Archive for the ‘Matthew’ Category

Preparation for Worship (same as last week)

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

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship
Psalm 124

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

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

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

Song of Praise
Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm Reading and Prayer for Others

Psalm 138

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let us come to the “table.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

The Gospel Reading

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

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

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

Song of Faith
Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Preparation for Worship

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

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship
Psalm 133

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

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

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

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

Song of Praise
All Are Welcome

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm Reading and Prayer for Others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let us come to the “table.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

Special Music
What Wondrous Love

The Gospel Reading

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

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

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

Song of Faith
God Be in My Head

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

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

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

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

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

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Preparation for Worship

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

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship

God welcomes all the dreamers,
as well as the doubters:
the worriers and wanderers
can call on God by name.
Here, in this time, we can remember
all the ways God has graced us:
here, in these moments, we are reminded
that God is with us, always!
Here are gathered those daring enough
to step out of comfort into the unknown:
here, in this faith space, we will find the courage
to cry out, ‘God, save us!’ in every situation.

Opening Prayer
Holy God, we gather here to worship you with praise and thanksgiving for all you have done, are doing,  and promise to do in the world and in our lives. We have done nothing to deserve such grace and goodness and so we cannot help but respond with joy and delight for being so loved by you and so precious to you. We rejoice because we no longer have to earn your love — only to accept it.  You, O God, graciously revealed this love forever when you entered our world and our history in person — in Jesus Christ our Lord. He enters our very lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We pray that this time of worship may reveal the depth of our love for you and for this world you created, for we offer it in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Psalm 105

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

Song of Praise
How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed;
for I am your God, and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call you to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
and sanctify to you your deepest distress.

When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;
the flame shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

A Reading from the Psalms
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.

Choral Response
Mercy and Truth

Mercy and truth have met together,
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

A Reading from the Gospels
Mark 14:22-24 
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

Choral Anthem
The Rain Will Seek the Rivers

The rain will seek the rivers,
And rivers run to seas,
While human hearts will wander
Unfulfilled and restlessly.

The anxious heart must listen,
For the quiet voice
That whispers, answers, offers,
Calls forth the unforced choice.

To grasp the easy burden,
God’s grace our soul’s delight.
Oh, run to claim the promise
Of everlasting life.

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 14:22-33

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

Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. Just then Jesus spoke to them, “Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “Come.” Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!” Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” When they got into the boat, the wind settled down. Then those in the boat worshiped Jesus and said, “You must be God’s Son!”

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

I imagine that Jesus was tired at this point in chapter 14 of Matthew’s gospel. John the baptizer has been beheaded by the government. His head had been brought out like a trophy on a platter at a party held by the government. News of such cruelty to anyone, but especially to a God fearing man like John had to rattle the nerves of the people as well as Jesus’. Jesus tries to get away for little a bit but, as we find out in last week’s gospel reading, he ends up with a fan crowd following his every move. That day it was getting late and the crowd was hungry. He couldn’t rescue John, but he could feed this hungry crowd and he does. After the bread and fish are eaten and the extra food is gathered up, something changes. I don’t know where it’s the expectations of the crowd or maybe the expectations of the disciples. John’s gospel says that after the meal the crowd wants to take Jesus by force and make him their king. With great urgency Jesus makes the disciples get into a boat and start heading to the other side of the sea. That word “made” is forceful. It’s insisting. With the disciples safe in the boat headed to the opposite shore, Jesus dismisses the crowd. And then he heads up into the mountain alone to pray.

As evening comes, the disciples are having a rough time out there on the sea. A storm has blown in and there is a strong headwind. So strong that these twelve disciples who are used to being in a boat, it was like riding a bike to them, they are being beaten to death by this storm. “Battered by the waves,” the gospel reads, and that “battered” is like “tormented, tortured, harassed.” It’s like nature is echoing the heart of how they all must have felt with the knowledge of John’s death and especially how he had died. Out on the sea, still far from shore, worn out, the wind is blowing against them. The gospel reads like they have been up all night working, working hard to stay afloat straining at the oars to stay headed in the right direction. This storm is not a punishment nor a sinister arrangement made so as to grab their attention. It’s just the true reality of how vulnerable we are to to the changes of life whether they are storms by nature or storms by the injustice forced upon by human exploitation. Being in control and having the power does not define life and these do not bring us life either. We will see this in what comes next.

Early the next morning, you can just imagine how worn out these disciples are. After such a long battle through the night, to top off the experience, they see a ghost walking on the water coming toward them. God bless them. They are terrified. They don’t recognize it, but it’s Jesus out there. I don’t think I would have been able to recognize him either. Maybe our children might have. You know, the little nes in the church. But not us grownups. Because we know that walking on water is not what people do. It has to be a ghost. They are afraid, so afraid they are screaming. The gospel records Jesus saying, “Be encouraged. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” “Be encouraged,” must be a first century way of saying, “Get a grip.” They had been in fear all night, but they need not fear this unusual presence for it is Jesus. “It’s me,” he says. Another reminder that we don’t have to be afraid of the one who can feed 5,000 with just a little of bread and fish. We don’t have to be afraid of the one who can walk on water. We don’t have to ever be afraid of God.

Peter is truly unique in the moment. Well maybe not just in the moment. It’s just Peter. He is so impulsive, like many of us He sees that it might be Jesus out there, but he wants to make sure and he does so by giving an impossible test of the one who calls himself Jesus, “If it’s really you, Jesus, then give me some of that water walking ability too.” “Come on out,” replies Jesus. I can almost see Jesus shaking his head, humored by Peter’s need to be sure. Peter steps out the boat and onto the turbulent waters and quickly realizes that he is not God. He cannot walk on water. That’s not what he is meant to do. That’s not what he is meant to be. He is not meant to walk alone. He is not meant to be self-sufficient. He is not meant to be the Savior. He is meant to be a disciple who trusts in God through Jesus Christ. Well, in the midst of all this the storm is still raging. The wind is still blowing hard. Jesus doesn’t stop it. But when Peter starts to sink, Jesus without hesitation reaches out to Peter and catches him. He says to Peter, “Why did you doubt it was me?” Now did Jesus expect Peter to have a sufficient amount of faith to be able to walk on water? I don’t believe that’s what Jesus wanted Peter to have faith in. When Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you begin to have doubts?” Jesus wasn’t talking to Peter about doubting his ability to walk on water. Jesus was talking about Peter having faith that this was Jesus, the Son of God. Recognizing Jesus is the problem, not enough faith to do the impossible. That’s why when they get in the boat and the wind dies down, they all had church. They all worship the one, this Jesus who they know, who they believe without a doubt to be God’s Son.

If nothing else, this experience of the disciples with Jesus reminds us that at times we are vulnerable. We’re weak. We’re helpless. But our goal is never to be in control or to be more powerful than the storm. Our goal is not to be stronger than any adversity or sufficient for every need that comes our way. Our goal is not to be independent, nor is to have all the answers, nor is to never ever be rattled, or to always be able. Our goal is not to always know the right thing to do. No, you see, all those pursuits, all those desired ways of living, those just just get in the way of living the Way of Jesus. Our faith is in God through Jesus the Christ, not in ourselves, not in our abilities.

On the wall in Jeffrey and my office behind those two red chairs and that “beautiful” brass lamp from the ’60’s hang two posters of paintings by the Chinese artist He Qi. The one of the right is the painting entitled, Peace Be Still. In vibrant colors against a background of blues, Qi portrays his vision of this moment with Jesus. In the painting Jesus stands in the boat. His arms are stretched out parallel to the sea as they will be when he is crucified. But here above his head instead of a sign that reads “King of the Jews” here is an olive branch held in the beak of a dove in flight.

That images recalls for us those earlier words in Matthew’s gospel. “When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” For us the dove is a symbol of the Spirit of God. That’s why on the back wall of our baptistery we have a carved wooden dove reminding us of the Spirit’s blessing in our baptisms. However, the dove holding an olive branch recalls a much older story from the book of Genesis. Like a reset button water flooded the earth for 150 days cleansing the earth and all of creation. And then God made a wind blow over the earth and the waters subsided. At the end of 40 days, Noah the man who had been safe in the ark with his family and all those animals, Noah opense the window of ark and sends out a raven. The black bird flies around back and forth until the waters are dried up from the earth. Then Noah releases a dove to see if there was any place dry enough for the plants to be growing. But not yet. Noah waits seven days and then sends the dove out again. In the evening the dove returns with a freshly plucked olive leaf. Yes, I know, if you are like me, the story goes in my head that the bird brought back an olive branch. That’s the influence of the Romans on us. We have taken different symbols from our culture and we have meshed them together with the biblical story and we still communicate something powerful. We see a dove and we see an olive branch and we think of God given peace.

