06/23/2013 Sermon: “An Open-Air Sermon”

DSC_0512Outside in a park; I love doing a worship service in a place like this.  It’s an opportunity to be on the other side of our usual walls, and to be reminded that 50 North Main Street (Manheim, PA) is just a home base for what we do everywhere else.  God preaches to us in the creation that surrounds us here.  More than that, God shows us that there are people who use this park and live in these neighborhoods who need to know the Jesus we worship.

In our country, worshiping outside had its roots with the Methodists.  In the early days, in the late 1730’s and early 1740’s, Methodists were known for their methodical way of living.  They were devout Anglicans, mission-minded people, loyal members of the Church of England. But they were very aware that the huge cathedrals and the stiff religious practices of the Anglican Church were having very little impact on the common people.  John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield were young Anglican priests, only in their twenties, when they each had a personal conversion experience.  Then watching the common people walk by the churches, knowing that they would never come inside, the Wesleys and Whitefield decided to go out to them.

In the fields outside London in 1739, they stood on stumps and rocks and preached to the people as they went to work in the mines and the shops – at 5 or 6 in the morning.  There were hecklers, but crowds listened, and grew bigger, and it wasn’t long before they were preaching literally all day and even at night.

The movement became so popular that the next year, George Whitefield was invited to America, and became one of the most influential people of the 18th century on this side of the Atlantic, which is a little strange, because most people today have never heard of him.

George Whitefield

George Whitefield may have been one of the most effective preachers who ever lived.  It was partly because of his style; he was a natural preacher.  He never used notes and only used a pulpit when he had to be indoors and there was no other place to stand.  He was not afraid to show emotion and knew how to use his body and his voice for the maximum effect.  Benjamin Franklin once estimated the size of a crowd he was preaching to – without a microphone – at over 30,000, and he was clearly heard by everyone there.

The crowds that came to hear him were almost always larger than the population of the city where they met, even in Boston and Philadelphia.  It’s estimated that by the time he had preached in America for 30 years, at least 80% of the people living in all the colonies had heard him in person at least once.  Another estimate says he preached to about 10 million people during his lifetime.

The English actor David Garrick said he wished he could say, “Oh!” like Whitefield.  Franklin became one of Whitefield’s best friends, and described how he could bring a crowd to tears simply by saying the word “Mesopotamia.”

That’s a description of his speaking style –  that wasn’t what Whitefield preached about.  He actually had a fairly simple message:  put your complete faith in Christ and be saved, become one with God through Christ.

Because of Whitefield, the average person’s experience of church completely changed.  Instead coming to church to follow religion, people came to experience Christ.

Whitefield never founded a church or a school or a denomination and refused to have anything named after him.  He never had his sermons printed.  He only traveled from town to town preaching.  Even though he had this Anglican/Methodist background, he probably had more impact on churches in the northeastern United States than other preacher outside of Billy Graham.

In the 1740’s, in Philadelphia, a meeting hall was built for him to preach in.  He preached in it for a year or two then left, and this became the first building of Pennsylvania University.

Whitefield probably preached many times from today’s passage from Romans.  Open air preachers usually preached for at least two hours at a time, so this sermon is really only a sample!  Romans 5:1-5 was most likely part of a sermon Paul had preached.  When the apostle Paul wrote this sermon to the Romans, he had probably preached these words outdoors himself, to a crowd gathered in a synagogue courtyard, or by a river, or in a field somewhere.

Romans 5:1-5.  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we* have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access* to this grace in which we stand; and we* boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we* also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

An Open Air Sermon.  God calls us to have faith in the living Jesus and we are justified by our faith.  Justification is a bible word, an ancient legal word that means “declared innocent.”  I heard an old preacher say that God sees us “just as if” we had never sinned.

But justification has a more modern meaning, especially for those who use computers.  When you hear the word “justify,” what do you think of?  You think of pages of typing with straight margins.  Print with no sloppy, ragged edges.  And you can’t make it that way yourself; the computer has to do it for you.  In the same way, Christians can’t justify themselves; only God does that.

