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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Confession 
Author: Diocese of Oxford Clergy Conference 2018 

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

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

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

Invitation 
Author: Mennonite Worship and Song Committee, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel Reading 
Matthew 18:21-35

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

Proclaiming the Word
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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

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
Hear Jesus’ words spoken to you:
“Come to me,
all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you,
and learn from me;
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. 
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11: 28-30)

Opening Prayer
Living God, we give you thanks for the many blessings you bestow on our lives. Your love binds us to you and names us as members of your family. Your love enriches and enhances our lives in ways that knowledge never could.  You bear our burdens in times of trouble and through you, our lives are blessed, strengthened, and empowered. For these great gifts, we offer our thanksgiving, our praise, and our adoration.  Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
All Creatures of Our God and King

1 All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
O burning sun with golden beam
And silver moon with softer gleam:
Oh, praise him! Oh, praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

2 O rushing wind and breezes soft,
O clouds that ride the winds aloft:
Oh, praise him! Alleluia!
O rising morn, in praise rejoice,
O lights of evening, find a voice.
Oh, praise him! Oh, praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

3 O flowing waters, pure and clear,
Make music for your Lord to hear.
Oh, praise him! Alleluia!
O fire so masterful and bright,
Providing us with warmth and light,
Oh, praise him! Oh, praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

4 Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfolds rich blessings on our way,
Oh, praise him! Alleluia!
The fruits and flow’rs that verdant grow,
Let them his praise abundant show.
Oh, praise him! Oh, praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

5 O ev’ryone of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
Oh, praise him! Alleluia!
All you who pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and lay on him your care.
Oh, praise him! Oh, praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

6 And you, most kind and gentle death,
Waiting to hush our final breath,
Oh, praise him! Alleluia!
You lead to heav’n the child of God,
Where Christ our Lord the way has trod.
Oh, praise him! Oh, praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

7 Let all things their Creator bless
And worship God in humbleness.
O praise him! Alleluia!
Oh, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three-in-One,
Oh, praise him! Oh, praise him!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 145:8-15

 “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!”
10 All that you have made gives thanks to you, Lord;
    all your faithful ones bless you!
11 They speak of the glory of your kingdom;
    they talk all about your power,
12     to inform all human beings about God’s power
    and the majestic glory of God’s kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is a kingship that lasts forever;
    your rule endures for all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy in all that he says,
    faithful in all that he does.
14 The Lord supports all who fall down,
    straightens up all who are bent low.
15 All eyes look to you, hoping,
    and you give them their food right on time,

Prayers for Others
Pause after each line to give voice to prayers as prompted.

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Praise
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be thanksgiving
For the goodness of the Lord.

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 11:16-19, 25-30
Listen to the passage and/or read below.

16 “To what will I compare this generation? It is like a child sitting in the marketplaces calling out to others, 17 ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a funeral song and you didn’t mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 Yet the Human One came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved to be right by her works.”

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you’ve hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have shown them to babies. 26 Indeed, Father, this brings you happiness.

27 “My Father has handed all things over to me. No one knows the Son except the Father. And nobody knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wants to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. 30 My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey

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

Work Like It Matters 

Our reading from Matthew’s Gospel today started with a conversation about John the baptizer in Matthew 11:2. As adults, both John and Jesus publicly called people to intentional and genuine relationship with God. They also received quite a bit of popular acclaim – John for his prophet-endowed preaching and baptizing, and Jesus for his teaching and miracles. And they both were killed by the government. At times, however, it must have seemed like they were quite different from one another. John ate bugs and honey, an ascetic diet if ever there was one, while Jesus loved a good meal so much he was accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard.” John’s living conditions and even his clothing embodied simplicity to the point of scarcity, whereas Jesus made gallons of wine at a wedding feast and could feed 5,000 with a few fish sandwiches. John called the religious folks who were acting self-righteously or using religion to their own ends a “brood of vipers,” while Jesus started his now-famous Sermon on the Mount by telling people over and over, “blessed are you…” These two men are not the same, but they display the same love for God. Some people need John’s way of living or his manner of speaking the truth. Others respond best to Jesus’ call for intrinsic faith and the offer of unconditional forgiveness. One doesn’t have to choose Jesus or John because they were doing the same work for God albeit in different ways. 

In Matthew 11:16, Jesus describes children who play games. With one game they replicate a wedding and so they sing and dance for joy in the streets. In the other game, the children pretend to be part of a funeral procession and are mourning by crying out loud. Jesus says to the adults, “you didn’t join either of the children’s games because you overlooked them.” He then notes that John spoke the words of God one way, and Jesus displayed God’s call differently. Just like the adults couldn’t bother to stop and join the children in their games  many people consider themselves wise enough on their own and have ignored both John and Jesus.  

In these earlier verses, Jesus seems to be making an observation about human nature which I think is quite important.  Yet it is simply a fact that most people who read Matthew 11 will focus on the last few verses (vv. 28-30): ”Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  

Like me, perhaps, some of you memorized these verses in Vacation Bible School, or to get a Bible memory pin in Sunday School. These verses draw us in because we know life is full of struggles, over-loaded with work and study, and complicated by crises—some that are small but annoying and others huge and overwhelming. We need Jesus to offer solace and comfort, always, to the ends of the earth. Or sometimes just to the end of today. 

It is the next verse, however, that I want us to consider more fully. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” A yoke is an instrument of work. With a yoke one can pull the plow, turn the soil, become a work horse for the farmer to feed a family and make a living. The yoke, however, is a tool for the farmer not the oxen. Jesus recognizes that there is work to do for God, and we plow God’s field not ours.  

