Friendship Through the Wilderness

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BY THE REV. CORY L. KEMP |

Photo of a palm cross

Photo by Andrew David Cox / Moravian BCM

We are coming toward the end of our wilderness journey, this Lenten season filled with opportunity to explore our faith, to learn new ways to be present as Jesus taught us in the example of his own life. 

Forty days feels like a long time to do this incredible work of honoring God’s wisdom in us, to be humbled by its transformative strength and power, often in ways we can barely begin to unravel in this Great Mystery that God truly is.

And then suddenly, there is Palm Sunday. We sing our Hosannas, echoing those surrounding Jesus as he returned to Jerusalem. 

And, we know what comes next. 

By Biblical accounts, so did Jesus. His time in the wilderness appears to have given him affirmation, personal resolve, and the renewed foundation of faith to walk back out of the wilderness and into the fire. And, as he faced this stretch of his life, he also had his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. 

It is a Biblical concept, this sense of connection to each other that can be described as deep affection, respect, admiration and love. In describing Jesus, each gospel writer allows a great teacher, prophet and savior to emerge. But John’s one sentence speaks of Jesus the friend: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (John 11:5).” Jesus spent time with them in their home, including the Passover, a true family celebration. One can only surmise that in the remembrance of the Passover ritual and tradition, there were also stories told of past gatherings, and some laughter. 

From Jesus and his friends we can learn some wonderful lessons about friendship.

Image of friends hanging out on a mountain

Photo by Arthur Poulin, via Unsplash.com

Friends become a safe haven when hospitality is shared, hearts are opened, and love is freely given. The sisters clearly were hurt and angry, confused and deeply saddened when Jesus took so long getting back to them as Lazarus was dying. They were equally elated and grateful at the results when Jesus finally did show up.  Raising Lazarus from the dead must have been a recurring story around their table whenever Jesus came to visit. How could it not be?

Friends make us better. Augustine believed it was important to surround ourselves with people who are better than us because they make us better. A friend and I laughed over the fact that we had both chosen each other for this reason. While Jesus was known to many as teacher, healer, prophet and miracle worker, he was also known to this family as friend. Spending time with other people’s families gives us insight into ourselves in unique ways. These siblings gave Jesus something he would not have had if he hadn’t chosen to spend time with them.

Friends remind us who we are, even when we forget. When we falter, face huge obstacles, back away from what we don’t want to deal with, and when we are smack in the middle of something we don’t know our way out of, our friends are with us to say out loud, or in our hearts, “Yes, you can. I know you, and I know you can.” In our slim book of Holy Week readings, there is a small notation indicating that we don’t know what Jesus did on Wednesday night, the night before his arrest and imprisonment, but it is assumed he spent the night in Bethany in seclusion with friends. A last night of peace among those he loved and who loved him. 

Image of friends hanging out together

Photo by Sammie Vasquez, via Unsplash.com

So as we come to the conclusion of our wilderness journey, as we enter Jerusalem with Jesus, spend some time in the home of his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, I invite you also to look around your own life, take note of those you have welcomed as friends over the years and who are a part of your life today.   

And from author, Will Cather, I offer one final lesson in friendship with which I think Jesus would agree: “Ain’t it wonderful how much people can mean to each other?”


Cory Kimp

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp is founder and faith mentor with Broad Plains Faith Coaching. Cory, employing her signature Handcrafted Faith program, supports ordained and lay women leaders in visualizing, understanding and strengthening their beliefs, so that they may know, love and serve God and their communities with generosity, wisdom and joy.


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Confirmation… An Ever Changing Process

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APRIL 18, 2016

Growing up in the Presbyterian Church and being confirmed as a teenager is not so vastly different from the process that Moravians take in their confirmation practices. Those memories of confirmation for me are everlasting. I developed relationships with adult mentors who cared enough about me to help me in this step in my faith. I truly felt like a worthy member of a congregation when given tasks during confirmation, such as baking communion bread with my family, and preparing the elements for a communion Sunday. Even the small task of making sure there was a glass of water in the pulpit each Sunday for the pastor… it may seem meaningless, but it is far from that. I learned the importance of even the smallest of tasks and made those next steps in my faith journey. It truly made me feel like a member of a congregation that could contribute something.

Book Cover

Click above image to see more about this book at our online Resource Center library!

As I was fortunate enough to spend some time this year reflecting on my faith journey and what each step meant to me, I ran across a new book, 100 Things Every Child Should Know Before Confirmation: A Guide for Parents and Youth Leaders. It was written by Rebeccca Kirkpatrick and published by Westminister John Knox Press in 2015. What a read it is! Not only for parents, but Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, as we strive to make confirmation be the most meaningful experience it can be. Drop by the Resource Center and borrow it for an excellent read about planting, feeding, watching growth, and understanding an experience such as confirmation.

