In Our Own Words (and Voices)

Our Worship Committe evolves and renews portions of the worship service to speak to the congregation and the seasons of the church year.  This may be done by selecting alternative prayers, or by writing prayers and reflections in our own words.  Some of these are highlighted below:

From time to time we post recordings of our singing during services.  Our music is representative of a wide range of styles.  Here are a few samples from our 2011 yearly HymnFest, all from the 1982 Hymnal:


 

The Peace We Share Is Holy

In a world filled with strife, division, anxiety, and conflict, we hear the gospel message:
 
Peace I bequeath to you, my peace I give you,
 a peace the world cannot give,
    this is my gift to you. (John 14:27)
 
In the peace we share at the Eucharist, we practice welcoming each other and being welcomed home, home to a place where we truly belong. The poet said:
 
All that matters is to be at one with the Living God ,
 To be a creature in the house of the God of life. (D.H. Lawrence, PAX)
 
When we say “Our Father”, we acknowledge that we live in the household of God. There we share the protection of the householder. That’s why God asks, “Where is your brother?” It is because we can find fulfillment only in mutual belonging. Like the first Christians, when we reach out to the person next to us or cross the church to welcome each other, we can find this belonging. It is underneath all that we do as part of the gift of peace. In the peace of God, we can sometimes glimpse the wholeness beneath our fragmentation, the fullness of life together “already but not yet.” This is the life we were born to share. In this moment we are one with God, and we are one with all others. And in this moment there is love—the mutual belonging in the household of God. 

“The eyes of our eyes are then opened.” We may be surprised to see what is true, looking through imperfections to the heart of all things. In finding it and each other complete, we have accepted God’s invitation to hope. The invitation Jesus made to his disciples, “Come and see”, was to look and then to look beyond as Peter did when he said, “You are the Christ”. So we look to see what we each are, not as a human sees but, for an instant, as conduits of Christ’s all-accepting love, as God sees us. God might say to each and all of us, “There’s not a mirror in the world that can show you how beautiful you are.” In a deep mutual recognition, quickly, looking beyond, the beauty catching us by surprise, we catch a glimpse of that beauty in each of us.

In exchanging the peace in this way, we practice accepting ourselves and each other. Honoring our boundaries, we acknowledge our mutual dependence and learn a trust in each other and in life. In this practice, seeing and trusting God’s work in each other’s lives and our own, we can learn how it might be that the answer to every “why” is “yes”. We may find acceptance as Job did after many chapters of complaint. Going forth like Job, trusting the householder, we can come to understand finally that we are where we started, at home.

[The words here borrow heavily from D.H. Lawrence, from E.E. Cummings, and especially from Brother David Steindl-Rast's "gratefulness, the heart of prayer".]

 


 

Prayers of the People (Advent 2010)

The Prayers of the People used during Advent 2010 is below (congregational response in bold):

Let us pray together and then reflect in silence on what God seeks in us today.

We are tempted each day to become captives of frenzy in a time that has been prepared for your coming among us in peace.  Grant to us here and to your church in the world the strength to set aside time for reflection and repentance.

Prepare our hearts to receive the gift of your Incarnation.

How will you prepare for God's coming among us in peace?  [Silence]

Our nation continues to be polarized, each of us sincerely convinced of the rightness of our cause. Help us grow in understanding of views that differ from our own and to repent of our self-righteousness.

Help us to work together for our common goals.

How will you grow in understanding others? [Silence]

The world is filled with the darkness of war, poverty, hatred, and greed.  Open  hearts and minds so that the nations and their rulers may grow in the light of understanding, justice, and peace.

Prepare us to become the light of nations you made us to be.

Where is the light you can bring to the darkness? [Silence]

We too easily become unseeing, swept up in the festivities of these holidays.  Keep us mindful of those among us who are homeless, unemployed, without hope, and without joy. 

Guide us to share with your love the message of hope and new life that we celebrate.

How will you share God's love? [Silence]

We sometimes forget our common humanity with those who suffer from illness, loss, fear and any other adversity.   Help us become the blessing made manifest in the coming of Jesus Christ among us.

Let us be a comfort to those who suffer.

How will you be the blessing?  [Silence]

We have lost from sight those who have died and will be so much missed this season. We thank you for them, the years we shared with them, the good we saw in them, the love we received from them. Give us strength and courage, to leave them in your care learning to trust confidently in your promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Use us, Father, as bearers of your love to support those who mourn.

