Preparation for Worship 
While worshipping at home, set aside a time each week for worship and designate a place. Light two candles to begin worship: one to represent Christ’s humanity and the other to represent Christ’s divinity. If you would like to celebrate communion have something to eat and drink for everyone. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  

Each October we set aside the third Sunday to celebrate the children of our nation. This weekend we join sister churches and other faith groups to focus on the urgent problems facing children in the US. Together we amplify our voices calling for justice.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God.

The Worship of God

Lighting Two Candles
We begin worship by lighting candles to remind ourselves that the One whom we worship, Jesus, is the light of the world. We light two candles to remind us that Jesus is God and lived alongside us as a human being.

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Invitation to Worship
Bring yourselves before the Lord.
Offer your works, your labors, and your hopes to the glory of God.
Welcome in full conviction the good news of God’s love.

Opening Prayer
Gather our hearts, O God,
knitting us together across difference and division
to live with your compassion.
Gather our minds, O God,
from distractions and distance
to focus on you and your children.
Gather our wills, O God,
to be strong and courageous
in pursuit of your justice.
By the power of your Holy Spirit,
make us one in heart, mind, and spirit
as we worship you on this Children’s Sabbath day.
Come, let us worship God.
Amen.

Hymn of Praise
O Sing a Song to God
Tune: ROSAS
Author: Carolos Rosas

O sing a song to God, a song of celebration;
A hymn of praise and love for the wonders of creation.
He formed the earth, the sky, the sun, the stars, the oceans.
O sing a song to God; Sing a song of our devotion.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah! O sing a song to God. Hallelujah!

O sing a song to God, who was in the beginning;
And tells to all the world that in Him there is no ending.
For all his mighty works we bow in adoration.
O sing a song to God; Sing a song of celebration.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah! O sing a song to God. Hallelujah!

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 96 / Common English Bible

Sing to the Lord a new song!
    Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord! Bless his name!
    Share the news of his saving work every single day!
Declare God’s glory among the nations;
    declare his wondrous works among all people
    because the Lord is great and so worthy of praise.
He is awesome beyond all other gods
    because all the gods of the nations are just idols,
        but it is the Lord who created heaven!
Greatness and grandeur are in front of him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Give to the Lord, all families of the nations—
    give to the Lord glory and power!
Give to the Lord the glory due his name!
    Bring gifts!
    Enter his courtyards!
Bow down to the Lord in his holy splendor!
    Tremble before him, all the earth!10 Tell the nations, “The Lord rules!
    Yes, he set the world firmly in place;
    it won’t be shaken.
    He will judge all people fairly.”
11 Let heaven celebrate! Let the earth rejoice!
    Let the sea and everything in it roar!
12     Let the countryside and everything in it celebrate!
    Then all the trees of the forest too
        will shout out joyfully
13         before the Lord because he is coming!
He is coming to establish justice on the earth!
    He will establish justice in the world rightly.
    He will establish justice among all people fairly.

The State of America’s Children
The following is a narrative in list form of one day in the life of America’s children. As we prayerfully read, may we recommit our lives to continue to seek God’s justice for the children of our nation.  

Each day in America        
5 children are killed by abuse or neglect.
        8 children or teens die by suicide.
        9 children or teens are killed with a gun.
      61 babies die before their first birthday.
    126 children are arrested for violent crimes.
     248 children are arrested for drug crimes.
     589 public school students are corporally punished.*
     773 babies are born into extreme poverty.
     826 babies are born without health insurance.
  1,683 babies are born into poverty.
  1,844 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.
  1,995 children are arrested.
  2,956 high school students drop out.*
14,640 public school students are suspended.*
(* Based on 180 school days a year.)

Prayer for the Children
Loving God, the challenges facing children and those who care for them are daunting and seem insurmountable. When will things get better? We lift up to you the children of our nation.

For children struggling to learn,
bless them with determination and good teachers.
For children who are sick and in pain,
bless them with hope and good doctors, comfort and excellent care.
For children who have given up,
help them see all the possibilities
and bless them with an understanding ear.
For children who are angry,
calm any fear and still their raging hearts;
may you teach them how to turn their anger into fuel for positive actions.
For children who are abused and neglected,
give them courage and hope;
provide a way for them out of such terror.
For children who don’t have enough,
God, give us eyes to see and wisdom to respond.

silent prayer & reflection

Lord, we also lift up to you the children in our church family. We miss seeing them each Sunday. On this Children’s Sabbath Sunday we pledge again to help them grow in wisdom and knowledge of you. We pledge to provide them a safe place to learn of your amazing love, mercy, and grace. We pledge to live our lives so that your ways are reflected in what we do and say. Today we give you thanks for

name the children

Help us to be witness to them of your great and abiding love.
Amen.

Choral Anthem
As God Has Called You
Composer: Carol Dixon

As God has called you, live up to your calling,
As God has claimed you, live your life in Him;
As God has freed you, preserve your freedom,
And come before Him full of love and praise.

As God has called you, live your life for others,
As God has loved you, share his love with all;
As God has filled you, live in His Spirit,
And come before Him full of hope and faith.

As God has called you, live your life like Jesus,
As God has led you follow in Christ’s way;
Proclaim God’s kingdom of peace and justice,
And come before him full of joy and grace.

Celebrating Communion
Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means anyone seeking to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.  
 
Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer for Forgiveness
Great Lover of Justice, hear our prayers:
     called to treat all people equally,
          we take sides and pick favorites;
     chosen to be your children,
          we arrogantly assume others are not so honored;
      challenged to be examples of faith,
we reveal our worst natures to our families and friends.

Forgive us, Giver of Rest.  Enable us to stop putting you to the test, so we can open our hypocritical hearts to your healing touch of compassion and hope. As Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, has given all for us, may we give ourselves to you – confidently, completely, faithfully. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon 
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, Common English Bible 

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ. 

Invitation to Communion
The table has been prepared as Jesus requested, 
and we have been invited to the meal. 

Come to the heart of Christ, where all are one:
which alone expects nothing in return;
Through the boundless hospitality of the Spirit.

In this communion, find healing, rest, and release;
In one another, find love for body, mind, and spirit;
Come to the table of God and be at peace.

Share the Meal 
Share what you have to eat and before eating, have someone say, “This food represents the body of Christ.  As we eat, we remember Jesus.” 

Share what you have to drink and before drinking, have someone say, “This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven.  As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace 
Tune: NEW BRITAIN (from the Virginia Harmony, 1831) 
Author: John Newton 

‘Mazing grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wrench like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson
Matthew 22:15-22, Common English Bible

Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

Sharing the Word
Rev. Tonya Vickery

In the gospel reading of Matthew this Sunday, it is still Tuesday of Holy Week. It is a long day for Jesus. He spends the day teaching people in the temple. He is interrupted a number of times by those who challenge his right to be there. In today’s gospel reading, it is the Pharisees who interrupt him. They want so badly to prove Jesus wrong, that they cozy up with supporters of Herod to trap Jesus.  They use the presence of Herodians with a question about Roman taxation to try and turn the enamored crowd away from Jesus.

No one liked paying taxes to Rome. It was money you had to cough up and hand over without any say so in how it would be used.  It was a head tax and every adult who had a head had to pay it.  The land belonged to God, but Rome was running it and God’s people had to pay the bills. So there in the house of God, under the watchful eye of God, surrounded by God’s people, how could anyone affirm financial support of Rome’s dirty business?  No one liked living under Roman rule. They longed for the day when they would live again under the sole rule of God Almighty. So, the Pharisees planned to push Jesus to the brink. With a crowd around him, which side will he choose? Will he stand up for this kingdom of God of which he speaks thus challenging the authority of the Roman Empire? Or will he support Roman taxation thus appearing to be pro-Roman and undermine his position about the kingdom of God?  In other words, will he support a revolutionary overthrowing of the government, or will he support the authority of the government?

As their confrontation with Jesus begins, we are not to be fooled by the compliments they lay at Jesus’ feet. They call him “Teacher,” as if they would humble themselves to learn from Jesus. They praise him for being genuine, for teaching God’s way as it really is. They highlight his ability to rise above popular opinion. All these accolades poured out to set him up. Will he speak the truth of God and risk the appearance of being against the government in front of these Herod supporters? Or will he cave in, take the easy way out, support Roman taxation to save himself from Rome, but lose the crowd that welcomes his news about the kingdom of God? 

Smugly they ask, “Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Whichever way Jesus answers this question, he will be wrong in someone’s eye. If Jesus says, “No, taxes are not legal,” he defies Caesar, the head of the Roman empire.  Paying taxes to Rome is not a choice. It is an obligation, a mandate. And refusing to pay them carries extreme consequences. On the other hand, if Jesus says “Yes, paying taxes to Caesar is legal,” then he presents himself as pro-Rome and a huge disappointment to his followers who are ready to be rid of Rome. The Pharisees are counting on Jesus to answer the question with either answer providing the way for them to be rid of Jesus’ influence.

I can’t pass up the chance to point out that this isn’t the first time paying taxes has come up in the gospel of Matthew. If you turn a few chapters back to chapter 17, begin with verse 24. Here’s what it says,

        When they came to Capernaum, the people who collected the half-shekel temple tax came to Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

        “Yes,” he said.

        But when they came into the house, Jesus spoke to Peter first. “What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect taxes, from their children or from strangers?”

        “From strangers,” he said.

        Jesus said to him, “Then the children don’t have to pay. But just so we don’t offend them, go to the lake, throw out a fishing line and hook, and take the first fish you catch. When you open its mouth, you will find a shekel coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”

The temple tax was an annual collection of a half-shekel which every adult Jewish male was required to give. The amount was equivalent roughly to the amount you would be paid for two days of work. As you can tell from the story, Jesus isn’t a supporter of the temple tax. The temple is God’s house, and we are God’s children, so we shouldn’t be required to pay a tax to use the temple. But Jesus tells Peter to go ahead and pay it, so as not to offend. And a fish coughs up the price to be paid.

Okay back to chapter 22. Here we are no longer talking about a temple tax. Now we are talking about Roman taxes. On one hand, the question put to Jesus is political. That’s why they have the Herodians there. But on the other hand, the question is a religious moral one. Is it right in God’s eyes to pay taxes to Rome? What does paying money to Caesar say about my allegiance to God? Does paying the tax mean I am a supporter of Rome even when I don’t agree with what Rome is doing?

I think it is fair to say that paying taxes is not a vote of support for a nation. That paying taxes is not a vote of support for the way of life the nation promotes. Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” Go ahead and pay the taxes Rome requires of you.  It is an obligation set by Rome, but it is just money, coinage. However, there is a greater allegiance required of you than that of the one Caesar presents. Going well beyond the temple tax which Jewish males were obligated to pay, Jesus adds to the Roman tax an even greater price, “and [give] to God what belongs to God.”

Jesus’ answer shuts down the Pharisees and Herodians so they leave him alone. Once again Jesus outsmarts his opponents. Once again Jesus shows he is wise enough not to step into the trap set to catch him.  Once again Jesus shows he can discern any human strategy and cannot be fooled by anyone. But is that what Jesus is doing here? Avoiding being caught? Showing that he is greater than the foolish Pharisees and their short-term friends the Herodians?

We might pray to be smart enough to win an argument. We might dream of being wise enough to read any situation, so we remain in control and on top of things. We might long to be seen as great, smart, and powerful. But these aspirations are not the aspirations of Jesus. Jesus isn’t striving to be the smartest, the wisest, or even the most powerful. Jesus isn’t interested in knocking others down so he can rise above. Jesus isn’t motivated by making others look like fools so he can look perfect. No, Jesus aspires to live so that we might see the wide embrace of God; to see the inclusive, welcoming, inviting nature of God. Jesus longs to help us reorganize, transform, and straighten out our lives so we can live the abundant life God has in mind for us. Pay your taxes to Caesar, but more importantly give God what belongs to God.

What belongs to God?

The words of Psalm 24 come to mind.
        The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it,
          the world and its inhabitants too.

In one of those many times Moses stood before the Pharoah demanding that he release God’s people, Moses said to him, “As soon as I’ve left the city, I’ll spread out my hands to the LORD. Then the thunder and the hail will stop and won’t return so that you will know that the earth belongs to the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 10:14 says, “Clearly, the LORD owns the sky, the highest heavens, the earth, and everything in it.”

Psalm 89 rings out in praise to God,
        Heaven is yours! The earth too!
        The world and all that fills it….

Yes, everything belongs to God. So, give Caesar those shiny pieces of metal called money, but give to God what belongs to God.  What belongs to God? Well it is more than just shiny pieces of metal, it is everything.

The verb Matthew uses in verse 21 speaks of giving back, rendering, paying, restoring, and returning. Something is expected from us to be given back or paid to God. What does God expect us to pay? What is the price required of us? Jesus says give “to God what belongs to God.” So, what do we have that belongs to God? What is it that Jesus expects us to give back to God? 

Maybe it helps to note this isn’t a question of what do we need to give up for God. This isn’t a story told to encourage us to do some soul searching, find what is hindering us, keeping us from God, and give it up to restore our relationship with God. No, this is a question of what do we have from God that we can give back to God. Jesus’ answer recognizes that God has given us something, many somethings and we are to give those things back to God.

In order to know what you can give back to God, you have to recognize what God has given you?

The answer to this question is not limited. But here are a few things to start you thinking.

God has given us constant presence. God is always with us. Never abandoning us. Never turning away from us. God is steadfast and doesn’t give up on us. So how do we give this back to God?

God has given us creation. He formed and fashioned the earth where we might live. Set the sun above our heads. Gave us plants to nourish us; rivers, lakes and streams from which to drink; a plethora of food options from wheat, to corn, to cows.  So how do we give this back to God?

God has given us minds with which to think. How do we give our minds back to God?

God has given us the capacity to love. How do we give that love back to God?

God has given some of us the ability to teach, others of us the ability to encourage, others the ability to make good sound decisions. God has given some of us the ability to communicate through written words, others the ability to communicate through music, others the ability to communicate through speaking, and others the ability to communicate through doing. God has given some of us the ability to see potential in all things, others of us the ability to love deeply, others the ability to be outgoing, others the ability to be reflective. Take time to name what God has given you and decide how you can give those things back to God. The possibilities are as infinite as God is. May our offerings and gifts to God become worship and praise. Amen.

Questions for Reflection
What has God given you? How can you give it back to God?

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
They’ll Know We are Christians
Author: Peter Scholtes
Tune: ST BRENDAN’S

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that all unity will one day be restored:

Chorus:
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land:

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride:

All praise to the Father, from whom all things come,
And all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son,
And all praise to the Spirit, who makes us one:

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and may the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you, 
today and always.  
Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen. 

Acknowledgements: The opening prayer comes from 2020 Christian Worship Resources, National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® Celebration. The prayer of forgiveness was written by Thom M. Shuman. The invitation to communion was written by Julie Greenan from Acorns and Archangels, published by Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community. The anthem was sung by Mindy, Ally, and Elizabeth. Tonya played the piano, Tracy played the organ, and Mindy sang the hymns. Aidan played the piano for Amazing Grace. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

Preparation for Worship 
While worshipping at home, set aside a time each week for worship and designate a place. Light two candles to begin worship: one to represent Christ’s humanity and the other to represent Christ’s divinity. If you would like to celebrate communion have something to eat and drink for everyone. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  

Amid the peaceful setting of Psalm 23, Matthew 22:1–14 is jarring. The passage comes across as if people who do not dress right are the ones whom God punishes. But remember, this is a parable, and parables speak in symbol and irony. What might the clothing signify? Perhaps, our spiritual preparedness for what God provides; or maybe justice and equality; or perhaps community. Then we have to ask, when are we so busy or fearful or distracted that we forget to clothe ourselves in the values of God?

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God.

The Worship of God

Lighting Two Candles
We begin worship by lighting candles to remind ourselves that the One whom we worship, Jesus, is the light of the world. We light two candles to remind us that Jesus is God and lived alongside us as a human being.

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And, also with you.”

Invitation to Worship
Do you remember who first invited you to worship?
We come in praise for those who brought us here.

Do you remember the first community of faithful ones you joined?
A nursery class who welcomed you with care and open arms?
A youth group who accompanied you with energy and open minds?
A congregation, large or small, rural or urban, quiet folk or rowdy ones?
We come in praise for those who meet and receive us here.

Do you remember the God you have come to worship?
The One who delivered Israel from Egypt;
the Maker of earth and sky;
the Ground of all being.
We come to worship God in remembrance that leads to hope.

Opening Prayer
Great God, the beauty of creation reminds us of the beauty of your way. Your teachings bind us together as pilgrims, on a common path towards abundant life for all. Your laws are sweeter than honey in a honeycomb. Guide us towards your path, God, and lead us away from dangerous roads, so our words, and the meditations of our hearts may always be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Hymn of Praise
When, in Our Music, God is Glorified
Tune: ENGELBERG (Stanford)
Author: Fred Pratt Green

1.  When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried,
Hallelujah!

2. How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profound
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

3. So has the church, in liturgy and song,
in faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
borne witness to the truth in every tongue:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

4. And did not Jesus sing a Psalm that night
when utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

5. Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 23 / Common English Bible

The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

Prayer for Others 
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.
[Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com or call the church office at 293-9024.]

Let us pray:

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for….

God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely….

God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…

God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail in our community, this nation, your world….

God who seeks our trust,
grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world.
Amen.

Choral Anthem
The Lord’s My Shepherd
Tune: Brother James’ Air
Author: Roger Price

The Lord is my Shepherd,
I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie

in pastures of green; He leadeth me
the quiet waters by.
My soul He doth restore again,

and in His love abide.

Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,

yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me; and Thy rod
and staff my comfort still.
My table Thou hast furnished,

my cup Thou overfills.

Goodness and mercy, all my life

shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house forevermore

my dwelling place shall be.
And in God’s house forevermore

my dwelling place shall be.

Celebrating Communion
Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means anyone seeking to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.  
 
Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer for Forgiveness
We would never refuse an invitation to feast at Christ’s table, would we? 
What could possibly be more important?

