Welcome and Announcements

Opening Words                                                                              
Psalm 24:1

The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it,
the world and its inhabitants too.

Call to Worship

From the dawn of creation,
            God has called us by name.
From before we are born,
            we are loved as God’s own.
In the moments of joy,
            we are given God’s presence.
In the seasons of struggle,
            God lavishes us with grace.
Now, in this moment of worship,
            we are brought together as God’s people.
Here in this sacred space,
            we are marked with God’s Spirit.
Let us lift our heads and open our hearts.
            God is the ruler of glory.
Come, let us worship.

Opening Song                                                                                     

All Are Welcome
Words by Marty Haugen
Tune by TWO OAKS

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

Chorus: 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 a symbol of God’s grace
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus
Chorus

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
Chorus

Opening Prayer

God, you always welcome us as your beloved children. We humbly come before you now to praise you, to thank you, to recognize you as our God, and to bring you honor and glory. May our worship of you this morning show you our love. Amen.

Song of Praise                                                                   

Shine, Jesus, Shine
Words by Graham Kendrick
Tune of SHINE JESUS SHINE

Lord, the light of your love is shining
In the midst of the darkness, shining
Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us
Set us free by the truth you now bring us
Shine on me, shine on me

Chorus: Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Maker’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze; set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow; flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word, Lord, and let there be light

Lord, I come to your awesome presence
From the shadows into your radiance
By the blood I may enter your brightness
Search me, try me, consume all my darkness
Shine on me, shine on me
Chorus

As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me
Chorus

Psalm 85:8-13                                                                                   
Common English Bible

Let me hear what the Lord God says,
    because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones.
    Don’t let them return to foolish ways.
God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him
    so that his glory can live in our land.
Faithful love and truth have met;|
   righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth springs up from the ground;
    righteousness gazes down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord gives what is good,
    and our land yields its produce.
Righteousness walks before God,
    making a road for his steps.

Prayer for Others

Choral Anthem                                                                       

Dona Nobis Pacem
arr. Hal Hopson

(Grant us peace.)

Ephesians 1:3-14                                                                New Revised Standard Version

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Reflection on the Scriptures
Rev. Tonya Vickery

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

Song of Response                                              

O God in Heaven
Words by Elena G. Maquiso
Tune of NADA TE TURBE adaptation

O God in heaven, grant to your children
mercy and blessing, songs never ceasing.
Grace to invite us, peace to unite us
O God in heaven, author of love.

Jesus Redeemer, help us remember
your pain and passion, your resurrection.
Your call to follow, your love tomorrow
Jesus Redeemer, savior and friend.

Spirit unending, give us your blessing;
strength for the weary, help for the needy,
Hope for the scornful, peace for the mournful
Spirit unending, comfort and guide.

Sending Out                                                                                   

Now may you know
that you are God’s beloved,
sealed in the Spirit,
and claimed as God’s own
so that you may serve God and your neighbor.
Amen.


Closing Song                                                                              

Blest Be the Tie
Words by John Fawcett
Tune of DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.

Acknowledgements

The Call to Worship and Sending Out come from “July 11,” Seasons of the Spirit: SeasonsFusion Pentecost 1 2021. Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2020. 

Permission to print the words and lead lines to 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.

Welcome and Announcements                                                     

Litany of Praise

For rest and relaxation, switching off phones and e-mail,
the release from the demands of diaries and calendars,
the blissful luxury of solitude.
God who rests with us,
for holiday joys, we praise you.

For travel and exploration, adventuring to new places,
discovering beauty and strangeness,
exploring new food and ways of life.
God who travels with us,
for holiday joys, we praise you.

For play and leisure, games on beach or field, delighting in fun
and laughter, sharing time with friends.
God who plays with us,
for holiday joys, we praise you.

For making and creating, forming shapes in clay, wood or stone, splashing colour with paint or thread,
words or music echoing in our souls.
God who creates with us,
for holiday joys, we praise you.

Prayer of Adoration

Gathering Song                                                                               

Just As I Am
Words by Charlotte Elliott
Tune of WOODWORTH

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that your blood was shed for me,
and that you called inviting me,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, you will receive,
will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because your promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Just as I am, your love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
now to be yours and yours alone,
O lamb of God, I come, I come!

Psalm 123

To you enthroned in heaven, I turn my eyes,
    our eyes are toward the Lord our God
    awaiting God’s mercy.

Have mercy on us, Lord! Have mercy
    because we’ve had more than enough disrespect.
    Long enough have we endured
    the mocking of those with security,
    the disrespect of the proud.

Song of Praise                                                                                           

Lord of Creation, to You Be All Praise!
Words by Jack Copley Winslow
Tune of SLANE

Lord of creation, to you be all praise!
Most mighty your working, most wondrous your ways!
Your glory and might are beyond us to tell,
and yet in the heart of the humble you dwell.

Lord of all power, I give you my will,
in joyful obedience your tasks to fulfill.
Your bondage is freedom, your service is song;
and, held in your keeping, my weakness is strong.

Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
rich truth that surpasses man’s knowledge to find.
What eye has not seen and what ear has not heard
is taught by your Spirit and shines from your Word.

Lord of all bounty, I give you my heart;
I praise and adore you for all you impart;
your love to inspire me, your counsel to guide,
your presence to cheer me, whatever betide.

Lord of all being, I give you my all;
if ever I disown you, I stumble and fall;
but, sworn in glad service your word to obey,
I walk in your freedom to the end of the way.

Prayer for Others

We thank you for journeying with us, Christ Jesus, and for setting an example of resilience in times of trial. Travelling this road is not easy. We admit we’d rather play it safe than risk rejection as your disciples. Grant us the strength to be resilient, unfaltering, and determined to become the people you have called us to be. We dream of being leaders with heart and humility, strength and tenacity, servants not tyrants, following you and emulating your leadership. Yet let us also be content with whatever hardships we bear for your sake, Jesus; for, as Paul reminds us, when we admit our weakness, we discover your strength.
Change our hearts and lives, O God, we pray.
When the world’s leaders fail to act justly, give them wisdom and courage.
Change our hearts and lives, O God, we pray.
When the church falters in its efforts on your behalf, renew our spirits and our determination.
Change our hearts and lives, O God, we pray.
When we second-guess our ability to do your will, restore our sense of purpose.
Change our hearts and lives, O God, we pray.
When our plans run aground, and our offers of help are refused.
Send us back on the road, Lord Jesus, for your sake.
Help us, transform us, and hear us as we lift to you these prayers for encouragement, consolation, and thanks: (name prayer requests silent or aloud as the Spirit leads)…  We offer our prayers to the one rejected by his hometown, but welcomed by sinners like us, praying for mercy and grace, Amen.

Choral Anthem

Prayer of Hildegard
Words by Barbara Wallace

Fire of the Spirit, life of the lives of creatures,
Spiral of sanctity, bond of all natures;
Glow of charity, lights of clarity,
Taste of sweetness to sinners, be with us and hear us.

Composer of all things, light of all the risen,
Key of salvation, release from the dark prison:
Hope in disquietness, breath of consciousness,
Joy in glory, our Savior, be with us and hear us.

Mark 6:1-13                                                                                        
Common English Bible

Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.

Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief.

Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

Reflection on the Gospel
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

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

Song of Response                                                                                 

God Moves in a Mysterious Way
Words by William Cowper
Tune of ST ANNE

God moves in a mysterious way
Great wonders to perform.
God plants deep footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

God’s purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour.
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Sending Out                                                                                      

May long summer days
speak to you of God’s enduring light.
May bright summer flowers
speak to you of God’s unending beauty.
May fresh summer fruits
speak to you of God’s continuing kindness.
May warm summer nights
speak to you of God’s enfolding comfort.
May early summer dawns
speak to you of God’s renewing hope.

Closing Song                                                                             

Blest Be the Tie
Words by John Fawcett
Tune of DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, 
it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, 
and hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives 
our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives 
and waits to see the day.

Acknowledgements

The Litany of Praise was written by Jan Berry and the Sending Out by Simon Taylor, both published in Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, edited by Right Burgess, Wild Good Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community.  © 2020

The Prayer for Others comes from the worship outline for July 4, 2021 in Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFusion Pentecost 1 2021 Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2020.

Permission to print the words and lead lines to 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.

 

Welcome and Announcements 

Choral Song of Praise 

Fill My Life, Oh Lord My God 
Words By Robert J. Powell 

Fill my life, O Lord my God, fill my life with praise,  
That my whole being may proclaim Thy love and thy ways.  
Praise in my going out, O Lord, and in my coming in;  
Praise in each duty and each deed, now let my praise begin.  

So, O Lord, from even me shall thou receive the glory due,  
And so shall I on earth begin the song for ever new.  
Fill my life, O Lord, my God, fill my life with praise;  
That my whole being may proclaim Thy love and thy ways.  
O fill my life with praise! 

Opening Words of Praise 

God of all,  
we praise you that you have created us 
as your embodied daughters and sons, 
gay, straight, trans or bi. 
We give you thanks for holy loving and tender care. 
God of all,  
give us courage and pride 
to celebrate today. 

God of all,  
we praise you for this valley, 
welcoming diverse communities 
of races, nations, abilities, and sexualities. 
We give you thanks for multicultural living, 
transcending barriers and embracing diversity. 
God of all, 
give us courage and pride 
to affirm one another. 

God of all, 
we grieve for the hurt and rejection 
which have wounded so many of us 
in family, community, or church. 
We ask for strength in facing the silencing and abuse 
which deny our dignity and humanity. 
God of all, 
give us courage and pride 
to resist prejudice today. 

God of all, 
we praise you for the richness of our faith, 
affirming difference and diversity, 
and acknowledging that of you in every living being. 
We give you thanks for the glory of humanity 
and the sense of worth of every individual. 
God of all, 
give us courage and pride 
to celebrate today. 

Prayer of Adoration

 Song of Praise                                                   

Come Christians, Join to Sing 
Words by Christian H. Bateman 
Tune of MADRID (Carr) 

Come, Christians, join to sing: Alleluia! Amen! 
Loud praise to Christ we bring: Alleluia! Amen! 
Let all, with heart and voice, before God’s throne rejoice; 
Praise is God’s gracious choice. Alleluia! Amen! 

Come, lift your hearts on high, Alleluia! Amen! 
Let praises fill the sky, Alleluia! Amen! 
Christ is our guide and friend on whom we can depend: 
God’s love shall never end. Alleluia! Amen! 

Praise yet our Christ again, Alleluia! Amen! 
Life shall not end the strain; Alleluia! Amen! 
On heaven’s blissful shore, God’s goodness we’ll adore, 
Singing forevermore, Alleluia! Amen! 

Mark 5:21-43
Common English Bible 

Jesus crossed the lake again, and on the other side a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feetand pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die. Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. 

A swarm of people were following Jesus, crowding in on him. A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years.She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse.  

Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. She was thinking, If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed.Her bleeding stopped immediately, and she sensed in her body that her illness had been healed. 

At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 

His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it. 

The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth. He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.” 

While Jesus was still speaking with her, messengers came from the synagogue leader’s house, saying to Jairus, “Your daughter has died. Why bother the teacher any longer?” 

But Jesus overheard their report and said to the synagogue leader, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.”He didn’t allow anyone to follow him except Peter, James, and John, James’ brother. They came to the synagogue leader’s house, and he saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “What’s all this commotion and crying about? The child isn’t dead. She’s only sleeping.” They laughed at him, but he threw them all out. Then, taking the child’s parents and his disciples with him, he went to the room where the child was. Taking her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Young woman, get up.”Suddenly the young woman got up and began to walk around. She was 12 years old. They were shocked! He gave them strict orders that no one should know what had happened. Then he told them to give her something to eat. 

Reflection on the Gospel 
RevTonya Vickery 

There’s not a week that goes by without some kind of local or global tragedy or crisis. The pandemic has been an ongoing crisis that has currently let up for us as far as hospitalization and such, but continues to rage for others. The magnitude of the loss of life here in just the United States is sometimes had for me to believe. I heard this week that we used to think that if 70% of the globe were to be vaccinated, then we could get this pandemic under control. Now, however, as we learn more, that vaccination percentage is more like 80-85% of the global community. Most of us, if not all of us here this morning have had both doses of the vaccine. But only 38% of the residents of our county have the full vaccination. And we have an efficient and easily accessed vaccination center right among, but 60% still need to be fully vaccinated. This ongoing crisis continues to create loss for everyone.

Another crisis on our minds this week is the collapse of the condo tower in Florida. The heartbreak and grief of that community. Seven members of Jewish synagogue unaccounted for. What their service last night must have been like. The heartbreak of a young boy, just 15, who lived through such an event, but lost his mama. We have seen an outpouring of care there in Surfside. We have watched hundreds of rescue workers putting their life on the line hoping to save others. We have seen people pull together to share the weight of the load of such loss.

All of us have lived through tragedies and crisis in our families or as a community. Dreams and hopes lost to tragedy. Visions and desires lost to crises. You all have been there at some point in time.

Last Sunday Jeffrey asked us to think on to whom we turn we are in crisis? I want to add the questions, does the crisis separate you from community, or does it draw you closer? I honestly believe that it is better or “easier” to go through a crisis with others than alone and by yourself. However, not everyone knows how to ask for help. Not everyone feels comfortable seeking community when they are in crisis.  The shame of failure can get in the way—like we expect life to be perfect. Sometimes we are just too lost or too weak to seek companionship from others.

When crisis hits you, to whom do you turn?  Does a crisis separate you from community? Or does it draw you closer?

Reflecting on the gospel story, when Jairus collapsed to his knees to beg for help from a traveling teacher I bet people were surprised. His daughter was deathly ill. Surely the community would have known. They would have felt fear and grief with him. But I doubt they ever thought they would see Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, down on his knees, pleading with his whole body for a stranger to do something. Jairus was a religious leader; someone with authority in the community. People looked up to him. People would have come to him for help. He would have been used to others begging, but not himself.

But there is nothing he can do to help his daughter. So he humbles himself in front of others. He lays aside his pride. He interrupts Jesus’ travels and implores repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live” (Mark 5:22-23).

Sometimes we are surprised to realize once again that Jesus welcomes disruptions. Jesus changes plans and follows Jairus. How refreshing. Programs and itineraries do not rule Jesus’ life. He isn’t keeping tally of all the miles he travels. He doesn’t have a goal set for how many place he needs to visit or how many people’s lives he needs to change before his life is cut short. No. What redirects Jesus’ attention is people. When Jesus encounters Jairus he changes course and follows.

Jesus is never on a one track only mission. So don’t you ever think Jesus doesn’t have time for you. Even as Jesus is following Jairus, he is interrupted again. With a crowd following, Jesus stops for a woman in need of healing. Jesus delays the trip to Jairus’ home. He lingers along the roadside. He searches for the person who touched his robe. He pauses his purpose-filled journey to meet with the woman face to face. He stops so he can be fully present to her.

That day Jesus reveals to us something more important than God’s ability to heal. Jesus shows us that God is always available. Yes God is on a mission, but that purpose is never more important than our lives. (As if our lives are not God’s purpose.) I love this phrase, “We are never a distraction to God.” You know what it is like to have someone interrupt your day, interrupt the song you are listening to or playing on the piano, interrupt the stream of thought in your mind that you are desperately trying to catch on paper, interrupt your conversation with an important person. But we are NEVER a distraction or an interruption to God. On this day centuries ago, Jesus shows us the nature of God as an abiding ever present love that wanders through the world, awaiting our redirection. 

What a blessing to know that we don’t interrupt God, and that our presence however we are on whatever day is never a bother to our loving Creator.

Once we get a hold of that in our hearts, minds, and souls, let’s move that thought along a little bit more beyond just ourselves receiving God’s attention. God’s attention is upon others just as God’s attention is upon us. Yes, equally. We cannot overlook this as we relate to others. Whether we like them or not, God’s attention is upon them as well. If we are God’s children, serving God in this world, being God’s hands and feet, eyes and ears, voice and love, then this means we are to allow for others to interrupt and redirect. It requires us to have the same compassion for one another as Jesus has for us.

The word “compassion” means to “suffer together with.” It doesn’t come from the word “compass” meaning we should direct our lives toward “compassion.” But that is a good way to think of it.  No, “compassion” comes from some really old Latin. The root word is “pati” which means “suffer.” And I imagine the “com” part means “with.” Compassion is not pity or feeling sorry for someone, it means you are suffering with someone. It describes that feeling we have when we see another’s pain or suffering and we are motivated to act.

Our culture emphasizes the act of finding answers. We solve problems. We ask questions. Thus we remove doubt. We are big on knowing who, what, where, when, and WHY.  And we want to know now. We see this played out with the collapse of the condo. We all keep asking, how did this happen? Why did that tower fall? As we listen to the story of the problem or the crisis, notice how we are trained to listen for answers. One reporter asked a family that was 15 feet away from the collapsed area of the condo, why did you make?  Who, what, where, when, and WHY. 

Jesus invites us to follow a different path, the path of compassion. Compassion isn’t an answer to the question or the crisis. Compassion is a response. Compassion is what we are called to “do.”  Do compassion.

Jesus listened and responded to others out of his intimacy with God, out of his participation in the Jewish covenant community, and out of his knowledge of the Jewish scriptures and law.

Like Jesus, we have a relationship with God. It is from that center that we listen and respond to others Like Jesus participated in the Jewish covenant community, we participate in the church, the body of Christ. And it is from this center too that we listen and respond to one another. Just as Jesus knew the Jewish scriptures and laws, we read, study, and learn from the Jewish and Christian scriptures. And it is from this center too that we listen and respond to one another.

Every human being is living in a relationship with God, for that’s what it means to alive. God is the source of all life. As Christians, we want our lives to be illuminated by faith in God through Jesus Christ, illuminated by faith in God’s loving presence and faith in God’s constant availability to guide and bless us.

We have been gifted and blessed to know that the best response to any crisis is faith.  We would fool ourselves to believe that faith will enable us to qualify for the Olympics, or be spared from the falling tower, or beat the cancer, or keep us from being riddled by Alzheimer’s. Or that faith will make us triumph over all evil, or enable us to fight off the sorrow and grief that threatens our resolve.

The faith I’m talking about, is not the faith of pop religious culture. It is a faith that insists that no matter what, we will believe that

God “made everything [and that everything] is made for love

and the love that made everything is the same love that sustains everything,

and will do so forever.” (Julian of Norwich)

Faith gives us eyes to see, enables us to stare at suffering with clear eyes of faith, and we do not despair. God made everything. And everything has been made for love. And the Love that made everything is the same love that sustains everything. And will do so forever.

Staring clear eyed at suffering, we do not despair. Our hope is in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Take a deep, deep breath and slowly exhale. Our story is not to be one of great success and awesomeness in the eyes of the world. Our story is to be about following the path of Jesus. Not just allowing, but welcoming people and their needs to distract and change our goals. Embodying the compassion of Christ to everyone we have met, meet, and will meet.

May Christ be glorified in our lives together as the church.

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

Song of Response

O Christ, The Healer 
Words by Fred Pratt Green 
Tune of DUKE STREET 

O Christ, the healer, we have come 
To pray for health, to plead for friends. 
How can we fail to be restored, 
When reached by love that never ends? 

From ev’ry ailment flesh endures 
Our bodies clamor to be freed; 
Yet in our hearts we would confess 
That wholeness is our deepest need. 

How strong, O Lord, are our desires, 
How weak our knowledge of ourselves! 
Release in us those healing truths 
Unconscious pride resists or shelves. 

In conflicts that destroy our health 
We recognize the world’s disease; 
Our common life declares our ills: 
Is there no cure, O Christ, for these? 

Grant that we all, made one in faith, 
In your community may find  
The wholeness that, enriching us, 
Shall reach the whole of humankind. 

Psalm 130
Common English Bible 

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord— 
my Lord, listen to my voice! 
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! 
If you kept track of sins, Lord — 
    my Lord, who would stand a chance? 
But forgiveness is with you— 
    that’s why you are honored. 

I hope, Lord. 
My whole being hopes, 
    and I wait for God’s promise. 
My whole being waits for my Lord — 
    more than the night watch waits for morning; 
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning! 

Prayer for Others 

Loving God, we give you thanks for every goodness in our lives, for your presence within and around us, for the freedoms we share, and for the opportunities that lie before us. We offer now our prayers for ourselves and our world.  
O God, hear our prayer,  
and let our cry come unto you.  

We pray for an end to violence in our homes, in our communities, and between the nations of beloved Earth. Let us remember___________
(you may call out names of places in the world where there is violence).  
O God, hear our prayer,  
and let our cry come unto you.  

We pray for all those who are struggling to resist evil and promote justice, those whom we know about and those who struggle on silently without our knowledge. Let us remember_________
(pray in silence or aloud as the Spirit moves).  
O God, hear our prayer,  
and let our cry come unto you.  

We pray for those suffering in mind, body, or spirit; for those who mourn, and those who are facing death.  
Let us remember____________
(pray in silence or aloud as the Spirit moves).  
O God, hear our prayer,  
and let our cry come unto you.  

We pray for our planet Earth and for all those who are acting on its behalf. May their actions be fruitful in bringing healing and wholeness to your whole creation. Let us remember_________
(pray in silence or aloud as the Spirit moves).  
O God, hear our prayer,  
and let our cry come unto you.  

We offer to you all the prayers of our hearts, O God.  
In Christ’s name, we pray.  
Amen 

Song of Petition                                                 

Stand By Me 
Words and music by Charles Tindley 
Tune of STAND BY ME  

When the storms of life are raging, stand by me; [Repeat] 
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea 
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me. 

In the midst of tribulation, stand by me [Repeat] 
When the hosts of hell assail, & my strength begins to fail, 
Thou who never lost a battle, stand by me. 

In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me. [Repeat] 
When I do the best I can, and my friends misunderstand, 
Thou who knowest all about me, stand by me. 

In the midst of persecution, stand by me [Repeat] 
When my foes in battle array undertake to stop by way, 
Thou who saved Paul and Silas, stand by me. 

When I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me [Repeat] 
When my life becomes a burden, and I’m nearing chilly Jordan, 
O thou Lily of the Valley, stand by me. 

Sending Out  

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, 
In the name of Christ. Amen. 

 
Closing Song DENNIS (Nägeli) 

Blest Be the Tie 
Words by John Fawcett   
 

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

When we are called to part,  
it gives us inward pain;  
but we shall still be joined in heart,  
and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives  
our courage by the way;  
while each in expectation lives  
and waits to see the day. 

Acknowledgements 

The Opening Prayer of Praise was written by Jan Berry printed in Summer, ed. Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, © 2020.  The Prayer for Others comes from the Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFusion Pentecost 1 2021. Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2020. 

Permission to print the words and lead lines to 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. 

Welcome and Announcements                                                               

Call to Worship  

Thank you, Creator God, for summer’s warmth 
and light, your gift. 
Help us to joy in the promise of each day. 
Thank you, Jesus, for summer’s peace 
and stillness, your gift. 
Help us to rest in the beauty of each day. 
Thank you, gentle Spirit, for summer’s colour 
and life, your gift. 
Help us to thrive in the hope of each day. 
Holy Trinity, dynamic and loving, we thank you for 
seasons and cycles. 
But especially for today in this season of summer. 

 Opening Prayer 

This is the day that God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O come, let us worship and bow down; let us bend our hearts before God, our Maker. Let us pray:  Spirit of Love, Spirit of Truth, guide us in our worship of you today. This is the holy place, where we your people call upon you in faith, where join our hearts in thanksgiving and praise of your name. Guide us in our worship of you today. Amen. 

Song of Praise                                                                        

There’s a Spirit in the Air
Words by Brian Wren
Tune of ORIENTIS PARTIBUS

There’s a spirit in the air,
telling Christians everywhere:
“Praise the love that Christ revealed,
living, working in our world.”

Lose your shyness, find your tongue;
tell the world what God has done:
God in Christ has come to stay.
Live tomorrow’s life today.

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32                                                                      
Common English Bible

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, 
        because his faithful love lasts forever!” 
That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say, 
    the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies, 
    the ones God gathered from various countries, 
    from east and west, north and south. 

Some of the redeemed had gone out on the ocean in ships, 
    making their living on the high seas. 
They saw what the Lord had made; 
    they saw his wondrous works in the depths of the sea. 
God spoke and stirred up a storm 
    that brought the waves up high. 
The waves went as high as the sky; 
    they crashed down to the depths. 
The sailors’ courage melted at this terrible situation. 
    They staggered and stumbled around like they were drunk. 
    None of their skill was of any help. 
So they cried out to the Lord in their distress, 
    and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. 
God quieted the storm to a whisper; 
    the sea’s waves were hushed. 
So they rejoiced because the waves had calmed down; 
    then God led them to the harbor they were hoping for. 
Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love 
    and his wondrous works for all people. 
Let them exalt God in the congregation of the people 
    and praise God in the assembly of the elders. 

Song of Praise                                                               

Oh, How I Love Jesus
Words by Fredrick Whitfield
Tune of OH HOW I LOVE JESUS

There is a name I love to hear,
I love to sing its worth;
It sounds like music to my ear,
the sweetest name on earth.

Refrain: O how I love Jesus,
O how I love Jesus,
O how I love Jesus,
whose love has first found me.

It tells my Savior’s love for all;
Christ died to set us free;
Whatever problems may befall,
we’ll live in dignity.
Refrain.

It bids me serve amid the wrath
God’s people face each day,
And sheds along life’s troubled path
bright sunshine on my way.
Refrain.

Prayer for Others

Choral Anthem     

Be Still
Words by Rick Sowash

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know God.

Mark 4:35-41                                                                                   
Common English Bible

Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along. 

Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” 

He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” 

Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!” 

Reflection on the Gospel
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

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

Song of Response                                                     

Called as Partners in Christ’s Service
Words by Jane Parker Huber
Tune of HOLY MANNA (MOORE)

Called as partners in Christ’s service,
Called to ministries of grace,
We respond with deep commitment
Fresh new lines of faith to trace.

Christ’s example, Christ’s inspiring,
Christ’s clear call to work and worth,
Let us follow, never faltering,
Reconciling folk on earth.

Thus new patterns for Christ’s mission,
In a small or global sense,
Help us bear each other’s burdens,
Breaking down each wall or fence.

So God grant us for tomorrow
Ways to order human life
That surround each person’s sorrow
With a calm that conquers strife.

Sending Out

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
    In the name of Christ. Amen.

Closing Song                                                                          

Blest Be the Tie
Words by John Fawcett   
Tune of DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, 
it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, 
and hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives 
our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives 
and waits to see the day.

Acknowledgements

Permission to print the words and lead lines to 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.

Call to Worship   

God, the wellspring of our days,  
we praise you for the world you have made,  
with all its delight and beauty,  
its tenderness and joy.  
God, the source of wisdom,  
we praise you for your love for us,  
embracing us like a father,  
reaching out to us like a mother,enfolding us in compassion.  

God, the breath of all that is,  
we praise you for the way you keep us,  
holding us through pain and hurt,enclosing us in kindness.  
And so we join in the song of all creation,  
praising you and saying,  
Holy, Holy, Holy God,  
who makes all things well  
and in whom all shall be well;  
blessed be your name.  

Reaching out to us like a mother,  
enfolding us in compassion.  
God, the breath of all that is,  
we praise you for the way you keep us,  
holding us through pain and hurt,  
enclosing us in kindness.  
And so we join in the song of all creation,  
praising you and saying,  
Holy, Holy, Holy God,  
who makes all things well  
and in whom all shall be well;  
blessed be your name.  

Opening Prayer  
  

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts today by the breath of your Spirit, that we may love you and magnify your holy name; through Christ our Sovereign. Amen.  

Song of Praise   

Tune: ST ANNE
Oh God Our Help In Ages Past  
Words by Isaac Watts 

O God, our help in ages past,  
Our hope for years to come,  
Our shelter from the stormy blast,  
And our eternal home.  

  Within the shadow of thy throne,  
Still may we dwell secure.  
Sufficient is thine arm alone,  
And our defense is sure.  

Before the hills in order stood,  
Or earth received her frame,  
From everlasting thou art God,  
To endless years the same.  

O God, our help in ages past,  
Our hope for years to come,  
Be thou our guide while life shall last  
And our eternal home.  

Psalm 20 
Common English Bible  

 I pray that the Lord answers you  
        whenever you are in trouble.  
    Let the name of Jacob’s God protect you.  
Let God send help to you from the sanctuary  
    and support you from Zion.  
Let God recall your many grain offerings;  
    let him savor your entirely burned offerings. Selah  
Let God grant what is in your heart  
    and fulfill all your plans.  
Then we will rejoice that you’ve been helped.  
    We will fly our flags in the name of our God.  
    Let the Lord fulfill all your requests!  

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed one;  
    God answers his anointed one  
        from his heavenly sanctuary,  
    answering with mighty acts of salvation  
        achieved by his strong hand.  
Some people trust in chariots, others in horses;  
    but we praise the Lord’s name.  
They will collapse and fall,  
    but we will stand up straight and strong.  

Lord, save the king!  
    Let him answer us when we cry out!  

Song of Praise 

Tune: HYMN OF PROMISE 
In The Bulb There Is A Flower 
Words and music by Natalie Sleeth 

In the bulb there is a flower;  
in the seed, an apple tree;  
in cocoons, a hidden promise:  
butterflies will soon be free!  

In the cold and snow of winter   
there’s a spring that waits to be,  
 unrevealed until its season,   
something God alone can see.  

There’s a song in every silence,  
 seeking word and melody;  
there’s a dawn in every darkness   
bringing hope to you and me.  

From the past will come the future;  
what it holds, a mystery,  
unrevealed until its season,   
something God alone can see.  

In our end is our beginning;  
in our time, infinity;  
in our doubt there is believing;   
in our life, eternity.  

In our death, a resurrection;  
at the last, a victory,  
unrevealed until its season,   
something God alone can see. 

Prayer for Others 

Choral Anthem   

Tune: Traditional/INVITATION
Hark, I Hear The Harps Eternal   
Arranged by Mark Schweizer 

Hark, I hear the harps eternal  
Ringing on the farther shore,  
As I near those swollen waters  
With their deep and solemn roar.  

 Hallelujah, hallelujah,  
Hallelujah, praise the Lamb!  
Hallelujah, hallelujah,  
Glory to the great I AM!  

And my soul, tho’ stain’d with sorrow,  
Fading as the light of day,  
Passes swiftly o’er those waters,  
to the city far away.  

Souls have crossed before me saintly,  
to that land of perfect rest;  
And I hear them singing faintly  
In the mansions of the blest.  

Psalm 6  
New Revised Standard Version 

 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, 
    or discipline me in your wrath. 
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; 
    O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. 
My soul also is struck with terror, 
    while you, O Lord—how long? 

Turn, O Lord, save my life; 
    deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. 
For in death there is no remembrance of you; 
    in Sheol who can give you praise? 

I am weary with my moaning; 
    every night I flood my bed with tears; 
    I drench my couch with my weeping. 
My eyes waste away because of grief; 
    they grow weak because of all my foes. 

Depart from me, all you workers of evil, 
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 
The Lord has heard my supplication; 
    the Lord accepts my prayer. 
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror; 
    they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame. 

The Psalmist’s Prayer, And Ours 
DrBill Bellinger

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

Song of Affirmation 

Tune: ZUNDEL  
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling  
Words by Charles Wesley 

 Love divine, all loves excelling,   
joy of heav’n, to earth come down,  
fix in us thy humble dwelling,   
all thy faithful mercies crown.  
Jesus, thou art all compassion,   
pure, unbounded love thou art.  
Visit us with thy salvation;  
enter ev’ry trembling heart.  

  Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit  
into ev’ry troubled breast.  
Let us all in thee inherit,   
let us find the promised rest.  
Take away the love of sinning;   
Alpha and Omega be.  
End of faith, as its beginning,   
set our hearts at liberty.  

Come, Almighty, to deliver,   
let us all thy life receive.  
Suddenly return, and never,   
nevermore they temples leave.  
Thee we would be always blessing,   
serve thee as thy hosts above,  
pray, and praise thee without ceasing,   
glory in thy perfect love.    

Finish, then, thy new creation;   
true and spotless let us be.  
Let us see thy great salvation   
perfectly restored in thee.  
Changed from glory into glory,   
till in heav’n we take our place,  
till we cast our crowns before thee,   
lost in wonder, love and praise.  

Sending Out 

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, 
In the name of Christ. Amen. 

 Closing Song  

Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli) 
Blest Be the Tie  
Words by John Fawcett     

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

When we are called to part,  
it gives us inward pain;  
but we shall still be joined in heart,  
and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives  
our courage by the way;  
while each in expectation lives  
and waits to see the day. 

Acknowledgements 
The Call to Worship was written by Jan Berry in the Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, ed. Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019.  Used by permission.   

Permission to print the words and lead lines to 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. 

We are privileged to have Dr. Bill Bellinger preaching this morning. Dr. Bellinger has recently retired from the Department of Religion at Baylor University after more than 40 years of academic teaching and writing in biblical interpretation. Bill was born in Bennettsville, SC, and has degrees from Furman University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Cambridge University. He is married to Libby and while in Waco they have been members of Lake Shore Baptist Church which is an Alliance of Baptists partner congregation. Bill and Libby are planning to spend much of their retirement time in WNC and have a home in the Jonathan Creek area near Maggie Valley. We sincerely hope they will be with us at Cullowhee Baptist Church often — Subtle Hint: we are the closest Alliance of Baptist church!  

Call to Worship  

God of power, as the earth reveals 
opening buds and ripening grain: 
We celebrate your purpose in creation. 
God of salvation, as the earth provides 
tranquility and timelessness: 
We celebrate your grace in creation. 
God of wholeness, as the earth sparkles 
with running, living water: 
We celebrate your healing in creation. 
Creator, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, help us to preserve 
all that gives and enhances life: 
In celebration of your creation. 

Prayer of Adoration

Song of Praise

All People That on Earth Do Dwell 
Words by William Kethe
Tune: OLD HUNDREDTH LM

All people that on earth do dwell, 
sing out your faith with cheerful voice; 
Delight in God whose praise you tell, 
whose presence calls you to rejoice. 

Know that there is one God, indeed, 
who fashions us without our aid, 
Who claims us, gives us all we need, 
whose tender care will never fade. 

Enter the sacred gates with praise, 
with joy approach the temple walls. 
Extol and bless our God always 
as people whom the Sprit calls. 

Proclaim again that God is good, 
whose mercy is forever sure, 
Whose truth at all times firmly stood, 
and shall from age to age endure. 

Psalm 138
Common English Bible 

I give thanks to you with all my heart, Lord. 
    I sing your praise before all other gods. 
I bow toward your holy temple 
    and thank your name 
    for your loyal love and faithfulness 
        because you have made your name and word 
        greater than everything else. 
On the day I cried out, you answered me. 
    You encouraged me with inner strength. 

Let all the earth’s rulers give thanks to you, Lord, 
    when they hear what you say. 
Let them sing about the Lord’s ways 
    because the Lord’s glory is so great! 
Even though the Lord is high, 
    he can still see the lowly, 
    but God keeps his distance from the arrogant. 

Whenever I am in deep trouble, 
    you make me live again; 
    you send your power against my enemies’ wrath; 
    you save me with your strong hand. 
The Lord will do all this for my sake. 

Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord! 
    Don’t let go of what your hands 
    have made. 

Song of Praise 

Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing 
Words by Charles Wesley
AZMON CM (Glaser)

O for a thousand tongues to sing 
my great Redeemer’s praise 
The glories ever echoing 
the triumphs of God’s grace! 

My gracious Savior and my God,  
assist me to proclaim, 
To spread through all the earth abroad 
 the honors of your name. 

Jesus! The name that calms our fears,  
that bids our sorrows cease 
Is music in the sinner’s ear,  
is life, and health, and peace! 

Glory to God, and love and praise 
 be ever, ever given 
By all the saints in every age,  
the church in earth and heaven. 

Psalm 130
Common English Bible 

 I cry out to you from the depths, Lord—  
my Lord, listen to my voice!  
    Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy!  
If you kept track of sins, Lord—  
    my Lord, who would stand a chance?  
But forgiveness is with you—  
    that’s why you are honored.  

I hope, Lord.  
My whole being hopes,  
    and I wait for God’s promise.  
My whole being waits for my Lord—  
    more than the night watch waits for morning;  
    yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!  

Israel, wait for the Lord!  
    Because faithful love is with the;  
    because great redemption is with our God!  
He is the one who will redeem Israel  
    from all its sin.  

Prayer for Others 

Choral Prayer

Out of the Depths
Camille Saint-Saëns 

Out of the depths I cry unto thee,
O Lord hear my voice!
Hear thou my supplications.
If thou, O Lord, should mark my iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?

Mark 3:20-21, 31-35
Common English Bible  

Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat.When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!” 

His mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.” He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”  

Reflection on the Gospel 
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

An audio recording of the sermon from 11am service is below. Please note that it did not record in stereo, so your left speaker isn’t broken, it only plays from the right. 🙂

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

Song of Response

Who Is My Mother, Who Is My Brother? 
Words by Shirley Erena Murray
JIATIN (Hong)

Who is my mother, who is my brother?  
all those who gather round Jesus Christ:  
Spirit-blown people born from the Gospel  
sit at he table, round Jesus Christ.  

Chorus:  Bound by one vision, met for one mission  
we claim each other, round Jesus Christ: 
here is my mother, here is my brother,  
kindred in Spirit, through Jesus Christ.  

Differently abled, differently labeled,  
widen the circle round Jesus Christ,  
crutches and stigmas, culture’s enigmas,  
all come together round Jesus Christ.
Chorus  

Love will relate us – color or status  
can’t segregate us, round Jesus Christ:  
family failings, human derailings –  
all are accepted, round Jesus Christ.  
Chorus  

Sending Out

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, 
    In the name of Christ. Amen. 

  
Closing Song 

Blest Be the Tie
Words by John Fawcett
DENNIS (Nägeli) 

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

When we are called to part,  
it gives us inward pain;  
but we shall still be joined in heart,  
and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives  
our courage by the way;  
while each in expectation lives  
and waits to see the day. 

Acknowledgements 
 

The Call to Worship was written by Jean Hudson and published in Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, ed. Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019.  Used by permission.    

Permission to print the words and include recordings of the music obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved. All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors. 

Words of Adoration

Praise the God of creation: 
who made us to be in relationship
Praise the Christ of love:
who calls us friends
Praise the Spirit of peace:
who enables us to live in unity.

Opening Prayer

God, who has made our world with its beauty and wonder, full of delights for us to explore, grant us wisdom to live gently on the earth, holding sacred the air and water, soil and sun. God, who has called human beings your children, made to share in the work of creation, grant us wisdom to live in harmony with one another, holding sacred your image in everyone. God, whose Spirit dwells within us, giving us power to live in your name, grant us wisdom to discern you, holding sacred the glory of love in the everyday. Amen.

Song of Praise
Creator, Companion, Comforter 
Tune: Morning Has Broken
Words by Craig Mitchell

God of Creation, Gentle life-giver
Present at birth and all through our days, 
Author of sunrise, song in the night sky,
Here in this place, we offer our praise.

Jesus, Companion, teacher and healer
friend of the grieving, suffering, the poor
Stand with your people, whisper among us
promise of mercy, goodness for all 

Spirit of Comfort, blow through Creation
stir up new life, breathe peace through our world
Healer of hearts, and hope for tomorrow
weave all our sorrows into new dawn

Here we give thanks for life in its fullness
blessings received your gifts to us all
Make us a people filled with compassion
selflessly giving, serving your world

Psalm 29
Common English Bible 

You, divine beings! Give to the Lord—  
    give to the Lord glory and power!  
Give to the Lord the glory due his name!  
    Bow down to the Lord in holy splendor!  

The Lord’s voice is over the waters;  
    the glorious God thunders;  
        the Lord is over the mighty waters.  
The Lord’s voice is strong;  
    the Lord’s voice is majestic.  
The Lord’s voice breaks cedar trees—  
    yes, the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.  
He makes Lebanon jump around like a young bull,  
    makes Sirion jump around like a young wild ox.  
The Lord’s voice unleashes fiery flames;  
     the Lord’s voice shakes the wilderness—  
        yes, the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.  
The Lord’s voice convulses the oaks,  
    strips the forests bare,  
        but in his temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”  
The Lord sits enthroned over the floodwaters;  
    the Lord sits enthroned—king forever!  

  Let the Lord give strength to his people!  
    Let the Lord bless his people with peace  

Song of Praise
All on Earth and All in Heaven
Words: Michael Morgan
Tune: EBENEZER

All on earth and all in heaven 
raise to God a song on high;
strength unmeasured, love unbounded,
God alone we glorify.
At God’s voice the clouds assemble,
thunder roars, and torrents fall;
earth shall quake before God’s presence,
mountains tremble at God’s call

Trees shall bow in awe and wonder,
bend their branches to the ground;
from God’s lips one word in anger
wreaks destruction all around
But the Word which sets in motion
such travails can make them cease;
that same voice which tumult beckons
in a gentler breath speaks peace.

Prayer for Others 

Choral Anthem
Prayer to the Trinity
Michael Bedford

Come, come, O God of heaven, 
Live within our hearts today;
Come, come O God of heaven,
Hear, O hear us as we pray.

Come, come, O gracious Savior,
Stay within out hearts today
Come, come O gracious Savior,
Hear, O hear us as we pray.

O, be near us, love and cheer us,
With your blessings from above;
Ever guide us, walk beside us
As we seek to share your love.

Come, come, O Holy Spirit,
shine within our hearts today;
Come, come, O Holy Spirit,
Hear, O hear us as we pray.

Isaiah 6:1-8
Common English Bible 

In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about.  They shouted to each other, saying:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!  
All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”

The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke. I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!”

Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs.  He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.” Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “I’m here; send me.”  

Reflection on the Scriptures
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery 

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

Song of Affirmation
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
Tune: NICAEA
Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr. based on Psalm 2 

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty.
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee.
Though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty.
God in three persons, Blessed Trinity.

Blessing

May the eyes of the seeing Creator
watch over us and keep us and ours ever in gaze.
May the arms of the loving Savior
hold us close and surround each moment of our lives with his care.
May the wings of the living Spirit
shelter each of us and enfold all our days and our nights with God’s peace.
Amen. 

Closing Song
Blest Be the Tie
Words: John Fawcett   
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements

The Words of Adoration and the Blessing were written by Simon Taylor and the Opening Prayer by Jan Berry both found in Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, ed. Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019.  Used by permission.  

The opening image entitled “Trinity” was taken by Martin Gommel on July 12, 2007. The photo is posted on flickr and can be found here.

Permission to print the words to 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. 

Call to Worship

Welcome, Holy Spirit, 
we celebrate your presence. 
Welcome, Comforter, 
touch our souls with your peace. 
Welcome, Awakener, 
touch our souls with your life. 
Welcome, Disturber, 
touch our souls with your truth. 
Waken us to the truth, 
fan the fire of holy love, 
teach us the best way, 
and comfort us in distress or failure. 
May our worship honor your presence among us. 

Opening Prayer

Song of Praise
O Breath of Life 
SPIRITUS VITAE (Hammond) 
Words by Elizabeth Ann P. Head  

Breath of Life, come sweeping through us, 
revive your church with life and power; 
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us, 
And fit your church to meet this hour.

O Wind of God, come bend us, break us, 
till humbly we confess our need; 
then in your tenderness remake us, 
revive, restore for this we plead. 

O Breath of Love, come breathe within us, 
renewing thought and will and heart; 
come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us, 
revive your church in every part! 

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Common English Bible 

Lord, you have done so many things! 
    You made them all so wisely! 
The earth is full of your creations! 
And then there’s the sea, wide and deep, 
    with its countless creatures— 
    living things both small and large. 
There go the ships on it, 
    and Leviathan, which you made, plays in it! 
All your creations wait for you 
    to give them their food on time. 
When you give it to them, they gather it up; 
    when you open your hand, they are filled completely full! 
But when you hide your face, they are terrified; 
    when you take away their breath, 
    they die and return to dust. 
When you let loose your breath, they are created, 
    and you make the surface of the ground brand-new again. 

Let the Lord’s glory last forever! 
    Let the Lord rejoice in all he has made! 
He has only to look at the earth, and it shakes. 
    God just touches the mountains, and they erupt in smoke. 

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; 
    I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive. 
Let my praise be pleasing to him; 
    I’m rejoicing in the Lord! 
But let my whole being bless the Lord! 
    Praise the Lord! 

Song of Praise
Many and Great, O God, Are Your Works
Words: Joseph R. Renville; paraphrased by Phillip Frazier
Tune: LACQUIPARLE  (Native American Melody)

Many and great, O God, are your works,  
Maker of earth and sky; 
Your hands have set the heavens with stars
Your fingers spread the mountains and plains. 
Lo, at your word the waters were formed; 
Deep seas obey your voice. 

Grant unto us communion with you, 
O star abiding One; 
Come unto us and dwell with us: 
with you are found the gifts of life. 
Bless us with life that has no end,  
eternal life with you. 

Prayer for Others 

Choral Anthem
Holy Trinity Prayer 
Words by David Knight
Music by Paul Ayres 

Holy Trinity, Holy Trinity, in whose name we worship, 
give us such love, that alone and together, 
today and every day we may reverence our Maker, 
radiate the presence of the Son,  
and live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Acts 2:1-21
Common English Bible 

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. 

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!” 

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 

In the last days, God says, 
I will pour out my Spirit on all people. 
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy. 
    Your young will see visions. 
    Your elders will dream dreams. 
Even upon my servants, men and women, 
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days, 
        and they will prophesy. 
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above 
    and signs on the earth below, 
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. 
The sun will be changed into darkness, 
    and the moon will be changed into blood, 
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes. 
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

Reflection on the Scriptures
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

We are getting ready to move both of girls next month. Ally is moving to Maine and Elizabeth is moving to Chapel Hill. If you have ever moved, whether it was across town or across the country, you know what it is like to have to box up and pack all your stuff into a moving van or trailer. Moving forces you to decide what you really want to keep and what you can live without, because you sure don’t want to waste time, energy, and money on moving things that are unimportant to you.

We need to do the same sort of thing with our faith. Our faith in God should never be static or at a standstill.  Our faith in God should be active, growing, and changing each and every day.  As we come to know God better and better, our faith in God grows as well. So, it is helpful to examine our beliefs and understandings of God. We need to toss out the ideas and images that keep our relationship with God small and weak, and we need to hold fast to the ideas and understandings that are helpful and essential so we can build on top of them so our faith will grow.  With today being Pentecost Sunday, let’s turn our attention to the Holy Spirit. Let’s examine our thoughts and ideas about how relates to us through the Spirit. Let’s keep the ideas that promote and encourage our faith in God, and let’s toss out the beliefs that hinder and hold us back.

Most of you probably grew up with a different translation of the Bible than the Common English Bible. The CEB is what we have been using in worship since last year when the Pandemic hit. Written in “common English” it is easier to understand while still staying true to the original manuscripts of Hebrew and Greek. Growing up I read from the NIV or the NASB translations, and occasionally from the King James Version. I tell you, without any hesitation, that the story of Pentecost in any of those ~three translations can lead a child to be quite fearful of the Spirit of God.  Any ideas that lead us to fear God, like shake in your boots fear, those ideas and images need to be tossed out.

The most troubling image I gleaned from the story of Pentecost was what my Bible called, “divided tongues of fire” which were “resting on each person.” You may remember that language too. I could not begin to imagine a “tongue of fire resting on me” being a positive spiritual experience. Encountering tongues of fire sent by God was an experience I did not want to have. I preferred the image of the Holy Spirit coming to me like a dove, gently flying in and landing beside me, or circling my head. I greatly appreciate the Common English Bible translation of Pentecost. The CEB describes the scene as “individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them.”  Same meaning as the other translations without having to erase the image of a tongue of fire coming on you.

Moving past the flaming tongues resting on the people, the sound of the mighty wind didn’t shake me up too much. I had been through a tornado while visiting my grandma in southern Illinois. So the howling wind didn’t bring about fear in my heart. However, the sound of people “speaking in tongues” did scare me. By now you can probably see that I was not an adventurous child. I like the expected and norm, not the unexpected or spectacular.  And the possibility that God’s Spirit could take hold of me and cause me to “speak in tongues” just wasn’t the religious gift I was looking for. I knew the Bible said “speaking in tongues” was a gift, but I didn’t want that gift. I didn’t want that experience. I can vividly remember a high school friend who attended church where people spoke in tongues. It was a sign that you had the Holy Spirit with you. If you didn’t speak in tongues, you didn’t have the Spirit. She told my cousin and me that she could speak in tongues for us, but Missy and I were too scared of what might happen for her to do that. Unfortunately, our idea of “speaking in tongues” was more along the lines of a séance or using a ouija board.

Once again, I greatly appreciate the CEB translation.  All magic and mystery are cleared up. The strangeness conveyed by the phrase “speaking in tongues” removed by simply stating in common English what happened, “They began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.”  “Speaking in tongues” means speaking in another language. A gift from God so that others can hear about the mighty works of God in their own language and understand. So it’s good every once and a while to consciously toss out those old images with which we lived for years, images that brought fear and hesitation to our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.