In Xi’s painting there are four disciples in the boat. Now honestly there’s not room on the poster nor my wall for all 12 to be depicted. Three of them are sitting in the boat and one is standing. One of the seated disciples has eyes closed, head tilted to the side, and hands pressed together in prayer. The other two are seated behind this praying disciple. The oars they hold in their hands are in the water. Evidently they are rowing the boat working hard to get somewhere, anywhere out of those troubled water. And their eyes are set on Jesus. The fourth disciple is standing in the boat, holding onto the mast of the boat sail with one arm and looking into the eyes of the viewer. I love it. Three images of how we follow Jesus even as we endure the boat ride through troubled waters for which we did not sign up. Three images of how the peace of God comes to us. One way in prayer seated at the feet of God, eyes closed because we have no idea which way to look. But in prayer we make our requests known to God and God hears us. Peace comes from prayer. Another way, as we journey through this life, sometimes we work hard at it, like rowing a boat, working hard but with our eyes fixed on the Prince of Peace. God has shown us which way to go. God is pointing the way and we are getting there with Jesus at the helm rowing hard. And then like that third disciple, or that third depiction, there are times when we haven’t got a clue. We can’t see Jesus. We don’t know which way to look. We’re just standing there, holding on to something. I believe in fact this portrayal is the most peaceful posture. For this disciple only has one arm wrapped around the mast. Not hugging for dear life. But just holding on. Can you imagine the trust and the faith this disciple must have? You don’t know which way to go. You can’t see Jesus. No need to put you hand to the oar to row the boat. But you trust that the breath of God will blow into sails of life and direct you. You don’t want to lose the mast, so you hold on to it. But you trust God so much that you know you can stand there holding the mast of the boat with one arm while the choppy, turbulent water rocks the boat.

Fear is a formidable power. And it is a natural response to the unknown. Life during a pandemic has reminded all of us that not a single one of us knows for sure what the months ahead will be like. It is beyond our control as so many other things in life are as well. The gospel story teaches us again that our fears though they are real can be matched by the presence of God through Jesus Christ. What was it that Jesus said? “Be of good cheer, it is I. Do not be afraid.” The uncertainty and the unknowns still remain, but we are never alone. Our God is with us all the time. Bind the encouraging words of Psalm 85 to your hearts and receive the promise that the Psalmist sings about.

Let me hear what God the Lord has to say
for since we are God’s people,
God will speak peace to us.
and we will be faithful to God.
and we will keep our hearts turned to God.

For God’s salvation is near.
God’s glory will live among us.
Steadfast Love, Faithfulness, Righteousness, and Peace
will be the way of life.
And God’s goodness will pervade all the earth.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why do you think Jesus goes off alone to pray?
  2. How does the peace of God come into your life?
  3. What is the relationship between faith and the reality of steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace being the way of life here on earth?

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

Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying “Christian, follow me.”

As, of old, apostles heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian, love me more.”

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”

Jesus calls us; by thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

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

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

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

Credits: The image is from https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vlnvt [retrieved August 8, 2020]. The Call to Worship was written by Thom Shuman. The Opening Prayer and Sending Out were written by Moira Laidlaw. The author of How Firm a Foundation is unknown and is set to the tune FOUNDATION, an Early American Folk Tune. Both hymns were played by Tracy on the organ. Mercy and Truth is based on Psalm 85 and composed by Mark Schweizer and sung by Mindy, Ally, Elizabeth, Kendall, and Tonya. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. The Rain Will Seeks the Rivers was written by Bev Easterling, composed by Robert J. Powell. The song was sung by Mindy, Kendall, Ally, Elizabeth and Tonya accompanied by Tonya on the piano. The gospel was read by Meagan. Jesus Calls us O’er the Tumult was written by Cecil Francis Alexander (1852) and set to the tune GALILEE composed by W. H. Jude (1922). Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible translation. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship

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

The Worship of God

Invitation. Today’s gospel reading, Matthew 14:13–21 contrasts the scarcity values of empire with the abundance values of God’s realm. The former teaches us to make what seem like practical decisions, sending people off to fend for themselves. The realm of God values proclaimed by Jesus is one of compassionate assurance that through the abundance of God, there is enough for all.

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Psalm 17: 1-7

Listen to what’s right, Lord; pay attention to our cry!
Listen closely to our prayer; it’s spoken by lips that don’t lie!
Our justice comes from you; let your eyes see what is right!
You have examined our hearts. You’ve looked us over closely,
but haven’t found anything wrong. Our mouth does not sin.


But these other people’s deeds?
We have avoided such violent ways
by the command from your lips.
Our steps are set firmly on your paths;
our feet have not slipped
.
We cry out to you because you answer us.
So tilt your ears toward us now—
listen to what we are saying!
Manifest your faithful love in amazing ways
because you are the one
who saves those who take refuge in you,
saving them from their attackers
by your strong hand.

Opening Prayer.
Gracious and loving God, you enabled the Psalmist to turn to you in the confident assurance that cries and prayers would be heard and answered by you. Prayers uttered in the belief that your steadfast love would not permit despair and desolation to have the last word. We offer our prayers in that same belief, and with even greater confidence that we are heard by you, for the wonderful evidence of your love has been revealed in Jesus Christ, in whom we seek refuge time and time again. Through Jesus, our burdens are lightened and our sins are forgiven. Through your love, our lives are blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. For these great and glorious gifts, we offer our thanksgiving, our praise and our adoration. Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty

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! all the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
God everlasting through eternity.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye made blind by sin thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy: there is none beside thee
Perfect in pow’r, 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.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Listen to a church member read or read below.

The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, and full of faithful love.
The Lord is good to everyone and everything;
God’s compassion extends to all his handiwork!

The Lord supports all who fall down,
straightens up all who are bent low.
All eyes look to you, hoping,
and you give them their food right on time,
opening your hand
and satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways,
faithful in all his deeds.
The Lord is close to everyone who calls out to him,
to all who call out to him sincerely.
God shows favor to those who honor him,
listening to their cries for help and saving them.
The Lord protects all who love him,
but he destroys every wicked person.
My mouth will proclaim the Lord’s praise,
and every living thing will bless God’s holy name
forever and always.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer in Song
Ruah! Breath of Life
(“Ruah” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for Spirit.)

Ruah, Breath of Life, breathe in us.
Jesus, Bread of Life, give us strength.

Ruah, Bread of Life, breathe in us, we pray,
that we may spread goodness to all people on earth.
Spirit, wind of change, bring a peaceful day,
and we will join you, bringing life to birth.

Ruah, Breath of Life, breathe in us.
Jesus, Bread of Life, give us strength.

Jesus, Bread of Life, give us strength, we pray,
that we may help others who are hungry and poor.
Fill us with your grace; show us all the way
to share your table and your open door.

Ruah, Breath of Life, breathe in us.
Jesus, Bread of Life, give us strength.

Celebrating Communion

A Reading from the Gospels
Mark 14:22-24 
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 14:13-21

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


When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. That evening his disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to me.” He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves apart and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten.

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

“Conversion to Compassion” 

We Christians experience many conversions in our lives of faith. Whatever brings us to that initial decision to follow God, whether it’s the “still small voice” of God, or the gentle nudge of a caring mother, or the regret of too many personal sins, or the fear of death and hell, something and someone was a part of the beginning story of our faith. This initial conversion is most often then followed by baptism. We do well to mark this spiritual change with a physical reminder. I remember a few small details of my baptism at the age of 9. But I can’t forget the weight of the water pressing against my white robe, or my “baptism buddy” as we call them here – that friend who was baptized in the same service – his name was Cliff Adams. Yet since the age of 9, I have lived through many more conversions in the name of Christ.  

It is the nature of our discipleship with Jesus that our faith grows and matures. Repentance does not end after baptism. As our knowledge of God deepens, so does our experience of the world. As our love for the Gospel grows, it compels us into communities of grace. When Jesus becomes more than the poor guy who takes our punishment to let us off the hook, then we can hear Jesus calling us to take responsibility for justice and peace rather than letting someone else do it.  

These other conversions, as I want to name them, are rarely if ever marked with a ritual. The time when we realize that forgiveness from God becomes the avenue for our forgiveness of others, is not celebrated in the church with a ceremony. Nor am I suggesting that it should it be. And yet the conversions must keep happening in our lives of faith. We continue to need God to change our hearts. Our experiences of God are not simple acts of self improvement that make us better people. They transform us into becoming God’s people for the world and on behalf of others.  