[Silence]

 


 

Meditation: At Communion Together

When we come together at the altar rail to receive the bread and the wine, we celebrate our lives together.  In Christ to be sure, but also with each other.

When the host is broken to feed us, it is joined together, as we are, only when we are fed together.  When the cup is raised for us as a community and then raised again for each one of us, it is each of our individuallives and all of our lives together that are raised up.

The cup is full of our lives, all the joys, all the sorrows in one cup. Even, or especially, in a cup that seems deep with dark sorrow, there is something even deeper, something that contains the darkness. Hope is there. The hope is what we touch when we touch the cup and guide it towards us.

When we take the host into ourselves and drink from the cup of life, we celebrate the lives of the people we share the cup with.  We share the joy, the sorrow. But more than that, we share the gift of hope that is becoming born, burning in that life.  Sharing in this communion we are community, a common life of many parts.

The moment then when each of us takes the host and comes near the cup is the moment when each of the rest of us can celebrate the life of the person taking communion. In that moment, we can offer a silent sharing in the joy, the sorrow, and the hope of that life.

[Reflections on Henri Nouwen's "Can You Drink This Cup"]


 

Advent Reflection 1

Advent 1 2010
By Mary Ripley
The collect for the first Sunday and week in Advent ( RCL lectionary, year A) calls us to, by the grace of God, “cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light,…”. Just as we enter the darkness of the winter season, the beginning of the church year at Advent calls us anew to recollect who we are as Christians. Beginning the church year, we are called to be wide awake and ready to welcome Christ when He appears. As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s incarnation and the light of salvation that He brought into the world, one of the day’s lessons comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 13:11 – 14), in which he tells the Romans "you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (italics are mine)."[1] Paul reminds the Christians at Rome, who are subject to persecution at that time, that as Christians that they are “armed” with the “armor” of Christ’s salvation. Paul reminds them that if they carry Christ's light that He is present with them whatever happens to them.
 
Paul also points out the need for wakefulness. What do these messages mean to us as Christians living in Palo Alto or nearby cities in the midst of busy Silicon Valley life? Advent is the time for remembering who we are as Christians, reviewing the Biblical story of God’s love for all Creation, and for each of us. It is a time for us to reflect not only on the story of how Christ came into the world, but on our own lives. Paul suggests to the Roman Christians two ideas that may help them in the difficult days he knows they will face: to be awake, and to remember that they are empowered by the presence of God, which he describes as being armed with the light of Christ. Both Paul and Matthew refer to the parables of Jesus in their preferences to carrying the light and staying awake. The lesson for us, I believe, as we ponder these passages of Scripture, is that we too are armed with the light of Christ's presence. They suggest two simple practices for the Advent Season: 1. Practice being awake and alert, fully mindful of who we really are as human beings and as Christians, and 2. Practice consciously putting on the light of Christ each day as a reminder. A lovely example of being fully mindful and of arming oneself with the light of Christ comes from a Celtic prayer:[2] Perhaps during Advent we might use this prayer, or a similar prayer sometimes called St. Patrick’s Breastplate (see Hymnal for an example) as daily reminders of our life in Christ. 
 
"Prayer at Dressing”
Bless to me, O God,
My Soul and my body;
Bless to me, O God,
My belief in my condition;
 
Bless to me, O God,
My heart and my speech,
And bless to me, O God,
 the handling of my hand;
 
Strength in busyness of morning,
Habit and temper of modesty,
 Force and wisdom of thought,
Your own path, O God of virtues,
Till I go to sleep this night;
 
Your own path, O God of virtues,
 Till I go to sleep this night.




[1] Matthew 24:36-44, also admonishes us to stay awake "for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
2 See p. 16, Celtic Prayers, Alexander Carmichael (Image/Doubleday).