It’s a pity that my understanding of the language created a fear of the Spirit’s outpouring on Pentecost. Instead of communicating the joy and wonder of the day, I had visions of tongues of fire and a cacophony of languages. All outpourings of God should be celebrated and never feared. All outpourings of God should be welcomed and desired, not shied away from. So let’s celebrate the Holy Spirit by recalling other stories of the Spirit’s work in the world. What other visions of the Holy Spirit do we find in the scriptures?

We are first introduced to the Spirit of God in Genesis 1:2. Say the opening words of scripture with me. 

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 

The word for “wind” is ruah in Hebrew. It means, wind, spirit, or breath. It isn’t just a wind that blows over the waters of creation, it is the Holy Spirit of God who sweeps over the face of the waters. What did God do in the beginning?  In the beginning, everything was shapeless, without any form, and it was dark!  There was a complete emptiness.  The Holy Spirit comes and fills the void. What was once empty, is now filled. The Holy Spirit brings order to the chaos.  The Holy Spirit gives shape and meaning to what had no form. And the Spirit brings light into the darkness.

Perhaps I would have been a more willing recipient of the Spirit of God back in my childhood and youth age if I just could have put together the opening words of Genesis with the Pentecostal story from Acts. That little Hebrew word, ruah was covered up with words like “fire” and “tongues.” My cousin Missy (same age as me) readily remembers the word ruah from sermons when we were young, but I don’t.  Maybe I was day dreaming when Dr. Batson spoke of it. Ruah is the spirit, the breath, the wind of God. Maybe if I had been able to connect the Spirit of God first introduced to us in Genesis 1:2 and the Spirit of God at Pentecost, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so afraid of the Spirit showing up on Pentecost.

The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, was present from before the beginning.  There’s more to the work of the Holy Spirit than just an appearance on Pentecost.

  • When the Israelites were escaping Egyptian bondage, they had to cross the Red Sea to get away from Pharoah’s army. Exodus says it was the Spirit of God ruah who held back the waters so the Israelites could walk on dry land into freedom. The Spirit clears the path for us.
  • When the temple was being designed and built, it was the Spirit of God ruah who gifted the artisan with them ability and insight to cut stones, work with metals like gold, silver, and bronze, and carve wood in order to make the temple of God a house of beauty. (Exodus 35:31).  The Spirit enables us to praise and adore God.
  • When the people were led by judges and kings, it was the Spirit of God who provided wisdom. The Spirit provides us knowledge and insights to help others.
  • When prophets were called to straighten out the people, challenge them, correct them, or encourage them, it was the Spirit who provided the words to say. The Spirit gives us the words to say to help others have a better relationship with God.
  • Psalm 51 and 135 tell us that the Holy Spirit is our companion. Psalm 51 prays, Do not take your holy spirit from me. Psalm 135 asks, Where can I go from your Spirit?  The Spirit is with us always, at all times. The Spirit never leaves us.
  • The prophet Ezekiel teaches us that the Spirit gathers us and puts us back together. The Spirit gives life to dry bones. The Spirit takes us places: lifts us up, sets us on our feet, and bears us away (Ezekiel 3).  The Spirit is active and unifying.

It just so happens that on Pentecost, the Spirit of God comes with a mighty presence. There is enough of God’s spirit for everyone and it is poured out upon all. The Spirit enables them that day to tell others about God’s deeds of power. That’s verse 11. Recalling the words from the prophet Joel, the Spirit of God is poured out upon us so that we can speak the truth, so we can see God’s possibilities, so we can hope and dream, so we can boldly speak of God love with words and with our lives. The Spirit of God makes room for everyone–for every and anyone “who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

We are word loving people. If it is in writing, it is sure to be true. Just think how easily we humans are led astray by the internet. But if the words are bound in the pages of the Bible, then it is definitely to be believed. Well here in Acts we have this proclamation from Peter, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And surprise, surprise, Peter is quoting the Old Testament. The prophet Joel shared those words centuries before Peter was born. Yes, a message from God written down twice in God’s book but far too often overlooked. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

I feel I must highlight this again for us today because far too often people are telling others who can and cannot be saved. Far too often people are telling others upon whom the Spirit of God can alight and cannot alight. In the past we have heard others believe that the decision of salvation and calling were based on skin color. How many of you were taught that black skin was a curse? That black skinned people were more sinful because they didn’t know God as well. In the past we heard people base decisions of salvation and calling upon gender. Since I was a woman, some of my Russian born seminary collegues truly believed the only way I could be saved was to bear children. And you know people firsthand who do not believe a woman can be called by God to share the good news.  Well, presently today, and unfortunately today, we hear people base salvation and calling on sexual identity. How many of you have heard others say gay people go to hell and someone who is gay cannot be called by God to share the good news of God’s love for all people through Jesus Christ.

Are you kidding me? It is Pentecost. Peter proclaims what Joel had said ages ago, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. There is no exclusion clause. Joel and Peter say “everyone.” It is written right here in the book. People who follow the line of thinking that your sexual identity can damn you, they believe sexual identity to be a sin. I do not follow that path.  Skin color, gender identity, sexual identity, these are not sins, but myriads of ways which God has created us humans. But even if I believed such things were sinful–being black, or being woman, or being gay–even if I believed those things were sinful, I could never believe that a sin could be greater than God.

It is God who saves us, not the color of our skin, our gender, or our sexual identity. And therefore, being born with what others may consider the wrong skin color, or the wrong gender, or the wrong sexual preference cannot keep us away from God nor can it keep us from serving God. It is God who loves us, not because we are a certain way and not another way. It is God who cares about us, not because we are normal and others are strange. Here are the words written so we can plainly read them, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

Summer is almost upon us. I think you all have perhaps two more weeks of school left. Most college students have already moved back home. Most of ours have graduated. And we are starting to feel the blessing of freedom this summer! Free to be together again. Free to travel. Free to visit together. Free to worship together in one room as one body, not separated geographically. But don’t you get lazy in your faith.

Let these new freedoms, this new breath of fresh summer air, strengthen your faith and trust in God. May these new freedoms strengthen your relationships with God, one another, and creation. You know, Christ calls us to be co-workers in this world, with one another and with Christ, and with creation. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do the work of Christ in the world. As Ezekiel said, the Spirit will lift you up, set you on your feet and bear you away.

Borrowing words from of St. Basil who lived a long time ago in the 300’s,

may the Spirit enable us
to foresee the future,
to understand mysteries,
to grasp hidden things,
to receive spiritual blessings,
to fix our thoughts on heavenly things,
and to dance with angels.

So [our] joy [is] unending,
so [our] perseverance to God unfailing,
so [we may live as we have been created, in the image of God.}

Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving 

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

Song of Affirmation
Oh When Shall I See Jesus
Tune: THE MORNING TRUMPET (B.F. White); arr. James Dooley 

O when shall I see Jesus and reign with him above, 
And shall hear the trumpet sound in that morning. 
And from the flowing fountain, drink everlasting love, 
And shall hear the trumpet sound in that morning. 

Chorus: 
Shout, O glory! For I shall mount above the skies, 
When I hear the trumpet sound in that morning. 

Through grace I feel determined to conquer, though I die, 
And shall hear the trumpet sound in that morning.  
And then away to Jesus, on wings of love I’ll fly, 
And shall hear the trumpet sound in that morning. 

Chorus 

Gird on the gospel armor of faith, and hope, and love, 
And shall hear the trumpet sound in that morning. 
And when the combat’s ended, He’ll carry you above, 
And shall hear the trumpet sound in that morning. 

Chorus 

Sending Out  

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, 
    In the name of Christ. Amen. 

Closing Song
Blest Be the Tie
Words: John Fawcett   
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements 
The Call to Worship was written by Charles Polhill, Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, ed. Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019.  Used by permission.   

The tune, LACQUIPARLE was written by Joseph R. Renville whose mother was Dakota and his father, French. An explorer, fur trader, and Congregational minister, Renville helped found the Lac qui Parle Mission in Minnesota in 1835. This song, which is also known as the “Dakota Hymn,” was sung by thirty-eight Dakota prisoners of war as they were led to execution at Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26, 1862. 

Permission to print the words to 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. 

Opening Words of Gratitude

Glory be to God in the world around us:
in sun and shade, day and night,
and the rhythms of the seasons.
Glory be to God!
Glory be to God in the community in which we live:
in love and laughter, sorrow and joy,
and the patterns of human living.
Glory be to God!
Glory be to God in the way we live our lives:
in giving and sharing, thanking and knowing,
and all that makes us Jesus’ disciples.
Glory be to God!
Glory be to God in the world:
in the search for justice and peace,
and all that makes us one human family.
Glory be to God!
Glory be to God in the smallest of things:
in tiny creatures, fleeting moments,
the smallest seed of faith new-growing.
Glory be to God!
Glory be to God in greatness and majesty:
in the tallest mountains, the highest clouds,
the awesome dance of the whole cosmos.
Glory be to God!
Glory be to you, O God,
now and forever. Amen

Opening Prayer

Lord of the Sabbath,
welcome us into your silence:
no requirements, no expectations,
only heart meeting heart.
Lord of the Sabbath,
we take your forgiveness and hope
and lay down our burdens.
We seek your silence.
When we find it help us to linger there with you.
As silence sinks into our souls,
help us to pause in your serenity,
feel the comfort of your presence,
rest a while in your peace. Amen.

Song of Praise
Psalm 136
Words: Mwalimu Glenn T. Boyd
Tune: KIHAYA

Give thanks unto the Lord for God is ever good.
Amen, Alele, Allelujah!
God is the God of gods, God is the Lord of lords.
Amen, Alele, Allelujah!
Our God alone does wonders, God made the earth and stars.
Amen, Alele, Allelujah!
God made the sun for day, and moon and stars for night.
Amen, Alele, Allelujah!
God frees us from oppression, gives life to every creature.
Amen, Alele, Allelujah!
Give thanks unto the Lord, the God of earth and heaven.
Amen, Alele, Allelujah!

Psalm 1
Common English Bible

The truly happy person
doesn’t follow wicked advice,
doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
Instead of doing those things,
these persons love the LORD’s Instruction,
and they recite God’s instruction day and night!
They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which bears fruit at just the right time
and whose leaves don’t fade.
Whatever they do succeeds.

That’s not true for the wicked!
They are like dust that the wind blows away.
And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice—
neither will sinners
in the assembly of the righteous.
The LORD is intimately acquainted
with the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is destroyed.

Song of Praise
Like a Tree Beside the Waters
Words: James F. D. Martin
Tune: HYFRODEL

Like a tree beside the waters, nurtured by your loving care,
We, O God, your sons and daughters, your enduring witness bear.
In each passing generation may your voice of love be heard.
Bless, we pray, this congregation with your holy, living Word.

Like a tree beside the river, drawing life from holy streams,
Fill us with your love forever, recreate our hopes and dreams.
Through the storms of life sustain us by the wisdom of your grace.
May the changing of the seasons find us in your warm embrace.

We beside the living waters, drink from your eternal life.
Give to all, your sons and daughter, faith that rises over strife.
O Living God, most glorious, strengthen us for life today.
By the hope of timeless promise guide your church upon the Way.

Prayer for Others

Choral Anthem
Eden’s Song
by Mark Schweizer

A memory of Eden stirs
and walks within the warmth of spring;
it whispers ev’ry hope God has
to Life Eternal, listening.

Stretch past the gloom of winter’s grey,
unfurl by faith and not by sight;
to touch the light of length’ning day
that calls thee forth to green delight.

The work thou hast for me begun,
shall by the grace be fully done;
forever mercy dwells with thee;
O Lord, my God, abide with me.

John 17:6-11a, 16-19
reflection by Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Common English Bible

[Jesus said] “I have revealed your name to the people you gave me from this world. They were yours and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. This is because I gave them the words that you gave me, and they received them. They truly understood that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. “I’m praying for them. I’m not praying for the world but for those you gave me, because they are yours. Everything that is mine is yours and everything that is yours is mine; I have been glorified in them. I’m no longer in the world, but they are in the world, even as I’m coming to you….”

“They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world. Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.”

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

Song of Response
Sent by the Lord
Words: Cuban oral tradition
Tune: Cuban traditional

Sent by the Lord am I;
my hands are ready now
to make the earth the place
in which the kingdom comes.

The angels cannot change
a world of hurt and pain
into a world of love,
of justice and of peace.
The task is mine to do,
to set it truly free.
Oh, help me to obey;
help me to do your will.

Sending Out

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
   In the name of Christ. Amen.

Closing Song
Blest Be the Tie
Words: John Fawcett   
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements
The opening words of gratitude were written by Richard Sharples and the opening prayer is adapted from a prayer by Rebekah Maples, Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, ed. Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019. Used by permission. Psalm 136 comes from Four African Hymns. The original Swahili text was penned by Mwalimu Glen T. Boyd and the tune is Kihaya. Words to Like a Tree Beside the Waters were written by James F.D. Martin who wrote the hymn upon the Campbellsport (WI) United Church of Christ’s 125th anniversary in 1993. They tune HYFRYDOL is a Welsh tune composed by Rowland Hugh Prichard in 1830 when he was 19 years old! Prichard was a textile worker and amateur musician. “Hyfrydol” is Welsh for “tuneful” or “pleasant.” Sent By the Lord is a traditional Cuban tune with words from Cuban oral tradition. May we remember our Cuban brothers and sisters in the Alliance this morning as we join in singing!

Permission to print the words and lead lines to 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.

Opening Words of Gratitude

As the elements give life,
soil and air,
sun and rain providing nurture,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
With restless impatience
that counts the minutes,
wanting it now,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
With steady patience,
trusting roots buried
deep in the ground,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
With ceaseless work,
the strenuous effort
of trying to make a difference,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
With unforced hope,
living in anticipation
of days yet to come,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
In effort and expectation,
in work and rest,
in doing and being,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.

Opening Prayer

Holy God, you call us together to reflect on your Word and our life in your world. Be with us now as we hum along to the music, as we pray together, as we listen to the scripture readings, that we may hear your voice and understand your way. This we pray through Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Song of Praise
Sing out Earth and Skies
by Marty Haugen

Come, O God of all the earth: Come to us, O Righteous One;
Come and bring our love to birth: In the glory of your Son.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Come, O God of wind and flame: Fill the earth with righteousness;
Teach us all to sing your name: May our lives your love confess.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Come, O God of flashing light: Twinkling star and burning sun;
God of day and God of night: In your light all are one.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Come, O God of snow and rain: Shower down upon the earth;
Come, O God of joy and pain: God of sorrow, God of mirth.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Come, O Justice, Come, O Peace: Come and shape our hearts anew;
Come and make oppression cease: Bring us all to life in you.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Psalm 98
Common English Bible

Sing to the Lord a new song
    because he has done wonderful things!
His own strong hand and his own holy arm
    have won the victory!
The Lord has made his salvation widely known;
    he has revealed his righteousness
    in the eyes of all the nations.
God has remembered his loyal love
    and faithfulness to the house of Israel;
    every corner of the earth has seen our God’s salvation. Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
    Be happy!
    Rejoice out loud!
    Sing your praises!
Sing your praises to the Lord with the lyre—
    with the lyre and the sound of music.
With trumpets and a horn blast,
    shout triumphantly before the Lord, the king!
Let the sea and everything in it roar;
    the world and all its inhabitants too.
Let all the rivers clap their hands;
    let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether before the Lord
    because 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.

Song of Praise
Jesu, Jesu Fill Us with Your Love
Tune: CHEREPONI, Ghanaian Folk Song

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

Knelt at the feet of his friends,
silently washing their feet,
Jesu, you acted as a servant to them.
Refrain

Neighbors are rich and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are near and far away.
Refrain

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

Loving puts us on our knees,
showing our faith by our deeds,
serving the neighbors we have from you.
Refrain

Kneel at the feet of our friends,
Silently washing their feet,
this is the way we should live with you.
Refrain

Prayer for Others

Choral Anthem
If Ye Love Me
by Carson P. Cooman

If ye love me,
keep my commandments,
and I will pray the father,
and he shall give you,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may abide with you forever,
even the Spirit of truth.

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 15:1-8
Common English Bible

[Jesus said,] “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

When I was a child, my Aunt Evelyn gave me a little yellow colored card which had a poem on it along with a tiny wooden cross glued to the paper.  My house burned the summer before my junior year of high school, so I no longer have the card. But thanks to the internet, I a picture of one and here’s what it said.

I carry a cross in my pocket
A simple reminder to me
Of the fact that I am a Christian
No matter where I may be.

This little cross is not magic
Nor is it a good luck charm
It isn’t meant to protect me
From every physical harm.

It’s not for identification
For all the world to see
It’s simply an understanding
Between my Savior and me.

When I put my hand in my pocket
To bring out a coin or key
The cross is there to remind me
Of the price He paid for me.

It reminds me too to be thankful
For my blessings day by day
And to strive to serve Him better
In all I do and say.

So I carry a cross in my pocket
Reminding no one but me
That Jesus Christ is Lord of my life
If only I’ll let him be.

The card made an impression on me teaching me many things which became foundational to my faith.

First, I learned that when you see a cross, it should remind you that you are always a Christian and you should always act like one.  To my child’s mind the cross meant, “You had better behave and if you don’t you will get in trouble.”  I was too chicken to break the rules, so behaving wasn’t hard for me. And, there definitely were not any tempting misbehaving behaviors to do.

Secondly, the poem taught me that the cross is not magic. I watched cartoons as a child and a regular Saturday morning one was Scooby Doo. It was not unusual for the Scooby Doo gang to run into vampires. But no worries, Velma always had a cross at the ready to ward them off. We all knew that was just a story, it was a tall tale that vampires would run away from crosses. As I got older and watched different movies, I could readily see that a cross didn’t amount to a hill of beans when used on Friday the 13th.  Anyhow, this idea that the cross is not a magical “weapon” helped me to understand early  on that bad things can happen to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not.

The poem also taught me not to turn the cross into a badge of honor. I learned that we don’t “wear” a cross to brag to the world of our position or title or religion. The poem reinforced the idea that a Christian is to be humble and that being a Christian doesn’t make me better than everyone else.

Lastly, the poem taught me that on the cross Jesus paid a price for me therefore I should be grateful and work hard to serve God.  As a child, I liked pleasing people, so it was easy for me to want to please God. I was at the ready to serve God however God wanted me to serve.  Growing up in the USA, I also strongly believed that if you work hard, you will reap a great reward. The more you put into something, the more you get out of it. Now the idea of “Jesus paying a price for me” made sense because I saw grownups had to pay for a lot of things in life.  If you wanted a new dress, or a new pair of shoes, you had to pay for them. My mama loved to shop which meant as a child I spent a lot of time in department stores and malls. I figured the phrase, “Jesus paid a price for me” meant Jesus thought I was good enough to buy.  I watched mama spend a lot of time deciding which was best to buy. However, as a child I’m not sure I ever thought about or asked anyone who Jesus was paying.  I heard more phrases like, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe,” or “Jesus died so I could live,” but I never remembering thinking about who Jesus was paying.  You see, I didn’t grow up in a religious culture that said God was angry and Jesus had to pay the price for all the bad things I had done. Somehow instead, I had this idea that Jesus was rescuing me, helping me not choose the bad things of life. And the rescuing cost Jesus a lot.

Over the course of 2,000 years, the cross has become for us a symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation. It is grounded in the theology that Jesus laid down his life for us, died on a cross in order to save us. 

Years ago one of our local preachers at the Easter sunrise service shared with us his belief that Jesus had to die on a cross for it to matter. If Jesus had died of old age, then his death would not have mattered. If Jesus had died from an infection while travelling around Galilee, his death would not have mattered. If Jesus’ life and ministry was cut short by a stroke or heart disease, then his death would not have mattered. Any other way of dying would have been something other than a sacrificial death, any other way of dying would have been something other than Jesus willing to die, choosing to die, offering to die.  Any other death would have not been laying down one’s life for one’s friends.

If you are like me, there are times when I look at the cross and I wonder about our interpretation of its meaning. Sometimes we polish the cross up. We wrap it in silver or gold or bronze. Sometimes we even wear a decorative image of it around our necks.  I have lots of “cross” jewelry–a simple silver one given to me upon my ordination to the gospel ministry, a rose gold colored one my Aunt Bobby gave me at my ordination, a silver colored one with a blue stone that one of our youth years ago bought at Disney as gift for me, I used to have gold cross earrings, I also have a very, very old golden cross pendant that came from my Grandma Easterly’s family. It is interesting how some of those cross pendants are meaningful and some of them are just jewelry items. You know what I mean. For some people a cross pendant is just wardrobe accessory along the same lines as the buddha in my Aunt Almedia’s house. It was a decorative piece in the den. Think about how we print the cross on a t-shirts. We put the cross on bumper stickers. Some people turn the cross into an instrument of hate and violence.  I will never understand what a few of you may have seen with your own eyes, how a group of white people who called themselves the kkk turn the cross into a message of violence and hate against black people. What message of “salvation” does oppression or personal adornment mean for the cross? 

A simple wooden cross stands in our churchyard on the edge of the cemetery. It’s presence proclaims among the graves the great hope we have through Christ Jesus. Jesus suffered and died. God raised Jesus from the grave. Jesus has ascended into heaven and that is where we will join him one day. 

A brass cross stands on our communion table every Sunday. During Lent we tend to exchange it for the rustic wooden one that Ron made for us. But we always have a cross on our communion table. Placed on that particular table the cross echoes the words of Jesus, “This is my body, broken for you.  This is my blood, shed for you…” Like the cross on the yellow card in my pocket, the cross on the table reminds us.

How ironic it is that you and I have pledged our lives to a crucified savior. Those two words “crucified” and “savior” only work together when enacted by the Divine. Nothing or no one else could be crucified and save.  Crucifixion was the Roman’s answer to how to deal with people who rebelled against Rome. Crucifixion was public, out there for everyone to see what would happen to you if you didn’t follow the rules and if you tried to overthrow those in charge. It was torture. It was shameful. It was humiliating. It was cruel. Even the words of Deuteronomy say, “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”  (21:23) 

But Jesus’ death on a cross firmly says, “Hope comes from being defeated.  Suffering and death do not have the last word.” The crucifixion of Jesus was a wrongful outrageous death, but it became God’s critique over and against dark and harmful powers.  You see, the worst can happen. The most honest and honorable people can be falsely accused. The right ways can be abandoned. The weak turned over to oppressors. The kind and compassionate can be hated. The gentle can be brutally murdered. But none of that is greater than the hope we have in God through Jesus Christ. Suffering and death do not have the last word.  Life is meaningful even in the face of death. Hope can remain alive in the midst of defeat and powerlessness.

The words of Jesus found in John 15 come just two pages in your printed Bibles before Jesus is arrested. Jesus is about to lay down his life for his friends. Jesus is about to show us the fullness of God’s love for us. Jesus is about help us understand clearly that suffering and death do not have the last word. Jesus is getting ready to show us that hope can remain alive in the midst of defeat and complete powerlessness.  As Jesus prepares us for the defeat, what does he say?

First, Jesus reminds us that he loves us. And Jesus wants us to have the same kind of joy in life that he has and he wants it to be full and complete. In fact, Jesus wants our joy to be filled to the brim!  Not just a little joy. Not just enough to get you by. But Jesus wants you to have complete joy.

Second, our relationship together with Christ is on-going. This is not a one-time event, meaning when Jesus has left the scene, when Jesus is no longer apparent to our eyes, our relationship is still happening. Jesus says, “I chose you.” But it a choosing that is ongoing. It is better understood perhaps by saying Jesus chose us and keeps on choosing us. Jesus says, “I appointed you” and it is the same perpetual idea as the choosing. The appointing never stops. Jesus appointed us and keeps on appointing us. And just like the choosing and the appointing, we are to bear fruit and keep on bearing fruit. (For a better understanding about bearing fruit, go back and listen to last week’s sermon.) You see, this relationship with God through Jesus Christ is not a checklist of things to be done, it is a way to be and it is ongoing all the time.

Third, Jesus calls us friends! We are not bond servants–working to pay off a debt. We are not employees of Christ–working a job to earn the pay check called eternal life. We are not paid workers–reaping success because we are doing what Christ says. We are Christ’s friends. We are Christ’s associates. In other words, we are in this life together through the thick and thin. We are friends for life–a bond that cannot be broken even by death.

Fourth, Jesus reminds us that this is not a solo “job.” We are in this all together. And we are to love one another. If we haven’t learned anything this far in our Sundays after Easter, it is this. We are to love one another. In fact, Jesus commands us to do so. How do we maintain that love for one another? You can list all the many things that break down relationships, they are easy to spot after they have torn things apart. But what are the things that keep that relationship of love going?

We have it easier than any other group out there. For our love for God through Jesus Christ is the source of our love for one another. Our love for God through Jesus Christ is the source of our love for one another. Let me say it this way. We love one another because Christ loves us and we love Christ.  The 4th chapter of 1 John shares the same idea but says it quite bluntly. You may recall these words, “Those who say, I love God,” and hate their brothers or sister cannot love God.” And earlier in the chapter we read, “If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.”  Again, “Those who love God must love their brother and sister also.” 

This love for one another is woven deeply into our lives because it comes from God above. Our love for one another is a discipline, a habit that is perfected over time through our love for God and our care and concern for each other. 

So you can imagine what happens to our love for one another when our love for God grows. Our love for each other grows too.  Now this doesn’t mean I’m not going to drive you crazy. This doesn’t mean that we will never have a spat or never disagree. This doesn’t mean that our relationship with one another will be perfect. But it should mean that at all times, we love one another through the thick and the thin, just as Christ loves us.

I pray that our church family will continue to embody the love of God for everyone as we continue growing our love for one another!

Amen.

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

Song of Reponse
Help Us Love Each Other
Words: Fred Kaan  
Tune: AURELIA

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;
teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.
Be present, Lord, among us and bring us to believe
We are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.

Teach us O Lord, Your lessons, as in our daily life
we struggle to be human and search for hope and faith.
Teach us to care for people, for all, not just for some;
to love them as we find them, or as they may be come.

Let your acceptance change us, so that we may be moved
in living situations to do the truth in love,
to practice your acceptance until we know by heart
the table of forgiveness and laughter’s healing art.

Lord, for today’s encounters with all who are in need,
who hunger for acceptance, for righteousness and bread,
we need new eyes for seeing, new hands for holding on;
renew us with Your Spirit; Lord, free us, make us one!

Sending Out

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
   In the name of Christ. Amen.

Closing Song
Blest Be the Tie
Words: John Fawcett   
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements
The opening words of gratitude were written by Jan Berry, Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, ed. Ruth Burgess. The prayer was written by the United Church of Canada, Voices United, 2007. Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019.  Used by permission. 

Permission to print the words and lead lines to 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.

Opening Words of Gratitude

When flowers bloom in the desert,
Christ is risen!  Alleluia, Alleluia!
When enemies sit around tables and talk about peace,
Christ is risen!  Alleluia, Alleluia!
When people stand up for what is right in the face of great evil,
Christ is risen!  Alleluia, Alleluia!
When, despite hardship and struggle, people sing and dance,
Christ is risen!  Alleluia, Alleluia!
When prison bars are shattered by the cry of “Freedom!”
Christ is risen!  Alleluia, Alleluia!
When in our wounded and broken world,
life triumphs over death, peace over war,
hope over fear, freedom over captivity, love over hate,
Christ is risen!  Alleluia, Alleluia!

Opening Prayer

Almighty Creator God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name this morning; through Christ our Sovereign. Amen.

Song of Praise
Praise God for Easter Flowers
Words: Carl Dixon    
Tune: DARWALL’S 148th

Praise God for Easter flow’rs that cover all the earth,
their vibrant glowing colours, a promise of new birth.
Praise God for all his love and care, his glory displayed everywhere.

Praise God for morning dew that sparkles all around,
with myriad shimmering hues refreshing thirsty ground.
Praise God for all his love and care: his glory displayed everywhere.

Praise God for risen life with each and every breath;
and praise the living Christ who conquers fear and death.
Praise God for all his love and care: his glory displayed everywhere.

Psalm 22:25-31
Common English Bible

I offer praise in the great congregation because of you;
   I will fulfill my promises in the presence of those who honor God.
Let all those who are suffering eat and be full!
   Let all who seek the Lord praise him!
  I pray your hearts live forever!
Every part of the earth will remember and come back to the Lord;
    every family among all the nations will worship you.
Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord,
    he rules all nations.
Indeed, all the earth’s powerful will worship him;
    all who are descending to the dust will kneel before him;
    my being also lives for him.
Future descendants will serve him;
    generations to come will be told about my Lord.
They will proclaim God’s righteousness to those not yet born 
    telling them what God has done.

Song of Praise
What Wonderous Love is This
Words: Cluster of Spiritual Songs, 1823   
Tune: WONDROUS LOVE

What wondrous love is this, O my soul! O my soul?
What wondrous love is this! O my soul?
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing,
To God and to the Lamb I will sing,
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I Am,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And while from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And while from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.

Prayer for Others

Choral Anthem
Christ the Vine
by Robert J. Powell

Christ, the vine, and God, the gardener,
we, the branches bearing fruit.
We can bring forth shoots of promise
when our lives in Christ take root.

Christ, the fruit from Jesse springing,
you fulfilled the prophet’s trust.
And you pray that we, your body,
will fulfill your trust in us.

Christ, may we submit to pruning
that we bear more grapes for wine.
Help us, when we’re overburdened,
draw new strength from you, the vine.

You invite us to be partners,
growing Spirit’s fruit anew.
Keep us one in love together:
you in us, and we in you!

John 15:1-8
Common English Bible

[Jesus said,] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit.You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.”

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

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

Song of Reponse
Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song
Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr.     
Tune: BRIDEGROOM (Cutts)

Like the murmur of the dove’s song, like the challenge of her flight
like the vigor of the wind’s rush, like the new flame’s eager might:
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

To the members of Christ’s body, to the branches of the Vine,
to the church in faith assemble, to our midst as gift and sign:
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

With the healing of division, with the ceaseless voice of prayer,
with the pow’r to love & witness, with the peace beyond compare:
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Sending Out

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
   In the name of Christ. Amen.

Closing Song
Blest Be the Tie
Words: John Fawcett   
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements
The opening words of gratitude were written by Liz Delafield from Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, ed. Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019.  Used by permission. 

Permission to print the words and lead lines to 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.

Opening Words of Gratitude 

For birds making their nests, for eggs and chicks: 
Thank you, God, for spring. 
For young rabbits hopping in the fields,  
for tadpoles swimming in the pond: 
Thank you, God, for spring. 
For bright spring flowers in the garden,  
for fresh green leaves on the tree: 
Thank you, God, for spring.
For longer days to play outside, for warm sunshine on our face: 
Thank you, God, for spring. 
For Jesus dying to show us love, 
coming alive again on Easter Day 
and bringing new life to the world: 
Thank you, God, for spring.  Amen 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. 
Christ is risen, indeed.   
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Opening Prayer

God of new life, whose buds grow in days of darkness to open into increasing light, accept our thankfulness for the beauty of springtime.  Give us patience to wait for the flowering and the fruit. Give us joy in the harvest of your generosity. Teach us to respect and care for the earth and for the whole creation, that infused with hope and expectation, we may take our place in your plan to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth through the example of Christ, your Word made flesh, whose love restores and unites. Amen.

Song of Praise
The Silent Witness of the Heavens 
Words: Janet Pybon   
Tune: BEGINNINGS (Young) 

The silent witness of the heavens tells of the glory of the Lord. 
Vast galaxies of constellations declare God’s power with one accord. 

The crimson hues of fiery sunsets and dawn-flushed clouds at morning’s light, 
the lightning flash, the clap of thunder speak of God’s majesty and might. 

The tiger prowling through the jungle, the darting flash of hummingbird, 
the snake that slithers through the desert tell of God’s power without a word. 

The giant redwoods in the forest, the grandeur of the mountain’s height, 
the myriad life-forms in the ocean speak of God’s mystery and might. 

Creator God, whose power we worship, teach us to know our proper place, 
to recognize the claims and value of all, not just the human race. 

Oh, help us act as proper stewards, and understand your gift’s true worth; 
to make the necessary changes, that will protect our precious earth.  

Psalm 23
Common English Bible 

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters; 
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
your rod and your staff– they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. 

John 1:11-18
Common English Bible 

[Jesus said,] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away–and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Song of Preparation
Come Find the Quiet Center 
Words: Shirley Erena Murray
Music: Swee Hong Lim 

Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead, 
Find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed; 
Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see 
All the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be. 
 
Silence is a friend who claims us, cools the heat and slows the pace,  
God it is who speaks and names us knows our being, touches base, 
Marking space within our thinking, lifting shades to show the sun, 
Raising courage when we’re shrinking, finding scope for faith begun. 

In the Spirit, let us travel, open to each other’s pain, 
Let our loves and fears unravel, celebrate the space we gain; 
There’s a place for deepest dreaming, there’s a time for heart to care, 
In the Spirit’s lively scheming there is always room to spare! 

Prayer for Others 

Choral Anthem 
The Good Shepherd 
by Zebulon M. Highben with RESIGNATION and ST. COLUMBIA 

My sheep hear my voice and they follow me; 
I know them; I give them eternal life. 
My sheep hear my voice and they follow me. 

I am the good shepherd of all. 
My Shepherd, you supply my need; 
Most holy is your name. 
In pasture green you make me feed 

Beside the living stream. 
You bring my wand’ring spirit back 
when I forsake your ways, 
And le me, for your mercy’s sake, 
In paths of truth and grace. 

1 John 3:16-24
Common English Bible 

This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17But if someone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but refuses to help—how can the love of God dwell in a person like that? 

18Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence. 20Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. 21Dear friends, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have confidence in relationship to God. 22We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us. 24Those who keep his commandments dwell in God and God dwells in them. This is how we know that he dwells in us, because of the Spirit he has given us. 

Reflection on the Scriptures 
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

Listen to the sermon from our 2pm service and/or read below.

Creating a World Where No One Fears Evil

Psalm 23 resonates with me in a multitude of ways. It brings to mind many, many memories. When I was a child, my Grandma Easterly prayed these words while tornadic winds roared over the house in southern Illinois.  They brought us comfort. Those striking words, “Even though…I will fear no evil.” It was hard to lean into that proclamation while I sat on the couch with a pillow over my head! “Even though…I will fear no evil.” “Even though … [fill in the blank with whatever darkness threatens you, or the world right now], even though,…. I will fear no evil.”

Imagine with me, a world where no one fears evil, a world where no one is afraid. A place where there is no fear of violence, no fear of poverty, no fear of oppression. Imagine, a world where there is no fear from forced labor, slavery, human trafficking, domestic violence. Imagine a world where there is no fear from battle grounds, killing fields, hunger, thirst. Imagine a world where there is no fear of those in authority. 

Even though . . . I will fear no evil.

The children of Myanmar come to mind. Try to be a child while living under a military coup and you have friends who have been shot dead by the militants. Evil. The children of Brazil who are hungry. Their leaders have shunned the virus and plowed ahead and it is the people who suffer from economic loss and death. Evil. But come closer to home. What about children and youth who live in Arkansas? State lawmakers are working hard, working hard to limit the rights of trans children and youth. They are even considering penalizing parents and doctors who might seek or provide gender-affirming medical care. Here we go again. A state in our United States entertaining the idea of legislating the right to treat another human being as something lesser and they sugar coat it in religious language. Evil. We remember that fight from 2017 in our own state when some lawmakers tried to restrict which bathrooms transgender people could use. A system meant to protect bullies and shuns and shames.

Despite the audacity of others, despite the arrogance, despite the lack of compassion, despite the powerful opposition, as Christians we are called to create a world where no one fears evil. I’m hoping the teachings from the John’s this morning can help us learn how to better create and bring about that kind of world where no one fears evil. That’s God’s kind of world, on earth as it is in heaven.

God loves us.

First, let’s talk about us.  I just have to ask this morning, does God love us? Yes.

Does God love you? Oh yes! 

Well, how do you know that God loves you?

We have seen how much God loves us: creating the world, the universe, creating us; giving us life and an invitation to live together with God forever, never separated.  But not everyone feels or knows the love of God so easily.

A former member had the hardest time understanding and believing that God loved them.  I always struggled to find a word or a phrase to help bridge the gap that they felt. And I never could come up with a good replacement or idea for the word “love.”  Their story wasn’t unique. It has happened and does happen in many others as well. For what had separated them from knowing that God loved them, was the fact that they were gay.

They were older than me. They grew up in the 60’s and in the south. Even when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in the south, a love for someone of your same gender was not to be acknowledged, not to be thought about, it wasn’t natural, it wasn’t right.  It was a desire and persuasion that was not to be entertained or even spoken of. To society, it was not normal. But religion took that idea further. Religion said, it wasn’t how God created things to be. So it was seen as a fault and a sin. It was seen as the person’s fault and something they could change.

I cannot imagine living for decades under the weight of such a burden, a burden put on me by other people’s opinions, a burden laid on me under the guise of it being my “fault.” I cannot imagine who I am being considered a disappointment to God.  I can imagine what I do disappointing God, but who I am? And this is how our church member felt. It takes years to overcome all those years you have believed yourself to be a disappointment to God. That “God loves us” was a concept that others could celebrate and find hope in, but an idea with which our church member struggled.

But the blessing came in how you, their church family just kept on showing God’s love throughout the years over and over again. And when we slipped up and didn’t show God’s love, we owned the mistake and tried to make it right. And for years we have worked to be a blessing to others. We have worked to create a safe space within the community of Christ for any one of us to wrestle or struggle with our hardest moments without being judged or shunned or ridiculed. We have been so faithful towards this that we ended up without realizing it creating a space where our church member could “come out” while standing at church’s pulpit. It is a day I will never forget, that one would share such a personal moment. It speaks of how we have taken to heart the need we have for “sanctuary” and we have generously givine that opportunity to others. A true sanctuary for everyone in all times.  And God took our feeble efforts and used them to help another of us come to know that God does love them.

So, if you are not sure if God loves you, or if God can love you, then stick around with us for a little bit at least. We are not perfect, far from it. We are not all wise and always understanding, but we hope that we are living and sharing the love of God which is for every, every one.  It doesn’t have to be earned, It is not a reward for good actions either. The love of God is just there for all of us because God truly loves us.

Our greatest calling is to love one another.

Now, here’s a good place to talk about others. What do you do with that blessed gift of God’s love which is showered upon you at all times and in all circumstances?  What do we do with the love of God? Jesus loves me this I know. Well, good for you. Now what are you going to do?

God loves you, yes. But it’s not just about you. God’s love should be moving us beyond ourselves. God’s love isn’t meant to just make you feel better about yourself. God’s love isn’t meant to just make your day brighter and more cheery. God’s love isn’t just meant to make you a better person. God’s love isn’t meant to make you.  God’s loves is meant for the world. Remove the mirrors that cause you to look only at yourself. God’s love is for the world. God doesn’t love just you. God loves the world.  God doesn’t love you more than God loves someone else. God loves the world. 

Perhaps our greatest calling in the here and now is to love one another. I’m not referring to love that is condescending. It is not a love that comes from pity. It is not a love that comes from feeling sorry for you. It is not a love that is required because you need it. It is not a love that I give to you because I have to. It is not a love that I offer to you because you didn’t have it before. When our purpose for loving someone else is because they are lesser than we are, then we have it all wrong.

It’s like the people that live by that phrase, “love the sinner, but not the sin.” Do they really love the sinner? Calling someone a sinner seems to indicate that they have a problem which you don’t have. And you can love them despite of their fault. How many times did our church member receive this kind of love. I don’t appreciate your life style — your choice of who to love — but I will love you anyway. Yeah, right. It is that word, “but” that devalues things. If you have to make an excuse for someone so as to love them, then it probably isn’t love.

God doesn’t invite us to tolerate one another. God doesn’t ask us to deal with one another. God calls us to love one another. God’s love is the same for me as for you as for the other. God doesn’t love the Pentecostal Christian more than the Vowed Atheist. God doesn’t love George Floyd more than Derick Chauvin. God loves the world.

Now, God teaches us through the writings of 1 John that we are not to love in word and speech, but we are to love in truth and action. We just don’t talk about love. But we do love. And right off the bat, 1 John says, you don’t refuse to help. If you have resources and another person is in need, you help. We need to busy creating a world where no one fears evil. 

Last time I checked, all of us are sporting the majority color of skin–white. Last time I checked, all of us were Christians. Did you know that there is not a single piece of legislation in our nation that has been passed without the support of the white Christian community? I learned this yesterday at the annual gathering of the Alliance of Baptist. That means, if white Christians don’t support something, it ain’t going to happen in our country. Now that’s a shame, a real shame. But there it is. Take note of the power that you have. See it as a responsibility.

Last time I checked, all of us were appreciated by our community. Last time I checked, none of us were being held under suspicion by the authorities. Last time I checked, we all had access to opportunities for education and for work. That means that you and I, all of us, we don’t have to be afraid to show up in the face of evil. We don’t have to be afraid of losing our lives, our social standing, our jobs, our friends, or our church family. If we are going to work about creating a world where no one fears evil, then you and I have better start showing up in the face of evil, naming it for what it is, and tearing down the foundations upon which it stands. Don’t back off. It is wearisome work, but until evil is dismantled, then the world is going to have a hard time knowing and feeling and accepting the love of God.

We tore down that evil for our church member years ago. We provided a safe space where they could come out in the presence of God and God’s people. Now, we have more work to do. We need to keep on working to create the safe places where all can come to worship, to grow, and to know the love of God.  But it will take us showing up in the face of evil. And some of you are really good at showing up in people’s faces. Use that gift of boldness in the name of the one in whom you believe, in the name of Jesus, and yes be co-creators with God in bring back that world where no one has to fear any more.

To God be the glory in all that we endeavor to do! Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving 

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

Song of Response  
Holy Spirit, Go Before Us 
Words: Elizabeth Smith  
Tune: AUSTRIAN 

Holy Spirit, go before us, every mind and heart prepare 
for good news of life in Jesus, for the joyful hope we share.  
Gently lead the lost to safety, gently teach them Wisdom’s way,  
till they come to seek you gladly, till we find the words to say.  

Holy Spirit, come and help us, give us words to Speak of Christ. 
Teach us how to tell all people: deepest darkness can be light!  
Help us tell how faithful God is, and how Jesus sets us free;  
take our words and make them gospel so that many may believe.  

Holy Spirit, stay to show us how to serve as Christ served us.  
May our words of love be grounded in love’s actions, first and last.  
Your good news is news of justice, and the strong befriend the weak  
in your service, till compassion builds the peace the nations seek. 

Sending Out 

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, 
    In the name of Christ. Amen. 

Closing Song 

Blest Be the Tie 
Words: John Fawcett    
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli) 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain;  
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.  

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way;  
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.   

Acknowledgements.

The opening words of gratitude were written by Simon Taylor and the opening prayer was written by Terry Garley. Both are from Spring: Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April, ed. Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019.  Used by permission. The hymns were sung by our Mindy accompanied by Tonya on piano. The anthem was sung by Elizabeth, Laura, Mindy, and Tonya.

Permission to print the words to 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. 


 

Invitation to Worship

based on Psalm 4

We are blessed beyond measure! For God, who created this world and all that is in it, listens to us in our distress and answers us when we call. God fills our hearts with joy! So, let us put our trust in God and celebrate today the wonder of God’s glory revealed in and through the risen Christ. 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. 
Christ is risen, indeed. 
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Opening Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, the light of your love shines on,
illuminating the places where you are present.
As the bewildered disciples pondered the stories of your appearance,
you penetrated the darkness of their fear and doubt with your word of peace.
You showed them the appalling marks of evil pierced on your hands and feet.
You opened their minds to understand
why you had to die to defeat such evil and death.
Increase our understanding, we pray,
and open our minds and hearts to receive you, Lord.
Speak your word of peace to us
and let your love shine on any dark areas in our lives.
May this worship which we offer in your name
be a worthy response to your love and your sacrifice for us. Amen.

Song of Praise 
Now the Green Blade Rises
Words: JMC Crum
Tune: NOEL NOUVELET

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
What that in the dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

In the grave they laid him, love by hatred slain,
thinking he would never wake and live again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

Forth he came at Easter like the risen grain,
Jesus, who for three days in the grave had lain;
Raised from the dead, the living Christ is seen;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

Psalm 4
Common English Bible 

Answer me when I cry out, my righteous God!
Set me free from my troubles!
Have mercy on me! Listen to my prayer!
How long, you people, will my reputation be insulted?
How long will you continue to love what is worthless and go after lies?
Know this: the LORD takes personal care of the faithful.
The LORD will hear me when I cry out to him.
So be afraid, and don’t sin!
Think hard about it in your bed and weep over it!
Bring righteous offerings,
and trust the LORD!
Many people say,
“We can’t find goodness anywhere.
The light of your face has left us, LORD!”
But you have filled my heart with more joy
than when their wheat and wine are everywhere!
I will lie down and fall asleep in peace
because you alone, LORD, let me live in safety.

Prayer for Others

Song of Response
There is a Balm in Gilead
Words: African American Spiritual
Tune: BALM IN GILEAD

Refrain:
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my works in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. 

Refrain

If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus and say, “He died for all.”

Refrain

Celebration of the Ordination as Deacon

In our Baptist tradition, each one of us serves the Lord and we are equally capable of doing so. We do not practice any kind of hierarchy in the church for we are all one in Christ Jesus. As we work to better serve the Lord, we call out nine members from our church family to take up the role of intentionally caring for us, the body of Christ. We call these members “deacons,” which means “one who serves.”  When a member answers this call to serve us as a deacon for the first time, we set aside time in our worship to honor their acceptance, express our gratitude, and commit to pray for them as they follow the Spirit. Pre-pandemic, we would be invited to come before the member, set our hands upon their head, and offer our prayers and blessings. This time during our service we will write those prayers and blessings on paper. (You are welcome to email your prayers and blessings to the church and they will be forwarded to the deacon.)

1 Peter 4:8-11
Common English Bible

Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins. Open your homes to each other without complaining. And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts. Whoever speaks should do so as those who speak God’s word. Whoever serves should do so from the strength that God furnishes. Do this so that in everything God may be honored through Jesus Christ. To him be honor and power forever and always. Amen.

Reaffirming the Call to Serve One Another

In the presence of God this afternoon,
will you recommit yourself to the work and responsibility of serving one another?  I will.

Will you be faithful to pray, to read and study the Scriptures, to support the church spiritually and materially, to seek the will of God for the church, and to foster unity in the body of Christ? I will.

Will you do your best to live in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a witness of God’s love for everyone?  I will.

Will you seek the glory of the Lord Christ in all things?  I will. May the Lord uphold us with divine grace in our service to one another. Amen.

Anthem   
Hear Me When I Call
Composer: Richard Shephard

Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness:
Thou hast set me at liberty when I was in trouble.
Have mercy upon me and hearken to my prayer.
Lord lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
Amen.

Luke 24:36b-48 
Common English Bible 

While they were saying these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”They were terrified and afraid. They thought they were seeing a ghost.

He said to them, “Why are you startled? Why are doubts arising in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones like you see I have.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. Because they were wondering and questioning in the midst of their happiness, he said to them, “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish. Taking it, he ate it in front of them.

Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. Look, I’m sending to you what my Father promised, but you are to stay in the city until you have been furnished with heavenly power.”

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery 

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 Our Peace
Words: Shirley Erena Murray
Tune: PEACE

Christ is our peace, Christ is our health,
He the true Word, His the true wealth –
Gifts to be shared by the simple and poor:
Peace in your land, peace at your door.

Peace in your mouth, peace in the hands
Open to truth, to love’s demands:
Those who would go with Christ also must bleed –
Bright is the flower, burst is the seed.

Who work for peace find the true wealth,
Who heal the hurt find their own health –
Peace will flow on through the hearts that believe:
This may we know, thus may we live.

Sending Out 

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, 
In the name of Christ. Amen. 

Blest Be the Tie 
Words: John Fawcett 
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli) 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain;  
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.  

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way;  
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.   

Acknowledgements 

The opening prayer was written by Moria Laidlaw. Used by permission. The hymns were sung by our Mindy accompanied by Tonya on piano. The anthem was sung by Elizabeth, Laura, Mindy, and Tonya.

Permission to print the words to 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. 

Invitation to Worship

based on John 20:19-22

It was evening on the first day of the week. The disciples were meeting together behind locked doors because they were afraid. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. They rejoiced. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” And said, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  

Let our rejoicing be heard far and wide  
as we witness to our belief in the risen Lord. 

Alleluia! Christ is risen. 
Christ is risen, indeed. 
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Song of Praise 
O Sons and Daughters Let Us Sing 
Words: Joean Tisserand; J.M. Neale, trans. 
Tune: O FILII ET FILIAE (French, 15th century) 

O sons and daughters of the King, 
whom heavenly hosts in glory sing,  
today the grave has lost its sting.  
Alleluia!  

When Thomas first the tidings heard  
that some had seen the risen Lord,  
he doubted the disciples’ word.  
Lord, have mercy!  

At night the apostles met in fear;  
among them came their Master dear  
and said, “My peace be with you here.”  
Alleluia!  

“My pierced side, O Thomas, see,  
and look upon my hands, my feet;  
not faithless but believing be.”  
Alleluia!  

No longer Thomas then denied;  
he saw the feet, the hands, the side.  
“You are my Lord and God!” he cried.  
Alleluia!  

How blest are they who have not seen 
and yet whose faith has constant been,  
for they eternal life shall win.  
Alleluia! 