Because God has declared us innocent, we have peace, which is more than just taking a deep breath and deciding not to worry. This is a good relationship with the creator of the universe, the God who made everything we see here today.  This is confidence for living!

And as Paul puts it, we stand in this grace, which is God giving us salvation just because God loves us and wants to give it.  We can’t earn it and nobody can take it away.

3And not only that, but we* also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

We are Rocky at the top of the steps in Philly.  The world is our oyster.  We can actually boast in our sufferings!  Those who have walked the path of faith in Christ know that they have more endurance after a hard time.  They know that character has grown in them; they less likely to give in to the dark side because they know that in the end, God wins.   That knowledge is hope.  By “hope” I don’t mean a wish that God is hoping and wishing we will be okay.  This hope is a future that God has already given us in Christ.  God’s love working in our hearts through the Spirit confirms it.  All we need to do is believe.

The Methodists clung to the memories of those open air meetings and after they had become a denomination in America, separate from the church of England, especially as settlers moved westward, churches would have annual camp meetings.  For a week, families would set up a little village in the woods, set up a pulpit, cook their meals outside and sleep in tents or log huts if they didn’t live nearby.

After the Civil War, many denominations including ours set up for themselves permanent campgrounds where people could come to get away – to be spiritually refreshed.  Instead of tents, they built cottages. Usually in the center of it all was a large pavilion with canvas sides that could be rolled up, so that people listening to the preachers still had the feeling of being outside.  Does this sound like a place you know?  (Mt. Gretna, Martha’s Vineyard, Chautauqua)  Many of us have stayed at one of these places at one time or another.

Is it possible that out here, we hear God’s voice a little more clearly?  There are no walls out here.  We hear the birds and the sounds of the neighborhood.  We start to understand that it all comes down to God and us, God and you, God and me.  And God is still inviting all of us to put our faith in Christ – and give that faith away to make a difference in the world through the love of Christ.

Prayer

O God, as we are outside today, use the birds and the trees and the wind to remind us of whose earth we live in.   We hear your voice in the wind, and you call to us; you remind us that we belong to you too.  You created it all.  You created us, and sent your Son to save us.  Through him, you give a kind of life that never dies.  Through him, we come to you.  Through him, we are yours.  Amen.

06/16/2013 Sermon: “In Over Your Head”

Abrahamic Trail
“Abrahamic Trail” in Palestine, near Jenin. CN – 2011

About 3,000 years ago, David went walking down a road like this one on his way to Jerusalem.  I think that most of us know the story of David and Goliath.  David is a young man with chutzpah, who becomes a military leader of Israel and then king.  Loves God.  Writes Psalms.  Called “a man after God’s own heart…”  (Acts 13:22)

About a thousand years before Christ, when David arrives in Jerusalem to become king, the book of 2 Samuel says, “David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.”  (2 Samuel 6:14) You’ve gotta feel the celebration!

The ephod is the garment that a priest wears, and depending on the ephod, it might be the high priest, the chief priest.  In the time of Moses and Aaron this could be very elaborate and colorful.  In the parade, there is a group  carrying the gold-leafed ark of the covenant, playing music.  From a distance, you can see somebody leading the parade dancing.  He gets closer – look, Martha, we’ve got a dancing priest!  Wait a minute!  That’s the King!  I’m trying to picture Barak Obama dancing down the street after his inauguration.

There are two things to pick up from that moment.  This is the only time in the Bible you’ll hear about a king dancing, and the only time I know of that you’ll see the king dressed up as a priest, dressed as someone who leads the nation in their worship of God, dressed as someone who speaks to the people on God’s behalf.  David has God’s permission to do this.

And he dances!!!  David’s relationship with God has clearly given him the kind of confidence that creates that moment.  He has accepted the role of political leader and God’s go-between.  Through and through to his core, he is God’s man.  He is sold out to God and it makes him dance.  In scripture, there is no one else like David.

Then something happened. I think it was the work.