In Bill Gramley’s piece for Moravian confirmation, Confirmation: A Graceful Step, he refers to confirmation as an opportunity for young people to make a public profession of their faith in Jesus Christ. It is a time when they confirm the steps that have already been taken for them by their parents or guardians, usually by virtue of infant baptism. It allows them to become more aware of the meaning of Christianity and be more deliberate in their response to God’s purpose for their lives. Confirmation is one of the milestones of faith that congregations can celebrate with a young person. It is truly an important step as it gives the opportunity to learn more about the Bible, theology, and what it means to be a member of a Moravian church.

Rev. Matthew Allen leading confirmation on Palm Sunday this year at Olivet Moravian.

Rev. Matthew Allen leading confirmation on Palm Sunday this year at Olivet Moravian.

Many of your churches may be at the end of this process with confirmation taking place during Holy Week or Pentecost. I challenge you not to stop here. We are offering a wonderful opportunity this summer for you to take this process one step further. At the August 14, 2016 Moravian Children’s Festival and Lovefeast, attendees will have the unique opportunity to visit many of the provincial agencies and learn about the work that they do for the church. This event is open to Moravians of all ages! The street will be closed and groups will be able to walk from the square, up Church Street to God’s Acre, stopping at the Board of Cooperative Ministries offices and Resource Center, Board of World Mission, and more. Make your plans now to bring your confirmation group even if you have ended the process. What a wonderful opportunity to continue those treasured relationships you have developed by showing the workings of the Moravian Church.Beth Hayes portrait

It is truly a graceful step, but just one of the first steps of following Jesus. It is not the end of one’s faith journey, but a gift that is received by our faith and proven through discoveries yet to be revealed. Help your young people continue this journey! Bring them to the Children’s Festival and use the opportunity to enrich their faith journey, as well as see the buildings and people that make up the Moravian Church today.

If you have questions or need additional information, email (bhayesATmcsp.org) or call the Resource Center (336) 722-8126.

 

Beth Hayes is the Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) 

Holy Week for Children

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Are you surprised that I am offering this resource for congregations to consider? It’s true that I believe school-aged children and those learning to read would benefit a great deal from attending Holy Week readings with their family. It is a beautiful Moravian tradition that should not be forgotten. What better time than Holy Week to give a child their own book of Holy Week readings as a special family milestone and to participate in these readings together. But we also have many visitors to our Resource Center ask, BlogADCLaurelRidgeDSC_0791“What can we do with the children during the Holy Week readings?” We should provide a resource for situations where children are separated during the Holy Week readings, so that they too experience faith formation during this time.

At the link is a Lenten children’s experience developed from various Scripture passages used in the Holy Week readings coupled with some rich children’s resources.

May this most Holy season be truly blessed for each of you. Spend some family time together. Enjoy the rich Moravian traditions of the Holy Week readings, Easter sunrise service, and, of course, hot cross buns! And, if you do separate children from the Holy Week reading services, please consider this model of Holy Week Readings for children.102015bethhayesportrait

If you have questions or need additional information to enrich your Lenten season, please email (bhayesATmcsp.org – replace the “AT” with @) or call me at the Resource Center (336) 722-8126.

Beth Hayes, Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) 

Taking Up Our Cross

The following is a recent sermon given by Rev. Aaron Linville on Mark 8:31-9:1. 

One of the more well known and more quoted theologians of the 20th century is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is as well known for what he did, as what he wrote. Even before Hitler took over Germany, Bonhoeffer saw the writing on the wall. He knew that the Church in Germany was in trouble of loosing itself to the pressures of society. His fears were confirmed when the German Church did not protest any of Hitler’s anti-Semitic, anti-gypsy, pro-true-German policies.

 Bonhoeffer is famous for writing about the need for the church to practice discipleship rather than just believe lightstock_68100_medium_user_4370092the right doctrine. He is famous for living out his belief that Christian practice is just as important as Christian belief. In his life, this manifested itself painfully in the fact that he could have remained in the United States teaching, but instead returned to his brothers and sisters in Germany in 1939. He returned because that is where the Good News was needed, and it is where God called him to be. While he was in Germany, he ran an underground seminary until it was shut down. He was imprisoned and spent the rest of the war in concentration camps. Just a handful of days before Flossenborg was liberated, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed, a martyr of the Christian Faith.