  • Mom and dad, don’t forget my soccer game –I know it’s Sunday, but you promised you’d come and watch.
  • My best friend is coming over today with a new video game. –I know it’s Sunday, but the game is new.
  • I have to go shopping today. –I know it’s Sunday, but I’ve been too busy all week and I need a new outfit for the wedding.
  • I’ve had to bring some work home this weekend. –I know it’s Sunday, but I’ve got to get work done.
  • The weather is finally better. No more rain. –I know it’s Sunday, but the garden is so important and the weather is perfect for planting!

Jesus criticized those who said “Yes” to him with their lips but denied him with their deeds.

Forgive us, O God,
when we use feeble excuses
to evade following in Christ’s footsteps.

The invitation to us is an invitation of grace – those who eventually sat down at the banquet could never have expected such an invitation.
Forgive us, O God,
when we trivialize the gracious invitation to share your life in Christ –
when we expect you to be there for us –
but fail to respond to your call on our lives.

Help us to empty ourselves
of all that hinders a ready response to the call to follow Jesus,
even when that means putting our personal agendas on hold.

Amen.

Assurance of Pardon 
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, Common English Bible 

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ. 

Invitation to Communion
The table has been prepared as Jesus requested, 
and we have been invited to the meal. 

Come to the heart of Christ, where all are one:
which alone expects nothing in return;
Through the boundless hospitality of the Spirit.

In this communion, find healing, rest, and release;
In one another, find love for body, mind, and spirit;
Come to the table of God and be at peace.

Share the Meal 
Share what you have to eat and before eating, have someone say, “This food represents the body of Christ.  As we eat, we remember Jesus.” 

Share what you have to drink and before drinking, have someone say, “This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven.  As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace 
Tune: NEW BRITAIN (from the Virginia Harmony, 1831) 
Author: John Newton 

‘Mazing grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wrench like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson
Matthew 22:1-14, Common English Bible
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

Jesus responded by speaking again in parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son. He sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding party. But they didn’t want to come. Again he sent other servants and said to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look, the meal is all prepared. I’ve butchered the oxen and the fattened cattle. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!”’ But they paid no attention and went away—some to their fields, others to their businesses. The rest of them grabbed his servants, abused them, and killed them.

“The king was angry. He sent his soldiers to destroy those murderers and set their city on fire. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding party is prepared, but those who were invited weren’t worthy. Therefore, go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.’

“Then those servants went to the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding party was full of guests. Now when the king came in and saw the guests, he spotted a man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. He said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But he was speechless. Then the king said to his servants, ‘Tie his hands and feet and throw him out into the farthest darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.’

“Many people are invited, but few people are chosen.”


It’s ironic that this sermon text is today’s gospel reading because our family has spent a good bit of time this week planning a wedding feast for Ally and AJ. Nevertheless I refuse to read too much into the parallel circumstances. The wedding plans we’re making are real and not a part of the symbolic meaning of Jesus’ parable. But I do understand the context in which Jesus frames his story. Invitations, guests, meal plans, appropriate wedding clothes – it’s a big part of our family’s life right now.  

So it’s not hard to put the plot of the story into order. The prince is getting married and the day has come and the king sends for the guests. Yet the guests are uninterested, or maybe self-interested, and simply find something else to do. They display by their choices that the wedding is unimportant to them personally. Then, just for sport it seems, some of the presumptive guests abuse and kill the king’s servants. It’s no wonder that the king is angry and protests against them in their cities. The banquet is ready, however, and the wedding list changes and the feast of the king has now become a place for people from the streets, or better anyone willing to come. As the king surveys the feasting crowd, he spies out a man who is not wearing a wedding robe and asks him some hard questions. Where is his robe? How did he get here without one? The man didn’t know what to say but the king knew what to do. The man was bound and tossed out of the banquet. Jesus ends the parable with the part we’re supposed to remember the most: “Many people are invited, but few people are chosen.” 

This story is both a mirror and a flashlight. As a mirror, we find ourselves in the story and examine what we see in our own reflection. Which guest list are we on? How did we come to the party? Are we properly dressed? As a flashlight, we see around us with honesty and wisdom. Look at how many others are here! Consider what that one is doing and saying? The point of both the mirror and the flashlight is to consider our lives of faith in regard to Jesus’ conclusion: “many people are invited but few people are chosen.” 

Let’s think a little more about the parable and its teaching. 

I am under the impression that nearly every one of us are on the king’s first invitation list. That is, my name is on the Baptist-since-birth list of wedding guests. I’m part of the royal family since my parents were Christian. By the numbers, a majority of the American population (69%) claims to be Christian, and our culture presumes Christianity as normative. In this regard, social pressures often compel people to claim Christianity for their faith. It is also true that some of us come to Christianity to help ourselves, or to fit someone’s expectation, or to calm our fears of death. When people are on the guest list but don’t bother showing up to the feast, it is often the case that they find the name “Christian” quite comfortable but give priority to some other “feast.” 

Statistically in the United States we know that only 36% of Americans attend religious worship regularly. That’s not a very impressive finding. This means that the number of Christians in the US that are members of a church but don’t attend regularly is larger than the number of members who do attend. (Yes, these are pre-COVID numbers.) In the parable, maybe the guests who were on the first list and didn’t bother to come to the wedding were not being disrespectful but rather were self-absorbed. They did not really care about the king or the son. These guests had better things to do. Important tasks demanded their attention. They are friends or family of the prince but they would rather help themselves then celebrate someone else. To the extent that this is true of me then I’m left hearing Jesus’ conclusion and wondering if I’m one of the invited many but not one of the chosen few. It’s my desires and choices and priorities that will let me know if I’m invited but not participating. 

The second entry point to this parable involves the man without the proper wedding robe. In the parable, he is part of the “all y’all come” invitation. When the first guests refuse to participate and the feast for the few turns into a banquet for the bunches, the inclusion and welcome of all people takes center stage.  Anyone can become a Christian. God’s feast is open to all. No one can say that God does not want them, or that they are not deserving to be at God’s party. I love this part of the parable. And I celebrate that Cullowhee Baptist Church exemplifies this openness willingly and fully.   

Inclusion and embrace is not, however, the last point Jesus makes in the parable. For the king does not overlook the actions of the man improperly dressed. Instead the king dismisses him forcefully from the feast. It sounds harsh, but remember, this parable is symbolic and not literal. God does not bind people by hands and feet and throw them out. And of course this parable isn’t really about wearing nice clothes to church, or dressing the proper way. That image, too, is symbolic. It’s a metaphor for the manner in which we practice our faith. I remember as a youth memorizing Colossians 3:12 as part of the Disciple Youth classes. It reads in part, “as God’s chosen people, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Even if I am part of the second invitation to the party, I’m still required to act proper. Christians who do not display any Christian virtue in the way they live are as willfully disobedient to God as those who are invited but just don’t care enough to come. It matters what we say and do when we are dancing at God’s party. If I’m at God’s house I should reflect God’s ways. God is too honest to let the unrighteous offer a public display of sin while at God’s wedding feast. Yes, wearing the wrong wedding clothes in this parable symbolizes tolerating or even celebrating sin in my life. The proper attire for the wedding feast is living the Way of Jesus. Maybe Jesus wanted to call to mind other places in the Bible where living righteously was metaphorically like wearing clothes. For example, Job said to his friends, “I put on justice, and it clothed me; righteousness as my coat and turban” (Job 23:14). And Isaiah celebrates that “God has clothed me with garments of salvation and wrapped me with a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). 

I read the parable like this: do you want to know what makes God mad enough to spit? Say you are a Christian and act like it didn’t change you at all. Go to church and act as though the teachings of Jesus do not apply. Say you love God but act like you can’t stand anyone else. Expect everyone else to be generous but believe your own excuses that you don’t have enough to share.  Ask for prayer because you pulled a muscle cutting the grass but complain about how the global pandemic is no big deal and thus dismiss the death of 214,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 related illnesses. Wear a hat that says “John 3:16” with a t-shirt showing an assault rifle and the flag that says “God, Guns, Beer, Bacon, America.” (Yes, that t-shirt is for sale online!).  These will cause the king to call you to account and promptly escort you out of the building. Or to make Jesus’ point, these choices and actions and directions in life help determine if I am among the many who were called but not the few who were chosen.    

In plain language, don’t claim to be a Christian and act in ways that are unlike Jesus. No one is expected to be a great Christian when we first profess our faith. But everyone is obligated to try to be like Jesus more and more every day. By saying we are Christian, we represent God in this world. And when we misrepresent God’s love as hate, we are no longer welcome to take the name “Christian.” Sure, everyone is invited to faith. Yes, anyone can become a Christian. No, we don’t give up hope that anyone from our best friend to our enemy will turn to follow Jesus if they are not already doing so. While God has no restrictions on who can have faith, God’s demands for obedience to the Gospel will not be diluted. 

Welcome to God’s feast dear sister and brother. God has laid the table with rich food and refined wine. Together we are deserving guests at God’s celebration of life and love and salvation. And by our faithfulness to the Gospel, we will be counted in the company of those who are chosen.   

Questions for Reflection
What are the temptations that sometimes compete with our faith?

What is the damage done when Christians publicly do and say things that are inconsistent with the Gospel?

What does the phrase “many are invited but few are chosen” mean to you?

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
The Kingdom of God is Justice and Joy
Author: Byrn A. Rees
Tune: LYONS (Robert Grant) [Think, O Worship the King.]

1 The kingdom of God is justice and joy;
For Jesus restores what sin would destroy.
God’s power and glory in Jesus we know;
And here and hereafter the kingdom shall grow.

2 The kingdom of God is mercy and grace;
The captives are freed, the sinners find place,
The outcast are welcomed God’s banquet to share;
And hope is awakened in place of despair.

3 The kingdom of God is challenge and choice:
Believe the good news, repent and rejoice!
God’s love for us sinners brought Christ to his cross:
Our crisis of judgement for gain or for loss.

4 God’s kingdom is come, the gift and the goal;
In Jesus begun, in heaven made whole.
The heirs of the kingdom shall answer his call;
And all things cry ‘Glory!’ to God all in all.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and may the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you, 
today and always.  
Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen. 

Acknowledgements: The Invitation and Opening Prayer come from Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFUSION Season of Creation • Pentecost 2 2020. Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2019. The Prayer for Forgiveness and Invitation to Communion were written by Moira Laidlaw. The anthem was sung by Mindy, Tonya, Kendall, Ally, and Elizabeth. Tonya played the piano and Mindy sang the hymns. Aidan played the piano for Amazing Grace. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

Preparation for Worship 
The pandemic has forced us to be physically apart from one another and has kept us from coming together in one place to worship God. But just as nothing can separate us from God’s love, nothing can keep us from worshipping God. Worshipping God is not just something done on a Sunday morning at 11am inside a particular building. Worshipping God is a part of our whole lives–at home, at work, at play, and yes, at church.

In using this worship guide, you may want to light two candles to begin worship. We light two candles to celebrate the humanity and divinity of Jesus, the light of the world. To celebrate communion, have something to eat and drink for everyone. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God.

The Worship of God

Lighting Two Candles
We begin worship by lighting candles to remind ourselves that the One whom we worship, Jesus, is the light of the world. We light two candles to remind us that Jesus is God and lived alongside us as a human being.

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And also with you.”

Invitation to Worship
Dear friends, the Spirit of God gives life to the world!
Life that never ends!
Here and now Christ feeds the world!
Plenty for all, enough for today!
Come to the table of justice and joy!
No one will be turned away!
No neighbor in need will go wanting!
Let praise go up to God our Life!
From every creature on God’s good earth!

Hymn of Praise
Morning Has Broken
Author: Eleanor Farjeon (1931)
Tune: BUNESSAN, a Gaelic tune

1 Morning has broken like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning!
Praise for them, springing fresh from the Word!

2 Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from Heaven,
Like the first dewfall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass.

3 Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning,
Born of the one light Eden saw play.
Praise with elation, praise every morning,
God’s re-creation of the new day!

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 80:7-15a. Common English Bible

Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

You brought a vine out of Egypt.
You drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
then it planted its roots deep, filling the land.
The mountains were covered by its shade;
the mighty cedars were covered by its branches.
It sent its branches all the way to the sea;
its shoots went all the way to the Euphrates River.
So why have you now torn down its walls
so that all who come along can pluck its fruit,
so that any boar from the forest can tear it up,
so that the bugs can feed on it?

Please come back, God of heavenly forces!
Look down from heaven and perceive it!
Attend to this vine,
this root that you planted with your strong hand,

Prayer for Others 
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.
[Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com or call the church office at 293-9024.]

Let us pray:

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for….

God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely….

God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…

God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail in our community, this nation, your world….

God who seeks our trust,
grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world.
Amen.

Choral Anthem
Grant Us Your Peace
Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Author: Mark Schweizer

Grant us your peace, O loving Lord,
our Rock and firm foundation.
Our faith is in your excellent word,
speaking to every nation.
Your promise of sure salvation.

Celebrating Communion
Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means anyone seeking to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.  
 
Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer for Forgiveness
Forgive us, O God, when we believe that righteous behavior means performing perfect deeds and that is what is required to secure your love. silent reflection

Forgive us, O God, when we lose sight of the goal of our lives as Christians – that of following Jesus; even when that means sharing in the sufferings and struggles of others.
silent reflection

In his life and his death Jesus demonstrated above all his desire to give true meaning to the depth of divine love so that we could fully understand his commandment that we love one another as he loved us. May that commandment be so imprinted on our lives that whatever gains we may have experienced in our lives are as loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as our Lord, in whose name we pray.

Amen.

Assurance of Pardon 
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, Common English Bible 

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ. 

Invitation to Communion

The table has been prepared as Jesus requested, 
and we have been invited to the meal. 
We come to the table
like Peter, with more enthusiasm than resolve; 
like James and John, dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom. 
We come to the table
like Martha, hosting and leading with confidence; 
like Mary, eager to learn, and full of grief and love. 
We come to the table
like Judas, disillusioned and rebellious; 
like Mary, faithful to the end. 
Jesus offers us the bread and the cup. 
We come to the table of Christ.

Share the Meal 
Share what you have to eat and before eating, have someone say, “This food represents the body of Christ.  As we eat, we remember Jesus.” 

Share what you have to drink and before drinking, have someone say, “This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven.  As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace 
Tune: NEW BRITAIN (from the Virginia Harmony, 1831) 
Author: John Newton 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wrench like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

Proclaiming the Word
Matthew 21:33-46
Listen to Rev. Tonya Vickery and/or read below. (If you listen to the sermon, the dripping noise is compliments of the dehumidifier. And if you listening closely, you may hear the crickets chirping.)

Reading a not so fun parable with the prophet Isaiah’s help.

In chapter 21 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ ministry has reached a decisive point. At the beginning of this chapter, what we refer to as “Holy Week,” Jesus enters Jerusalem with a crowd waving palm branches in the air. He then goes on to clear the temple of the money changer whom he calls a “den of robbers.” Children are running around the temple yelling, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and the chief priests and scribes annoyed by them.  I like to think that Jesus chuckles when he see the little ones running around, for he says in response, “Out of the mouth of babes….” The next day on his way back to the temple he passes a non-producing fig tree which he curses because he is hungry and the tree is useless to meet his needs. What a prelude to the encounters he is about to have in the temple with the religious leaders.

The religious leaders don’t like Jesus teaching in the temple. They question his authority to be doing so. Now Jesus genuinely wants them to discover from where his authority comes. He gives them opportunity to recognize the work of God in him by asking them about who worked through John. But they treat the invitation to give thanks to God for the work of John like some kind of trick. So since they refuse to honor God through the works of John, Jesus refuses to give them a direct answer to their question of his authority. It is sad when people cannot give God the honor and glory because God is working through someone else other than themselves.

It’s in the midst of their stubbornness, this refusal to believe, that Jesus tells this parable about tenant farmers.  Jesus says,

“There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. When it was time for harvest, he sent his servants to the tenant farmers to collect his fruit. But the tenant farmers grabbed his servants. They beat some of them, and some of them they killed. Some of them they stoned to death.  Again he sent other servants, more than the first group. They treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.  But when the tenant farmers saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come on, let’s kill him and we’ll have his inheritance.’ They grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”

“When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenant farmers?”

They said, “He will totally destroy those wicked farmers and rent the vineyard to other tenant farmers who will give him the fruit when it’s ready.”

Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the scriptures, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?’ Therefore, I tell you that God’s kingdom will be taken away from you and will be given to a people who produce its fruit. Whoever falls on this stone will be crushed. And the stone will crush the person it falls on.”

Now when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard the parable, they knew Jesus was talking about them. They were trying to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, who thought he was a prophet.

…………………………..

In first century Palestine and Syria, people would have been familiar with the agricultural and economic arrangements of this story. It was common for absentee landowners to rent out their farms and vineyards to others farmers. The renters would have worked the land in exchange for a fee or percentage of the harvest. The majority of the profits belonged to the landowner. And at the appropriate time, the landowner would send an agent to collect what was owed. To think that farmers who rented the property might inherit it was not possible as long as the landowner was alive. It was a foolish thought held by the tenant farmers which caused them to make some desperate moves.

Matthew’s original audience would have easily associated any mention of a vineyard with God’s people. In fact the opening lines of Jesus’ story come from the opening words of Isaiah 5 which reads,
“Let me sing for my beloved a song of my lover about his vineyard.”

And then the song begins, 
“My beloved had a vineyard on a fruitful hill.
He broke the ground, cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines.
He built a watchtower inside it,
he even hewed a wine press in it.”

The next line of the song give us a better understanding of this parable which Jesus tells. The line reads,
“For he hoped it would yield grapes.”

The song continues to explain that the vineyard was a flop. The owner had done everything right, but the vines did not respond. They failed to produce any grapes. The vineyard was such a huge disappointment that the owner ended up tearing down the hedge, leaving the grape vines exposed and untended, and the owner did not bother with watering the farm–in fact, water was withheld from the plants. The owner gave up on the vines.

