Sermon: “The Power of Community” (Acts 2:42-47; 3:1-10; 4:32-37) [7/30/17]

This summer, we’re looking at what it will take to “build a stronger community.”  After considering our community’s spiritual and vocational lives, the last two weeks we’ve turned our attention to… finances.  Oh, joy!

Have sermons from the last two weeks offended you at all?  I think I’ve offended myself a couple of times. J  Even mentioning money in church seems unseemly…much less asking questions about how our relationships with money and with God are related.

So, why delve into this land-mine of an issue?  Why not just leave it lie and hope for the best when pledge time comes…or when the HVAC dies?

Despite the taboo against talking about money in church, it seems kind of crucial to do it.  Is there anything we spend more time thinking about than money?  How to pay the bills, get ahead, pay for college?  A deep faith touches every aspect of our lives.  So, if we spend all this time thinking about money, doesn’t it make sense to invite our faith into those thoughts?

In the interest of deepening our faith, we’re spending one more sermon of the series reflecting on how our relationships with money and with God are connected. You’re welcome.

The context for our reflections has been Acts 2:42-47.  Usually, we only look at a few verses.  Today, I invite us to look at the focus passage in the larger context of Acts 1-4.  What might we glean from the longer narrative about our Pilgrimage community’s financial life?

The story begins with the risen Jesus’ followers gathered to see him off as he leaves the scene for good.  After he leaves, the followers disperse.  Then God’s Spirit blows in and brings the community back life!  They “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, and have all things in common.”  Then, they leave the community to “spend time together in the temple praising God.”  After one foray into the wider community, guess to where Peter and John return?  To the community of believers.

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Are you feeling the flow?  Jesus’ followers gather to see him off, then disperse.  God’s Spirit blows in, drawing people back into community, where they work for the goodwill of all, or act each other into wellbeing.  Then they go out into the wider community, where they act others into wellbeing…after which, they return home to their koinonia community.

That flow—koinonia community, wider community, koinonia community, wider community…acting each other into wellbeing, acting the world into wellbeing, acting each other into wellbeing, acting the world into wellbeing…It’s almost like breathing, isn’t it?  Inhale (koinonia community), exhale (wider community), inhale (act each other into wellbing), exhale (act the world into wellbeing).  The narrative shows us what keeps a community vital—breathing in God’s love…breathing out God’s love…breathing in God’s love…breathing out God’s love…

Which is a great image…but where does money fit in?

While he was in seminary, today’s passage from Acts grabbed Clarence Jordan’s imagination.  Eventually, he and a friend searched for farm land in the deep South.  With the help of a benefactor, they purchased 440 acres down near Americus.  Koinonia Farm was born.

At Koinonia, they sought to create the kind of community described in Acts 2.  Koinonia, which means “fellowship,” is the original Greek word used in this passage.  Koinonians lived and ate together… They worked, studied, and prayed together.  They also held a common purse…which presented many opportunities for, um, conversation.  J

That is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of living as a community of Jesus’ followers—deciding what to do about money.  We don’t want to talk about it, but we need it to function.  And, oh my goodness.  Each of us has our own history of and habits with money.  Trying to get on the same page with everyone else?  The. Hardest. Thing. Ever.  A story related in Dallas Lee’s history of Koinonia Farm explains just how hard committing to a common purse can be.

One day, an old black car “shuddered into the driveway of Koinonia Farm, coughed to a halt, and delivered a quiet, 40-year-old spinster who asked if she could remain for a visit.”

After a couple of days, she “approached Clarence and [expressed] interest in joining.  He explained what Koinonia was striving to be, how one must surrender totally to Christ, including all their earthly possessions.  At Koinonia, he said, they do this by asking everyone to enter the same way:  ‘flat broke.’  Her eyebrows jerked upward in alarm.  She had questions.

“Clarence was perplexed” by the woman’s hesitation.  “‘Jesus said it would be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom, but we’d never [actually] had one apply.’”  Clarence asked her what difficulty there would be with relinquishing her possessions.  She had a fair-size difficulty, somewhere between $80,000 and $90,000.