 His most famous book is called The Cost of Discipleship. In it, he looks at several scriptural passages where people tried to follow Jesus-to be his disciple. He points out that while there is free grace in all those encounters, discipleship is not free. He talks about cheap grace- receiving forgiveness without really changing our lives. Cheap grace is still grace, but Bonhoeffer finds it to be shameful. For Bonhoeffer, followers of Christ are to be about costly grace.

 Costly grace requires that the person receiving grace changes her/his life. Costly grace is what the disciples experienced when Jesus said, “follow me and I will make you fish for people” – and they followed him at the cost of their jobs, their income, their livelihood. Costly grace is the grace that the rich ruler faced when Jesus said, “One thing you lack. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor and come follow me,” and the man left full of sorrow because he had great wealth.

 For Bonhoeffer, grace is free, but it should never be cheap or easy. It should compel us to change our lives. The most well known line in The Cost of Discipleship says, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Our inclination is to take that metaphorically- to say that Christ calls us to die to our selfish desires and whims, to give a few things up and to throw money at a project or two. Our tendency is to clean it up and give that bold and difficult statement a “G” or “PG” rating. It does include those things, but we must remember that Bonhoeffer did die for the call of Christ. Bonhoeffer actually meant it when he said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

 Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow
me.” Like the Bonhoeffer quote, our tendency here is to give what Jesus said a “PG” rating. Jesus is certainly not calling us to die for him, especially not here in the United States in the 21st century. There is no need for that. Jesus just meant to put others before yourself, and maybe sacrifice here and there for his sake. That’s all. But what if Jesus meant what he said?

 You see, we are in the same boat as Peter when he said, “Surely not Jesus. You ‘do not need to undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed. You should stop talking that nonsense.’” We say “Surely not Jesus. You do not really call us to die. You want us to live and do your ministry for as many years as possible. And besides, there is nothing that is going to cause our death here in America unless we nobly sacrifice ourselves pushing someone else out of the way of a speeding car.”  And Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan.”

 Jesus’ words here are harsh. There is no getting around that. I read this week that some people think that Jesus’ strong rebuke of Peter is appropriate given the way Peter openly and blatantly contradicted his teacher, but I disagree. Maybe Peter’s rebuke did merit a strong statement from Jesus, but “Get behind me, Satan” is a bit much no matter how you look at it. The strength of this statement, the gravity of Jesus’ rebuke, gives greater weight to what Jesus says on either side of it. It makes us really pay attention to what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples.

 And Jesus is trying to teach them that suffering and unpleasantness is a part of following him. That is not all there is to discipleship- for there is joy and happiness and laughter and love in discipleship, but we must not ignore that sometimes, discipleship is messy, dirty, and painful. Sometimes grace is costly to us.

 lightstock_150776_medium_user_4370092One reason it is easy for us to make this statement “PG” is that we hear Jesus say “take up your cross and follow me” knowing about the resurrection. It is easy for us go down that route, but we must remember that Jesus said these words before his crucifixion, before his disciples knew about the resurrection. It is almost impossible for us to imagine how they must have felt when Jesus said this. We hear this statement with hope, for we know about the resurrection. For us the cross is a symbol of life as much as it is death. This was not the case when Jesus said it. Jesus said, “to follow me, you must deny, forget, disregard your own rights, your own life, and walk with me to your execution.”

 That takes any sense of commonplaceness, any sense of ordinariness out of following Jesus, and in truth, there is nothing ordinary about following someone who has come back from the dead. But as Bonhoeffer indicates, there is a difference between following and becoming a disciple. Anyone can follow. The cross affects every living soul on this earth, so anyone can follow, and grace is there, but discipleship is for those who have seen their Maker’s face, who have seen the cost of their grace in his eyes, and who see in grace a reason to do things that do not make sense simply.

 This part of this county and the surrounding area is the worst place in the nation for food insecurity. It does not make sense for anyone to donate food for strangers to consume. It makes much more sense for us to take care of us and ours and let nature sort out the rest. Yet because of the face of Jesus, people all over this county come together to help cover the basic necessities for others.

 The blood in our veins is essential for our lives, and even though it is unpleasant and takes a chunk of time, the Red Cross will take your blood and give it to a stranger in need- a little discomfort and a little loss of time can help save up to three lives. I doubt this is what Jesus meant when he said “there is no greater love than to lay down your life for someone else” but isn’t that exactly what giving blood is? For various reasons, some people cannot give blood, but we can still go and be a comforting and calm presence for someone else who is scared of needles, who struggles with the physical side of giving blood, but desperately wants to do their part. It does not make sense for us to let our blood leave our bodies, but we do, and I know several people who do it, and can only do it, because Jesus said “take up your cross and follow me.”