And then the song goes on to explain that that vineyard is a metaphor for God’s people and the owner is God. God planted the people like a farmer plants seedlings. God lovingly tended the people. God cared for them. And God eagerly anticipated the good that would come from them. God expected them to produce justice and equity, but instead they brought forth injustice and iniquity. The song says God’s people “never gave a thought to the plan of the Lord” and “never took note of what God is designing.”

Whereas the prophet Isaiah focuses on the vineyard, Jesus focuses on the tenant farmers who are taking care of the vineyard. The parable says the tenant farmers, not the vineyard, need to be replaced.  Jesus is talking directly about those who are caring for and leading God’s people, not God’s people.

Wouldn’t you imagine that God expected the leaders of the people to welcome the ministry of John the baptizer and thus the preaching of Jesus. But instead they rejected John and now they are rejecting Jesus. They deny and frustrate the works of God in the world by refusing to place trust and confidence in God’s own act. The gift God has given to the world, the gift of God’s self becoming one of us, living among us, and dying as us, this gift is being rejected by those who profess to be followers of the Gift Giver and leaders of God’s people.  Those who should have welcomed and embraced Jesus instead are offended by him.

With this kind of attitude towards God, what do you imagine will be the attitude of God? How does God respond? God’s work will not be thwarted. God will move on with those who are willing to place their trust and confidence in God.  God says a new foundation will be established upon which God’s plan and designs will be carried out. Jesus serves as the cornerstone of that foundation; Jesus, the rock upon which the community of faith is founded.

Religious leaders do not define our faith. That’s what Baptist believe. We believe that each and everyone of us has a direct relationship with God that does not need mediating or interpreting. So, I guess we should see ourselves as the vines in the vineyard from Isaiah 5 and as the tenant farmers in Matthew 21. 

As a people who have committed themselves to live the ways of Jesus Christ in the world, we are expected  to bear the fruits of justice and equity. How much justice and equity we are bringing to the world is easily measured by how the most vulnerable among us is living.  We have a lot of “living the way of Jesus” to do.  So we learn from Jesus calling out the religious leaders. They had moved so far from God’s way that they no longer were able to place their trust and confidence in God because God’s way looked so different from how they imagined it.

We look at how the world is today and we want God to hurry up and do something. Can’t God work a little faster? Let the plan of the Holy One come quickly so we can understand it! We give up on God’s justice and righteousness because we don’t’ understand it, or it doesn’t look like what we expected, or it is just taking too long to come about, or it is just too hard to figure out. We give up on God’s justice and righteousness because we are not seeing immediate results.

This isn’t the first time the people of God have felt this way. They were experiencing the same kind of faith crises when Isaiah was a prophet.  God said to them, as God says to us today, Don’t give up on trusting me. Don’t fear. Don’t be terrified. It is the Lord of heavenly forces whom you should hold sacred, whom you should fear, and whom you should hold in awe. Don’t fear what everyone else is fearing, for God is more powerful than any human decision, plan, or deed. AND the plans of God will not be thwarted. What God wishes will prevail. If lack of trust and confidence in God puts a hiccup in the plan of God, God will just move on and find some other tenant farmers to tend the vineyard. So don’t be afraid.

With all the uncertainty which has shattered what we once thought were predictable lives, as the distress and troubles of life wear us out and exhaust us, as we are kept from meeting together to worship the Lord, remember who is the cornerstone of your life and who is the cornerstone of all of God’s people. Jesus is our cornerstone, a cornerstone that cannot be broken, a cornerstone that will not fail. So you need not look at the future with eyes of dread or sorrow, for we are not doomed. God Almighty, the Holy One, is our future. May we continue to place our trust and confidence in God, and may we bring honor and glory to God as we live through uncertainty giving testimony to our faith in God even as we struggle to believe. Amen.

Questions for Reflection
What helps you place your trust and confidence in God?
Who are the most vulnerable living among us? How can we bring justice and equity to them?

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
O Christ, the Great Foundation
Author: T. T. Lew (1933; alt.)
Tune: AURELIA (Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1876)

1 O Christ, the great foundation on which your people stand
to preach your true salvation in every age and land:
pour out your Holy Spirit to make us strong and pure,
to keep the faith unbroken as long as worlds endure.

2 Baptized in one confession, one church in all the earth,
we bear our Lord’s impression, the sign of second birth.
One holy people gathered in love beyond our own;
by grace we were invited, by grace we make you known.

3 Where tyrants’ hold is tightened, where strong devour the weak,
where innocents are frightened, and righteous fear to speak;
there let your church awaking attack the powers of sin,
and, all their ramparts breaking, with you the victory win.

4 This is the moment glorious when he who once was dead
shall lead his church victorious, their champion and their head.
The Lord of all creation his heavenly kingdom brings
the final consummation, the glory of all things.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and may the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you, 
today and always.  
Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen. 

Acknowledgements: The image is of the sunrise at Badlands National Park posted at https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewpaulson/5053214794 was taken by Matthew Paulsen. The Invitation to Worship comes from Acorns and Angels © Ruth Burgess, published by Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, 4th Floor, Savoy House, 140 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow G2 3DH, UK. The anthem was sung by Mindy, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth. The Prayer for Forgiveness was written by Moira Laidlaw. The Invitation to Communion was written by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018. Tracy played the organ. Mindy sang the hymns. Aidan played the piano for Amazing Grace and Tonya played for the anthem. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

Preparation for Worship 
The pandemic has forced us to be physically apart from one another and has kept us from coming together physically to worship God. But just as nothing can separate us from God’s love, nothing can keep us from worshipping God. Worshipping God is not just something done on a Sunday morning at 11am inside a particular building. Worshipping God is a part of our whole lives–at home, at work, at play, and yes, at church.

This Sunday is the last in our Season of Creation and the theme is rivers. We usually begin worship by lighting two candles to celebrate the humanity and divinity of Jesus, the light of the world. Add a bowl of water to your worship space as a reminder of God’s provision of a living water that once we drink from it, we will never be thirsty again (John 4). To celebrate communion, have something to eat and drink for everyone. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God.

The Tuckasegee River

The Worship of God

Lighting Two Candles
We begin worship by lighting candles to remind ourselves that the One whom we worship, Jesus, is the light of the world. We light two candles to remind us that Jesus is God and lived alongside us as a human being.

Invitation to Worship 
This last Sunday in our Season of Creation, we give thanks to God for rivers. We reflect upon our relationship with the natural ribbons of water flowing all over the earth. Rivers can be wide and deep, or shallow enough for us to walk across. Some flow year round and others only flow during seasons of heavy rain. Some are a few miles long while others span a continent. No two rivers are exactly alike. Rivers provide water to drink, routes by which we travel, water for farmlands, habitat for animals, and replenishment for the oceans.

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And also with you.”

Reading from the Hebrew Bible 
Genesis 2:4-9, Common English Bible 

On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

Litany of Praise
Creator God,
we praise you for bright crisp mornings,
for leaves crackling underfoot
and wisps of cloud in a pale sky.

We praise you for the night-time rain,
for the wind buffeting the trees
and light reflected in the water.

We praise you for the season’s labours,
for the smell of new-turned earth
and smoking bonfires.

We praise you for the season’s gifts,
for fruitfulness beyond measure
and time to reflect and remember.

CREATOR GOD, WE PRAISE YOU.

Hymn of Praise 
Let All Creation Dance
Tune: DARWALL’S 148th, by John Darwell,
originally published as a setting for Psalm 148
Author: Brian A. Wren

Let all creation dance
in energies sublime,
as order turns with chance,
unfolding space and time,
for nature’s art
in glory grows,
and newly shows
God’s mind and heart.

God’s breath each force unfurls,
igniting from a spark
expanding starry swirls
with whirlpools dense and dark.
Though moon and sun
seem mindless things,
each orbit sings:
“Your will be done.”

Our own amazing earth,
with sunlight, cloud and storms
and life’s abundant growth
in lovely shapes and forms,
is made for praise
a fragile whole,
and from its soul
heaven’s music plays.

Lift heart and soul and voice:
in Christ all praises meet,
and nature shall rejoice
as all is made complete.
In hope be strong,
all life befriend
and kindly tend
creation’s song.

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 25:1-9. Common English Bible

I offer my life to you, LORD.
My God, I trust you.
Please don’t let me be put to shame!
Don’t let my enemies rejoice over me!
For that matter,
don’t let anyone who hopes in you
be put to shame;
instead, let those who are treacherous without excuse be put to shame.

Make your ways known to me, LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth—teach it to me—
because you are the God who saves me.
I put my hope in you all day long.
LORD, remember your compassion and faithful love—
they are forever!
But don’t remember the sins of my youth or my wrongdoing.
Remember me only according to your faithful love
for the sake of your goodness, LORD.

The LORD is good and does the right thing;
he teaches sinners which way they should go.
God guides the weak to justice,
teaching them his way.

Prayer for Others 
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.
[Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com or call the church office at 293-9024.]

Let us pray:

God who makes the Earth,
who gives us to the world,
who labors with us in our struggles,
Hear us,
Be near us in our fears and needs,
Walk with us–hold our hand, advise us, and encourage us.

We give you thanks for…. 

Comfort those who are fearful and lonely…. 

Be a refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.… 

Bring your justice to our community, this nation, and your world…. 

Grow us and guide us in your life-giving ways….
  
God who makes the Earth,
who gives us to the world,
who labors with us in our struggles,
Hear us,
Be near us in our fears and needs,
Walk with us–hold our hand, advise us, and encourage us.
Amen.

Choral Anthem
Forth in Thy Name, O Lord I Go
Composer: Richard Shephard
Author: Charles Wesley

Forth in thy Name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labor to pursue;
Thee, only thee resolved to know
in all I think or speak or do.

The task Thy wisdom hath assigned,
O let me cheerfully fulfill;
In all my works Thy presence find,
And prove Thy good and perfect will.

Thee may I set at my right hand,
Whose eyes mine in-most substance see,
And labor on at Thy command,
And offer all my works to Thee.

Give me to bear Thy easy yoke,
And every moment watch and pray,
And still to things eternal look,
And hasten to Thy glorious day.

For Thee delightfully employ
Whate’er Thy bounteous grace hath giv’n;
And run my course with even joy,
And closely walk with Thee to Heav’n.

Celebrating Communion
Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means anyone seeking to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.  
 
Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer of Confession 
God, giver of life, we gather today acknowledging the harm we have done to your creation and one another.

We pollute the rivers and endanger the creatures within them, rather than honoring their sacredness. We seek control and have power over the waters, rather than respecting their might. We overlook the many enslaved and vulnerable lost in the waters, rather than acknowledging our role in this violence. We focus on our own desires, rather than seeing how they impact the world around us.

We come yearning to be refreshed and replenished by the water of life, so that we might seek ways to honor you better and all of creation. Forgive us for the injury we have caused. Inspire us in seeking new ways to participate in and with your creation. Renew us with your life-giving water.

Amen.

Assurance of Pardon 
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, Common English Bible 

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ. 

Invitation to Communion

The table has been prepared as Jesus requested, 
and we have been invited to the meal. 
We come to the table
like Peter, with more enthusiasm than resolve; 
like James and John, dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom. 
We come to the table
like Martha, hosting and leading with confidence; 
like Mary, eager to learn, and full of grief and love. 
We come to the table
like Judas, disillusioned and rebellious; 
like Mary, faithful to the end. 
Jesus offers us the bread and the cup. 
We come to the table of Christ.

Share the Meal 
Share what you have to eat and before eating, have someone say, “This food represents the body of Christ.  As we eat, we remember Jesus.” 

Share what you have to drink and before drinking, have someone say, “This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven.  As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace 
Tune: NEW BRITAIN (from the Virginia Harmony, 1831) 
Author: John Newton 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wrench like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 21:23-32, Common English Bible

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him as he was teaching. They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”

Jesus replied, “I have a question for you. If you tell me the answer, I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?”

They argued among themselves, “If we say ‘from heaven,’ he’ll say to us, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But we can’t say ‘from humans’ because we’re afraid of the crowd, since everyone thinks John was a prophet.” Then they replied, “We don’t know.”

Jesus also said to them, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”

“What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ ‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go. Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first one.” Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.

Proclaiming the Word
Listen to Dr. Jeffrey Vickery and/or read below.

I have given much thought lately to the practice of hypocrisy. It is one thing that our media-savvy culture and the Gospels have in common. Stories about hypocrites receive a good deal of attention. In the Gospel of Luke chapter 11, for example, Jesus pronounces a list of criticisms of hypocritical religious leaders that begin “woe to you…” or perhaps in more contemporary language, “how dare you!” In each case, Jesus is accusing them of hypocrisy. He says, and I’m paraphrasing the meaning without using the exact words, “How dare you make a show of giving money to God but you don’t care about people in poverty who need justice.”  “How dare you teach that God requires humility but you want to be the center of attention because you think you are important.” “How dare you make yourself look good on the outside for the sake of others when you are rotten on the inside because of your greed and wickedness.” Jesus calls out the religious hypocrites because he expects more from them. It makes Jesus mad when people use God’s name or God’s reputation for things that are selfish or ungodly.   

Our contemporary culture highlights hypocrites more than calling them out. During an election season it seems to be focused on politicians. It does not take much effort to find a politician who said last term “I support this policy, I always have and I always will.” And then in a different election cycle, they say the exact opposite. Politicians’ convictions seem to change when they are in the minority and then then they end up in the majority. Our in-the-moment fact-checking computers will be able to point out when candidates in a presidential debate tell a lie, but it may not be as good at detecting hypocrites. One difference between the hypocrites Jesus criticizes and the hypocrites in public office is that I think Jesus sincerely hoped the religious hypocrites would become genuine and faithful. The American public has lost all hope that our politicians will be. 

If we look a bit more closely at hypocrisy, however, we find that it is more subtle than we expect. I was always told that hypocrisy is to say one thing and do another. If we examine it, however, hypocrisy means to act in a way that does not conform to your own sense of virtue or religious standard. This definition presumes we have an expectation for how we should, even how we want to, respond to the world around us that we think is virtuous. In this way, we begin our inward look at our own possible hypocrisy by examining how or under what conditions we want to live in order for my life and relationships to reflect the good that I believe creates healthy relationships.  

It turns out that Jesus starts with a baseline of expectations – the ability to love God and love neighbor as oneself. And since this sermon is intended to help us examine our own place within the scope of Christian practice and faith, I will make the assumption that this moral statement is a starting point for us all. That is, if we claim to be followers of Jesus, we start here: love God and the person in front of us in the same manner as we would want to be loved by them. This supreme teaching is the central truth of Christianity, but making it become the basic way we live our life is the hope of our discipleship.    

The religious pretenders in Luke 11 failed this basic presumption. Giving money to the temple as an excuse not to help the needy violates Jesus’ command to love one another. Praying to get what I want rather than seeking what God wants means I haven’t loved God. Becoming rich to excess, considering someone else beneath my care or less important or smart or capable than me, defining my faith by what others think about me – all of these mean we don’t love God and the person in front of us. To say we follow Jesus but ignore his greatest commandments means we live a public lie. Following Jesus rightly does not harm, cannot hate, refuses revenge, eschews dishonesty. It provokes justice, promotes peace, provides for the needy, presumes hope. To publicly espouse our faith and yet violate the Gospel is to put hypocrisy on public display, and this alone seems to invoke Jesus’ righteous anger.   

In today’s Matthew 21 reading, Jesus tells a parable about two sons. The father asks the first son to “go and work in the vineyard today.” “‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. “The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.  

First, let’s be clear that this story is not about either parenting or farming. Jesus is discussing hypocrisy without naming it. It turns out that both sons did something different than what they said they were going to do. Hypocrisy is not just going against your word. Instead it exposes how one’s choices display the truth of one’s desire. The first son probably honestly didn’t want to go work today and he simply said so. But the change of mind indicates that his commitment to do what was right could override his present-moment desire and so he did the work even though he originally said otherwise. Likewise the second son did what reflected his true internal moral compass despite the reality of his words. He is not committed to his father, or the work, even though he can use words to make one think that he is. This may explain why Jesus ends the parable with a question that is answered rightly by the crowd: “31“Which one of these two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first one.”  

I am convinced that most people are committed to their own sense of what is right and true. In this way, the politician who flip flops on a policy may not be hypocritical at all if their internal committed moral position is to do anything necessary to be elected. If that is one’s moral compass, then whether one supports or opposes a policy is internally justified by the outcome of an election rather than the impact of legislation. They, like us, most often act in accord with our actual genuine commitments even if that commitment is to selfishness. Similarly, in our personal lives, with our jobs, our family, our friends, even our church, we can conduct ourselves in such a way that we justify our choices and commitments simply by judging what outcome is right for me. Selfishness or egoism is indeed a moral position that some people defend, and that many more practice even if they are unwilling to say that it is their motivation.  

The problem for any Christian comes when we let our selfishness have influence over the basic expectation of the Gospel of grace and peace and justice. If I only practice Christianity in such a way that it is good for me, then making selfish choices while also claiming Christian faith is easily justified by me though deemed hypocritical by Jesus. But living and acting in ways that are selfish while making it appear to others that I am doing it because of my faith is what brings criticism from Jesus. The second son in Jesus’ parable is the one who acts hypocritically and disrespectfully to his father because he said “yes” to the work but his actions revealed that he never meant to be helpful in the first place. It is possible to say “yes” to our faith, to attending church, to serving the church, but only ever really intending to serve ourselves, or at least not to let the church get in the way of my personal life.   

Jesus ends the parable by being hopeful about sinners and thus heaping more criticism on the religious hypocrites. Those who pretend to be Christian but really are selfish, they not only harm the church but also receive the brunt of Jesus’ criticism for, to use Jesus’ words, “[the] tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. … [Because] you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.” 

In the end, this conversation about hypocrisy leaves me hopeful. The antidote to hypocrisy becomes a genuine commitment to doing what God sees it right. This doesn’t mean that we are perfect, but that we are determined to follow God well. It doesn’t mean that we won’t make mistakes, but that our intention is to live in God’s way. It doesn’t mean that we never falter, but that our hearts are bent toward God and others rather than my own and my self. In other words, selfishness is the root of hypocrisy, but we are capable of change. We are not trapped in our selfishness. Even if no one else knows but God, the honest commitment to the Gospel is the heart of overcoming any hypocrisy.  

