As explained in an earlier post, Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s worship services are divided into three parts: (1) Preparing for the Word, which includes the Call to Worship, the Prayer of Confession, the Assurance of Forgiveness and hymns; (2) Listening forthe Word, which includes the Readings from Holy Scripture and the Sermon; and (3) Responding to the Word, which includes the Pastoral Prayer, the Offertory and music.
A prior post reviewed September 17’s Listening for the Word. Here then are the two major prayers of that service.
Prayer of Confession
Rev. Megan K. Gage-Finn, Executive Associate Pastor, led the congregation in the following unison Prayer of Confession: “Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love. We have not loved our neighbors, and we have refused to hear the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“God of all creation, you faithfully tend to this garden you’ve given us. You set the sun, and the moon, and the stars in the vastness of space, giving us light both by day and night, illuminating the sky with the marvelous works of your creative energy.”
“You give order to our world, setting one season after another, establishing the pattern of life, death, and new birth, calling forth all things in their season. Fill the harvest season with life-giving abundance, as the earth gives its yield freely before a season of rest.”
“You bless this world with the beauty of diversity. Draw all people together and teach us to recognize and celebrate the unique gifts you have given us in one another. Embolden us to teach the world your love for all people, and give us courage to break down the destructive barriers of racism, and bigotry, and narrow-mindedness that too easily divide us.”
“God of abundant life, through the biblical story and the life of your Son, Jesus, you reveal your vision of shalom for all people. Draw near to all who are separated from that shalom by fear and violence, especially those affected by terrorism in London and elsewhere. Comfort them with the hope nurtured by life in your presence.”
“You brought your people out of Egypt, faithfully loving them, leading them, forgiving them, and renewing them. Grant wisdom, a yearning for justice, and the patience and persistence to pursue it to all who lead in our city, our state, our nation, and throughout the world. Soften hard hearts, filling them with the passion to pursue your kingdom at all times and in all places.”
“This world which you so faithfully tend is hurting. Break open our arrogance and ignorance which damage your creation. Remind us of our interconnectedness with everything from the tiniest bacteria at work in our bellies to the expansiveness of the atmosphere which fills us with breath. Teach us to care for all that you have made.”
“God of wind and wave, we know that people are hurting as they recover from the devastation of hurricanes in Florida, Texas, Cuba, Mexico, and throughout the Caribbean. Others’ lives are disrupted by fires and earthquake. Bring peace, healing, and the aid that you desire as our siblings put their tattered lives and livelihoods back together.”
“God who was present with the blind man when he received sight through the power of faith, draw us into faithful relationship with all who ail in body, mind, or spirit that they may be surrounded with the comfort, healing, and peace that you alone can give.”
“Ever faithful God, sustain us with the gift of faith, that we might live lives of prayer and praise, always striving to share your endless love with this world so much in need. Through Jesus Christ and in the mystery of the Holy Spirit, we pray together the Lord’s Prayer:”
“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; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
 Rev. Matthew Johnson recently was ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to serve Westminster Presbyterian Church.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ [The lawyer] answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Jesus] said to [the lawyer], ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’”
“But wanting to justify himself, [the lawyer] asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’” [The lawyer] said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
In “the parable of the Good Samaritan, why it is that even the most well-trained priest or Levite may walk on by a neighbor in need?”
“On the one hand, this parable reminds us that we are called to put our faith and love into action, plain and simple. Yet this parable occurs in a vacuum. There is one person of need, one act of love to counter the one great injustice at hand.” (Emphasis added.)
“But what happens when there’s another neighbor in need along the way? Do you set aside the first to help the second? What if each step brings another worry or need, bigger and more complex than the one before it?”
“Perhaps you know the feeling. Confronted with a complex constellation of needs and problems surrounding our lives and communities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Another election argument, another policy change, another broken relationship. Another act of hate and discrimination, another single parent facing another night on the street with her family, another police shooting in our city. Another setback, another neighbor in need.”
“How can you or I keep up with it all, let alone make a difference? Maybe it’s best to just take a break from the headlines, find a new game on our smartphone and just sort of take our mind off of things.”
“Apathy subdues our action. Despair clouds our hope. Distraction does exactly what it describes – it dis-tractions us and robs us of a way forward. These invasive influences make it easier to check out than dig in.” (Emphasis added.)