 We know that a full night’s rest is exceptionally important for good health. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to decreases in your ability to get things done, memory impairment, heart attacks, strokes, obesity, and can cause several other issues with our health. It makes no sense for anyone to sacrifice sleep for another person unless it is in the name of caring for someone who is sick or tending to an infant- but dozens and dozens of people have done so every night this winter for our unhoused brothers and sisters in this county simply because Jesus said to take care of them.

 Jesus said “If anyone want to become my followers, let them deny themselves…” What if we denied ourselves the next time we voted? What if we voted not for which candidate would help our wallet, would increase our bottom line, would help take care of me and mine, but instead voted based on which candidate has the courage and ability to do what is right and just for the most vulnerable among us- even if it means we take a hit, even a big hit?

 I know it’s a cliche, but what if we gave until it hurt? What if the next time we went grocery shopping we bought two of everything on our list, and gave it away? Or even if we gave away a tenth of what we purchased? What if we gave up a portion of a meal or two every couple of days, or fasted, and gave that food away? What if we did any of that just because Jesus said “deny yourself.”

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 Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the
kingdom of God has come with power.” Picking up the cross, denying ourselves, even though neither makes sense, is where the Kingdom of God has come with power. We glimpse the nearness of the kingdom of God during Holy Communion. We glimpse it because we all come to the table as equals. Not equals in wealth, not equals in social status, not equals in abilities and gifts, but equals in that each come to the table because of grace, and in experiencing that grace, that forgiveness, we are able to return it to everyone else who partakes as well.

 We glimpse the Kingdom of God just as much when we pick up our cross and deny ourselves for the sake of another whom Jesus loves not for the recognition or the ego boost or the pat on the back, but simply because Jesus asked us to do so. We glimpse the Utopia of God’s Kingdom when we seriously and intentionally deny ourselves and pick up a cross in costly ways to follow Jesus. Maybe that’s what he meant when he told the disciples all those years ago, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until the see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.” That is just as true today as it was then, if we but take Jesus seriously and deny ourselves in order to become his disciples.

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The Rev. Aaron Linville is pastor of Rural Hall Moravian Church.

Peace, Perfect Peace?

The following sermon was given by Rev. Nola Reed Knouse, Ph.D. at Ardmore Moravian Church Day of Prayer. 

We live in fear-filled days, don’t we? We are afraid of terrorist attacks on shopping malls; we are afraid of cancer; we are afraid of violence; we are afraid of financial meltdown – there’s no need for me to list all the things around us that make us afraid, for you know them, and if you ever find yourself not being afraid you can fix that very quickly by turning on the evening news or logging onto the internet.

But, Brothers and Sisters, that’s not how we as Christians are given to live. In my recent reading straight through the Gospels, I was struck anew by some things Jesus said over and over, a consistent message throughout his interactions with the disciples and others. These messages of Jesus are words we need to hear in our anxiety-ridden society, in our stress-driven lives.

photo-1424384309529-4f05c2349657Jesus said, “Go in peace.” He said, “Go in peace” to the woman healed of a 12-year hemorrhage when she came forward in fear and trembling to confess that it was she who had touched his garment. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mk. 5:34) He said, “Go in peace,” to the sinful woman who came to Simon the Pharisee’s house where Jesus was dining, the woman who stood behind him weeping, who bathed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them with costly ointment. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Lk. 7:50)

And Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.” He said, “Do not be afraid,” to the disciples when he appeared to them walking on the water through the storm, and they were terrified, fearing they were seeing a ghost. (Mt. 14:27) “Take heart,” he said; “it is I; do not be afraid.” He said, “Do not be afraid,” to Peter after the miracle of so many fish in the net after such a long fruitless night of fishing. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Lk 5:10) He said, “Do not be afraid,” when he sent the disciples out to preach the good news and warned them of coming persecutions. “Do not be afraid,” he said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:29-31) He said, “Do not be afraid,” when the disciples saw him transfigured and standing with Moses and Elijah in glory, and they fell to the ground terrified. (Mt. 17:7) He said, “Do not be afraid,” when he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, after the horrors of Friday and the sorrows of Saturday. (Mt. 28:10) And there, not only did he say, “Do not be afraid,” he gave one more gift. “Peace be with you,” he said. Over and over he said it. (John 20:19, 21, 26)

In the words we just heard read from the Gospel of John, Jesus is speaking directly to the anxiety of the disciples. This takes place on the evening before Jesus’ arrest. He has washed their feet and told them to wash one another’s feet. He has told them that one of the twelve disciples will betray him, and that another, Peter, will deny him three times. Of course they’re anxious! He has been telling them, over and over, that he must suffer and die; and now he tells them one of them will betray him to death, and another will deny that he even knows him. And his next words?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” What? Are you kidding, Master? How can our hearts not be troubled? Look what’s coming our way! We have enemies, and they’re bigger and stronger than we are, and they’re coming for us, and we don’t know when or where, and we’ve had an informer in our midst, and you know it! How can we not be afraid? Are you out of your mind?