Throughout the last couple of weeks, I have had the text of a prayer from Thomas Merton in my head. I shared this prayer with the youth group a couple of weeks ago, and a singer named Kate Campbell put it to music. It is her song that is playing over again and again in my mind. Merton’s prayer to God includes the line: “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.” 

When I read Jesus’ parable, the first son can offer this same prayer honestly. Even though he initially said “no,” he evaluated his genuine desire and his commitments and acted in response to the desire to please God. He didn’t so much as change his mind as he corrected his action to reflect his commitment. He acted honestly. The second son, initially said “yes” but also evaluated his own desire and his commitments and acted in response to the desire to please himself. Although he reflected his true nature, it is targeted to himself rather than God. Making private selfishness into a perceived good will fool some people, but never fool God.  

Jesus calls us to cultivate a desire to please God. As that desire grows, as it becomes the hope of our life and the commitment of our choices, we will act more and more in ways that reflect our love for God and others. Like every other discipline of faith, we must practice it.  We don’t assume it comes naturally, fully alive in us without intention and work. We can have more desire to please God today than we did yesterday, and that in itself is a work of faith. Then as we make choices and move through life in a way that attempts to please God, we will sometimes get it right and sometimes fail. But each attempt is a step toward more and more desire to please God, and each work of faith an opportunity to strengthen that genuine hope to represent God’s way in this world truly.  

________________________ 

The full text to Thomas Merton’s prayer: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” 

Questions for Reflection

  1. If possible, share about a time when you reacted to a situation like the first son and also like the second son. 
  1. Who is someone that, in your opinion, genuinely acts without being selfish or who displays a consistent desire to please God? 
  1. Name a time when you were certain that you were following God’s will.  

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith 
For the Faithful Who Have Answered
Tune: PLEADING SAVIOR, 8 7 8 7 d; Christian Lyre, 1830
Author: Sylvia G. Dunstan

For the faithful who have answered
when they heard your call to serve,
For the many ways you led them
Testing will and stretching nerve,
For their work and for their witness
As they strove against the odds,
For their courage and obedience
We give thanks and praise, O God.

Many eyes have glimpsed the promise.
Many hearts have yearned to see.
Many ears have heard you calling
Us to greater liberty.
Some have fallen in the struggle.
Others still are fighting on.
You are not ashamed to own us.
We give thanks and praise, O God.

For this cloud of faithful witness,
For the common life we share,
For the work of peace and justice,
For the gospel that we bear,
For the vision that our homeland
Is your love–deep, high, and broad–
For the diff’rent roads we travel
We give thanks and praise, O God.

Sending Out 
As this year’s Season of Creation comes to a close, the world is still in crisis. We see wildfires burn the land. We see the glaciers melt and the sea level rise. We see a new virus disrupt humanity forcing us away from one another. We have had to change the way we interact with one another so that we might live. Change requires humility–a discipline of one who has chosen to live the way of Jesus Christ. Philippians 2 teaches us “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus….” The humility of Christ enables us to seek transformation instead of control and solutions in our relationships with God, with one another, and with the world. May the Lord help us “change our hearts and minds and believe” more and more everyday as we continually learn how to live as God’s children.

May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and may the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you, 
today and always.  
Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen. 

Acknowledgements: The Litany of Praise comes from Acorns and Angels © Ruth Burgess, published by Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, 4th Floor, Savoy House, 140 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow G2 3DH, UK. The Prayer of Confession comes from Seasons of The Spirit™ SeasonsFusion Season of Creation • Pentecost 2 2020. The anthem was sung by Laura, Mindy, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth. The Invitation to Communion was written by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018. Tracy played the organ. Mindy sang the hymns. Aidan played the piano for Amazing Grace and Tonya played for the anthem. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

Preparation for Worship 
While worshiping at home, set aside a time each week for worship and designate a place. You may want to have two candles to light to begin worship: one to represent Christ’s humanity and the other to represent Christ’s divinity. To celebrate communion, have something to eat and drink for everyone. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Middle Prong Wilderness

Lighting Two Candles
We begin worship by lighting candles to remind ourselves that the One whom we worship, Jesus, is the light of the world. We light two candles to remind us that Jesus is God and lived alongside us as a human being.

Invitation to Worship 
Today we give thanks to God for the wilderness areas of the Earth. Wilderness areas are untouched, unmodified or only slightly modified. They are without intrusive or extractive human activity, settlements, infrastructure or visual disturbance. Wilderness areas are open-ended, undefined, natural, and dynamic. Since they are unknown to us, they are often seen as intimidating and scary. They remind us of the times in our lives when things become undefined and beyond the control of human plans. May we open our hearts to God’s teachings so we might learn from the beauty and grandeur of the wilderness which God has created as we continue to live through the wilderness of a pandemic.

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And also with you.”

Reading from the Hebrew Bible 
Genesis 2:4-9, Common English Bible 


On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

Opening Prayer 
Loving God, we thank you for the wild, beautiful, eternally changing world that is always beyond our understanding. In the wilderness, help us to find wonder and awe, to mourn when the land calls us to mourn, and to rejoice when it calls us to rejoice. Amen.

Hymn of Praise 
Creator God, We Give You Thanks
Tune: CANONBURY (Robert Schumann)
Author: Betty Anne J. Arner

1 Creator God, we give You thanks
for all the glories You have made.
Help us to see You in Your work,
the Artist in the art displayed.

2 As we survey Your handiwork,
restrain our minds from petty greed.
Respect before Your great design
is reverence paid to You indeed.

3 What You have given us in trust
is only ours to rightly use.
Deliver us from thoughtless deeds
that plunder, pillage, and abuse.

4 Help us to see Your draftsman’s hand
in every blade of grass, each flower,
that we may stand in awe before
the work of Your creative power.

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 145:1-8, Common English Bible

I will lift you up high, my God, the true king.
I will bless your name forever and always.
I will bless you every day.
I will praise your name forever and always.
The Lord is great and so worthy of praise!
God’s greatness can’t be grasped.
One generation will praise your works to the next one,
proclaiming your mighty acts.
They will talk all about the glorious splendor of your majesty;
I will contemplate your wondrous works.
They will speak of the power of your awesome deeds;
I will declare your great accomplishments.
They will rave in celebration of your abundant goodness;
they will shout joyfully about your righteousness:
“The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, and full of faithful love.”

Prayer for Others 
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.
[Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com or call the church office at 293-9024.]

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,  
we give you thanks for…. 

God who comforts,  
receive those who are fearful and lonely…. 

God whose love is steadfast,  
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.… 

God of righteousness,  
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail  
in our community, this nation, your world…. 

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways
that are life-giving in your world.  
Amen.

Anthem
When Morning Gilds the Skies

When morning gilds the skies,
our hearts awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
When evening shadows fall,
This rings my curfew call.
May Jesus Christ be praised! 

When mirth for music longs,
this is my song of songs:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
God’s holy house of prayer
hath none that can compare
with “Jesus Christ be praised!”

No lovelier antiphon
in all high Heav’n is known
Than, Jesus Christ be praised!
There to the eternal Word
the eternal psalm is heard:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Sing, suns and stars of space,
sing, ye that see His face,
Sing, Jesus Christ be praised!
God’s whole creation o’er,
for now and evermore
Shall Jesus Christ be praised!

Celebrating Communion
Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means anyone seeking to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.  
 
Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer of Confession 
God, we remember our thirst for more. Humans take up more and more space every year, choking the homes of our plant and animal companions. Help us to share the forests and the deserts, the oceans and the prairies, with our earthly neighbors. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon 
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, Common English Bible 

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ. 

Invitatio to Communion

The table has been prepared as Jesus requested, 
and we have been invited to the meal. 
We come to the table
like Peter, with more enthusiasm than resolve; 
like James and John, dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom. 
We come to the table
like Martha, hosting and leading with confidence; 
like Mary, eager to learn, and full of grief and love. 
We come to the table
like Judas, disillusioned and rebellious; 
like Mary, faithful to the end. 
Jesus offers us the bread and the cup. 
We come to the table of Christ.

Share the Meal 
Share what you have to eat and before eating, have someone say, “This food represents the body of Christ.  As we eat, we remember Jesus.” 

Share what you have to drink and before drinking, have someone say, “This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven.  As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace 
Tune: NEW BRITAIN (from the Virginia Harmony, 1831) 
Author: John Newton 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wrench like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 20:1-15

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard.

“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ And they went.

“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’

“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.

“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’ “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’

Proclaiming the Word
Listen to Rev. Tonya Vickery and/or read below.

A couple of years ago I was teaching the children on Wednesday nights. I began Bible study playing a game with the children. I separated them into two teams, the younger ones against the older ones.  This was pre-playground days when the side yards was just green grass. I had a bucket of water for each team sitting on the sidewalk outside the fellowship hall windows. On the other end of the yard, I had an empty bucket for each team. The goal was to move the water from the full bucket all the way across the yard to the empty bucket and the team who had the fullest bucket on the other side of the yard would be the winner. The trick was I had given the older kids cups that had holes in the bottom of them.

It did not take long for me to realize how competitive these children were. They had such an ingrained sense of things have to be fair, that the older ones completely lost it and started running after the younger children to grab their cups. It became complete chaos and mayhem in the side yard of the church that Wednesday evening. I just stood there among them completely flabbergasted. They were tackling one another. They were screaming and running. Their sense of fairness was tied completely to the cups. And they were upset. Eventually I was able to get them to stop and move over to the concrete benches in front of the cross. I was at a loss for words. The older ones were angry with me. They were so upset that I had given them a disadvantage intentionally. It was not fair Tonya, they complained loudly.

It took me months before I would play a competitive game with them again. And at the most it was BINGO. And even BINGO became unfair at times.

I would love to be in the homes of the children this morning and hear their responses to Jesus’ story. But it’s not just children who assume and expect fairness. All of us row  that boat. That’s what makes this passage of scripture hard for us. We have to adjust our thinking. Because what if we see God represented in this story as the generous landowner? That would mean that God is anything but fair.

An owner of what must be a vast vineyard needs people to work in the  fields. As the day begins, the landowner goes to the marketplace where workers are hired with the agreement that they will paid one denarion for theirs day’s work.  It is an honest wage. Later in the morning, the landowner sees there are still workers standing around in the marketplace waiting to be hired. They are offered work in the vineyard and promised to be paid what is right. Off they go to join those who were hired first thing that morning. Twice more during the day workers without jobs are hired and promised to be paid what is right. And yet again, at five o’clock in the afternoon with just one hour left to work, more workers are hired and promised to be paid what is right.

Workday ends and it is time for everyone to be paid. The landowner intentionally starts with those hired last. Those who were hired at 5pm were given one denarion for their day’s work. Those who were hired at 3pm were given one denarion for their day’s work. Those who were hired at noon were given one denarion for their day’s work. Those who were hired at 9am were given one denarion for their day’s work. And finally, those who started off the morning with the landowner were given one denarion for their day’s work.

As each group went through to be paid, the attitude among the workers grew more sour. The generosity of the landowner was not appreciated by all. Those who had worked all day long out in the hot sun were upset. How in the world could they be paid the same amount as those who had just worked one hour for the landowner?  How in the world could they receive the same pay? It’s just not fair.

The landowner doesn’t care about being fair in the way they assume fairness. And besides, the landowner didn’t cheat them out of anything. They were paid what they agreed to work for. And if the landowner wants to give the one hired last the same as the one hired first, then that’s the landowner’s business, not the workers’. The landowner asks, “Are you resentful because I am generous?” The Greek word which the CEB translates as resentful comes from a root which means pain or laborious trouble. “Are you painfully miserable because I’m generous,” asks the landowner.

The story highlights how God is not interested in showing favor, not to the best, the brightest, or the earliest, to the first in line, somewhere in the middle, or last. God does not favor those who are more capable, those who are more educated, those who are more successful. God does not favor those who work longer hours, nor does God favor those who have it all together. God does not favor the long suffering, nor does God favor the perfect. God does not favor the quick to learn, nor does God favor the quick to trust. God does not have favorites.

In God’s kin-dom, fairness, justice, and equality are completely different from what we expect and assume. Jesus’ makes this point. In the story, the workers are not judged by their hours. Why was everyone not there at the beginning of the work day? Everyone needed work. But everyone didn’t show up at the beginning.  Again, the landowner does not judge the worker by their hours.  So, why would people start late?

Hmm, not everyone begins on a level playing field. Sometimes it’s just who you are. It is like pitting the younger children against the older children in the game. They are less able than the older ones. Their bodies are smaller. Their experience is shorter. We would assume the older ones to be faster and wiser. But sometimes the playing field is not level because some outward force has made things more difficult for you. Like the older children in the game. They were given cups with holes in the bottom. Their resources were putting them at a disadvantage.

So it is in real life, some are not as savvy or wise as their competitors. Some have to lug around depression and/or anxiety. Some don’t look physically able to do the job. Some don’t live in the right neighborhood. Some don’t know where to go because they don’t have internet access or a working cell phone. Some have a difficult time at home with their immediate family. Some have others to care for. Some have lost  their cars and show up when they can get a ride. Some have lost their steady support systems of friends and family to keep them on track. Some can’t get the right papers to be hired. Some have given up.  Some have been labeled as useless and they are starting to believe it. Some are not the right fit for the job because of their gender identity, their sexual identity, their skin color, their political affiliation, or maybe just the way they dress. Some have messed up in the past, they have a record, and no one wants to hire them. Perhaps that’s why they started late.

Whatever the reason, the landowner does not require them to explain themselves or defend their lateness. All the landowner cares about is that everyone in the marketplace has a place in the landowner’s vineyard. There is a spot for everyone–for the one who comes early and the one who comes late, for the young and the old, for the experienced and the newbie, the advantaged and the disadvantaged, the well loved and the overlooked. When the work day draws to an end, the landowner is not focused on who deserves what. The landowner is focused on everyone having what they need.

That’s the kin-dom of God.

Fairness is worthless, if it turns me into a stingy selfish person who would leave someone else out in the dark and justify it as fairness.  Justice is empty when it mocks the generosity of God. We can only thrive when everyone — everyone has a place of dignity and a place of purpose. Our dignity and purpose comes from God. And there is a place for everyone in God’s vineyard.

Questions for Reflection
How would you feel if you were the worker hired at 5pm? How would you feel if you were the worker hired at the beginning of the day? How does a desire for everyone to have what they need change the way you would feel?

How does not having enough to secure basic needs like food and shelter affect human life?

The story highlights the generosity of God, but it also highlights how God values and provides for everyone. Think of ways you can participate in God’s generosity by providing for others this week.

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith 
For the Fruit of All Creation
Tune: AR HYD Y NOS (Tradition Welsh melody)
Author: Fred Pratt Green

1 For the fruit of all creation,
thanks be to God.
For his gifts to every nation,
thanks be to God.
For the plowing, sowing, reaping,
silent growth while we are sleeping,
future needs in earth’s safekeeping,
thanks be to God.

2 In the just reward of labor,
God’s will is done.
In the help we give our neighbor,
God’s will is done.
In our worldwide task of caring
for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvests we are sharing,
God’s will is done.

3 For the harvests of the Spirit,
thanks be to God.
For the good we all inherit,
thanks be to God.
For the wonders that astound us,
for the truths that still confound us,
most of all, that love has found us,
thanks be to God.

Sending Out 
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you 
today and always.   Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen. 

Acknowledgements: The Opening Prayer and Prayer of Confession come from Seasons of The Spirit™ SeasonsFusion Season of Creation • Pentecost 2 2020. The anthem was composed by Rachel Aarons and published by St. James Music Press. Tessa played the descant on flute. Mindy, Ally, and Elizabeth sang. The Invitation to Communion was written by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018. Tracy played the organ. Mindy sang the hymns. Aidan played the piano for Amazing Grace and Tonya played for the anthem. Jeff read the opening scripture passage from Genesis. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

Preparation for Worship 
While worshiping at home, set aside a time each week for worship and designate a place. You may want to have two candles to light to begin worship: one to represent Christ’s humanity and the other to represent Christ’s divinity. To celebrate communion, have something to eat and drink for everyone. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Lighting Two Candles
We begin worship by lighting candles to remind ourselves that the One whom we worship, Jesus, is the light of the world. We light two candles to remind us that Jesus is God and lived alongside us as a human being.

Passing the Peace 
Say to one another, “May the peace of Christ be with you.”
And reply, “And also with you.”

Invitation to Worship 
We celebrate September as the Season of Creation. This Sunday we reflect upon the relationship we have with the land. Genesis 2:4-9 reads,

On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Opening Prayer 
We remember the dry land that rose from the waters in the beginning of creation, and the plants that emerged from the soil to cover the land with vegetation.  We remember with delight the gardens and the fields of our childhood, the places where we played in the dirt, when we felt close to the ground, to bright flowers, and to baby animals.  We remember and rejoice. Thank you, God, for the land, for soils that sustain our life.  We come to worship you as we remember. Amen.

Hymn of Praise 
Fairest Lord Jesus
Tune: ST. ELIZABETH (18th century Silesian tune) 
Author: unknown

Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,  
thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown. 

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast. 

Beautiful Savior!  Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!  
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,  
now and forevermore be thine. 

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 26:1-8, Common English Bible

Listen to a church member read and/or read below.

Establish justice for me, Lord,
because I have walked with integrity. 
I’ve trusted the Lord without wavering. 
Examine me, Lord; put me to the test! 
    Purify my mind and my heart. 
Because your faithful love is right in front of me— 
    I walk in your truth! 
I don’t spend time with people up to no good; 
    I don’t keep company with liars. 
I detest the company of evildoers, 
    and I don’t sit with wicked people. 
I wash my hands—they are innocent! 
    I walk all around your altar, Lord, 
        proclaiming out loud my thanks, 
        declaring all your wonderful deeds! 
I love the beauty of your house, Lord; 
    I love the place where your glory resides. 

Hymn of Response
Touch the Earth Lightly
Tune: TENDERNESS (Gibson) 
Author: Shirley Murray

Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, 
nourish the life of the world in our care: 
gift of great wonder, ours to surrender, 
trust for the children tomorrow will bear. 