“Clarence swallowed a couple of times, then reasserted that she would have to dispose of the money to become a part of Koinonia.  How, she asked?  Give it to the poor, he said, give it to your relatives, throw it over a bridge—but you must enter the fellowship without it.

“What about giving it to Koinonia Farm, she asked?  Clarence grinned:  ‘No.  If you put that money in here, we’d quit growing peanuts and start discussing theology.  That wouldn’t be  healthy for us.  And, unless I miss my guess, you’re a very lonely person, and you’re lonely because you think every friend you ever had is after your money.’  She confirmed that judgment.

“Well, if you put that money in here, you’d think we courted you for your money, that we loved you for your money.  You’d get the idea you were God’s guardian angel, that you endowed the rest of us, and that all of us ought to be grateful to you for your beneficence.’  “She was listening; Clarence pressed his point:  ‘Now for your sake and for our sakes, you get rid of that money and come walk this way with us.’  Tearfully, the woman replied:  ‘I can’t do it.’  She packed her old car and left.”  (The Cotton Patch Evidence, 86-87)

This might seem an odd story to tell as we consider our community’s financial life.   Refusing a gift of $90,000?  Well, that’s not smart.  Just think what we could do with $90,000!  We could replace our HVAC system, do all the exterior work, rework our bathrooms, and get a jump on the Next Generation house.  Wait a minute.  Those were 1950 dollars.  Adjusted for inflation, the $90,000 would be worth nearly $900,000 today!  With that much, we could do all the upgrades and replace the Next Generation House with something really nice.

If Koinonia had only been about money, I’m sure they eagerly would have taken the woman’s money.  But Koinonia wasn’t just about money.  At Koinonia, they were trying to establish God’s kin-dom here on earth as it is in heaven…and establishing God’s kindom on earth calls us to look at every single aspect of our lives through the lens of faith.

And when we look through the lens of faith, what do we see?  We see koinonia.  We see community.  We see how we’re connected to each other, both inside the community and outside it.  I don’t think we’re ready to start living in intentional Christian community here at Pilgrimage.  At least, I’m not.  I’m still working on having all things in common with Allen.  And our cats. J

But—thank goodness!—establishing God’s kindom here on earth as it is in heaven doesn’t begin by living literally in community.  Establishing God’s kindom begins with a change of heart….with the recognition that we are all connected and with a commitment to caring for each other and to making sure everyone has what they need to live and to thrive—that’s both in this koinonia community and in the wider community.  And, yes.  That commitment—if it grows out of faith—extends to what we do with our money.

There was a time when I didn’t like talking about money.  But after 20 years of doing church and trying to live the Gospel, especially today’s passage from Acts, now I get excited when we talk about money.  Why?  Because if we’re dealing with money as a matter of faith, if we’re asking questions about how money is spent, keeping in mind the least of these, if we look at what we spend through the lens of community, then we are living our faith deeply here at Pilgrimage.  And that’s kind of the whole point, right?  To live faith deeply?

Lest we get too spiritual about this thing–we still need to replace the HVAC.  If we don’t replace the fascia on the building’s exterior now, we’re going to have even bigger bills later.  And we have a great opportunity to make our bathrooms more accommodating.   And the Next Generation House has served its purpose well…AND it needs to be replaced.  Growing our children, youth, and adult educational ministries depends on it.

So, well, we need money.  If we’re going to accomplish any of these tasks, we’re going to need money.  But I’m not here today to cajole you into parting with your hard-earned cash.  I could do that, but that wouldn’t be much fun for either of us.  That approach also would miss the whole point of koinonia, of the fellowship that is key to being a community of Jesus’ followers.

As a community of Jesus’ followers who have material resources and some specific needs, we have an amazing opportunity right now.  And the opportunity isn’t just to get a new HVAC system, a face lift, new bathrooms, and eventually, a replacement for the Next Generation House, as important as those things are.

