God of Welcome. God of the Stranger.

A few of the resources I gathered and created for worship at Richmond Church of the Brethren on the topic of “Welcome”.

Words and images, stories and songs, bring us into the presence of the Divine and the presence of each other. I invite you to travel with me into the land of poetry, as you hear the words of David Whyte. Listen for the Divine, as we contemplate what it means to be a stranger, and what it means to be present with humanity around us.

Two Strangers
by David Whyte  

Two horses

on the wide brow of the hill

and a woman with dark hair

looking toward me

as if she knew me.

Strange and familiar

this silent togetherness,

walking the horses on the tawny heath.

Until she stops,

gathers herself

on that white

litheness and rides

toward the Black Mountains

brooding in the west.

I follow her until

we slow together

on the round

knoll, the silence

between us

like a third companion,

the clouds streaming

from us in a wide sky

and the mountains

framing her face.

My fortieth year,

and I think of time stopped

and time slipping by

and all the other faces

in all the other years

still looking and still waiting

They come to us

Flowering and fading

Through a thousand forms.

And they do not wait

until we are ready.

I remember

the dark rippled cobbles

in an ancient square

and that broken

beggar’s mouth

moving slowly,

as if to open.

That beautiful

breathless woman in blue

turning toward me

in sunlight,

and that daughter

on the flatbed truck

beseeching for her wounded

father.

The world is full

of strangers

who demand our love

and deserve it.

For their mouths

Loving or helpless.

For their eyes,

beautiful or not,

for their hair,

raven or mouse,

and their faces,

clear or clouded

by their past,

and most of all

like this one,

for her courage

who asked me,

a stranger

to join her,

two familiars

who might never

meet again

their faces

in this moment

calm and protected

from suffering,

looking from the white

manes of their

stamping horses,

pilgrims of the

timeless and untraveled,

over the wide curve

of a trembling world.

–David Whyte

Prayer
God of welcome,
God of the stranger.
We come as strangers.
We come as those who you welcome.
We come as those called to welcome.

Christ, who reached across all lines
Messiah who looked the “other” in the eyes with love.
Challenge us with your radical example of love.
Stretch us to engage the way you engage.
Humble us to receive and be.
Spirit who challenges,
Spirit who connects,
Urge us to compassion,
Break down our resistance,
Strengthen our resolve,
Tear open our hearts,
Mobilize our minds,
Flow through our bodies,
As Your
vessels who will be conduits of
welcome,
compassion,
justice
and
love.
Amen

Sharing our lives in prayer
This morning in our time of prayer, you are invited to participate in a bidding prayer. A bidding prayer creates the space for us to focus our prayers together on a few specific themes.

Today we pray together for the concerns we have on our hearts, for those in need of healing, support and care.  We pray for the individuals and groups that we have walked past, judged, or failed to welcome, calling out in a spirit of confession and commitment to reach outside of ourselves with humility and welcome. And we offer our prayers of thanksgiving and hope, recognizing where God is working in the world.

I will lead us into each of these three movements, and invite you to call out a name or a sentence prayer after each movement. After each person offers their prayer, as a group we’re invited to respond “hear our prayer”.

Holy One, we recognize and welcome Your presence,
moving in us and among us, between us and through us.
We come to You with hearts that are holding—
holding the people we love who are struggling,
those close to us who are sick,
beloveds who are grieving,
and those we fervently wish healing.
God of healing, we call out to you.

HEAR OUR PRAYER

Holy One, we are humbled by your Spirit of radical welcome, love for all and courage to reach out across boundaries and cultural lines.
We confess that we have failed, individually and collectively,
to always follow in your example.
We have walked past those who are hurting,
we fail to be concisions of the inter-connected nature of our world,
we have judged those that we feel threatened by and that challenge our sense of self,
we have failed to welcome people into our lives that our outside of our comfort zone.

We call out the names of people and groups of people in a spirit of confession, knowing that you hear us and receive us—shortcomings and all. We call out to you with a renewed commitment to reaching outside of ourselves with of humility and welcome.

HEAR OUR PRAYER

Holy One, we recognize you as a God of hope, Creator of life,
Spirit of movement, renewal and resurrection.
We pray in gratitude and with steadfastness hearts,
naming the places we see you moving with life, light and hope.
In our lives, in our community, in our world.

HEAR OUR PRAYER

Holy One, hear our prayers.

For Everyone Born (sung)

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread;
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead.

Refrain:

And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy.

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding the share;
with wisdom and grace dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that’s fair.

For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song;
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, a right to belong.

For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.

Words by: Shirley Erna Murray, New Zealand

This song can be found at: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/resources/globalpraise/music/?i=18883