“I’ve always sort of assumed that the young lawyer in this parable is asking the question ‘who is my neighbor’ from a relatively blank slate. But it’s clear that this young lawyer knows his stuff. Remember, Jesus asks him what is written in the Scriptures regarding eternal life, and that beautifully succinct response of ‘you shall all love God, and love your neighbor as yourself’ comes from him.”
“So what if his follow-up question – who is my neighbor? – is coming less from a place of innocence or ignorance and more from a place of knowing exhaustion? What if this young lawyer has eyes to see the many people around him who represent his neighbor and with a dizzying head is simply trying to figure out where to even begin?” 
“I found help and hope for this very question on the second workday of our high school ]mission] trip while building new trails at Young Gulch, a beloved national forest area now closed to the public due to past fire and flooding damage. With hardhats, picks, shovels, ropes and rock bars, we hiked a mile and half up and into our new worksite carrying the hope of a new day. It was there, while shoveling, sawing, lifting and hauling, that we were introduced to the art of trail building and the important work of finding the critical edge.” (Emphasis added.)
“In terms of trail building, the critical edgeforms the crucial guiding line from which you begin and orient your work. It is the marker between path and planet, trail and wilderness. Your footing and direction are both determined from there, and though countless shrubs and boulders may lie ahead and around, the critical edge marks where you will carve out your 30” wide path, and that is what makes the work doable. So for our team of 30 students and 6 adults, this critical edge became our path by which to walk and work. And work we did! It was like being blessed with the gift of traction. Our critical edge to guide us, we literally dug in and blazed new trails that others, we hope, may follow and enjoy for years to come.” (Emphases added.)
“This process of finding traction for our work was brought home in a new workshop that we incorporated into our mission trips this year. A workshop called ‘Mission Possible.’
“Essentially, Mission Possible is an exercise that challenges multiple groups to take on a complex and often overwhelming social problem using a very limited set of ‘dealt resources.’ The creative challenge is to find which crucial slice of the problem your team wants to focus on and then leverage your limited resources to make the greatest possible impact.” (Emphases added.)
“Middle schoolers using glass jars to build empathy. High school students using wooden baskets to raise awareness via social media. Neither of these ideas will knock out the layered, complex problems of bullying and climate change, but they do provide a way forward, a critical edge to ward off apathy and dig into action. The goal here is to root out those invasive influences of distraction and despair, and then live out our calling by putting our faith into action. We don’t have to move every boulder, but we do need to discern and then do our part.” (Emphasis added.)
“That, I believe, is what Jesus is getting at in this parable: connecting exposed belief to explicit action. Even if this young lawyer is asking ‘who is my neighbor’ from a place of overwhelming apathy and despair, there is hope is Jesus’ simple response. Know who you are and who your neighbors are, and even if can only reach out to one, do it. Put your faith into action, even if others are walking by. Be that very inspiration. Host a book read; plant a rain garden; start a justice choir; advocate for mental health programs. Find your critical edge and dig in.” (Emphases added.)
“Friends, this is the work we have been doing together as a community throughout the entire Open Doors, Open Futures process. . . . In fact, in seeking to find our own critical edge, Westminster has set aside serious time . . . to ask of God and one another this young lawyer’s question – “who is our neighbor?” In the midst of our work and worship, we’ve [been] wrestling and discerning questions about our gifts, resources, and partnerships, seeking to understand where God is calling us as a community. “
“By engaging these very questions, we are finding action in place of apathy, hope in the midst of despair, and the blessing of traction for our ministry even in our changing downtown context.”
“That’s what the love of God and neighbor demands of us: find your place of calling, your critical edge, and dig in. It’s as simple as that and as hard as that.” (Emphasis added.)
“In the continuum of apathy and action, where do you fall today? What are your gifts? Who is your neighbor? Have you found your critical edge? May God bless us with traction for lives and ministries.” (Emphasis added.)
The Prayer of Confession
Before the reading of the Holy Scripture and the sermon, the congregation joined in the following prayer of confession:
“Gracious God, our sins and sorrows are too heavy to carry, too real to hide, and too deep to undo. Forgive what our lips tremble to name and what our hearts can no longer bear. Set us free from a past that we cannot change and open to us a future in which we can be changed. May the light of your love open our eyes to the grace that is already calling us home. By your grace, may we grow ever more in your way of justice, mercy, and peace.”