 


 

Advent Reflection 2

Advent 2, 2010
 by Mary A. Ripley
"Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."  Today's collect (just quoted) and lessons (form the RCL Lectionary for the day) consider the role of the prophets as messengers from God. A prophet or prophetess is one who proclaims the message given to him or her by God. The WebBible™ Encyclopedia , in further defining the role of a prophet, states: ‘The foretelling of future events was not a necessary but only an incidental part of the propheticoffice. The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among the people was ‘to correct moral and religious abuses, to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government (http://www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/prophet.html).’" The lessons remind us that the Messianic King described by Isaiah and the Psalms, and foretold by John the Baptist’s “Cry in the wilderness”, come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Thus the prophesies, along with the New Testament lessons, show forth God’s love for his people across time, and encourage the recognition of Christ as Messiah, Redeemer, and the hope of His Gracious Gift of salvation for all mankind.
In Romans 15:4-13, Paul tells us, along with the Roman Christians, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope (from NRSV).” Then he reminds us, as the Old Testament prophets did, that we also have a part to play as we wait for the fulfillment of our hope in Jesus Christ, with these words: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Once again, Paul reminds Christ’s followers to follow Christ’s example.
In Matthew’s gospel passage for today, Matthew 3:1-12, Matthew tells of the arrival of John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea, and how his arrival is described by Isaiah as a “voice crying in the wilderness”. John the Baptist’s message to all was "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Once again we are given a call to action on which we can ponder, meditate and perhaps use as a model for our own behavior.
As we enter the second week of Advent, we are called to marvel and rejoice once again at the long- promised gifts of God for His people; to remember the calls of the prophets to reform our ways, repent of our sins, and to renew our vows to follow Christ’s example in our daily lives. May our Advent meditations and actions more fully and deeply prepare us to celebrate the birth of the Christ once again at Christmas, and in the midst of our lives.

 


  

Advent Reflection 3

 

Advent 3, 2010
By Mary Alice Ripley
In the collect for this third Sunday of Advent, we invite the Lord to come among us and "stir up your power with great might," and through the "bountiful grace and mercy" of the Lord to be “speedily helped and delivered” from our sins.  The prayer closes with an offering of praises for "honor and glory now and forever” to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we call on the Lord for deliverance from sin and to come among us with power, we are praying prayers that reflect the ongoing prayers of God's people across time. In today's lessons, we find Isaiah's poetic image of Zion restored see (New Oxford Annotated Bible, notes 35.1-10 and 35.8-10, page 911).[1] In this image of Zion restored, we find the desert blooming and rejoicing. The people see the glory of the Lord and are told "say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.'” This passage is followed by the effects of the Lord's presence on his people: the eyes of the blind are opened, the deaf are now able to hear, the lame are now able to walk and even ”leap like a deer.” The tongues of those who are speechless now sing with joy in a desert now watered by springs. Psalm 146:4-9 (page 803, BCP), is a song of praise and hope by the psalmist, who recognizes that God cares for all of humanity and all of creation. As an alternative to the Psalm we have Canticle 15, which is the Song of Mary, or Magnificat, (taken from Luke 1:46- 55).  In both the Old Testament readings we are encouraged to hope and to praising God as we are reminded through the poetry and song of his care for his people across time. In Mary’s song, Mary accepts God’s call, and agrees to bear Christ as a human child. So as we approach the darkest days of the year our Scripture readings turn from recollecting the past and turn toward the promised hope of God's people for a Messiah. 
 
In the New Testament lessons, James speaks of the coming Messiah and urges us toward patience (James 5:7-10) “until the coming of the Lord." He tells us that we must have strong hearts and the patience of the farmer who waits through all the seasons, receiving their gifts of rain in order to see the success of the harvest. In the Gospel lesson (Matthew 11:2-11), you sense an echo of that ancient hope in John the Baptist’s question sent to Jesus. From prison, John the Baptist asks if Jesus is truly the Messiah. Jesus, in speaking to the crowd, confirms that He (Jesus) is the one who was prophesied, as John the Baptist was the one sent as a messenger to "prepare your way before you." So as we enter this third week of Advent we are admonished to call on the Lord for strength and mercy, to have hope, to sing praises, and to have patience as we await Christ's coming at Christmas. Do you remember how as a child it was so hard to wait until Christmas?  How hard it was to be on our best behavior while we were waiting? Even as adults, I think that we often, in our busyness and distraction, lose touch with that sense of anticipation and longing for something desired. This is why I find it refreshing and helpful year-by-year to keep Advent. It helps me to refocus, to remember that in our time as in times past--as we enter winter’s darkness--that it is time to pause, to give thanks for the gifts of all creation, and to anticipate with hope and with joyful singing the gift of the Christ child that came and is ever coming into our midst. Let us go forward in this week, carrying these messages of hope and joy into the dark days of our winter and anticipating even more keenly the coming of Christ into the world.