We who endanger, who create hunger, 
agents of death for all creatures that live, 
we who would foster clouds of disaster– 
God of our planet, forestall and forgive! 

Let there be greening, birth from the burning, 
water that blesses and air that is sweet, 
health in God’s garden, hope in God’s children, 
regeneration that peace will complete. 

God of all living, God of all loving, 
God of the seedling, the snow and the sun, 
teach us, deflect us, Christ reconnect us, 
using us gently, and making us one. 

Prayer for Others 
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.
[Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com or call the church office at 293-9024.]

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,  
we give you thanks for…. 

God who comforts,  
receive those who are fearful and lonely…. 

God whose love is steadfast,  
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.… 

God of righteousness,  
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail  
in our community, this nation, your world…. 

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways
that are life-giving in your world.  
Amen.

Choral Anthem
Harvest Blessings, Richly Showered
Composer & Author: Vernon Hoyle

Harvest blessings, richly show’red by the God of love; 
Field and garden, sweetly flow’red; heav’n’s blue sky above. 
For these mercies now we sing grateful praise to God our King. 

Nature’s wonders yearly sharing, thank we now our Lord, 
Who, for all his creatures caring, doth his gifts afford. 
For these mercies now we sing grateful praise to God our King. 

Loving God and loving neighbour, man in joy doth reap 
Harvest of the farmer’s labour, harvest of the deep. 
For these mercies now we sing grateful praise to God our King. 

He who took the bread and brake it, blessed it with the wine, 
Common food of earth doth make it sustenance divine. 
For these mercies now we sing grateful praise to God our King. 

Harvest blessings, richly show’red by the God of might; 
Body, soul and mind, empow’red praise him in the height!

Celebrating Communion
Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means anyone seeking to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.  
 
Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer of Confession 
Author: Diocese of Oxford Clergy Conference 2018 

Holy and merciful God, we confess that we have failed to honor you by rightly claiming our kinship with all your creatures. We have walked heavily on your earth, overused and wasted its resources, taken for granted its beauty and abundance, and treated its inhabitants unjustly, holding future generations hostage to our greed. Have mercy on us and forgive us our sin. Renew in us the resolve to keep and conserve your earth as you desire and intend, with grateful and compassionate hearts, through your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Assurance of Pardon 
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a, Common English Bible 

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ. 

Invitation 
Author: Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018

The table has been prepared as Jesus requested, 
and we have been invited to the meal. 
We come to the table
like Peter, with more enthusiasm than resolve; 
like James and John, dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom. 
We come to the table
like Martha, hosting and leading with confidence; 
like Mary, eager to learn, and full of grief and love. 
We come to the table
like Judas, disillusioned and rebellious; 
like Mary, faithful to the end. 
Jesus offers us the bread and the cup. 
We come to the table of Christ.

Share the Meal 
Share what you have to eat and before eating, have someone say, “This food represents the body of Christ.  As we eat, we remember Jesus.” 

Share what you have to drink and before drinking, have someone say, “This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us that our sins will be forgiven.  As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace 
Tune: NEW BRITAIN (from the Virginia Harmony, 1831) 
Author: John Newton 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wrench like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

Gospel Reading 
Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”  Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle accounts, they brought to him a servant who owed him ten thousand bags of gold. Because the servant didn’t have enough to pay it back, the master ordered that he should be sold, along with his wife and children and everything he had, and that the proceeds should be used as payment. But the servant fell down, kneeled before him, and said, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ The master had compassion on that servant, released him, and forgave the loan. When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred coins. He grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘Pay me back what you owe me.’  Then his fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he threw him into prison until he paid back his debt.  When his fellow servants saw what happened, they were deeply offended. They came and told their master all that happened. His master called the first servant and said, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you appealed to me. Shouldn’t you also have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ His master was furious and handed him over to the guard responsible for punishing prisoners, until he had paid the whole debt.  My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if you don’t forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” 

Proclaiming the Word
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

Listen to Jeffrey’s sermon and/or read below.

The first lesson in theology is “God is God and I ain’t.” The second lesson, less well known, is related to the first — “I will be and do things that resemble God.” The first lesson is about humility without self-loathing, and respect without arrogance. The second lesson is a reminder that Genesis 1 identifies each one of us as being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28).  That holy resemblance leaves us with a task – to consider carefully what we think about God. What we affirm about God we often manifest in our life. If we imagine God as a divine overlord waiting to swoop in attack at our smallest of miscues and mishaps, then we will often treat people the same way, especially those we consider beneath us. But if we imagine God as comforting, generous, and benevolent whose intent is to bring goodness and beauty into the world then we will want to treat others in these ways. In short, if I imagine God as angry, it validates my anger as being like God. If I think of God as the Universal Mother, birthing the Earth and all this creation that surrounds it, and caring for it as her favorite child among the planets, then I will develop a holy motivation to care for creation.

As it turns out, the insistent monotheism of Christianity is helpful here. Think about being a part of a polytheistic world where gods and goddesses create individual parts of creation rather than the whole. Each god has a different personality—some kind and caring while others are capricious and vindictive. They often are said to resemble the parts of nature associated with them, and, let’s be honest, sometimes creation is scary and dangerous. Consider the sea. The vast ocean means the God who created the ocean must be big and powerful, but also destructive and deadly.  If the god I choose to venerate is the god who created the sea, and I look to the sea to tell me something about God, then God appears sometimes calm and peaceful while at other times storm-enraged to the point of destruction. We are not surprised then to learn that Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, was both the creator of islands and calm waters, but also the originator of earthquakes and floods and shipwrecks and even mental disturbances. Poseidon was, like the sea, capable of calm yet prone to chaos.

Our confession that one God created all things and named them all as “good” in the first creation account, tells us that no one part of creation alone can fully resemble God. Nor can one event, either human or in creation, define God’s essence. If God was defined by the volcano alone, or the plague, or war, then God would be solely destructive and deadly. If the gentleness of a giraffe, or the companionship of a kitten, or the domestication of a heifer were the only creatures through which we defined our God, then God would be tame and under our control. It turns out that God is more broadly good and richly deep in purpose than any one part of creation.

In Chrisitanity, rather than having God resemble a part of nature, the biblical creation story tells us that humanity resembles God. God is not made from humanity, but our human nature is a reflection of the image of God in a way that the dolphin and the donkey are not. One of the most elemental tasks of being human in God’s image is to be like God in our relationships with each other and the world.

It’s hard to say, “Be like God” without the childhood memory of a certain Gatorade commercial that began running in 1992. It had a catchy phrase –“Be Like Mike”– set to percussion filled, Disney-esque music, and a constantly smiling celebrity, THE biggest celebrity of the day, Michael Jordan. He had won an NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls just one year before, and he was on his way to winning a second one. The commercial was a hit and is still available on YouTube. The premise is simple—kids dream of being like Mike and Gatorade helps make it possible. The second part was the scam – Gatorade doesn’t make you a better player. The first part was closer to the truth. Kids, adults, anyone with a basketball, wanted to be like Michael Jordan. He wasn’t just happy, he was joyful. He wasn’t just the greatest ever, he was humble enough to share the court with children. I imagine Adam Holt, age 11, seeing this commercial on television, and then dribbling a basketball behind his back “like Mike” during PE class, or Onifer Wilmoth at age 13 trying that shot from the top of the key as Jordan’s moving left and guarded by Larry Bird and hits nothing but net. In the early 90s, whether you had game or didn’t, you likely wanted to be like Mike.

In our Christian arena, playing the game of life and hope and grace, we are called to “Be Like God.” No catchy song required although practice and discipline and willful choosing are necessary. Remember, to “be like God” does not mean that we are God, nor does it mean that we are given divine power that we don’t have. It signifies a willingness to resemble the God of Jesus the Christ, whose Spirit compels us into a world where we can help create goodness and beauty.

In the biblical witness, God’s nature is wholly goodness and the world God created out of that goodness was governed by wisdom. (Read Genesis 1 and Proverbs 8). Thus it is out of goodness and through wisdom that God created us as part of the good creation. Because of this foundation, the first half of our Bible has a clear and often repeated description of God — “You are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to punish” (see Jonah 4:2 as one example). This description of God’s nature is repeated at least seven times in the first testament, so much so that when Jesus discusses forgiveness, it is already clear to him from the Jewish text that he could read and recite, that God’s character is founded on this confession: “You are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to punish.”

All of this matters by the time we come to Jesus’ story in Matthew 18. Jesus is fielding a question from Peter about forgiveness. Jesus could have simply given Peter a “duh” look – like, “don’t you know Peter that God forgives and therefore so should we.” Jesus as is his custom has more in mind than a dismissive remark.

We’re not certain, but I like to think that it is almost time for Yom Kippur in the Jewish festival calendar when this story takes place in Matthew 18. Since the gospels tell us that Jesus observes Sabbath every week, celebrates the Festival of Booths, Hanukkah, and Passover, it should be assumed that he also would have observed Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the “day of atonement” when Jews seek God’s forgiveness for sins, those known and unknown, individual as well as corporate sins, both committed by will and mistake but also omitted by lack of action. The day of Yom Kippur includes a complete 24-hours without food. Jews will wear their prayer shawl or tallit all day to remind them of their need to repent and confess before God. In the Talmud, a Jewish collection of teachings by the rabbis, it is said, “Yom Kippur does not forgive transgressions between one person and another until or unless they seek forgiveness directly” (Mishnah Yoma 8:9). The day’s worship ends with a song that recites verses from Numbers 14:19-20: “Please forgive the wrongs of these people because of your absolute loyalty, just as you’ve forgiven these people from their time in Egypt until now.” Then the Lord said, “I will forgive as you requested.”

So when Peter asks about forgiving others, Jesus’ parable reflects what both Peter and Jesus know about God’s goodness from Genesis, and Numbers, and Jonah. God forgives. It is what God does. Why? Because God is good, and God’s goodness is governed by wisdom rather than vengeance or anger. All followers of Jesus, including Peter and you and I, are to be like the God we worship. There is no question that God forgives, and so Jesus makes Peter’s question reflect God’s nature rather than social custom. “God forgives a lot, Peter, and you should forgive just as much.” Peter offers a number that seems generous – forgive seven times? Jesus doesn’t laugh, at least the gospel doesn’t say that he did but in my imagination he offered a knowing grin to Peter. God does not just forgive us seven times. And since that second lesson of theology is that we are supposed to resemble the God we worship, then seven is not enough times for us to forgive someone either. Jesus suggests seventy-seven times. I agree that he’s not being literal, but what if he is? Then we should forgive the same person seventy-seven times. That’s a lot. It may even be enough times to sustain a lasting relationship that is becomes healthy for both persons.

All would be well if the story ended with this challenge from Jesus to Peter. But the story is more disturbing when Jesus tells the parable. The master in the parable forgives his servant a large debt that amounts to bags and bags of gold. The master showed mercy and by doing so reflected God’s mercy. This action has nothing to do with best practices in accounting! But the forgiven servant turns around and finds a colleague that owes him a few coins and throttles him and throws him in prison without forgiving him the debt. When the first master finds out, he’s rightfully upset. He made the proper assumption that if he, the master, had forgiven the servant, then the servant would offer the same mercy to his friend.

If I don’t think I need forgiving, then I won’t ask God. If I do ask God and God forgives me, then I exhibit no awareness of the reality of that mercy if I don’t forgive others. In this logic, then, to be able to forgive someone else means we know and thus reflect God’s forgiveness of us. Because God forgives we forgive. Because God cares, we care. Because God creates goodness and beauty, we create goodness and beauty. Do you remember the other confession that Jonah offered? Mercy, compassion, patience, faithful in love, willing not to punish. These describe God. Jesus is also making the second theological point – they will describe how we respond to the people and creation around us. If not, we haven’t understood God rightly.

If we pair this story of Jesus with the gospel lesson from Tonya’s sermon last week, we begin to see a pattern emerge. Our human relationships should be based upon our understanding of God’s relationship with us. Think about our forgiveness from God. To be forgiven by God returns us to relationship, but its premise is honest confession and repentance. We can’t demand that God forgive us as a threat. We don’t have a right to God’s forgiveness if we’re just doing it for personal gain. We would be unwise to think we can fool God and make promises and ask forgiveness and seek mercy if we don’t really mean to repent. Blatant misuse of God’s mercy is something we can be fooled into thinking we receive, but God is not fooled by our hypocrisy. I assume that Peter honestly repented and found God’s forgiveness and so Jesus is right to tell him that he has every spiritual gift necessary to forgive others. At the same time, Jesus is not suggesting that we forgive infinitely those whose request for mercy is unjust, or hypocritical, or self-serving, or manipulative, or not genuine. We have a harder time telling the difference than God does, but Christianity is not full of doormat submissive wimpy people who will overlook wanton disregard for God’s way in the world. Injustice by its definition is acting, either personally or systemically, as though forgiveness is not necessary and sin that becomes abuse is normative. Injustice is not to be forgiven until the one who sustains the injustice is changed. Forgiveness is not toleration of evil but recognition of genuine repentance. God forgives and redeems. We at least can do the first, and do it more often, and hopefully, the second will follow when sin is replaced with holiness and justice is realized for the oppressed. May it be so in my relationships and yours. May it be so for this earth that is God’s good creation. May it be the goal of our life until breath no more inspires us and the Spirit of God ushers us home.

Questions for Reflection
What part of God’s nature and what characteristic of God is the easiest for you to live? And which is hardest?

If someone were to watch a video of the way you treat other people, what would they think that you believe about God?

God is described in the Bible as merciful, compassionate, patient, steadfast in love, and ready not to punish. Which one of these do you hear others say about God the most, or the least?

Prayer of Thanksgiving 
Thank you, God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith 
Lead on Eternal Sovereign 
Tune: LANCASHIRE (Smart) 
Author: Ernest W. Shurtleff, alterations by Pilgrim Press 

Lead on eternal Sovereign, we follow in your way; 
loud rings your cry for justice, your call for peace this day: 
Through prayerful preparation, your grace has made us strong, 
to carry on the struggle to triumph over wrong. 

Lead on eternal Sovereign, we follow not with fear, 
for in each human conflict your words of strength we hear: 
That when we serve with gladness, you will not let us fall, 
our trust is in your promise that love will conquer all. 

Lead on eternal Sovereign, till sin’s fierce war shall cease, 
And all your saints together will sing a hymn of peace; 
Then all in your dominion will live with hearts set free, 
To love and serve each other for all eternity.

Sending Out 
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you, 
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you, 
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you 
today and always.   Amen.

Closing Song 
Blest Be the Tie 
Tune: DENNIS (Nageli) 
Author: John Fawcett 

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. 
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen. 

Acknowledgements: The organ was played by Tracy. Mindy sang the hymns. Ally played the piano for Touch the Earth Lightly. Aidan played the piano for Amazing Grace. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

Preparation for Worship

  • Something to remind you of the forest. At CBC, we designate the month of September as the Season of Creation. We spend time each Sunday reflecting on our relationship with different aspects of creation. This Sunday we take a look at the forest. So add something to your worship space to remind you of the forest.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence.  In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship
Today is Forest Sunday. We acknowledge that we stand in the company of the trees who have lived longer than we have, housing a myriad of creatures, and given us our holy breath. Let us breathe, and pray, and sing today, and worship with the emerald forests.

A Reading from the Hebrew Bible
Genesis 2:4-9

Listen to a church member read the scriptures and/or read below.

On the day the Lord God made earth and sky— before any wild plants appeared on the earth, and before any field crops grew, because the Lord God hadn’t yet sent rain on the earth and there was still no human being to farm the fertile land, though a stream rose from the earth and watered all of the fertile land— the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life. The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east and put there the human he had formed. In the fertile land, the Lord God grew every beautiful tree with edible fruit, and also he grew the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Opening Prayer
God, we come before you today to worship you — you who made the trees of the forest and all their companions. All are fearfully and wonderfully made!

We acknowledge that you created trees to be our companions from the beginning of time. When you formed us, you placed us in the midst of trees where we might live. Trees fed us and nourished us. Trees taught us. Trees gave us the opportunity to choose to follow you or to follow ourselves. And yet even though we were made in your image, we chose to worship and serve our desires instead of yours. So with humility we come to worship you today. Our heart’s desire is to honor and glorify you. We pray that our worship will be pleasing and acceptable. Amen.

Song of Adoration
The Trees of the Field

You shall go out with joy
And be led forth with peace
The mountains and the hills
Will break forth before you
There’ll be shouts of joy
And all the trees of the field
Will clap, will clap their hands

And all the trees of the field
Will clap their hands
The trees of the field
Will clap their hands
The trees of the field
Will clap their hands
While you go out with joy

Psalm Reading and Prayer for Others

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 119:33-40

Listen to a church member read the Psalm and/or read below.

Lord, teach me what your statutes are about,
and I will guard every part of them.
Help me understand so I can guard your Instruction
and keep it with all my heart.
Lead me on the trail of your commandments
because that is what I want.
Turn my heart to your laws,
not to greedy gain.
Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things.
Make me live by your way.
Confirm your promise to your servant—
the promise that is for all those who honor you.
Remove the insults that I dread
because your rules are good.
Look how I desire your precepts!
Make me live by your righteousness.

Song of Praise
Walking with You

You’re growing me like a tree,
Your Spirit and love in me.
The glory of all You are is making me new.
O Fullness of Life,
My joy, my delight,
In worship unending I’m walking with You!

Almighty the Lord I Am,
Great Sov’reign and Son of Man,
The touch of the Father’s love so faithful and true,
Beginning and End,
Forgiver and Friend,
My Savior, My Shepherd, I’m walking with You!

You’re growing me like a tree,
Your Spirit and love in me.
The glory of all You are is making me new.
O Fullness of Life,
My joy, my delight,
In worship unending I’m walking with You!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com or call the church office at 293-9024.]

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for….

God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely….

God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…

God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice
to prevail in our community, this nation, your world….

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world. Amen.

Song of Faith
Canticle of the Sun

Listen to the choir sing and join in on the refrain.

Refrain
The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and all creation is shouting for joy;
Come, dance in the forest, come, play in the field,
and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord!