All of this brings us to Matthew 14:13-21. In these words from Matthew, we hear the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 men plus many other women and children. It is both an iconic story in the New Testament, and also one that we take for granted. We know this story, right? We’ve heard it thousands of times perhaps. It is the scale of this miracle that is breath-taking. Imagine half of the football stadium at WCU filled to capacity. Jesus is standing on the field teaching through the day and the sun is beginning to set behind the mountain ridge. The disciples suggest sending them to Speedy’s Pizza or Kobe Express for dinner but Jesus has another suggestion. You feed them. I don’t know if this is a test of their faith in Jesus, or a simple lesson in feeding the hungry. Either way, they have some bread and fish, just a bit, and with this portion of God’s creation Jesus feeds everyone. No one is left hungry or wanting.  

I love that Matthew doesn’t record Jesus’ words when he looks to heaven and blesses the bread so that we’re not tempted to turn genuine prayer into magic formulas. The giving of God’s blessing is not found in saying the right words. God doesn’t respond on command like a well-trained spaniel. Instead, the economy of Matthew’s description emphasizes Jesus’ relationship with God rather than some knowledge of a magical incantation. So often in the New Testament, the miracles of Jesus are built around relationships rather than formulas. While I genuinely love the concept of memorizing scripture, and I honestly think we don’t emphasize it nearly enough in our day and time, the purpose of memorizing Bible verses is not to use it like magic but to initiate a relationship with God. 

So here we have Matthew 14 and the feeding of the 5,000 and are awed at Jesus’ miracle once again. But what if we missed something in the story that is as important as the abundance of fish sandwiches? What if there’s more than just one miracle here? We are deeply committed to hunger ministries at the CBC. Yet it is a reality that if we feed someone today from an all-you-can-eat buffet, they will be hungry again in a few hours. Jesus’ miracle of feeding is vastly important and inspiring, but it didn’t last beyond the next day’s dinner. On the other hand, we too easily brush past the first miracle, the lasting miracle, in this story. Let’s look again at verse 14: “When [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” 

How can we overlook the curing of the sick? We are so enamored by the spectacle of the feeding that we skipped past the healing Jesus did. Perhaps we are so accustomed to Jesus healing people that we’ve presumed this to be “normal” when this miracle should leave us in as much wonder as the feeding of thousands. Or maybe we overlook the healing because we know we can feed people, but healing is a different kind of gift and we don’t have it. After all, I have prayed for thousands to be healed and am not sure the results, but I know without a doubt that I have helped to feed thousands—just not all at one time! 

Let’s dial it back even more into verse 14. For the miracle of healing starts with compassion. It says, Jesus had compassion for them and cured the sick. I venture to add that the feeding of the 5,000 is the result of this same compassion. Can we then say that compassion is a pre-requisite for miracles? Maybe so. Perhaps more certainly we can assert that our conversion to compassion is necessary for God to use our lives for ministry.  Or if we wanted to be more bold in our assertion, no ministry of justice and mercy and grace happens without human compassion for others. At the very least, it is clear that Jesus did not act without compassion nor should we. In fact, when our actions lack compassion, it is obvious that we do not represent the Gospel.  

If I’m right about our need to convert to compassion then I also must assert that it is a choice we make. Just like we are free to choose to become a Christian and be baptized, we have the freedom to exercise compassion towards others – or not. Compassion is a product of spiritual intention. In this way, compassion can be developed and grow stronger. It’s not like being tall – that’s not a talent. What someone does with being tall (or not) matters more. Thus no matter how much compassion we may “naturally” possess, we can develop more compassion, and we can choose to use it for the work of justice and peace and hope. In this way, learning compassion is a discipline of our discipleship. 

Compassion is built upon a genuine empathetic care and concern for another person. In a literal sense, it is to feel something another person feels. It asks us to take on their hurt, or feel their wound as though it were ours, or sense their hunger in our own belly. Compassion allows us to understand not just from a distance but to internalize their struggle as though it were our own. Compassion is not pity; it is not feeling sorry for someone and their circumstances. Nor is it to be an exercise in elitism – “Oh you poor thing; I want you to be like me.” Compassion requires us to enter into their situation in a way that turns our heart toward their need and motivates us to respond in a way that brings them wholeness and restoration.  

In the imaginary world of superheroes I have long thought that a superpower for a doctor or nurse would be to feel precisely what the patient feels. Where it hurts. How much it hurts. At what intensity. If a doctor can move a patient’s knee and feel the same pain in the same location, they would know better how to treat it. They will also develop an earnest need to find the right cure, and soon. In many regards, this superpower describes compassion. Every superpower has its weakness, however. It’s easy to see that if doctors felt their patients’ pain, we would have fewer doctors. Who wants to feel pain every day at work? Maybe this same effect explains why some people are only focused on themselves and have not developed a holy compassion for others.  

Compassion it turns out is easy to forego because its consequences are difficult to bear. True compassion leads us to action on behalf of others. We may remain in a continual state of being unsettled on behalf of those who suffer. In this way, compassion becomes more than a prelude to a miracle of Jesus, it motivates us to help find justice for others. As such, it is both a spiritual gift and an act of obedience to the call of God.  

Without compassion, we may be tempted to respond to people’s needs out of guilt, obligation, or selfish motivations. Good writers use this obvious duplicity in their craft. Two characters in the same book or movie are working toward similar ends – marriage, crime solving, success — with one person showing compassion and genuine care for those around them while the other character is manipulative and selfish. Readers and viewers learn the difference and easily find the truly compassionate one more Christ-like. It is no wonder, then, that genuine exercise of compassion for others is both a pre-requisite for ministry in the name of God, and also a witness to the world of God’s care through God’s people. 

In our personal discipleship and our church’s ministries, we will only respond to real needs if we exercise compassion. If a Christian doesn’t have compassion for immigrants, then no ministry will seek to help them find community and welcome among us. If Christians do not learn the discipline of compassion, then we will feel no pain in the pit of our stomach when someone tells us that 1 out of every 5 child in the US regularly misses a meal…or two. But when we learn compassion, we then respond with love, we feed those who know hunger, we do not accept the injustice of deportation, or the ravaging of native lands, or the misuse of creation for profit, or the scape-goating of African Americans. Shall I go on? Who else did I not name? The people you would add to this list will reveal your own compassion. If so, then lead on, good disciple of Christ, to serve them and help them and care for them and heal them and bring them justice in the name of God who not only knows all but feels all.  

In the end, the miraculous ability for Jesus to heal and feed leaves us in awe. But if he had exercised these acts of ministry without compassion, Jesus might just as well have been a robot. It is in the depth of compassion for others that we are most like Jesus. And it is out of this Christ-like compassion that we will respond with love and grace to those who are oppressed, sick, poor, and hungry. Without compassion for others, we’re left in need of another conversion in our faith. May it be that today, we feel more deeply and serve more completely in the name of God, the Most Compassionate One. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

  1. With whom or for whom do you feel deeply?
  2. Since compassion is something that can grow, with whom or for whom do you need to learn more compassion?
  3. In addition to compassion, what are other human emotions that God can use in us for the sake of others?

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
All Who Hunger

All who hunger, gather gladly;
holy manna is our bread.
Come from wilderness and wandering.
Here, in truth, we will be fed.
You that yearn for days of fullness,
all around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, never strangers;
seeker, be a welcome guest.
Come from restlessness and roaming.
Here, in joy, we keep the feast.
We that once were lost and scattered
in communion’s love have stood.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, sing together;
Jesus Christ is living bread.
Come from loneliness and longing.
Here, in peace, we have been led.
Blest are those who from God’s table
live their lives in gratitude.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

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

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

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

Credits: The image is from https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vlnvt [retrieved July 31, 2020]. The Opening Prayer and Sending Out were written by Moira Laidlaw. Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty! was written by Reginald Heber (1826) with words inspired by the Nicaean Creed. It is set to a tune composed by John Bacchus Dykes (1861) which he named NICAEA in recognition of Heber’s text. The hymns were played by Tracy. The Psalm was read by Kendall. Ruah, Breath of Life was written by Jann Aldredge-Canton and composed by Larry E. Schultz. Mindy, Ally, Elizabeth, Kendall, and Tonya sang, Tessa played the flute, and Tonya accompanied on the piano. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. The gospel was read by Annelise. All Who Hunger was written by Sylvia G. Dunstan (1993) and set to the tune HOLY MANNA attributed to William Moore. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible translation. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship

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

The Worship of God

Invitation. Today’s gospel reading gives testimony to the often hidden and subtle power of the Realm of God at work in our lives and world. The parables tell that the reality of God’s realm is at work now, and we are called to decide if this is the realm in which we choose to live.

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Piano Prelude

Psalm 105:1-5a

Give thanks to the Lord;
call upon his name;
make his deeds known to all people!

Sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord;
dwell on all his wondrous works!

Give praise to God’s holy name!
Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!

Pursue the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always!