Another frequent, and appropriate, interpretation of this parable emphasizes that the Levite and the priest who passed by the injured man were of higher status in Israel at the time whereas the Samaritans were not well-regarded. Thus, one’s status in the community is not the mark of a good neighbor. Instead, what counts is what one does to help the injured man. In this instance, the Samaritan is clearly a good neighbor.
However, the overall message of Jesus, for me, is that anyone and everyone is my neighbor. Thus, the question arises as to whether and how any individual can help everyone. The answer to this question is clearly “No,” and the result of such reflection, as the sermon suggests, can be incapacitation of the individual and failure to be kind to a neighbor, failure to provide help to a neighbor.
That leads to the second foundation of my Christian faith. God knows that we fail and yet forgives us. The most powerful statement of God’s forgiveness comes in another story by Jesus, The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-31).
But Jesus is not calling each of us to try to do everything that needs doing in the world.
Important in my own struggles with this dilemma is the following homily often attributed to my personal saint, Archbishop Oscar Romero, but actually written in November 1979 by Kenneth Edward Untener, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, for a memorial mass for deceased priests:
“The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.”
“We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.”
“No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.”
“That is what we are all about. We plant seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.”
“We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”
“We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”
Rev. Blue’s questions at the end of his sermon are very helpful. Find your place of calling or critical edge. Then, dig in and do what you can to help your neighbor, knowing and accepting that it may not be perfect or complete.
Another Presbyterian pastor and author, Frederick Buechner, puts it this way. Each of us needs to find his or her vocation which “comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. . . . The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. . . . The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Vocation, for me, implies a dedication to a certain kind of work or service over a period of time. A one-time effort probably does not count. On the other hand, in my opinion, vocation does not necessarily require a lifetime commitment to doing a certain thing. Indeed, an individual’s circumstances change over time, and what was a vocation for one period may not be appropriate for another period. Thus, an individual may have several vocations over time, some of which might be simultaneous. This at least has been true for me.
Some people may decide that they shall start engaging in a particular vocation. They know from the start that a certain course of action shall be their vocation, perhaps inspired by what they believe to be the word of God. Others discover after the fact that what they have been doing for a period of time has been and is their vocation. I am a member of the latter group.
Deciding on what shall be or is a vocation should be, in my opinion, a matter of reflection, meditation and prayer and in some cases discussion with others to assist in discerning a true vocation.
 Another interpretation of this Parable does not see the lawyer as honestly seeking guidance from Jesus. Instead the lawyer is seen as cleverly asking trick questions to elicit answers from Jesus that could be twisted to incriminate him. Jesus, however, more cleverly declines to answer the questions and instead induces the lawyer to answer his own questions, the second after Jesus tells a story. (My Christian Faith, dwkcommentaries.com (April 6, 2011).)
Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church has a three-part order of worship: Preparing for the Word; Listening for the Word; and Responding to the Word. A key part of Preparing for the Word is the Prayer of Confession.
Here are three such recent prayers that speak to me because of their simplicity and their use of contemporary English language to address current issues we all face.
Prayer of Confession (May 29, 2016):
“When we limp around altars we have made to false gods, Lord, have mercy. When we sacrifice our very selves for that which cannot satisfy, Lord, bring healing. When we turn to idols to meet our deepest need and there is no response. Lord, save us!”
Prayer of Confession (June 26, 2016):
“God of forgiveness, as we gather for worship today we confess we do not offer you our whole selves. We come anxious of what others might think. We come with assumptions about one another, and how things ‘should be.’ Help us to come as we are, and allow others to do the same. Create open space in our hearts for understanding, empathy, and grace. Mold us into people who always choose love before hate. Make us peacebuilders, and those who point to goodness, in a world blinded by evil. We pray this for Jesus’ sake.”