1 Sing to the sun, the bringer of day,
he carries the light of the Lord in his rays;
the moon and the stars, who light up the way unto your throne.

2 Praise to the wind, that blows through the trees,
the seas mighty storms, the gentlest breeze;
they blow where they will, they blow where they please to please the Lord.

3 Praise to the rain, that waters our fields,
and blesses our crops so all the earth yields;
from death unto life her myst’ry revealed springs forth in joy.

4 Praise to the fire, who gives us his light,
the warmth of the sun to brighten our night;
he dances with joy, his spirit so bright, he sings of you.

5 Sing to the earth, who makes life to grow,
the creatures you made to let your life show;
the flowers and trees that help us to know the heart of Love.

6 Praise to our death, that makes our life real,
the knowledge of loss that helps us to feel;
the gift of yourself, your presence revealed to lead us home.

Celebrating Communion

Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means that anyone who seeks to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.

Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer of Confession
God, we acknowledge that in the last five minutes, around five hundred thousand trees were destroyed across the world by human hands. That’s over 600 acres of forest habitat – of homes for birds and bees, monkeys and rabbits, jaguars and tree frogs. God, we pledge to feel this pain and to know that we carry the blame in our own ways. We pray for forgiveness, and for the possibility that we can become assistants in restoring our unity with the forests of the world.

From the moment we are born, we feel the grace of God coming off the wind, and whispering from the forests. We are always whole, and always part of creation’s wholeness, no matter what we do.

Assurance of Forgiveness
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ.

Now let us come to the “table.”

Invitation
The table has been prepared as Jesus requested,
and we have been invited to the meal.
We come to the table like Peter,
with more enthusiasm than resolve;
like James and John,
dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom.
We come to the table like Martha,
hosting and leading with confidence;
like Mary,
eager to learn, and full of grief and love.
We come to the table like Judas,
disillusioned and rebellious;
like Mary,
faithful to the end.
Jesus offers us the bread and the cup.
We come to the table of Christ.

Share what you have to eat and before eating, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ.
As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink and before drinking, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us
that our sins will be forgiven.
As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 18:15-20

Listen to the gospel being read by a church member and/or read below.

If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

Have you ever noticed how we Americans are enamored with individualism. Just take for instance the latest Disney movie release, Mulan. Disney has taken an actual ancient Chinese Ballad and dusted it with Disney movie selling points. You know, young romance, animals, maybe a side kick or two, the triumph of good over evil, and yes, individualism.  In Disney’s Mulan, Mulan saves the emperor’s life and defeats the evil Huns all on her own. She needs no assistance from anyone. If it hadn’t been for Mulan, the whole dynasty would have collapsed.

The actual Chinese Ballad of Mulan dates back to the 350-500’s. It tells the story of young girl who volunteers to take the place of her father and younger brother. You see, at that time a male from each family is called upon to serve in the army. Mulan’s father is old and weak. Her brother is younger than she is, just a child.  So she voluntarily takes their place. After 12 years of military campaigns and service to her country, she returns home with honor and gifts from the emperor. Her family is overjoyed to see her. They prepare a feast for her homecoming inviting everyone. She changes back into her normal clothes. She makes up her hair and face and greets her fellow soldiers. They are shocked. Her comrades had no idea that she was a woman.  Missing from the original tale? Individualism. 

Our compulsion and drive and expectations to be self-supporting and independent comes from growing up in the United States. Our country’s foundations were built upon the philosophical ideas of a British man named John Locke. I probably first learned of Locke in high school, but I don’t remember him from then. I was more interested in math. My first memories of Locke come from my studies to be a teacher. Locke’s name was the answer to fill-in-the-blank questions on exams at Clemson, “Who is credited for the ‘tabula rasa’ theory?” “John Locke” is the answer.  Locke said our minds are like blank slates when we are born, without a thought or an opinion yet developed. The environment, experiences, and influences which shape our development and leave a lasting effect on who we become.  It wasn’t until seminary that I learned that John Locke was famous for his call for the separation of church and state. Baptist are all about separation of church and state. But probably Locke’s greatest influence upon the United States can be seen in the establishment of our government. It is from Locke that we get the American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Locke’s ideas have become our tradition as Americans. They have become our rights. And meshed in our traditions, founding documents, and rights is individualism.

That’s what makes Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel reading hard to swallow. When someone wrongs us, Jesus wants us to sit down and talk with them. Not about the weather, or how things are going in their life, but Jesus wants us to talk with them how their actions or lack of actions have offended us. Offended is not the right word. It is more than just, “You upset me.” It is those time when we sin against one another. Think of the 10 commandment kind of sins. Now think of the Greatest Commandment that Jesus added in. You are to love others as you love yourself.  It’s those times when we miss the mark in what our relationships with one another should be as God requires it: life giving. Jesus wants us to let others know when they sin against us. When a relationship starts to break, that’s when you start putting it back together before it completely breaks. But also, Jesus is saying, when the sinning first begins, help your sister or your brother see and understand before the sinning becomes a way of living for them.

But let’s say you try to do just that, but the person won’t lend you a listening ear. They won’t sit still long enough to hear you out. It may be pride getting in the way. It is hard to admit our faults. Sometimes it’s just a pure lack of respect. So what do you do then? When the offender won’t listen to you, Jesus says don’t give up. Go and get another person or perhaps two others to come with you to confront the offender. The two or three of you try to sit down with the person again and talk about what they have done. This 2nd attempt towards reconciliation with additional people coming with you isn’t about making a power move or being a bully by numbers. It is about clarity and accountability for the victim and the offender.  Sometimes it takes more than just the two to get repentance and forgiveness right.  If we truly desire to bring out change and healing, if we truly are seeking to restore community, then toss out that individualism of me against them. No, this is in the context of God’s community.

But what if the offender still turns away, stomps off, won’t listen?  What do you do then? Jesus again says you don’t give up–don’t give up on person. You don’t just turn a blind eye to what has happened, but you don’t give up offering and creating a path that leads to life. Jesus says when the offender still refuses to listen, go get the church involved. Tell the church what has happened and let the church talk with the offender. When an offender is so arrogant or stubborn or dismissive of another that they will not listen and they will not take responsibility for their sins, then it will require the involvement of the whole community of faith to hold that person accountable, to teach repentance, and to actively forgive. I can imagine that when refusal to admit wrong gets to this point, it will take all of us to right  the relationship. For in the body of Christ, in the church, there is ample experiences of offending and being offended. There are ample experiences of repenting and forgiving. There are ample experiences of brokenness and healing. We are blessed to be a part of faith community that truly believes and tries hard to practice grace. Grace does not erase accountability, but it lays a path toward healing for the wronged and the sinner.

But what in the world do we do when all of this doesn’t amount to a hill of beans? It is then, and only then, when the sinner won’t listen to the church family, it is then that Jesus says treat ’em like a Gentile or a tax collector. Now it’s easier to move to that part first. Finally, Jesus is telling us to do something that we can do. If a person won’t listen, then we can move on. We can shake the dust off our feet and wash our hands clean of the situation. We tried. Jesus knows that we did.  And we don’t have to worry about it anymore.

But where, tell me, does Jesus say in the Bible not to worry anymore with the tax collectors and the Gentiles?  Where does Jesus say forget about them, they ain’t got no sense? Well, they may not have any sense, but we cannot write them off. Matthew was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples. Matthew was a tax collector before he started following Jesus. Jesus had dinner multiple times with tax collectors. The religious leaders thought less of him for it. If you have your Bibles in front of you, turn a few pages over to Matthew 21:31. I quote Jesus in mid-sentence. “…the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” 

So when someone sins against you and they won’t listen to anybody, not even to the church, don’t give them up as lost or worthless. The rest of the world reaches a point where they write people off and they teach us that this is okay. But we are members of the body of Christ before we are members of the world. We have chosen to live the Way of Jesus Christ. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus who has taught us to forgive and who has taught us to seek healing. We cannot draw a line and stop extending the love of God and the grace of God to one who has sinned against us. Even when they stick their fingers in their ears, refusing to listen.  If we, the community, write the person off, then there is no accountability. If we, the community, dismiss the person, there is no option for repentance. If we, the community, treat the person as if they do not exists, then there is no opportunity for forgiveness. Like God, God’s children desire to mend what is broken. And please remember that at this point in Jesus’ teaching, it is no longer the “problem” of just the one offended. It is now the responsibility of the whole community of faith. It is not to be a burden to be carried only by the one who has been wronged.  If we expect that as the community of faith then we sin against the one who has already been sinned against.

The kind of relationship Jesus expects us to have with one another as a church family is different from any other group or organization or even blood family. When you mess up, when you wrong someone in your faith family, you are not to be excluded or pushed out. But when you mess up or wrong someone, when you sin against them, you are also expected to listen. In this passage Jesus makes it clear what is required of us when we sin against one another. Look at verse 15. Jesus says to the offender, “Listen.” Now look at verse 16. There’s the word “listen” again in a different form. Verse 17, says it twice. “Listen.” “Listen.”  Four times Jesus points out the fault, the refusal to listen.

Right now, our Black sisters and brothers in the faith are asking us to “listen.” They have tried to speak with us one on one. They have tried to speak with us with just a few. And they have tried to speak to us within the church family. But we still don’t get it. I truly believe that if we wonder why our Black sisters and brothers are so upset, then we just don’t understand. And that means we need to listen. Listen, and participate in the process of accountability.  Listen, and participate in active repentance. Listen, and participate in offering and receiving forgiveness.  Listen, when our sisters and brothers are saying, “Black lives matter.” They are naming the sin. People of color have been devalued in our nation. Do all lives matter? Oh yes! But when we challenge the statement “Black lives matter” with the statement “All lives matter” do you see how we show a disregard for the wrongs we have committed against people of color. The sin has been named. We are guilty of assigning unequal values to people based on the color of their skin.

Unfortunately today, the majority of Americans suffer from poverty, economic insecurity, lack of access to adequate health care, and environmental destruction. Our country was founded on ensuring Locke’s three ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but to a select few who looked and acted like the handful of men in charge. And for decades we as a nation have practiced indifference to these maladies among the Black community. And now it extends and extends. Our nation’s practice of indifference became a bad habit which we extended to Hispanics, Latinos, and many others.

God requires something more of us. The Lord won’t give up on us and the Lord won’t let us give up on one another either. What does the Lord require of us? Think back to the Old Testament prophet Micah. Micah 6:8 says we are to do justice, to love goodness, and live humbly with God.  That means we have to acknowledge our failures, restore right relationships, and pursue peace building and humility. These are life-giving ways of living.  May we have the courage to confront. May we have the courage to name the sins. May we have the courage to spend the time needed to repent.  May we have the courage to listen to what are faults are and may we have the courage to forgive in the name of Christ. Amen.

Questions for Reflection
1. How does the ideal of being self-reliant get in the way of being community in Christ?
2. How do we keep an open heart when someone confronts us when we have sinned against them?
3. Many would say the church is irrelevant today. So why is the church important to God? to you? to the world?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Thank you God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love

Refrain.
Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve
the neighbors we have from you.

Kneels at the feet of his friends,
silently washes their feet,
Master who acts as a slave to them.

Neighbors are rich folk and poor,
neighbors are black, brown, and white,
neighbors are nearby and far away.

These are the ones we should serve,
these are the ones we should love;
all these are neighbors to us and you.

Loving puts us on our knees,
silently washing their feet
this is the way we should live with you.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you,
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you,
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you
today and always. Amen.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

Credits: The image of the forest was taken by Michele. The Call to Worship and the Prayer of Confession are from The Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFusion Season of Creation • Pentecost 2 2020. The Opening Prayer was written by Tonya. The Trees of the Field is a paraphrase of Isaiah 55:12 written by Steffi Karen Rubin and set to the tune TREES OF THE FIELD by Stuart Dauermann. Genesis 2:4-9 was read by Tyler. The Psalm was read by Calley. Walking with You was written by Ken Bible and set to the Bahamian Folk Tune, JOHN B. SAILS. The words to Canticle of the Sun is based on the writings of St. Francis of Assisi, translated by Georgina Pando-Connolly with music composed by Marty Haugen. The song is sung by Kendall, Ally, Elizabeth, Mindy, and Tonya. The communion litany was written by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. Matthew was read by Kendall. Jesus, Jesus, Fill Us With Your Love was written by Tom Colvin set to the tune CHEREPONI, a Ghana Folk Song. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). Scripture readings are from the Common English Bible translation. Hymns were sung by Mindy and played by Tracy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

Preparation for Worship (same as last week)

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence.  In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship
Psalm 105:1-6a

Listen to a church member read the Psalm and/or read below.

Give thanks to the Lord;
call upon his name;
make his deeds known to all people!
Sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord;
dwell on all his wondrous works!
Give praise to God’s holy name!
Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!
Pursue the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always!
Remember the wondrous works he has done,
all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—

Opening Prayer
Awesome and great God, whose holiness is beyond our capacity even to imagine – we worship you. God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel, we glorify you as our God also. Your care for your people of old is evident through the stories of your involvement and constant covenant with them. Your care for us is evident through your grace and mercy which we experience in Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. You love us so lavishly, and empower us so mightily, that we come to see the world as a place charged with blessing – your blessing. We stand on holy ground whenever we are in your presence O God, which is always and forever when we praise you as we ought. We offer our praise and adoration and this time of worship as our response to your extravagant initiative of entering our lives in the person of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

Song of Praise
Sing to God with Joy

Refrain:
Sing to God, with joy and gladness
hymns and psalms of gratitude;
with the voice of praise discover
that to worship God is good.

  1. God unites his scatter’d people,
    gathers those who wonder’d far,
    heals the hurt and broken spirits,
    tending ev’ry wound and scar.
    (Refrain)
  2. Such is God’s great pow’r and wisdom
    none can calculate or tell;
    keen is God to ground the wicked
    and humble folk to dwell.
    (Refrain)
  3. God, with clouds, the sky has curtain’d,
    thus ensuring rain shall fall;
    earth, responding, grows to order
    food for creatures great and small.
    (Refrain)
  4. God’s discernment never favors
    strength or speed to lift or move;
    God delights in those who fear him,
    trusting in his steadfast love
    (Refrain)

Psalm Reading and Prayer for Others

Psalm 26:1-8

Listen to the Psalm and/or read below.

Establish justice for me, Lord,
because I have walked with integrity.
I’ve trusted the Lord without wavering.
Examine me, Lord; put me to the test!
Purify my mind and my heart.
Because your faithful love is right in front of me—
I walk in your truth!
I don’t spend time with people up to no good;
I don’t keep company with liars.
I detest the company of evildoers,
and I don’t sit with wicked people.
I wash my hands—they are innocent!
I walk all around your altar, Lord,
proclaiming out loud my thanks,
declaring all your wonderful deeds!
I love the beauty of your house, Lord;
I love the place where your glory resides.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular this week, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com.]

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for….

God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely….

God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…

God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice
to prevail in our community, this nation, your world….

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world. Amen.

Song of Faith
World Peace Prayer

Listen to the choir sing and join in on the refrain.

Lead us from death to life,
from false-hood to truth,
from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace;
let peace fill our hearts,
let peace fill our world,
let peace fill our universe.

Still all the angry cries, still all the angry guns,
still now your people die, earth’s sons and daughters.
Let justice roll, let mercy pour down,
Come and teach us your way of compassion.

So many lonely hearts, so many broken lives,
longing for love to break into their darkness
Come teach us love, come, teach us peace
come and teach us your way of compassion.

Let justice ever roll, let mercy fill the earth,
let us begin to grow into your people.
We can be love, we can be peace,
we can be your way of compassion.

Celebrating Communion

Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means that anyone who seeks to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.

Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer of Confession
Merciful God, you call us to live out our faith in everyday actions beginning with loving one another with a love that is completely sincere – love with no thought of gain for self, but love totally at the service of others. We are to hate evil and to hold fast to what is good. We are to care for and honor one another. Our faith is to be visible through our joy and our hope – our patience – even in suffering, and through our persevering in prayer and we are to share what we have with those in need, and to extend hospitality not just to those we know and like – but to strangers. We know we fall short of living out our faith in these ways. So we ask you to renew us, strengthen us, and empower us with your Spirit. Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ.

Now let us come to the “table.”

Invitation
The table has been prepared as Jesus requested,
and we have been invited to the meal.
We come to the table
like Peter, with more enthusiasm than resolve;
like James and John, dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom.

We come to the table
like Martha, hosting and leading with confidence;
like Mary eager to learn, and full of grief and love.
We come to the table
like Judas, disillusioned and rebellious;
like Mary, faithful to the end.

Jesus offers us the bread and the cup.
We come to the table of Christ.

Share what you have to eat.
Before eating, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ.
As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink.
Before drinking, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us
that our sins will be forgiven.
As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 16:21-28

Listen to the gospel being read and/or read below.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day. Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? For the Human One is about to come with the majesty of his Father with his angels. And then he will repay each one for what that person has done. I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One coming in his kingdom.”

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

What are you saving? We are taught to save money. We sometimes try to save time – without success of course as the clock stops for no one. The phrase, “I’m saving it for a rainy day” can  apply to food, to-do list tasks, travel dreams, or home-owner crises. And of course, people save lives of others, sometimes literally like in a hurricane, or an ER, or on a mission trip to Arkansas, and at other times figuratively, like when you befriend the lonely, or call the elderly, or help someone out of a crisis.

Losing on the other hand, is something we try to avoid. My favorite pocket knife might easily be lost. We can lose money in the stock market. People lose both money and track of time at the casino – that’s the reality of gambling. Teams lose in sports. When we talk about losing someone it means they have died and are, thus, “lost” to us. In a broken relationship we lose a friend or a partner.

We are accustomed, then, to the idea of “saving” being positive and “losing” being negative. It can come as a surprise, then, that Jesus turns saving and losing on their heads when he says, “All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them.” In the space of such a short phrase, saving becomes the liability and losing the gain. Jesus is not being obscure for the sake of sounding wise. He is, however, asking us to re-focus our life and envision a new way to approach the world.