Opening Prayer 

We worship you today, O God. We rejoice in the word of the gospel where John declares that he has written his gospel to confirm and strengthen our belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that in believing, we might have life in his name. We worship you, O God, with praise and thanksgiving for that gift of life made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Strengthen and confirm our belief in Jesus in this time of worship here today. May we know the blessings of your peace within us and the breath of your Spirit upon us. We offer this prayer and our worship in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen 

Psalm 133 
Common English Bible 

Look at how good and pleasing it is 
    when families live together as one! 
It is like expensive oil poured over the head, 
    running down onto the beard— 
        Aaron’s beard!— 
    which extended over the collar of his robes. 
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon 
    streaming down onto the mountains of Zion, 
    because it is there that the Lord has commanded the blessing: 
        everlasting life. 

Song of Praise 
How Good It Is 
Words: Ruth Duck 
Tune: DOVE OF PEACE (Southern Harmony, 1854) 

How good it is, what pleasure comes,  
When people live as one.  
When peace and justice light the way  
The will of God is done. The will of God is done. 

True friendship then like fragrant oil  
Surrounds us with delight;  
And blessings shine like morning dew  
Upon the mountain height, upon the mountain height. 

How good it is when walls of fear  
Come tumbling to the ground.  
When arms are changed to farming tools,  
The fruits of life abound, the fruits of life abound. 

What quiet joy can bloom and grow 
When people work for peace.  
When hands and voices join as one  
That hate and war may cease, that hate and war may cease. 

Prayer

We gather here as a fellowship of people who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. One of the major marks of our fellowship is the sense of joy we experience as we gather to worship God, to give thanks for Jesus Christ, and to witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Yet, we admit that there are times when we feel afraid, abandoned, and lonely; when faith leads to doubt and questions rather than a sense of joy or peace of mind. Lord Jesus Christ, unlike those first disciples, we cannot touch you or see you, and so it is all too easy to become downcast and given to despair. 

  Forgive us when, like the disciples, we find the truth of Easter hard to believe.   
 Come to us, risen Christ, come through the closed doors of our hearts and minds and take away our fears and doubts; 
    Come to us, risen Christ, breathe on us and fill us with the joy and peace of your presence. 
    Bless us all as people who have not seen you, but who believe that you are truly the risen Christ, Son of God. Amen 

Anthem   
A Gaelic Blessing 
Composer: Roland E. Martin 

Deep peace of the running wave to you. 
Deep peace of the flowing air to you. 
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. 
Deep peace of the shining stars to you. 
Deep peace of the gentle night to you. 
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you. 
Deep peace of Christ, the light of the world to you. 
Deep peace of Christ to you. 

John 20:19-31 
Common English Bible 

Listen to the gospel being read and/or read below

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” 

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” 

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” 

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” 

Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” 

Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” 

Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name. 

Reflection on the Scriptures 
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

Listen to the sermon and/or read below. The sermon was recorded live from our 2pm outdoor service, so there is definitely wind noise. 🙂

Jesus’ death was traumatic. It was real. It was on display for everyone. Lifted up on a cross, high above, everyone could see his suffering and his death. As news of his crucifixion and inevitable death was shared throughout Jerusalem, no one would have doubted it for they saw it with their own eyes. It was believable because countless others had suffered death by crucifixion from the government.

But when Mary Magdalene shares the good news that she has seen the risen Lord, people have a hard time believing it. Even though a couple of disciples run out to the tomb, look in, and find it empty, they still doubt Mary’s word that Jesus has risen from the dead. For them, the empty tomb is a source of disappointment instead of affirmation, and a seed for growing fear instead of great rejoicing. The trauma from the reality of Jesus’ death only allowed them to deduce that his body has been stolen. Fear saturated their opinions, ideas, and choices. Fear of what the authorities and bandits had done to Jesus, led them to lock themselves away apart from whatever might be out there to harm them.

It was a different kind of lockdown than what we have been experiencing over the past year.  But in many ways we can identify with the fear of the disciples. We too feared the unknown.  We have had to stay at home to stay alive. We have been separated from one another and still are–six feet apart.  The unpredictable, invisible to the eye, wafting through the air, living on surfaces? Virus, we were able to shut out of our lives until we knew more about it. But don’t forget that fear we had 12 months ago. Fear of what might happen.  Fear of the unknown, the unpredictable, and the uncontrollable.

Our sister church in Brazil, Igreja Batista da Algeria, they don’t have the protection of vaccination which has been afforded to us. On Tuesday night Pastor Vando sent me a message via WhatsApp. He asks us to pray for the church and for their country. You may have seen it on the news, but on Tuesday alone, Pastor Vando said 4200 Brasilians died from COVID.  In one day, 4,200 people died. Their president is very much in control, but does not care about the people. The government has not worked to make their country a safe place to live in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic. Our sisters and brothers of Igreja Batista da Algeria, I imagine they still live in that fear that we lived in just a short time ago. They are suffering. Do you remember the fear you had of going out? Of what you might bring back to your home, to your family, to your friends? Our sister church in Brazil, they are still living through many things which have been alleviated for us. We are slowly rising above our fears as we learn more and more and especially as the vaccine becomes available to everyone. But do remember our sister church in Brazil and how they continue to grow their faith separate from each other. The fear brought by this pandemic shares similarities to the fear the disciples felt after Jesus died. We know very well that faithful living during times of great fear is difficult. But we claim the promise that nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus–not even our fears.

Even as our fear lessens, we are starkly reminded during recent days of what trauma looks like. We know what death looks like. We know what a traumatic death looks like. We now know what it is like to see someone die under the hands of the authorities. If you have watched any of the trial of the death of George Floyd or seen any of the newsclips, you have seen the effect a needless death has on bystanders. The women at the foot of the cross, the disciples at a distance, the Roman soldier, they were all bystanders to the traumatic death of Jesus. How wrenching it was during Holy Week to hear the testimonies of bystanders who felt helpless, angry, and afraid as Mr. Floyd suffered and died. We have also seen the grief of parents in Myanmar. Their children killed by soldiers who needlessly and for no reason at all have shot them to death. We have seen what we only thought we would see in movies, Americans chanting to hang an elected official, Mike Pence. When I saw those images, I couldn’t help but think of the crowd that was stirred up against Jesus chanting, “Crucify him.”

The gospel story this morning show us how Jesus responded in the midst of fear, trauma, and doubt. God responds to such threats with peace and forgiveness.

On the evening of what we now call Easter, Jesus appeared before the disciples even though they were behind locked doors. What did he say to them? Look at verse 19. Look in the last phrase of the verse. Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  Now look down at verse 21. Jesus again says, “Peace be with you.”  Eight days later, Jesus’ followers are still afraid. Imagine I would be too. Jesus comes and goes. So they still lock themselves in the room together. And again Jesus comes. What does Jesus say to them this time? Look with me at verse 26. Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.”

Before Jesus died and was resurrected, Jesus talked with his disciples about peace. It is recorded in John 14. If you have your Bibles, turn back there with me. Look at verse 27. Jesus says these words to his followers, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t troubled or afraid.”  Turn a few pages and look at chapter 16. Here Jesus highlights the contrast between the peace he offers and the peace the world offers. Beginning in verse 31 Jesus says, “Now you believe? Look! A time is coming—and here it is—when each of you will be scattered to your own homes and you will leave me alone. I’m not really alone, for the Father is with me. I’ve said these to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” 

The betrayal and death of Jesus must have made the disciples feel just like the writer of Lamentations. In 3:17-18 the lamenter shares, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is. My future is gone, as well as my hope from the LORD. My suffering and homelessness are bitterness and poison. I can’t help but be depressed. And all I can do is wait, for surely the faithful love of the LORD has not ended. Surely, God’s compassion isn’t through.” 

Oh how that empty tomb, Jesus’ numerous appearances before he ascends into heaven, his words to the disciples and to the world, “Peace be with you. My peace be with you,” these things tells us loud and clear that God’s compassion is not through. The faithful love the LORD has not ended.  In the word, we have distress, but in Christ, we have peace. The peace we share does not come from the world.  It is not created by human plans or designs.  Any type of peace the world affords us is just temporary and can change abruptly. The peace that sustains, that grounds, that makes a difference, is the peace which comes from God through Jesus Christ.  “Have peace in me,” Jesus says to us. Jesus invites us to share in God’s peace. You see, just as the lamenter writes, the LORD is our portion. We have a hope that does not disappoint.

The second posture the gospel story encourages in us when we face fears, disappointments, and betrayals, is that of forgiveness.  We clearly read that Jesus did not hold it against Thomas that he was having a hard time believing that Jesus was truly alive, risen from the dead. Jesus didn’t come back to scold Thomas. Think back to what Jesus called Peter when Peter tried to convince Jesus that he need not go to Jerusalem and die. Jesus called him Satan. “Get behind me Satan.”  But there is no language like that here. When Jesus appears to Thomas, he says to him, “No more disbelief. Believe!”  However, this is not the setting within the passage where we read about forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t say here, “I forgive you for having a hard time believing.” No, Jesus speaks of forgiveness in regards to the relationships we have with one another and with God well before Thomas is in the room.

Think back to when Jesus comes to John to be baptized. John says of him, “Look! The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  In the New Testament letter 1 John, it is written, “Everyone who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion.  You know that Jesus appeared to take away sins….” Now here at the end of John’s gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection and breathes the Spirit of God into us and upon us. Why? so that we might forgive anyone’s sin. That’s a tall order. That’s a lot to expect from us. But there it is. We are called to forgive. We are empowered by the Spirit of the Holy One to have the courage, the compassion, and the care to forgive. Jesus came to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. Now we step into those shoes and share those possibilities with the world.

The good news of Jesus firsts highlights some bad news. There is something wrong with each and every one of us. The world is a broken place.  It is not the way God intended it to be nor created it to be. Our lives are broken too. We do not live the way God intends us to live, nor do we embody what God created us to be.  We are falling short of what we could be in Christ Jesus. Every day we do things, say things, think things, that separate us from God and hurt our neighbors and harm the world. Some of those things are big and easy to spot, and some of them are little and hidden from others and even easy for us to turn a blind eye to. But as we have been reminded through the scripture passages of the Lenten season, God will not respond to a broken world again by destroying it and starting over. Just as we celebrate on Easter that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, defeating death not only for himself but for all of us, we also celebrate that in Christ Jesus our sins are forgiven. Those things that separate us from God, they are forgiven.  The forgiveness God showers upon us brings us back to life, raises us up again, never giving up on us. It is a forgiveness Christ calls us to share with others.

We have life in Jesus’ name, a life that has the blessing of peace upon it. A life that is brought about and sustained by a forgiveness that is to be shared.  May we live the life we have been given to the fullness of the glory of God. Thank you, thank you for caring about God today to come and worship whether at home or in person this afternoon, and thank you for hearing the word of God and how we are to live our lives in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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    
Faith Will Not Grow On Words Alone 
Words: Vernon Griffiths 
Tune: DUNEDIN 

Faith will not grow from words alone,  
from proofs provided, scripture known;  
our faith must feel its way about,  
and live with question-marks and doubt.  

The pattern Jesus showed, we share:  
life comes through death, hope through despair.  
God is made known in brokenness,  
and faith feeds on God’s emptiness.  

The church still tells how Jesus came  
through death to glorious life again –  
the strangest story! Yet, may be,  
our faith will thrive on mystery.  

Faith takes the little that we know,  
and calls for hope, and tells us: Go! 
Love and take courage, come what may;  
Christ will be with us on the way. 

Sending Out 

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, 
In the name of Christ. Amen. 

Blest Be the Tie 
Words: John Fawcett 
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli) 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain;  
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.  

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way;  
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.   

Acknowledgements 

The prayers were written by Moria Laidlaw. Used by permission. The hymns were sung by our Mindy accompanied by Tonya on piano. The anthem was sung by Ally, Elizabeth, Laura, Mindy, and Tonya.

Permission to print the words to 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. 

Sunrise at the beach this morning during our Easter sunrise Zoom service. Photo provided by the Cooks.

Invitation to Worship
Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Today we are invited to commit or recommit our lives to live the way of Jesus Christ. We renew our commitment to study, to fellowship, to share meals, and to pray together. We renew our commitment to resist evil, and when we do fail, to repent and return to the Lord. We renew our commitment to proclaim the good news of God’s love through Jesus Christ and to be an example of that good news. We renew our commitment to serve Christ in all persons and to love others as ourselves. We renew our commitment to strive for justice and peace among all peoples, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Come let us worship!

Easter Proclamation 

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed. 
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth. But chiefly are we bound to praise you for the glorious resurrection of your Beloved One, Jesus Christ our Savior; Christ is the true Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for us, and has taken away the sins of the world. By Christ’s dying, death has been destroyed, and by Christ’s rising to life again, everlasting life abounds.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed. 
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Song of Thanksgiving 
Jesus Christ is Risen Today 
Tune: EASTER HYMN 
Words: Charles Wesley, Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739 

Jesus Christ is risen today!  Alleluia! 
All creation join to say: Alleluia! 
Raise your joys and triumphs high: Alleluia! 
Sing, O heav’n, and earth reply:  Alleluia!  

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia! 
fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia! 
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia! 
Christ has opened paradise. Alleluia! 

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! 
where, O death, is now thy sing?  Alleluia! 
Dying once, he all doth save, Alleluia! 
where they victory, O grave? Alleluia! 

Sing we to our God above. Alleluia! 
Praise eternal as God’s love. Alleluia! 
Praise God now, God’s might confess, Alleluia! 
Holy Trinity we bless. Alleluia! 

Opening Prayer 

Almighty God, who through Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of Christ’s resurrection, may be raise from the death of sin by your lifegiving Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

Song of Praise 
This, This is the Day 
Composer: Brian Howard 

This, this is the day that the Lord has made. 
This, this is the day that the Lord has made. 
This is the day that the Lord has made; 
let us rejoice and be glad in it. 
This is the day that the Lord has made; 
let us rejoice and be glad in it! 

Great, great is the name, of the Lord our God. 
Great, great is the name of the Lord our God. 
Great is the name of the Lord our God; 
we will rejoice and be glad in him. 
Great is the name of the Lord our God; 
we will rejoice and be glad in him! 

Sing, sing out his praise throughout the land. 
Sing, sing out his praise throughout the land. 
Sing out his praise throughout the land; 
now is the kingdom of God at hand.  
Sing out his praise throughout the land; 
the kingdom of God is at hand! 

Trust, trust in the Lord, all you who sing. 
Trust, trust in the Lord, all you who sing. 
Trust in the Lord, all you who sing,  
giving thanks and praise in ev’rything. 
Trust in the Lord, all you who sing, 
giving thanks and praise in ev’rything! 

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24 
Common English Bible 

Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, 
    because his faithful love lasts forever. 
Let Israel say it: 
    “God’s faithful love lasts forever!” 

The Lord was my strength and protection; 
    he was my saving help! 
The sounds of joyful songs and deliverance 
    are heard in the tents of the righteous: 
    “The Lord’s strong hand is victorious! 
     The Lord’s strong hand is ready to strike! 
        The Lord’s strong hand is victorious!” 

I won’t die—no, I will live 
    and declare what the Lord has done. 
Yes, the Lord definitely disciplined me, 
    but he didn’t hand me over to death. 

Open the gates of righteousness for me 
    so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord! 
This is the Lord’s gate; 
    those who are righteous enter through it. 

I thank you because you answered me, 
    because you were my saving help. 
The stone rejected by the builders 
    is now the main foundation stone! 
This has happened because of the Lord; 
    it is astounding in our sight! 
This is the day the Lord acted; 
    we will rejoice and celebrate in it! 

Prayer for the Church 

God, Protector of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger –   
in a world where many know despair, 
you raised your Son Jesus to give hope for humanity and renewal to the earth. 
Continue to strengthen and unify your Church 
in its struggles against the forces of death in the world, 
where violence against creation and humanity 
obscures the hope of the new life you offer. 

Silence is kept. 

This we pray in the name of the Risen Lord  
and in the power of the Spirit. Amen. 

Anthem   
Sweet the Morning 
Words and music: Pat Mayberry 
Arranger: David Kai 

Sweet the morning, deep was the dawning, the stone was rolled away. 
Angels spoke to tell them the story, the soldiers ran away. 
And outside the empty tomb, blessed silence filled the air. 
And their hearts were filled with a joy and love to feel Holy there. 

Refrain:  
Hallelujah, Christ is risen today, there’s a new light shines within. 
Ev’ry heart rejoice, lift up ev’ry voice. This is resurrection day. 
Hallelujah, Christ is risen today, there’s a new light shines within. 
Ev’ry heart rejoice, lift up ev’ry voice. Love has found another way. 
Tears had fallen, rivers to ocean they took his life away. 

Sorrow sifted deep to the shadows, and broke their hearts again. 
Till they heard a voice that called, just a whisper on the air, 
There is Life for all and the Spirit lives, a gift for all to share. 

Refrain

Sweet the morning, deep was the dawning the stone was rolled away. 
Light returning, sun soaked the morning and washed their tears away. 
Holy One, Creator God, You the Healer of our souls, 
May You gentle us into faith and hope, to Life renewed once more. 

Refrain

Mark 16:1-8
Common English Bible 

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

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb. They were saying to each other, “Who’s going to roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away. (And it was a very large stone!) Going into the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right side; and they were startled. But he said to them, “Don’t be alarmed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He isn’t here. Look, here’s the place where they laid him. Go, tell his disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. 

Reflection on the Scriptures 
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery 

Listen to a recording of Jeffrey’s reflection from our outdoor 2pm worship service.

Song of Faith    
Women Weeping in the Garden 
Words: Daniel Charles Damon Tune: KAKIS (Damon) 

Woman, weeping in the garden, who has pushed the stone aside? 
Who has taken Jesus’ body; Jesus Christ, the crucified? 

Woman, waiting in the garden, after men have come and gone;  
After angels give their witness, silently you watch the dawn. 

Woman, walking in the garden, Jesus takes you by surprise; 
When the gardener calls you, “Mary!” faith and joy meet in your eyes. 

Woman, weeping in the garden, weep for joy, for you have seen 
Jesus, the Messiah, risen; Christ, of whom the prophets dream. 

Woman, dancing from the garden, find the others and proclaim 
Christ is risen as he promised; tell the world he knew your name! 

Blessing 

May the God of peace, who brought from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, make you perfect in every good work to do God’s will, working in you that which is well pleasing in God’s sight; and the blessing of the most holy, glorious, and undivided Trinity, one God, be upon you and remain with you forever. Amen. 

Go forth in the name of Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia! 
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Blest Be the Tie 
Words: John Fawcett 
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli) 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain;  
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.  

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way;  
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day. 

Acknowledgements 
The Easter proclamation comes from The Nebraska Breviary of the Community of the Benedictine Way, Incarnation Monastery, Omaha, Nebraska. 

The prayer for the church comes from Resources for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and Throughout the Year (2011), http://www.oikoumene.org/fileadmin/files/wcc-main/ documents/p2/2010/WOP2011eng.pdf  jointly prepared and published by The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.  Posted on http://www.oikoumene.org/en/home.html.

The hymns were sung by Mindy. The anthem was sung by Laura, Elizabeth, Ally, Tonya, and Mindy. The guitar is played by Mindy’s brother Josh on This, This is the Day and by Rachel, Mindy’s sister-in-law on Sweet the Morning and Women Weeping in the Garden. The flute was played electronically by Mindy. The acoustic and digital piano was played by Tonya.

Permission to print the words to 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. 

Good Grief

Saturday of Holy Week Reflection

Photo taken by Christopher Michel.

Matthew 27:55-66. (Click here to read the full text.)

Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive,
“After three days I will rise again.” 
Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day….

Numb. Wobbly. Dread carried like a stone in the gut. These are just some of the ways grief manifests itself.

Jesus’ followers must have felt the weight of grief after the worst thing they never imagined had happened. Although the Sabbath was a required day of worship, they were no doubt distracted all day. Jesus had been their teacher but also their friend. He had been their rabbi but also their hope for the Messiah. Now Jesus was reduced to “had been,” past tense, their hope entombed.

Without knowing it, the day grief settles into a human heart things begin to change. Priorities shift. Hopes fade only to reappear in unexpected places. Where we find meaning either settles deeper into what and who we have known already, or it takes up new residences and turns to see fresh faces. Grief is an unfamiliar emotion that makes all things ahead seem even more unpredictable.

On this Saturday when the followers and family of Jesus were only starting to keep the vigil of grief, we know that they were unknowingly preparing their hearts for an unimagined grace. But don’t shortcut the virtue of silence and prayers of anguish. God hears these too. Even their distress displays trust in God albeit of a different kind. Their complaints are a call to God for help.

While Jesus’ followers are grieving, the officials want to ensure Jesus’ death. They seal the tomb and place a guard to watch. It is up to those in charge to make sure that Jesus stays dead. It serves as another display of the arrogance in thinking that human authority has the right to control life and death. No, that role is not for the family that grieves or the government that kills. Life can only be given, either in this creation or the heavenly realm, by God. In the weight and silence of grief, this statement of faith is what gives us strength to await yet another day and whatever it may bring. What we need is comfort, and the nearness of God in our grief. What is to come is beyond us, but if we admit it, there may yet remain a smolder of hope that is not yet extinguished. One day it may flame into light. May that day come soon, O Lord. May faith become sight. May death bring new life. Only in you, O Lord, do we dare hope.        

Reflection Questions

  • If, or when, we are grieving, what gives us hope?

Prayer. O Lord, may you give me sure faith that I shall know your goodness in all ways and days of life, today and forever. Amen

Suffering Love

Friday of Holy Week Reflection

Photo taken by h.guenda.

John 18 – 19:42. (Click here for the full text.)

My kingdom is not from this world.
If my kingdom were from this world,
my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over ….
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

We tend to fancy the dramatic, the pageantry, the show. That’s probably why we love Palm Sunday. Waving palm branches in the air while shouting, “Hosanna!” and “Hallelujah!” Imagining the Messiah riding into town, how do you feel?  Invincible? Like, “we’re the winners”?  Or “we made it”?

We celebrate that Jesus is our Savior. He has come to save us from the evil one who brings chaos to the world. We praise him as the only One able to set everything at peace, even loud stormy weather. Here is the One who can defeat the evil one. Of course it will be a struggle. Haven’t you seen those apocalyptic movies? Read those apocalyptic books? It will be a battle like none other, between the forces of darkness and light. A violent conflict is coming in which the appointed of God will overthrow evil and usher in a new age for the world. 

Ah, but the gospel reading today forces us to step back and away from this kind of drama. Can you believe that the only “military” order recorded in the Bible that Jesus ever gave was to Peter. Jesus said to him in John 18:11, “Put your sword back in its sheath.”  And look at what Jesus tells Pilate in today’s reading. “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…” 

If we truly believe what Jesus said that day to Pilate as he faced death by crucifixion, then all that blood and wrath, all that cataclysmic storytelling, all that final battle stuff, well it might resonant with many, but Jesus desires a better truth for us. Jesus brings about the reign of God by a suffering love that has no whip. Therefore, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Consider this ….

  • What do you imagine the reign of God to look like?
  • What will it require to establish it?

Prayer. Dear Lord, keep our faith alive. Preserve our hope in you. Don’t let us get caught up in dramatic tales, but may our hearts and lives be faithful to your loving grace always. Amen.

Serve Humbly

Thursday of Holy Week Reflection

Photo taken by Gill Poole.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35. (Click here to read the full text.)

“You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right,
for that is what I am. 
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Throughout the first 80 years of Cullowhee Baptist Church (from 1821 until around 1900) the congregation met once a month, gathering on Saturday for business and Sunday for worship. They also had communion only once a year and it was always accompanied by footwashing.  We do not have details about how they did the footwashing but it’s not hard to imagine a small wooden church near the Tuckasegee, twenty or so bare-footed Baptists, and a good cold bucket of river water.

The story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in the Gospel of John gave Jesus a chance to take a more common practice and give it new meaning for his followers. Walking in sandals through dirt streets left everyone’s feet in need of washing.  When guests arrived at a house for a meal, foot washing was necessary and showed respect for the people who were “reclining” at the table. Jesus is the one who takes a basin of water and a towel and washes the feet of all his apostles. Why did the others not take the responsibility first? It is likely they thought someone else, a servant perhaps, would wash their feet. It is no wonder, then, that they were surprised that Jesus did so. 

Because of this story, footwashing has become synonymous with two things in Christian practice: servanthood and reluctance.  Jesus gave it the servant motif when he sits down and explains to these disciples that “you also ought to wash one another’s feet,” and then adds, “just as I have done, you also must do.”

But if we’re honest, almost all of us are reluctant to wash someone else’s feet. And, it is likely, that we have the same reluctance to truly serve other people as their servants. We want to “volunteer” and then be recognized or thanked. We want to “make a difference” and then feel good about our contribution. These acts of care and giving are certainly part of being a Christian, but Jesus’ call to servanthood includes washing feet precisely because it reminds us that doing for others, even if we are reluctant, is more like Jesus than doing for others so that we will be praised.  

These verses for today end with Jesus’ more comfortable command: “Love each other just as I have loved you” (v. 34). But like serving one another, to love someone like Jesus may require we swallow our reluctance and love another person with no attention given to our own reward.  

Consider this ….

  • What are my motivations to serve and love?

Prayer.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, so that I may serve another with only their care and your love in mind. Amen.

Betrayal

Wednesday of Holy Week Reflection

photo by Mikael Korhonen

John 13:21-32 (Click here for full text.)

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared,
“Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

Our scripture readings are a little out of sequence today. Jesus says this to his followers after he washes their feet. Traditionally, Thursday of Holy Week is foot washing day. So we’ll read that story tomorrow. It would be arrogant of us not to mull over Jesus being betrayed this last week of his earthly life. He knew his time with them was short and unfortunately he has to point out to them that one of them will betray him. I’m always struck by the point that he calls out Judas, but he doesn’t stop Judas.

There’s a lot of ways you can spin Judas’ motivation for turning Jesus into the authorities. Maybe it was greed. We all have done some stupid things so we can make a dollar or two more. Or maybe he was tired of listening to Jesus and wanted to see some action. We too have wearied of hearing about how good and loving God is, but all these bad things seem to keep happening. We too want to see God in action. Were his actions a result of a sinful attitude or were they a result of ignorance? That we will never know. But either way, betrayal was a result of trying to go it Judas’ way, instead of Jesus’ way.

Judas no longer trusted Jesus to get the job done. Judas lost his confidence in Jesus. Judas gave up on Jesus. So he handed him over to the religious elite and the reigning government. He gave up.

As we continue to daily make the commitment to live the way of Jesus Christ, may we rise each morning eager to bring about God’s heavenly reign here on earth being sure to manage our enthusiasm by remaining confident in God’s love, hope, and mercy for the whole world.

Consider this….

  • What things tempt us to give up on trusting Jesus?
  • What can we do to encourage confidence in God so we do not betray God’s love for us?

Prayer.  Loving God, I regret the times that I have given up on you. When my heart hurts because I’ve lost or things haven’t gone the way I had hoped, please forgive me for lashing out at you. Restore me with a great love and appreciation for your grace, mercy, kindness, and faithfulness to me.  Amen.

Seeing Jesus

world
photo taken by Adam Blust

Tuesday of Holy Week Reflection

John 12:20-36 (Click here for full text.)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.
They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him,
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 

Today is a good time to be reminded that Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem for the religious festival we call “Passover,” what Jesus would have properly known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Along with Jesus and his twelve apostles, literally thousands of others had come to the city for the festival from all around the Mediterranean regions. After all, festivals draw all kinds of folks from lots of different places. 

John tells us that a group of Greeks wanted to see Jesus. Perhaps they had become Jewish by conversion. We don’t know. Maybe they simply were attracted by the joy of the festival. Some people just like to be where the action is after all. Yet when they approach Philip, his hesitancy reveals his prejudice. They are Greeks, not Israelites. They are of a different race and culture. If Philip thinks Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, isn’t the Messiah here for the Israelite people first? Why would Jesus want to welcome a delegation of Greeks at the time of this important religious festival? 

Though hesitant, Philip takes advice and help from his brother Andrew and they tell Jesus about these Greeks. Jesus’ answer likely surprised Philip. God welcomes the unselfish whoever they are. God accepts anyone who follows Jesus and serves him. Yes, that is an unqualified anyone. And if they are committed to following Jesus and serving others, then God in heaven will honor them…even if they are Greek. 

As we move nearer to Jesus, our own prejudices are revealed. It is likely you know someone that in your mind God surely can’t love or accept. Why is this true? Because our tendency is to believe that God likes the people who are most like us. In the end, this certainty is a sin we should confess. After all, in a few days’ time, we will look to the cross of Jesus and profess that “God so loved the world.” And since “the world” that God loves includes all kinds of people, now is not the time to limit God’s forgiveness and love to just my favorite people.   

Consider this….

  • Who do I suspect because of their identity?
  • How can I genuinely confess this short-sightedness to God?

Prayer. God of the world, make my faith deep enough to see all people as welcome in your presence, and make my heart big enough to love everyone I meet along this path of life. Amen.

Pointing Others to Jesus

Monday of Holy Week Reflection

Old little bottle with nards perfume
photo taken by Juan Antonio Segal

John 12:1-11. (Click here for the full text.)

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard,
anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Take a moment to image the dinner party going on this evening. With Passover less than a week away, Jesus and his disciples are in Bethany. Jesus’ good friends, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha are hosting a dinner for him. Lazarus sits at the table eating with the rest of the guys. Martha is serving the meal. And Mary? Well, she’s at Jesus’ feet again, but this time she is anointing them.


The culture norms of that time meant Mary didn’t have a voice at the table. She was a woman. However, she can make a point or two through her actions. First, she anoints Jesus’ feet instead of his head. He has already been anointed by God to serve the world. Here she blesses his life of service to God and others. Secondly, she does this not before the meal, but during the meal. She is savvy. Here at the table is when she can find a captive audience to whom she can share her witness to Christ. Thirdly, she removes the perfume from Jesus’ feet by drying them.  Reminiscent of the actions of the prophets old, by removing the perfume she alludes to Jesus’ death.

When the world doesn’t afford you a voice to tell the story of the love of God we have come to know through Jesus Christ, you can still give witness to God’s amazing love through how you act and what you do (or don’t do). Most of the time people will remember this more than words. So bear this in mind, let your movements and actions add a fragrance to the world that brings God the glory and honor.

Consider this….

  • What actions point others to God’s love expressed through Jesus?

Prayer.  May the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, and the movements of my life be pleasing to you Lord. Amen.

Invitation to Worship

We come to prepare for the holiest of weeks.
We will journey through praise,
with joy on our lips;
we will travel through betrayal and death,
cradling hope deep in our hearts.

Jesus leads us through this week,
and we will follow,
for he is the life we long for,
he is the Word who sustains us.
We wave palm branches in anticipation,
we lay our love before him,

to cushion his walk.
Setting aside all power, glory, and might,
he comes: modeling humility and obedience for all of us.
Hosanna! Hosanna!
Blessed is the One who brings us the reign of God.

Song of Praise 

We Will Walk With God 
Words: Eswatini Traditional (trans. J.L. Bell)  
Tune: SIZOHAMBA (Eswatini Traditional) 

Come and walk with me, my brothers. 
We will walk with God. 
Come and walk with me, my sisters. 
We will walk with God. 
 
We will go rejoicing, ‘til the kingdom has come. (Repeat) 

See-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay, woh woh woh, 
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat) 

Goom-shlah wen-jah-boo-lah, 
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat) 

Opening Prayer 

Holy God, you have fed us all out of your own generous and gracious hands.
From them, we have received welcome, nourishment, hope, and consolation.
May these things grow in us, alongside the gift of faith, 
so that we may plant their seeds in the world around us. 
Through the Holy Spirit, guide us in the week ahead 
to re-member our place in your great and on-going story 
of resurrection, redemption, and restoration  
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Song of Praise

Wave Your Branches 
Words: Gwendolyn Emery-Owings
Composer: Thomas Pavlechko 

Wave your branches, wave them high,
Jesus now is riding by. 
Wave your branches, shout and sing 
Loud hosannas to your King. 

Wave your branches, wave them now, 
With Jerusalem’s cheering crowd. 
Wave your branches, shout and sing 
Loud hosannas to your King. 

Litany 

Pastor:  Who comes this way?
People: I wonder who is he? 
Pastor: They say he is the Christ. 
Pastor: That means Messiah, 
People: That means the Anointed One, the Savior, the King 
Pastor: Who comes this way? 
People: Is it really him?
I want him to beat the Romans and save us from poverty and hunger. 
Pastor:  Is he victorious? Is he powerful? Is he scary? 
Pastor: Where is he from? Greece? Rome? Jerusalem? Cullowhee? 
People: They say he comes from Bethlehem  
            and grew up in Nazareth and Galilee. 
Pastor:  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” 
People: Who comes this way? 
Pastor: Who is he? Why are we cheering him on? 
            Is he good or bad? He must be rich to get such praise. 
Pastor: Stop waving that branch in my face! 
Move away! Let me see around this parade. 
Put me on your shoulders. I need a higher glimpse of him.  
I just want to see his face and then I will know who he is, let me see. 
People: Wait! 
Pastor: Wait! 
People: It is only a man. 
Pastor: And he is just on a donkey, no conquering steed. 
Pastor: It is only a man, what is so great about him? 
People: Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! 
Pastor: Hosanna means “save us” and “we pray” 
Pastor: But who is this man that will save us? 
All:  Who comes this way? 

Song of Adoration   

Come Into the Streets with Me 
Words: Shirley Erena Murray 
Music: Traditional English Melody; arr. Charles Strange 

Come into the streets with me! 
Come to where the crowds will be, 
See a strange and gentle king 
On a donkey travelling – 

Refrain: Come and follow my leader, 
Come and follow my leader, 
Jesus Christ is riding by, 
Come and follow my leader! 

All the people shout his name, 
Waving branches, sing his fame, 
Throw their coats upon his road, 
Glad to praise the Son of God – 

Refrain 

If the soldiers draw their swords, 
Will we dare to sing these words, 
Be his friends for just a day, 
Cheer him on, then run away? 

Refrain 

Jesus goes where things are rough, 
Jesus knows when life is tough, 
Always comes to us, his friends, 
So his story never ends. 

Refrain 

Mark 11:1-11
Common English Bible

When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task,  saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’” 

 They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it.  Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?”  They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone.  They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it.  Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields.  Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”  Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve. 

Call for Reconciliation

After a year of struggling to follow Jesus faithfully, we know how we have worn down others by our angry words, how we have wearied loved ones with poor choices. Yet, we also recognize, that in every moment of every day, God has been with us with that love which never gives up, that grace which is always offered freely to us. So, let us come with our prayers, to God’s heart, so we may enter forgiveness and life anew. Let us pray together, saying,

Prayer for Forgiveness (in unison)

We have been so busy this last year, focused on ourselves, Enduring Love, that we have forgotten to imagine what was on Jesus’ mind in those days. We long to shout for joy on a day like this, smiling as we remember waving our palms, even as we look at our empty hands. We harden our faces, not in discipleship, but to turn away those who are still struggling in these days. Yet, because he was fully human like us, God whose compassion never fades, we can be more like Jesus, if we dare. So, as we begin our journey through another Holy Week of worshiping apart, yet strangely more together than we imagine, help us to always choose humility over hubris, weakness over strength, tenderness over bullying, and to seek to stay faithful as we can in these days. We pray this in the name of our Teacher, Jesus. Amen.

Silence is kept.

Assurance of Pardon

God dares us to think like Jesus, because God knows that if we do, we will find the strength to live through these days, to walk with others, to offer our lives in love and service to all. God hears our prayers, listens to our hearts, fills us with forgiveness, and walks with us in these moments and in all the ones to come. Thanks be to God for such incredible mercy! Amen.

Anthem
This is the Day
Composer: Leon C. Roberts


This is the day the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
This is the day the Lord has made;
Let us be glad, be glad, be glad, be glad and rejoice in it!
Let us be glad, be glad, be glad, be glad
Alleluia! Glory, glory!
Alleluia, let us be glad!

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Common English Bible

Open the gates of righteousness for me
so I can come in and give thanks to the LORD!
This is the LORD’s gate;
those who are righteous enter through it.
I thank you because you answered me,
because you were my saving help.
The stone rejected by the builders
is now the main foundation stone!
This has happened because of the LORD;
it is astounding in our sight!
This is the day the LORD acted;
we will rejoice and celebrate in it!
LORD, please save us!
LORD, please let us succeed!
The one who enters in the LORD’s name is blessed;
we bless all of you from the LORD’s house.
The LORD is God!
He has shined a light on us!
So lead the festival offering with ropes
all the way to the horns of the altar.
You are my God—I will give thanks to you!
You are my God—I will lift you up high!
Give thanks to the LORD because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever.

Reflection on the Scriptures
Rev. Tonya Vickery

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

Not on a War Horse, But a Humble Donkey
Words: David M. Miller
Tune: FINLANDIA

Not on a war horse, but a humble donkey,
the Son of Man came to Jerusalem;
great city full of faithful Hebrew pilgrims
received one more as she had often done.
And yet this time, Christ journeyed into danger;
to be betrayed, to suffer and to die.
They paved his way with scattered cloaks and branches
a prelude to the coming victory.

Crowds of disciples shouting out their praises;
“Glory to God! Hosanna to the King!
Bless’d is the one, Jesus has come to save us.”
The very stones would cry out if they could.
His friends knew not the horrors that awaited,
imagining an end to Roman rule.

Instead God’s plan was moving to fruition;
his Son would gain a greater vict’ry still.
Not by the might of gathered rebel armies,
but strength of purpose and submissive will.
So let us pause, as we this day remember
our humble King who gathers up the lost;
how great his trial, how strong the love he shows us;
how weak a faith that does not count the cost.

We walk with him, come through into the city;
one final meal, a symbol for God’s grace.
Out into darkness, Jesus’ time is coming;
a kiss to greet, a sign – “this is the one”
The soldiers mock, yet still our Lord is silent;
the sentence passed and all our crimes his own.
Christ hoisted high, humanity is ransomed;
through Jesus’ death, we all are given life!

Sending Out

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
In the name of Christ. Amen.

Blest Be the Tie
Words: John Fawcett
Tune: DENNIS (Nägeli)

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements

  • The invitation to worship, call for reconciliation, prayer for forgiveness, and words of assurance were written by Thom Shuman, and posted on his excellent Lectionary Liturgies blog. http://www.lectionaryliturgies.blogspot.ca/
  • The opening prayer was written by lutheranjulia, and posted on RevGalBlogPals. http://revgalblogpals.org/2016/03/18/friday-prayer-something-is-coming/.
  • The litany was written by Shannon Keeney at First UMC, Littleton, NH.
  • The hymns were sung by Mindy. The anthem was sung by Mindy, Michelle, Elizabeth, and Tonya. Michelle played the guitar. Tonya played the piano. Tessa played the flute.

Permission to print the words to 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.

God says in Isaiah 58:6-7

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints,
untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
& breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
& bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. (John Birch)

May these 40 days before Easter be a time of spiritual spring cleaning, of removing what hinders and renewing what facilitates our relationships with God, the world, and one another.

The Worship of God for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

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

Invitation to Worship

Jesus said,
“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.”

Come let us worship the One who draws us together,
who bears our burdens,
and forgives our sins.
Come let us worship!

Song of Praise
We Will Walk With God
Words: Eswatini Traditional (trans. J.L. Bell)
Tune: SIZOHAMBA (Eswatini Traditional)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

See-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay,
woh woh woh,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Goom-shlah wen-jah-boo-lah,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

Opening Prayer
Let us pray:

Creator God,
we thank you for the beauty of your springtime creation,
awakening buds and blooms,
lengthening blue skies and sunshine.

Awaken hope within us.
Renew us.
May we be refreshed with energy and enthusiasm
to see you in the places where we live
and in the people around us.

Redeemer God,
we thank you for your son, Jesus,
for his parables and teaching,
healing and caring,
for his life and death and resurrection.

Awaken love within us.
Renew us.
May we share your love and care with others.
May we and they come close to you.

Companion God,
we thank you for your Holy Spirit,
for your comfort and guidance,
presence and trust.

Awaken faith within us.
Renew us.
May we share your way and life with others.
May we be a witness to your saving love.

Creator, Redeemer, Companion,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we bring our praise and thanks to you.
Amen.

Song of Adoration
O Day of Peace
Words: Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Tune: JERUSALM LMD (Parry)

O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small.
As beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord.
The hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.

Psalm 51:1-12
Common English Bible

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
2 Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
3 Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
4 I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
5 Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
6 And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.

7 Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
9 Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.

Prayer for Forgiveness
O God, You who are always doing a new thing,
we confess that we sometimes close windows
against the fresh air of new ideas,
against the noise of other people’s worries,
against the winds of change.

God of every place and time,
we confess that we often draw the curtains
against people who are different,
against world news or community concerns.

Forgive us our insulation in our locked homes,
our shuttered churches,
the security systems on our hearts.
Open up our lives,
and let your Spirit blow through. Amen.

silent prayer and meditation

Assurance and Hope

Hear again the joy and gladness God provides and rejoice!

The Lord forgives.
The Lord wipes away all our guilty deeds.
The Lord cleans our hearts and puts new, faithful spirit deep within us.

Let the joy of the Lord’s salvation sustain you this day!

Anthem
Create a Pure Heart in Me
Composer: Susan Matsui

Create a pure heart in me, O Lord.
Grant me a new and steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me away from thy presence,
or take thy Spirit from me.

Revive in me the joy of deliverance,
Grant me a steady soul to uphold me.
Open thou my lips, everlasting Lord,
that my mouth may sing thy praises.

Thou takest no delight in sacrifice,
nor hast thou any wish for whole offering.
My sacrifice, Lord, is a broken soul,
my offering, a contrite heart.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Common English Bible

The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.

Reflection on Jeremiah
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Listen to the sermon or watch below.

Audio

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 of Jeremiah
Words: Brian Wren
Tune: KELVINGROVE

God of Jeremiah, grieving with an aching heart
for an empire, unbelieving as it falls apart,
when your thunder goes unheard, we will tend the prophet’s word,
and in season out of season, we will sing your song.

When our wound is left to fester, though the pain goes deep,
when we’ve sown a hundred whirlwinds, but have yet to reap,
when the platitudes of peace only make our fears increase,
with a poem and a story we will sing your song.

When the palace looks at poverty with scornful eyes,
when the scroll of truth is shredded by a leader’s lies,
when the glory of the cross is a propaganda gloss,
in the square and in the senate we will sing your song.

We will break the jar of plenty by the gates of gold,
we will buy a field of promise when the farm is sold,
at the ending of the dream, in the death of self-esteem,
at the bank and in the market we will sing your song.

We will praise the grainy granite of the Law’s demands,
and the life creating, Lover God with wounded hands;
we will spin your story line to an empire in decline,
and in exile or in honor we will sing your song.

Sending Out

Go now, to serve Christ and follow him.
Let your old life fall like a grain of wheat into the earth
so that you may bear much fruit
as you allow God to reshape your heart
and live in obedience to the law written within you.

And may God centre you in truth and steady your spirit.
May Christ renew your joy and strengthen your will.
And may the Spirit teach you God’s hidden wisdom
and fill you with songs of rejoicing.

We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
In the name of Christ. Amen.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The words by John Birch are posted on “Prayers for the season of Lent (faithandworship.com).” Accessed February 18, 2021. https://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Lent.htm.
  • The image was retrieved from https://i2.wp.com/www.catholicteacher.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Lent-prayer-service.png?fit=1000%2C667&ssl=1.
  • The Invitation to Worship is based on John 12:32.
  • The hymns are sung by Mindy, accompanied by Kendall on the djembe, Mindy on the ukelele, and Tonya on the piano and keyboard.
  • The opening prayer was written by Ruth Bowen and printed in Spring: Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April. Edited by Ruth Burgess. Published by Wild Goose Publications, the publishing house of the Iona Community, © 2019.
  • The Prayer for Forgiveness was posted by Teri on the RevGalBlogPals A Place for Prayer blog. http://revgalprayerpals.blogspot.ca/.
  • Create a Pure Heart in Me is sung by Laura, Elizabeth, Tonya, and Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The Sending Out was written by Nathan Nettleton and posted on http://www.laughingbird.net/ © 2003.

    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.

God says in Isaiah 58:6-7

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints,
untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
& breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
& bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. (John Birch)

May these 40 days before Easter be a time of spiritual spring cleaning, of removing what hinders and renewing what facilitates our relationships with God, the world, and one another.

The Worship of God for Fourth Sunday in Lent

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

Invitation to Worship

Listen to the invitation and/or read below.

Friends of God, believe this –
God loved the world,
God loves the world,
we are the beloved!

May the truth of this great love story,
shine through our worship today,
and renew our sense of calling.

So come, with your tiredness,
your frustrations and your discouragements;
come with your doubts, your fears,
and your longings;
come, to discover yet again
how Jesus reveals God’s love and mercy.

Come, in friendship to God
and to each other,
and in friendship to the world,
to listen for God’s Word to us,
to offer our prayers,
and to renew our calling.

Friends of God, let us worship!

Song of Praise
We Will Walk With God
Words: Eswatini Traditional (trans. J.L. Bell)
Tune: SIZOHAMBA (Eswatini Traditional)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

See-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay,
woh woh woh,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Goom-shlah wen-jah-boo-lah,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

Opening Prayer
Let us pray:

Living God,
as we continue our journey through this season of Lent
we are reminded of the steadfast love that the psalmist wrote about.
A love which would endure forever,
through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
A love given not to judge,
but to save,
causing human sinfulness to be encountered by divine compassion.
No wonder we sometimes see the placard thrust in front of television cameras
with the words written large – “John 3:16”.
These words about the depth of your love for us
are etched on our hearts
and made visible through our lives.
Accept our praise and thanksgiving, O God,
for this priceless gift of lives lived eternally with you,
a gift made possible
through the sacrificial love of Jesus, your Son, our Lord,
in whose name we pray. Amen

Psalm 19
Common English Bible

“Give thanks to the Lord because he is good,
because his faithful love lasts forever!”
2 That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say,
the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies,
3 the ones God gathered from various countries,
from east and west, north and south.

17 Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
they had arrived at death’s gates.
19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
he rescued them from their pit.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
and declare what God has done in songs of joy!

Song of Adoration
In Deep Distress My Soul Declares
Composer: John Bell, based on Psalm 130
Tune: SHAPIRO

In deep distress my soul declares
its song of lamentation:
“Lord hear my voice. Your list’ning ear
determines my salvation.
If human guilt was your delight,
and sin alone obsessed your sight,
Lord who’d escape damnation?”

Though punishment should be our price,
another gift is given;
for pardon is your property,
the greatest grace of heaven.
We fear your love more than your might
because you exercise the right
to name our sins forgiven.

So now my soul in penitence
affirms the hope I stand on.
Like those who wait to see the dawn,
I yearn to know your pardon.
No pow’r can weaken or deform
God’s will to challenge and transform
abase but not abandon.

Lenten Prayer
Let us pray,

Pray along with the recording above or with the words below.

You have to look your evil in the face to be healed.
The snakes that plagued the Hebrews in the desert
were their betrayal come back to bite them,
their being Eden’s serpent.
The cure was to gaze at their sin.

So we gaze upon the Crucified One, our victim,
and look our awfulness in the eye
and only there grasp forgiveness,
and only then become truly alive.

On the cross is lifted up
our racism, our violence, our materialism,
our deep seated me-first-ism.
Posted there is our last text to God,
“I’ll let you know when I need you.”
We look at it, look at it hard,
to get free of the lie that we’re just fine,
the lie that keeps us from knowing
how deeply we are forgiven,
how vastly we are blessed,
how infinitely we are loved.

silent prayer and meditation

Assurance and Hope

Listen to and/or read the words below.

Even when we were dead, Paul writes.
Even when we turned away from the One who had created us.
Even when we lived in the grip of what drew our gaze from God.
Even when we were oblivious.
Even when we followed a path fashioned of nothing
but our own desires.
Even when we wandered far and willfully away.
Even when we forgot to look past our own feet and to see
the wonders not of our making.
Even when we failed to stand in awe, to breathe thanks,
to lean into the love that had waited long for us.
Even when, Paul writes.
Even when,
even then:
grace.

Anthem
There is a Balm in Gilead
African American Spiritual
arr. Jacques Rizzo

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sinsick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.

If you cannot sing like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus, and say “He died for all.”

Numbers 21:4-9
Common English Bible

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

They marched from Mount Hor on the Reed Sea road around the land of Edom. The people became impatient on the road. 5The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill us in the desert, where there is no food or water. And we detest this miserable bread!” 6So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people and they bit the people. Many of the Israelites died.

7The people went to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned, for we spoke against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord so that he will send the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and place it on a pole. Whoever is bitten can look at it and live.” 9Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole. If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.

Reflection on Numbers
Rev. Tonya Vickery

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

As I flip through the pages of the book of Numbers in my Bible, I like to read the headings. There’s

  • Confession and restitution
  • Offerings, various offerings
  • Aaron and Miriam are jealous of Moses

Then there are things like

  • Keeping the passover
  • Departure from Sinai
  • And of course, complaining in the wilderness

One of my favorite headings is

  • Aaron’s rod bears almonds. 