Remember the wondrous works he has done,
all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—

Opening Prayer
Eternal God, we come to offer this time of worship to you. Help us to so focus our thoughts on you, that we experience afresh your grace, mercy, and love as fresh gifts in our lives. We praise you for blessing us in this way and for revealing your love in Jesus Christ. With his endless love flowing through us, and the Holy Spirit guiding us, may our love for you and all you created never cease.

God, source of loving kindness and strength, we worship you.
Jesus, foundation of our faith, we worship you.
Holy Spirit, ground of our very being, we worship you.
Amen

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Hope of the World

Hope of the world, O Christ of great compassion:
speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent;
save us, your people, from consuming passion,
who by our own false hopes and aims are spent.

Hope of the world, God’s gift from highest heaven,
bringing to hungry souls the bread of life:
still let your Spirit unto us be given
to heal earth’s wounds and end her bitter strife.

Hope of the world, afoot on dusty highways,
showing to wandering souls the path of light:
walk now beside us, lest the tempting byways
lure us away from you to endless night.

Hope of the world, who by your cross did save us
from death and dark despair, from sin and guilt:
we render back the love your mercy gave us;
take now our lives and use them as you will.

Hope of the world, O Christ, o’er death victorious,
who by this sign did conquer grief and pain:
we would be faithful to your gospel glorious;
you are our Lord, and you forever reign!

A Reading from the New Testament
Romans 8:26-39

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified.

So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us.

Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.

But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer in Song
Come, Dearest Lord

Come, dearest Lord, descend and dwell
By faith and love in ev’ry breast;
Then shall we know, and taste, and feel
The joys that cannot be expressed.

Come, fill our hearts with inward strength,
Make our enlarged souls posess,
And learn the height, and breadth, and length
Of thine unmeasurable grace.

Now to the God whose pow’r can do
More than our thoughts or wishes know,
Be everlasting honors done
By all the church, through Christ his Son.

Celebrating Communion

A Reading from the Gospels
Mark 14:22-24 
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-50

Parable of the mustard seed
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”

Parable of the yeast
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”

Parable of the treasure
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.

Parable of the merchant
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.

Parable of the net
The kingdom of heaven is like a net that people threw into the lake and gathered all kinds of fish. When it was full, they pulled it to the shore, where they sat down and put the good fish together into containers. But the bad fish they threw away. That’s the way it will be at the end of the present age. The angels will go out and separate the evil people from the righteous people, and will throw the evil ones into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

Today we enter into a parable laden passage from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has taken common everyday experiences and fashioned them into stories to help us understand the mysterious works of God. The first two parables this morning are told to a crowd of people interested in what Jesus has to say. A small mustard seed is planted in a field and becomes a tree so large that birds can nest in it. A bit of yeast is worked into 50 pounds of flour and the dough rises to feed the neighborhood. Both stories offer the crowd hope and encouragement in God. A little bit of God goes a long way. God’s goodness might seem small but it is more than sufficient. God is more than able to permeate all of life, to bring change, and help one rise.

Maybe it was getting dark, maybe it was time to eat, for whatever reason, Jesus leaves the crowd and goes into a house along with his disciples. Inside with his close companions, he tells a few more parables offering more hope and encouragement. First a story about a hidden treasure that brings great joy to the one who discovers it. So great is the treasure that everything is sold so the field in which the treasure is buried can be bought. The second story is about a merchant who discovers the most beautiful pearl ever seen. The merchant sells everything so the fine white jewel can be bought. It is easy to see that the disciples are like the treasurer hunter and merchant.  They have left everything behind to follow Jesus. They have found the Treasure, Jesus, and have left everything to be with him. They have seen the Pearl, Jesus, and have set everything aside to follow him. 

The third story Jesus tells is a fishing tale. I would imagine this context probably meant more to the disciples than stories of buried treasure and pearls. A handful of the disciples had once been fishermen. They knew firsthand what it was like to cast a net out over the water and draw a catch of fish up into the boat. As the fish are removed from the net, they would be separated. Keep the edible fish, the kosher ones–like trout, mahimahi, flouder, cod, and sardines to name a few. Toss away the non-edible ones, the non-kosher ones–the eels, the sharks, the swordfish, and the dolphins. They didn’t have all these kinds of fish in the Sea of Galilee, but you get the idea. Put the good fish in the basket and toss out the bad fish. 

Then Jesus goes on to say that this is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come from heaven and sort through the catch of fish. But they don’t toss the bad fish back into the sea because this is the end of the age. Instead, they toss the bad fish into a fiery furnace accompanied by weeping and gnashing teeth.  

It would be quite easy and maybe preferable to skip these verses in Matthew about fire, weeping, and gnashing teeth. These types of Bible verses seem to fuel the fires of judgment against others who are not like us. However, here at CBC we are not that kind of faith community which labels people as good or bad, in or out, heaven or hell bound. We have all seen how the good news of Jesus has been distorted by such labeling and finger pointing and judgement all in the name of Jesus. Judging others isn’t our calling. 

These types of verses are also excellent fodder for preachers who like to dish out “turn or burn” sermons. These stories have been used throughout the years to plant fear in the hearts of everyone, including believers, so that people might act good instead of bad. If you are bad, you will be tossed away, into the fire, where you with weep and gnash your teeth. Leading people to fear God isn’t our calling.

These types of verses have also been used to motivate Christians to witness and to give money to support evangelical mission work.  They have been used to guilt us into witnessing.  If we don’t share God’s love now, today, with everyone, there will be people who will spend eternity burning, crying, and gnashing their teeth. Our actions or lack of actions are not saving. It is God’s grace that saves us not someone else’s witness. 
Convincing and coercing people to live the way of Jesus is not our calling. 

Here at CBC we answer the call of God to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ so that God might be honored and glorified. How many have already been told by the world that they are “bad,” or not good enough? How many have already been tossed out, cast away, pushed aside, and all in the name of Jesus? And now to hear Jesus use those same words in his parable, well, how in the world does that square up with “For God so loved the world….”  I know, I know, I have heard it explained so many times. Some say, it’s God’s corrective punitive love. God loves us enough to punish us so that we will do the right thing. That seems like hog wash. Honestly, I do believe that God is abundantly more creative and wiser than to make us afraid so that we might learn to love and trust. Any relationship that uses fear to produce love and trust, that’s a relationship from which you should run. Think about it this way.  If you were afraid of the teacher, you didn’t misbehave. Right? Did you ever hear Jesus say, “I came that they might learn how to behave”?  No. Jesus said, “I came so that they might live.” God’s goal for us is to know God’s constant abiding never-fading love for us, and that we share that same love with others and all of creation. 

So, do we just get a pen out and strike through these verses from Matthew’s gospel? We could use a black sharpie marker, but it would bleed through to the other side of the page and mark out even more verses. We could use that handy little white out rolling thing, but it would leave the thin pages of my bible encrusted. 

The focus of all these parables is the kingdom of heaven. Let’s remove the imperial language Our Anabaptist ancestors were persecuted under imperial law. So let’s go with “reign of God” instead The starting point for all of these parables is the reign of God. The reign of God began in the ministry of Christ. It has not yet fully been revealed, but we pray for it. It is not yet fully here, but the Spirit is always present and already working towards it. Christ helps us put aside those other-worldly views of life like an after-life refuge or eternal damnation. We have this hope given to us in Jesus Christ of the reign of God already here in the present, here and now, already with us. So how does this fishing net parable help us understand God’s reign here and now?  All of the above ideas about how this parable has been used, I still refute. 

Let’s remember that Jesus shared this story with the 12 disciples. Not with those who were interested or curious about Jesus, but with the 12 who were already committed, who had already invested all they had in Jesus. Jesus invites them to take a glimpse at the reign of God, where the bad is discarded and the good is gathered up. What a strong reminder that Jesus has come to call us to a way of life that is consistent with God’s reign. You cannot remove the idea of judgment from this passage, but you must see it in the light of God’s reign. God is just and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. What a blessing it is to know that the evil empires and individuals with whom we deal day in and day out do not have the final word. Jesus does not condemn evil deeds in order to frighten us into nonaction. Instead Jesus invites us to go ahead and start living in and under the reign of God. We anticipate the reign of God. We eagerly anticipate living in that full reality. We anticipate the ways of God, being the way everyone lives. We anticipate it. The reign of God–when everything, everything is made new. 2 Corinthians says, If anyone is in Christ, that one is a new creature. Look, everything has become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)  God’s great future for the world is coming. And it is what we anticipate, a future where evil is destroyed and God’s righteousness shines bright like the sun. 

Even though we are not in the season of Advent, this pandemic is teaching us how to really long for something–or in fact, many things. So therefore as much as you long for the day when the pandemic is laid to rest, long even more for the day when God’s reign is fully alive in the world. 