Prayer of Confession (July 3, 2016):
“ O Holy One, we call to you and name you as eternal, ever-present, and boundless in love. Yet there are times, O God, when we fail to recognize you in the dailyness of our lives. Sometimes shame clenches tightly around our hearts, and we hide our true feelings. Sometimes fear makes us small, and we miss the chance to speak from our strength. Sometimes doubt invades our hopefulness, and we degrade our own wisdom. Holy God, remind us again of your holy presence hovering near us and in us. Help us to see you in the moment-by-moment possibilities to live honestly, to act courageously, and to speak from our wisdom.”
I pray that these prayers are meaningful for you, dear reader.
The Call to Worship and the Prayer of Confession at the January 31, 2016, worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church were especially moving
They both are important elements of “Preparing for the Word,” which is the first part of our three-part worship service. The other parts are “Listening for the Word” with the readings from Holy Scripture and Sermon and “Responding to the Word” with the Offertory and Pastoral Prayer (and Communion on the first Sunday of the month). The complete bulletin for the service is available online as is a video of the service.)
The Call to Worship (from Psalm 71) stated:
“One: Our hope is in God all of our lives.
All: God is a rock of refuge: a fortress against threat and shame.
One: God has held us since our birth.
All: So we are never in the full grasp of the unjust and cruel.
One: In love, God saves and support us.
All: Trusting in God, we continually offer our praise!
One: Let us worship God.”
The following are the words of the Prayer of Confession (unison):
“God, our Deliverer, we confess that we are too reluctant to speak and to live
according to your truth. We grow comfortable with the way things are, passively
condoning injustice. We see ourselves as “insiders,” excluding those we
consider “outsiders.” We find it easier to pluck up and pull down, to destroy
and overthrow, than to build and to plant. Forgive us, O God, for being timid
disciples. Empty us to fear and shame, and fill us with love that is humble and
patient and kind.
We pray this in the name of the One who humbled himself, Jesus the Christ, Amen.”
Vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Several parts of that service were especially meaningful for me and will be discussed in this and subsequent posts.
The unison Prayer of Confession led by Rev. Stephen Robertson was a major focus of the first part of the service—“Preparing for the Word”— and provided the right introduction. It went as follows:
“Hear us, O God, as we blend our voices in common confession. You have taught us that there are a variety of gifts, yet we judge others because they do not fit our mold. You have called us and blessed us, but we do not trust that we are good enough. We turn our attention inward and can’t see beyond our own perceived shortcomings to know the ways you would use us to feed, clothe, shelter, and comfort. Help us to realize that you have equipped us to be your instruments of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Forgive us our fears and the barriers we place between ourselves and you, between ourselves and others and free us for the new life you call us to in Jesus Christ.”
Several sentences of this prayer jumped out at me, especially after the article earlier that day in the New York Times about the purported determinants of success, one of which was a sense of insecurity, of not feeling good enough. Here again are those words:
“You have called us and blessed us, but we do not trust that we are good enough. We turn our attention inward and can’t see beyond our own perceived shortcomings to know the ways you would use us to feed, clothe, shelter, and comfort. Help us to realize that you have equipped us to be your instruments of peace, justice, and reconciliation.”
This rang true to me. A sense of inadequacy is natural when looking out at the many problems in the world and can, and often does, prevent us from doing what we can do to help others. We need God’s help to overcome such perceived shortcomings.
 The Bulletin for the January 26th service that includes this prayer is available online along with a video recording of the service. Other blog posts have discussed Westminster’s order of worship and another prayer of confession while clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order.
The first was the congregational unison Prayer of Confession that spoke to the sin of pride that infects most of us in these times. The words went as follows:
“Oh Lord, we come before you, knowing that even in our vast knowledge we remain ignorant of ourselves, deceiving and blinding ourselves. We lose hold of that knowledge given us at creation, of God’s generous and continuing favor toward us, and of the original nobility that God bestowed upon our ancestor Adam. When we do remember our great gifts, we think of them as belonging to us alone, in boasting and self-assurance, when we ought instead to honor those gifts among our neighbors, for Scripture bids us to esteem others above ourselves, and to apply ourselves wholly to doing them good. We despise others, and forget that in despising them we despise ourselves, for we re together made in the image of God.”
The second part of the service was the hymn Tu Has Venido a la Orilla (Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore), whose gentle melody is reminiscent of a rocking boat by a lakeshore and which is easy to sing. Its lyrics are based upon Matthew 4: 18-20, when Jesus encountered two fishermen (Peter and Andrew) casting their net into the Sea of Galilee and asked them to follow him and be fishers of men and women.The lyrics go on to urge us to do the same.