The real opportunity before us right now is to come together as a community and through our conversations about raising and spending money, to significantly deepen our faith.  To think as we give—how might my contribution act Pilgrimage into wellbeing?  How might all our contributions help us–as a community– act the world into wellbeing?  How might tending to the gift of this space and our property breathe new life into our community as we breathe in God’s love…breathe out God’s love…breathe in God’s love…breathe out God’s love….

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017

Daily Devotion – July 29, 2017

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:45-46

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

The message of the parable is provocative.  Jesus gives a simple yet nearly impossible task to accomplish.  It is something that nearly everybody can do but nobody will.  Mostly, because the world we live in tells us it would be foolish to give away everything we have for one prized possession.  Yet, it is still worth asking, is there anything you would give away all that you have to possess it solely.

We tend to place high importance on the things of this world, so even beginning the thought of what we would possible give all that we have away for one thing causes to move past these verses very quickly.  More than likely this is because it is too uncomfortable to think about.  We surround ourselves with creature comforts such as money, homes, furniture, clothing, and new cars.  We build walls around ourselves to protect us from vulnerabilities.  All these things that we accumulate seem to serve a purpose of great value in our lives.  Therefore, selling everything we have just doesn’t seem reasonable.

With this parable and the parables that precede it, Christ is attempting to change our mindset.  He wants us to think about our lives differently.  Rather than surrounding ourselves with earthly things, we should pursue the kingdom of heaven that is worth giving away all that we have to obtain.  It is of more value, according to the teachings of Christ, to pursue things like love, compassion, peace, kindness, gentleness than it is to spend our time figuring out how we are going to get that nicer car.  Christ asks of his followers to be vulnerable, to be willing to give of their resources, and to give freely of themselves.  He teaches his followers so that they might know what heaven will be like.  Only some will listen though.

One day we will lose all the possessions we have stored up here on earth.  No more money, no more houses, and no more fancy cars.  Knowing that the things of this earth will pass away, and they will pass away, how much then will you be willing to risk to experience the kingdom of heaven?  Everything? Some? Nothing?  The kingdom of heaven is like the one who is willing to give everything away just to be a part of it.  Crazy? Maybe.  But what if…


Grant us faith and courage, Holy One.  May we strive for your kin-dom in heaven.  May we trust in what you taught us.  May we find the courage to let go of the walls of security we build around ourselves so that we all may together experience the kingdom of heaven that Christ talked so much about.  Be with us all.  Amen.

Daily Devotion – July 28, 2017

Matthew 13:44

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Devotion by Holly CothranDrake

I had to research this verse online.  I read an interpretation of this verse that discussed how we can be without everything, but if we value the kingdom of God, then we have everything.  Dealing with my health issues, I learned that I could lose my good health, but if I keep God in my heart, then I can still feel whole and healthy.


Almighty God, please continue to remind us that as long as we value your kingdom and keep you in our hearts, we are always healthy.

Daily Devotion – July 27, 2017


Matthew 13:33

The Parable of the Yeast

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Devotion by Julia Shiver

Have you ever made bread using a “starter?”  A starter holds the yeast, enzymes, and sometimes bacteria that cause fermentation, and thus the bread to rise.  Another name for starter is mother dough.  Nowadays, we can just go to the store and buy a packet of yeast.  But in bygone eras, a starter was crucial for making the daily bread.  It would be carefully fed and kept warm. And never allowed to run out.  It was passed down through families, a mother giving some to her daughter as she married and made her own home.

What do you carry with you through life?  What nourished your soul as you grew to adulthood?  And what of that “mother dough” do you hold tightly to now, always keeping a little bit back, carefully tended, ready to be used during life’s challenges and daily struggles?  Where does the strength to “rise up” come from every morning?


Dear God, I thank you for all the women in my life who have left their little bit of “starter” in me, the bits of wisdom and strength and service that see me through each day.  I pray that I always reflect those who fed me and kept me warm until I was ready to pass that on to others.  Amen.