Questions for Reflection

■ If you were to write a parable about the reign of God, what object or image would you use?
■ In what ways has the past week been difficult? Which, if any of today’s parables helps you not to feel defeated from the week?
■ What are parts of the full reign of God that you really anticipate these days?

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
Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu Alleluia

Ask and it shall be given unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and it shall be opened unto you
Allelu Alleluia

Sending
God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep!
They are as mysterious as God’s judgments,
and they are as hard to track as God’s paths!
Who has known the Lord’s mind?
Or who has been the Lord’s mentor?
Or who has given the Lord a gift
and has been paid back by the Lord?
All things are from and through and for the Lord.
May the glory be to God forever. Amen.

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

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

Credits: The image is from https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vccsr [retrieved July 25, 2020]. The Prelude is Andante written by Handel and played by Barbara on June 10, 2018 for worship. The Psalm is read by Dale, Jeff, Matthew, Wyatt and Jeffrey. The Opening Prayer was written by Moira Laidlaw. Hope of the World is set to the tune TORONTO composed by John W. Peterson (1954). The words were written by Georgia Elma Harkness (1974) who was the first woman to teach theology in an American seminary. The hymns are played by Tracy. Romans was written by Paul and is read by Dianne, AJ, Charlie, and Gary. Come, Dearest Lord was written by Isaac Watts and composed by James Kirby. Accompanied by Tonya, singers include Mindy, Laura, Ally, Elizabeth, Kendall, and Tonya. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. The gospel was read by Wren, Reason, Aiden, Addie, and Tonya. Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God was written and composed by Karen Lafferty. Tessa plays the flute. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible translation. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Typically, each week we have the option to hear the scriptures being read by one another, but not this Sunday. (It’s just been too busy a week for us to get that together.)

The Worship of God

Invitation. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus provides another agricultural parable about the reign of God using the imagery of wheat and weeds. Both weeds and wheat grow together in the world and may look similar to one another, but in the end, they will be sorted and dealt with accordingly. Jesus highlights that this separation does not happen until the seeds have borne fruit. It is important to approach the text with caution, as it has the potential to harm and hurt by drawing lines between “insiders” and “outsiders.” There is mystery in how God plants, nurtures, and weeds to secure a harvest of promise, and we are invited into hope-filled trust in God.

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship
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
God of all generations, as the author of the Psalm acknowledged your creative presence in such an intimate and personal way, so we affirm your presence with us in an even more wonderful and personal way – in the relationship established through Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. We praise and thank you, O God, for reaching out to us and touching our lives in this way. We turn towards you in gratitude seeking to love as we have been loved and pray that this time of worship will be a worthy offering of praise and thanksgiving for the way you lay your guiding hand on our lives. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heav’n to earth come down!
Fix in us your humble dwelling,
All your faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, source of all compassion,
Love unbounded, love all pure;
Visit us with your salvation,
Let your love in us endure.

Breathe, O breathe your loving Spirit
Into ev’ry troubled breast;
Let us all in you 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 your life receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Nevermore your temples leave.
Lord, we would be always blessing,
Serve you as your hosts above,
Pray and praise you without ceasing,
Glory in your precious love.

(pause for key change in accompaniment)

Finish, then, your new creation,
Pure and spotless, gracious Lord:
Let us see your great salvation
Perfectly in you restored.
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heav’n we take our place,
Till we sing before the almighty,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Lord, you have examined me.
You know me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up.
Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.
You study my traveling and resting.
You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.
There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord,
that you don’t already know completely.
You surround me—front and back.
You put your hand on me.
That kind of knowledge is too much for me;
it’s so high above me that I can’t reach it.

Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
even there your hand would guide me;
even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
the light will become night around me,”
even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
Nighttime would shine bright as day,
because darkness is the same as light to you!

Examine me, God! Look at my heart!
Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts!
Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,
then lead me on the eternal path!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer in Song
When I’m Afflicted, Poor, and Low

When I’m afflicted, poor, and low, and light and peace depart,
my God beholds my heavy woe, and bears me on his heart.
I waited patient for the Lord, he bowed to hear my cry;
He saw me resting on his word, and brought salvation nigh.

He raised me from a horrid pit, where mourning long I lay,
and from my bonds released my feet, deep bonds of miry clay.
Firm on a rock he made me stand, and taught my cheerful tongue
to praise the wonders of his hand, in a new thankful song.

How many are thy thoughts of love! Thy mercies, Lord, how great!
We have not words nor hours enough, their numbers to repeat.
When I’m afflicted, poor, and low, and light and peace depart,
my God beholds my heavy woe, and bears me on his heart.

Celebrating Communion

A Reading from the Gospels
Mark 14:22-24 
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’ “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered. “The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.'”

Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” Jesus replied, “The one who plants the good seed is the Human One. The field is the world. And the good seeds are the followers of the kingdom. But the weeds are the followers of the evil one. The enemy who planted them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the present age. The harvesters are the angels. Just as people gather weeds and burn them in the fire, so it will be at the end of the present age. The Human One will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that cause people to fall away and all people who sin. He will throw them into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Those who have ears should hear.”

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey

Listen to Jeffrey’s reflection, “Both Weeds and Wheat” and/or read below.

Just about anyone who reads the things Jesus says in the four Gospels will recognize how often he talked about growing things in gardens or orchards. In fact, he uses agricultural metaphors in his parables and teachings so much that if someone were to tell me tomorrow that Jesus was not really a carpenter at all but a farmer, it would make so much more sense to me. I cannot remember a single thing Jesus mentioned about building something other than the kingdom of God, and there he was speaking metaphorically. Yet when it comes to farming, he knows his stuff. For example, Jesus talks about how to plow a straight line in a field in Luke 9:62. He discusses pruning vines in John 15:2. Jesus knows when to expect a fig tree to produce its fruit in Mark 11:22ff. And last week, in the Gospel reading for Tonya’s sermon, Jesus discussed sowing seeds in a field. It is not surprising, then, that this week’s parable from Matthew 13 also carries on the farming theme except this time Jesus takes on the weeds and the wheat. He moves the conversation from seeds to harvest. 

Parables are never intended to be straightforward analogies. Something is always unexpected in a parable so that the listeners, or in our case the readers, are brought up short by the surprise. It was a way to remember the story—the sensational component of the parable helped folks remember it and so re-tell it. As we move from seeds to weeds with Jesus now discussing the growing season and harvest, Jesus’ audience recognizes that he’s talking about God’s perspective on humanity rather than best farming practices. You don’t ignore the weeds if you are a good farmer. But if you are a God whose mercy is deeply rooted in the ground of grace, you do. Thus while Jesus uses yet another agricultural metaphor, he’s making a point about our relationship to the Gospel, and God’s tendency toward mercy. Let me see if I can explain what I mean. 

As I read this parable of Jesus, it seems to express one element of our human condition plus two applications for the Church. In brief the first point is that none of us have it all right. And the two practicalities for the Church are that the church is not solely holy, thus it is right to suspend our own judgment of others knowing that only God does so justly. 

It is too simplistic to say that two kinds of people exist—one that is good and right, and another that is evil and unjust. In reality, we are mixtures of all these things even within our own selves. Sorting out a balance of these traits takes wisdom. Recognizing and purging the evil and unjust we choose and emphasizing more and more the good and right within our capacity is to mature as a person and grow in faith as a disciple of Jesus.  I’m not the kind of theologian who thinks that all humans are born “totally depraved.” I argue against the Augustinian idea that Original Sin means that we are all sinners from the time we are born and thus are only deserving of punishment and death. Instead of repeating Augustine ad nauseum, I am closer to the Christian version of human sin often attributed to Pelagius that grows out of Genesis 1—that we are all born in “the image of God” as a “very good” part of God’s good creation. Our sin is an inevitability but also a series of choices. None of us are without sin, but sin is not the “normal” human condition. Thus it is part of the truth of the Gospel that Jesus exemplifies for us all the human possibility of obedience and righteousness. To live like Jesus in the hope of God’s world as God intended us to be within a holy community of forgiveness is the point of all his teachings, including these parables in Matthew 13.  

If we ever wonder why all those annoying people, or even evil people, are not just zapped by God and taken away so that the rest of us, who clearly don’t deserve death by divine lightning strike, can go on making the world a better place, Jesus warns us that the targeted guilty may be standing right next to us, or it may not even be another person. No matter how wise we are, it is impossible to know who is deserving of life, and it is an act of human arrogance to the point of blasphemy to think that we can choose it for them.  