Numbers is a disjointed book to say the least. It reads like a story and then all of sudden you run into a bunch of legal matters—take this, put this on that, wash this this way, carry this quickly, build this this way, and so on. It is a story that begins at Mt. Sinai, wanders along a wilderness journey, and ends in the Plains of Moab. It begins with a generation of people who had been set free from Egyptian bondage by the wise and mighty hand of God. And it ends with a whole new generation, a generation of orphans actually, l for all their ancestors, save for one or two, have died somewhere along the journey. 

The entire book is about what life is like when God, the Holy One is in your midst. When God lives among us, life is fraught with danger and possibilities. God’s presence makes a radical difference in how we live. Numbers teaches us that it is possible to push God too far. Sin is real and dangerous.  We ignore our sins at our own peril. Numbers also teaches us that God is all about forgiveness.  We read those words in Numbers 14:8, 

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Yes, God justly punishes our sins, but God forgives us with abundant grace. God does not overlook our sins.  At times we are severely punished for putting other things before God. But God’s judgment never, ever overshadows the fact that God forgives those who regret what they have done, and God offers salvation to all who will receive it. 

One of my favorite stories from the book of Numbers is when the Lord tells all the people to add fringes to the corners of their clothes. Fringe reminds me of the 70’s—remember those bobble tassels on our curtains, on the corners of our pillows, and on our ponchos. However, in Numbers fringes are to remind the people about who they are and whose they are. When the people see the fringe on their clothes, and there is to be fringe added to the corners of every garments, they are to remember all the commandments of the Lord so they will do them. They are to remember not to follow the lust of their hearts nor desires of their eyes. When they see the fringe, they are to remember that they are to be a holy people unto their God. They are to remember that God brought them out of bondage, set them free, so the Lord might be their God. 

I sure do like that story better than the snake on a stick story. But there is a reason the snake story is in the lectionary cycle.  In fact, it is the only story from Numbers in all three years of the cycle.

The story of the attack by poisonous serpents comes at the end of a series of stories about the murmuring, complaining, and grumbling mood of the people. They have complained about the conditions of life in the desert. There’s no meat to eat. The food in Egypt was better–remember the cucumbers! Their patience runs thin and they can’t get along with one another. They resent Moses, the leader the Lord has provided them, for leading them out on this wild goose chase. They are thirsty. They are thirsty. Again, they are thirsty. All this grumbling and mumbling comes to a head in Numbers 21. 

By Number 21, the people have continued to fail in trusting God and God is just tired of it. On their journey, they needed to pass through the land of Edom to make the route shorter. But the Edomites refused to let them pass through. So they had to go around Edom. They head south toward the Red Sea, but they are attacked by poisonous snakes. And of course, the people complain. Who wouldn’t. But you see, the snake attack comes after the people became impatient and spoke out against Moses, but also against God. Why did you bring us here? There is no food. There is no water. Well, the food we do have tastes horrible. Why did you bring us here?

All along this wilderness dessert journey, Moses has tried to move the people forward in trusting God. Trust that God will keep God’s word. Trust that God will keep that divine commitment to lead you to a new land. Trust that God will provide. But the people’s ability to trust in God ebbs and flows. At one moment, they sing the praises of the Lord their God and then they fall right back into that lame attitude of unfaithfulness and untrusting. They complain and speak against God. 

Trusting in God is not the same as believing in God. Did they believe in God? Sure. But did they trust God? Not always. Trust is faith. The New Testament tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. Faith means that even though they are tired, even though they are weary, even though the food doesn’t taste the same or has no taste at all, even though the way is hard and laborious, their feet hurt and their legs ache, you trust that God will keep God’s word—the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.

The promises of the Lord are everlasting. The grace of the Lord is forever. The love of God which is for the world, and that includes us, the love of God towards us abounds and remains steadfast and sure. Trust that God loves you. Trust that God will never abandon you. The suffering, the bad food, the darkness, the long nights, the pains, the lack of meat, those struggles of the day, those disappointments, they do not define God’s love for us. Can you imagine the relationship between a child and a parent if the child measured the love of the parent by how good or bad their day was? We shouldn’t treat God this way either. We can recognize the silliness of the complaining and murmuring in the story of these people on their journey. You are going throw out your faith in God because you don’t have any meat to eat? You are going to abandon your faith in God because you are tired of walking? Because your feet hurt? It is easy for us to see that the uncertainty of the future was brewing a fear within their hearts that became greater than their faith in God.

Eventually God has had enough of the whining, and sends a pack of poisonous snakes to grab their attention. The fringe didn’t do it. The blooming rod didn’t do it. The water from the rock didn’t do it. The pillar of fire by night and the cloud in the sky by day didn’t do, so let’s give them some snakes. And for some reason, this gets the people’s attention. They own their lack of trust in God. They admit they have done wrong. And yes, they regret it. They ask God to take the snakes away, but God doesn’t. Instead, God provides them another way to practice their trust in God. God has Moses make a snake out of bronze, and set it on a pole. And everyone who is bitten by the snakes can look at the pole and they will live. The snakes don’t stop biting. The snakes don’t go away. They are still there. But if you are bitten, look up at the bronze snake and the snake bit won’t kill you like it did others.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather look at the fringe on my clothes to remember that God loves me and expects me to behave like a child of God, than to have to be snake bitten and look up at a bronze snake on a pole to remember how to act like a child of God. But you know, God will do whatever it takes to make sure we know that God expects us to live like God’s people. And repentance and forgiveness are always options in our relationship with God. God will judge our sins, yes, for they make us less than what God created us to be, and they really do disappoint God. But from God’s view point, repentance is always a possibility and faithful repentance is always met with God grace.

When we recognize and own the wrongs we have done, when we come before God, when we admit our mistakes to our Creator, when we admit how they have harmed us and others and the world, then by the grace of God we start making things right again, for we have been forgiven. When we take responsibility for our wrong doings, our sins, God’s forgiveness and God’s healing are readily available. The Holy One has called us to be more than this and provides us a way.

In the writings between the two Testaments, Old and New, these words are written in a book called the Wisdom of Solomon:

   For the one who turned towards the bronze serpent was saved,
   not by the thing that was beheld,
   but by you, the Savior of all. Amen.

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’s People Were Impatient
Author: Carolyn Winfred Gillette
Tune: ANGEL’S STORY 7.6.7.6 D (“O Jesus, I Have Promised”)

1 God’s people were impatient and spoke against the Lord:
“This wilderness is dried out and we detest the food!
We can’t find any water and so we ask you why,
O God — if you still love us — you’ve brought us here to die.”

2 As sinning leads to judgment, the people soon knew fear.
For snakes were in the desert and danger lingered near.
So Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole;
Whoever looked upon it was once again made whole.

3 O God, this Lenten season reminds us of our sin;
We know our lack of trusting, the times our faith wears thin.
We also know your promise to lead us on our way,
To faithfully be near us, to guide us day by day.

4 Though sinning leads to judgment, repentance is God’s plan;
So on the cross was lifted the suffering Son of Man.
God, may we look upon him and in his suffering see
The one who brings redemption for all humanity.

Sending Out

Let us rejoice: God so loves the world!
May God your Maker
send you out into the world with creative energies refreshed.
May Christ the Light
illuminate your darkest moments.
And may the Holy Spirit of steadfast love
guide you until we worship together again.
This day and forevermore. Amen!

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The words by John Birch are posted on “Prayers for the season of Lent (faithandworship.com).” Accessed February 18, 2021. https://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Lent.htm.
  • The image was retrieved from https://i2.wp.com/www.catholicteacher.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Lent-prayer-service.png?fit=1000%2C667&ssl=1.
  • The Invitation to Worship is offered by Emily and was written by Ann Siddall, and posted on the Stillpoint Spirituality Centre website. https://stillpointsa.org.au/
  • We Will Walk with God is sung by Mindy, accompanied by Kendall on the djembe.
  • The Opening Prayer is offered by Robin and was written by Moira Laidlaw.
  • Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 is read by Kristin, Addie, Alyvia, and Alizabeth.
  • In Deep Distress My Soul Declares and God’s People Were Impatient are sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The Lenten Prayer and Words of Assurance are offered by Jeffrey and were written by Jan L. Richardson as posted on The Painted Prayerbook. http://paintedprayerbook.com/.
  • There is a Balm in Gilead is sung by Ally, Elizabeth, Michelle, Tonya, and Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Michelle on the guitar.
  • The Sending Out is offered by Jeffrey and was written by Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, in So Loved: Service Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Posted on the Worship Ways page of the United Church of Christ website. http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways

    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.

God says in Isaiah 58:6-7

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints,
untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
& breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
& bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. (John Birch)

May these 40 days before Easter be a time of spiritual spring cleaning, of removing what hinders and renewing what facilitates our relationships with God, the world, and one another.

The Worship of God for Third Sunday in Lent

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

Invitation to Worship
based on Psalm 19

Listen to the Invitation to Worship and/or read below.

The heavens are telling the glory of God
May our worship reflect God’s glory.
The firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
May we see each other as the handiwork of God.
Let our prayer and praise, our singing and proclamation project the love of God.
We commune with Christians around the world,
with Christians throughout time.
With Christians across geography and across time,
Let us worship!

Song of Praise
We Will Walk With God
Words: Eswatini Traditional (trans. J.L. Bell)
Tune: SIZOHAMBA (Eswatini Traditional)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

See-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay,
woh woh woh,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Goom-shlah wen-jah-boo-lah,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

Opening Prayer
Let us pray:

Listen to the prayer being offered and/or pray below.

We acknowledge you, O God, as creator and as liberator. You are the One who brought the captives out of Egypt and delivered them from the oppression of slavery. You gave laws which shaped how people were to relate to you, to each other and to the whole environment. You implored people to worship only you, knowing that whatever was put in your place would become the object of idolatry – would become the priority of people’s lives. In this time of worship, help us to focus on you, O God, as the priority of our lives. Remind us of your steadfast love revealed so clearly in the new commandment of love which Jesus disclosed with his life and, as we especially remember in this period of Lent, with his death. Speak to us anew as we offer this prayer and our worship in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen

Psalm 19
Common English Bible

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

Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
     the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
2One day gushes the news to the next,
     and one night informs another what needs to be known.
3Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
     their voices can’t be heard—
4but their sound extends throughout the world;
     their words reach the ends of the earth.

God has made a tent in heaven for the sun.
5The sun is like a groom
coming out of his honeymoon suite;
          like a warrior, it thrills at running its course.
6It rises in one end of the sky;
     its circuit is complete at the other.
     Nothing escapes its heat.

7The Lord’s Instruction is perfect,
     reviving one’s very being.
The Lord’s laws are faithful,
     making naïve people wise.
8The Lord’s regulations are right,
          gladdening the heart.
The Lord’s commands are pure,
     giving light to the eyes.
9Honoring the Lord is correct,
     lasting forever.
The Lord’s judgments are true.
      All of these are righteous!
10They are more desirable than gold—
     than tons of pure gold!
They are sweeter than honey—
     even dripping off the honeycomb!

11No doubt about it: your servant is enlightened by them;
     there is great reward in keeping them.
12But can anyone know what they’ve accidentally done wrong?
     Clear me of any unknown sin
13and save your servant from willful sins.
     Don’t let them rule me.
Then I’ll be completely blameless;
     I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
          be pleasing to you,
          Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Song of Praise
Let All Creation Dance
Words: Brian Wren
Tune: DARWALL’S 148th

1 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.

2 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.”

3 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 heav’n’s music plays.

4 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.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25
New Revised Standard Version

Listen to 1 Corinthians and/or read below.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Lenten Prayer
Let us pray,

Hear the Prayer and Words of Assurance and/or read along below.

Liberating God,
in love You have set us free:
free from slavery to sin and self,
free to know and love You,
free to follow and serve You.

We praise You for Your faithful love toward us,
and for the many ways You have demonstrated that love to us.
We see Your love in the natural world around us—
in the sky and trees and rivers.
We see Your love in the gift of Your commandments—
the rules for living that guide us into right relationship with You,
and with the people around us.
And we see Your love in Jesus Christ,
who lived and died to bring us life.

Because we have experienced Your love,
we come before You with confidence,
bringing our needs and the needs of the world.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who live surrounded by violence—
whether from war or political unrest, crime or domestic violence.
We pray for those who have been victims of violent crime,
and for those whose loved ones have been injured or murdered.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who find themselves involved in crime,
whether by choice or through coercion;
those caught up into gangs or prostitution,
those who have turned to crime to pay for their addictions,
those who are imprisoned.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.

We pray for our homes and families:
for parents juggling the responsibilities of work and family,
for children chafing under parental authority or expectations,
for men and women caught up in adultery or adulterous thoughts,
and for partners whose marriages are breaking down,
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.

We pray for the many people in our world who do not yet know You,
who have not yet experienced the new life that comes from knowing You through Christ Jesus;
who continue to search for purpose and meaning.
God, in your unfailing love, hear our prayer.

Merciful God,
give us strength and courage to keep Your commandments,
to live in faithful obedience to Your will.
Guard our lives and minds from all that might distract us
from living out our commitment to You.
Help us to find our true worth in knowing You more fully,
and serving You more faithfully.

In the name of Jesus Christ, our Cornerstone. Amen.

Words of Assurance and Hope
God loves us. (Romans 5:8)
We do not need to be afraid. (Matthew 10:31)
Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:21)
Jesus says to us, “You are my friends.” (John 15:14)
And Jesus promises, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

Anthem
O Thou, My Soul, Forget No More
Text by Krishnu Pal (1764-1822), translated by J. Marshman (1801)
Composed by Ronald Turner based on the tune DISTRESS

O thou, my soul, forget no more
The friend who all thy sorrows bore;
Let ev’ry idol be forgot,
O thou, my soul, forget him not.

We taste thee, O thou living Bread,
and long to feast upon Thee still;
we drink of Thee, the fountainhead,
and thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

O Jesus, joy of loving hearts,
Thou fount of life, thou light of all,
from the best thought that earth imparts
we turn unfilled to heed thy call.
Forget not us, we pray.

Reflection on Exodus 20:1-17
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Let me invite you to enter your imagination. Imagine that you are an Israelite born in Egypt during the time of the slavery described at the beginning of the book of Exodus. Years later, after nearly a lifetime of harsh treatment and hard work, you and your family along with thousands of your Israelite kin are freed from slavery by a surprising series of miracles. How is it that you pray for a miracle all these years without any clear sign from God? Then all at once miracles in the form of plagues seem to happen every day … for weeks? Before too long your greatest hope is realized! You are told to gather your family and some food and walk to freedom. On that day, you leave Egypt and your slavery behind. You marvel at the dry sea bed beneath your sandals. You gasp as the army pursuing you is defeated by yet another miracle. God is surely watching over all of you. But the weeks moving south through the desert are hard, nearly as harsh as slavery. You don’t even know what the destination is or when you will arrive. After exactly three months, you and the whole company are standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and word spreads that this is the place. You are given three days to prepare to hear from God. The rumor is that you will actually hear God speak. Wonder swirls – what will God say? During those three days, you are told to wash your clothes and remain holy. The leaders build a fence at the foot of the mountain which no one is to touch or go through on pain of death, except for Moses, and eventually Aaron. On the third day, as you and your family gather with the whole company of the Israelites, a rainless storm seems to be sitting on the mountain. Thunder and lightning are accompanied by the sounding of a ram’s horn that is blown like a pleading trumpet. Smoke envelopes the mountain as though from a hot furnace. The loud blast of the horn means Moses is speaking to God. God answers him in thunder as the mountain itself shakes. Honestly, it’s all a bit scary. Finally, the time has come. God addresses you and all the people directly.  

[What follows next are the words recorded in Exodus 20:1-17] 

20:1Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 

13 You shall not murder. 

14 You shall not commit adultery. 

15 You shall not steal. 

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

Shew! That must have been a powerful moment in history! It remains the only time in the entire biblical story when God speaks out loud to all the people. No wonder that we remember this part of the Exodus story so often. No wonder that posting these words on a flimsy yard sign as an act of pride or protest seems an underwhelming gesture. Posting the ten commandments is not an act of faith. Living them is. 

Despite the way we think of these as “commandments” for all of us, I want you today to take them personally. God said these words to you. You hear them from God. We have come to call them commandments, but I like to think of them as God’s first ten teachings. Hundreds more come after these ten although the rest are mediated by someone else who hears God that we trust to relay the message truthfully. Someone like Moses, or Elijah, or Deborah. Nothing is wrong with calling them “commandments.” I grew up with people who had adopted the description of Exodus 20 as God’s “commandments, not suggestions.” Even as a child, I knew that the people who said this intended to mean that they wanted other people to be commanded to follow them like laws. But the words of God, especially these ten, are always to be freely chosen and never imposed by force of law or threat of penalty. Without a doubt, we definitely need a secular legal law against murder and stealing and lying in court. The other seven, on the other hand, should never be legislated even if I think they should always be followed. Commandment #4 should never become “You must require other people to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Instead, the “you” in each of God’s teachings is singular. “You, Jeffrey, shall not use God’s name for your own purposes.” “You, Jeffrey, shall honor your parents.” “You, Jeffrey, shall not want what other people have.” It does not say, “You shall not let other people make idols, or steal, or lie.” They are God’s words for me to follow, not for me to impose. 

Anyone who claims to follow God as a Christian must take these words personally. They are for me to choose freely, to practice daily, to set as a standard for myself. None of us are holy by association. We are not part of God’s covenant because of our family. Another person cannot maintain my relationship with God. No one else can speak my prayer for me. Others can assist my spiritual journey and guide my understanding and teach me God’s Way, but I am the only one who can choose to live in God’s Way. Yes, we find a sustainable community of goodness and justice when all of us let these words orient our Way of living, but that equity is violated when they are forced on any one of us. Yes, our work for justice and fairness and the ending of oppression sometimes requires us to advocate for the forced change in law or behavior so that others can live free and healthy and whole. But the act of loving and following God is not determined by imposition of community or social requirements. The practice of faith in God is personal. One of the historic Baptist distinctions that I will hold the tightest and longest is religious liberty in its fullest sense. Not only am I able to freely choose to follow Jesus myself, I will advocate for others to have the freedom to choose the same, or another religious faith, or no faith at all with the same freedom and an equal amount of respect and kindness. 

Since we are in the Christian season of Lent, these teachings of God take us back to the basics. Exodus 20 gives us God’s message as both an imperative and in the present. Do this. Don’t do that. On this day and with the opportunities before me and among the people with whom I live, do this, don’t do that. A simple and direct message from God such as Exodus 20 gives us a fertile field from which other seeds of faith grow. This kind of simplicity is part of our Lenten discipline. Just like a baseball team reporting to Spring Training starts with the basics of throwing and hitting, during Lent we are called back to the common and simple acts of faith. Put God first. Yes, we work, and we have children or grandchildren, and we volunteer to help, and we need to exercise and have a hobby that helps de-stress us, and there are books to read and television shows to binge, and viruses to avoid. Lent calls us back to the building blocks that started us on this faith journey – put God first. Before my schedule. Before my stress-relief. Before my political advocacy. Put God first. Many things in our world compete to take the place of God in our life. We think that we worship only one God, but are we more committed to something on our schedule than we are too God? Are we more passionate about our political insightfulness than our religious understanding? Are we more committed to grandchildren or children more than we are committed to God? Do we watch more football on television than time we spend in prayer, worship, and scripture? Do our choices in lifestyle, or how we spend our money, or what we want other people to think of us have more of an influence on our decisions than what is pleasing to God? The answer to these questions are personal. Only you know the truth. During these weeks of Lent, these questions stand before us and require an honest appraisal.  

Barbara Brown Taylor notes that in the Book of Common Prayer, the ten commandments are used in public worship during Lent in a specific way. The people in the church kneel while these verses from Exodus 20 are read. After each commandment, the people respond by saying, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” [from notes written by Barbara Brown Taylor in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2.] It presents worshippers with a tangible whole-body way to note that failure to follow these teachings is part of our reality, but it serves as a call to forgiveness and restoration rather than scorn and pity. “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Yet worshippers are also given the opportunity to voice a renewed call to obedience — “And incline our hearts to keep this law.” Our past may require mercy, but our present offers us opportunity to practice our faith anew. Lent will not let us forget our failures, but will equip us for obedience today.   

While everyone seems to know the ten commandments, the question of whether I choose to follow them or not is not a given. With these teachings, God is saying “trust me and my commandments. There are other teachings you can follow, but they are not good for you, they don’t honor me, and they likely keep others from living justly in the human community. If you do trust me and my commandments, live them today.” It is that simple, and also that difficult, but it is worth the commitment. 

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
Gifts of Love Our Lord has Given
Words: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
Tune: I WANT TO BE A CHRISTIAN

1 Gifts of love our Lord has given, Words of life: “I’m your God!
I have brought you out of Egypt; now I call.
Listen here, listen well:
When you live in gratitude you’ll keep my law.”

2 “Have no other gods before me, says the Lord God Most High.
Don’t choose idols that you worship in God’s place.
Know God’s name, use it well.
Keep the Sabbath for it is God’s gift of grace.”

3 “Honor father, honor mother, and rejoice! God will bless you.
Take no life, for God loves every child on earth.
Celebrate gifts of love;
Take to heart what marriage promises are worth.”

4 “Do not steal from one another, nor speak lies, hurting others;
Do not wish for what your neighbor has in greed.”
Ten great Words, gifts from God,
Help us live in thanks for all we have received.

Sending Out

Listen to the Sending Out and/or read below.

Know that the ever-present mystery we name God
is in your past forgiving you,
in your present loving you,
and in your future meeting you.

And may the blessing of the Source of life, love and hope,
the Word of life, compassion and wisdom
and Breath of life, grace and truth
surround, sustain and surprise you,
this day and all your days. Amen

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The words by John Birch are posted on “Prayers for the season of Lent (faithandworship.com).” Accessed February 18, 2021. https://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Lent.htm.
  • The image was retrieved from https://i2.wp.com/www.catholicteacher.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Lent-prayer-service.png?fit=1000%2C667&ssl=1.
  • The Invitation to Worship is offered by Michelle and comes from Jesus Sets the Table, resources by the United Church of Christ, posted on their Worship Ways website.
  • We Will Walk with God is sung by Mindy, accompanied by Kendall on the djembe.
  • The Opening Prayer is offered by Onifer and was written by Moira Laidlaw.
  • Psalm 19 is read by Kendall.
  • Let All Creation Dance and Gifts of Love Our Lord has Given are sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 is read by Mike.
  • The Lenten prayer is offered by Tonya and was posted on the website re:Worship under Lent 3B.
  • The Words of Assurance are offered by Carmen.
  • Oh, Thou My Soul, Forget No More is sung by Ally, Elizabeth, Laura, Tonya, and Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The blessing is offered by Tonya and comes from “Words of Dismissal and Benediction | The Billabong.” Accessed February 18, 2021. http://thebillabong.info/lectionary/additional-resources/words-of-dismissal-and-benediction.

    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.

God says in Isaiah 58:6-7

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints,
untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
& breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
& bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. (John Birch)

May these 40 days before Easter be a time of spiritual spring cleaning, of removing what hinders and renewing what facilitates our relationships with God, the world, and one another.

The Worship of God for Second Sunday in Lent

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

Invitation to Worship
based on Psalm 22

Listen to the invitation and/or read below.

Let us glorify God who created all things,
yet who hears and responds to the cries of the weak and the needy.

We declare the glory of God – ruler over all nations,
whose greatness is revealed in gracious and loving acts.
Let us worship and witness so faithfully
that future generations will believe
and glorify God in their hearts and with their lives.

Let us worship and praise God with thanksgiving in our hearts.

Song of Praise
We Will Walk With God
Words: Eswatini Traditional (trans. J.L. Bell)
Tune: SIZOHAMBA (Eswatini Traditional)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

See-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay,
woh woh woh,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Goom-shlah wen-jah-boo-lah,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay. (Repeat)

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

Opening Prayer
Let us pray:

Listen and/or read below and pray along.

We pray, O God, that today will be the time when we hear you and that our hearts will not be hard or cold. We pray rather, that our hearts will be warmed, and our lives energized by your Spirit so that we can worship you with our whole being. Amaze us anew with the faithfulness of Sarah and Abraham and their belief in your staggering promises of a fruitful future. Confront us afresh with wonder at your desire to relate to humanity through a covenant established by you. We worship you, O God, with awe, knowing that you care so much for us – knowledge deepened and confirmed through the bringing into being of a new covenant through the suffering and death of Jesus. Accept, we pray, this worship which comes from thankful hearts, for we offer it in Jesus’ name. Amen

Psalm 22:23-31
Common English Bible

Listen to and/or read the Psalm.

All of you who revere the Lord—praise him!
All of you who are Jacob’s descendants—honor him!
All of you who are all Israel’s offspring—
stand in awe of him!
24 Because he didn’t despise or detest
the suffering of the one who suffered—
he didn’t hide his face from me.
No, he listened when I cried out to him for help.

25 I offer praise in the great congregation
because of you;
I will fulfill my promises
in the presence of those who honor God.
26 Let all those who are suffering eat and be full!
Let all who seek the Lord praise him!
I pray your hearts live forever!
27 Every part of the earth
will remember and come back to the Lord;
every family among all the nations will worship you.
28 Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord,
he rules all nations.
29 Indeed, all the earth’s powerful
will worship him;
all who are descending to the dust
will kneel before him;
my being also lives for him.
30 Future descendants will serve him;
generations to come will be told about my Lord.
31 They will proclaim God’s righteousness
to those not yet born,
telling them what God has done.

Song of Praise
The Living God Be Praised!
Author: Daniel ben Judah
Tune: LEONI

The living God be praised!
Give honor to God’s name,
who was, and is, and is to be,
for-e’re the same;
the one eternal God
before all now appears,
the first, the last, beyond all thought
God’s timeless years!

2 God’s Spirit still flows free,
high surging where it will;
in prophet’s word God spoke of old
and God speaks still.
Established is God’s law
and changeless it shall stand,
inscribed upon the human heart
on sea and land.

3 Eternal life has God
implanted in the soul;
God’s love will be our strength and stay
while ages roll.
The living One be praised!
Give honor to God’s name,
who was, and is, and is to be,
for’e’er the same.

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
New Revised Standard Version

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

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

15God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Lenten Prayer
Let us pray,

Listen and/or read the prayer as we pray.

Gracious God, you reached into Abraham and Sarah’s lives
and asked them to dream the impossible dream –
that you would transform what appears to have been
a barren and lifeless situation into one overflowing with promise and hope –
and, through faith in you, they believed your promises.

Forgive us, O God, if we never get beyond thinking of your call on our lives
as an impossible dream or even as an unwelcome interruption.

Forgive us, O God, when we find it hard even to hear your promises
above commercial assurances of transformation—
tempting us to trust the newest and trendiest product to realize our dreams.

Forgive us, O God, when we allow the power of evil to flourish
because we are afraid of what the cost might be to truly follow and walk with you.

Silent reflection on these words

Gracious and loving God, forgive our lack of trust in you;
Have mercy on us and forgive us.
Help us when we hesitate, and strengthen us when we are weak
Breathe your Spirit afresh into our hearts and minds – our lives -so that we have the courage to follow Jesus wherever he takes us. Amen

Words of Assurance and Hope
God loves us; we do not need to be afraid.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
“Stand up and do not be afraid.”
“You are my friends. I am always with you.”
Amen.

Anthem
Be Still, and Know that I am God
Composer: Carol McClure

Be still, and know that I am God;
Be still, and know that I am God.

Long before you were formed,
Long before you were born,
I knew your face and called you by name;
My love for you is always the same.

Be still, and know that I am God;
Be still, and know that I am God.

You are made in the image of God;
You are redeemed by my love.
You are made in the image of God;
You are redeemed by my love.

Be still, and know that I am God;
Be still, and know that I am God.

Reflection on the Old Testament
Rev. Tonya Vickery

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

“Faith includes faithfulness, strength of waiting, the acceptance of [God’s] concealment, defiance of history.”

We all have felt the frustrating paradox of on the one hand knowing God’s constant presence and on the other hand, experiencing God’s silence, or rather our inability to hear, see, or feel God.  Sometimes life feels like we are attending a celebration or victory dinner. Like the Israelites, we have been freed from our “Egyptians” and we join Moses in song.
“The LORD is my strength and my might;    
the LORD has become my salvation.
This is my God
  whom I will praise and exalt!” (Exodus 15:2).
But then there are those days when heavy hearts, confused and lost, feeling defeated we sit down with Job and say,
“Look, God passes right by me,
    but I do not see God;
God moves on,
    but I do not perceive.” (Job 9:11)

God is not indifferent to our struggle of knowing God.  As we look for God around us, as we hope to hear God’s voice, as we long to feel God’s holy presence, God is mindful of our quest to find God in our days and in our world. Without a doubt, we need God. But surprisingly God, the Almighty God, needs us too. The story of Abraham and Sarah following on the heels of the story of Noah highlights God’s need for us.

God created this amazing world and God is good. So therefore everything is good because God created it. But the world has fallen short of the glory of God out of which it was created. It’s like paths of darkness have made their way through the world and across our lives. Paths of misery, callousness, and defiance.

These pockets of shadows and darkness where the light of God does not shine, these are not places where God is at home. The Iranian regime made the news Friday. Our nation striking back at them for killing an American contractor who was working for the US government. But take a deeper look into what life is like for Iranians living under this dishonest, fear mongering leaders. It doesn’t take long to run across pictures or stories of Iranian children rummaging through the garbage. They sell the garbage for less than a dollar a day just so their family can buy a loaf of bread for the day. What a miserable life for a child. Misery is not the kind of home which God has created for us.

God isn’t at home with callous attitudes either. We have read about callousness in the hearts of Americans who before the Civil War forcefully separated children from their mothers to sell them as slaves.  What a horrible scene, callous to the cries of the children and their mothers. Such brutal behavior is not the kind of life for which God created us.  But unfortunately we Americans still commit such ironhearted acts. Callous hearts of Americans who forcefully separated children from mothers who were seeking asylum. Who could possibly do such a thing? and receive wages for such soulless actions?  Callous, hard hearts towards others speaks nothing of the way of God. This is not the type of life for which God created us.

And then there’s defiance, defiance by 10% of the world’s population. Ten percent of us make over $38,000 a year and we are the ones heating up the planet. Our refusal or reluctance to make changes or adjustments to our daily living as to cool things down shows how stubborn and self-serving we truly are. Our current lifestyle is set to increase the temperature of the planet at least 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). It doesn’t sound like a lot. You change the temperature in your house by 5 or 6 degrees, and it’s really no big deal. But when you change the temperature of the planet by 5 degrees Fahrenheit, we won’t be living like we did a couple of years ago.  If you think a pandemic is an interruption to life, what do you think will happen when the earth heats up 5 degrees? Those before us were not aware of the impact of burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, but we are aware. Do you recall the first thing God told humanity to do?  Take care of the earth. We have more understanding and knowledge of how to do that, and how we have harmed the earth. But we are still being pigheaded about making uncomfortable money costing changes. A defiant life is not the way of God.

Last week we read in Genesis that the earth had become a place God didn’t like. Corruption and violence filled the earth. It was not how God envisioned life to be, not for God, not for the earth, and not for people. However, God sees his friend Noah living honorably and righteously among this misery, callousness, and defiance. Genesis says Noah is blameless. So God says to Noah, “Come, walk with me.” And while they are walking together (actually riding safe inside a very large enclosed boat), God brings a flood that destroys everything but Noah and Noah’s family and those animals safe inside the boat.  It was like a tactical rescue mission. Get the good people out and destroy the rest.

That’s how we want to see it done sometimes. God would you just wipe out all corrupt leaders from the world, especially in Iran where children are having to dig through the garbage? Where their lives are hopeless and robbed of the joys of being a child. And while you are at it, just take care of people with callous hearts and defiant self-serving minds however you see fit. Did you notice that we don’t tend to pray that God would wipe out those of us with callous hearts toward caring for others and defiant attitudes towards care for the earth? What do you think God would say to such prayers? Can’t do that Peach. I made a promise a long time ago to never do that again. And it is an everlasting covenant. We remember the promise of God by the bending of light–a rainbow.

But God, the earth, and humanity needed more than just a promise from God that erasure or destruction would not be used against the darkness. God offers more. God invites a family to go out from their country into a new land, to set up house there, and fully live the way of God. It sounds like an escape plan. You know those times when life gets rough and you are like, “I just need to get out of here and move to Norway.”  But this new idea was definitely not an escape. Look at Genesis 17:1. God says to Abram, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.”  Ah, we have already heard that word blameless. Noah was blameless. He lived an honorable and righteous life. We have also already heard that word walk. The change between the two invitations is in the word that come before walk  –  a preposition in the case of Noah becomes an adverb in the life of Abram. The invitation from God to Noah was “Walk with me.” The invitation from God to Abram is “Walk before me.” There is a shift here. There is a purpose to Abram’s walk that goes beyond himself and his family being rescued, saved from the darkness. At first it sounds like God is asking Abram to lead the way for God, as if God didn’t know which way to go. But that’s not what’s intended here. Remove the ideas of competition and ranking. This isn’t about pecking orders or the first one in the line is the best.  Abram coming before God means Abram is to be like a shining light. Abram’s life is to illuminate the presence of God to the world, making more room for God and less room for those dark paths of misery, callousness, and defiance.

The dark paths running across the globe today are not much different from those in the days of Noah. And we know without a shadow of a doubt, that God does not  like such things. Misery, callousness, and defiance are not the ways of God. However, God will not provide an escape route, nor will God wipe out everything that is wrong.  Instead, God asks us to bring the presence of God into the world and into our lives and into the lives of others. The misery, the callousness, and the defiance fade away over time when God is brought into these places. Like Abraham, we are illuminate God’s presence along these paths so the world can know the goodness and love and grace of God.

But, here we are again. Sometimes we see God clearly and we sing at the top of our lungs with Moses. Yes, we can illuminate the presence of God in the world. But there are times when we cannot see God, and we sit alongside Job, wondering. How can we illuminate a presence which we cannot perceive. But even when we cannot see, hear, or feel God, we can still illuminate the presence of God to the world, but it will require us to be faithful to our faith in God. When God seems gone, we must remember that there is nothing closer to us than God. There is nothing closer to you than Almighty God. One bridge to get us over the emptiness is being in awe of God, living every day in awe of God.

We all adore something or someone. I have the pleasure of seeing Millie each Tuesday night on Zoom for Bible study with the young adults. I adore little Millie.  We are all awe struck by something. We watched a documentary on the Grand Canyon Friday night. I can only imagine that if I stood in that deep canyon, I would be awe of such massive colorful walls of rock. So who or what in your life are you in awe of? But turn this question and refine it. What are you in awe of that is worthy of your supreme worship? Now, you can stand outside on a clear night and gaze at the stars above and stand in awe. Nature is full of awestriking things. But we don’t worship nature. We can see those chubby Millie cheeks and we star struck, but we don’t worship Millie. Instead infants, nature, and the vastness of the universe create an awe within  us which illuminates for us the works of the Creator God and our hearts are pointed to God.  These things nurture within us the awe of God Almighty!

If you want to increase your awe of God, start by asking yourself this question: what is God’s relationship with humanity?  The biblical stories of Noah and Abraham and Sarah reveal this relationship more and more. What is God’s relationship with you?  Your presence in this world is not a mistake or a chance happening. Always remember that God is unwilling to be alone, and God has chosen, not just Noah, not just Sarah and Abraham, but God has chosen to share life with us, with you. Faith in God is our response to God choosing us.  Faith in God may begin with a decision or a desire. But when we nurture our faith in the living God with awe, that faith grows.

As we work to diminish and eradicate misery, callousness, and defiance in the world, deepen your sense of the mystery of God. Realize that faith is not just a belief, but faith is an act. Faith in the living God is the core of who you are, what you do, how you think about things, what you love. Faith is not an achievement, but it is a way of life. And it is something that has to be worked at, nurtured, tended to. Faith requires faithfulness, what Abraham Heschel called “strength of waiting.” Our active living faith in the living active God reveals God’s presence to the world. So like Abraham, walk before God don’t promise escape routes or destruction of evil or easy answers, but walk before God, illuminating God by your life to everyone that God is here with us always.

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
Put All Your Trust in God
Author: Paul Gerhardt; trans. John Wesley; ad. by Tonya Vickery
Tune: ST THOMAS (Williams)

1 Put all your trust in God,
in duty’s path go on;
walk in God’s strength with faith and hope,
so will your work be done.

2 Commit your ways to God,
your works into God’s hands,
and rest on God’s unchanging word,
who heaven and earth commands.

3 Though years on years roll on,
God’s covenant endures;
though clouds and darkness hide God’s path,
the promised grace is sure.

4 Give to the wind your fears;
hope, and be undismayed:
God sees your heart and feels your pain;
and hears the words you’ve prayed.

5 Through waves and clouds and storms
our God will clear the way:
expect to see the darkest night
become the brightest day.

Sending Out

Listen to and/or read the sending out.

Know that the ever-present mystery we name God
is in your past forgiving you,
in your present loving you,
and in your future meeting you.

And may the blessing of the Source of life, love and hope,
the Word of life, compassion and wisdom
and Breath of life, grace and truth
surround, sustain and surprise you,
this day and all your days. Amen

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

God says in Isaiah 58:6-7

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints,
untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
& breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
& bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. (John Birch)

May these 40 days before Easter be a time of spiritual spring cleaning, of removing what hinders and renewing what facilitates our relationships with God, the world, and one another.

The Worship of God for First Sunday in Lent

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

Invitation to Worship
Listen to the invitation and/or read below.

God does not remember us
according to our sins and wrongdoing.
God remembers us
according to God’s own compassion and faithful love!
God teaches us God’s paths
and leads us in God’s truth.
God saves us.
We put our hope in God all day long!

Opening Prayer
Listen to the prayer and pray along, or offer your own prayer to God.

Creator God
the sun, moon, and stars
shower us with light
yet clouds form and vanish
the earth turns
and the light changes

Redeeming God, you are the true light
constant, never dimming
stable, never wavering
anchored, never shifting
eternal, never ceasing

Sustaining God
shower us with your light
shatter the darkness
clear the clouds
sharpen our vision
so we might see and live
so as to love you better
and live for your glory.
Amen.

Song of Praise
We Will Walk With God
Words: Eswatini Traditional (trans. J.L. Bell)
Tune: SIZOHAMBA (Eswatini Traditional)

Here are the lyrics in Swazi:
Sizohamba naye
wo wo wo,
Sizohamba naye. (Repeat)

Ngomhla wenjabula
sizohamba naye. (Repeat)

“Sizohamba naye” means “We will go with him.”
and “Ngomhla wenjabulameans “On a happy day.”


Now, here is how to pronounce the Swazi words:
See-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay,
woh woh woh,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay.

Ngahm-hlah wen-jah-boo-lah,
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay
see-zoh-hahm-bah nah-yay


Listen, sing along, and smile!

Sizohamba naye
wo wo wo,
Sizohamba naye. (Repeat)

Ngomhla wenjabula
sizohamba naye. (Repeat)

We will walk with God, my brothers,
we will walk with God.
We will walk with God, my sisters,
we will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
till the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

Psalm 25:1-10
Common English Bible
Listen to the Psalm and/or read below.

I offer my life to you, Lord.
2 My God, I trust you.
Please don’t let me be put to shame!
Don’t let my enemies rejoice over me!
3 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.

4 Make your ways known to me, Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 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.
6 Lord, remember your compassion and faithful love—
they are forever!
7 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.

8 The Lord is good and does the right thing;
he teaches sinners which way they should go.
9 God guides the weak to justice,
teaching them his way.
10 All the Lord’s paths are loving and faithful
for those who keep his covenant and laws.

Song of Praise
My Soul in Stillness Waits
Author: Marty Haugen
Tune: O LORD OF LIGHT, OUR ONLY HOPE OF GLORY

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits,
Truly my hope is in you.

O Lord of Light, our only hope of glory,
Your radiance shines in all who look to you,
Come, light the hearts of all in dark and shadow. (Refrain)

O Spring of Joy, rain down upon our spirits,
Our thirsty hearts are yearning for your Word,
Come, make us whole, be comfort to our hearts. (Refrain)

O Root of Life, implant your seed within us,
And in your advent draw us all to you,
Our hope reborn in dying and in rising. (Refrain)

O Key of Knowledge, guide us in our pilgrimage,
We ever seek, yet unfulfilled remain,
Open to us the pathway of your peace. (Refrain)

Come, let us bow before the God who made us,
let every heart be opened to the Lord,
for we are all the people of God’s hand. (Refrain)

Here we shall meet the maker of the heavens,
Creator of the mountains and the seas,
Lord of the stars, and present to us no. (Refrain)

Lenten Prayer
Listen to the prayer and pray along, or offer your own prayer to God.

Let us pray,

God, we have fallen short of the life you created for us.
We may confess to you what we have or have not done,
but we don’t take responsibility.
Instead we believe it isn’t our fault
or we couldn’t have done anything different.
On the other hand,
sometime we only apologize when everyone else does the same.

But you are God.
You know us better than we know ourselves.
So instead of saying to you,
“I’m sorry” or “I apologize” or “I regret.”
we humble ourselves and ask,

Reveal to us, God
the extent of what we have done.

Provoke us, God
until we understand the hurt.

Inspire us, God
to see how it’s possible
to live by your principles.

Transform us, God
holding us tight until we believe
in fresh starts
and the value of trying again.

silent prayer and meditation

Words of Assurance and Hope
God loves us.
We do not need to be afraid.
Jesus said,
“I am the light of the world.”
“Stand up and do not be afraid.”
“You are my friends. I am always with you.”
Amen.

Anthem
Steal Away
Arranger: Malcolm Archer
Tune: Traditional

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus.
Steal away, steal away home, I ain’t got long to stay here.

My Lord, he calls me, he calls me by the thunder;
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul;
I ain’t got long to stay here.

Green trees a-bending, poor sinner stands a-trembling;
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul;
I ain’t got long to stay here.

Genesis 9:8-17
Common English Bible
Listen to the scripture and/or read below.

God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “I am now setting up my covenant with you, with your descendants, 10 and with every living being with you—with the birds, with the large animals, and with all the animals of the earth, leaving the ark with you. 11 I will set up my covenant with you so that never again will all life be cut off by floodwaters. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 God said, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. 13 I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures. Floodwaters will never again destroy all creatures. 16 The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I have set up between me and all creatures on earth.”

Reflection
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery
Listen to the reflection and/or read below

The season of Lent began a few days ago on Ash Wednesday. I have come to think of these seven weeks leading up to Easter as unique. The Christian observance of Lent is unlike the hopeful anticipation and joy of Christmas, or the glory and praise of Easter. Lent asks us to focus on the limits of our humanity, but not in a way that is hurtful, shameful, or false. During this season, our faith draws us into a healthy and honest appraisal of ourselves, without tearing us down or beating us up.  Every year as the winter landscape turns grey and brown and cold, Lent hands us a mirror into which we see ourselves honestly. Far too often someone else has told us what we see in that mirror, and they use their words that they have presumed are God’s words to describe what they see – harmful words that paint much too dire a picture of God’s children made in God’s image. Pastors and preachers and parents and partners have all pronounced us – totally depraved, sinful from birth, incapable of love, bound to original sin and thus incapable of goodness. In short, they have told us we are hell-bound and are deserving of its punishment. These are not the intentions of the season of Lent. Now is not the time to be scared into heaven, or reprimanded for our human limitations, or led to believe bad theology based upon old patriarchal idealism that demeans being human.  

The season of Lent is, instead, a reminder that we are God’s children, created in God’s image, yet not God ourselves. We don’t live forever. We can’t do anything we want. We do have the ability to practice self-discipline, or seek to follow God in humility, or show the grace of gentleness, or celebrate the gift of knowing we are limited.  

Lent calls us to a re-discovery of the basic truth of our humanity: we are not God, and we are not evil.  As God’s good creation we hold a balance between these two poles. We are not God and we are not evil. And yet we often find ourselves pulled toward one or the other of these two extremes. When we manipulate and threaten and control others to our benefit we are presuming that we are the human extension of God’s authority and we have the right to command others. When we live as though we are the ultimate reality of life, as though all others revolve around us, as though we are deserving of all that is right and good beyond what others should have or receive, we are claiming ourselves nearly divine. Likewise, when we pity ourselves, underestimate our goodness, sweep aside the necessity of our life as part of God’s will in the world, we push away from the inspired goodness of the life God has given us.  Lent is a season to bring our humanity into its center, balanced between the temptation to act as though we are God and the fall into a misappropriated view of human sin. We are not God and we should stop acting like it. We are not evil, and we should let our goodness lead us into a right relationship with God and others. For the next seven weeks, we are called to return to this human center.  

Our story this morning comes from the end of the story of Noah. Although we sanitize this biblical masterpiece with cute pairs of our favorite animals and cheery rainbows that decorate our minds, in many ways the story of Noah is problematic. God looks at people and feels regret. That’s not the kind of assessment I want God to pronounce over me. Yet in Noah’s day the intent of people had turned to something other than goodness, or holiness, or righteousness. When the Noah story begins in Genesis 6, we are not given a description of what the people are doing wrong, only a clear declaration from God that their thoughts and intentions were only on sin. As Genesis 6:4 says, “… humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and … every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil.” And so one answer … destroy all creation. Maybe I should end that sentence with a question mark. Destroy all creation? I told you it was problematic. It’s also no surprise that some people read this story as an example of what God is secretly planning for us: create them, regret having created them, and then kill them all. But don’t be misled. That’s not the point of the Noah story.  

Like other stories in Genesis, these stories are intended to communicate a certain meaning rather than facts. I’m certain that a major destructive flood did in fact effect a widespread area of the ancient Middle East. The Egyptians, Sumerians, and Akkadians (just to name a few) all had a story of an epic flood that involved their god. Some remarkable flood did in fact rain upon that part of the Earth at some point in history. At the same time, the parts of the story that are exaggerated are in fact used to make a point rather than to be taken literally. No, not “every kind of animal” was on the ark. No, the waters did not cover all the mountains on all the earth with 23 feet of water. No, not every single living creature on Earth was killed by this one flood. These exaggerations are used to highlight the meaning of the story, not the details. If we use this story as a prop for the kind of fundamentalism that must have a literal interpretation of every word of the Bible, then we will miss the meaning of it. More directly, when the Noah story becomes a bit player in the argument for creationism against evolution, it runs the risk of completely misunderstanding the biblical intent and ends up using it to argue for something that the Bible never intended. We must consider both what the story says and what it means, and do so in a way consistent with its original message and God’s divine nature. 

I don’t claim to have all the insight into the Noah story, but on this Sunday in Lent, I find these three meanings in Genesis that I think are worth our prayerful consideration. 

First, the most important meaning is found in the overall movement of the story. Through Noah, his family, the animals, and the flood, God un-creates Eden, preserves a faithful remnant of that original creation, and re-establishes the world with a new covenant. More succinctly, God’s purposes are always to create, re-create, and restore relationships with humanity. While the flood story follows this pattern, so does an individual human life. We are born, but not in Eden. We are pronounced as “very good” (see Genesis 1:31) when we are created by God and born.  Yet we all lose our sinless created state. We all choose disobedience at some point. The end of the story could simply be destruction. God could become angry and just kill us when we sin. But the biblical story of God’s relationship with humanity is not “be perfect or be killed.” Story after story in the Bible shows that God’s intent is to create, forgive, and restore – to create, forgive, and restore – and then to do it again – create, forgive, and restore.  Noah’s story uses water as a central character in the story to illustrate this idea. What begins as a means of destruction (the flood waters) becomes transformed from a vehicle for death into an image of birth (as in the issuing of water from a mother’s womb before a baby is born). We humans are re-born by God through the water. God gives birth to us again. This mothering of God that brings us into life and also re-creates our life is consistently present in the biblical stories. There’s no “three strikes and you’re out” with God. When Jesus said to “forgive seventy times seven” times, he was asking us to treat each other with the kind of patient forgiveness that God extends. The real surprise in the Noah story may not be enormity of the flood, but that God does not give up on us. In fact, when humans were at their worst in all of human history, God continues to give life.   

Second, Another crucial meaning I find in the Noah story is that all creation is affected by human sin. Not just the people who were continually evil, but the animals and the Earth is affected by the flood in Genesis. In a more positive perspective, not just eight humans were saved on the ark, so was creation – bird and animal, domestic and wild. It is not difficult, then, to come to the conclusion that this story tells us that all creation is loved by God, and the consequences of human sin take a toll on the non-human created world as well. If human thoughts are always evil, then we will exercise that same evil in our relationships with the environment, with animals, with creation as a whole. It seems to me that when Christians take the Noah story seriously alongside our insistent confession that God is Creator of all, then Christianity will be at the forefront of helping the Earth heal from a century of human sinful action against it. It is without a doubt that we are at a tipping point in the human destruction of creation. By one estimate, we are down to nine years’ time in which we must re-program our human sin against of creation before its doom (our doom) is assured. It’s not a stretch, then, to say that our relationship with God’s creation has been sinful, and it must become a central understanding of our faith that the restoration of creation is a matter of faith in God and love for God’s gift of life. Honestly, I think we’re passed the time in which theological “problems” like original sin, or speaking in tongues, or biblical inerrancy take priority. If Christians ignore the detrimental effects we continue to have on God’s creation, then we risk violating God’s law in ways that we willfully ignore. If we don’t repent of our ravaging of the environment during Lent, in this year, on this day, then we risk continuing the evil that seeks to undo God’s goodness in creation.  