2 Samuel 11:1  In the spring of the year, the time when kings go forth to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

2  It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.  3  And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?  4  So David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house.

5  And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am with child.”  6  So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7  When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered.

8  Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” And Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.  9  But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.

10  When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?”  11  Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.”

12  Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will let you depart.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day, and the next.  13  And David invited him, and he ate in his presence and drank, so that he made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

14  In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.  15  In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.”  

I have grown to understand that the church is a gathering of people who seek to follow Christ as best they can while they recover.  They recover from something that has happened to them or something they have done.

It was the spring of the year, when kings go to war.  I’ve quoted that verse to people around March or April, when it seems like folks are a little more anxious than they should be.  A little more prone to anger, a little more likely to say things they’ll regret.  A little more likely to do something out of character.

A conference minister once told me that clergy who commit indiscretions are most likely to make those mistakes on Mondays.  Think about why that would be.  Everybody has those days when you know you might be a little more stressed out, but mistakes tend to happen on days when you are exhausted.  For many people, it might be Fridays, or maybe some other day of the week.

That first verse of chapter 11 says it all.  It was the spring of the year, when kings go to war.  Up to this point in the story of David, his life has been all about war.  To reach that moment of dancing, he had to fight for it, literally, usually against overwhelming odds.  A lot of blood and violence.  Now he is king, and his job is to protect his people from their enemies, and outside of Jerusalem, it seems like they are everywhere.  It was his job to go to war.  Could it be that he was burning out?

The foundation/retaining wall of David's palace, near the southern side of the Temple Mount on Old Jerusalem,  CN - 2011.
The foundation/retaining wall of David’s palace, near the southern side of the Temple Mount on Old Jerusalem, CN – 2011.
The view across the valley from the ruins of David's palace.  CN - 2011
The view across the valley from the ruins of David’s palace. CN – 2011

So, David stayed in Jerusalem – that’s the view across the valley to the houses below.  And instead of being the protector, he is the predator.  This same David who was so close to God, so full of God, that he could dress up like a priest and dance in the streets.  This same David who already had seven wives when he saw Bathsheba from the rooftop (some were political marriages, but still, seven wives).  This same David who wrote many of the Psalms, including the scriptures that many of us know by heart.  “The Lord is my shepherd….”

By his own admission, David is not the best father-figure.  I believe that his story is preserved so that we can learn from it.

What commandment is being broken in this story?  It isn’t just the adultery commandment.  David took what wasn’t his.  He was a thief.  Then he does more than try to cover it up.  He actually conspires to murder.  He makes his situation worse.  He probably was thinking, I’m alone, this is my rooftop, and I’m king.  At some point, he begins a kind of worship of himself.

Starting with the first mistake, it gets worse, and deeper, which illustrates what can happen when you separate from God, and the self you know you need to be.  If you don’t stop it early, sin begets sin.  And it involves everyone around you.  Most often, it begins with turning inward, with a kind of worship of yourself.

David took others with him – Joab, his general, was just as guilty as he was.  Then his mistake affects everybody else around him.  His next child died and there was conflict in his house for the rest of his life.  He wasn’t allowed to build the Temple in Jerusalem because of this one mistake.  All of these things affected his ability to be the leader of his people that God needed him to be.

Stop and think about how extraordinary it is that this story is in scripture.  One of the heroes of the Jewish faith, one of the heroes of the Christian faith, caught in a sordid scheme.  How human.  One of the things I’ve learned from a number of years in ministry is that through a story like this God communicates across the centuries, with supernatural clarity.  No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, this could happen to you.

This is not just about saying, “don’t make mistakes.”  As if someone like me can say God doesn’t want you to do this, and of course, you won’t.  Maybe somewhere around the church buildings you’ll see the Ten Commandments, and look at that seventh one: “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)  Of course, you’ll read that and won’t make that mistake.

But this isn’t even necessarily about adultery.  It was the spring of the year, when kings go to war.  But David remained in Jerusalem.  He was not where he needed to be.  He was not where God needed him to be.  He was not where his people needed him to be.