Daily Devotion – July 26, 2017

Matthew 13:31-32


He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’


Devotion by Lynne Buell


I am truly grateful to belong to a faith community where I can observe the littlest of children to grow and become amazing young adults.  While my faith journey didn’t begin until I was a not-so-young adult, I know how important this church is for all of us.  For some it is a place to learn; for others, it is a safe place.  We gather for worship and fellowship; we love and support each other.  I’m not puzzled by the meaning of this parable.  We can say that the mustard seed, which is so tiny but can become a big tree, is also true for folks who start out not believing in the Word of God can develop a powerful faith no matter what their age…now that becomes something that IS big.




Loving God, thank you for not giving up on folks who have little or no faith.  Amen.  

Devotion for July 25, 2017

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  -Romans 8:26-27


Devotion by David Burns


This short passage of scripture offers me great comfort.


Paul is right about me.  I often do not know how I ought to pray.  I don’t have the right words.  I don’t know how prayer works.  I don’t know what is appropriate to pray for or what is appropriate to pray about.


If I read Paul right, I think he is suggesting that my own concern with praying as I ought may be my biggest problem.  This is one place and one time you do not have to get it right.  Of course we don’t know how we ought to pray!


Maybe intent is all we have.  That longing to open ourselves to the healing, counseling, calming, powerful presence of God.  That intent to simply place ourselves in God’s presence and just sit.  And let the Spirit do her work.  Let the Spirit groan out what we are too shy or scared or proud or unaware to ask.  Sighs too deep for words.


I suspect that in our deepest place, our yearnings and the Spirit’s yearnings are the same.


Come to us, Holy Spirit, as we sit with you.  Save us.  Make us whole.  Amen

Sermon: “One World, One Heart, One Soul…One PURSE?” (Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37) [7/23/17]

In a course I taught at Candler in 2000, the final project invited students to express their learnings in a creative way.  We’d been looking at how social dynamics like gender, race, and class shape learning experiences.

One student created a board game.  The game worked as many board games do.  Each team, in turn, rolls the die and moves its playing piece down a game board.  The first team to the end wins.  Simple enough, right?

The game’s designer set up the board, we gathered around the table, eager to play.  Then she handed out our playing pieces.  She handed my group a nice shiny new toy car.  We smiled.  Then she handed a smaller car to the next group.  Looking from our car to theirs, their brows furrowed into question marks.  Then the last group received its car–an old car that had been smashed by a hammer.  Their eyes widened in disbelief.

Once the cars had been distributed, the designer reviewed the rules—roll the die, move from start to finish.  There also were three stacks of “Community Chest” kinds of cards–one stack for the nice car group, one for the okay car group, and one for the beat-up car group.  Oh.  And the nice car group got to multiply each roll of the die by 3.  The older car group multiplied by 2.  The beat-up car group had to go with the number they rolled.

When the game’s designer said, “Are you ready to play?” my team smiled and eagerly nodded our heads.  The second team sighed.  The third team sputtered, “What?  How?  No fair!”

Someone from my team—of course—rolled the die first.  Four.  We drove forward 12 spaces and drew a card that read:  “For your birthday, Grandmother gave you a house.  Move ahead 4 spaces.”  The second group rolled a 3, moved forward 6, and drew a card that read, “You bought a house!  Mortgage payments begin in a month.  Go back one space.”  The third group rolled a one and drew a card that said, “Your landlord sold your building.  Find a new place within a month.  No money for first and last month’s rent and deposits.  Go back 3 spaces and lose your next turn.”  It quickly became clear who was going to win…

…which wasn’t a problem for my team.  The second team stayed in the game because they kept hoping to get a break and catch up with the first team.  By the fourth roll, someone from the third team got frustrated, threw the beat-up car across the room, and yelled, “I quit!”

The game designer got an A on the project….and not just because I got to drive the nice car.  She got an A because the game beautifully demonstrated the economic realities of the world we live in–some people are born into privilege, the privilege of wealth, of access to adequate food, drinkable water, housing, healthcare, and education.  Others, while not born into privilege, do have the means of working to achieve good jobs, nice homes, and financial security.  And some people are born with a beat-up car from the get-go.  They work and work and just can’t seem to accomplish very much for their effort.