Lest we forget, Jesus is also talking about the congregation of the church in this parable. It is not difficult to imagine that every congregation has some weedy Christians among the wheaty ones.  I remember going with Tonya to a conference one year and a workshop for ministers was titled, “Ministry To and With Difficult Church Members.” I can honestly tell you that we did not feel the need to attend that one! At the same time, like every pastor I know, examples of church members who have not represented well the Gospel of Jesus, or the grace of God, or the hope of salvation lived among a holy gathering of Spirit-led people are part of the reality of the lived church. We are, nevertheless, together with our faults and failings, the body of Christ on earth. It is no wonder that we are called to follow God rather than obey the church, for sometimes we, the church, get it all wrong. Even with this reality, the purpose of the church is to include all of us, weeds and wheat, and let both grow in the same field, sharing the nutrients of the soil of the Gospel. To pull out the weeds is to threaten the wheat. Even to distinguish which one I am, weed or wheat, may change from time to time. It is hard, it turns out, for humans to know the difference in either ourselves or each other. In this way, Jesus is not calling us out for our sin, nor puffing us up for our holiness, but giving all of us permission to take a sigh of relief that judging the sins of others in the congregation of the church is not our job. 

Even in the early days of the church, apparently during Matthew’s time around 80 CE in Antioch, these words were already necessary for they are part of what the gospel writer wanted that congregation to hear from Jesus. The church of Jesus’ followers by this time already diversified. The first followers of Jesus (fifty years before Matthew was written) were mostly Jews who heard and saw Jesus, witnessed the resurrection, and believed Jesus to be the Messiah. The congregation for whom Matthew was collecting the things Jesus said and did lived miles away from Jerusalem in Antioch, a huge city with a heavy Greek influence. Matthew’s church included both Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus. They almost surely were cautious and perhaps afraid since the Romans had destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem a few years before this was written. It is even likely that they no longer knew anyone alive who actually had seen or heard Jesus. But they also needed to hear that the church did not demand perfection among its followers. The church was not just for Jews, not just for the perfect, not only for the holy-like-Jesus ones. As it turns out, Jesus is easing the task of the congregation. It is not the responsibility of the church to weed out people, but to harvest us all. 

The weeding, or as Jesus explains it, the judgement before God, is left to God alone. While we have too often had “the judgement of God” wielded like a weapon of our impending destruction, here the idea that God judges both the weedy and the wheaty is hopeful and encouraging. The great Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote convincingly that the image of God as just judge is one of the most important parts of the Hebrew scriptures. It is not hard to imagine, then, that when Jesus mentions God judging, the people of God are to find relief in his words. God will always judge rightly whereas our judgement will always prove imperfect. God knows the heart’s true condition whereas we flinch at the pain of the wounds we sometimes cause each other. God sees the good or evil inside whereas we judge only what we know and hear and feel.   

These words of Jesus at the end of the parable are not doom and gloom, but goodness and truth. They do not signal an everlasting spiritual warfare of demonic and angelic powers hovering over our heads seeking to infiltrate and influence us for either good or bad. Such fanciful imaginations are informed more by the movies we see and the myths that we inherit than they are by the good news of these words of Jesus. I am convinced, that Jesus wants us even today to hear that we can go on and try to love and forgive each other. We can build a church that is always incomplete and imperfect without the need to eradicate all who err among us. Instead we love all who come and care and commit to the Gospel as best we can, and we take seriously the call to forgive one another, as we want others to forgive us, and as we have known forgiveness from God. After all, the unlovely often are those who need to experience genuine love; the crass and unkind are those who need to receive grace unmerited; the mistaken are those who need to feel forgiven by the people of the church in order to recognize the real forgiveness of God. 

In this we find perfection in love, and humility in spirit as the way to be the body of Christ as the church. Let God be God and make good and just judgement. But let the church be bold and fearless in community. Let her attempt more than just what’s comfortable and convenient even if sometimes we make mistakes. We are all in God’s harvest, brother weed and sister wheat, and only God knows the difference.  

Questions for Reflection

■ Who are some of the most important people to you that you have known because you were in church together?
■ How are being created as “good” and choosing to do what is right different?
■ What personal characteristics do we need to develop to get along with difficult people?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s love and ask God to help our church family grow deeper and deeper in love.

Song of Faith
Come Ye Thankful People Come

Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,

Sending
Go into this week knowing God’s hand is upon you,
blessing you and nurturing the life of Jesus within you
through the energy and power of the Holy Spirit.

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

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

Credits: The Call to Worship, Opening Prayer, and Sending were written by Moira Laidlaw. Love Dinive, All Loves Excelling is set to the tune BEECHER composed by John Zundel and named after his pastor, Henry Ward Beecher. The words were written by Charles Wesley. The hymns are played by Tracy with his friend John. The words to When I’m Afflicted, Poor, and Low are based on Psalm 40. Words were written by Isaac Wyatts and composed by William Bradly Roberts. The CBC Social Distance choir this week includes Mindy, Ally, Tonya, Elizabeth, and Laura accompanied by Tracy on the piano and Tessa on the flute. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. Come Ye Thankful People Come is set to the tune ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR and composed by George J. Elvey. The words were written by Henry Alford (1844). Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship. For today’s worship, you will need 2 candles, one to represent Christ’s humanity and one to represent Christ’s divinity. To celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. 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. We are in what we call “Ordinary Time,” the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or greenery.


The Worship of God

Invitation. Jesus’ parable of the sower highlights God’s generous and surprising, disruptive, ways. The gospel reading today is one of three agriculturally based stories about the reign of God, In this parable, the harvest reaped from seeds sown on varying types of soil illustrates the number of ways people experience receiving God’s word. The seed is sown generously among all people. Despite the tensions and struggles among those who received the word, the work of God’s realm will yield a harvest.

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship
We bring our hopes and fears,
our struggles and our lives as they are,
into the presence of the one
who leaves the doors and futures
open to gracious possibilities.
God’s word lights the path before us.
May this time of worship
empower us to make faithful choices.
God’s word lights the paths before us.
May this time of worship renew and restore
our relationships with God and each other.
God’s word lights the paths before us.
Come, let us worship.

Opening Prayer
Abundant God,
use our senses to open our hearts and minds
to the richness of scriptures.
Help us to receive the gifts you sow
so graciously and freely in our lives,
and inspire us to share such bounty
generously with our neighbours. Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Another Sabbath Day Has Come

Another Sabbath day has come,
Another week is o’er;
And we, a grateful, happy throng,
Are gathered here once more.

We meet to sing of Jesus’ love,
And bow to Him in prayer,
We meet to read His holy Word,
And learn our duty there.

Oh, may the seed thus early sown
Spring up on goodly ground,
And in our hearts, our souls and lives
May fruit of grace abound.

Immortal fruit, that yet shall bloom
In paradise above,
Where we, with those now gone before,
Shall sing redeeming love.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 65:9-13

You visit the earth and make it abundant,
enriching it greatly by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows, leveling its ridges,
you soften it with rain showers;
you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness;
your paths overflow with rich food.
Even the desert pastures drip with it,
and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
The meadowlands are covered with flocks,
the valleys decked out in grain—
they shout for joy;
they break out in song!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.

God of each, God of all:
we pray for our families,
those with whom we are drawn together
by birth or by marriage or by adoption.

We pray for our friends and neighbours,
those with whom we are drawn together
by common places of work or learning,
by common aspirations and values.

We pray for our fellow citizens,
those with whom we are drawn together
by birthplace and nation,
by regional ties and societal traditions.

We pray for those who are part of this community
and in the whole Christian Church,
those with whom we are drawn together
by a common faith and uncommon grace.

We pray for those who are fashioned in your image,
with whom we are drawn together in one family.

Thank you Lord for hearing our prayers. Amen.

Song of Praise
There is Much in the World

There is much in the world that can call forth our praise.
You have made it all.
As our song now takes up sights and sounds of the earth,
all voices shall be one.
For the sound of the rain, for the fierce rushing waves,
for water quiet and cool;
we give praise and thanks, in each droplet we see,
all of your love for us.

For the warmth of a fire, for a blaze through the sky,
for orange and yellow sparks, we give praise and thanks.
In each flicker we see, all of your love for us.
For the green of the earth, for the rich, leafy trees;
for air that’s fresh and clean;
we give praise and thanks,
through each breath and each glimpse,
we see your love for us.

Celebrating Communion

A Reading from the Gospels
Mark 14:22-24 
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Listen to the passage and/or read below.

That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore. 3 He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. 4 As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. 7 Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. 8 Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. 9 Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”

18 “Consider then the parable of the farmer. 19 Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. 20 As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. 21 Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 22 As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 23 As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.”

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

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

In western culture, Friday the 13th is a day of bad luck. Tuesday the 13th is a bad luck in Greece. Even in Afghanistan some believe the number 39 is cursed because 39 is three 13’s.  Today and the next two Sundays, we will be looking at the teachings of Jesus from the 13th chapter of Matthew. The beginning of the chapter is anything but bad luck. The chapter is packed full of stories told by Jesus. Stories to strengthen, stretch, and shore up our faith in God. Stories that help us understand the love of God more fully, the depth and breadth of God’s love for humanity and the world.  