I think it matters that Jesus gives us this teaching about saving and losing our life in the long shadow of John’s unjust murder at the orders of the authorities. The death of someone you know, a family relative of Jesus in this case, for no other reason but the capricious choice of one person in power is unsettling even for Jesus. It is still on his mind (I’m convinced) and also confirmation that his own impending death is now a certainty. He will continue to do God’s work in God’s way among the people despite the successful efforts of the powerful to take his life. As he tells his friends what he’s thinking, that the men in power are going to kill him also, he gives them a hope that must have sounded empty on this day, but that became their lifeline of hope when the women gave witness on Easter morning – that he would be raised on the third day. 

Famous for his faux pas, Peter had other plans for Jesus, but Jesus was blunt enough to call him out for it. To Peter, suggesting that Jesus should now stop what he’s doing and work instead to save his own life makes sense, and sounds good, and might be justifiable until Jesus calls out this plan as from Satan rather than from God. Yes, it turns out that not following God sometimes looks good and sounds right and receives approval from our friends. Sometimes letting the temptation to preserve myself at all costs, or not get involved because it might be messy, or passing off responsibility to someone else is “satanic” — not in the sense that some personified devil is sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear convincing me to get into trouble. That’s an imagined scenario from fantasy fiction rather than biblical teaching. No, here I mean “satanic” in the sense that it serves as a good-looking temptation to refrain from following God for the sake of something that helps me personally. This idea comes from the fact that Jesus used the Hebrew title “Satan” here rather than the Greek word “devil.” He is recorded as using either term in the Gospels, but from Jesus’ own Jewish background, he has an understanding that “the Satan” is a referent to “the Tempter” and not an anti-god with a pitchfork.

For some reason, every time I read this story I think of the choices Dietrich Bonhoeffer made in life. Bonhoeffer is a much-celebrated German Christian and pastor. His book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship” is certainly one of the most important books for Christians to come out of the 20th century. Bonhoeffer was horrified when the church leaders in Germany convened the Brown Synod and concluded that all Christian pastors of non-Aryan ancestry and any clergy who did not give unqualified support to the Nazi party should be dismissed or forced into retirement. With this news, Bonhoeffer’s active but non-violent resistance to Nazism begins. Among other things, he moves to London for two years to gather support and encourage other German pastors who join the resistance. He returns to Germany in 1935 and opens an illegal seminary where he trains more than 150 pastors in justice and non-violence and open resistance by becoming conscientious objectors to the impending war. Bonhoeffer told his students, “It is an evil time when the world lets injustice happen silently, when the oppression of the poor and the wretched cries out to heaven . . . when the persecuted church calls to God for help in the hour of dire distress and exhorts people to do justice, and yet no mouth on earth is opening to bring justice.” Eventually, Bonhoeffer flees for refuge in America. Mahatma Gandhi offers him the opportunity to live and train with him in India. Yet Bonhoeffer sees his life of faith taking a different path. After struggling with the decision to remain in the safety of New York City or return to Germany he writes, “I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people . . .” “I know which of these two alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make that choice in security.” Bonhoeffer’s story ends with his choice to be faithful to God’s work despite the danger to his life. It ended with his obedience to the Gospel unquestioned, but his life taken far too soon. While helping to resist the German government and encouraging those Germans who objected to the war, Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned in the concentration camp at Flossenbürg where he was executed at the age of 39 only days before the American forces liberated it and WWII would end. Bonhoeffer’s last words were, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.” 

I read the Gospels and try to really understand the human struggle of Jesus in his grief and facing the violence of his death. I consider the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and wonder about my own allegiances and where they would have been cast had I been a pastor in Germany, told by my church to support the government, expected by my country to take up arms in war, and convinced by the rhetoric of deceiving politicians that they were solving the Jewish “problem” as a protection of my German way of life. Would I be willing to lose my patriotism to save my life with God?

To add a different context, what sermons would I be preaching if I pastored Cullowhee Baptist Church in May 1830 when the Indian Removal Act was signed, or in May 1861 when NC seceded from the country and joined in the impending war against the United States for the sake of defending slavery? Christian teachings and Gospel truths are insistently against the injustice imposed on the Cherokee, and the defense of slavery by the Confederacy. Would I have criticized the US president for stealing Cherokee land and killing thousands on their forced march to Oklahoma? Would I have resisted the call to fight against the US Army and kill fellow Americans for the sake of an economy built on the enslavement of human beings? These seem clear points in history where choosing to follow God is not going to end with congratulatory success, but will save our life with God.

How much clearer can it be, then, that the willingness to follow God first, even if it comes at the cost of preserving our own self, is a cost we are asked to carry even today? If we secure our success or aid our comfort in life as our first priority, and then add on following Jesus as a secondary appendage to our life and hope, then we will let human will rather than God’s will determine the definition of our “life” and what it means and how we live it.  The temptation will happen in the everyday places of work and school and family first. We can make more money and provide for our family by choosing to be devoted to our job first rather than following God first. Jesus can be paraphrased as saying, “everyone who wants to save their family will lose it, and those who lose their family for my sake will find it.” Or we could substitute “work” for “family.” Or “lifestyle” or “success.” Or “heritage” or “society.”

When Jesus says (in v. 25), “All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them,” he is clearly talking about life and death for himself, and at times for us. Yet Jesus is also considering that losing our “life” may include a re-calibration our identity in the world around us. After all, he follows that statement with two questions: “Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?” So let me be blunt for a moment.

It is not more important for me to be Baptist than it is for me to follow Jesus’ teachings. Even more, to say that by definition a Baptist will always be like Jesus is to make the mistake of thinking that Baptists can’t fall into temptation to follow something or someone else than the Gospel of God. Like Bonhoeffer’s push back against the German churches, I have chosen at times to lose being Baptist in order to remain faithful to God first. I grew up with my “self” identifying as Southern Baptist, and then they tied themselves to one political party, they claimed the Bible forbids women from pastoral leadership, they narrowed into a fundamentalism that no longer recognizes the wideness of God’s mercy. And so I “lost” being Southern Baptist and saved my life before God. Gratefully, the Alliance of Baptists is my “Baptist home” and reflects the Gospel faithfully.

In the same way it is not more important for me to be a White American of privilege than it is for me to follow Jesus’ teachings. And so I will support, even from this virtual pulpit, the efforts of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the struggle against the injustice of systemic, societal racism that is allowed by the government in power whether it is local, state, or federal.  I do so not because of my political party affiliation or my family values or my education, but by the Gospel affirmation that violence and death and fear and cover-up and misuse of authority are in no way Christian. Were Jesus faced with these things today, he would call out our current president and any politician or citizen or agency who blindly supports the current political climate of fear and dishonesty and injustice as being satanic. 

I am convinced that we are faced with this kind of losing and choosing often. That is, we must constantly be choosing God rather than self; we must choose Gospel rather than culture; we must choose love rather than hate; we must choose embrace rather than abuse. One function of society is to try and impose a definition of what is acceptable, and successful, and approved for citizens in that culture. Being able to discern what is the society’s definition of life and self is important in determining if that contradicts with the Gospel identity of our life and self with God. To be American is to embrace greed, but it’s not a Gospel virtue. To be American is to be aggressive and boastful, but the Gospel calls us to meekness and humility. To be American is to never run from a fight, but the Sermon on the Mount calls for turning the other cheek. To be American is be take revenge, but the Golden Rule does NOT say “do to others what they did to you.” If I have to choose these ways of being American, then I will willingly lose that part of myself for the sake of the Gospel. I have committed my life to being a follower of Jesus rather than an American.

Peter had to follow Jesus enough to watch Jesus die for the sake of living for God. And Peter failed at first to make the same choice for himself. When Peter denied Jesus, he must have felt like he lost his life for the sake of his security. He followed the Tempter instead of the Savior. But that was not Peter’s last chance or final choice. More opportunities came his way and later, he chose better.  What about us? Have we gained a way of life but lost our life with God? Our latest choice is not our last one. Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift.   

Questions for Reflection
1. What makes you you? Or asked differently, of what part of your “self” are you most aware?

2. The New Testament uses many images intended to remind us that we belong to God. When do you feel most like you belong to God?

3. The pandemic has limited our excess activities and experiences. How has a forced pause in life shown you things that you can live without?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Thank you God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
The Summons

Will you come and follow me
If I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
And never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown
In you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind
If I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind
And never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
Should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer
In you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see
If I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free
And never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean,
And do such as this unseen,
And admit to what I mean
In you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
If I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
And never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
To reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound
In you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true
When you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
Where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
In you and you in me.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you,
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you,
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit embolden you
today and always. Amen.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

Credits: The soccer image was taken by Torsten Bolton and posted at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Soccer_Youth_Goal_Keeper.jpg [retrieved August 27, 2020]. Psalm 105 was read by Gail. The Opening Prayer and Prayer of Confession were written by Moira Laidlaw. Sing to God with Joy was written by John L. Bell and set to the tune GLENDON (JLB). It is based on Psalm 147. World Peace Prayer was composed by Marty Haugen. The refrain was written by Satish Kumar (dates unknown), a Jain monk, who based the poem on passages from the Hindu scriptures known as the Upanishads. The verses were written by Haugen. The song is sung by Ally, Elizabeth, Laura, Mindy, and Tonya. The communion litany was written by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. The Summons was written by John L. Bell and set to the tune KELVINGROVE, a traditional Scottish melody. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). Scripture readings are from the Common English Bible translation. Hymns were sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

Preparation for Worship (same as last week)

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Caesarea Philippi as seen by Jeff, Sandy, and Annelise.

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence.  In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship
Psalm 124

Listen to a church member read the Psalm and/or read below.

If the Lord had not been on our side,
let Israel now say;
if the Lord had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;
then would they have swallowed us up alive
in their fierce anger toward us;
then would the waters have overwhelmed us
and the torrent gone over us;
then would the raging waters
have gone right over us.
Blessed be the Lord
who has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.

Opening Prayer
God our Help and our Redeemer, if you had not chosen to become a part of our lives, through the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, where and who would we be? Helpless! -helpless without you – and so we offer our heartfelt thanks and praise, for such evidence of your care for us. In and through Jesus, we have become more deeply aware of your goodness and mercy. As your presence enabled him to live courageously, so you strengthen us to live boldly through the gift of the Holy Spirit – your empowering presence in us. We pray that our worship and our daily living will resonate with our gratitude and praise for your presence with us, and all your gracious gifts to us.  This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen

Song of Praise
Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks

Refrain:
Alleluia, alleluia! Give thanks to the risen Lord.
Alleluia, alleluia! Give praise to his name.

Jesus is Lord of all the earth.
He is the King of creation.
(Refrain.)

Spread the good news o’er all the earth;
Jesus has died and has risen.
(Refrain)

We have been crucified with Christ.
Now we shall live forever.
(Refrain)

Come, let us praise the living God,
Joyfully sing to our Savior.
(Refrain)

Psalm Reading and Prayer for Others

Psalm 138

Listen to church members read the Psalm and/or read below.


I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I will sing your praise.
I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name,
because of your love and faithfulness;
for you have glorified your name
and your word above all things.
When I called, you answered me;
you increased my strength within me.

All the rulers of the earth will praise you, O Lord,
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
They will sing of the ways of the Lord,
that great is the glory of the Lord.
Though you are high, you care for the lowly;
you perceive the haughty from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your mighty hand shall save me.
O Lord, you will make good your purpose for me;
your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular this week, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com.]

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for….

God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely….

God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…

God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice
to prevail in our community, this nation, your world….

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world. Amen.

Celebrating Communion

Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means that anyone who seeks to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.

Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer of Confession
Merciful God, we proclaim that Jesus is Christ, your Son. In Jesus, our lives, our minds, and our hearts are transformed and renewed so that we may discern your will for our lives, and all that is good and acceptable and perfect. We confess, however, that there are times when our actions and our words seem to be conformed more to other values than to doing your will.

If we believe that our faith experience is superior to the way others have come to faith and so fail to recognize and share the humility that life in Christ possesses. Forgive us.

If our relationships are so shaped by bitterness and jealousy, that we fail to recognize and share the joy that life in Christ reveals. Forgive us.

If we exclude people from our fellowship through our prejudice and discrimination; and so fail to recognize and share the love that life in Christ imparts. Forgive us.

If selfishness and greed so corrode our lifestyles that we fail to recognize and share the generosity that life in Christ delights in. Forgive us.

Merciful God, so transform us with the life of Christ and renew us in your image that the grace, humility and compassion which marked the life of Jesus will be clearly visible in and experienced through our lives; so that we who are one body in Christ may delight in sharing the gifts you graciously give us for both the building up of this community of faith and the communities where we live and work and play. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness
2 Corinthians 5:17-18a
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, to whom we have been reconciled through Christ.

Now let us come to the “table.”

Invitation
The table has been prepared as Jesus requested,
and we have been invited to the meal.
We come to the table
like Peter, with more enthusiasm than resolve;
like James and John, dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom.

We come to the table
like Martha, hosting and leading with confidence;
like Mary eager to learn, and full of grief and love.
We come to the table
like Judas, disillusioned and rebellious;
like Mary, faithful to the end.

Jesus offers us the bread and the cup.
We come to the table of Christ.

Share what you have to eat.
Before eating, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ.
As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink.
Before drinking, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us
that our sins will be forgiven.
As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving
Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 16:13-20
13 Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” 15 He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. 18 I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. 19 I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ.

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

Throughout the summer our scripture readings for the most part have been from the Common English Bible translation. It is the translation of the Bibles that was given to our church children at the beginning of June. The Common English Bible is a very readable translation. One hundred and twenty scholars from 22 faith traditions worked on this translation which was completed in 2011. The translators chose to be accurate in translating, but to also offer clarity of expression.

For example, the phrase “Lord of hosts” appears hundreds of times in older Biblical translations. Those of us who grew up with those translations know the word “host” is referring to heavenly beings, like the angels and all those in the heavenly realm. We think of the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel where a multitude of the heavenly hosts were singing and praising God.  But “hosts” doesn’t have the same meaning for English readers today. Instead “hosts” are people in charge of a party or a dinner. Or in the realm of science, a “host” is something on which a parasite lives.  Although God is the Lord of Entertainment especially when it comes to meals, and one could say God is the the Lord of homes for all parasites, this is not exactly what the Bible was trying to say. Therefore, the CEB translators renders the phrase “Lord of hosts” as “Lord of heavenly forces.”  

All that is to say that when you listened to gospel being read or as you read it yourself, you heard or read Jesus referred to as “the Human One.”  This is how the CEB translates the Greek phrase we typically hear translated as “Son of Man.” You may have found the reference to Jesus as “the Human One” a little jarring, but it probably does us some good to be jarred by the names of Jesus every once in a while.

So why did the CEB translators choose to say “the Human One” instead of “the Son of Man”? When the Greeks used the phrase “son of x,” they were implying “one who has the character of x.” So if we were to use the phrase, “son of Mother Teresa,” we would be implying that this one has the character of Mother Teresa, not that Mother Teresa had a son. Another example can be found in Acts 13:10.  Paul calls a sorcerer “a son of the devil.” Paul isn’t saying the person’s daddy is a devil. Rather, Paul is saying the character of the sorcerer is like the character of the devil.  In other words, he is devilish. So when the phrase “son of man” is used to describe Jesus, the phrase is saying Jesus is humanish. Jesus identifies with humanity. Jesus has taken on the characteristics of human beings. Jesus shares in our humanity. So the CEB chose to translate the phrase as Jesus, “the Human One.”

Now, let’s take a look at the gospel story. What good news does God have for us today?

In this Sunday’s reading, Jesus and the disciples have traveled north into the area of Caesarea Philippi.  If you have a chance to look at a map of Palestine from that time, find the Sea of Galilee, paddle your way north up the Jordan River all the way to Lake Hula. By the way, you won’t find Lake Hula on a map today. The lake was drained in the 1950’s. Zionist philosophy in the 50’s wanted to increase the amount of land for growing crops and grazing cattle. They also touted the claim that draining the lake would help eradicate malaria. Now they are working to restore the Hula Valley and hopefully the lake. Look back to your biblical map which still shows the tranquil lake. Now go a little east and a little north from the lake and you will be that foot of a mountain chain (think Mt. Hermon) and there you will find Caesarea Philippi.

Sometimes it is good to see where the story is happening. Jesus and his disciples always seem to be on the move: traveling along the Mediterranean seashore, hopping over to the Sea of Galilee, and now back up north to Caesarea Philippi. I’m not sure there’s a rhyme or reason to the zigzag travel pattern, but I’m sure someone has affixed some spiritual or religious meaning to it.

Back when Jesus was in the Mediterranean seashore cities of Tyre and Sidon (which are south of present day Beirut), Jesus encountered a woman who sought healing for her daughter from Jesus. However, the woman wasn’t Jewish. Jesus called this to her attention when she asked for his help.  He had been sent to help Jewish people who had been overlooked by their faith tradition. She knew better and would not be deterred by what he perceived to be his marching orders. She begged him to help her little girl. He again pointed out that she was not Jewish and that it wouldn’t be good to take what gifts and talents he had and use them for those who were not Jewish. And then she counters what he says by implying that there is enough of Jesus for everyone. It was just like she had heard Jesus’ story about the mustard seed or the one he told about the wee little bit of yeast leavening a ton of bread. Jesus, just even a little bit of you will do. You are more than enough for everyone. Jesus answers her with these words, “Woman, you have great faith.” I’m not sure he ever said that to the disciples–the great faith part; however, I do recall him saying to them, “O ye of little faith.”  

It fascinates me that shortly after this encounter with the woman of great faith, Jesus tries to get a feel from his disciples for how he is being seen by others. He has had the Jewish religious leaders barking at him. They want him to do some tricks especially for them so they can see if he really is who people say he is. He declines the invitation. But up north, at the foot of Mt. Hermon, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do the people say I am? What’s the talk out there in the field about me?”  They give him the laundry list. Well, some see you as John the Baptist come back to life. Some rumors are going around that you are Elijah come back to life. And then there are some out there who say you just might be Jeremiah. And there are tons of other rumors floating around saying your are one of the other prophets come back from the dead.  