These are economic realities we all can understand.  But what do they have to do with faith?  Why talk about these economic issues at church?

In our exploration this summer of what it takes to “build a stronger community,” we’ve considered our community’s spiritual and vocational lives.  Last week, we started the section everyone’s been eagerly anticipating—our community’s financial life. J  For this section, we’re focusing on one Scripture passage–Acts 2:42-47–and looking at it through a different lens each week.  This week’s lens?  Economic justice.

Is that a new term for you?  At its heart, economic justice is about making sure that every person has the material resources they need to live…and flourish.  Those of us who’ve spent time with our Family Promise guests have seen just how hard their lives are.  Moving their children around week after week, eating whatever food is provided, sleeping on thin cot mattresses.  It’s better than the alternative of sleeping in their cars or on the streets, but it’s not easy.  In other communities around the globe, the needs are even more dire–struggling for material resources in places of drought or famine or war.  Have you seen pictures of Aleppo or Mosul?  How can anyone possibly survive in those circumstances…much less thrive?

Last week, we looked briefly at the vow of poverty taken by monastics.  Monks’ poverty is chosen.  Economic justice seekers begin with poverty that is not chosen and ask why it exists.  Why do some people have the material resources they need to live life to the fullest while others struggle and sometimes even die from a lack of resources?

Historically, looking at the distribution of financial resources and asking why disparities exist has not been a popular question.  J  As Dom Helder Camara said of his work with the poor in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint.  When I asked why they are poor, they called me a Communist.”  Why is it so much easier to praise feeding the poor than asking why they’re poor?

It’s not that complicated, really.  It’s easier to feed the poor than to ask why they are poor because feeding the poor reinforces the narrative that we are good people doing good things.  We like seeing ourselves as good people doing good things.  Asking why the poor are poor requires us to look deeper…and when we look deeper, we have to begin confronting our complicity in social and economic systems that create poverty.  Feeding the poor is easy.  Changing the system that makes them poor is really hard.  Changing our own minds, hearts, and habits is harder still.

There was one part of the game I mentioned earlier that I didn’t tell you about.  By the second or third roll of the die, I started feeling guilty.  Really guilty.  Every time the beat-up car team got sent back another 5 spaces, the knot in my stomach tightened.  I kept a smile on my face, because having all those advantages was supposed to make me happy, but inside I felt so bad.  I wanted to share my wealth so the beat-up car team could get a leg up, but the rules of the game didn’t allow it.  In truth, I was relieved when the beat-up car team member threw their car and got out of the game that had been designed to make them lose.

So, what do we followers of Jesus do about economic disparities?  What can we possibly do to narrow the gap between rich and poor?  How do we assuage our first-world guilt?

If only there was some Scripture passage to guide us on this.  Wait a minute!  Today’s might do nicely!  Again, we see what happened as a result of that first day of Pentecost— Jesus’ followers pray, study, and eat together, and have all things in common.  Right after that, Peter and John hit the streets preaching and healing people, just like Jesus had done.  Also just like Jesus, some people loved them, while others—like religious officials—were less than pleased.

After this first foray into the wider community, Peter and John return to their faith community, where again we’re told the community had one heart and one soul and that no one owned anything apart from the community.  The passage ends with Barnabas selling some property and leaving the proceeds at the feet of the apostles.

On the face of it, today’s readings sound the same.  Reading more closely, though, you see that in Acts 2, “having all things in common” is set within a larger context of study, prayer, fellowship, and communal meals.  In Acts 4, the apostles’ teaching is mentioned, but the passage focuses almost exclusively on people selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds so that “there was not a needy person among them.”   Why the shift in focus?  What happened between Acts 2 and Acts 4 that led to the greater emphasis on this radical sharing of resources?