There is a place where you need not to be.  It’s different for everyone.  There are many ways to be unfaithful, many ways to cause damage to your most important relationships.  Alcoholics know that they need to not be with people who drink.  Maybe you need to not be at the office at a certain time.  Maybe you need to not be at that party or at that sports event, or maybe even on that team.  And it will be okay.  Really.

But it’s more than that. Make it your mission to be in the place where God needs you to be.  No, it’s just for you, but for your household, because whatever you do, you take your family and your friends with you.  That is also different for everyone.

Be with a friend instead.  Be with a book.  Make an art of it.  Washing dishes late at night may not be as entertaining as other things you could be doing, but can be infinitely more rewarding.  Sometimes, boring is great, considering the alternatives.

For those who have been wounded, God understands and can heal you.  You may not believe it, but it’s true.  In your healing, in a painful time, remember that in the heat of a moment, you can make decisions that may be right, but may not be best.

The consequences of some situations bring their own new realities, but in Christ, there is always redemption.  With God, there is always an opportunity to rebuild out of the ashes. There is always a resurrection.  There is always a second chance.

The Most Valuable Thing in the House.   A man came to his rabbi and said, “Since my marriage of 10 years has produced no children, I ask that you grant me a letter of divorce.

The wise rabbi, knowing his friend to be an impulsive man, urged him to go home and make a feast in commemoration of the coming event.  The rabbi said, “I see no reason why a divorce should not be celebrated in some way, similar to a marriage.”

The man, who was willing to do almost anything to stay in the rabbi’s good graces, went home and gave a banquet.  As he ate and drank, his spirits  soared.  “Wife,” he said, “I am prepared to let you take the most valuable thing in the house with you as a sign of my good faith.  I wish you long years and happiness.”

After the guests went home, the man, who was now tired from drinking and celebrating, fell into a deep sleep.  The woman quickly ordered the servants to carry him to her father’s house.  When he awoke the next morning, finding himself in a strange house, he demanded an explanation.

Softly, the wife said, “I was only acting on your word.  Last night, you offered me the most precious thing n the house.  You, dear husband, are of far more value than any item of furniture.”

The man was deeply moved by his wife’s affection, given at a time when he deserved it least.  The rabbi had already been praying for them and within the next year, they had the first of their children.   (from Wm. R. White, Stories for the Journey – Augsburg, 1988 – p. 38).

Some lessons come the hard way for many of us.  Reconciliation is always an option, though sometimes that’s not possible.  May the God of resurrection give us wisdom in all of our hard decisions.   Lets close with David’s own prayer following this episode of his life.

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

06/09/2013 Sermon: “Personal Resurrection”

On a rock 2

Two stories about resurrection from the Gospel of Luke:

Luke 7:11  Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him.  12  As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13  When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

14  Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16  Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17  This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Luke 7:36  One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37  And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38  She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

9  Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.” 40  Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”

41  “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42  When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43  Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

44  Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47  Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

48  Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49  But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50  And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 

The Crasher.  Were you able to sense the tension in the room?  You know, Jesus had probably met her somewhere else; maybe when he was teaching a crowd, maybe when he was walking through town on the way to Simon’s house.  She needs a name; let’s call her Angela.  She followed him in, and from the moment she set foot in the Pharisee’s house, she knows this not her kind of place.  There’s a banquet going on:  great food, good music.  All the right people.  Around the table, they lean back on couches instead of chairs.  People who recline on couches when they eat have class, so when she starts wiping the ointment on Jesus’ feet, she’s standing a little behind him, behind his couch, trying not to be noticed.  She is not invited; she’s a crasher.

It’s really awkward; we’ve got two completely different kinds of people in the same room, so there’s tension.  Somebody’s thinking, “How did she get in here?  Who is watching the door?  What are my friends going to think?”  It’s not very hard to figure out the mind of a Pharisee in a small town.