Third, and finally, the Noah story reminds us that God is in power, but we are responsible. God determines life and death and life again, and those things are beyond us. Yet the Noah story insists that we are responsible for how we live our life, we are called to a goodness that is within our capacity to achieve, we are responsible for the welfare of both the human community and the created world around us. Upon leaving the ark, God makes a new covenant with Noah. God willingly doubles-down on the commitment to sustain human life. Never again will this kind of destruction and flood come our way. Again, like the other portions of the Noah story, it is rich with meaning even if not literal. It means that we can read this new covenant as God’s unwillingness to give up on human goodness despite any past human evil. In popular lingo, it’s time to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps and rise to the moment. God continues to have confidence in our ability to respond and re-enliven our world. God’s not going to magically heal creation for us. God’s not going to unilaterally bring about a healthy human community on our behalf. God’s not going to impose God’s will on our social or political or economic systems and resolve the injustices of our society. We must do these things, and we must do them as part of God’s calling to live in God’s Way. And, we can have the confidence that God thinks we are capable of peaceful, holy, righteous, equitable living. Go and populate the Earth, God says to Noah at the end of the flood. What does God say to us? The same thing. Go and populate the Earth, with justice and mercy.  

Just maybe we come to the end of the Noah story, and we can still ooh and aah when we see a rainbow, but also begin to see the colors in the sky as a calling to take responsibility for a just and merciful Earth in a way that brings life to all. And we can do so, as God’s good creation who have been created, re-created, and restored to what God intends for us all. 

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
Shades of purple, shades of blue
Text: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
Tune: DIX (Konker)

Shades of purple, shades of blue, green and yellow, orange, red —
Noah and his family, too, saw the rainbow overhead.
God, Creator, high above you displayed your sign of love.

Soon new life was springing forth, filling land and sea and air.
God, you chose to bless the earth with the promise of your care —
And your promised love extends far beyond our human friends.

In the rainbow, you were clear: every living thing has worth.
You love every creature here on this planet we call Earth.
God, forgive when we destroy gifts from you that bring you joy.

May your church begin to see in that rainbow high above:
We are daily called to be stewards of this world you love.
Since the earth is dear to you, may we treat it kindly, too.

Blessing
Listen to the blessing and/or read below.

Know that the ever-present mystery we name God
is in your past forgiving you,
in your present loving you,
and in your future meeting you.

And may the blessing of the Source of life, love and hope,
the Word of life, compassion and wisdom
and Breath of life, grace and truth
surround, sustain and surprise you,
this day and all your days. Amen

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The words by John Birch are posted on “Prayers for the season of Lent (faithandworship.com).” Accessed February 18, 2021. https://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Lent.htm.
  • The image was retrieved from https://i2.wp.com/www.catholicteacher.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Lent-prayer-service.png?fit=1000%2C667&ssl=1.
  • The call to worship and opening prayer were written by Tonya based on Psalm 25 and James 1:17 respectively. The call to worship is read by Tyler and the opening prayer is offered by Kendall.
  • The first song of praise is sung by Mindy, accompanied by Kendall on the djembe.
  • Psalm 25 is read by Laura.
  • The second song of praise is sung by Mindy; accompanied by Tonya on the piano, Michelle on the guitar, and Emily on the oboe.
  • The Lenten prayer was written and is read by Tonya who adapted it from a prayer written by Katherine Fox, “It’s easy to say sorry,” Ruth Burgess, ed., Spring: Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April, Wild Goose Publications, a division of the Iona Community, copyright 2019.
  • Steal Away is sung by Ally, Elizabeth, Laura, Michelle, Mindy, and Tonya.
  • Shades of purple, shades of blue is played by Tracy on the organ and sung by Mindy.
  • The blessing is offered by Jeffrey and comes from “Words of Dismissal and Benediction | The Billabong.” Accessed February 18, 2021. http://thebillabong.info/lectionary/additional-resources/words-of-dismissal-and-benediction.

    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.

We come to this moment in time instead of a “place” expecting to hear the divine voice of God. We hope for new and deeper understandings of God and the ministries to which God calls us. We hope to experience a broader understanding of what it means to live the Way of Jesus. May our eyes be opened to new understandings. May our hearts have courage to listen to the voice of God.

The Worship of God

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

Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 50:1-6

From the rising of the sun to where it sets,
God, the Lord God, speaks,
calling out to the earth.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines brightly.

Our God is coming;
he won’t keep quiet.
A devouring fire is before him;
a storm rages all around him.
God calls out to the skies above
and to the earth in order to judge his people:
“Bring my faithful to me,
those who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
The skies proclaim his righteousness
because God himself is the judge.

Song of Praise
We Have Come at Christ’s Own Bidding
Author: Carl P. Daw
Tune: PLEADING SAVIOR (Joshua Leavitt)

We have come at Christ’s own bidding
to this high and holy place,
where we wait with hope and longing
for some token of God’s grace.
Here we pray for new assurance
that our faith is not in vain,
searching like those first disciples
for a sign both clear and plain.

Light breaks in upon our darkness,
splendor bathes the flesh-joined Word,
Moses and Elijah marvel
as the heavenly voice is heard.
Eyes and hearts behold with wonder
how the Law and Prophets meet:
Christ, with garments drenched in brightness,
stands transfigured and complete.

Strengthened by this glimpse of glory,
fearful lest our faith decline,
we like Peter find it tempting
to remain and build a shrine.
But true worship gives us courage
to proclaim what we profess,
that our daily lives may prove us
people of the God we bless.

Call to Worship


Creativity and light
belong to God
LET ALL THE EARTH REJOICE

Justice and glory
belong to God
LET ALL THE EARTH REJOICE

Wisdom and wonder
belong to God
LET ALL THE EARTH REJOICE

When we get it amazingly wrong
GOD LOVES US

When we get it superbly right
GOD LOVES US

When we have no idea at all what is happening
GOD LOVES US

When we walk with God
WE DO NOT NEED TO BE AFRAID

JESUS SAID: I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.
Listen to him and walk in his way.

JESUS SAID: STAND UP AND DON’T BE AFRAID.
Listen to him and walk in his way.

JESUS SAID: YOU ARE MY FRIENDS.
Listen to him and walk in his way.

JESUS SAID: I AM ALWAYS WITH YOU.
Listen to him and walk in his way.
AMEN

Prayer
Let us pray:


God, we come to the mountaintop to be covered in your presence.
We are comforted by your holiness and your glow;
we are comforted by the hope of the mountain top,
where you are so close,
so accessible,
where there is no doubt of your glory
The mountain top reminds us why we worship you.
We witness your bright power,
and your plan for the nations of the earth.
As we prepare for worship,
God bring us to the mountain top;
bring us to the mountain top
so that we may be inspired to do your work
in the valley below.
Amen

Song of Praise
Ka mana’o ‘I ‘O (Faithful is our God)
Author and Composer Joe Camacho

“Kamana’o ‘I ‘O
O ko kakou Akua.
Faithful, faithful is our God.

In love there is no one more faithful than our God,
Who brings the light into our darkness.
The God who shares the breath of life with you and me,
All living things upon the earth.

In quiet moments God whispers tenderly
The mystery of unending love.
For God is good, and holds us as we sleep,
To wake us to the morning light.

The mercy of our God we seek to share each day,
To help each other on our way,
To be God’s hands and heart with tenderness and care.
God’s faithfulness is always there.

When we share love, we share respect and care,
The gifts and bonds of human kindness.
And in our journey, may love lead the way.
To be God’s living, sing this day.”

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Common English Bible

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are on the road to destruction. The god of this age has blinded the minds of those who don’t have faith so they couldn’t see the light of the gospel that reveals Christ’s glory. Christ is the image of God. We don’t preach about ourselves. Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord, and we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. God said that light should shine out of the darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

Prayer for Others
Let us pray,

God of light and glory,
we look at the world you created and we rejoice.
We rejoice in the sunshine and winter birds,
the taste of coffee, hot chocolate, and warm winter stews,
the scent of woodfire stoves and evergreen trees,
the feel of the cold wind on our faces and the wet snow in our shoes.
In the face of the busyness that crowds our lives,
keep us attentive to the beauty around us,
fashioned and illuminated by your love.

God of light and glory,
we look at the way we live in the world and we weep.
We weep for the life threatening political instability in Myanmar and Haiti,
for workers in illegal underground factories in India
for the fighting in Yemen
for the loss of life and loss of trust,
for a fallen, broken humanity
and our persistence in pursuing our own interests
at the expense of others’ needs.
Through the darkness and tears of those who are
wounded, bereaved, and afraid,
shine your healing, restoring light.

God of light and glory,
we remember before you those we know who are in need.
We think of those who are in nursing homes, hospital, and hospices
and those who care for them.
We think of the emergency services,
who come to our aid when our pastimes falter and turn to pain.
Strengthen and comfort them with your loving presence.

God of light and glory,
we thank you above all that in Jesus you have revealed yourself to us,
and that through the Holy Spirit you are with us still,
a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns
and the morning star rises in our hearts.
Amen.

Anthem
Gather Us In
Words and Music by Marty Haugen

Here in this place new light is streaming
Now is the darkness vanished away
See in this space our fears and our dreamings
Brought here to you in the light of this day

Gather us in, the lost and forsaken
Gather us in, the blind and the lame
Call to us now and we shall awaken
We shall arise at the sound of our name

We are the young, our lives are a mystery
We are the old who yearn for your face
We have been sung throughout all of history
Called to be light to the whole human race

Gather us in, the rich and the haughty
Gather us in, the proud and the strong
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly
Give us the courage to enter the song

Here we will take the wine and the water
Here we will take the bread of new birth
Here you shall call your sons and your daughters
Call us anew to be salt for the earth

Give us to drink the wine of compassion
Give us to eat the bread that is you
Nourish us well and teach us to fashion
Lives that are holy and hearts that are true

Not in the dark of buildings confining
Not in some heaven light years away
But here in this place the new light is shining
Now is the kingdom, now is the day

Gather us in and hold us forever
Gather us in and make us your own
Gather us in, all peoples together
Fire of love in our flesh and our bones
Fire of love in our flesh and our bones

Mark 9:2-9
Common English Bible

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

You know that if we were not in the middle of a pandemic, we would be taking a hike today after church. Jeffrey and I would take you up on the Parkway to Black Balsam.  We would walk that well worn path through the groves, then along the rocky path up into open meadows, all the way to the top of the Knob. And there we would sit wind blowing in our face and look out over these beautiful mountains. For that’s what Jesus did with three of his disciples.

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to the top of a high mountain. Mark’s gospel implies Jesus just wants to just get away from everything and everyone.  We have no idea which mountain this might have been. Mark only says that it was “high.”  But you know from experience, when you stand at the top of any high mountain, you can look out and see the world without anything blocking your view.  And this is exactly what happens in the gospel story, both literally, figuratively, and spiritually. The disciples are not only able to see the vastness of the world, but they are about to see clearly the vastness of their Teacher, Jesus. 

After climbing up to the top of a high mountain, there in that moment, Peter, James, and John see Jesus transformed. The first thing that catches their eyes are his clothes. Now Jesus clothes were not white. He wore ordinary clothes, a knee length tunic along with a wrap on top that was called a “mantle.” Both were made from undyed wool. The cloth would have been cleansed of dirt and excessive oil, but no amount of washing could have created the glistening intense white Jesus’ clothes became in that moment. The transformation of Jesus changed his clothes too. Imagine light shining through a translucent, colorless diamond. That’s how I imagine Jesus in that moment. Jesus becomes such an amazing bright light, that his clothes appear a pure and clean.

Jesus has not only  brought Peter, James, and John up to an unhindered view of the world, but Jesus has also brought them up to an unhindered view of God. In their midst shines the radiant light of God.  The boundary between the Human One and the Divine One is pulled aside. Peter, James, and John catch a short glimpse of God’s new work in the world. This “person” whom they chose to follow not so long ago is not merely another great prophet or teacher or a really dynamic speaker or a smart cookie or just a worker of miracles. In this rare moment, God pulls back the curtain, uncovers what has been hidden from human understanding and perspective and allows them to see the Divine God in human form.

That would have been enough, but there is more. The three and Jesus are joined in the moment by two well known Old Testament peeps:  Elijah and Moses. Most religious folk believed that when the time came for God to set the world aright again, Moses and Elijah would reappear. Moses represents the laws of God. Elijah represents the prophets. Two expressions of God’s love and care and order of this world. And now both are here with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t just represent the Law. Jesus doesn’t just represent the prophets. No, Jesus is God; Jesus is  the fulfilment of the Law and the hope of the prophets. The company Moses and Elijah bring to Jesus is unique, for they understand what Jesus’ disciples cannot comprehend. They meet Jesus in that moment offering comfort and encouragement.

Peter doesn’t know what to do. Neither do James nor John. But Peter feels that something must be done. Minds blown, terrified to the bone, Peter cannot sit still nor keep silence.  He starts babbling,  “Teacher, let’s build three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter wants to do something to acknowledge their presence, to mark this moment, to set the place apart.  Peter is scared out of his wits, but he thinks the magnificence display will last forever. Here, finally,  is the sign of the reign of God coming to earth. Jesus is radiant. Moses is here along with Elijah!  The time has come for God to rule the world! So let’s build some shrines for this awesome work of God! 

However, it doesn’t last. The radiance, the power, the pureness, the amazing joy, the terrifying moment is dulled by a cloud. All of us who have hiked these Blue Ridge Mountains know what this is like. You have relatives come in from out of town, pre-COVID, of course. They’re from Florida or Texas and haven’t seen mountain top vistas in real life, only on screensavers. You pack the car with the people and a picnic lunch and you head up to the Parkway. But the higher you go, the “foggier” it gets. However, it’s not fog, it’s the clouds. And the beautiful view of the mountains and the rolling valleys is nothing more than a tv screen from the 70’s looked like when it lost its signal. The clear unobstructed view of the world, of Jesus and Moses and Elijah is overshadowed by a cloud.

No longer able to see the Divine with their eyes, their ears now hear the voice of God speaking directly to them. “This is my beloved Son,” God says, “to whom you need to listen.”  The voice of God doesn’t say anything else. Then suddenly, all at once, without any warning, everything changes back to how it had been. Moses and Elijah gone. The radiant light of Jesus gone. His clothes become ordinary again. They can still see the world below them. And that’s where Jesus leads them, back down the mountain to join the others.  For there is more to God’s goodness and love and grace than just this burst of radiant glorious light. Now as they make their way back down the high mountain Jesus orders them not to tell anyone what they just saw. They will need to wait until Jesus has risen from the dead. This was an experience for their future good and ultimately for the good of the world.

The story of the  transfiguration lies central to the gospel of Mark. It is placed halfway between Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ resurrection. Right before the three disciples climb the mountain with Jesus, Jesus plainly told the disciples what the future looked like. He was going to have to suffer many things. He would be rejected by the religious authorities and leaders. He would be killed and then after three days, he would rise from the dead. Peter didn’t like what Jesus was saying. In fact, he took ahold of Jesus by the shoulders, looked him in the eye and scolded him. He was correcting Jesus giving him the pep talk. “You’re not going to die. We are here with you and we won’t let that happen. The authorities can’t lay a hand on you.” You can imagine what you would be saying to the one to whom you have pledged your life and all your ears hear is that they are going to be defeated. For that’s all that Peter could hear. He was focused on himself and this worldly life. Jesus told Peter and tells us, “You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”  You see, there is more to God’s goodness and love and grace than just the portion of our lives we live here on earth. Jesus tells all of them that this earthly life portion is just a portion. It is not by any means the full picture of life we have in God. The end of this portion of Jesus’ life on this earth won’t be pretty. He is going to be judged a criminal; he will be crucified, nailed to a cross, he will die hanging there. Jesus didn’t deserve such an ending. To our eyes and to our ears it appears that Jesus lost, that Jesus was defeated, or even that Jesus gave up. But this earthly portion of our lives coming to an end is not a punishment, nor a defeat, nor a resignation. It is just a part of the fullness of life that we have from God through Jesus Christ. Death of this earthly life is not the end, and the transfiguration of Jesus Christ so powerfully reminds us of of this very gift.

Jesus’ devotion to the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven eventually and inevitably provoked the powers of evil.  Fear, hatred, greed, and despair reared their ugly heads as Jesus lived out God’s righteousness and God’s love. When fear, hatred, greed, and despair invade our mind and our hearts, our thoughts and ideas become distorted, far removed from the thoughts of God. Fear, hatred, greed, and despair, they tempt us to create falsehoods and lies to cover up things. Fear, hatred, greed, and despair, they lead us to commit violence. Fear, hatred, greed, and despair, they push us to oppress others.  Fear, hatred, greed, and despair, they lead us to murderous responses to others, both literally and figuratively. Now if Jesus’ devotion to  God’s reign here on earth led to the uprooting of these powers, don’t you believe as we live here to bring God’s reign here on earth we too will be uprooting these powers.

Six verses before our reading for the morning, Jesus calls a crowd to gather. Here’s what he says to them in Mark 8:34.  “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” Jesus does not call us to live passive lives of love. Jesus does not call us to live good lives, make good choices, and to avoid evil. Living the Way of Jesus is not a private bearing of your personal woes for the sake of Jesus. Living the Way of the Jesus is an active pursuit of God’s reign now. Living the Way of the Jesus means pursuing God’s love for the world. Living the Way of Jesus means living out God’s love in the here and now.  Living the Way of Jesus means refusing the power games of domination, exploitation, and deception.

Throughout the gospel story, Jesus teaches us how to live in and under the reign of God wherever we are. And this powerful good news causes us to change what we think and how we live no matter who we are.  The voice of God says, “This is my beloved Son to whom you should listen.”  If we listen, we will hear about that blessed abundant full life God offers us always. For God’s goodness and love and grace is more than just a burst of glorious light. 

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 Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair
Author: Sarum Breviary, 1495. Trans. John Mason Neale
Tune: OLD HUNDREDTH LM (Louis Bourgeois)

1 O wondrous sight, O vision fair
of glory that the church shall share,
which Christ upon the mountain shows,
where brighter than the sun he glows!

2 From age to age the tale declare,
how with the three disciples there,
where Moses and Elijah meet,
the Lord holds converse high and sweet.

3 The law and prophets there have place,
two chosen witnesses of grace;
the Father’s voice from out the cloud
proclaims his only Son aloud.

4 With shining face and bright array
Christ deigns to manifest today
what glory shall be theirs above
who joy in God with perfect love.

5 And faithful hearts are raised on high
by this great vision’s mystery,
for which in joyful strains we raise
the voice of prayer, the hymn of praise.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:
may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The image comes from JESUS MAFA. Transfiguration, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48307 [retrieved February 8, 2021]. Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr (contact page: https://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr/contact).
  • The psalm was read by Stone from the Common English Bible.
  • We Have Come at Christ’s Own Bidding was played by Tracy on the organ and sung by Mindy.
  • The Call to Worship was posted on the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women website of the United Methodist Church.  It was read by Tonya, Alizabeth, Carmen, and Wren with the video compiled by Tonya.
  • Ka mana’o ‘I ‘O was sung by Mindy who accompanied herself on the ukulele and recorder.
  • The prayer for others was adapted by Tonya from a prayer written by Cally Booker printed in The Feast of the Transfiguration, Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, © 1988. It was read by Tracy.
  • The anthem was sung by Ally, Mindy, Elizabeth, Laura, Michelle and Tonya, accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Michelle on the guitar. Laura sang the opening solo and Ally sang the third verse solo.
  • O Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair was played by Tracy on the organ and sung by Mindy.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    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.

Coming through….
The limitlessness of God’s love and work is revealed through Jesus. This Sunday’s scriptures remind us to reach out to God through prayer and reflection as we work to stay focused on being God’s children which means we serve the world.

Faith in Christ sustains and restores us.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship

When we are stretched thin, challenged and doubting,
We walk with God.
When we are in the midst of the life-giving, the exciting and the nourishing,
We walk with God.
When we question every decision and when we are truly certain,
We walk with God.
When we walk with hesitancy or dance with enthusiasm,
We walk with God.
In the simple act of stilling minds and hearts for worship,
We walk with God.

Prayer of Adoration
Let us pray:

God of light and love,
warming February’s chill,
tempering the winds,
peppering hard ground
with early shoots of green
and hints of blossom,
we lift to you
the cold bones of winter
and hearts aflame with hope.

We praise you
for the Light
that has arrived with Jesus,
shining in the darkness,
unquenchable and true.

We praise you
for the hope of his presence,
guiding our feet,
lighting our pathway,
casting warming rays
and the glow of fulfilment.

We praise you
for the discomfort
of his searchlight beams,
concealing nothing,
truth-telling,
life-changing.

Examine us and know us, O God.
Drive out the darkness,
turn our hearts to you
and fill our souls
with the song of salvation,
with the message of your love.

Holy God, we worship you!
We sing your praise
now and forever.
Amen

Song of Praise
Praise the One who breaks the darkness
Author: Rusty Edwards
Tune: NETTLETON (anonymous)

1 Praise the One who breaks the darkness
With a liberating light.
Praise the One who frees the pris’ners,
Turning blindness into sight.
Praise the One who preached the gospel,
Healing ev’ry dread disease,
Calming storms and feeding thousands
With the very bread of peace.

2 Praise the One who blessed the children
With a strong yet gentle word.
Praise the One who drove out demons
With a piercing, two-edged sword.
Praise the one who brings cool water
To the desert’s burning sand.
From this well comes living water,
Quenching thirst in ev’ry land.

3 Praise the One true love incarnate:
Christ, who suffered in our place.
Jesus died and rose for many
That we may know God by grace.
Let us sing for joy and gladness,
Seeing what our God has done.
Praise the one redeeming glory;
Praise the One who makes us one.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Common English Bible

Praise the Lord!
Because it is good to sing praise to our God!
Because it is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!

The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem, gathering up Israel’s exiles.
God heals the brokenhearted
and bandages their wounds.
God counts the stars by number,
giving each one a name.
Our Lord is great and so strong!
God’s knowledge can’t be grasped!
The Lord helps the poor,
but throws the wicked down on the dirt!

Sing to the Lord with thanks;
sing praises to our God with a lyre!
God covers the skies with clouds;
God makes rain for the earth;
God makes the mountains sprout green grass.
God gives food to the animals—
even to the baby ravens when they cry out.
God doesn’t prize the strength of a horse;
God doesn’t treasure the legs of a runner.
No. The Lord treasures the people
who honor him,
the people who wait for his faithful love.

God hasn’t done that with any other nation;
those nations have no knowledge of God’s rules.

Praise the Lord!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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.

Anthem
This Little Light of Mine
Arranged by George Mabry

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Every day, I’m gonna let my little light shine.

On Monday, he gave me the gift of love,
On Tuesday peace come from above.
On Wednesday, told me to have more faith;
On Thursday, gave me a bit more grace.
On Friday, told me to watch and pray;
On Saturday, told me what to say.
On Sunday, gave me power divine,
Just to let my little light shine.

Mark 1:29-39
Common English Bible

After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them. That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him. Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!” He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Let me begin with a confession. I have been avoiding some of the lectionary readings from the Gospels that have healing stories. We are, after all, still in the throes of a global pandemic where almost 500k people have died because of the coronavirus in the last 13 months. I have avoided these healing stories not because I feel a need for us to ignore what they say but because they are often misused in ways that I don’t think Jesus intended. Today I will venture into the healings in Mark 1 convinced that we need a better way to think about prayer, healing, and death given our global pandemic.  

At our Wednesday night online Bible study this past week, we were discussing James 4:4 in which James (whoever he is?) warns against friendship with the world which can lead to becoming “God’s enemy.” It is a strikingly brash statement that needs some context to understand. It seems clear that in the 1st century when the book of James was written, Christians were a small and insignificant minority of citizens in the larger Greco-Roman Empire that considered the pantheon of gods and goddesses as the “normal” understanding of religion. In that context, it is easy to imagine that James is teaching the same kind of distance from pagan gods and idols that other writers of the New Testament also required. In other words, for Christians in the first century, “friendship with the world” likely meant keeping the traditional idols of your family’s favorite goddess, or participating in the local festival to the patron god of your city, or thinking of Jesus as being like all the other sons of Greek gods as though he were somehow like Perseus who was half-human and half-god because his father was the god Zeus and his mother was a woman named Danaë.  

If that’s part of the caution James is offering Christians back then, what does it mean today for us to be warned about being a friend of the world and possibly becoming God’s enemy. Or to say it differently, how are we tempted to be friends of the world and end up embracing ideas that are counter to a Gospel-centered faith? Other people likely have some good answers to that question. I want to put forward these three things, from my perspective, that we have let our “world” define for us that are simply out of line with Jesus’ teachings. We have adopted too much of the world’s teaching on wealth, race, and health.  

To be honest, Christianity’s struggle with wealth has been a problem for millennia. But it’s also the easiest to critique. The biblical teaching is that no one is defined as more holy because they have more money. No one is cursed by God because they are poor.  Any reading of what Jesus says about the poor, his criticism of wealth, his focus on generosity and giving…these are clearly at odds with the American ideal of having mounds of money and living in luxury. The Gospel highlights generosity, the American Dream encourages greed. James thus warns us to consider that our money may be making us an enemy of God. Some money is necessary; too much desire for money makes us enemies of God. 

Likewise the Gospel is clear that one’s race, as defined by one’s country of origin, or language, or citizenship status, or family has nothing to do with God’s preference for any one group. The starting point for this conversation in the New Testament is the dividing line between Jew and Gentile. Over and over and over again the Bible denies the “racist” idea that God privileges Jews over Gentiles. From John 3:16’s “for God so loved THE WORLD…” to Peter’s clear confession “God shows no partiality…” but accepts “anyone from any nation…” (Acts 10:34-35) the Christian scriptures in no way supports any teaching that one race is more blessed, entitled, holy, or beloved of God. It should be clear to all Christians, that racism as well as race privilege are actively taught to us by our culture and will make us an enemy of God. 

But then we come to the subject of health, and here it may seem that the way is less clear. Our current pandemic and its firestorm through the US sets us on edge. It is like we have been on a year-long airplane flight. Perhaps like me you have that feeling, every time you board a plane, that it is possible that this plane will crash and we will all die. The odds are low, but it is not impossible; the fear is not debilitating but it should be acknowledged. Really faithful Christians are not immune to airplace accidents. I know this to be true in part because my first cousin was on the US Air flight that crashed while attempting to land in Charlotte in 1994. Facing the pandemic has the same effect. For the last year, every fever might be COVID, every face-to-face meeting might share a viral load that is infectious, every trip to the grocery is a possible transmission encounter. These are not irrational, in fact the exact opposite is true—they are both logical and proven as evidenced by the 27 million times it has happened in the US in the last year. Given our new context for disease and health, we are today in a new environment for understanding the relationship between faith and health, or in this case between Jesus and healing. With this in mind, let’s consider our story today from Mark 1:29-39. 

Jesus is in Capernaum with his first apostles. When he goes to Simon’s house, it turns out that Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. No big deal, it’s just a fever, or so we used to think. Just take some Advil or Tylenol, maybe the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic, and the fever will go away. In Jesus’ day they had no medicine and physicians only treated illnesses with no real expectation that they could heal any fever. It is not difficult, then, to imagine the people in Capernaum living with the concern that a simple fever may in fact lead to death. So when Jesus enters Simon’s house and he discovers that this woman has a fever, this healing story becomes a way for Mark to tell us something about Jesus. Since Mark has no Christmas story, he identifies Jesus’ divine nature in chapter 1 this way: no one can heal a fever but God; no one can cast out a demon but God; no one can cure leprosy but God. Since Jesus healed a woman with a fever, and cast out demons, and cured a man of his leprosy, he is, therefore, divine. In other words, Mark’s healing stories here are to identify something about Jesus. What they say about our health in general is not the main part of the story.  

Look with me at what Jesus does after a few healings in Capernaum. Verses 35-39 read, “Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, ‘Everyone’s looking for you!’ He replied, ‘Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.’ He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.”  

What these verses tell us is that Jesus left many people in Capernaum un-healed. In our contemporary lingo, Jesus takes some “me time” and goes into the wilderness. For Jesus this is a spiritual retreat and not just a stress-relieving hike. He goes away alone to pray. He recognizes that spiritual fitness is an exercise more important than what we find at the gym or track. I’m not going to tell you that this means God wants us to all get up before sunrise to pray and this is the preferred method for any real Christian to have a meaningful devotional life. What is important here is not Jesus’ method or time of prayer, but the intentionality of prayer and the purposeful practice of a healthy spiritual life.  

In this way, our current times have led us away from a biblical understanding of health. We are easily led to believe that physical health is more important than spiritual health. We want people to pray for us when we’re sick (and this is a good practice and something we encourage) but we don’t often admit even to ourselves when we are spiritually unhealthy. And when we do, we find little help from the world. When society takes on spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, they become defined by secular purposes and outcomes. In other words, spirituality does not have a spiritual outcome or deepen a relationship with God. Instead we tend to create a measureable productivity even for prayer. That’s a problem. To use a cultural example, it has become common to teach “mindfulness” in schools, which is an adaptation of a Zen Buddhist practice. The purpose for school students has no spiritual goal even though its only purpose in Buddhism is spiritual. For students, however, it has an educational aim. As one advocate for mindfulness states, its purpose is to help school students “flourish academically, socially, and emotionally”. Hear me clearly: I’m not opposed to teaching mindfulness in schools to children even if it comes from Buddhism. I am emphasizing, however, that spiritual practices in our Christian faith are ends to themselves. To spend time in prayer or some other spiritual practice is not necessarily assessed based upon measurable outcomes. In this way, prayer is a “waste of time” to borrow a phrase from Marva Dawn. The purpose of prayer is not to lower my blood pressure, or to help me relax. Prayer is not one of the “5 Steps to a Healthy You.” It is to encounter God personally and genuinely.  We are called to pray for the sake of praying, to have time to hear and listen to the Holy Spirit of God so that we’re not just hoping for a selfish dream. Or as the great Thomas Merton said, to intentionally “entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God—to pray for your own discovery [of God],” as Thomas Merton said. If we want an outcome to prove prayer effective, that goal is immeasurable and by our world’s standard a “waste of time.”  

If we go back to the book of James chapter 4 again, he says that prayer is wasteful in a different way. He warns that prayer that seeks to fulfill our own “cravings” (in the CEB), or prayer that is from “evil intention” are wasted. This time, James calls prayer a waste because it fails to seek God but rather is used as a tool to pry something out of God for our own end. It puts our desire first, our need takes priority, our craving seeks to be satisfied at God’s action in response to our prayer. Prayer that seeks to convince God to give us what we want is not prayer but trying to bend God’s will to ours. Every prayer to win the lottery or the Superbowl is, in James’ words, a waste. That’s prayer that displays our attempt to control God when instead, genuine prayer begins with humility and a hope to participate in God’s Way rather than ours. That’s why in the Lord’s prayer Jesus tells us to pray “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” to “hallow” God’s name and not ours, to forgive because God forgave us. Prayer’s origins and hopes are to know God better long before it is ever to be healed or blessed. Prayer is meaningful, Jesus seems to be teaching us, when it comes as a result of our reliance on God, when it seeks a deepened relationship with God so as to better live God’s Way in this world. At least it is easy to infer that is why Jesus retreats to pray in Mark 1.  

We must recognize, however, that in heading out of town in the dark of the morning, Jesus left some people behind still sick. Someone in Capernaum likely died after Jesus left and went on to the other cities. It turns out that Jesus did not heal everyone. Why? Jesus certainly healed some people who were sick, but his purpose was not to come to Earth and be a physician alone. He is becoming famous in the Gospels for his healing, so much so that I think he left Capernaum so that the emphasis would not be on his healing but on his teaching about salvation. Jesus is our Savior always, but not our medicine for good health. If the only reason we become a Christian is because we think it will make us “healthy, wealthy, and wise,” then we need a course correction to our Christian journey through life. Faith is not a protection against illness. Following Jesus is not a guarantee of health. Just praying that we won’t end up with COVID is not an exercise in faith in God. It’s a reckless attempt to test God based upon a flawed understanding of faith that has been defined by the world around us rather than the Bible.  

From the very beginnings of Genesis to the book of Revelation, hundreds of examples of faithful God-serving neighbor-loving people die too soon, experience serious illness or crises, and suffer in this life. In Genesis just after the Garden story, the son of Adam and Eve who most pleased God in worship, Abel, was killed. He had more faith than his brother, and he died. Jumping to the end of the text, Revelation tells us that faithful Christians who hold their faith will likely die, but they should be faithful anyway because the emperor can kill but he cannot take away our salvation. What it says directly is this: “Don’t be afraid of what you are going to suffer… Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). 

People who think they can pray “a hedge of protection” around those who are sick are often  reflecting an American cultural understanding of health and not a biblical one. This kind of thinking reduces health to a faith-test or an effective prayer exercise. It teaches us that to pray and have faith is to protect us from illness. That’s not a Christian truth. It is both not biblical and likely sinful. I sigh when I read about a popular study in which the writer describes prayer as “storming the gates of heaven” in order to, as the marketing for her book says, learn the “secret to praying prayers that really ‘work.’” These are disappointing because they equate good health with good faith. They dilute prayer into its measurable result. That’s not just a waste, it’s dangerous. This kind of theology puts every Christian with a chronic illness, every parent who loses a child to disease, every family member reeling from a sudden deadly accident, every Christian and/or caregiver of someone with cancer or Alzheimer’s or MS, each of the 500k families who are grieving death by COVID… it puts them all either in the category of “God caused your illness/death” or “you don’t have the right faith” or “your prayers are not effective because you are not praying right.” No —  a thousand times, no.  

Why does Jesus not heal everyone, either in the Gospels or now? I don’t know and neither do you nor does the person who writes the books we read. Whether we remain sick or become healed, our hope is in God’s salvation rather than our physical health and longevity. We can take comfort that the fragility of health and life is not a human weakness in the eyes of God. Disease is not God’s judgment on a lack of faith or the presence of sin. Death is neither a failure of faith nor an end – it is another beginning of life with God that is unfiltered by our human limits.  Jesus understands that healing illnesses is not more important that bringing salvation. That leaves those who live with illness and caregiving and grief with a hope beyond this present suffering. The miracle of wholeness and healing is God’s salvation. If we put our hope in medical care and treatment, it will one day let us all down.   

So at the end of this story in Mark, Jesus leaves Capernaum to go to other cities — not to heal more people but to preach the good news. He leaves behind some who are sick knowing that illness is not an impediment to salvation. Disease is not a judgment against someone’s faith. Healing when it does happen does not come because that sick person had more faith, prayed the right prayers, or somehow trusted more and sinned less. Our human mortality does not offer a commentary on God’s justice or our faith. Were that the case, then those 500k people who have died from the coronoavirus would not include any “real” Christians. Try saying that, and defending it without giving up practically every dimension of Christian teaching. You can’t. 

Please keep praying for people with COVID, those in the hospital, our family who have long-term chronic diseases. Pray for their comfort. Pray for their hope. And, yes, pray for their healing. Just know this: whether healing comes or not, it is not bestowed as an act of God’s preference, nor is it a commentary on God’s love, nor does the ongoing disease in any way diminish the certainty of our salvation. Anyone, literally anyone, who tells you otherwise is speaking as one who is not God’s friend.  

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
Guide My Feet
Tune: GUIDE MY FEET
African American Traditional

1 Guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

2 Hold my hand while I run this race,
hold my hand while I run this race,
hold my hand while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

3 I’m your child while I run this race,
I’m your child while I run this race,
I’m your child while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

4 Stand by me while I run this race,
Stand by me while I run this race,
Stand by me while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

5 Search my heart while I run this race,
Search my heart while I run this race,
Search my heart while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

6 Guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:
may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The image is a photo taken by Stefan S uploaded to Flickr on April 8, 2018.
  • The call to worship was written by Fiona Barker printed in Winter Liturgical Resource for November, December and January, ed. by Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, © 2016.
  • The opening prayer was written Louise Gough printed in Spring Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April, ed. by Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, © 2019.
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy and accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The anthem was sung by Ally, Mindy, Elizabeth, Laura, and Tonya, accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Mindy on the cowbell.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    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.

Who’s in charge? To what authority will you defer? After which authority will you follow? These are the questions upon which we reflect in worship today. May the following prayers, scripture readings, music, and reflections serve as a guide in your worship of God today to help you focus your heart on the Lord.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. Genesis 8:22

The trees of the wood await spring’s re-clothing;
the branches will be green again:
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

The sun will rise higher in our skies;
its light will be warm upon our faces once more.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

The days will grow longer;
light will push back the darkness.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

Seeds will germinate and grow;
the flowers will bud and bloom.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

The ears of the wheat will form and ripen;
the grass will grow to feed the cattle.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

Swallows will return and fill the skies;
birds will fill the land with song.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

Opening Prayer
Let us pray,
As the days lengthen
Alpha and Omega, you were there at our beginning
and you will be there at our end.
Coasts and islands wait for the dawn,
the dark sea surrounds us like waters in the womb,
like the last river we have to cross.
We wait, trusting, seeing the sky lightening, horizons opening up,
colours of dawn dancing across restless waves.

Spirit of God, in Jesus, you shared our birth and our mortality,
and you are present with us now. We wait.
The clouds become bright, the rocks glow,
our hearts catch fire with sudden joy – the sun rises.
Rise in our hearts, we pray, today and every day.
God of creation, you greet us every new day,
and, as the days lengthen, we see green shoots of spring;
snowdrops, faithful in their presence year by year;
lengthening days and sunlit moments,
all these speak to us of your love.
We praise you for these signs of your life-giving Spirit
and for Jesus, who embodied that love,
who came to share our human lives,
calling men and women to follow him,
and to be salt and light in their communities;
Jesus who listened and shared meals, taught and healed,
walked country tracks and city streets in the land that we call Holy;
who kept the faith and challenged apathy and abuse of power;
who was rejected and reviled, tortured and nailed to a cross.
Who died.
And who rose again, like the sun in the morning,
so all the world can see that your love is stronger than death.
We praise you now in the power of the Spirit,
enlivening, encouraging – and present with us now. Amen

Song of Praise
God of Grace and God of Glory
Author: Henry Emerson Fosdick
Tune: CWM RHONDDA

1 God of grace and God of glory,
on your people pour your pow’r.
Crown your ancient Church’s story,
bring its bud to glorious flow’r.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.

2 Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn your Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us,
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

3 Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.

4 Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore.
Let the gift of your salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving you whom we adore,
serving you whom we adore.

Psalm 111
Common English Bible

Praise the Lord!
I thank the Lord with all my heart
in the company of those who do right, in the congregation.
The works of the Lord are magnificent;
they are treasured by all who desire them.
God’s deeds are majestic and glorious.
God’s righteousness stands forever.
God is famous for his wondrous works.
The Lord is full of mercy and compassion.
God gives food to those who honor him.
God remembers his covenant forever.
God proclaimed his powerful deeds to his people
and gave them what had belonged to other nations.
God’s handiwork is honesty and justice;
all God’s rules are trustworthy—
they are established always and forever:
they are fulfilled with truth and right doing.
God sent redemption for his people;
God commanded that his covenant last forever.
Holy and awesome is God’s name!
Fear of the Lord is where wisdom begins;
sure knowledge is for all who keep God’s laws.
God’s praise lasts forever!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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.

Anthem
Undivided Mystery
Author: Bev Easterling
Composer: Mark Schweizer

Holy Father, Saving Son,
Blessed Spirit, Three in One:
Undivided mystery,
Author of eternity.

Loving God, Anointed Son,
Eternal Spirit, Three in One:
Word Incarnate, Well Beloved,
Heav’nly King and Lord of Love.

Mighty God, Redeeming Son,
With the Spirit, Three in One:
As the sacred Trinity
Alpha and Omega be.

Mark 1:21-28
Common English Bible

Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.” “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out. Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

Listen to Tonya’s reflection or read below.

The gospel of Mark demonstrates the power of the ministry and mission of Jesus through the telling of the story of Jesus.  Through each story we see and hear the kin-dom of God breaking into our world. Mark offers no explanations or dogmas or theories. Mark doesn’t outline theologies or rules and regulations. Instead Mark writes down the story of Jesus knowing that the stories themselves are full and meaningful enough to attest to the amazing ministry and mission of Jesus. This is a quick paced gospel with exciting news. We are invited on an adventure into the amazing revelation that God is interested in us, God has come among us, and God offers free grace to everyone!

One of Mark’s favorite words  to use is the word immediately.  Just in chapter 1 alone Mark uses immediately 11 times and the passage for this morning contains three. Mark uses this word like a drumbeat. It emphasizes moments and increases the momentum of the story moving forward into more momentaneous moments. This aural drumbeat gets lost in translation. Did you catch how many times I used a form of the word moment in the previous sentence?  In English composition classes we are taught not to use the same word over and over again.  Repeating the same word too often is poo-pooed. So translations clean up Mark for our English ears and eyes. “Immediately” becomes “then” or “at once” or “when” or “just then” and yes, sometimes “immediately.”  However, if the same word is translated multiple ways, we don’t lose the meaning of what is being said, but we do lose that insistent gospel drumbeat. So let’s “immediately” turn our hearts and minds to the gospel this morning.🙂

In this Sunday’s passage, Jesus and his newly called disciples travel to the village of Capernaum. Capernaum was a town or village of perhaps 600 people. “Immediately on the Sabbaths” Jesus goes to the synagogue and he teaches. Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus is teaching. Mark doesn’t share with us any information about the audience. But we do know Jesus’ teachings blow their minds and astonish them. Jesus’ teaching is different and they are amazed by it.

Synagogues were stone block buildings a little bigger than the footprint of our the concreate area behind the church where we have held outdoor worship (80 by 60 feet). Synagogues were something akin to community centers. The building functioned as court, and as places for political discussions. Archives were stored in synagogues. Children were educated there. And of course this was the place where the Torah was read aloud and taught by rabbis, and it was a place of prayer. Regular meetings were held in the synagogues on the Sabbaths.  No work was done on the Sabbath out of respect and honor to God. It was a day set apart as holy unto God as defined by the 10 commandments. Back then there were two sure signs of your Jewish faith and your commitment to God–circumcision and keeping the Sabbath.

Without hesitation (think “immediately”), Jesus attended synagogue services while in Capernaum. And he was called upon by the synagogue officials to teach. That he was invited to teach is not surprising to the people of Capernaum. But what surprised everyone was the manner in which Jesus taught. The lessons Jesus shared with them set him apart from everyone else. Normally, rabbis taught by sharing the words of the Torah and then explaining them by referencing the teachings of other rabbis.  The teachers of the law (also called “scribes”) were professional experts in the Torah. They studied, explained and applied the Torah to specific situations. But Jesus did not teach this way. Jesus didn’t reference other rabbis nor was he a trained professional expert in the law.

Instead, Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is Divine come to live among us. Jesus is a part of that undivided Mystery of which the choir sang. This revelation of the Undivided Mystery, this Jesus does not need to consult any human authority to bring truth to those who listen. Jesus speaks on the basis of his own authority.  Nothing less could happen than they be profoundly impacted by this experience, for it is with Jesus–with God. Were they astounded because the teaching was extraordinary? Or were they astounded because the teaching was bold, true, and prophetic? Were they astounded because Jesus was teaching them something new, something they had never considered before? Or were they astounded because Jesus’ teaching challenged their safe sanitized understandings of God forcing them to rebirth their imaginations about God? I would say, all of the above is possible.

What if Jesus were to come literally and physically among us and teach us today? What would astound us? Would we be astounded merely by God being present with us? Would we be astounded because we were hearing something we had never heard before?  Would we be astounded because Jesus’ teaching was redirecting our ideas about truth, justice, compassion, and love? Yes, all of the above is possible.

In the midst of  teaching, an impure spirit interrupts Jesus.  (An impure spirit or  unclean spirit is synonymous with demon.)  It wasn’t the man that cried out, it was the impure spirit. The influence of the impure spirit is at odds with a liberating God who came, in no small part, to set the captive free. This impure spirit has a hold on this man–mind, body, and/or soul. And this human needs to be set freed from its grip. This kind of work is central to the gospel — setting people free from whatever keeps them away from God and restoring God’s vision for all humanity.  The action does not happen without opposition. The unclean spirit identifies Jesus by name and place, and as the “Holy One of God.” The first thing Jesus does is silence this enemy of humanity. Jesus takes away the voice of the enemy and the grip loosens. Then Jesus demands the spirit to come out and the man is set free. The kin-dom of God which will come one day in all its fullness, this kin-dom has broken into the world and the captives are being set free. In the words of Zechariah 13:4 , On that day I will remove from the land the unclean spirit.  This day has come with Jesus Christ.  When Jesus commands the impure spirit to come out of this man here at the very beginning of the story of Jesus, it is like a flag for the kin-dom of God has been staked on earth. The territory claimed was not Capernaum or even the synagogue, but the territory claimed is the person who is possessed, oppressed, who is suffering, who is pulled away from God. And in this act, Jesus reclaims the holy place of humanity. 

If Jesus were to come to be literally and physically among us today, what impure spirits would he silence, rebuke and exorcise? What powers would Jesus silence? From what evil grip would Jesus set us free? What impure and unclean spirits torture us, overshadow us, overwhelm us? What evil is attempting to stand between you and God?  What addictions, habits, apathies, or attitudes are holding us back, pulling us away from the kin-dom of God? What evil powers among us would Jesus command to leave?

I’ve led us astray a little bit for I’ve seemed to imply that Jesus being among us is something like a dream or a distant hope instead of a present reality. Jesus has full authority over heaven and earth. But that authority is not something in the past only or only for the future. That authority is present now. God is interested in people. Jesus’ life shows us this. God cares about us, loves us, seeks us out to save us. A flag has been staked, a kin-dom is being built where we will live with God forever. And that life is not in the past or only in the future, that life is for today. God is at our side and all that causes us pain and suffering is painful and alien and antithetical to God. God in Jesus enters our sufferings. Jesus’ ministry shows a defiance of the destructive powers that enslave humanity. God doesn’t like them and God is against all that would rob us of the fullness of life God would have us experience. So I need to change the questions. What astounds you today about Jesus’ teachings? And what impure spirits today are keeping you away from God?  Jesus is still teaching us. Faith is not to be a static part of our lives, but something that should be growing deeper day by day. And yes, there are still impure spirits getting in the way of us living the Way. As in the 1st century as is today and will be tomorrow, Jesus will silence them, rebuke them and cast them away so that we might know that God loves us and is always at our sides.

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 Healer, We Have Come
Author: Fred Pratt Green
Tune: CANONBURY LM (Schumann)

1 O Christ, the healer, we have come
to pray for health, to plead for friends.
How can we fail to be restored,
when reached by love that never ends?

2 From every ailment flesh endures
our bodies clamor to be freed.
Yet in our hearts we would confess
that wholeness is our deepest need.

3 In conflicts that destroy our health
we recognize the world’s disease;
Our common life declares our ills.
Is there no cure, O Christ, for these?

4 Grant that we all, made one in faith,
in your community may find
The wholeness that, enriching us,
shall reach and prosper humankind.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:
may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The image is from Our Lady of Mercy Lay Carmelite Community website.
  • The call to worship was written by Simon Taylor printed in Winter Liturgical Resource for November, December and January, ed. by Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications.
  • The opening prayer was written Jan Sutch Pickard printed in Spring Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April, ed. by Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications.
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The anthem was sung by Mindy, Elizabeth, Laura, and Tonya, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    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.

This week’s readings make compelling arguments for us to drop everything when we are invited to a deeper relationship with God. It can be challenging to leave behind what we once found reliable. Thankfully, God is persistent!

May the following prayers, scripture readings, music, and reflections serve as a guide in your worship of God today to help you focus your heart on the Lord.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship
The invitation is given to every person by Jesus Christ:
“Come to me! Follow me! Be my disciples!”
We come to this place, to this time,
at the invitation of Jesus Christ.

In the name of Christ,
we accept the invitation to discipleship.
In the name of Christ,
as his disciples, we worship and praise God
.
In the midst of a world where cruelty abounds,
we proclaim the God of Compassion.
In the midst of despair that threatens to swallow up
whole lives, whole peoples,
we proclaim the God of Hope.

In the midst of indifference and apathy,
we proclaim the God of Love.
Come, let us worship together
and share our witness of God’s living presence in the world.

Opening Prayer
In you alone we put our hope,
God the Father, Creator and Sustainer,
who gives all good things
seen and unseen.

In you alone we put our hope,
God the Son, Saviour and Redeemer,
who died for our sins
and rose again.

In you alone we put our hope,
God the Spirit, Teacher and Comforter,
who moves us to sing
“Our God reigns!”
In you alone we put our hope.