Today’s story is about a sower. Not a “sewer,” like someone who sews masks or a dress, but a “sower,” like someone who sows seeds to grow plants. Jesus is out at the lake today. Wouldn’t we all love to be there with him. Sitting on the shore, an eager crowd starts to gather and it becomes so big that Jesus has to get into a boat and float out a little into the water so he can have some breathing room. He sits down in the boat to teach while the crowd stands on the shore. I regret that the translation of the passage in our Home Worship Guide leaves out the first recorded word Jesus says. We have been using the Common English Bible translation this summer. Each of the church’s children have been given a copy and the translation lends itself so well to being read out loud. But the translation left out the first word Jesus said, “Listen!”  Matthew even adds an exclamation point after the word. Makes sense. Jesus is out in a boat out on the water teaching people standing on the shore. He had to get their attention somehow. So he shouts out to them, “Listen!”  It is an invitation.

Then Jesus tells his first story. A farmer goes out to scatter seeds. Notice that the farmer scatters seeds everywhere. Seeds are tossed onto the path where people walk. Seeds are scattered on the rocky ground where people usually don’t walk because it hurts your feet. Seeds are even thrown in and among the weeds and thorns. And as we would normally expect seeds are scattered on good soil too. My first reaction is what kind of farmer is this? Who wastes seeds on places where they cannot sprout and grow? It is either a not so smart farmer, or perhaps it is an overly optimistic farmer. And then the great realization, only God would do such a crazy thing, scatter seeds anywhere and everywhere, seeing potential in all spaces for life-giving abundance. It really makes sense, doesn’t it? Jesus doesn’t tell them or us who the farmer is but we do know what this farmer is like. A generous farmer who sees potential in all places. 

Later one, Jesus tells his disciples that the seeds represent the word about the kingdom of God. Those seeds are all the things that make up what we call the Christ-like way of living . A way of life that’s defined by the Creator and is characterized by those fruits named in Galatians chapter 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And that just the beginning, It is a way of life that professes God’s love, that loves the stranger and welcomes the neighbor. A way of living molded and shaped by the Creator’s love for everyone, a way of living that is characterized by sincere humility and active love. A way of living that favors life, humility, awareness, and never plays favorites. If it did play favorites the seeds would only have been scattered in the most loved places, or the places where they had the most potential to grow. Thus we have no right as followers of the way of Jesus Christ, as Christians, to deem who is worthy of wasting God’s love on and who is not. No matter what. So we are invited to scatter the word through seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, just to name a few, we scatter those seeds on everyone, everywhere. We don’t waste time trying to figure out if the ground is good or not, if the person is good or not. We just do it by living the way of Jesus Christ at all times.

In this story Jesus tells us more about the soil than the seed. Jesus describes four types of soil, each one representing a type of receptiveness to the word concerning living the way of Jesus. Jesus invites all to listen, but the word is received differently. First in the story, there are those who hear about living the way of Jesus and it is like the seed thrown on the path. The word is not understand and evil comes and takes it away. They don’t understand, not because they are not smart, but because their hearts are dull. They have insensitive, calloused hearts. They put up walls and refuse to let the word of love come in even through a crack. Next, Jesus says there are some who hear the word about living the way of God, they listen, like what they hear, and eagerly start to follow. But like the seeds sown on the rocky soil where the seed cannot take root and grow, the decision is short-lived in their lives. Trouble comes along, things are harder than they had expected, they suffer because of living the way of God, so they give up. The effort wasn’t worth it to them. Thirdly, there are others who hear about living the way of Jesus and it is like the seed thrown among the weeds and thorns. Living like God is in charge is crowded out by worries and concerns. Living the way of Jesus becomes last in line to pursuing wealth and success. They pay more attention to the worries or success of the world than to living like they live in the kingdom. Now the one who hears, takes the word in, and lives it, they are like seeds sown on good soil. They bear fruit in amazing quantities. 

Jesus goes further than just telling us that things won’t happen if we are not the right kind of soil. Truly we won’t bear fruit if all these other things get in the way. It does matter what kind of soil you are. It matters if you have a huge wall put up against things and your heart is callous. It does matter if you give up easily on living the way of Jesus when the going gets tough. It does matter if you are easily distracted by the cares of the world. Jesus looks back to the prophet Isaiah, chapter 6, especially verses 9 and 10 to help us get it. Reversing the negative, I’m going to summarize those verses for us and get right to the point. It takes eyes to see, ears to hear, a compassionate heart, and a willingness to change. And with those things shaping who we are, the Lord will heal us. The soil isn’t doomed. You are  not doomed.

Your callous heart can change. Your weak knees and gumption against injustice can change. Your worries can be put in perspective. You see, God will keep scattering those seeds of God’s way of living in your life because God loves you. Your heart might be hard right now, and that’s okay for God’s heart is soft and compassionate and caring, for you and the world. Your determination might be wavering right now, it’s okay. For God is constant, always with you, no matter what. Your anxiety, worries, and concerns may be crowding out all other things, it’s okay, God is with you. Please, please, don’t think that you have to be the right kind of soil for God to love you and spend time on and with you. God will not abandon you. God will keep scattering those seeds in our lives. And as we are able, we listen and hear that God loves us, we look and see God’s love, our hearts are open, and we feel the presence of God, and we start making changes to the hard soil, the rocky, ground, and the thorns and weeds. Take care of yourself. May you recognize the love God has for you and the world. May you hear the voice of God shepherding, consoling, and calling you. May you feel that love of God in your very heart down to your bones. We all serve and worship the same God, but we are all in different walks of our lives. And when we are stumbling, we have God and others standing with us, beside us. 

God will heal. God will make things good. For that’s what the kingdom of God is about. We try to bring the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven, but it is a long and imperfect journey. But we are on the journey together and God is with us. Don’t let the world’s false expectations pressure you to be strong and courageous because you are Christian. That’s mallarky.  God loves us and that’s what matters the most. We answer that love not by repressing pain, anger, doubt, worries, and fear or by being cheerful, happy, in control, and on top of things at all times. No, we answer the love of God for us by learning to accept that love and by sharing the love of God with others. That’s what it means to bear fruit. These are weird times. But don’t give up. We cannot worship together. I cannot give you a hug. But I can constantly remind us all that God is always present with each and every one of us and God’s presence and love is greater than any human display of that love. May we rest in the knowledge that we have been graced and gifted with the most amazing — God loves you. 

Questions for Reflection

■ What are the different obstacles that restrict growth?
■ What are the qualities of good soil?
■ What are the basic things needed for faith to grow?

Life with God requires a willingness to disrupt norms and to have our lives disrupted by God.
■ What parts of our lives need disruption to serve God better?
■ How might the church disrupt unjust practices that society normalizes?
■ How can we live lives in the Spirit that respond to the needs of the world while resisting the ease and allure of the status quo?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s love and ask God to help our church family grow deeper and deeper in love.

Song of Faith
For the Fruit of All Creation

For the fruit of all creation,
thanks be to God;
for the gifts of every nation,
thanks be to God;
for the ploughing, sowing, reaping,
silent growth while we are sleeping,
future needs in earth’s safe-keeping,
thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labour,
God’s will is done;
in the help we give our neighbour,
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
Remember this:
the Spirit of God is your life, and
the same Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead,
also lives in you,
giving life to your bodies and souls.
Go about your day with joy and confidence,
knowing that God is at work within you.
Romans 8:10-11

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

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

Credits: The Call to Worship and Opening Prayer are from Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2020. Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2019. Another Sabbath Day Has Come is set to the tune LAND OF REST an American folk tune. The words were written by Fanny Crosby. The Psalm was read by Cindy and Reny. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. There is Much in the World was composed by Carson Cooman. The piano was played by Tracy. Choral singers include Ally, Elizabeth, Zane, Mindy, Kendall, and Tonya. The gospel was written by Matthew and read by Alizabeth, Sandy and Ron. For the Fruit of All Creation is set to the tune AR HYD Y NOS, a Welsh Melody and words were written by Fred Pratt Green. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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The “Home Worship Guide” is intended to give your family, or you as an individual, an opportunity to worship God in a way that is interactive and reflective. Each service is centered around the biblical lectionary-based readings associated with the church year and are created specifically for Cullowhee Baptist Church, although we hope others will find them meaningful as well.

To prepare, have open a copy of the worship guide, and designate a space to gather. A table is a good place because it is safe for candles and limits distractions. Set out one or two candles to represent the presence of God. If you want to celebrate communion, pour a cup for each person and have something simple to eat.

The worship guide is based on our regular weekly worship. They are not obligations, but suggestions. Follow them or amend them as needed. Home worship will be more brief than corporate worship in the sanctuary. Involve all the people at your home in the worship time who are able.