Simon’s done everything he can to get where he is.  He’s geared his whole life toward earning respect from God and everyone around him.  He works hard at being respectable.  He’s got position and the right kind of memberships.  Country club, maybe Rotary.  So, understandably, it’s very awkward for him – now he’s not even sure just what kind of person Jesus is.  Word on the street is that he’s a prophet, very popular these days, somebody it wouldn’t hurt to invite to dinner.  Good move to have him at the party, until now.

Prophets are supposed to have a kind of supernatural OnStar that goes into alarm mode whenever they get around serious sinners like prostitutes.  When she touches Jesus, he should be hearing buzzers and bells go off in his head.  Because he doesn’t, Simon thinks Jesus must not be the “man of God” everybody says he is.  So the punch line of the story is that Jesus can read the Simon the Pharisee’s mind – he is a prophet.  And Simon’s not saying anything.  Not to read into the story, but how does he know she’s a prostitute and why is he not saying anything?  He needs forgiveness as much as she does. 

The Pharisee’s prejudiced and that makes him the bad guy in the story.  He shouldn’t be judging her the way he is.  But is he wrong?  We’ve all been taught the same things, and not just that prostitution is wrong.  A quote from a 19th century book off my shelf (On the Modern System of Female Education):  “There is among the more elevated classes of society, a certain set of persons who are pleased exclusively to call themselves the fine people.  …so this certain set conceives of society as resolving itself into two distinct classes, the fine world and the people.”

That’s pretty crass, but it’s still accurate.  People divide themselves into groups.  Even though public education is supposed to be the great equalizer, this still happens in high school, doesn’t it?  Sure it does.  In my day it was surfers and greasers and jocks and druggies.  But what the kids don’t know is that for the most part, none of those distinctions make any difference to the teachers.  They give tests and then grade the tests.  In spite of what you may think, they don’t really care what group you think you’re in.  And after you graduate, nobody cares.

God doesn’t care about the distinctions either.  When Jesus comes to town, he shines a spotlight on sin, but he is also a forgiveness dispenser.  As soon as they meet him, people feel like something’s wrong, within themselves.  In the presence of God, most people understand that they are less than perfect.  They feel guilt, and that’s not all bad.  You can’t fix what’s wrong if you don’t feel guilt.  It’s not wrong for Jessica to feel guilt.  Simon’s problem is that he isn’t sorry for anything.  If he isn’t sorry for anything, Jesus can’t forgive him and Simon will never understand the tears that run down the Jessica’s face.  God just lifted a burden she couldn’t lift herself.  She is not acting like a prostitute; she is acting like a forgiven sinner.

Truth be told, we want to be like Simon – we want to be right, we want the good reputation, the nice house and the great party – but we feel like the prostitute.  We need to be forgiven.  We need to hear the voice of Jesus saying, “I forgive you, ______.”  We feel the burden fly away, and once the burden is gone, we don’t want it back.  This is called new life.  You get it by allowing Christ to heal you and forgive you.

In that first story from Luke, a nameless young man is raised from the dead.  He just got his heartbeat back.  The more important resurrection happens to the woman who was washing those feet that were about to be nailed for her.  She was the one who got life that day.  She knew she didn’t deserve it – none of us do.  But God would love to give you new life anyway.  If you will just listen, Jesus is trying to speak the same to you: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Everyone here has that thing they carry, that mistake, that habit, that attitude, that secret… that thing they carry like a burden.  Maybe other people know, maybe they don’t.  And we all carry that load.  God so wants to lift it from you, to take it away and make it disappear.  Just talk to him and say, Jesus, you are my Lord; I worship you.  I’m putting down the burden and I’m yours.

Did you hear God’s voice just now?  “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Go help Jesus lift the load from someone else.

Prayer

O God, you have been kind to us so often, and we find ourselves taking your kindness and love for granted.  When we drift away, you wait for us to come home.  So God, give us faith that teaches us you are the foundation on which we stand, and although things around us seem to be changing all the time, nothing changes with you.

Give us new opportunities to live for you.  Give us a fresh vision of what it means to be your body the church, and a fresh vision of the head of the church, your son Jesus.  Deepen our faith and help us teach our community how to love and forgive.  Amen.