Song of Praise
Let Us with a Joyful Mind
Author: John Milton; Adapt. Thomas Troeger
Tune: INNOCENTS (The Parish Choir)

Let us, with a joyful mind,
praise our God forever kind,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Newmade earth was filled with light
through God’s all commanding might,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Dazzling bright the sun obeys
God who shines with brighter rays,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Stars and moon that spangle night
all depend on heaven’s light,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Creatures of the sea and land
all are fed by God’s own hand,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Therefore with a joyful mind,
praise our God forever kind,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Psalm 62:5-12
Common English Bible

Oh, I must find rest in God only,
because my hope comes from him!
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
my stronghold!—I will not be shaken.
My deliverance and glory depend on God.
God is my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
All you people: Trust in him at all times!
Pour out your hearts before him!
God is our refuge! Selah

Human beings are nothing but a breath.
Human beings are nothing but lies.
They don’t even register on a scale;
taken all together they are lighter than a breath!
Don’t trust in violence;
don’t set false hopes in robbery.
When wealth bears fruit,
don’t set your heart on it.
God has spoken one thing—
make it two things—
that I myself have heard:
that strength belongs to God,
and faithful love comes from you, my Lord—
and that you will repay
everyone according to their deeds.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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.

Anthem
Lead Gently, Lord
Author: Paul Laurence Dunbar
Composer: Clif Cason

Lead gently, Lord, and slow,
For oh, my steps are weak,
And ever as I go,
Some soothing sentence speak;

That I may turn my face
Through doubt’s obscurity
toward thine abiding-place,
E’en tho’ I cannot see.

For lo, the way is dark;
Through mist and cloud I grope,
Save for that fitful spark,
The little flame of hope.

Lead gently, Lord, and slow,
For fear that I may fall;
I know not where to go
Unless I hear thy call.

My fainting soul doth yearn
For thy green hills afar;
So let thy mercy burn-
My greater, guiding star!

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Common English Bible

The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.) Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant.

God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.

Mark 1:14-20
Common English Bible

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I admit to being an optimist. Those who know me well are aware of the parent from which I inherit this disposition. As an optimist, then, I hear people state “Murphy’s Law” — “anything that can go wrong will” — as a call to preparation rather than defeat. If we are told something will fail eventually, then we can prepare for its failure, or not trust its permanance, or not pity ourselves at its loss. Every new car will eventually need to be repaired and later replaced. We will dread its unreliability at the end and likely hate this thing we once loved. Knowing that ahead of time helps us balance our expectations and desires. Murphy’s Law can apply in this way to everything from tech devices to careers to pets and even friends. 

Yet as a true optimist, I am aware of Murphy’s Law’s reverse truth, sometimes referred to a Yhprum’s Law (“Yhprum” being “Murphy” spelled backwards) which states that “if anything can go right it will, eventually.” This maxim too is a call to preparation. It allows us to consider lost opportunity as a one-time failure but not a final sentence of doom. All it takes is one person who wants to hire me, just one manager’s email that begins with “I’m delighted to offer you the job.” It will happen one day so prepare for it. 

I want to apply this same principle, optimistic though it may be, to our readings from Jonah and Mark today. Here’s what I hope you take away from this sermon: One day God will speak to you. It will happen. Eventually. Be prepared to hear and respond. In fact, since we don’t control what or when or how God speaks, the only thing we can control is how we respond. So be ready to say “yes” even though it will change you.      

Jonah 

Jonah heard the word of God. I honestly don’t know how. I can’t explain how the prophets heard God, whether they experienced an audible voice or not, but it was understandable and seemingly without doubt from God. “Go to Nineveh and speak these words,” is what Jonah understands God to say. Jonah hears and then has a choice to make. Honestly, his first choice was to do the opposite of what God said. That’s why after Jonah boarded the boat headed away from Nineveh God sent the storm at sea, and the great swallowing fish. Neither of these (the storm or the fish) were God’s punishment of Jonah but instead became a way for God to give Jonah a second chance. When we start reading Jonah’s story in chapter 3, God’s message hasn’t changed, and Jonah hears it again and still has a choice to make. This time he follows the divine request to go to Nineveh and tell. Given what we hear about him in chapter 4, it’s clear that he’s not enthusiastic about his brief career as a prophet. In fact, if I had to describe Jonah’s attitude I would call him petulant and boorish. Yet he fulfills God’s request and in that way furthers God’s work in Nineveh. Always remember that the substance of God’s word and God’s way are of more importance than the personality or proclivities of the prophet or preacher or disciple. Because Jonah lets the words of God move him to action, the people of Nineveh expand our concept of “children of God.” Though they are not Jewish, though they live in a “foreign city,” though they haven’t heard the Torah or the preaching of the prophets, God loves them whether Jonah does or not.  

The People of Nineveh 

Like Jonah, the people of Nineveh hear the word of God. This time we know how God spoke and how they heard it. The voice of God came out of Jonah’s mouth as it uttered God’s message. What prophets have in confidence the rest of us must make up for in trust. The prophets are certain of God’s message knowing its origin, while we have to test to see if the words we hear as proclamation are God’s words or not. Some people find, through prayer and scripture, words to speak that help us hear God’s call, and others can unknowingly tell us what God wants us to hear. The people of Nineveh hear God’s word through Jonah and then have a choice to make. They willingly make the right choice.   

The people of Nineveh in many ways represent us. We are not Jewish nor born in the Promised Land. We are foreigners and Gentiles. At the same time, we are heartened that God’s beloved community of saints is not defined by looks or language or location. The only restriction on God’s call is either to refuse to hear it, or defy any meaningful response. Although Jonah was not from Nineveh, his meager message was received with enough truth from God that the people responded. We don’t know the sins they confessed or the prayers they uttered before God. Yet fast and pray they did. They all did. From the king of Nineveh to the domesticated livestock, from the head to the herd. They sought God’s forgiveness with utter humility – sackcloth for clothes, ashes on their heads, no food or drink to bring them comfort. They felt the burden of their sin and each itch of skin or grumble of the gut poked and proded at their need for God’s forgiveness. They heard God’s word through Jonah and responded – not to Jonah but to God. God not only heard their prayers but read their hearts. The people prayed, yes, but they also changed. We would say they repented. The translation we have of verse 10 simply says “they ceased their evil behavior.” That’s repentance. Again, the people heard God and made a choice. Their prayers were not words that they simply said in order to either trick God or make a demand of God. A single prayer spoken lacks substance by itself. We don’t speak magic when we pray to God. And we don’t cross our fingers behind our back, even figuratively speaking. “God forgive me” is a great prayer unless we don’t really intend to end our sinful behavior. “God I’m sorry” is meaningful except for when it actually means, “God I’m sorry I was caught and now let me convince you to forgive me so I won’t feel guilty.” The people of Nineveh are not giving us any “method” to achieving forgiveness from God. Instead, they demonstrate where a genuine response to God leads. They will not stay in sackcloth for long, they will eventually eat and drink again, but they seem truly to have turned from their evil ways to God’s Way. They can go back to farming and blacksmithing and shepherding and cooking. But they have chosen not to go back to sin, or evil, or life before God’s word moved them to action. 

Peter and Andrew, James and John 

If we jump ahead in time historically to the Gospel of Mark’s story of Jesus, we find that some of the people who hear Jesus speak believed that they heard God’s words. Isn’t it so much more certain that we hear God’s words through Jesus than wondering about a transcendent divine appearance. Divine encounters on this side of the thin veil between the physical and the spiritual will sometimes come, but in the meantime, the words of Jesus say things we must hear as the words of God.  

Simon and Andrew are at work and they hear God’s voice in this Jesus from Nazareth. They were fishermen, rowing their boats and casting their nets as a business that supported their families and fed many others. The Sea of Galilee was the primary source of meat and protein for thousands of people so long ago. The heat and weather of the Middle East meant that herds were less profitable than fishing, although, to be sure, sheep and goats played their economic role. The lake was, nevertheless, a reliable source of fish in all seasons and therefore both nutrition and income. So when we hear of Simon and Andrew, and add to that the story of James and John, consider that they were not fishing on their day off – it was not a hobby or a relaxing weekend on the water. They were at work and heard God’s word through Jesus’ call and they had a choice to make. That choice changed them—they left their jobs and hometowns and reasonable comfort. Fortunately, it seems they were prepared to respond. Unlike Jonah, these disciples didn’t need a second calling. Maybe they had heard John preaching by the Jordan, and they remember their Jewish teachings about the Messiah, and they were prepared to choose to follow should they have the chance. Well, the opportunity came, Jesus spoke their names, and they responded by leaving their jobs, and their father (in the case of James and John) and went with Jesus. These disciples don’t pray and fast about their decision, perhaps because they had already committed to God in prayer that, given the opportunity to hear God’s voice, they would say “yes.” They were, in this way, prepared disciples already. Maybe one morning as they were putting away their nets, James said to John, “I pray that God will send the Messiah soon. And if I have the chance, I will follow God’s Servant. I will not let wealth and work prevent me from participating in God’s Way. I sincerely hope I can see that day and hear God’s voice. One day, maybe. If not me, then I pray it will be you. If possible, maybe it could be both of us.” Well, James, if anything can go right, it will, eventually. God called and you responded.  

The Rest of Us 

Like Jonah, and the people of Nineveh, and the apostles of Jesus, one day we will hear God’s word. It will happen or perhaps it already has. Certainly most of us have heard the call to repent, believe, and be baptized. Yet if that is the end of what we hear from God, then we are less than God intends for we, too, hear God’s words and have a choice to make. Do we follow them? Do we change our actions, our choices, our desires, our hearts? Do we leave behind what we once thought defined us? Do we pray and fast, or just pray and pretend? Just like it is impossible to explain how Jonah heard God’s words, it is unpredictable how any one of us will hear God next. Perhaps we will hear the very voice of God, either “still and small” as the Psalm describes, or startling and courageous as a Wild Goose as the Celtic Christians described the Holy Spirit. Like the people of Nineveh, we sometimes hear God’s words in each other’s messages when they reflect and resemble the heart of God. And we all have the Gospels to help us hear the words of Jesus, which are no small wonder and certainly not to be ignored by those who call ourselves Christian. So hear this one and all, not because I think I’m speaking God’s word but because it is what I hear this day from the Gospel – be prepared to hear God’s words and make a choice to follow them. Whenever they come and whatever call they make. God’s words will come to you and me. Eventually. For God still calls disciples to follow, and to love, and to offer grace, and to be kind, and to reconcile differences, and to make peace, and to overcome injustice, and to heal and pray and hope and care. Be ready to respond, for we will hear God’s voice. Maybe even today. Amen. 

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
You Walk along Our Shoreline
Author: Sylvia Dunstan
Tune: SALLEY GARDENS (traditional Irish melody)

1 You walk along our shoreline
When land meets unknown sea.
We hear your voice of power,
“Now come and follow me.
And if you still will follow
Through storm and wave and shoal,
Then I will make you fishers
But of the human soul.”

2 You call us, Christ, to gather
The people of the earth.
We cannot fish for only
Those lives we think have worth.
We spread your net of gospel
Across the water’s face,
Our boat a common shelter
For all found by your grace.

3 We cast our net, O Jesus;
We cry the kingdom’s name;
We work for love and justice;
We learn to hope through pain.
You call us, Lord, to gather
God’s daughters and God’s sons,
To let your judgment heal us
So that all may be one.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:

may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The image comes a stained glass window created by George Walsh in 2005 at the Church of the Most Holy Rosary, Tullow, County Carlow, Ireland to celebrate the bicentennial of the church (1805-2005) and depicts an ichthys (Jesus fish) in combination with a cross. The image was taken by Andreas F. Borchert in 2014.
  • The call to worship comes from the On Earth Peace website. http://www.onearthpeace.org/
  • The opening prayer was written by John Birch, and posted on the Faith and Worship website. http://www.faithandworship.com/
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The anthem was sung by Mindy, Elizabeth, Laura, and Tonya, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    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.

The forecast for the week ahead of those of us who live in the United States appears to be one of potential turmoil and uncertainty, sickness and death. Just south of us in Greenville County, SC the number of COVID cases is soaring with a positivity rate of almost 40%. Even with the two major healthcare systems in the county pleading with residents to wear masks and social distance, we see South Carolinians in the upstate heed the hospitals — the very people who will care for them when they are sick — with deaf ears. The US inaugurates a new president this week, but rumors of hate and potential violence swirl in response. On Monday the US celebrates the birthday of civil rights leader and Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King reminded us to meet anger with compassion in order to heal hurts, right wrongs, and change society. All these events create a stage upon which we have the opportunity to “display” our faith in God and the hope we have through Jesus Christ that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So do not flag in zeal in your faith and in your hope in God! In Joshua 24, Joshua challenges the people to be faithful to God. “Serve the Lord honestly and faithfully,” says Joshua. “Focus your hearts on the Lord.”

May the following prayers, scripture readings, music, and reflections serve as a guide in your worship of God today to help you focus your heart on the Lord.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship
based on Psalm 139

 O God, you know us inside and out,
         through and through
You search us out
        and lay your hand upon us.
You know what we are going to say
         even before we speak.
We praise you, O God, 
         for the wonderful knowledge that
whoever we are and wherever we go,
         you are with us.

Opening Prayer
Insistent God,
by night and day you summon your slumbering people,
So stir us with your voice
and enlighten our lives with your grace
that we give ourselves fully
to Christ’s call to mission and ministry.
Amen.

Song of Praise
We Are Marching in the Light of God
Author: South African Traditional Song
Tune: SIYAHAMBA

We are marching in the light of God.
We are marching in the light of God.
(Repeat.)
We are marching. We are marching.
We are marching in the light of God.
(Repeat.)

We are singing in the light of God.
We are singing in the light of God.
(Repeat.)
We are singing. We are singing.
We are singing in the light of God.
(Repeat.)

We are dancing in the light of God.
We are dancing in the light of God.
(Repeat.)
We are dancing. We are dancing.
We are dancing in the light of God.
(Repeat.)

We are praying in the light of God.
We are praying in the light of God.
(Repeat.)
We are praying. We are praying.
We are praying in the light of God.
(Repeat.)

1 Samuel 3:1-10
Common English Bible

Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was. The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said. Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did. Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.” (Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.) A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been. 10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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.

Anthem
What Star is This?
Author: John Chandler
Tune: TALLIS CANNON (Arranger: Richard Shephard)

What star is this, with beams so bright,
More lovely than the noonday light?
’Tis sent announcing a new King,
Glad tidings of our God to bring.

’Tis now fulfilled what God decreed,
“From Jacob shall a star proceed”;
And lo! the Eastern sages stand
to read in heaven the Lord’s command.

While outward signs the star displays,
An inward light the Lord conveys,
And urges them, with force benign,
to seek the Giver of the sign.

O, while the star of heavenly grace
Invites us, Lord, to seek Thy face,
May we no more that grace repel,
Or quench that light which shines so well!

To God the Father, God the Son,
And Holy Spirit, Three in One,
May every tongue and nation raise
An endless song of thankful praise!

John 1:43-51
Common English Bible

The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.” Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?” Philip said, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these! I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

One of the choir’s favorite hymn writers is John Bell. Not our John Bell of Cullowhee, but the John Bell  of Scotland. One of our many favorites is the hymn called The Summons. It begins with Jesus asking

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?

The hymn ends with the people responding to God
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 breath in you, and you in me.

Over the past couple of weeks here in the United States, we have seen a lot of  examples of “following.”  It has highlighted the fact that who you follow matters. It matters not only in the physical world but in the virtual world too. We know that when protesters rallied in Washington over a week ago, not everyone was dead set on violence. Not everyone circumvented barricades. Not everyone pushed law enforcement aside. Not everyone broke a window. Not every busted down a door.  Not everyone screamed hateful language. Not everyone murdered. But did you see how many people followed?  Who you decide to follow matters.

The gospel reading for this 2nd Sunday of Epiphany takes us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He has been baptized by the Holy Spirit through the baptism of John. And now he is making his way back to the region of Galilee and he is calling disciples to follow him. Our reading begins with Jesus calling Philip. As Jesus sets out on the road to Galilee, making the journey home after being baptized, Jesus finds Philip on that same road. Philip being from Bethsaida, the same hometown of other disciples, Andrew and Peter.  And as Cullowhee means Judiculla town, Bethsaida means Fisher town. Anyhow, along the road to Galilee, Jesus meets Philip and invites him to join the company of his followers. Two simple words tell the story. With a note of authority Jesus says, “Follow me” and Philip does.

There’s no record of what Philip says in response to Jesus’ invitation, but we know that he follows, for the gospel tells us that Philip goes to find Nathanael to share the good news about finding Jesus. Philip says to Nat, “We have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote! His name is Jesus. He’s the son of Joseph of Nazareth.”  Why include the father’s name and the hometown? That’s just how they did it back then. Like, “here is Stone, the son of Mike of Cullowhee.” But it wasn’t the name that mattered, it was who they had found that mattered. Philip was saying to Nathanael, “We have found the Lord’s anointed one. The one about whom the prophets wrote. The one who will bring and establish worldwide righteousness. The one who will bring peace to everyone along with the fear and knowledge of God.” Let that sink in for a minute. Imagine how Philip must have felt. The excitement. The awe. The amazement. The overwhelming sense that here is the One. Here is the One whom the prophets foretold. Here’s the One whom Moses spoke of. What we have been taught, Nathanael, what we have come to believe and hope for, here is God’s anointed One among us.

Nathanael isn’t impressed at first. News of finding the Messiah, or the Anointed One is exciting, but who cold imagine the messiah coming from Nazareth. Just to be clear, Nazareth was  not an important place before Jesus came along. Jesus is the one who put Nazareth on the map. Nazareth was a village of maybe 300 people. (And we thought Cullowhee was small.) The Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, doesn’t mention Nazareth at all. It was too common a place for the Messiah to come from. It was just a small little hole in the wall village. Not a place of origin fit for the Anointed One of God. You can hear the doubt in Nathanael’s voice. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It’s like saying, “Philip, you’ve made a mistake. Nazareth cannot be the origin of the Anointed One of God.” A simple Jew from an insignificant village in Galilee. Surely the Messiah would come from a more significant town and family. Well, the best way to figure something out is to see it for yourself. And that’s what Philip invites Nathanael to do.  “Come and see,” he says.

Now this interaction between Nathanael and Jesus is a curious one. It seems to be one of the longest recorded conversations Jesus has with the calling a disciple.  Most of the time the gospels just record Jesus saying, “Follow me.” And people drop what they are doing and they start tagging along. But not with Nathanael. There’s a few background stories playing out in the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael. I figure if it was important enough for the writer of John’s gospel to put it down this early in story of Jesus, then there must be some to it.

First off, Jesus greets Nathanael as if he had known him quite well.  Jesus says of him, “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” This isn’t a quiet reflection like Jesus is pondering something. Jesus says this with an exclamation point at the end of the gospel sentence. To better understand Jesus’ loudly proclaimed compliment of Nathanael, we have to go back to the Hebrew story of Jacob. 

You recall the story of the brothers, Jacob and Esau. Esau was the older brother, and therefore in line for the family blessing to be given him by their father Isaac. However, Jacob tricks Isaac, their daddy, into giving him the family blessing. Isaac is almost completely blind and Jacob takes advantage of the weakness. He dresses up like his brother Esau and pretend to be him. He sits down with his father and receives the family blessing. The blessing cannot be taken back. Once it was given back then, it was given. And it mattered back then who physically receives the words. You can imagine how upset Isaac is finding out that Jacob has deceived him. Isaac breaks the news to his son Esau by saying, “Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing.”  That word deceit in the Hebrew scriptures is the same word deceit in John’s gospel. One more thing to note. Later on in the life of Jacob, he gets his life turned around and at that point God gives him a new name, Israel.

So with those reminder, you can hear better the compliment from Jesus to Nathanael. It is like Jesus says, “You are a true Israelite, but not like Israel was when he was full of trickery and deceit.” Jesus says of Nathanael, “Here is one who is honest and dependable, who is trustworthy and sincere, who is decent and good.”
Nathanael forgets to say thank you. Instead he seems to be shocked and asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus merely says, “I saw you standing under the fig tree.” Well that clearly explains it. Surely only true Israelites stand under fig trees, right? Who knows. We can only guess at the significance of the fig tree. Did it imply a place of meditation? Was it a figure of speech to imply one knew  accurately about a person’s whereabouts and thoughts? Or was it merely a place of relief from the heat of sun? Whatever is meant by the phrase, “I saw you standing under the fig tree” it clears up any and all hesitations and doubts that Nathanael might have had towards Jesus being the Messiah. The word spill out of Nathanael’s mouth. “Rabbi, you are God’s son, you are the king of Israel.”  Now “Rabbi” means teacher. But “God’s son” and the “king of Israel” are Messianic phrases.You can call anyone a teacher, but you only call God’s Anointed one, God’s son or king of Israel. The words from Psalm 2 fill Nathanael’s heart and head: for the LORD says of the Anointed One, the Messiah, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill….You are my son; today I have begotten you.”

Whatever the “standing under the fig tree” language implied, Nathanael is persuaded. This is the Messiah, the One of whom Moses spoke and the prophets proclaimed. Jesus is amused by Nathanael’s quick change of heart and mind. And Jesus goes on to promise Nathanael that he will see greater things than this. Just wait and see what is about to happen. “Amen. Amen,” says Jesus. “You will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.” Okay, again, we need to turn back to the story of Jacob to better understand what Jesus promises to us here.

If you remember after Jacob stole his brother’s blessing, he left the family to go back to his mother’s hometown to find a wife. One night along the journey back he had a dream. He was sleeping out in the open using a stone as a pillow (And we thought the National Guard had it rough sleeping on the tiled floor of the Capitol. At least most of them have a backpack they can use for a pillow.) Well, as Jacob slept with is head on a rock, he dreamed of a ladder or a ramp propped up on the earth that went into heaven. On that ladder the angels of God were coming up and going down; coming down and going up.  As he watched the angels of God going up and down, the LORD stands beside him. The LORD tells him that he, Jacob, and his descendants will become a blessing to all the families of the earth. (Reminds me of what God told Abraham.) When Jacob wakes up he considers the place he this first, this surely is the gate of heaven. He recognizes that he was in the very presence of God. And he renames the place Bethel, meaning “the house of God.” [Now I cannot move on without making the note, after this Jacob says, if God will be with me, keep me, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and the ability to see my father’s house again in peace, then this God will be my God…. and by the way, all that you give me, I will give back to you 1/10th. Anyhow, back to Jesus.] 

Jesus points back to the story to make a point. The wonder of Jesus’ special knowledge about who Nathanael is, this is of little importance compared to the wonder of God’s using Jesus as the One who comes from heaven, meets us in human form, and returns to heaven again. Jesus is not merely a messenger from God, but Jesus is the Human One by which we human beings can have an encounter with the divine. We are heirs to this promise. Jesus is the Human One by which we can encounter God. And most importantly, the greatness of God always exceeds what we have already seen and what we can imagine!

So let’s return back to that idea of following. First off, God has already chosen us. We are invited to chose God and follow. God has blessed us with God’s presence literally among us by coming to be with us as one of us as Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the one anointed by God to be the living Word of God among us. It is a gift. We have this great gift, the gift of the presence of God, for all times and every place. But this gift is not like a prize. You put a prize on a shelf. This gift is not an award we post that we have received. This gift is not a reward for our good deeds or a perfect life. It is not a badge of honor or a blessing that makes us untouchable, unstoppable, or unshakeable. This gift of God’s choosing, of God’s constant abiding presence, it is to become a way of life for us.

We follow the One who sees us under the fig tree–the one who knows us through and through. Just as Jesus knew Nathanael, Jesus knows us. There is a blessing to be found in that. That the one who is always with us, knows us. God understand us. We are not alone. God knows the truest depths of our hearts and God can help polish us, and make us into the beautiful person God created us to be because God knows us.

Now, Nathanael showed that he would follow Jesus by calling Jesus “God’s son” and the “king of Israel.” He also called him “Rabbi” or “teacher” too. So that makes me give pause to ask, what names do we give Jesus to show we follow Jesus? Some might be Best Friend or Great Teacher. Sometimes it’s Savior. Sometimes it is Radical Revolutionary. Sometimes it is Word of God. What kind of name are you calling Jesus by? How are you following Jesus? The way you follow gives Jesus that name.

And never, ever lose hope in the promise Jesus made that day to Nathanael and to those around him. In fact the “you” is plural there. “You [all] will see greater things than these!” That promise, that word, that commitment Jesus gave that day to Nathanael and those around him is a commitment that comes down through the ages all the way to us. You will see greater things. As you follow Jesus, don’t limit the way or the road you walk with God to such a small view. The love of God, the reach of God, the embrace of God, the creativity of God is far greater, far greater than we could ever imagine. Hold on to that.

Jesus asks of us,
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?
Amen.

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
Jesus Calls Us, o’er the Tumult
Author: Cecil Frances Alexander
Tune: GALILEE

Jesus calls us, o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea;
Day by day that voice still calls us,
saying “Christian, follow me.”

2 As, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
by the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for Jesus’ sake.

3 Jesus calls us from the worship
of the treasures we adore,
From each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian, love me more.”

4 In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
Jesus calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”

5 Jesus calls us! By your mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
Give our hearts to your obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:

may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

  • The image was taken by Peter Trimming. Source= flickr.com/photos/peter-trimming/5649252218/
  • The opening prayer was posted on Thematic, Intercessory and Scripture Prayers for the RCL, Vanderbilt Divinity Library, http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/.
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on piano and Kendall on percussion.
  • The anthem was sung by Mindy, Elizabeth, Kendall, Laura, and Tonya; accompanied by Tonya on the piano, Kendall on the marimba and kalimba, and Jeffrey, Ally, and AJ on the handbells.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    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.

Invitation. Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. In one of my worship resource books, Winter (ed. Ruth Burgess; Wild Goose Publications) there’s a poem about Jesus’ baptism titled Pirate Jesus written by Thom Shuman. The poem ends with these words

but you come
to me,
dripping wet
with that dove
perched on your shoulder
(like a pirate
with his parrot)
and grabbing me
by the hand
you count, ‘1, 2, 3!’
and together
we jump
faith-first
into
grace.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God encouraging you take the hand of Jesus and jump “faith-first” every day.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship
The heavens open. The Spirit descends.
Jesus emerges from the water.
And a voice echoes through the blue expanse.
“This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”
Jesus is named. Claimed.
We come to the water. We remember we are named. Claimed.
Can it be so? What a thing to be named. Claimed.
Let us worship the one who names and claims us still.

Opening Prayer
We come before you God in prayer today seeking your calm and peace after a week of shame, disappointment, fear, anxiety, and visual hate. We turn our hearts to you today. Shine your light upon us as we worship you. Wash our emotions, hearts, and minds with your love so we might better praise and honor you. In the name of the One in whom we have placed our trust, Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Song of Praise
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Author: Cecil Frances Alexander
Tune: ROYAL OAK

Refrain:
All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
our dear God made them all.

1 Each little flower that opens,
each little bird that sings,
God made their glowing colors,
and made their tiny wings.

Refrain:
All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
our dear God made them all.

2 The purple-headed mountain,
the river running by,
The sunset, and the morning,
that brightens up the sky.

Refrain:
All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
our dear God made them all.

3 The cold wind in the winter,
the pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
God made them every one.

Refrain:
All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
our dear God made them all.

Genesis 1:1-5
New Revised Standard Version

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from god swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Song of Praise
God, Your Almighty Word
Author: John Marriot
Tune: ITALIAN HYMN

1 God, your almighty word
Chaos and darkness heard,
And took their flight:
Hear us, we humbly pray,
And where the gospel-day
Sheds not its glorious ray,
Let there be light!

2 Savior, you came to give
Those who in darkness live
Healing and sight,
Health to the troubled mind,
Sight to the inward blind:
Now to all humankind
Let there be light!

3 Spirit of truth and love,
Life giving, holy dove,
Speed on your flight!
Move on the water’s face
Bearing the lamp of grace
And, in earth’s darkest place,
Let there be light!

4 Holy and blessed Three,
Glorious Trinity,
Wisdom, Love, Might!
Boundless as ocean’s tide,
Rolling in fullest pride,
Through the world, far and wide,
Let there be light!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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.

Anthem
This Baptizing Day
Author: William Allen Pasch
Based on Martin Luther’s Christ Our Lord to Jordan Came
Tune: DOWN TO THE RIVER TO PRAY (American Folk Hymn)

Jesus went down to the river one day,
his Father’s calling to obey.
Then John baptized him, and the Lord God said,
“This is the way!
This is my own dear son,
Follow him; his work’s begun.
Sin’s drowned, the victory’s won!
River, wash guilt away!”

This water flows as the river of grace
for all God’s children in this place,
It’s not our doing; Christ has done it all.
Give God the praise!
Now let this flood of love wash us clean,
all fear remove.
From earth and heaven above,
loud thanksgiving we raise!

When I go down to the river to pray,
thinking on my baptizing day,
the Holy Spirit tells me I’m newborn,
Old sin, away!
My Savior died for me.
Resurrection sets us free,
Grace reigns eternally,
through this baptizing day!

Mark 1:4-11
Common English Bible

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Reflection on the Gospel
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

This past Wednesday we celebrated as a man stood in front of a crowd of people to address them. They had come from out of town specifically to see and hear him. He was, some claimed, a prophet of God. The words he said to them mattered. They had consequences. Those who listened to his words were moved to action. And shortly after he spoke, they responded.  

This celebration was Epiphany and the man I’m referring to is John the baptizer, cousin of Jesus, who was out near the Jordan. With his words he issued a call to seek forgiveness from God, to admit to sin, to have hearts changed from selfishness and greed and power and desire to the holy pursuits of God’s children, principally these two: forgiveness and humility. The people responded by marching toward the waters of the Jordan to be baptized. In the words of Mark 1 that I just read, “they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” God’s pleasure that day did not only rest on Jesus, but on these other children of God with whom God found happiness. 

This past Wednesday another man also stood before a crowd of people to address them. They, too, had come from out of town specifically to see and hear him. He was, some claimed, a prophet of God. But let’s stop right there! I care far too much about Christianity and the Gospel of God to let anyone claim that Donald Trump is God’s messenger. To do so is to ignore the entire sweep of the biblical story which calls for the kind of holy virtues that have not in any way been evident in what he has said or done, either before or after he became President of the United States. He called for force; Jesus praises weakness. Trump wants what is best for himself; Jesus asked us to care for others. Trump demands loyalty to himself; Jesus constantly turned people toward the poor and powerless, and toward God. Trump claims himself to be the best president in history; Jesus praises the humble. Trump says if someone hits you then you should hit them back ten times harder; Jesus says to turn the other cheek. Trump praises his riches; Jesus said blessed are the poor.  Trump uses lies and dishonesty on a daily basis; Jesus said the truth will make you free. Trump boasted in an interview that he doesn’t ask for forgiveness from God; Jesus and John and Paul and Peter and practically every Christian text begins the Way of faith with confession and forgiveness. As an American citizen or an international onlooker or a member of our church, you can have any opinion you want regarding Trump’s politics. I am uninterested in whether you think he’s a good president or who you voted for in November. But as an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I will not stand by quietly if someone claims that Mr. Trump represents Jesus, or promotes Christianity, or is a prophet of the holy God. He is not and to say so is blasphemy.  

I heard someone say this week that when George Orwell was writing his dystopian novel 1984 Orwell said that when things are at their worst it is time to restate the most basic principles. Fortunately for us, Mark’s story in chapter 1 of John’s preaching in the wilderness is a call back to the foundational basics of a life of faith. If we assume an appropriate understanding of God, then the first movement toward becoming a faithful worshipper of God and follower of the Gospel is forgiveness. The second, is a willing exercise of humility. Forgiveness requires confession. Humility requires trust. John gives voice to both of these, and Mark’s story of John puts them on display at the beginning of Jesus’ story. 

The Gospel of Mark was written 20 years before either Matthew or Luke wrote their account of the things that Jesus said and did. For centuries, the beginning and ending have remained the two most surprising elements of Mark’s Gospel. We know that Mark’s last chapter is uncertain, its actual text missing from any historical document we have. What came after Mark 16:8 we simply do not know. Likewise, something is missing from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, but not because we lost a text but rather because Mark doesn’t say anything about it—that is, Mark’s Gospel contains no Christmas story. Gabriel doesn’t appear to anyone, Jesus is not in a manger, and no wise men travel to worship at the home of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Bethlehem. Mark begins with Jesus all grown up and ready to go. 

I have noted before, in both sermons and Bible studies, that by the time we finishing reading the entire first chapter of Mark, this Gospel leaves us with as much evidence of the incarnation of God in Jesus as any Christmas story. In this first chapter, Jesus is approved by God with a direct voice from heaven, surrounded by Jewish disciples, casts out an evil spirit, heals a woman with a fever, and cleanses a man of leprosy. Any one of these stories would generate hopeful gossip about the possibility Jesus may be the Messiah. All of them together in this first chapter means that one keeps reading the Gospel of Mark with the identity already revealed – Jesus is the Messiah.  

So let’s look at the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel more closely. If these are the first things written about Jesus, what do they tell us about being a follower of this One? Here is where we turn to the two basic principles of faith: forgiveness and humility. 

First, forgiveness is arguably the most central idea in Christianity. I say “idea” but really I think of forgiveness as a self-reflected outlook, a way to see ourselves and God and the world through the lens of our faith. I really like the way the Common English Bible translates verse four: “John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” John didn’t invent baptism as it was already a Jewish ritual associated with spiritual cleansing, but he is the one who attaches the practice of baptism with forgiveness. This biblical baptism story doesn’t spend much time telling us about the “how-tos” of baptism. We do hear that Jesus was “coming up out of the water” which presumes a full immersion perhaps. But we miss the point of the baptism if we focus on how it’s done, or when, or where. The point of the baptism is that people “were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” Without that willfully chosen change, Christianity is unable to be discerned in anyone’s life. Unless we know our need to ask God’s forgiveness, confess our sin, and move to a Way of life exemplified in the grace and mercy of God, then we will be Christians in name only and in no way “followers” of Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus will say, “Many people call me ‘Lord’ … others will say “I preached in your name” … some will claim to have done great things for God in the name of Jesus … but it will be as though I don’t know them.” [my paraphrase of Matthew 7:21-23.]  Christianity begins with forgiveness in the same way that writing a novel starts by learning ABCs in kindergarten.  

Second, Christianity as heard in John’s words and seen throughout the actions of Jesus in the Gospels rests on humility. Consider John’s popularity. Rumors must have flown throughout the country that a new Jewish prophet was out by the Jordan. He sounds like Elijah of old. He’s in the same place where Elijah went to live after confronting King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He’s dressed like a prophet of God and sounds like one too. If John had been in contemporary times, he’d be selling out stadiums of people who applauded his words and started fan clubs. And yet, John has perspective. He is not the important one. These people should not be his followers. He’s not interested in saying something that sounds wise and will find approval for himself. His words, his actions, his popularity, his audience…he seeks to turn all of these things toward Jesus.  

Humility is not the same as self-deprecation. John does not think himself incapable, nor lack esteem, nor is he without motivation to achieve what is in his capacity to do and say. His genuine humility means he knows that, in his own words, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (vv. 7-8). John is not the savior. John is not the incarnation of God. And he won’t pretend that he is, either by lying to himself or to others.  

Even looking at John suggests a lack of vanity and pride. Here is a person not defined by material comfort. His humility extends even to the way he dresses and eats and lives. We are told that John wore camel’s hair clothing and ate the diet of a desert ascetic not because we are all called to be monks or nuns, but to note that possessions are often distractions from spiritual awareness and trust in God. John exemplifies and Christians are taught that God is not reflected in the outward appearance or possessions or wealth of a person. In fact, since John serves as a first-glimpse of discipleship, Christians are called to consider the value of voluntarily forsaking materialism for simplicity. The comfort of wealth and possession and fashion and beauty and abundance are not a measure of spiritual virtue and may, in fact, hinder our relationship with God. We can debate about whether discomfort (or suffering) is required for spiritual growth (I expect to hear from Dale Melton on this one!) but it seems undeniable that prosperity is an impediment to our spiritual health and that chosen simplicity and intentional asceticism can help our ability to recognize God’s Way in the world. What might this mean in real terms? Perhaps we emphasize “going to church” too much and have neglected private prayer, personal devotional practices, or individual exercises of spiritual discernment. Worship at home has been a practice of spiritual discipline rather than social connectivity. It is therefore an act of humility. The worship of God that we practice when no one knows about it or sees us necessarily grows from an intrinsic acceptance of the value of worship that only God acknowledges rather than that which is motivated by social participation that seeks group approval.   

Humility also requires us to recognize that God has authority over us while knowing that humility is exercised in our relationships with other people. Jesus talked as much about loving someone other than ourselves as he did about loving God. It may be easy for Christians to willingly seek to be humble before God, but the Gospel also calls us to humility with other people. “Don’t think too highly of yourself” is a direct teaching from Romans 12. “When you cared for these people others consider unvalued and poor and overlooked, you cared for me” Jesus said in Matthew 25. “If someone asks you to go one mile, go two” he said in Matthew 5. “No one shows greater love than to give up your own life for someone else” he said in John 15. And in 1 John 3 the New Testament tells to that loving others is exactly the same as and begins from a love for God. All of these holy acts of obedience to God begin with an actual personal understanding of healthy humility. Recently on the news a South Carolina politician said that Americans don’t like to be told what to do. He also said that Protestant Christians don’t like to be told what to do. That reasoning was used as an explanation as to why Baptists in South Carolina don’t wear masks – because someone told them they had to do so. Stubbornness is not a substitute for Christian humility. Pride does not justify disobedience of a biblical teaching. Personal preference is often the opposite of care for others. Jesus’ understanding of being a servant to others, a call to humility that every real-life servant knows, does not allow for Christianity of any kind to justify the endangering of another person for my own personal preference. In fact, it is hard to identify an act of individual convenience as in accord with the Gospel of Jesus if it diminishes or threatens the life of another one of God’s beloved children.  

See, we are tempted read the story of John in the wilderness baptizing Jesus with crowds watching and the voice of God descending from heaven and we think, “wow, what an event—I wish I had been there to post it on my social media account.” Instead, we should read Mark 1, hear John’s story, listen to his words, and consider his example. Confession to seek forgiveness cannot be faked. God will always know the truth of our heart. And genuine humility will always be exercised in relationship with other people so that it is evident to ourselves and others.  

The baptism story in Mark 1 ends with Jesus coming up out of the water and God’s Spirit coming down from the heavens. Imagine the scene. Consider this approval of God upon Jesus that was not called down by any person or affirmed by any observer. It was only made manifest by God’s initiative. These words of God, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness” were said about Jesus. And through Jesus, every single creation of God has the capacity to be God’s delight. That includes you and me as well. May that goal guide our life of faith as we take daily steps toward the practice of forgiveness and humility.  

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
Mark How the Lamb of God’s Self-Off’ring
Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Tune: WAYFARING STRANGER

Mark how the Lamb of God’s self-off’ring
Our human sinfulness takes on
In the birthwaters of the Jordan
As Jesus is baptized by John.
Hear how the voice from heaven thunders,
“Lo, this is My beloved Son.”
See how in dovelike form the Spirit
Descends on God’s Anointed One.

From this assurance of God’s favor
Jesus goes to the wilderness,
There to endure a time of testing
That readied Him to teach and bless.
So we, by water and the Spirit
Baptized into Christ’s ministry,
Are often led to paths of service
Through mazes of adversity.

Grant us, O God, the strength and courage
To live the faith our lips declare;
Bless us in our baptismal calling;
Christ’s royal priesthood help us share.
Turn us from ev’ry false allegiance,
That we may trust in Christ alone:
Raise up in us a chosen people
Transformed by love to be Your own.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:

may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: The image was taken by Emily Burttram. The Call to Worship was written by Caela Wood, Pastor at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Manhattan, Kansas. The prayers were written by Tonya. The Opening Hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Ally on the piano and Tessa on the flute. The Song of Praise was sung by Mindy and accompanied by Tonya on the piano. The anthem was arranged by Tonya; sung by Mindy, Laura, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth; and accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Michelle on the guitar. The Closing Hymn was arranged by Tonya, sung by Mindy, and accompanied by Michelle on the guitar and Tonya on the piano. The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, posted on The Painted Prayerbook website. 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.

Invitation. Today we celebrate Epiphany–the coming of the magi to worship Jesus! The “official” date for the Epiphany is this Wednesday, January 6, twelve days after Christmas Day! Wednesday looks to be an interesting day in the life of United States politics, but look beyond this sure to be distraction. Watch the international news for how Christians around world celebrate the day when God Incarnate shines through all the boundaries with which we might restrict God.

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

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship
People of God, arise, shine,
for your light has come!
The light of Christ has come into the world.
Immanuel.
God with us.

So arise, shine, for your light has come!
And we will follow the light–
when it shines brightly in the night sky
when it glows dimly on the horizon.

We will follow the light–
when it leads down familiar paths to expected destinations
when the road is unfamiliar
and the star rests above a dubious-looking home.
We will lift up our eyes and look around.
And when we see the Christ child,
may our hearts be overwhelmed with joy.

When we are in the presence of Immanuel,
may our knees bend in worship.
When our journey brings us, finally, to the heart of God,
may our hands open in generous sharing;
may our mouths open in generous praise.

Opening Prayer
Lord of yesterday, today and tomorrow,
we gather here this first Sunday of the New Year,
in a mixture of hope, anticipation, fear, excitement, and expectation.
We do not know what the year holds for us.
There are things we are afraid of:
worries about health and family, job security and finances.
There is much to look forward to –
weddings or anniversaries or baptisms,
holidays to enjoy,
friends to laugh with.

Lord God,
the coming year is full of uncertainty and hope.
Whatever the year holds for us, though,
we trust You, and we place every day of this year in your care
knowing that, as in the past, You are with us,
caring for us with constant love.

And so Lord, we place ourselves into your keeping
and dedicate our lives to your service
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour. Amen.

Song of Praise
Arise, Your Light Is Come
Author: Ruth C. Duck (1974)
Tune: FESTAL SONG

1 Arise, your light is come!
The Spirit’s call obey;
show forth the glory of your God
which shines on you today.

2 Arise, your light is come!
Fling wide the prison door;
proclaim the captive’s liberty,
good tidings to the poor.

3 Arise, your light is come!
All you in sorrow born,
bind up the brokenhearted ones
and comfort those who mourn.

4 Arise, your light is come!
The mountains burst in song!
Rise up like eagles on the wing,
God’s power will make us strong.

Ephesians 1:3-14
New Revised Standard Version

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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.

Anthem
The Stars Looked Down
Composer: Mark Schweizer
Poem by G.K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown.
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

Listen and/or read along to Tonya’s reflection and the scripture being read.



Happy New Year! Like you, I’m determined for this year to be a joyful one!  Although a microscopic fuzzy virus has overshadow our lives and our world, altering and changing the way we interact with one another, its shadow does not stand a chance against the joy of the Lord in our lives and world. You recall Romans 8:38 which says that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord. God’s love is the source of our being and God’s love is the source of our joy!  All the moments of 2021 may not be “happy” but they are guaranteed to be joy-filled when each moment is placed and held in the hands of the Creator God.  It will take courage on our part, along with persistence and determination for the joy of the Lord to overshadow our lives, but the possibility is real.  Now is the time for all of us who are gifted with “stubbornness” to lift up your voices and hearts to encourage the world in our faith in God, the source of our joy. Stubborn persistence can get us in trouble sometimes, but it can also be turned into an awesome blessing.

We see that gift of persistence, courage, and determination in the gospel story of the magi from Matthew 2. Read along with me or listen again the story of their faith, courage, and hope on this first Sunday of 2021. 

Matthew 2:1-12
Common English Bible

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,       
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,           
because from you will come one who governs,           
who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.


Who in the world were these travellers and from where did they come? 

Unfortunately, the gospel of Matthew doesn’t give us much to answer these questions, but here’s what we do know. Matthew calls them “magi.” So let’s go with their occupation defined by the scriptures instead an occupation defined by a song. They are not kings, even though we have called them “kings” in our anthem this morning. Even though we have sung before the hymn We Three Kings, they are not kings.  They are magi. History suggest they may have been sages, or even political advisors. Matthew says they came from the “East.” You may want to think Persia and if so, then recognize that Persians opposed the Romans.  Imagine the “other” super power come knocking at your door ready to “worship” a newborn king that you have yet to hear about.

We do know they are stargazers who allow the stars to write their travel plans. They seem to be wealthy or they are entrusted with someone else’s wealth, and they are definitely not greedy or dishonest. They are not intimidated by others, whether that be Herod or a new born king. And they don’t bat an eye in kneeling before the One who is different from them in age and race and social standing. They have come to worship the newborn king. They are open to dreams guiding their lives, but they are not vagabonds or wanderers for they return home after completing their quest.

These travellers are determined and persistent. I love how they are willing to trek miles upon miles out into the unknown based on a hunch. For that’s what it was–a hunch. No one can be certain that a star in the sky is a sign of the birth of a new king. Their hunch reminds me of Abraham. Abraham had a “hunch” that God was calling him to go and set up house in another land. So in faith he packs up the whole lot and treks into the unknown. If you think about it, certainty is always missing when we are following God’s lead. Faith is required of us when we follow God and faith is not certainty. Faith is trust in God. And yes, following God or living the Way of Jesus Christ requires determination and persistence. Don’t give up on living the way of Jesus Christ as you venture out into the unknowns of 2021. In faith trust that God will be with you–when the road is long, uncertain, dusty, or sandy, and tiring. Keep your heart and mind set on Christ.

These travellers are also willing to embrace the unexpected. I love how they willingly  accept the fact their quest leads them to a simple family: a young mother, a father, and a baby boy. I’ve often wondered if they thought, “Is this the right child because no one else around here seems to care or recognize the greatness among and around them?”  But the star’s commitment to the place gives them the push they need to show up where Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are. They are at the right place, at the right time, before the right Child. So convinced about this are they, and Matthew doesn’t explain how or why, but they are so convinced that they leave behind the contents of their treasure chests and return home, mission complete. 

So what happens when we live the way of Jesus Christ, but things don’t turn out like we expected them to? Do we measure the worth of our lives using the weights of the world, or do we judge the worth of our lives through the eyes of God? Are we here to get ahead? Or are we here to bring honor to the newborn king?  Our lives may not turn out to be anything like we expected them to be, but hold firm to that belief that whatever your life is like, if it is bringing God honor and glory, then it is exactly what it needs to be. In Matthew 2:2 in the Common English Bible we read that the magi have “come to honor” the newborn king. The NRSV reads that the magi have “come to pay homage.” This is worship–the magi say, “We have come to worship the newborn king.” Herod says, “Let me know where he is and I will go worship him too.” Whatever happens as you live the way of Jesus, just make sure your living, your life is worshiping Jesus. This is what is required of us. It is how we show God our love.

So what was in all of this for the magi?  What did they gain from this quest? Truthfully it is easier to see what they lost. They lost time that could have been spent doing other things travelling all the way over there and all the way back. They surely lost a few good nights sleep travelling like they did. They willingly lost the contents of their treasure chests.  They found what they were looking for and the discovery brought them joy. But what did they gain from this journey into the unpredictable?

The only thing they carried back home with them was a story. You might say they returned home empty handed and without any proof to convince others that their quest was a success. All they had was a story about an encounter. Granted it was an encounter that inspired them to leave their treasures behind, an encounter that led them to deny the requests of a foreign government, and an encounter that required them to return home quietly so as to escape the wrath of the authorities.  I dare say that most of our encounters with God leave us empty handed without any proof of God. All we have is just a story. But the “proof” (if you will) of God in the “story” or the “encounter” comes from how it changes your life.  In fact, the story becomes a part of your life. It changes you. It polishes you. It transforms you into becoming a sign of God’s presence here in the world.  Think back to Moses. Remember when he went up on the mountain to meet with God. And when he came back down off the mountain, his face glowed with radiance from being in God’s presence.  Our encounters with God don’t typically leave us with glowing faces, but they do cause a brightness in the world that enables others to see God through us. There’s a verse in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus goes on to say, “Let your light shine before others, so they can see your good works and glorify God in heaven.”

The magi had only a story to share when they returned home. But the story was no small thing for it was about their encounter with God Incarnate, Jesus, the Christ. Truly, if you don’t look for signs of God in the world, then you are not going to encounter God, and if you don’t encounter God, then you don’t have much of a story to tell. We have a new year spread out before us. We are just three days into 2021. So how about going on a quest with me this year? Will you walk in the shoes of the magi with me and set out this year to find signs of God’s presence in the world. God is here. But if we don’t look, we will miss, and our stories of faith and about God will be thin and faded. It will take persistence on our part and courage, and a willingness to let God show up how God wants to show up instead of how we expect God to show up. But there is nothing less to gain than that same joy the magi found along with a transformed life that will bring honor and glory to God more and more every day.


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
Angels from the realms of glory,
Author: James Montgomery (1816)
Tune: REGENT SQUARE (Smart)

  1. Angels, from the realms of glory,
    wing your flight o’er all the earth;
    As you sang creation’s story
    now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
    Come and worship, come and worship,
    worship Christ, give thanks and sing.
  2. Shepherds, in the field abiding,
    watching o’er your flocks by night,
    God with us is now residing;
    yonder shines the infant light:
    Come and worship, come and worship,
    worship Christ, give thanks and sing.
  3. Sages, leave your contemplations,
    brighter visions beam afar;
    seek the great Desire of nations;
    guided by Christ’s natal star:
    Come and worship, come and worship,
    worship Christ, give thanks and sing.
  4. Saints, before the altar bending,
    watching long in hope and fear,
    Suddenly, your prayers attending,
    Christ beside you shall appear.
    Come and worship, come and worship,
    worship Christ, give thanks and sing.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:

may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: The Call to Worship was written by Joanna Harader, posted on the Spacious Faith blog. The Opening Prayer was written by Rev. Ian Elston, posted on the Church of Scotland’s Starters for Sunday website. The anthem was sung by Mindy, Laura, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth accompanied by Tonya on the piano. Mindy sang the hymns accompanied by Tracy on the organ. The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, posted on The Painted Prayerbook website. 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.