But “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” is exactly what he says. To them, and to us. He explains that even when he has left this physical body, this earthly life, we will not be left orphaned; for the Father will send us the Holy Spirit whom we know because he abides with us and will be in us. The Father and the Son together will come to us and make their home with us if we love him. The Holy Spirit will remind us of all that Jesus has said. We are not left alone. It’s not up to us to figure it all out, or even to remember it all. The Holy Spirit – the Lord, the Giver of life – is near.

And then Jesus says it again. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do notbalcony-bouquet-flowers-1497-830x550-1 let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

This peace that Jesus has given is not the absence of conflict. It is not “security” as the world understands it. Jesus does not promise us that we are safe from terrorist attack, from economic disaster, from fatal illness, from random accident. He does promise us that we are not alone. That the Father himself, the creator of all that is; the Son, through whom all things were created, who was and is and is to come; and the Holy Spirit, Teacher, Guide and Comforter – this God, this Three in One, has already made God’s home with us and dwells within us and among us.

This, then, is the very reason Paul can call the Philippians, and us, to rejoice in the Lord always – not in what’s happening to us, but in the Lord. This is truly cause for rejoicing, no matter what’s going on otherwise. And Paul goes on to tell us how to deal with the anxieties that attack us from all sides. Paul says, “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with all thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In other words, when worry attacks, replace it with prayer.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it, to say, when you worry, just pray? It’s not – at least, it’s not easy for me. Worry strikes when I least expect it, or when I most want a good night’s sleep. But, Sisters and Brothers, doesn’t worrying mean we think we’re trapped in circumstances we can’t control, and we’re responsible to fix it, or at least to find the fix, or just to find a way out? When I’m worrying about something, I’m looking for a solution to a problem – I’m searching for the cure for the cancer that afflicts someone I love. I’m searching for the technique that will bring together people with strongly-held opposing positions. I’m searching for the “security” and “safety”, that freedom from trouble and woe, that I think I need, that I think I deserve. And that’s not what Jesus promises.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” The world has us searching for security, for safety, for a bigger arsenal of defense against all those we perceive as our enemies. The peace that Jesus gives isn’t that at all. Jesus said these words to his disciples, then led them across the Kidron Valley to a place where there was a garden, where Judas met him with soldiers and police to arrest him, to take him to unimaginable suffering and a shameful death. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

“Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?”

lightstock_157084_medium_user_4370092Jesus promises us peace in the face of all that threatens us. In the face of our own sin and that of others. In the face of the never-ending to-do list. In the face of grief. In the face of all the unknown future. In the face of death itself. That peace is the result, Brothers and Sisters, of Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit. That peace is the result of our knowing his word and doing it – and what is that word, but to love God with our being, and to love God’s people, every one of them, as we love our own selves? That peace is the result of our making a habit of replacing worry with prayer, of choosing over and over to bring God into those silent discussions we have with ourselves in the middle of the night when we start to worry about what we must do tomorrow, or how we can ever face what we must face. As we bring God into those midnight voices – and Paul reminds us, The Lord is near! –  then we can offer to him all our requests, with thanksgiving for his very nearness, for the promises he has made – and God keeps all his promises! And you are enabled, through that peace, to keep on doing what you know, to keep the word of Jesus, to love God more and more and to love your neighbors more and more. And as you keep on replacing worry with prayer, accepting Jesus’ gift of peace, and doing what you know, the God of peace will be with you. “Peace I leave with you,” says Jesus. “My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Knouse, Rev. Dr. Nola Reed (1)

Sister Nola is the Director of the Moravian Music Foundation and was recently consecrated as a Presbyter in the Moravian Church. 

Why We All Need Ash Wednesday

AshWednesdayFaith & Leadership is the online magazine of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, which designs educational services, develops intellectual resources, and facilitates networks of institutions. Today’s post on Ash Wednesday by Amy Butler, senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., reminds us why we all seem to need Ash Wednesday so much.

A blessing for Ash Wednesday:

“Redeem us from all wickedness, purify us and make us your very own, eager to do what is good.” (see Titus 2: 14)

Prayer for today’s Moravian Daily Text:

“On this holy Ash Wednesday, Christ Jesus, we pray that you will be with us as we enter this time of self-examination and repentance for all the ways in which we have failed to believe or act on our belief. Amen.”