Here are the words of its refrain as translated into English: “O Lord, with Your eyes You have searched me, And, while smiling, have called out my name. Now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me, Now with You I will seek other seas.” The four verses go as follows:
“You have come up to the lakeshore, Looking neither for wise nor wealthy.You only wanted that I should follow.” (Refrain)
“You know that I own so little, In my boat there’s no money or weapons, You’ll only find there my nets and labor.” (Refrain)
“You need the caring of my hands.Through my tiredness, may others find resting. You need a love that just goes on loving.”(Refrain)
“You, who have fished other oceans, Ever longed for by souls that are waiting, My dear and good friend, as thus You call me.”(Refrain)
The Presbyterian Hymnal also contains the original Spanish verses. While most of the Westminster congregants sing the English version, some sing the Spanish. With my very rudimentary Spanish language skills, I softly sang the Spanish words to remind me of my one trip to Spain and many others to Latin America and of my friends throughout the latter region. It thus becomes for me a song of solidarity.
This hymn was written in 1979 by Cesáreo Gabaráin (1936-1991), a Spanish Roman Catholic priest and composer of over 500 liturgical songs. He also held the position of Chaplain Prelate for Pope John Paul II.
 The bulletin and audio and video recordings of the service are online.
Worship services at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church are divided into three sections: Preparing for the Word; Listening for the Word; and Responding to the Word.
Note that the focus of all three sections is on what the worshiper should be doing: preparing, listening and responding.
This structure helps me to focus and concentrate on the central message and thereby derive greater meaning from the service. Occasionally I have visited other churches without such a tripartite or any other stated structure and with a long list of different parts of the service with the sermon near the end. By the time the sermon is reached, I am tired or bored. They are not nearly as meaningful for me.
A central part of this first section of the service is the Prayer of Confession, an example of which was set forth in a prior post.
All of the parts of this section of the service are designed to prepare the worshiper for the reading of, and listening for, the Word of God in Holy Scripture.
Listening for the Word
The central part of the worship service is the reading of the Word from Holy Scripture and the Sermon with commentary on the Word.
As an example of the intelligent, challenging sermons at Westminster we have looked at the one by Westminster’s Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen: “How Do We Know God: Human Community.”
We also have reviewed the engaging sermons of two guest pastors in prior posts: Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Palestine and Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church. From time to time future posts will review other sermons.
Responding to the Word
Supplemented by the congregational singing of hymns and the choir’s singing of anthems, this section features the Affirmation of Faith, the Pastoral Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the Offertory and on the first Sunday of the month communion.
An example of the Pastoral Prayer will be provided in a future post.
The service concludes with this Charge to the Congregation: “Go forth into the world in peace; Be of good courage; Hold fast to that which is good; Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted; Support the weak; Heal the afflicted. Honor all people. Love and serve the Lord, Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”
Especially meaningful for me is the Charge’s emphasis on rendering “to no person evil for evil” and on honoring “all people.” That means everyone; no one is excluded.
This emphasis on total inclusiveness is repeated in the following Benediction; “And now may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Hold Spirit be with us and those whom God loves this whole world over.”
The worshipers are then invited to the Passing of the Peace, when the people are encouraged to greet one another with the peace of Christ.
The text often differs, but the essential elements do not. They are confessing our individual and collective failures to do what we should do and our doing what we should not be doing and then asking for God’s forgiveness.
“God of all mercy, we confess before you and each other that we have been unfaithful to you. We lack love for neighbors, we waste opportunities to do good, and we look the other way when you cry out to us in the suffering of our brothers and sisters in need. We are sincerely sorry for our sins, both those we commit deliberately and those we allow to overtake us. We ask your forgiveness and pray for strength that we may follow in your way and love all your people with that perfect love which casts our all fear; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.”
The Prayer of Confession then continues with silent personal prayers by the members of the congregation.
In response to these prayers, one of the ministers leads the congregation in the Declaration of God’s Forgiveness (from the New Testament‘s Romans 8:34; 2 Cor. 5:17):
One: Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Friends, hear the good news:
All: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.