Then Jesus asks them what they think.  “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter is the only one the gospels record as speaking up. However, no additional word was needed. Simon Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   

You are “the Christ” means You are the One who has been anointed and appointed by God to come and save the world. You are the “Son of the living God” means we see the character of God in you. I view Peter’s confession as an affirmation and thus a blessing. Did Jesus need someone to say these words so that he could become the Savior of the world? No. But what a difference it makes when others can see the living God in you. What an encouragement when your closest companions can see that God has anointed you and sent you to save the world. Jesus, the Human One, can relate to our need to be affirmed. Jesus, the Human One knows what it is like to just need a little bit more encouragement from those around you.

You know what a difference it makes, how empowering it is when the community of believers affirms you and the identity God has created within you. You know how uplifting it is when the community of believers lets you know that they can see the nature of the living God in what you do and say. You know how assuring it is when the community of believers affirms the calling of God in your life. Did Jesus need Peter to say these words?  No.  But think of how leaders of the faith tradition wanted to suppress Jesus. They did not affirm the anointing of God upon him. They did not affirm the character of God in him that everyone else could see. They could not affirm him because Jesus did not fit into their definition of what God would look like or act like. Jesus didn’t meet their expectations. So think what a difference it must have made to Jesus to have those who knew him best affirm his identity in God.

Jesus’ question to the disciples is a question we must ask ourselves, not just once, but every day. Who do we say Jesus is? 

I hope and pray that we can join with Peter in saying, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We may be like the woman on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. We have been shunned and pushed away from the Christian faith because we were seen as the wrong kind of person to be included. Others may think that there is no way on God’s green earth that we could live the way of Jesus  We may be like Jesus’ close companions. We didn’t have a difficult time being seen as a Christian and we are eager to learn so we can better live the Way of Jesus.  We may even be like the religious leaders. We refuse to believe because Jesus doesn’t do what we want or what we say we need in order to believe.  I pray for each us no matter where we are in our relationship and understanding of Jesus, that we will join with Peter in saying, “Jesus is Christ, the Son of the living God.”  

But these are not just the words we say with our mouths. Last week’s gospel reading has already made this point. These are words that we live as well. How we act and what we do says a lot about who Jesus is to us. You may want to think of it this way. If we confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, do others know this by what we do and how we live? Turn the idea a little bit more and ask yourself, what kind of Jesus am I confessing and professing through what I do. Does my family see my profession of Jesus matching with my actions? If I’m professing Jesus is the Christ, what kind of Jesus are my actions reflecting to my coworkers? Think about your neighbors? Member of the community? Members of our church family? Our sister church in Brazil?  Are our words and actions confessing Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God?

Jesus says, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Questions for Reflection

  1. In what ways do you want to be more like Jesus? 
  1. How do our choices and actions communicate the goodness of God? 
  1. How do you distinguish between your faith in God and faith in God’s people? Do they depend upon one another?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Thank you God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

1 Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and corner-stone
chosen of the Lord and precious,
binding all the Church in one;
holy Zion’s help for ever,
and her confidence alone.

2 All within that holy city
dearly loved of God on high,
in exultant jubilation
sing, in perfect harmony;
God the One-in-Three adoring
in glad hymns eternally.

3 We as living stones implore you:
Come among us, Lord, today!
with your gracious loving-kindness
hear your children as we pray;
and the fulness of your blessing
in our fellowship display.

4 Here entrust to all your servants
what we long from you to gain
that on earth and in the heavens
we one people shall remain,
till united in your glory
evermore with you we reign.

5 Praise and honour to the Father,
praise and honour to the Son,
praise and honour to the Spirit,
ever Three and ever One:
one in power and one in glory
while eternal ages run.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you,
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you,
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit nourish and sustain you
today and always. Amen.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

Credits: The psalm readings are from the Anglican Liturgical Psalter (https://www.anglican.ca/wp-content/uploads/GS2016-Liturgical-Psalter-2016-05-04.pdf). Psalm 124 was read by Donna. The Opening Prayer, Prayer of Confession, and Sending Out were written by Moira Laidlaw. Alleluia, Alleluia. Give Thanks was written by Donald Fishel and set to the tune ALLELUIA, NO. 1 composed by Fishel. Psalm 138 was read by Tonya, Laura, and Kelly. The communion litany was written by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. Christ is Made the Sure Foundaion is set to a tune REGENT SQUARE composed by Henry T. Smart (1879). The words were written by John M. Neale. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The gospel reading is from the Common English Bible translation. Hymns were played by Tracy on the organ and sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

Preparation for Worship

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of Christ’s presence.  In our practice, one candle represents Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity.

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Say to one another, “May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
Respond by saying, “And also with you.”

Call to Worship
Psalm 133

How good and pleasant it is
when those who worship God
desire to live in unity and peace.

It is like the joy experienced
on seeing rainfall transform arid desert land
into a floral firework extravaganza,
a carpet of blooming colors.

In these ways, God’s blessings are truly visible.

Opening Prayer
God of all creation, your beauty and your blessings are visible not only in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the rivers running through, but also wherever people gather to worship you.  In this time, we come before you grateful for all your blessings.  We praise you for creating us and thus inviting us to share life with you. We praise you for showing us how to live through Jesus, the Christ. We praise you for empowering our lives with your Spirit. You desire a just and peaceful world. May we work with you to peacefully break down the barriers which separate people from you and from one another. This we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Song of Praise
All Are Welcome

Let us build a house where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God’s children dare to seek
To dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
And as symbol of God’s grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome…

Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome…

Let us build a house where hands will reach
Beyond the wood and stone
To heal and strengthen, serve and teach,
And live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger
Bear the image of God’s face;
Let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome…

Let us build a house where all are named,
Their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed
As words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
Prayers of faith and songs of grace,
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome…

Psalm Reading and Prayer for Others

Psalm 67
Let God grant us grace and bless us;
let God make his face shine on us,
so that your way becomes known on earth,
so that your salvation becomes known among all the nations.

Let the people thank you, God!
Let all the people thank you!
Let the people celebrate
and shout with joy
because you judge the nations fairly
and guide all nations on the earth.
Let the people thank you, God!
Let all the people thank you!

The earth has yielded its harvest.
God blesses us—our God blesses us!
Let God continue to bless us;
let the far ends of the earth honor him.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular this week, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com.]

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for….

God who comforts,
receive those who are fearful and lonely….

God whose love is steadfast,
be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…

God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice
to prevail in our community, this nation, your world….

God who seeks our trust, grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world. Amen.

Celebrating Communion

Communion celebrates our unity–our unity with God and with one another. At Cullowhee Baptist Church we practice an open communion which means that anyone who seeks to live the Way of Jesus Christ is invited to share in communion with us. Although we are not able to meet together, our bond still remains with one another and God through Jesus Christ.

Imagine Jesus setting a table for us, a place where we may come together and share a meal. Before we “come to the table,” let us set our hearts aright and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for our shortcomings.

Prayer of Confession
Lord Jesus Christ, you swept away centuries of prejudice and legalism when you reached out and accepted people as they were – accepted them as loved fellow human beings.

We confess our failure to be as inclusive as you….
if people feel excluded from our fellowship because of their appearance, their poverty, their lack of power or low self-image:
Forgive us.
Pause for reflection on these words, think carefully and honestly about where we are and who in our community may feel excluded from our fellowship.

If people feel excluded from our fellowship because of their sexuality, their addiction, their lack of education, their lack of a job……
Forgive us.
Pause for reflection on these words, think carefully and honestly about where we are and who in our community may feel excluded from our fellowship.

Strengthen us, Lord, where we are weak, and make us strong to withstand the seduction of a society which seems obsessed with the acquisition of wealth and power. We know in our hearts that discipleship demands an utterly new way of seeing people as you did, and being with them unconditionally, as you were, but the journey from heart to eyes and hands and feet can be long and difficult .

We ask your forgiveness Lord. As people who have received your grace and mercy over and over, may we be as merciful and as compassionate as you, in all we say and do in your name. Amen.

Assurance of Forgiveness
John 3:17-18
We rejoice in the good news that God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned.
Thanks be to God!

Now let us come to the “table.”

Invitation
The table has been prepared as Jesus requested,
and we have been invited to the meal.
We come to the table
like Peter, with more enthusiasm than resolve;
like James and John, dismayed by Jesus’s vision of a kingdom.

We come to the table
like Martha, hosting and leading with confidence;
like Mary eager to learn, and full of grief and love.
We come to the table
like Judas, disillusioned and rebellious;
like Mary, faithful to the end.

Jesus offers us the bread and the cup.
We come to the table of Christ.

Share what you have to eat.
Before eating, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ.
As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink.
Before drinking, have someone say,
“This drink represents the covenant Christ made with us
that our sins will be forgiven.
As we drink, we remember Jesus.”

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Dear God, thank you for your abounding compassionate love. Thank you for guiding and leading us through these difficult times. Thank you for always being with us. Amen.

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

Amazing grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
was blind but now I see.

Special Music
What Wondrous Love

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 15:10-20
Jesus called the crowd near and said to them, “Listen and understand. It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended by what you just said?” Jesus replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father didn’t plant will be pulled up. Leave the Pharisees alone. They are blind people who are guides to blind people. But if a blind person leads another blind person, they will both fall into a ditch.” Then Peter spoke up, “Explain this riddle to us.” Jesus said, “Don’t you understand yet? Don’t you know that everything that goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? But what goes out of the mouth comes from the heart. And that’s what contaminates a person in God’s sight. Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adultery, sexual sins, thefts, false testimonies, and insults. These contaminate a person in God’s sight. But eating without washing hands doesn’t contaminate in God’s sight.”

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey
“Wash Your Heart Out With Soap” 

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

Famously the French philosopher René Descartes wrote, “I think therefore I am.”  He was not in search of religious knowledge but existential recognition. That is, he was answering the question, “How do we know we exist?” As long as I think or even doubt, he writes, I can only do so because I exist. And since I think, therefore, I am, therefore, my existence is proven.  

Most of us don’t put too much work into answering the questions of existence. Yet I like the fact that he is willing to explore it. Descartes does not take for granted something that is so basic to life as existence. Whether we agree with his philosophy, I like his interest in finding understanding for things that are essential to life.  

When Jesus brings up the question about eating, he is asking us to consider something that every single person in the entire world does. We all eat. If we don’t, we can’t survive. In addition, as I have said numerous times, all people deserve to eat. If the world were a just place then the only person who would ever go a day without eating is the one doing so voluntarily. Living with an unjust distribution of wealth and resources, however, means that people by the millions are forced to endure hunger daily. But, before I go off on one of my favorite topics, let’s return to what Jesus says about food. This time, he’s talking about holiness rather than hunger.    

Christianity is the only major world religion that does not have restrictions on food consumption as part of its central teachings. Jews have kosher food laws. Muslims follow halal practices to determine what is permitted to eat and foods to avoid. Hindus and Buddhists are well known vegetarians believing that they should not eat the flesh of any sentient being because the life within them is the same as the life in us. Though all the Jewish food restrictions are in the Bible (mostly in Leviticus), Christians simply ignore these biblical requirements. Even biblical inerrantists who will argue with their own grandmother that every word of the Bible is inspired and without contradiction will queue up in the Bojangle’s take-out window and order their fill of sausage biscuits without considering that the Bible is explicit when it says “And the pig…it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcass. It is unclean for you.” (Leviticus 11:8) While I am convinced that the story of Peter in Joppa played a big role in Christianity setting aside the kosher food laws (see Acts 10), Jesus paved the way for Baptists to enjoy their bacon in Matthew 15.   

In every way, Jesus was a bar mitzvah-ed, Torah-reading, Sabbath-attending, festival observing Jewish Palestinian. Like his Jewish disciples, Jesus likely never ate food that was not kosher. So consider the angst he caused among his Jewish followers when he says publicly to a crowd of people, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:10b-11) Kosher food was so basic to Jewish life and here Jesus is questioning its religious power. Yet it is clearly delineated in the Torah. And the Torah is God’s Word. No wonder the very next thing the disciples tell Jesus is, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 

I really don’t think Jesus was either being snarky — “Hey, Peter. Listen to this. It’s really going to tick off those Pharisees” — or showing disdain — “Good, I’m glad they were offended. I meant to do that.” And he certainly is not criticizing the practice of eating kosher on its own. My conclusion is different: I believe Jesus knew that too many of his own followers trusted that their holiness was a result of following good things like eating kosher. When we judge ourselves and think that all is well with our soul because we remembered to skip the bacon cheeseburger and order the lamb stew, then Jesus says we have relegated our righteousness to rules. It turns out that even the unholy ones can play by the rules and still be wicked. Something more is required to be holy. 

You and I don’t eat kosher, though, remember – Christianity has no food restrictions. Before we go any further with Jesus’ teaching, then, we have to examine ourselves and see what it is that we have substituted for kosher laws. What rule do we observe that makes us feel good about God’s judgment on our life? The trick is, it has to be something that is not inherently wrong but that we trust way too much.  

Given that the novel coronavirus is disrupting almost every area of life right now, perhaps we can put attending worship in the sanctuary in place of eating kosher food. All of us want to be gathered together in the sanctuary on Sundays for worship. Other than eating every day, attending worship on Sundays with other Christians in a sanctuary may be the most “normal” part of my entire life. I have been doing it nearly every single Sunday for the past 53 years. It began as a family practice. Then became a habit. Maybe for a time it was even a way to cope with life and its difficulties. In college, my roommate went to worship to find a girlfriend. I’ve had people tell me they come to church because it helps them not feel guilty. Others come because they always feel guilty. Some have determined that the end result of worship is that it makes them a better person, and their mama said to go to church as long as it helps you. I have known couples who came to church just to have a free place to get married. Perhaps we all can agree that worship is not only a good thing, but is one of the most central disciplines for all Christians everywhere. But we also know inherently that worship can be misused, turned into a selfish gain, and often attended rather than practiced. If we worship only to force God to like us, then we have missed the target. Worship is to be centered always on God’s presence and our humble response. God is the focus of worship. Not us. Not what it produces. Not how it makes us feel. And it is always free to choose and never a compulsion. Thus in Matthew 15 Jesus might well say, “It is not missing worship that defiles you, nor coming to worship that sanctifies. It is what is in your heart that defiles.”  

So hear this, Jesus says. If we think coming to the sanctuary is what it takes for God to like us, even love us, and therefore be required to accept us, then we are deceiving ourselves. Worship in the sanctuary is not a vaccination against damnation. In the same way, being prevented from attending worship in the sanctuary in order to keep other people healthy is not an evil perpetrated by cancel culture or a conspiracy of anti-Christian liberals in American politics. 

Here is my paraphrase of Jesus’ words in response to the disciples: “Do you see that whoever goes into the sanctuary also leaves the sanctuary and returns to the world. It is the worship of God that comes from the heart that God sees. Thus in worship and out in the world, our heart reveals our love for God and one another. The heart also shows what defiles us – manipulative intentions, power over others, over indulgence in desire, wanting what we don’t need, repeating false lies, celebrating when people we don’t like fail. These are what defile a person, but to worship at home during a pandemic does not defile.” 

I’m convinced that much of what Jesus says is intended to move us away from legalism. Legalism is childish ignorance. Righteousness is not a checklist. Commandments are not like bumper gates at the bowling alley. Following God doesn’t have GPS coordinates. Holiness is not a part of your aura. Discipleship is not calculated by karma. You are not what you eat…or drink. These are all façades and can be made up. It’s as easy to dress up on the outside and fool a bunch of people as it is to cheat at solitaire. Yet in both instances, we know the difference. So does God. 

When I was growing up, strict orders against vulgar language were enforced. Not just by parents at home but nearly everywhere. Which means my friends and I, the ones who taught me how to “cuss the right way” when I was about 11 years old, also learned the meaning of “wash your mouth out with soap.” In my house, this phrase was used figuratively. But I had a friend named Corey who came to school one day and we learned that some families take the saying literally. I think we laughed every time we saw him for the next two days. 

Jesus seems to be calling us to wash our hearts out with soap. Or at least, to recognize that hearts can be mended. They can be sanctified, cleansed, as it were, in order to direct our lives in God’s Way with a genuine and honest search for holiness. In this way, our worship is acceptable to God both in the sanctuary and on the sofa. Worship away from the sanctuary may even have the added benefit of focusing our worship on God rather than our friends, or being seen by others, or demoting the worship of God to a social gathering. Even beyond worship, Jesus is offering us a second chance, or a third, or a seventh. The reason and manner in which our hearts respond to God and others can be made right. While I don’t like the term “saving souls” perhaps there’s a way Jesus is coming close to “saving hearts.” Turning them from evil to holy. Training them to serve God rather than ourselves or the world. Fixing their broken parts that desire sin and repairing them for the work of God’s grace. 

Because of COVID-19 people seem to be asking often, “how are you doing?” Jesus is asking us a different question: “How is your heart?” He knows the answer. So do you. That leaves us all with an opportunity – to live out our heart’s depth, or to renew our heart under God’s care. 

Questions for Reflection

  1. What to you is the purpose of worship? 
  1. How do we maintain the church’s focus on worship and spiritual growth without becoming just a social club? 
  1. [For you to think about rather than say out loud] What in your heart needs to be cleansed? 

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Thank you God for constant love. Please help our church family grow deeper and deeper in your love. Amen.

Song of Faith
God Be in My Head

God be in my head, and in my understanding.
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking.
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking.
God be in my heart, and in my thinking.
God be at mine end, and at my departing.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you,
May the compassion and love of Christ enfold you,
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit nourish and sustain you
today and always. Amen.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Mindy starts us each week, and so she does today as well.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. Amen.

Credits: The image is from our Summer 2012 mission trip to Haiti. All Are Welcome was written and composed by Marty Haugen and sung by Mindy. The Prayer of Confession and Sending Out were written by Moira Laidlaw. The communion litany was written by the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. No one know who wrote the words to the song, What Wondrous Love. This solo arrangement was composed by Charles Dupree and sung by Mindy. God Be in My Head is set to a tune with the same name composed by Walford Davies. The words are from The Book of Hours, 1514. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible translation. Hymns were played by Tracy on the organ and sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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