100+ Free Snow Lane & Snow Photos - Pixabay

Invitation. Our waiting is over! Christ has come! On this first Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the gift of God’s redeeming grace. This is no small thing! With our hearts and minds turned towards God as we worship, may we reaffirm God’s unhindered ability to reshape and restore. May we recognize the spark of God’s holiness in one another and all things. And may we work to make visible the reign of God — a reign of grace and love, a reign that claims us as God’s own.

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.

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
~posted by Rev Gord on the site, Worship Offerings

The people who walk in darkness. That’s us!
We have seen deep darkness in the world around us.
So we have come to search for the light.
We want the light to shine on us!

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”
A child is born for US!
A son is given to ALL of US!
We come to see the child that has been born,
we come to gather in the glow of the stable,
we come to sing with angels and wonder with shepherds.
Come and worship, come and worship!
Worship the one who is born for us this day….

Opening Prayer
Almighty and Everlasting God, who by the birth of the holy child Jesus has given to all a great light to dawn upon our darkness: Shine your light on us! We want to see more clearly the great love you have for the world. May the light of your love brighten our hope in you today and always. Amen.

Song of Praise
Joy to the world! the Lord is come!
Author: Isaac Watts (1719)
Tune: ANTIOCH

1 Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth its praises bring;
let ev’ry heart prepare Christ room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

2 Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3 Christ rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of God’s righteousness,
and wonders of God’s love,
and wonders God’s love,
and wonders, wonders of God’s love.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 148
Common English Bible

Praise the Lord from heaven!
Praise God on the heights!
2 Praise God, all of you who are his messengers!
Praise God, all of you who comprise his heavenly forces!
3 Sun and moon, praise God!
All of you bright stars, praise God!
4 You highest heaven, praise God!
Do the same, you waters that are above the sky!
5 Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
because God gave the command and they were created!
6 God set them in place always and forever.
God made a law that will not be broken.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all you ocean depths!
8 Do the same, fire and hail, snow and smoke,
stormy wind that does what God says!
9 Do the same, you mountains, every single hill,
fruit trees, and every single cedar!
10 Do the same, you animals—wild or tame—
you creatures that creep along and you birds that fly!
11 Do the same, you kings of the earth and every single person,
you princes and every single ruler on earth!
12 Do the same, you young men—young women too!—
you who are old together with you who are young!

13 Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
because only God’s name is high over all.
Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven.
14 God raised the strength of his people,
the praise of all his faithful ones—
that’s the Israelites,
the people who are close to him.

Praise the Lord!

Song of Praise
Hark, the herald angels sing
Author: Charles Wesley (1739)
Tune: MENDELSSOHN

1 Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the Christ-child bring:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinner reconciled!”
Joyful, all you saints arise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with the angel host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Refrain:
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the Christ-child bring.”

2 Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time the Savior comes,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail the incarnate Deity,
pleased on earth with us to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel. [Refrain]

3 Hail the Bearer of God’s peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life our Savior brings,
risen with radiant, healing wings.
Mildly laying glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us all from earth,
born to give us second birth. [Refrain]

Prayer for Ourselves and Others
~written by John Birch and posted on the site, Faith and Worship

Circle us, Lord
Circle us with the light of your presence within this dark world
Enable us to be overcomers of fear and temptation
Enable us to be victors over sin and despair
Enable us to become that which you would desire
(Silent prayer)
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle us with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord
Circle our church family within the shelter of your outstretched arms
Protect them in each moment of their daily lives
Protect them in the decisions that they face
Protect their homes and relationships
(Silent prayer)
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle our church family with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord
Circle this world with the joy of your Salvation
Where there is sickness and disease bring healing
Where there is hunger and despair bring hope
Where there is torture and oppression bring release
(Silent prayer)
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle this world with the light of your presence

Song of Adoration
Gesu Bambino
Composer: Pietro A. Yon

When blossoms flowered ‘mid the snows
Upon a winter night
Was born the Child, the Christmas Rose
The King of Love and Light.

The angels sang, the shepherds sang
The grateful earth rejoiced
And at His blessed birth the stars
Their exultation voiced.

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

Again the heart with rapture glows
to greet the holy night
That gave the world its Christmas Rose
Its King of Love and Light.

Let ev’ry voice acclaim His name
The grateful chorus swell
From paradise to earth He came
That we with Him might dwell.

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

A Reading from the Prophets
Isaiah 61:10-11 to 62:4
Common English Bible

I surely rejoice in the Lord;
my heart is joyful because of my God,
because he has clothed me with clothes of victory,
wrapped me in a robe of righteousness
like a bridegroom in a priestly crown,
and like a bride adorned in jewelry.
11 As the earth puts out its growth,
and as a garden grows its seeds,
so the Lord God will grow righteousness and praise before all the nations.

For Zion’s sake I won’t keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I won’t sit still
until her righteousness shines out like a light,
and her salvation blazes like a torch.
2 Nations will see your righteousness,
all kings your glory.
You will be called by a new name,
which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.
3 You will be a splendid garland in the Lord’s hand,
a royal turban in the palm of God’s hand.
4 You will no longer be called Abandoned,
and your land will no longer be called Deserted.
Instead, you will be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land, Married.
Because the Lord delights in you,
your land will be cared for once again.

Reflection on the Reading from Isaiah
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

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

Let me tell a brief story about two Christmas gifts I received as a child. One gift, the one I wanted really badly because it was in the JC Penney Catalog, was a pogo stick. The other gift, the one I didn’t ask for but received because my older brother wanted one and I had to get the same thing he got … longer story there …, this other gift was a bicycle. The pogo stick was the trendy gift that year. It was shiny and red and the child bouncing on it in the catalog looked so happy. I was too (happy, that is) when I took the pogo stick out that Christmas day and the next and jumped and jumped. Then, I was done with it. I tried jumping with it down the street to Rudy’s Convenience Store but it took way too long. It was easier to walk. I continued to like the pogo stick and even bragged about having it. But I just never really used it again.  

The bicycle was different. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t choose the orange color but it was different than my brother’s yellow one so we could tell them apart. It was also too big for me at the time with my tip-toes barely reaching the ground. But it was a ten-speed Schwinn. That was good. And unlike the pogo stick, it was great for transportation. That bike took me far beyond Rudy’s Convenience Store. I rode that bicycle everywhere. For months. Actually, for years. I used it to go across town to my friend Allen’s house by the lake. I rode it to the elementary school yard on Sundays to play football after church. I won a “Bicycle Derby” contest with it at school the next year. I rode it to church, to baseball practice, and just sometimes for fun. The Christmas bicycle I had not expected is the one that I probably used the most of any Christmas gift I ever received.  

If you’re like me, you find that Christmas is fun, it’s beautiful (especially with this year’s snow), it is approached with anticipation. We long for Christmas to come so we can give gifts and open them. We can watch children’s wonder and joy. But then what? What’s left after the glittery and marketed Christmas consumerism?   

On this first Sunday of the Christmas season, now just two days since we celebrated the birth of Jesus who is proclaimed as “Emmanuel, God with us,” we have a gift from God that comes with a question – what do we do with Jesus now? The gift of Jesus doesn’t jingle. He’s not a toy to entertain us. If we’re honest, we don’t do a good job of teaching ourselves that the gift of Jesus is enough regardless of anything else we have. Yet Jesus remains more substantial than any box with a bow that we unwrapped on December 25. The coming of Jesus engages us far beyond the holiday. We will soon wind up the lights and box away the ornaments. The pretty Christmas day will be in the past. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll one day soon realize that Jesus doesn’t remain a baby, but grows up to call us into a Way of life and love that is much more needed than any gift we wanted. In short, we asked for and received salvation so that now we can practice discipleship far beyond Christmas. 

The end of the book of Isaiah tells us of a time much anticipated by Jesus’ Jewish ancestors. They had been captured and taken away to another country, to Babylon. For decades they worked, lived, married, birthed children, and made a home as best they could in a place that was not theirs. They struggled to find hope enough to imagine a return to their land. They tried to tell their children about Jerusalem and keep alive the dream of a home-going. For at least 70-something years they had various messages from God. It started with a reminder that the consequences of their sin of idol worship contributed to their being conquered. They had worshipped other gods and thus weakened their trust in and commitment to God. Worse than angry, God was disappointed in them. Isaiah 43 puts words to God’s perspective of their disobedience: “You did not call upon me…you have wearied me with your sins” (Isaiah 43:22, 24). The people later respond to God and in so doing they recognize the rift they have caused between themselves and God: “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14). These honest appraisals of their sin give way in the later chapters of Isaiah to hope. God’s voice through Isaiah changes and the message becomes one of renewal. Imagination is now embellished with hopeful visions. Among them are the words of Isaiah 61 and 62 in today’s reading. They can now announce their good news: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and covered me with the robe of righteousness.” 

It is not just a turn of events but a change in relationship. The people of God understand that they will not just return to the land, but they will be restored. Whereas before their sin stood between them and God, now they are presented before God as righteous. From sin to righteousness – it is a conversion of relationship, a renewal of identity, and a blessing hoped for but unable to attain on one’s own. God provides the “garments of salvation” and God covers them with the “robe of righteousness.” God has granted this gift. Now they must wear it. 

And so the children and grandchildren of those who were captured in warfare return to Israel, they anticipate the rebuilding of Jerusalem, they eagerly plan to replant their ancestors’ vineyards, they commit to both peace with God and one another. If there had been gaudy plastic battery-powered strings of LED lights in the 6th c. BC, they would have decorated their caravans with glitz and bling as they marched back from Persia to Judah. The gift they longed to receive was about to be unwrapped.  The people returning from exile also received a gift they had not put on their list. The long hoped for gift was a return. That’s now done. The gift they had not anticipated was a new name and with that name, a responsibility.  

Isaiah 62:4 tells us that Israel during exile had been called “Abandoned” and “Deserted.” These are figurative names, to be sure, but they represent the way “the nations” perceived the people of God. Disobedience of the people showed their abandoning God and God abandoning them—or so it must have seemed. And then being conquered by Nebuchadnezzar left the land that had symbolized promise now reminding the remnant of a vacant deserted home. These are names of insult and derision, but also symbolic of the consequences of their sin. But the gift of return brings new names, the first being “My Delight is In Her” and the second is “Married.” This was surprising. It is the gift they didn’t ask for but received anyway. God takes delight in the people, and they so belong to God that marriage symbolizes the constancy of this new relationship. 

According to Isaiah, God’s gift of return didn’t just leave them with the work of building homes and walls and a temple, it gave them the responsibility of changing the way the “nations” understood both God and God’s people. It turns out that God is invisible to others. The non-Jewish people around the Israelites learn about God by seeing God’s people. This happens both when the people of God act in accordance with God’s will and when they fail to be holy and just. In this regard, little has changed. People here and everywhere will only see and know God through those who take God’s name and live it among them. It’s a high calling.  

Names and titles instill meaning in many ways. For example, we call the celebration of Jesus’ birth “Christmas” rather than “Jesus-mas” because the title “Christ” identifies what God brings to the world through the birth of this child, not just what God gives to Mary and Joseph. At Christmas we don’t just celebrate the birth of Jesus but the bringing of salvation that breaks into the world anew in this Incarnate One. Just as the name “Christmas” amplifies the meaning of Jesus’ birth, when we take the name “Christian” we do more than offer approval of carols and tinsel in December. We take the responsibility to show the immortal invisible God to the people who stand before us. Christmas is a season but the identification as “Christian” defines a life-time responsibility to be part of God’s work in the world. Today as in biblical times, people will only see God through the reality of God’s people. Other folks will believe God loves and forgives and sees goodness on the Earth only when those of us who call ourselves “Christian” serve in the example of Jesus. We have received the gift of Jesus this child born in Bethlehem, but we also receive a new responsibility from God. God has granted salvation and we are called to daily discipleship. Forget the motto of “keeping Christ in Christmas,” it’s time for us to be Christian every day of the year with the understanding that as we show God’s mercy the nations will begin to believe that God is merciful. When we demonstrate love for all people our neighbors will believe that God is love. When we exemplify grace and peace our family will believe that God gives grace and desires peace. And here’s the key: God invites this identification between us and God. God wants us to be the representatives of the divine.   

On this Sunday after Christmas as we recycle the wrapping paper we note that salvation has come from God as a gift, but so has our lifetime of discipleship. We can take hope for God’s eternal gift but we must also exercise our daily calling. Whenever a Christian only glories in salvation but does not take out the gift of discipleship and live it among the world, the Gospel appears like an empty box, without substance or hope or cheer. So Christians, here are far, take heart and listen to what the inside of God’s Christmas card might say to us…paraphrased from Isaiah’s words: God says, “I delight in you, and I am proud that you carry my name. I will help clothe you in righteousness; I commission you to follow my Way; I will tell your neighbors that they can look to you to know who I am. I claim you anew as my people, and will tell everyone to see your works and know your heart. We belong together, and to all who willingly receive my gifts of salvation and discipleship.” 

Unwrap this gift of discipleship with both humility and resolve. Take it out and practice it with near and far with joy. Let it carry you around the corner, to your friend’s home, and into the world. And as we go, may we find ourselves renewed by God’s confidence in our lives each day. Amen. 

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
Go tell it on the mountain
African American Spiritual, adapted by John W. Work
Tune: GO TELL IT

Refrain:
Go tell it on the mountain,
over the hill and everywhere;
go tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born!

1 While shepherds kept their watching
o’er silent flocks by night,
behold throughout the heavens
there shone a holy light. [Refrain]

2 The shepherds feared and trembled
when lo! above the earth
rang out the angel chorus
that hailed our Savior’s birth. [Refrain]

3 Down in a lowly manger
the humble Christ was born,
and God sent us salvation
that blessed Christmas morn. [Refrain]

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 Prayer
Blessed be the tie
Author: John Fawcett

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

We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear, 
and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear. 

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day. Amen.

Credits. The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano with Mindy, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, Kendall and Elizabeth singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. 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.

Invitation. Christmas Eve is special night for us; the night we celebrate the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. Oh how we miss gathering together in the sanctuary, singing Christmas carols, hearing the Christmas story from Luke, sharing communion, and singing Silent Night by candle light! As we stay safely at home this year, may the peace of Christ be with you. We are blessed to know that God welcomes and appreciates our prayers and our praise even as we are apart from one another. So pause this Christmas Eve to pray, read the story, and sing. You may even want to have your own candles at the ready for Silent Night.

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.

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

Opening Prayer
(from RevGord’s worshipofferings.blogspot)
(have one or more persons read while other follow along and/or listen)

Story-telling God, tonight we retell the old, old story.
Tonight we listen for angels and shepherds and a baby’s cry.
Tonight we look to the old story and ask
that you would be born in us again this year.

Tonight, this year, God, we listen for the story of PEACE
Peace in a world so given to conflict.
All year we have heard the stories of the ways things go badly.
This night, and in the year to come,
open our ears to the other stories,
the stories of the kind and good things people have done
and are doing for each other.
And in hearing those stories
may we be re-committed to our own acts of kindness,
the small ways we can make “Peace on earth, Goodwill to all” a reality.

Tonight, this year, God, we listen for the story of HOPE
Hope in a world that gives us so many reasons to despair.
Tell us, we pray, the stories that lie beyond the despair.
When the world falls apart at the seams,
remind us that you are there as we stand in the wreckage,
helping us to pick up the broken pieces.
Open our hearts to feel your presence,
open our souls to the possibility of new hope, new life.

Tonight, this year, God, we listen for the story of JOY
Joy in a world where so many struggle and grieve.
Life does not always go as we had planned,
some days it feels like life never goes as we had planned.
Help us find the possibility of joy both on the good days and the bad.
When the bad news makes us depressed,
show us the Good News hiding in the shadows,
and let that Good News fill our heart with joy again.

Tonight, this year, God, we listen for the story of LOVE,
Love in a world so full of fear and hatred.
You would have us act lovingly to friend and family and enemy.
In a world where love is so sorely needed,
help us all take the risk to love.
Show us the drama of love enacted in our community.
Help us bear the wounds and scars that may come
with being vulnerable, open and loving.
And when love seems too hard,
help us remember that we can love others
because we are loved with a love that will not let us go.
As we gaze at the baby in the manger,
may we see Your amazing love for the world
shining across the miles and centuries.
And may that love fill our own hearts to overflowing.

This year, this night, God, we listen for the story of CHRIST
The story of You coming to share our lives.
The story of You coming to change our world.
The story of love and hope, of peace and joy.
A story that happened a long time ago in a place far away,
a story that happens in this very place this very day.
Help us, God, to hear the story, help us, God, to welcome the baby,
Help us, God, to live into the new world that Christmas brings.
We pray in the name of the One who lies in the manger.
Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!
So Be It! Amen.

Song of Praise
Joy to the world! the Lord is come!
Author: Isaac Watts (1719)
Tune: ANTIOCH

1 Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
Let earth its praises bring;
let every heart prepare Christ room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

2 Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3 Christ rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of God’s righteousness,
and wonders of God’s love,
and wonders God’s love,
and wonders, wonders of God’s love.

A Reading from the Gospels
Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius (kwi-RY-nəs) governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Prayer for Others
Jesus, whose mother was Mary,
we pray for families of all shapes and sizes
all over the world.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, cradled in a manger,
we pray for those who have no home,
and for those who have left behind all they know.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, sharing the stable with the animals,
we pray that we might treat the animals and plants
which share our world with kindness and respect.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, worshipped by shepherds and kings,
we pray for all kinds of people
all over the world.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, our Emmanuel,
we pray that all would know
that you, God, are with them this Christmastime.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Sending Out
(from RevGord’s worshipofferings.blogspot)

Peace on the Earth, Goodwill to all.
The angel song rings in our ears.
The baby has been born, the story is just beginning.
The promise of peace shines from the manger,
calling us to live as peacemakers.
As we go out to celebrate the Christmas Season,
we share the light of the Christmas star,
the light that brings hope, peace, joy, and love.
And we do so knowing that the Light shines in the darkness
but the darkness can never overcome it.
Glory to God in the Highest! And on Earth, Peace.

Closing Hymn
Silent night, holy night!
Author: Joseph Mohr
Tune: STILLE NACHT

1 Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child,
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

2 Silent night, holy night,
shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

3 Silent night, holy night,
Child of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from your holy face
bring the dawn of redeeming grace;
Jesus, Christ, at your birth,
Jesus, Christ, a your birth!

Preparation for Worship at Home. When worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. During the Advent season (today through Christmas Eve), set out four candles. One candle will be lit for each Sunday that passes as we approach Christmas Day.

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

The Worship of God

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

Advent Candle Litany
Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 86:15 and 136:26; Isaiah 54:10

light four candles

We light four candles today:
one candle to remind us
that God is our everlasting and constant abiding hope,
a second candle to remind us
that God brings peace to our weary and troubled hearts,
a third candle to remind us
that God provides us abundant joy
and a fourth candle to remind us
that God loves us, yes, God loves us.

To the One who has made
this everlasting promise to us:
that even though the mountains may shift
and the hills may shake,
my love for you will not shift and my peace towards you will not be shaken;
to the One who is compassionate and gracious,
to the One who takes great delight in us,
we give our thanks and praise this day.
May the Lord increase our love!

Opening Prayer
O Wondrous God,
send your Messenger to us today with a word of grace.
If we are fearful, move us to Confidence.
If we are weary, offer us Rest.
If we are empty, fill us with Hope.
We have been searching for you far away;
Let us find you at home in our midst,
Changing hearts and minds,
Urging us to join your work of Love.
We pray in the name of the One who is coming,
Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Hymn of Praise
People, Look East
Author: Eleanor Farjeon
Tune: BESANCON (French Trad.)

  1. People, look east. The time is near
    Of the crowning of the year.
    Make your house fair as you are able,
    Trim the hearth and set the table.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the guest, is on the way.
  1. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
    One more seed is planted there:
    Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
    That in course the flower may flourish.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the rose, is on the way.
  2. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
    Guard the nest that must be filled.
    Even the hour when wings are frozen
    God for fledging time has chosen.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the bird, is on the way.
  3. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
    One more light the bowl shall brim,
    Shining beyond the frosty weather,
    Bright as sun and moon together.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the star, is on the way.
  4. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
    Christ who brings new life to earth.
    Set every peak and valley humming
    With the word, the Lord is coming.
    People, look east and sing today:
    Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Common English Bible

I will sing of the Lord’s loyal love forever.
I will proclaim your faithfulness
with my own mouth
from one generation to the next.
That’s why I say,
“Your loyal love is rightly built—forever!
You establish your faithfulness in heaven.”
You said, “I made a covenant with my chosen one;
I promised my servant David:
‘I will establish your offspring forever;
I will build up your throne from one generation to the next.’”

Once you spoke in a vision
to your faithful servants:
I placed a crown on a strong man.
I raised up someone specially chosen from the people.
I discovered my servant David.
I anointed him with my holy oil.
My hand will sustain him—
yes, my arm will strengthen him!
No enemy will oppress him;
no wicked person will make him suffer.
I will crush all his foes in front of him.
I will strike down all those who hate him.
My faithfulness and my loyal love will be with him.
He will be strengthened by my name.
I will set his hand on the sea.
I will set his strong hand on the rivers.
He will cry out to me:
“You are my father,
my God, the rock of my salvation.”

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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
Love is All Our Joy!
Composer: Malcom Archer

Anointed as God’s chosen ones,
beloved, pure, and holy,
With patience, kindness, clothe yourselves,
a mantle, meek and lowly.

Refrain:
Love, love, is all our joy,
binding us in harmony,
With love we can ne’er destroy
the peace of Christ within us.

Compassion, mercy, charity,
these gifts to us are given;
Forgive all others, bear with them,
as you have been forgiven.
Refrain

Our words, our deeds, our gifts of love,
to Jesus Christ we raise them,
Give thanks to God who reigns above,
sing psalms and hymns to praise Him.
Refrain

Luke 1:26-38
Common English Bible

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

The college Bible study group is reading through the book of Acts. Last Wednesday night we were reading Acts 15. where a major church conference is happening down in Jerusalem. Some believers are having a difficult time accepting into the church people who profess faith in Jesus but are not following some of the essential Jewish customs. For us, this seems strange. We easily recognize that one doesn’t have to be a Jew to be a Christian. Nor does one have to practice certain aspects of Judaism to be a Christian. But remember these early Christians down in Jerusalem were Jews as well. It wasn’t an either/or thing for them. They were both Jews and Christians. The Jewish disciplines they practiced were not a hindrance to their faith in Jesus. But these disciplines were becoming a hindrance to their ability to welcome all into life with God through Jesus Christ. So the church had a meeting to decide what to do.

After debating the matter, they decided not to cause further trouble for those ho were turning to God who were not Jewish. They would only require four things: to avoid eating food associated with idols, avoid sexual immorality, refuse to eat meat from strangled animals, and refrain from consuming blood. They wrote all this down in a letter which they had Paul and Barnabas hand deliver to the non-Jewish believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. In the letter these four refusals are described as “essentials.”

When we move the story into our present day context, we can push ourselves to see what unnecessary burdens we might be placing on others who turn to God. Are there disciplines that are meaningful to us, that bring us closer to God, but we have made them requirements for others to be included in the church? Now the early church came up with four essential no-no behaviors. We could be lame and leave it with those four. I don’t have a problem with any of them. I’m not tempted to drink blood, nor eat meat that comes from a strangled animal. Nor am I interested in sexual immorality or eating foods that have been offered to idols. But, truly, what are the essentials we should be placing on ourselves today? If we were to write a letter to people who are new to living the way of Jesus, what would we say is essential to being a Christian and a part of the church? I think at the top of the list is the word, “love.”

1 John 3:11 says “This is the message that you heard from the beginning: love each other.” The discipline of love is an essential “burden” we must carry if we want to be a Christian and a part of the church. If we are to trouble ourselves with any Christian discipline, if we are going to require anything of one another, if we are going to put down some essential to our faith, “love” should be at the top of the list. 1 John 3 goes on to say that “We are to love one another not with words or speech, but with actions and truth.” I like the way T.S. Eliot describes the family love in his play, The Elder Statesman . It echoes this idea of not loving one another with words or speech but with actions and truth. Eliot wrote

There’s no vocabulary
for love within a family, love that’s lived in
but not looked at, love within the light of which
all else is seen, the love within
which all other love finds speech.
This love is silent.

That’s the kind of love we are to have for each other. It is a love that does something, not merely says something. Love is essential in the life of a Christian. The way we live as followers of Jesus should reflect God’s love. If we follow Jesus, we will love each other. If we follow Jesus, we will reflect that love of God which 1 John 3:1 describes this way. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are!” We are God’s children and we are loved.

Everybody needs to be told that God loves them. We all need to be told that God loves us. It is true, God loves us. God’s love is not earned. God’s love cannot be measured. God’s love is not withheld from some and provided more for others. God’s love is constant, abounding, and certain. God does not love us in word and speech, but God loves us in action and truth. God’s love is “lived in” as Eliot wrote. As we live in God’s love, we see everything better and brighter and easier because we look at the world through the love of God.

We see the love of God in action in the opening chapter of the gospel of Luke. Here in our gospel story for the day, the angel Gabriel is sent to Galilee to a young girl named Mary. She is engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. In those days, engagements lasted for a whole year. Gabriel’s presence and greeting confused and disturbed Mary, but Gabriel calms her fears and gives her some good news. She is going to have a baby whom she will name Jesus. This baby will be called the Son of the Most High. This baby will be given the throne of David. But unlike David, this baby’s reign will never ever come to an end. Without any opposition to any of this news, Mary gets straight to the point and asks Gabriel, “How will this happen?” Gabriel reassures her that this is the work of the Holy Spirit of God. And to further reassure Mary, Gabriel shares the good news that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth who had been labeled as unable to get pregnant is now six months pregnant. Yes, nothing is impossible for God. And Mary in great humility, trust, and devotion says, “Let it be as you have said.”

God loves us. And our response to that love is critical. Mary responded to God’s love by accepting it, welcoming it into her life, and committing her life to it. She says to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Mary responds to God’s love without knowing all the details, without knowing all that would be required, without knowing where this love would lead her. This was a risk she was taking. Did you realize that an engaged woman who was found to be pregnant could be punished for her mistake by being stoned to death? But Mary says, “Here I am.” She did not run from God’s love for the world. Instead she responds with humility and deep trust in God and says “yes” to God’s love which is not just for her but for the whole world.

Sometimes the way we live and the decisions we make do not reflect the love God has for the world. You see, the way we respond to God’s love is critical. Sometimes we assume God loves the world and God loves us, but we are just indifferent to it. We take God’s love for us and for the world for granted, and we go about our merry little way (and “our way” is quite little in comparison to the way of Jesus). At other times, we get so caught up in the fact that “God loves us” that we forget that God loves the whole world. Instead of being super spreaders of God’s love, we excel in making God’s love individualistic, just like a “designed for me” gift. And we have all witnessed the trend to simplify the love of God proclaimed in John 3:16. God’s love is turned into this individual evacuation plan for the end of all time. “Are you saved,” one asks. “Yes, I am saved.” God’s love morphs into something Jesus can do for us personally and privately. That’s not the good news. That’s not what Mary humbled herself for. That’s not why God took on human form, became flesh, vulnerable in all ways possible, as one of us, and lived among us.

God’s love is for all, everyone, all things, the world. God’s love leads the world along the paths of reconciliation, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. God’s love urges the world towards wholeness. God’s love points the world in the direction of mending what is broken, not tossing out the broken and replacing it, but God’s love points towards mending. God’s love does not destroy, but God’s love creates. God’s love is about life giving renewal and restoration. God’s love sees and acknowledges the brokenness, the wreckage, and the despair. But God’s love doesn’t turn away; it is tender and thoughtful and works towards repair.

Somewhere this past week I have read about the art of repairing broken pottery with gold. Imagine a bowl broken into four or five pieces. It is no longer useful. It’s purpose is gone. However, instead of tossing out the broken pieces, the bowl is repaired. A lacquer mixed with gold powder and that is used to seam the bowl back together. What once was broken is repaired. Maybe not to be used in the same way, but now with added beauty and perhaps a new purpose. This is such a great visual to how God’s love works in the world. God takes the broken, God takes the wreckage, God takes the despair and mends it. God puts it back together and it is beautiful.

God loves us. God loves the world. How will we respond to God’s love? It will help if we stop idolizing the illusion that we have control over life’s events. It will help if we can recognize our brokenness, our weaknesses, and our poverty. And it will help if we respond to God’s love with humility and deep trust just as Mary did. For God so loves 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
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Tune: VENI EMMANUEL
Author: based on antiphons from Advent Vespers

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Child of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show
and help us in that way to go.
Refrain

O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide your heavenly home;
make safe the path to endless day,
to hell’s destruction close the way.
Refrain

O come, O Day spring, come and cheer
our spirits by your advent here;
love stir within the womb of night
and death’s own shadows put to flight.
Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
all peoples in one heart and mind;
make envy, strife, and quarrels cease
fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Refrain

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.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: Artwork by Elizabeth. The Opening Prayer is provided by the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org). The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano, Tessa on the flute with Mindy, Laura, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns and played the recorder. 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 at Home. When worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. During the Advent season (today through Christmas Eve), set out four candles. One candle will be lit for each Sunday that passes as we approach Christmas Day.

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

The Worship of God

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

Advent Candle Litany

light three candles

We light three candles today:
one candle to remind us
that God is our everlasting and constant abiding hope,
a second candle to remind us
that this God’s hope brings peace to our weary and troubled hearts,
and a third candle to remind us
of the always present possibility of joy that comes from God.

For the One who makes the gateways of the evening and the morning sing for joy,
who clothes the desert pastures and hills with pure joy,
who causes the countryside and the trees,
the valleys and the meadowlands to shout for joy,
this One sustains us, forgives us, and stays with us.
Therefore, let your hearts rejoice.
God will clothe us with joy,
God will water our souls with rivers of pure joy,
and God will help us sing and shout for joy again.
May the Lord increase our joy!

Opening Prayer
Holy One,
Builder who delights
in making spaces of safety and beauty,
fill us today with the gifts we need
to join you in your life-sustaining, hope-giving work in the world;
let us share your joyful vision
of beauty and justice
in this world you have created and loved.
In the name of the One who is coming,
Amen

Hymn of Praise
The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns
Author: unknown; trans. John Brownlie
Tune: MORNING SONG (John Wyeth)

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks.
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.

Not, as of old, a little child,
To suffer and to die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And earth’s dark night is past;
O haste the rising of that morn
Whose day shall ever last.

And let the endless joy begin,
By weary saints foretold.
When right shall triumph over wrong,
And truth shall be extolled.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ, the Lord! Your people pray:
Come quickly, King of kings.

Psalm 126
Common English Bible

When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,
it was like we had been dreaming.
Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;
our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them!”
Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,
and we are overjoyed.

Lord, change our circumstances for the better,
like dry streams in the desert waste!
Let those who plant with tears
reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
Let those who go out,
crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts,
carrying bales of grain!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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
Joy!
Author: Isaac Watts
Composer: Glenn Wonacott

Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns:
let us, our songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sin and sorrow grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love.

Luke 1:46b-55
Common English Bible

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Reflection on the Gospel
Dr. Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Fifteen years ago we were visiting Disney World in Florida with our family. It was early Spring in 2006 and we spent part of a day at the Disney Hollywood Studios. The movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had just been released a few months previous. I remember walking through a plain set of doors into what looked like a warehouse and instantly the sunny spring day outside was transformed into the snowy white paradise of Narnia. Disney had re-created the set of the movie to look as it did when Lucy walked out of the wardrobe for the first time and into the winter snow of Narnia. I know it’s a bit cheesy, but it really did seem like Disney magic. The idea that on one side of this small door was spring and the other was a make-believe winter that looked and felt so real was startling.  

In some ways, Advent and Christmas are times to venture more deeply into God’s alternative reality. We live too much of our year thinking that what we see is as good as it gets. We forget that on the other side of the door is a version of God’s Way of life and love. If we spend too much time unaware of the world as God sees it, we can become unaware of the promises of light and salvation. We think we have to accept reality as it is, or at least as we think that it must be.  

Even more troublesome, it is easy to wonder if what is happening in the world that we see is what God really wants. Maybe if my car’s transmission failed then maybe God intended it. Maybe if my cousin contracted COVID then maybe God intended it. Maybe if I lost my job then maybe God intended it. When we only measure God’s purpose and presence by the reality we see around us then we will be tricked into accepting the status quo as God’ Holy Way. Advent and Christmas both pull back the curtain. God does not intend human suffering. God is not the author of sin. God does not secretly command evil or empower the ungodly. It is easy to confuse God’s intent and God’s knowledge. In all its messy and sinful state, this reality is what we may have to endure but it’s not the reality that God intends. 

Right here is where Mary’s words in Luke 1 come into the mix. Mary reminds us of what she can see of God’s Way even before Jesus is born. It’s a vision of faith in God and hope in God’s very real world. This young Jewish woman has something to teach us even after all these years.    

The storyline goes something like this: The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah, a Jewish priest, and tells him that he and Elizabeth will have a son that they are to name John. Zechariah is rendered speechless, Elizabeth ends up pregnant, and together they await their son. A few months later, the same angel, Gabriel, visits Mary and asks her if she is willing to be the mother of the Messiah. She agrees, and her obedience changes the world. In the first trimester, Mary decides to travel and visit Elizabeth in the hill city of Hebron, presumably a 60-mile journey. Mary was clearly not timid. When she arrives and greets Elizabeth, two things happen: the not-yet-born John jostles with joy and Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit of God. Under holy inspiration, Elizabeth explains the importance of Mary’s child and the blessing that falls upon Mary as a result of her courage and trust in God. While this is the Advent week of joy for many reasons, we cannot overlook Mary’s courage and trust in God because acting on these are what amplifies her joy.  

Everything Mary says in vv. 48-55 helps us see God’s alternative reality. Mary is not simply being an optimist, she gives voice to a reality that is both the foundation and the future of her life. Yet her words stand in counterpoint to what the current circumstances of her life must have been like. Consider the following.  

Mary is young, poor, unknown, and of no social status. While famous beyond measure today, she was of “no account” as they might say in my native SC. No one other than Elizabeth would look upon her and think that her small “yes” to God was going to matter to anyone other than her. Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say (vv. 48-50) “God has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name.” 

Mary is uneducated, certainly illiterate, isolated in her Palestinian Jewish homeland, and unable to know or understand the world at large. She would not have owned maps and books. Did not sit at the feet of teachers. Didn’t wait in the marketplace to hear the stories of travelers or the escapades of soldiers and they came through the town.  Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say, (v. 50) “God shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.” 

Mary lives on land that is hers in name and history but is occupied by a Roman pagan government. She walks through streets and down highways that are frequented by Roman soldiers. She has no rights from the government including almost no ability to choose her own way of life. It is bad enough that she can’t do anything about the political power imposed on her personal life, she also has to tolerate Jewish patriarchy from her own religious leaders. Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say (v. 51-52), “God has shown strength with his arm. God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” 

Mary was poor and common, frequently surviving on only one meal a day, two on good days, but far from enjoying abundance. She knew hunger herself, and likely saw others who were even hungrier. Yet a few were rich and received their unfair portions as the expense of others. Even more found wealth through corruption and theft and fraud and using others for their own gain. Sound familiar? Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say (v. 53), “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” 

Mary has not been educated enough to read her own scripture. That itself is a travesty. She would not have been allowed a Bat Mitzvah when she was of age because only boys had Bar Mitzvahs at that time. She had to learn to know and love the Torah stories by listening and remembering scraps and pieces from Sabbath blessings and Jewish festivals and traveling rabbis. Yet she can see enough of God’s reality to say (v. 54-55), “God has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” 

Mary is not in denial about the difficulties of her everyday circumstances. She knows that, on a day-to-day basis her son soon to be born will not change these parts of her life. At the same time, she is keenly aware of God’s view of reality. She can see that the divine perspective is an alternate reality. It is very real but no longer overlooked by her. Its promises help her endure to the point of knowing a joy that last beyond a moment’s sorrow or happiness.  

That’s all good for Mary. She was after all the Mother of God, Jesus’ first disciple, and a first-hand witness to God’s salvation. She communicated much of the book of Luke and kept alive the sayings and doings of Jesus. So again, that’s all good for Mary, but what about us? 

Oh, how much I want to see the world through Mary’s eyes. This Advent we are called to catch a vision of God’s reality. Especially when the circumstances of the everyday are dimmed by despair, when the future is muddied by uncertainty, when our anxieties and fears are exaggerated by the actuality of another crisis, we need to see this world within God’s holy alternative reality. For in God’s world all our troubles do not disappear, but they are re-focused. God thinks highly of us. God shows mercy to us. God knows the sin of the arrogant and powerful and in God’s reality they have no sway over us. God will satisfy all our needs and the greedy will be left in want. 

May we know God’s joy this Advent season for as we prepare for the coming of God, we are peering over the edges of the day and looking to time in which God’s Way becomes our life and our hope and our joy.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What do you think that God wants in our world that we don’t see or hear enough?
  2. How does “Joy” become part of lives at times other than Christmas?

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
Mary Gladly Told Her Cousin
Author: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
Tune: IRBY (“Once in Royal David’s City”) / Gauntlett

Mary gladly told her cousin, “Praise the Lord! My spirit sings!”
Young and humble, she’d been chosen! God was surely changing things!
God of love, her words ring true As we sing her prayer to you:

“Now my soul is gladly singing At the greatness of the Lord.
I rejoice, for God is bringing His salvation to the world.
All who live will say I’m blest Even in my lowliness.

“God is mighty, just and holy, And he’s done great things for me.
Those who fear him know the mercy That God gives us endlessly.
Mighty ones are brought down low; Lowly ones find blessings flow.

“God has filled the poor and hungry, And he’s sent the rich away.
God is active here in history, In a real and wondrous way.
God has promised, and I’m blessed, For I know God’s faithfulness.”

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.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: Artwork by Elizabeth. The Opening Prayer is provided by the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org). The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano with Mindy, Laura, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. 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 at Home. When worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. During the Advent season (today through Christmas Eve), set out four candles. One candle will be lit for each Sunday that passes as we approach Christmas Day.

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

The Worship of God

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

Advent Candle Litany
O Holy One, we light this second candle,
a candle offering comfort to weary spirits
after a year of pain and loss.
Let its glow remind us of your tender care
and warm our lives in the Light of Peace.
Let it guide us to your presence in our midst,
leading us to your Justice and Joy in the service of Love.
God be with us in this Light of Peace.

Two candle are lit today.

Opening Prayer
O Holy One,
you are tender shepherd,
architect of the Way,
beguiling hope of all who go looking for you
deep in their lives.
Surprise us here with
Sweetness, challenge, vision—
Whatever we may need
In this moment to recognize you
and follow you into the future.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Beloved.
Amen.

Hymn of Praise
Comfort, Comfort O My People
Author: Johannes G. Olearius; tr. Catherine Winkworth
Tune: GENEVA 42 (Louis Bourgeois)

Comfort, comfort O my people, tell of peace, thus says our God;
Comfort those whose hearts are shrouded, mourning under sorrow’s load.
Speak unto Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them!
Tell them that their sins I cover, and their warfare now is over!

For the herald’s voice is calling in the desert far and near,
Bidding us to make repentance since the realm of God is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way;
let the valleys rise in meeting, and the hills bow down in greeting.

Straight shall be what long was crooked & the rougher places plain!
Let your hearts be true and humble, for Messiah’s holy reign.
For God’s glory evermore shall be known o’er all the world;
and all flesh shall see the token that God’s word is never broken.

Isaiah 40:1-11
Common English Bible along with The Jewish Bible

Comfort, oh comfort My people! says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!

A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Let every valley be raised up, and every mountain and hill be flattened.
Let uneven ground become level, and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice rings out: “Call out!”
And another asks, “What should I call out?”
“All flesh is grass; all its goodness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up and the flower withers
when the Lord’s breath blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up and the flower withers,
but our God’s word is always fulfilled.

Go up on a high mountain, messenger Zion!
Raise your voice and shout, messenger Jerusalem!
Raise it; don’t be afraid; say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Here is the Lord God,
coming with strength, with a triumphant arm,
bringing his reward with him and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
he will gather lambs in his arms and lift them onto his lap.
He will gently guide the mother sheep.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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
Comfort My People
Composer: Ian Callanan

Comfort, my people, and calm all your fear;
the day of salvation is quickly drawing near.
The One you long to see will soon set you free.
O come, Lord Jesus, come. O come, Lord Jesus, come.

Silence the thunder, silence sounds of war.
End all destruction and comfort those who mourn.
Your dream draws near; your vision is here.
O come, Lord Jesus, come. O come, Lord Jesus, come

Be light in the darkness; be truth for our lives.
Be strength for the helpless, the poor and lost who cry.
O saving voice, O living choice,
O come, Lord Jesus, come. O come, Lord Jesus, come

Reflection on Psalm 85
“Peace” / Rev. Tonya Vickery

I don’t know if you can remember what Advent and Christmas was like last year. This year’s pandemic, hurricanes, social unrest, and downright ugly political conversations have made the year seem like three or four years at least. However, it was just a little over 365 days ago that we celebrated Advent and Christmas all warm and cheery in our comfortable sanctuary closely surrounded by family and we were not afraid. But for some, Advent and Christmas was hard. I know it was for me. Alzheimer’s was changing my mom’s demeanor and erasing her abilities slowly but surely. I ached for her, my dad, and myself. If I could have given her anything last Christmas, I would have given her the ability to know peace.

Well here I am again this Advent/Christmas season, and if there was one gift I could give to all of you all, it would be the ability to know peace. We have all had a heck of a year and it isn’t over yet. We’ve been afraid. We’ve been sad. We’ve been angry. We’ve been flippant and short. We’ve been tired. We’ve been alone. We have been anxious. And after so many days and months of these restless feelings and emotions, we need peace. And I am grateful that the second Sunday of Advent aims to deliver.

Psalm 85:8-13
Let me hear what the Lord God says,
because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones.
Don’t let them return to foolish ways.
God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him
so that his glory can live in our land.
Faithful love and truth have met;
righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth springs up from the ground;
righteousness gazes down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord gives what is good,
and our land yields its produce.
Righteousness walks before God,
making a road for his steps.

Our Psalm reading begins today in the middle of the chapter with these words: “Let me hear what the Lord God has to say….” In other words, in response to all that has happened, what does God have to say about it? In this psalm, the writer’s life has been messed up. Life among God’s people had moved so far away from what God would have life to be. And God was angry.

This reminds me two winters ago when we were study the prophet Jeremiah on Wednesday nights. God used the common image of thirst and water to describe how God provides for us but how often we respond. God is like a fountain of living water, always running with water, always available. However, we people who are thirsty are also stubborn, arrogant, and stupid. We can see that fountain, but the way we respond to that water is by deciding to carve out our own cisterns out of stone so that we can catch the rain to drink. As we carve, and we work hard, day in and day out. It takes a long time to carve out rock. we crack our cistern, but we ignore the flaw, and when we finish we still set our leaky rock bowls out to catch the rain so we can have something to drink for ourselves. In Jeremiah, God says, when we finally realize our homemade cisterns are cracked, we don’t turn to the fountain of living water, we start looking for water in other places. We look for an alternative source, while the fountain of living water keeps on running, waiting, always ready for us to come and drink. God in Jeremiah says, please stop being so stubborn, arrogantly self-sufficient, and stupid. Please change the direction of your gaze and look this way, and come and drink.

Well, in Psalm 85, God’s steadfast patience is running out. And God is more than just a little mad with the people for doing the wrong things and acting the wrong way — ignoring the fountain of life in their midst. God is furious with them. You know, it’s bad enough when you disappoint yourself and others, but when you disappoint God, what is left to do? How can you ever make it right with God again? It is a horrible feeling when you realize you have turned your back on God out of arrogance, stubbornness, or plain stupidity, or carelessness. What does God have to say about all this? “Let me hear what the Lord God will speak.” And what is it God says? Peace.

I lean heavily today on one of my preferred theologians, Jurgen Moltmann. Moltmann says that peace is “an experience of the Spirit in our restless hearts.” I don’t know about you, but I know that my heart is restless these days. It is hard for me to be at ease. Each week something happens and it seems like we hold our breath that things will turn out okay. But man, the magnitude of loss surrounds us and it’s like it’s trying to smothers us. Jobs have been lost. Trust has been lost. Civility has been lost. But worst of all life has been lost and continues to be lost more and more each day. Leaving us little time to grieve. I used to think that maybe, just maybe our small little county might be sheltered from the storm of the pandemic, but it seems that as the world we let our guard down and now the virus taunts us. Our hearts are restless. When will this end? When will life be safe again? When will we be able to see smiling faces and hug one another? When will we be able to joyful gather as family and not be terrified that we have shed the virus where we have been?

The Spirit of God comes to our restless hearts and the voice of the Lord God says to us, peace. Hear the voice of the Lord God say to you, peace. God loves you. And God does not hold back love. Instead God through the Spirit pours love in our hearts, minds and inner souls. And as God’s love permeates your whole being, peace begins to bloom and thrive. All those tense muscles, all that anxiety, it lessens it grip on us, slows our heartbeat and racing minds.

Moltmann also writes, as Christians, as believes of God through Jesus Christ, “we are possessed by a hope which sees unlimited possibilities ahead because it looks into God’s future.” Jeffrey talked about this last week. God’s future for us is a wonderful thing, not a dreadful thing.

When that kind of hope takes root in your life, you begin to see and recognize the endless possibilities in store for all of us and all of creation. And that’s when your restless heart can stop struggling to control the day, the moment or the future, and instead your heart, mind and soul can be at peace, at rest because you know that God’s future is certain and God’s future is good. We who believe God, we have the possibility of seeing through the haze of this world and past the horizon of destruction and fear, and the ability to look into God’s new world. And we live our lives looking ahead, beyond the current fears and sufferings and disappointments in this life, and we see the beautiful coming world God and our restless hearts can sigh and be at peace. Think on the beautiful world of God to come. Breath the air of the Spirit and be at and in God’s peace.

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
On Jordan’s Bank
Author: Charles Coffin; tr. John Chandler and others
Tune: WALTHAM

The Baptist shouts on Jordan’s shore,
the earth shakes with the mighty roar,
awake, let lazy sleep now flee:
behold, the voice of prophecy!

The earth and sky and sea now feel
that which their Author will reveal:
the Child now leaping in the womb
as God does human form assume.

Clean up your hearts, lay down the way,
for God approaches day by day;
prepare for such a worthy heir,
for such a guest your house prepare.

Through you, O Jesus, you alone
salvation, solace, strength are known;
without your love we fade like grass,
like wilted flowers our lives will pass.

O One who comes to set us free,
O Child, to you our song will be,
with Father, Spirit mothering,
to you shall praise for ever ring!

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.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: Artwork by Elizabeth. The Advent Candle Litany and Opening Prayer were provided by the United Church of Christ (www.ucc.org). The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano, Kat on the cello, and Michelle on the guitar with Mindy, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. Scripture readings are from the Common English Bible unless otherwise noted. 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 at Home. When worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. During the Advent season (today through Christmas Eve), set out four candles. One candle will be lit for each Sunday that passes as we approach Christmas Day.

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

The Worship of God

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

Advent Wreath Litany
In the beginning was the Word –
spoken and breathed,
a promise made and kept.
Listen and hear –
God’s promise is true!
The Word was in the beginning,
and through him all things come into being.
Eternal and near at hand,
already and not yet,
God’s promise is the foundation of all life.
Listen!
Hear the covenant anew, giving voice to a future with hope.
~Teri Carol Peterson

One candle is lit today.

Opening Prayer
We have had enough feasts of anger and bitterness,
so come, God-who-aches-to-be-with-us,
to feed us with the simple Bread of heaven.
Every day we are handed steaming mugs of tears,
so come, to hold the Cup of hope to our lips.
Every day seems to be the longest day
in this year which goes on and on,
so come, God-who-approaches,
using the stars in the night sky
to light the way to the grace
we long to find in Bethlehem,
where we will find a home with you
when all the power and wealth of the world
slams their doors in our faces,
leaving us huddled with all our fears and worries.
We are deafened by all the arguments, the rhetoric,
the foolish boasts, the outright lies,
so come, God-who-is our peace,
to fill our ears with the angelic songs,
to pour love and wonder into the emptiness of our souls.
Come, God in Community, Holy in One,
come to assure is that out of these uncertain times
will come the Advent of new life.
~Thom Shuman

Hymn of Praise
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Author: Charles Wesley
Tune: HYFERDOL

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Shepherd of Israel, listen!
You, the one who leads Joseph as if he were a sheep.
You, who are enthroned upon the winged heavenly creatures.
Show yourself before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!
Wake up your power!
Come to save us!
Restore us, God!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Lord God of heavenly forces,
how long will you fume against your people’s prayer?
You’ve fed them bread made of tears;
you’ve given them tears to drink three times over!
You’ve put us at odds with our neighbors;
our enemies make fun of us.
Restore us, God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Let your hand be with the one on your right side—
with the one whom you secured as your own—
then we will not turn away from you!
Revive us so that we can call on your name.
Restore us, Lord God of heavenly forces!
Make your face shine so that we can be saved!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Composer: Richard Shephard

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of humankind.
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Mark 13:24-37
“In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. 25 The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. 27 Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.