Grace and peace, Tonya and Jeffrey

 

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship. Psalm 95:6-7
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

Litany of Praise  (You may want one to read the non-bold text and all to read the bold.)
Thanks and praise to you,
Jesus Christ, King and Lord of all,
given the name above every other name.
   Jesus, King and Lord of all,
   we worship and adore you.
King of righteousness, King of peace,
enthroned at the right hand
of Majesty on high;
   Jesus, King and Lord of all,
   we worship and adore you.
Great high priest,
living forever to intercede for us;
   Jesus, King and Lord of all,
   we worship and adore you.
Pioneer of our salvation,
you bring us to glory
through your death and resurrection;
   Jesus, King and Lord of all,
   we worship and adore you.
Every knee bows to you;
every tongue confesses,
you are King of kings
and Lord of Lords,
to the glory of God.

A Time of Prayer, Confession, and Assurance

A Reading from the Book of Psalms

Listen to a collection of our church members reading the Psalm.

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

Give thanks to the LORD
for the LORD is good.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Let the people say it.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Let the church say it.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Let everyone who honors the LORD say it.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!

Open the gates of righteousness to me
so I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.

This is the LORD’s gateway:
the righteous may enter through it.

I thank you because you answered me
and became my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the main cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made,
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O LORD!
O LORD, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you all from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.

You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
God’s faithful love lasts forever!

Prayer (The following prayer is based on the Lord’s prayer. We have been praying in unison this prayer each Sunday in Lent. Before you begin, if there is more than one of you, choose someone to close the “Silent Prayer and Meditation” by reading the “Words of Assurance.”)

Divine Source of love and life,
holy is your name.
May your Way of living resonate throughout the earth
just like it does in heaven.

With your great wisdom show us
that what we truly need
you freely give us to receive.
With your steadfast love
forgive us
when we fail to trek your Way of life.
With your grace and mercy
make us ready
to forgive one another.

Acknowledging your abiding presence
may we understand
how to surrender to you instead of temptation
for everything belongs to you.

Silent Prayer and Meditation

Words of Assurance.  The Lord is merciful and compassionate, very patient, and full of faithful love. The Lord is good to everyone and everything; God’s compassion extends to all creation. May we bless God’s holy name forever and ever. Amen.

Celebrating Communion

Communion.  (Bread and wine were common foods during Jesus’ day.  As we celebrate communion at home, use common food and drinks you have. The type of food and drink is not what matters, but it matters that you remember Christ as you share, eat, and drink.)

A Reading from the Gospels. Mark 14:22-24.

While [the disciples and Jesus] were eating, [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

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

Before you drink, 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. (Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for coming to live on this earth as Jesus and for the forgiveness promised to all of us.)

Song.  Close communion by singing a hymn. You may want to sing Amazing Grace.

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

The Gospel Lesson for Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11

Listen to a collection of our church members reading the gospel lesson.

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”  This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.   The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”  The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Reflection from Tonya. “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna!

You are welcome to listen to Tonya share her reflection or read it below.

Here we are at the beginning of the holiest of weeks. This year’s Holy Week is so different than all the years before. Everything has changed. But the disruption to our normal Palm Sunday worship does not mean that our worship of God this Holy Week will be of less importance to God or to us.  There is a blessing to be found in these eight days and we invite you to receive them with us.  So instead of remembering the last week of Jesus’ life in one worship service, daily readings and prayers will offered for your worship of God. May Holy Week 2020 comfort you and encourage the roots of your faith in Jesus to grow deeper.

There are two strong memories for the children of Cullowhee Baptist: bringing in the poinsettias during the Hanging of the Greens service and marching around the sanctuary with palm fronds waving in what we call the Palm Frond Parade. Today is Palm Frond Parade day. This year we are reading Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus coming to Jerusalem. There’s a donkey and a colt. The disciples put their cloaks on the donkey and Jesus rides into the city. Crowds gather spreading their own cloaks on the road. Others without cloaks cut down branches and spread them on the road. The crowd before and behind him shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The keep walking with Jesus shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” As they enter Jerusalem, the city is great turmoil. But the crowd keeps on shouting “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” “Hosanna!”

First, why a donkey and a colt? Jesus and disciples are at the Mount of Olives when he sends two of his disciples down into the village to secure some transportation. He specifically wants them to bring him a donkey and her colt. The magic word to the owner or anyone who asks what they are doing is to say, “The Lord needs them.” And everything will be fine. And it is. Everything goes just like Jesus says.

It all goes back to the prophet Zechariah. In Zechariah 9:9-10 we read these words, “Rejoice greatly! Shout aloud! Your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah describes the animal twice. It is like an echo but with different words saying the same thing.  Matthew quoting Zechariah is telling us that our king is coming–triumphant and victorious and humble.

So, we have to ask. Is this really a triumphant entry into Jerusalem? I mean, Jesus is riding a donkey. The people in front and behind him only have cloaks, some tree branches, and their voices to announce his arrival, the arrival of their king. And did you see what he was wearing, I mean see what he was riding? A donkey. Think back to the military parades you have seen. Soldiers dressed in uniform marching to the same beat in straight lines. There are horses and tanks. There are flags and rifles and sometimes missiles. The commander rides on a stately horse, or in a massive tank or now a days in a really snazzy car.  Jesus choose none of these. Instead of a tank, Jesus rides into the city on a tractor. That comparison by Rev. Katie Hines-Shah highlights the huge discrepancy. It isn’t as grand as befits the King of Kings. And that’s how Jesus continues to keep things in check. He rides into Jerusalem humbly, poor and afflicted, coming as the Prince of Peace.

The crowd ushers him into Jerusalem with loud shouts and cries of “Hosanna!” I beg your pardon, but I have always thought that “Hosanna!” was like a cry of rejoicing! More like the word “Hallelujah!” To me it was a shout of adoration and acclamation.  Merriam-Webster helped me to see that yes, now a days it does mean just that. Since the 12th century It has become a way of praising someone or something or some event. But follow the word trail: from Middle English, back to Old English, back to Latin, back to Greek, all the way back to the Hebrew. And the Hebrew word “Hosanna!” means “pray, save us!” As Jesus was riding the donkey with the colt in tow, the people are shouting, “Save us!”

We have been barred from all pomp and circumstance this Palm Sunday. We miss the beautiful sound of Tracy playing the organ and Barbara the piano. We cannot wave our palm fronds. We cannot hear the choir sing, nor the trumpet play. We sorely miss the eager smiling faces of our church children parading through the sanctuary. This year we are forced to see the reality of Jesus’ simple entry into the city. It was a rough and simple display of our Savior. We are invited to see what true triumphant really looks like and how Jesus defines victory. The week ahead will tell us even more.

May the Lord bless and keep us all.  Save us, O Lord. Save us, we pray.

Questions for Reflection: 

Describe the scene from Matthew’s story. How does Jesus look? How do the crowds look? What do you imagine them saying and doing?

What does a humble entry into the city communicate about one’s style of leadership? How can we be humble?

What salvation do you seek from God for yourself and others?

Prayer of Thanksgiving. (Offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for helping us to see the world with different eyes, for changing our hearts, for helping us treat one another as friends, for opening our minds to be able to think differently about things.)

Sending Out from Worship

Benediction (If there are more than one of you, choose someone to read the following.)

And now we lay down the palm branches.
And with them we lay down our belief
that there is another way
for you to be God.

As the last echo of the final alleluia fades,
so does our hope that this journey can end
in any other way.

The week stretches ahead
glory-less
and pain-full
Whether we walk with all faith or none
we look towards the cross,
knowing it is both the most human
and most divine
of all journeys.
Travel the road into this holiest of weeks
with courage,
with love,
and with the uneasy peace that is the gift of faith.
Amen.

Closing Song.  In our tradition, we close worship by singing the first verse of Blest Be the Tie.  Here’s Mindy leading us in the first verse. It struck me this week that all the verses are fitting for such a time as this when we cannot gather together. Continue singing them if you like.

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

Before our Father’s throne, we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one—our comforts and our cares.

We share our mutual woes; our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

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

From sorrow, toil, and pain, and sin we shall be free;
And perfect love and oneness reign throughout eternity.

______________ 

Credits: The Call to Worship was written by John Leach. Psalm 130 was read by Connor, Kelly, Amanda, and Allison. The video was prepared by Elizabeth. The gospel was read by Wyatt, Annelise, and all the little children. The Benediction was written by Cheryl Lawrie. Blest be the Tie was sung by Mindy.

Cover art is an acrylic by John August Swanson entitled Entry into the City, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56544 [retrieved April 4, 2020]. Original source: http://www.JohnAugustSwanson.com – copyright 1990 by John August Swanson. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.  Read more about Swanson….

 

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