[1] College Edition, New Revised Standard Version, 1994.

 


 

Advent Reflection 4


Advent 4, 2010
By Mary Alice Ripley
 
The lectionary for week 4 of Advent both reminds and reassures us that God has always cared for his people. He has reassured them through prophecy, through the gift of his son Jesus Christ, and through the Scriptures that He was and is always with us. The Scriptures we have read during Advent, including today’s passages from Isaiah (7:10-16) and the Psalms (80:1-7, 16-18), remind us that although we may feel hopeless and lost, all we need to do is to call upon God and be open to God's presence in order for His grace to work within us.
 
In this week's New Testament reading from Romans (1:1-7), Paul reminds the Roman Christians that they are "called to belong to Jesus Christ." He also reminds them that Christ came just as the Scriptures had promised. Our gospel for this last Sunday in Advent is from Matthew (1:18-25). It is the story of Christ's birth from Joseph’s perspective. Matthew tells us that an angel of the Lord appears in a dream sent to Joseph. In his dream, God advises Joseph to marry Mary. Matthew states that Joseph did as the Lord commanded him, taking Mary as his wife and then caring for her and the son of God she was bearing. When the child was born they named him Jesus, exactly as God had requested of Joseph. The brief mentions of Jesus's human stepfather we find in the Scriptures suggest that Joseph was a man of faith who was obedient to God's call, and that he was a caring human parent.
 
For the important role Joseph is given as human father and caregiver for both Mary and for Jesus, we know little about Joseph. According to the article by Charles Souvay in the Catholic Encyclopedia online, St. Joseph appears only in two places in the New Testament: 1. Joseph appears in 3 passages in Matthew: there is a genealogy of Jesus given at the beginning of Matthew; Joseph appears in today’s scripture (1:18-25), and again at Matt. 2: 13. In the third passage, Joseph has another message from God in a dream in which an angel tells him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt until it is safe to return. 2. Souvay also cites references to Joseph in passages from Luke, Ch. 2. The encyclopedia notes that stories of Joseph can be found in the apocryphal literature, but no others appear in the accepted cannon of the New Testament. In discussing the cult of St. Joseph that eventually developed, Souvay suggests that the earliest records of the veneration of Joseph as a saint appear in Coptic (Egyptian Christian) records that date from the early 4th century. Souvay notes the history of St. Joseph’s appearance as a saint in the West “in local martyrologies of the ninth and tenth centuries.” The first church is dedicated to St. Joseph in Bologna, in 1129 (“Saint Joseph,” Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8 New York: Robert Appleton Co, 1910. 13 Dec. 2010. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08504a.htm>).
 
Of Joseph and his role as father and mentor for Jesus during his years of childhood and young manhood, we are left to imagine the nature of the man whose life is forever changed when he takes Mary as his wife. The gospel tells us that Joseph was a carpenter. Working in wood, with probably some building skills, and perhaps other skills related to the making of furniture or buildings, was an honorable and useful trade in his culture as in our own. In Bethlehem, Nazareth or in Egypt, we expect that Joseph would have found work in order to support his family. We know that he was a faithful Israelite, for the gospels tell of Mary and Joseph’s visits to the Temple in Jerusalem on two occasions: to present their firstborn son, Jesus to the priest; and again of a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem, when Jesus was around twelve years of age, when Jesus gets lost from his parents and is found back in the Temple (Luke 2: 42-51). He is honored as a Saint by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans, where he is honored as a patron saint of workers as well as patron saint and protector of the Catholic Church and of “several countries and regions” (Wikipedia: Saint Joseph). This Advent 4 gospel reminds us that the incarnate, human Jesus Christ was raised by human parents, who cared for Him and mentored him, teaching the things he needed to know in order to become a successful member of their society. As we approach the celebration of Christ’s birth, it is worthwhile to meditate on the story of Christ’s birth from the perspective of his earthly father—the father who had responsibility for his daily support and care, who earned the food Jesus ate and taught him skills with which he, too, might someday support himself and those he loved. Joseph offers us a model for the more intimate role of the father as spiritual teacher to his family, as he reflects the love and care of God for all of His creation. So at Christmas, as we come to honor the Child Christ, may we take time to consider the story anew through the eyes of Joseph .