28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. 30 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

32 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 33 Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. 34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”

Reflecting on the Word
“Apocalypse Later” – Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

It just might seem to many of us that 2020, of all years, is apocalyptic. Let me assure you, it is not. Do not fear the end of all things. While everything from the out-of-control pandemic to the extraordinary number of hurricanes to the murder hornet invasion to the circus spectacle of politics has disrupted the lives of possibly every single person in America, yet these are not signs of the end of time. These are mostly the result of human sin in one form or another. Whatever we do, Christians cannot misunderstand human sin and assign it to God’s purpose. God is the architect of redemption, not sin. God is the Creator of a good humanity and not the instigator of human evil. God is the light of hope, not the dark knight of death and destruction. 

So even though 2020 is not the apocalypse warning sign some claim, this dramatic reading from Mark 13 is a good place to think about the end of 2020 and the beginning of a new church year as Advent starts today. Why? Because the biblical message of the apocalypse is not one of doom and gloom but of hope. I’m serious. It is not a message of the end of all things, but the beginning of all that God imagines. While sun and moon turning dark sounds ominous, the end result is salvation. Just as Advent asks us to consider what we need to do in order to prepare for God’s coming, so too these messages that we have come to call the “end of times” are really lessons from the biblical story about “the coming of God.” And when God comes among us, there is hope and salvation. In this way, the message of the apocalypse is identical to the message of the manger. God is coming soon. For the people of God, this brings hope not fear.   

This story of Jesus from Mark 13 uses three different stories to make the same point. The first story is cosmic, the second is seasonal, and the third is domestic.  

Jesus’ first illustration (beginning in verse 24) draws our attention because we are often enamored by the sensational. The sun and moon will darken. The stars and planets will shake and waver in the sky. These are things that only God can do. The first reminder about the apocalypse is that it comes at God’s time and not ours. It is the result of God’s action, not human accomplishment. It is a work of salvation, not a path of destruction brought on by human mishap and sin. Because these are only accomplished by God’s direct intention, they are hopeful reminders of salvation. Mark does something interesting with these signs by directly attaching them to the coming of the Messiah. The mention of the “coming of the Human One” is a clear reference to Jesus. And for centuries Christians have confessed as our central doctrine that Jesus came to dwell among us, full of grace and truth, as a way to bring us hope and salvation. The character of God is consistent. The truth of God’s grace is unerring. The trust in God’s forgiveness is unwavering. Therefore, the coming of God, at any time and in any place, is a reason for hope. This includes any future coming of God. If the next time we look to the heavens we happen to see the stars and planets dance, we should join the celebration. God is near, enter into the joy of salvation! 

Jesus’ second illustration (beginning in verse 28) draws us into the agriculture of Jesus’ Palestinian homeland where fig trees were common. The movement from winter to spring and spring to summer is something that we as humans depend upon but not something that we control. Without summer, Jesus can’t eat figs. That doesn’t sound dramatic, of course, but what if we were talking about a world without tomatoes, corn, squash, and beans? In order to have this good harvest, summer must come in its time. Since Galilee and Cullowhee (where Jesus lived and where we are today) are at the same latitude, our seasons are similar. And in Jesus’ Galilee, they lived in a world where they had to grow their own food. Any indication that summer is on the way, like the young shoot on a fig tree, is a sign of sustenance and hope. Without summer the health and welfare of our family is uncertain. Yet summer comes. Every year. And it comes in the way that God set forth at the creation of this world. Summer is a certainty just as God’s care is without doubt. As our Advent season leads us into winter, we know that snow and frost will eventually give way to new fruit and garden dirt warming in the spring sun. One way to read verse 30,  when Jesus says, “I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen,” is that Jesus gives us the assurance that, just as summer brings enough food to sustain life for another season, God gives life in every season. Salvation is like an eternal summer in which the garden of God is always abundant and thus our life is sustained for eternity. Think of the images of heaven at the end of Revelation in which a river flows so that water is always available, two trees that grow twelve kinds of fruit are always producing, and the light of God never dims. It sounds like heaven is an eternal summer!  

Mark ends this teaching of Jesus with the assurance that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.” Consider all the ways in which the biblical story places emphasis on “the word.” In Genesis 1, God speaks a word and creation takes on life. John’s Gospel (chapter 1) gives us the assurance that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.“ In this way and others, one designation of Jesus himself is as the “Word of God.” Additionally, following the Jewish perception of the Torah, we Christians identify scripture as the word of God. So when Jesus says here in Mark 13 that “my words will certainly not pass away,” it is a statement of assurance. A trust given to us that God’s creative Spirit will always speak and life will not be diminished … regardless. The Gospel of God incarnate in Jesus is not contingent upon any other creation or the possibility of catastrophic destruction. These words of God in all their form both bring and give life. Once again, the apocalypse expresses hope. 

Jesus’ third illustration (beginning in verse 33) brings us home. Or maybe I should say, brings us into the household. The emphasis here is that the homeowner is always to be expected to be present or to return soon by those who are employed in the house. The repeated advice, three different times, is “stay alert” — “stay alert” — “stay alert.” Why? Because the owner will come home at a moment that is not determined by anyone inside the house. If God is, in this analogy, the house owner, then God is the only one that determines God’s return. We do not and cannot control God’s actions, but we are indeed responsible for our own. We are like the doorkeeper. We have a job to do and it is one that is common rather than spectacular. It is to be prepared. Do our job. Keep awake. Stay alert. This call is one of basic daily obedience to the Gospel. Since we are surrounded by entertainment and media industries that broadcast superlatives – the best, the scariest, the prettiest, the most dramatic, the world champion, the crazy sensational – we are sometimes led to believe that only these media-worthy actions are important, or make us feel important. But the Gospel lesson here is that the common daily practice of faith is what prepares us for any moment of obedience, whether it involves the extraordinary or not.  

I’m reminded of the day that Ronald Reagan was shot. It was March 30, 1981 and I was on Lake Keowee fishing with my father. While listening to the radio we heard the news of the shooting of the President after he had given a speech at a hotel in Washington. Attention turned almost immediately to Jerry Parr and Timothy McCarthy. They were the Secret Service agents who protected the President. Agent Parr pushed Reagan into the limousine while Agent McCarthy jumped between Reagan and the gunman and was shot himself. These two men, as is true for every agent who protects every President, were ready and prepared and trained to respond at a moment’s notice to any threat while at the same time expecting that almost every day will end without any incident. Their daily task is watchfulness. They are present at every event and mostly do nothing sensational. But they are always ready, always alert. They train for an unexpected moment that they also hope will never come.  

When Jesus tells the “doorkeeper” to be ready for any return of the “house owner” he is calling us to be ready to respond with the Gospel in any instance. True, we may be alive and living out the Gospel at the end of all the world. But most likely, this day and every other day of our lives will end without cosmic cataclysm. Yet we live today and the next, we train our hearts and minds and bodies, to respond today as though we are prepared for the unfiltered presence of God among us. After all, the host of angels came to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus on an ordinary sheep-herding night. Today is by all accounts normal, but it is possibly this day that we are called to show love and grace in a way that just may make this world a bit more as God intends. We don’t start the day expecting to save a life, discover our life’s calling, meet the person who will change our future, or teach the next Nobel Peace Prize winner. We don’t plan these things because, like the apocalypse, they are often within the reach of God’s intent but require our obedience in some common way. Whoever we are, this day we must remain alert to God’s way of living. We are required to exercise forgiveness, and kindness, and generosity, and grace. We cannot treat others as a means to our end but as a value to God’s work and world just because of who they are. We are alert to God’s coming in such a way that will require us to respond with justice for others and to help heal creation. We live in obedience to God now with the hope that this day will be the apocalypse, but most likely it will not. In either eventuality, we are God’s people now, and prepared for this day whatever opportunity we may have to show love. 

During this Advent season, don’t just look ahead to the joy of Christmas and skip past this common day, like so many other days, that we are to be obedient to God in the ordinary. That’s our discipleship watchfulness. In so doing, we will be a part of this day of God’s creation, and will be prepared for the hope of an apocalypse later. 

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
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Author: James Montgomery
Tune: REGENT SQUARE

Angels from the realms of glory,
wing your flight o’er all the earth;
ye who sang creation’s story
now proclaim Messiah’s birth:

Refrain:
Come and worship, come and worship,
worship Christ, the newborn king.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
yonder shines the infant light: [Refrain]

Sages, leave your contemplations,
brighter visions beam afar;
seek the great Desire of nations;
ye have seen his natal star: [Refrain]

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.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements: The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano, Connor on the violin, Tessa on the flute with Mindy singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. Scripture readings are from the Common English Bible. 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 at Home
While worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. Light two candles 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.  

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

artwork by John Hain from Pixabay

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.

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

Opening Prayer
Today, Lord, we want everything to be for your glory.
We want our thoughts,
our words, our music,
our church, our community,
our resources, our time, our lives:
all to be for you.
Everything ours is yours,
and we come together to declare this to be so,
on this holy day of thanksgiving.
Bless our time together with your holy presence,
Amen.
~ written by Carol Penner

Hymn of Praise
We Sing the Mighty Power of God
Author: Isaac Watts
Tune: FOREST GREEN (trad. English Melody)

We sing the mighty power of God
that made the mountains rise,
that spread the flowing seas abroad
and built the lofty skies.
We sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
the moon shines full at God’s command,
and all the stars obey.

We sing the goodness of the Lord
that filled the earth with food;
God formed the creatures with the word
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how your wonders are displayed,
where’er we turn our eye,
if we survey the ground we tread
or gaze upon the skies.

There’s not a plant or flower below
but makes your glories known,
and clouds arise and tempests blow
by order from your throne;
while all that borrows life from you
is ever in your care,
and everywhere that we can be,
you, God, are present there.

Psalm 65
Praise awaits you,
O God of Zion;
O God of Zion, promises made to you will be fulfilled.
O Hearer of Prayer,
unto you all living things may come!
When sinful deeds overwhelm us,
pardon our rebellious acts.
How blessed is the one whom you choose and bring near;
the one who dwells in your courts.
May we be sated with the goodness of your house, your holy temple!
With awesome deeds which put things right, answer us,
O God of our salvation,
the one who is trusted by all the ends of the earth
and the distant seas.
Who by power sets the mountains in place;
who is clothed with might;
who stills the raging seas;
the raging of their waves, and the turmoil of the peoples.
So that those who dwell on the far edges stand in awe of your acts.
You make the gateways of morning and evening sing for joy.
You visit the land and give it abundance,
greatly enriching it.
God’s stream is full of water!
You provide grain by preparing the land.
Drench the earth’s furrows;
soak down its ridges.
Let showers soften it;
bless its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your paths drip fatness.
Even the dessert pastures drip with fatness,
and the hills cloth themselves with rejoicing.
The meadows are clothed with flocks,
the valleys dressed with grain;
they shout and sing for joy.
~ translated by Marvin Tate 

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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
Now Thank We All Our God
Tune: MIDDLEBROOK
Composer: William A. Pasch

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

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.  

Invitation to Communion
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 Ourselves and Others
For what we are about to receive,
may the Lord make us truly thankful.
We pray today for all who are too jealous to be thankful, who complain, “Why do they get everything?” and who are always comparing themselves with those who have more.
We pray for all who have forgotten how to say thank you; who have gotten used to saying, “I earned this,” and who truly feel they have only themselves to thank. 
We pray for all who are too busy to be thankful; who asked themselves this morning, “Do I have time to go to church?” and who even in worship are thinking about their to-do lists.

We pray for all who are grudgingly thankful; who say, “I guess this will have to do,” while believing that God has given them a raw deal.
We pray for all who are too tired to be thankful, who sigh, “I just want to get through this day,” and who have no energy to open their eyes to the blessings around them.
We pray for all who are not thankful enough to be generous, who bargain with God, “I’ll be unselfish when you give me more,” or who are free with money, but are stingy in spending time with others.
We pray for all who are barely thankful; who say the words, but don’t feel grateful in their hearts who go through the motions, but think, “I don’t know how to be really thankful.”
Today we pray a simple prayer.
For what we have received,
what we are receiving,
and what we are about to receive,
Lord, make us truly thankful.  Amen.
~ written by Carol Penner

silent prayer and medititation

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. Amen.

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 wretch like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

A Reading from 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Common English Bible

6 What I mean is this: the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.

7 Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. 8 God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. 9 As it is written, He scattered everywhere; he gave to the needy; his righteousness remains forever.

10 The one who supplies seed for planting and bread for eating will supply and multiply your seed and will increase your crop, which is righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. 12 Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God. 13 They will give honor to God for your obedience to your confession of Christ’s gospel. They will do this because this service provides evidence of your obedience, and because of your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone. 14 They will also pray for you, and they will care deeply for you because of the outstanding grace that God has given to you. 15 Thank God for his gift that words can’t describe!

Reflecting on the Word
Rev. Tonya Vickery

Listen and/or read below.

I got tickled two weeks ago when Jeffrey was working on his sermon for last Sunday. After reading through Matthew 25 he looked at me and said, “I feel like these parables keep saying the same thing over and over again.” I laughed and agreed. Well guess what. I’ve veered off the gospel course for today. And I’ve skipped ahead to the Thanksgiving text for Thanksgiving Day. Here we are in the New Testament, but yet again, we find the same message as last Sunday’s.

In case you missed last week’s reading from Matthew 25, let me summarize Jesus’ story in my own words. The parable goes like this. A land owner was going to travel the world for a bit, so he entrusted large sums of his money to his workers. He had a great and glorious trip. Now, when he finally returned home so thankful to once again sleep in his own bed, he brought each of the workers in to see how they had fared with his money. The first worker reported that he had doubled what had been entrusted to him. The second worker did as well. But the third one? This lazy worker didn’t do a thing with the landowner’s money. He tried to blame the landowner for his lack of trying . He whined, “It’s not my fault that the amount of money is the same. I just hid it because I was afraid that you would be so mad with me if I lost all of it or any of it. So here it is fair and square, nothing’s been lost. I thought you would be happy.” The landowner was anything but happy. The worker knew better. He knew the landowner was able to reap where he didn’t sow and harvest where he hadn’t even scattered seeds. His lack of trying was a disrespect of the One who had entrusted him with much.

Now the point of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 is that God trusts us. With a story about money and investments, Jesus makes this point: God trusts us. Here in 2 Corinthians, the same point is being made. In the context of planting seeds and harvesting crops, we glean again that God trusts us.

2 Corinthians 2:6 reads, “The one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows generous amounts of seeds will also reap a generous crop.” Agriculturally speaking, this statement is true. If you plant one row of corn, you are going to reap one rows worth of ears of corn. If you plant a hundred rows of corn, you are going to reap one hundred rows worth of ears of corn. Same goes for tomato seeds. If you plant ten tomato seeds, you will have a few tomatoes to eat during the summer. But if you plant 99 tomato seeds, you will have a bountiful plenty of tomatoes so much that you will have more than you need.

God knows better than to trust me to be a gardener or to be a money investor, however, the money and the seeds are merely symbols. What are these seeds we are expected to sew liberally? What is the money we are to invest? Look back at verse 8 of 2 Corinthians 9. It reads, “God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work.” The seeds and the money are the grace which God gives us. It is the Greek term, charis. It is grace, kindness, blessing, and even gratitude.

“God is able to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace….” These are seeds and investments that bring joy, delight, and loveliness. These seeds bear good will and loving-kindness in situations and to people who do not deserve such grace. These seeds bring about thanksgiving and gratitude. These provisions are steeped in joy and gladness. These gifts from God are blessings. God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance….

Even before the Gratitude Journal movement began, the hymn Count Your Blessings taught us to be grateful. The refrain repeatedly says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings see what God has done. Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.” The counting is not meant to turn the blessings of God into a competition of who has more. Numbering your blessings from God isn’t supposed to make you feel superior. Counting and naming blessings are a way for us to recognize how great and abundant God’s blessings towards us are. “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance….”

God is not stingy when it comes to loving and blessings us. God is not a hoarder of goodness and grace. God does not withhold from us but generously provides. 2 Corinthians says, God is able to provide and God will supply and multiply. The blessings of God are not scarce. There’s another hymn we sing, one that I love to play and sing, it’s There Shall Be Showers of Blessings by D.W. Whittle. The refrain sung with every verse ends with the words, “but for the showers we plead.” Now that refrain can sometimes leave us pondering if god might withhold blessings from us if we are having to plead for them. Fortunately most hymnals leave out the fifth verse of the Whittle’s hymn which would have us sing, “There will be showers of blessings if we just trust and obey.” That’s the wrong way to look at God’s blessings. The blessings of God are not rewards for our ability to trust, nor a payment for our obedience. I would say that if we do trust and obey God, we are more likely to recognize the blessings of God, but the giving of God’s gifts does not depend upon the piety of the person. They depend upon a generosity and love of God who trusts us, all of us. Remember, the workers did not earn the money that was entrusted to them. The seeds were given to the farmer, not bought for a price.

What blessings, what graces has God given you? given us? What blessings, what joys has God entrusted to you? to us? What kindness has God provided you? given us?

In our worship today we have spent a lot of time thanking God for all the many blessings. God says back to us, “You are welcome, but now go do something with those blessings.” We would completely miss the point of God’s blessings if we were to just to depart with a plan of naming and counting God’s blessings this week. For in doing so we make the mistake of believing that God’s blessings are solely meant for us. The parable from last week’s worship service and scripture passage today both clearly say God’s provisions are to be invested or sewn like seeds.

The blessings of God are not to be stored away. The gifts and graces God abundantly provides us are not to be collected or stockpiled. The kindness of God is not to be squirreled away. We don’t just put the blessings of God in our wallets, snap it shut, and pull it out in the end.  We don’t just set the blessings of God on a shelf and admire them. Yes, God gives us blessings in abundance, but those blessings do not become memorials to how great we are or how great our lives are. We are taught and expected to move beyond just thanking God for the many blessings in our lives.

Here comes that Old Testament question. What does the Lord require of us? To be thankful? Yes, oh yes. Remember the story about the lepers whom Jesus healed. Only one came back to thank and praise the Lord. But in addition to being grateful, God also expects us to be generous. Some say it this way, the blessings from God that have been given to you are to become blessings to others. When we are generous with God’s blessings, we don’t just provide for someone in need, but our generosity with the gifts of God becomes a source of great thanksgiving to God. And the praise of God grows and grows.

The point first made by Jesus in the parables from Matthew’s gospel is made again here in 2 Corinthians. God trusts us. God showers us with blessings trusting that we will share the blessings. God abundantly provides for us trusting that we will be generous with those provisions. God trusts us, that we will take what God gives us and share it cheerfully, willingly, and abundantly. God trust that we care for others like God cares for all. Now, go make God proud and share what the Lord has given you in such a way that others will not thank you, but thank 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
For the Fruits of All Creation, Thanks Be to God
Author: Fred Pratt Green
Tune: AR HYD Y NOS (Welsh melody)

For the fruits of all creation,
Thanks be to God.
For the gifts to ev’ry nation,
Thanks be to God.
For the plowing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while we are sleeping,
Future needs in earth’s safe keeping,
Thanks be to God.

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 world-wide task of caring
For the hungry and despairing,
In the harvests we are sharing,
God’s will is done.

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 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.

When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; 
but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

This glorious hope revives our courage by the way; 
while each in expectation lives and waits to see the day.  

Acknowledgements:

The anthem was played by Tonya and sung by Mindy, Tonya, and Ally. Tracy played the organ, 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 
While worshipping at home, set aside a time and a place each week for worship. 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.  

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
We lift our eyes to you, O God; we lift our spirits in worship.
We look to you, seeking guidance and comfort.
We look to you seeking healing and renewal.
We look to you, seeking mercy and grace;
for we have had our fill of struggles and stress.
We have had more than our fill of worrying and wondering.
To you, O God, we lift our eyes and spirits,
with hope and confidence in your love.
Be known to us as we worship and help us find rest.

Hymn of Praise
God Whose Giving Knows No Ending
Tune: BEACH SPRING (attributed to Benjamin F. White)
Author: Robert L. Edwards

God, whose giving knows no ending,
From Your rich and endless store:
Nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom,
Costly cross, grave’s shattered door.
Gifted by You, we turn to You,
Off’ring up ourselves in praise:
Thankful song shall rise forever,
Gracious donor of our days.

Skills and time are ours for pressing
Toward the goals of Christ, Your Son:
All at peace in health and freedom,
Races joined, the church made one.
Now direct our daily labor,
Lest we strive for self alone:
Born with talents, make us servants
Fit to answer at Your throne.

Treasure, too, You have entrusted,
Gain through pow’rs Your grace conferred:
Ours to use for home and kindred,
And to spread the Gospel Word.
Open wide our hands in sharing,
As we heed Christ’s ageless call.
Healing, teaching, and reclaiming,
Serving You by loving all.

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 90:1-12. Common English Bible

Lord, you have been our help,
generation after generation.
Before the mountains were born,
before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world—
from forever in the past
to forever in the future, you are God.

You return people to dust,
saying, “Go back, humans,”
because in your perspective a thousand years
are like yesterday past,
like a short period during the night watch.
You sweep humans away like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning.
True, in the morning it thrives, renewed,
but come evening it withers, all dried up.
Yes, we are wasting away because of your wrath;
we are paralyzed with fear on account of your rage.
You put our sins right in front of you,
set our hidden faults in the light from your face.
Yes, all our days slip away because of your fury;
we finish up our years with a whimper.
We live at best to be seventy years old,
maybe eighty, if we’re strong.
But their duration brings hard work and trouble
because they go by so quickly.
And then we fly off.
Who can comprehend the power of your anger?
The honor that is due you corresponds to your wrath.
Teach us to number our days
so we can have a wise heart.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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
From All the Earth Send Up the Song!
Tune: NORTH HILL (LM) by Robert J. Weaver
Composer: Robert J. Weaver and William A. Pasch

From all the earth send up the song 
Shout glad hosannas loud and long! 
Serve joyfully! Our God adore. 
Acclaim God’s honor evermore! 

Great God, Creator, Source of all, 
both keeps and guards us when we fall. 
One flock in our Good Shepherd’s fold, 
we feast on bounties yet untold.

The gates of glory beckon here. 
Come, bless God’s name. Give thanks. Draw near. 
God’s mercies last through all our days. 
New psalms, spring forth in grateful praise!

Our God is true from age to age. 
Our God is good beyond our gauge. 
Our God is faithful, ever sure. 
God’s kindness, love, and grace endure!

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.  

Invitation to Communion
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
Holy God, the maker and sustainer of all things,
You teach us to be good stewards of your generosity,
but we confess that we have been dishonest managers
of your blessings.

You teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves,
but most of us are so isolated
that we don’t know our neighbor’s name.

You teach us that if we are dishonest in small things, 
we will be dishonest in greater things,
yet we treat your words as if only the big things really matter.

We have heard your high and holy standards,
and then lowered the bar so low
that we can hardly even trip over it.

We repent.
Thank you for your patience.
Thank you for not deserting us.
Open our hearts, ears, eyes, minds, and lives to follow you.
We place our lives completely in your hands.
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. 

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 wretch like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson
Matthew 25:14-30, Common English Bible
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them. To one he gave five valuable coins, and to another he gave two, and to another he gave one. He gave to each servant according to that servant’s ability. Then he left on his journey.

“After the man left, the servant who had five valuable coins took them and went to work doing business with them. He gained five more. In the same way, the one who had two valuable coins gained two more. But the servant who had received the one valuable coin dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.

“Now after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five valuable coins came forward with five additional coins. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good and faithful servant! You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

“The second servant also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two valuable coins. Look, I’ve gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’

“Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed. So I was afraid. And I hid my valuable coin in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.’

“His master replied, ‘You evil and lazy servant! You knew that I harvest grain where I haven’t sown and that I gather crops where I haven’t spread seed? In that case, you should have turned my money over to the bankers so that when I returned, you could give me what belonged to me with interest. Therefore, take from him the valuable coin and give it to the one who has ten coins. Those who have much will receive more, and they will have more than they need. But as for those who don’t have much, even the little bit they have will be taken away from them. Now take the worthless servant and throw him out into the farthest darkness.’

“People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.

Proclaiming the Word
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

Let’s take the opportunity here to change the way we refer to this parable of Jesus. I want to call it, “The Parable of the $10,000 Bills.” For a long time and by the vast number of people who read Matthew 25:14-30, this story is known as the “Parable of the Talents.” That title comes from the Greek word for a large sum of money that is simply transliterated as “talent” in our English language. The CEB version we are reading today more rightly calls it “valuable coins.” The problem, as you might can see, is that our English word “talent” brings to mind skills and ability and innate capacity to excel at something. If the parable imagines God as the master and us as the servant, then we can tend to think this means God gives people gifts and talents which, far too often, has left Christians who are untalented feeling overlooked by God.  It is important to me, however, that we recognize that the master in the parable is expressing his trust in the servants rather than rewarding their ability. In fact, the unexpected surprise in this parable of Jesus is that a master would give tens of thousands of dollars to a servant without any strings attached. The master simply says, “I’m going away for a long time so here, take five $10,000 bills, and you take two $10,000 bills, and I’ll trust you with this one $10,000 bill. See ya later. ” 

As you can tell, I want us to begin our understanding of this parable with the idea that God trusts us. Surprise! All those old crusty sermons about God’s anger and human depravation and original sin we can set aside. God trusts us to rightly display the grace and love and justice of God. I know, I know, it is equally hard for us to trust other people as it is to see the good in us. After all, we see sin around us daily. Our news is saturated with what is wrong with the world and we humans are the ones who create such disgust and distress. Yet God trusts us. No matter what we hear from others, the first word of God to us is “You are my beloved, and I trust you,” rather than “You are a sinner worthy of hell, but I’ll find some way to get through to you despite that.” So again, as the parable demonstrates, God trusts us.  Not with pittance but abundance. Without designated restrictions or making us fill out forms to justify what we did with that $50,000, God gives a valuable sum to us freely. Why? Because God trusts us.  

Do you remember the story in the book of Acts when the disciples are gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ resurrection and they watched him ascend into heaven? They must have been anxious about his absence. After years of stability and direction and protection and hope with Jesus near them, now he’s no longer there. He left us, just as the master left the servants and went on a journey.  Yet the Ascension of Jesus is another testament to the trust God has in us.  Jesus is no longer with us as God incarnate. We can wish that “Jesus will return and make everything right” but that in itself is not the point of any apocalyptic message in the Bible. What is the point? To make sure we don’t just sit and wait. To recognize that God’s physical absence is neither disinterest nor permission for revelry. We are the people of God who are called to create a just and peaceable kin-dom of God on Earth. It is an opportunity to exercise the responsibility to show God’s love and help folks know that, to paraphrase Psalm 27:13, we shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. How will we see the goodness of the Lord? By you and me being trustworthy of God’s gift.  

So then Jesus’ parable seems to point in two directions at once. God trusts us, and we are trustworthy in God’s estimation. Both of these statements are good news. So it’s time to stop whining about our short-comings. We can be free from the weight of our weaknesses. We can give up the justifications for our inaction. God trusts us and has gifted us with the responsibility of representing God’s Way in this world because God believes in us. 

If the first act of the master in the parable is an act of trust, the conclusion to the parable is an act of love. In fact, the parable spends most of its time describing what happens when the master returns. The first two servants are praised by the master for taking responsibility with their $10,000 bills. They had taken what the master gave them and now there is more—double as much in fact. The master says to both servants: “‘Well done! You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me.’” In simple fashion, the master is not concern over the amount of return or even the amount that he gave them, only that they chose to do something instead of doing nothing. Just as it is surprising that he gave the servants so much money, it is now equally surprising that the master describes the initial sum by saying, “You’ve been faithful over A LITTLE.” What? Since when was $50,000 just a little?!? Yet in God’s abundance, the amount matters less than the responsibility taken on its behalf. 

No character in the story receives more attention than the third servant. We hear more of his conversation with the master and in so doing we have a clearer sense of his motivation and intention. The master also addresses him directly in a way unique to the story because of his unwillingness to do something with what he was trusted. This last servant simply kept the master’s money and returned it as it was. No more was done. No tasks completed. No responsibility taken. The servant chose to hide and protect rather than serve and enhance. He expects praise from the master and instead receives a holy rebuke.  

First, the servant acted as he did, or in this case didn’t act, because of his wrong estimation of the master’s intention and personality. He calls the master “hard” and describes him as someone who will take advantage of others for his own gain. Yet nothing in this parable seems to fit that presumption. Whatever takes place in the imagination of the third servant, he has come to the wrong conclusion about the master. This man just gave a literal fortune to his servants. He trusted them. He left his possessions in their care. He gave them carte blanche to do as they wished with considerable wealth at their disposal while he was gone. The harsh and conniving nature of the master is a figment of the servant’s imagination. 

Many make the same mistake with God, casting our imagination wildly such that we have assumed or been instructed that God’s most central characteristics are wrath, judgment, fear, cursing, and destruction. If these are the virtues that we think motivate God’s action toward us, then we will become like that third servant. We will have misunderstood what the biblical stories say about God who is described multiple times as “… a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jonah 4:2, and parallels). Ultimately, God cannot be changed by our ideas, but our perceptions of God powerfully influence our own choices and actions. Here in the parable, the third servant’s misunderstanding of the master leads him to act out of the fear of retribution rather than as though he were trusted by the master to act on his behalf. This servant took the “don’t blame me” road rather than going ahead with the idea that “I’ll do something and trust the master knows it’s my best”.  

In my opinion, what the master says and does in response to this timid third servant is an exercise of love. The master does, in fact, love the servant enough to be honest with his irresponsibility. But the master also loves what he entrusted to the servant so much that he will not let the servant misuse the gift. 

Love does not mean permissiveness. Love does not tolerate irresponsibility with the Gospel. Love does not allow misrepresentation of God’s goodness and justice. Love does not just say “ho-hum, oh well” when God has entrusted us to represent the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living and we fail to do anything. Love means not a single one of us is left to do nothing and God is okay with that. God not only loves us, but God loves the Gospel that we are entrusted to make come alive in this world. God loves grace and mercy and hope and goodness and justice and servanthood and righteousness. And when the people of God do not love in a way that amplifies God’s goodness in the world, God’s response is not “Oh well. I guess I’ll just tolerate their apathy because I love them.” Because God loves me and God loves you, God will not simply let irresponsibility and misrepresentation of the Gospel be overlooked. We are responsible to show God’s love in God’s absence. We are invited to display God’s goodness in every situation. We are not given the opportunity to hide God’s Way and receive God’s approval.  Genuine love knows how to call one to responsibility and honestly offer correction and clearly require a high (gospel) standard of action and intention. We do not show love if we allow someone to do anything and then say nothing. Neither does God. That’s not love, that’s care-less-ness. God both cares and loves, for us and the Gospel, so much that we are entrusted with the Gospel and our response becomes a measure of our love for God.   

Perhaps it is now obvious but the $10,000 note that the master gives the servants is either (1) Jesus himself, or (2) the Gospel, or (3) all creation. Either way, the gift is a royal one. It is made holy by the one who gives it freely. We are entrusted with what is most valuable to God. This “good news” that God dwells among us full of grace and truth, the consistent perception that we are all God’s children, the call to make peace and build just and fair human communities, the willingness to forgive as God forgives and love all whom God loves, the recognition of creation as the most visible mirror displaying God’s beauty … these are the valuable coins, the $10,000 bills that God hands to each of us. None of us should take the gift lightly. All of us should know that God does not give these things to us randomly. All of us can make more peace and forgiveness and justice and grace and love with the peace and forgiveness and justice and grace and love that we have been given. That’s the point, maybe not just of the parable, but of the exercise of our faith in the human community. May it become so today and each day. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

1. How does it feel when you hear God has trusted you enough to want your help?

2. Since our perceptions of God influence our choices, what characteristics of God do you focus on the most? Who taught you the most about God?

3. The sermon ends with a call to make peace, forgiveness, justice, grace, and love. Which one of these are you willing to attempt today?


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
Take My Life and Let It Be
Author: Frances Ridley Havergal
Tune: HENDON (Henri A. Cesar Malan)

1 Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in endless praise,
let them flow in endless praise.

2 Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee,
swift and beautiful for thee.

3 Take my voice and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from thee,
filled with messages from thee.

4 Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use every power as thou shalt choose,
every power as thou shalt choose.

5 Take my will and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne,
it shall be thy royal throne.

6 Take my love; my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee,
ever, only, all for thee.

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 was written by Thom Shuman, a gifted retired Presbyterian minister in Columbus, Ohio. The tune BEACH SPRING is attributed to Benjamin F. White who was born in 1800 in Union County, SC and was co-editor of The Sacred Harp (1844). Robert L. Edwards who wrote the hymn God Whose Giving Has No Ending was born in Auburn, NY in 1915. A graduate of Princeton University, Harvard University, and Union Theological Seminary, Edwards served Congregational churches in Connecticut. His ministry interests included low income senior housing and prison ministry. The tune NORTH HILL was written by Robert Weaver and named in honor of the retirement community where he and his wife live in Needham, Massachusetts. The words to the anthem, From All the Earth Send Up the Song! is a paraphrase of Psalm 100 by William Allen Pasch. Pasch serves as Organist and Composer in Residence at First Presbyterian Church in Peachtree City, GA. The Prayer for Forgiveness has been adapted from a prayer posted on Jeff’s Blog. (blog.wisch.org/category/
benedictions-and-prayers/). Frances Ridley Havergal wrote the hymn, Take My Life and Let It Be. Havergal was born in 1836 in Worcestershire, England. Her hymns were frequently printed as leaflets and ornamental cards. She died of peritonitis in Wales at the age of 42. Her sisters published most of her works posthumously. Henri Abraham Cesar Malan who composed the tune HENDON was born in 1787 at Geneva right before the start of the French Revolution. He served as a minister in the Reformed Church and became an ardent evangelist. On Easter of 1817, he delivered a sermon entitled, “Man only justified by faith alone.” The sermon created a storm that lasted for years. His proclamation that salvation without good works was deemed dangerous. In 1823, Malan was expelled from ministry in the Reformed Church. Nevertheless, he built a chapel in his own garden where he preached for 43 years. The anthem was played by Tonya and sung by Mindy, Tonya, and Elizabeth. 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 and a place each week for worship. 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.  

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
Psalm 98:4-6 / New Revised Standard Version

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
Come, make a joyful noise, sing praises!

Come, let us worship the Lord!

Opening Prayer
Holy God,
you have commanded us to not be afraid
and assured us of your presence.
In the midst of trials and joys,
sorrows and dreams
may we know your presence and rejoice.
Grant us courage, O God, to take delight in your spirit
in all times and all places.
Grant us faith, O God, to see the myriad of ways you give life.
Grant us hope, O God, to participate in your work in the world.
Grant us love, O God, to welcome, respond, and act with compassion
in all we say and do.
In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.
Amen.

Hymn of Praise
Canticle of the Turning
Tune: BUNESSAN
Author: Rory Cooney

1. My soul cries out with a joyful shout
That the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
That you bring to the ones who wait.

Chorus:
My heart shall sing of the day you bring
Let the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near
And the world is about to turn!

2. Though I am small, my God, my all,
You work great things in me,
And your mercy will last from the depths of past
to the end of the age to be.

3. Your very name puts the proud to shame,
And to those who would for you yearn
You will show might, put the strong to flight
For the world is about to turn.

4.  The hungry poor shall weep no more
For the food they can never earn
There are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed
For the world is about to turn.

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 78:1-7. Common English Bible

Listen, my people, to my teaching;
tilt your ears toward the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a proverb.
I’ll declare riddles from days long gone—
ones that we’ve heard and learned about,
ones that our ancestors told us.
We won’t hide them from their descendants;
we’ll tell the next generation
all about the praise due the Lord and his strength—
the wondrous works God has done.
He established a law for Jacob
and set up Instruction for Israel,
ordering our ancestors
to teach them to their children.
This is so that the next generation
and children not yet born will know these things,
and so they can rise up and tell their children
to put their hope in God—
never forgetting God’s deeds,
but keeping God’s commandments—

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  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
Keep Your Lamps
Tune: Traditional Spiritual
Composer: arr. Victor C. Johnson

Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
The time is drawing nigh.

Children don’t get weary,
Children don’t get weary,
Children don’t get weary,
‘Til your work is done.

Soon this journey will be over,
Soon this journey will be over,
Soon this journey will be over,
The time is drawing nigh.

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.

Invitation to Communion
Psalm 145:18 assures us,
The Lord is near to all who call sincerely on God in truth.
So with the assurance of God’s presence and listening ear,
God’s steadfast love,
and God’s overwhelming mercy,
let us confess our sins before God.

Prayer for Forgiveness
Holy God, we come before you a broken people in broken world.
We confess that we have ignored your assured presence.
We have forged our own paths and charted our own waters.
In the name of independence
we have ignored your aid, your comfort, and your peace.
We have called upon you in desperation
rather than recalling your mighty and faithful acts in all times and places.
Forgive us.
You have been with us in exile and liberation;
be with us even now.
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. 

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 wretch like me. 
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
Was blind, but now I see.

The Gospel Lesson
Matthew 25:1-13, Common English Bible

[Jesus said] At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young bridesmaids who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Now five of them were wise, and the other five were foolish. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t bring oil for them. But the wise ones took their lamps and also brought containers of oil.

When the groom was late in coming, they all became drowsy and went to sleep. But at midnight there was a cry, “Look, the groom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and prepared their lamps. But the foolish bridesmaids said to the wise ones, “Give us some of your oil, because our lamps have gone out.” But the wise bridesmaids replied, “No, because if we share with you, there won’t be enough for our lamps and yours. We have a better idea. You go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves. But while they were gone to buy oil, the groom came. Those who were ready went with him into the wedding. Then the door was shut.

Later the other bridesmaids came and said, “Lord, lord, open the door for us.” But he replied, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.”

Therefore, keep alert, because you don’t know the day or the hour.

Proclaiming the Word
Rev. Tonya Vickery

The gospel reading today is smack dab in the middle of a lot of stories that Jesus is telling about God’s coming kin-dom. Some people call it “the end times,” but I prefer to think of it more like a “beginning,” or an “on-going.” It is God’s kin-dom coming. This story is unique to the gospel of Matthew. Mark, Luke, John, they don’t have this one. I used to think it was a silly story. It appeared to me that a groom was very late for his own wedding. Can you imagine the bride waiting all day long and eventually around midnight the guy shows up. For some reason the bridesmaids are sent out to meet him. All of them have lamps in case it grows dark, but only half of them have lamps completely filled with oil. When the groom takes forever to arrive, half of the bridesmaids are like, “We don’t have enough oil to see this through.” And they ask the well prepared bridesmaids to share their oil. “Nu, uh. If we give you what we have, we will all run out of oil. Go quick, buy some before the groom gets here.” And off they go. But when they get back, the groom has already arrived and everyone else is already at the party. So they hurry on to the banquet. But when they get there, the groom won’t let them in. In fact, he says, “I don’t even know you.” And then the line from Jesus, “Keep awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Like I said, some would say, the “day” or “hour” to which Jesus is referring is “the end times.” I still say, it is the beginning. This life with God isn’t going to “end” with a big party. This life with God is going to continue on and one day there will be this huge shift while life will be like God intends and that season of life will “begin” with a huge party. Okay, you get the picture. I don’t go for the great and glorious day being called “The end.”

I had a few things wrong in my early impressions of this story and perhaps you have too. This is a story about the kin-dom of God, but weddings were different back then. First, the bride’s family was expected to give the groom or the groom’s family a dowry, some type of substantial gift. It might be property, but most likely it was money. On the day of a wedding, the groom would go to the bride’s parents’ home to finalize dowry arrangements with the father-in-law to be and to pick up his bride and bring her back to his house. Now, the bridesmaids in the story are not equivalent to bridesmaids in today’s weddings. These women were maidens, and most likely they were from the groom’s family. Their purpose is to welcome the groom and his bride to the house. The go out to greet them and escort them to the wedding feast. And then they all eat and drink and have a ton of fun. The end.

It is important to understand the customs and setting of this story because the story Jesus tells is an allegory. A parable told to teach us something and in this case, Jesus wants to teach us something about the kin-dom of God. The groom represents Jesus. The maidens in the story represent the church or the ones who profess to live the way of Jesus Christ in the world while waiting on Jesus to come again. The wedding feast represents the full realization of the reign of God–you know, that day of rejoicing when everything, everything will be the way that God intends it. Sadly, the rejection of the foolish maidens represents the final judgment of the church. Our attention may be fully focused on the maidens in the story, because that’s us. Are we foolish? Are we wise? But remember Jesus doesn’t tells the story to teach us about ourselves, but rather Jesus tells the story in order to teach us what the kin-dom of God will be like. The focus is on God, not ourselves.

The groom’s return to his house with his bride has been delayed. It is a significant delay. So much so that the maidens fall asleep waiting. Then a shout wakens them in the middle of the night, “Look! Here comes the groom!” followed by the invitation, “Come, and meet him!” The maidens get up. They trim the wicks of their lamps which have been burning all night waiting on the groom. However, the lamps are running short on oil and the flame is going out. The wise maidens are prepared for the delay. They have brought with them flasks of oil. So they pour more oil into their lamps and go out to meet the groom with their lamps lit. The foolish maidens don’t have enough oil. They demand of the wise ones, “Give us some of your oil.” But it is of no use. There in the middle of the night they go out in search of oil to buy to light the way for the groom. By the time it is said and done, they come to the feast to find the door fastened shut with the groom refusing to recognize them and allow them in.

Okay, what does Jesus’ story teach us about the kin-dom of God? Quickly we deduce that there will probably be a delay in the coming of God’s kin-dom. It will not happen when we expect it to happen. It will tarry. It will take a while. So be patient. The righteousness and justice of God will fully be realized one day. Don’t give up. There is coming a day when everything will happen in the best ways possible–God’s ways. It’s not here yet, but it will come. There is a coming a day when we won’t need to be critical, or make judgements. There is coming a day when we will be able to fully trust one another. There is coming a day when the righteousness and justice of God will triumph over all. There is coming a day when everyone will have enough. There is coming a day when children will live, fear will be gone, sorrow will melt away, bitterness will dry up, conflict will be exchanged for companionship. There is coming a day when all of creation and everything in it will be made new again by God’s doing. So don’t give up even though you may be weary, says Jesus. Don’t give up even though you may need to rest a little while and take a nap. Don’t give up even though the lamp won’t hold enough oil alone to light the long night. Don’t give up. God’s kin-dom will come. When? We don’t know. We are assured that it will take some time to arrive, but it will come just as sure as the groom came in Jesus’ story.

We also learn that the kin-dom of God is something for which we prepare. Jesus says watch for it. Be wise, not foolish. Be prepared. Have your lamps, yes, but also have oil. Keep the light of Christ shining through you. Keep the love and mercy and grace of God shining brightly from what you say, what you do, how you think, how you react, how you respond. When you trim the wick of an oil lamp, you do so that the light will shine clear and bright. Let the light of Christ be this way through you shining clear and bright. Even though the groom is greatly delayed in coming, even though the day when all things will be made right tarries, keep the light of Christ burning in your life. You can’t rely on someone else’s preparation and you can’t rely on a time schedule. Jesus wants you, you fully invested at all times, not just following the crowd. Jesus wants us live out what he has taught us and how he has taught us to live. And above all, we are not to grow weary of doing the good of God. See it as a privilege. See it as an opportunity. Not a curse or a limitation. See it as living abundantly. Recall and believe the words of Jesus from Matthew chapter eleven where Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus will lead the way for us. We do have something to do, to carry while we follow, but Jesus will lead the way.

Finally, know that you have a place at the feast. You are expected. There’s a place card at the table with your name on it. So don’t neglect the invitation nor diss it with the way you live. As you wait, you wait with purpose. In Christ, we wait living in hope and we live never giving up on God. In Christ, we express God’s love and compassion and work for God’s justice. In Christ, we know that whether we live or die, whether we are in pain or feeling great, whether our hearts are broken or beating strong, we are always and forever ultimately safe in the love of God. In Christ, give yourself to the work of God’s kin-dom even as it delays in coming. Don’t give up, Jesus says. Keep those lamps burning.

Questions for Reflection 
■ What type of situation makes you feel that you are only partially committed and consequently only going through the motions?
■ How do you feel when hoped-for results fail to materialize? How does that affect your commitment and readiness to offer your best?
■ When have you recognized that your growth, your learning, was something only you could do?
■ When have you experienced opportunities that might never have been there without preparation?

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, Be Our Light
Author: Bernadette Farrell
Tune: CHRIST, BE OUR LIGHT (B. Farrell)

Longing for light, we wait in darkness
Longing for truth, we turn to You.
Make us Your own, Your holy people
Light for the world to see.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.

Longing for peace, our world is troubled
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has pow’r to save us.
Make us your living voice.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.

Longing for food, many are hungry
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us Your bread, broken for others
Shared until all are fed.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.

Longing for shelter, many are homeless
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us Your building, sheltering others
Walls made of living stone.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.

Many the gift, many the people
Many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another
Making Your kingdom come.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in Your church gathered today.

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 to Communion was written by Thom Shuman. The Opening Prayer, Invitation to Confession, & Prayer of Confession comes from Feasting on the Word Worship Companion: Liturgies for Year C, Volume 2: Trinity Sunday through Reign of Christ. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition. The anthem was played by Tonya and sung by Mindy, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, Laura, Kendall, and Elizabeth. 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 and a place each week for worship. 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.  

Today is All Saints’ Sunday. Today we remember the “saints” of Cullowhee Baptist Church who have gone on before us in the past year. We celebrate and give thanks for how their lives among us shaped and informed our faith, how they made our community of faith better, and how their love for the Lord became a blessing to us.

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
Blessed are those who will not trade in their faith for a bushel of fear,
for they know God’s heart.
Blessed are those who stand alone at gravesides,
for they are wrapped in God’s arms.
Blessed are those who humbly care for the vulnerable,
for they shall create new communities.
Blessed are those who miss dinner, and happy hour each night,
in order to care for the forgotten,
for they shall be filled with the manna of hope.
Blessed are those who are compassionate,
even with those who rub them the wrong way,
for they will be cared for by others.
Blessed are those who look out for their neighbors,
for they live next door to God.
Blessed are the menders of brokenness,
for they know what it is like to be reconciled to God.
Blessed are those who are mocked by the rich and the powerful,
for they know they are walking the streets of the kin-dom.
Blessed are you when others mock you,
point at your mask,
think you are foolish for keeping your distance,
caring for others,
for then you know you are a sibling of Jesus.
Blessed are all those who model faith for us
in these uncertain days, weeks, months.

Opening Prayer
Sovereign of Creation,
          all that we have comes from you.
Physically distanced, we gather in your presence,
          surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
          people from every tribe and nation,
          every kindred and tongue,
          to lift our voices in praise,
          to be transformed into your saints,
          to be sent out to gather others to share the eternal banquet.
Hear the praise we offer,
          work in us and through us.
You alone are holy,
          you alone are the Most High,
          you alone are worthy of our praise.
Glory to you O God,
          and to the Lamb, our Shepherd,
          and to the Spirit that unites us all,
today and ever more.
Amen.

Hymn of Praise
Sing with All the Saints in Glory
Tune: ODE TO JOY (Ludwig van Beethoven)
Author: William J. Irons

1. Sing with all the saints in glory,
Sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story,
To the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking,
Soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we, awaking,
Know the everlasting peace.

2. O what glory, far exceeding
All that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts, for ages pleading,
Never that full joy conceived.
God has promised, Christ prepares it,
There on high our welcome waits.
Every humble spirit shares it;
Christ has passed th’eternal gates.

3. Life eternal! heav’n rejoices:
Jesus lives who once was dead.
Shout with joy, O deathless voices!
Child of God, lift up your head!
Patriarchs from distant ages,
Saints all longing for their heav’n,
Prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages,
All await the glory giv’n.

4.  Life eternal! O what wonders
Crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
When, amid earth’s closing thunders,
Saints shall stand before the throne!
Oh, to enter that bright portal,
See that glowing firmament,
Know, with you, O God immortal,
Jesus Christ whom you have sent!

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 34:1-10, 22. Common English Bible

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be in my mouth.
I praise the Lord—
    let the suffering listen and rejoice.
Magnify the Lord with me!
    Together let us lift his name up high!
I sought the Lord and he answered me.
    He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to God will shine;
    their faces are never ashamed.
This suffering person cried out:
    the Lord listened and saved him from every trouble.
On every side, the Lord’s messenger
      protects those who honor God; and he delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!
You who are the Lord’s holy ones, honor him,
    because those who honor him don’t lack a thing.
Even strong young lions go without and get hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
The Lord saves his servants’ lives;
    all those who take refuge in him
    won’t be held responsible for anything.

Remembering the Sai