I wonder if it was going out into the world and actually seeing the gap between the rich and the poor that led to the shift.  Acts 3 begins with Peter and John on their way to the Temple for prayer.  A beggar—someone who hasn’t been able to walk since birth—asks for alms.  That was the only means of employment the social system of the time allowed someone who was otherly-abled.  Peter tells the man he doesn’t have any money.  (He’d already given it to all the community, right?)  Then he tells the man to get up and walk.  Which he does.

The healing is significant, but even more significant, perhaps, is Peter’s quiet indictment of the system that made this man, because of his other-ability, a beggar.  So, maybe by the time Peter and John get back to the community, they realize that what they’re doing there—sharing all their resources—is key to helping establish God’s kindom on earth as it is in heaven.  If everyone is to become fully who God hopes for them to be, they must have the material resources they need to live.  And the best way for people to get the resources they need is for everyone to share.

So, why aren’t we?  Why aren’t we sharing?  Why is the gap between rich and poor in our world widening?  What might it take to get everyone to share?  Just one thing, really.  A change of heart…an internal shift from self-reliance and building up one’s own stature to recognizing just how connected we all are and working to see that every person on the planet has the material resources they need to live…and to thrive.

Here’s an idea.  Let’s create a new game!  We’ll call it, “A Just World for All.”  First off, let’s use just one set of “Community Chest” cards.  Then let’s give everyone cars of the same size and condition.  And don’t you think everyone should move one space per die dot?

If we did these things—if we changed the rules of the game—what might happen?  What might happen to the least of these?  What might happen to the hearts of first world people?  If we changed the rules of the game, might we get a step closer to establishing God’s kindom here on earth as it is in heaven?  What might happen if we changed the rules of the game?  (Roll die.)  Your turn.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2017

Image result for a just world for all logo

Daily Devotion – July 24, 2017

Romans 8:20-21

For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

When I tell my mother another of her friends has passed away, she says matter-of-factly, “People live and people die. We all have to go some time.” When I read creation is in “bondage to decay”, I think of the circle of life and death.

Jesus was sent to be among us to let us know that life doesn’t end with death. Life is everlasting. There is a place for us in heaven. All we have to do is believe.

So I say, matter-of-factly, people live and people die and people live again!


Dear Lord, thank you for sending Jesus as a reminder of our victory over death. Please help those who doubt come to believe. In Your name I pray. Amen.

Daily Devotion – July 22, 2017

Romans 8:16

16. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Reflection by Darlene Wagner
Among the most comforting passages in scripture are those which affirm the intimate connection between the Divine and humanity. The connection is not only described as Parent-Child, but also friendship (John 15:15). The words used to describe the connection between human and Deity are crucial. Are we children of a Divine Parent or are we slaves to a Divine Monarch? If we are indeed children, does our Divine Parent punish us with unending suffering for wrong belief? In the current state of our society, I fear that domination and malice have crowded out the positive message from scripture. To distance my inner-life from worldly systems of domination, I choose to describe my faith in terms of a Mother-Child connection.

A Morning Hymn to my Divine Mother
Mother who freely loves, Everyone, Good, Bad, or stumbling midst faults. Freely as raindrops fall, in your forgiving heart, You take us up in your arms, your children we are!

Daily Devotion – July 21, 2017

Romans 8:14

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

Devotion by Anne Mooney

This scripture bothered me when I first read it.  I believe everyone is a child of God.  Since I typically need help to shift my thinking, I began to research commentaries on this scripture.  My efforts were rewarded when I found a blog entitled Working Preacher.

This is what I learned.  The Spirit of God can be interpreted as the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes from outside of myself.  It is God within me, but I have to be open and receptive to its presence in order for it to be active in me. I can be a member of any family or group, but it is up to me whether I participate or not.  I won’t feel like I belong if I am not interacting with others in the family. If I don’t welcome and engage with the Holy Spirit, I won’t feel like a member of God’s family.  It is like refusing a gift.  It is given, but I have to accept it, receive it, and use it.



Holy Spirit, Thank you for your presence in my life.  Guide me and direct my actions so I can accept the gift of being a child of God.  Amen