reject the precious reality that we are all God’s beloved ones.
Let us pray for the gift to perceive, as St. Frances did, all creation praising God, specially Brother Sun – the greater light to rule the day, and Sister Moon – and the lesser light to rule the night.
Soli Deo Gloria. (Glory to God Alone)
Special Music “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” Written and performed by Buddy Comfort, © 2001
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 carry – 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. Now is also the time to include prayer request from your community.
The Lord’s Prayer
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
With whom shall you sing God’s praises today? With Brother Sun or Sister Moon? With a companion animal or wild critters? What about the pollinating bees or sheltering trees? Stars far above or lava rivers deep within the earth’s core? Let this be a week of offering God thanksgiving led by the joyful praise songs of our non-human neighbors. (also see donation footnote)
We Continue in Hope
Song of Hope “Sister, Let Me Be Your Servant” (Servant Song) Written by Richard Gillard, THE SERVANT SONG (Chalice #490)
Edith Wharton, like St. Francis, was born into wealth and reborn into compassion. She wrote: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
May we be mirrors reflecting God’s Love for all beings. May we be like Sister Moon reflecting the bright Light of the Cosmic Christ throughout the universe. Amen.
(the service is concluded)
*The song “Canticle of the Creature” will be featured in its entirety in our “Blessing of the Animals, All Creatures Sing” service. (10/8/2020)
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.
(gkc) G.K Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi. ©1957; pp vi.
(id) Ilia Delio, OSF, “A Franciscan View of Creation: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World.” Volume 2 of The Franciscan Heritage Series. Published by The Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure University, St. Bonaventure, NY, 2003.
(rr) Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. ©2014; pp xvi-xvii.
Worship Credit: © 2020, Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber, Living Liturgies
Online Publishing Date: September 24, 2020.
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 supporting disaster relief giving to One Great Hour of Sharing through your church, our church, or directly: http://www.ucc.org/oghs. 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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