In this way we must never think that Jesus says faith is easy. It is not burdensome. It does not deplete us. Yet it does require both commitment and work. The promise of abundance in God’s reign is one of sustenance not luxury. In God’s way of living there is enough to sustain us all. The temptation to be tethered to our things is in opposition to our daily reliance on God. Working to attain more than we need is sinful. Having enough to live while exercising generosity through compassionate care for others is the disciple’s way of managing wealth.  

I find a difference in work that is meaning-full and work that is without substance. The reason Jesus calls for us to be yoked and also find rest is that bone-tired Gospel work brings about God’s care and justice for all and its rewards are rich in life rather than wealth.   

Yesterday was July 4th, a day celebrating the United States’ independence from England. As with all other secular holidays, I try to be careful that it does not take more of my time and loyalty than religious holidays. For example, I’m more excited each year about Pentecost Sunday and wearing red to church and celebrating the revolution provoked by the Holy Spirit than I am about July 4th. If that means someone wants to accuse me of having too little patriotism then I am willing to plead guilty. History provides far too many examples of how civil religion dilutes religious practice and derails the Gospel’s work for justice and ethics. I can’t imagine Jesus reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to any secular government. I will remain committed to the Gospel first and will join anyone from any country who is part of God’s work in the world. 

With that confession comes two hopes. First, that Christians will give up the idea that being American and being Christian are the same. Not only is one not required to be Christian to be an American, it is a heresy to think that Christianity is defined by American values. Jesus calls us to put on the yoke of God and learn from the Gospel, not the Constitution. We are to live the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount, not capitalism, not exceptionalism, not nationalism. No manifest destiny defines God’s activity on this continent. America will not save the world. Neither with her politics nor her economics. Salvation remains the work of God, not governments.  

The second hope is this: that Americans will fully realize that justice for all is not just an American ideal but is endemic to the Gospel’s message. In the work for justice, we can continue the work of God while at the same time help our country find its best American dream.  Helping to create justice is the work of God’s people in concert with the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Justice is a call to action from the Gospel. Justice is the good work of the community of saints yoked together in equity. It is not inconsistent to be committed to the work of God’s justice in the world, and also work to implement it in our American society whose Constitutional call to action is to make real a place of freedom and justice for all.  

Three time in the last six years, I have taken groups to visit the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. Each time I go, I am struck by the irony of its location. It sits in something of a triangle in which the Georgia Aquarium is on one corner, the World of Coca-Cola on a second, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights on the third. Together the three buildings share a common green space of open grass and frequent sunshine. On each of my visits, swarms of people are taking children to be entertained at the aquarium and learn something about aquatic life. Another long line of eagerly waiting tourists are standing outside the World of Coca-Cola in the hot sun queued up for their chance to find out how a multi-national corporation makes billions of dollars from sugary syrup that’s not quite as good as Pepsi (in my humble opinion). While crowds are clamoring to be entertained by the ocean or intrigued by global economics, never have I visited the National Center for Civil and Human Rights when a line was waiting to get in. Yet it is clearly the best corner of this triangle. The irony is not missed. More Americans would rather be entertained or impressed by money than do the work of human rights. Yet what makes America compete for being among the best countries in the world is neither our entertainment nor our wealth, it is the immense possibility of actually bringing some semblance of justice for all into reality.  

Jesus’ call is to work God’s field. Help plow ground for justice for the poor and oppressed. To be yoked for work but glad that its product is life for others rather than wealth for ourselves. This yoke we take willingly and in so doing we find rest for our souls. Rest, not ease. Yet this promise remains: “Rest is not offered to the strongest and the most powerful. Rest is offered to those who have been made weary by a world that fails to comprehend the burden of injustice. The yoke is made easy by the heavenly powers coming to the aid of those whose ways this world fails to understand.” (William Goettler)  

In all we do, may God be glorified and the world made just. Amen. 

Questions for Reflection

(1) If discipleship with Christ is more important for Christians than patriotism to our country, how do we maintain the proper relationship between the two? 

(2) What work of God do you find brings “rest for your soul”? 

(3) What does justice for all look like from your view of the world? 

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 and Find the Quiet Center

Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,
Find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed:
Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see
All the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.

Silence is a friend who claims us, cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us, knows our being, touches base,
Making space within our thinking, lifting shades to show the sun,
Raising courage when we’re shrinking, finding scope for faith begun.

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

Sending Out
Go forth in peace to live into  Jesus’ most joyful command:  Come to me!
And may we follow him into a rest that bears fruit
in justice, love and peace
for each of us, and all of us.

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 Opening Prayer was written by Moira Laidlaw. All Creatures of Our God and King is set to the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN from the Jesuit hymnal Ausserlesene Catlwlische Geistliche Kirchengesänge (Cologne, 1623). The words were written by St. Francis of Assisi and paraphrased by William H. Draper. The Psalm was read by Elise, Ann, and Adam. 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’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy is set to the tune HOLY MANNA, arranged by Mark Schweizer. The text was written by Frederick William Faber. The drum was played by Kendall and handbells by Elizabeth and Tonya. Choral singers include Ally, Elizabeth, Landon, Mindy, AJ, Jeffrey, and Tonya. The gospel was read by Charles, Mindy, and Linda. Come and Find the Quiet Center is set to the tune BEACH SPRING and words were written by Shirley Erena Murray. The Sending Out is from Come to Me! Service Prayers for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, written by  the Rev. Susan A. Blain, Minister for Worship and Art, United Church of Christ.

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

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
How long, O God, how long must suffering go on?
It sometimes seems that pain and suffering will last for ever.
At these times, Lord, we feel that you are absent –
O how we long for some sign of your presence.
For pain is the enemy which threatens to overwhelm our trust in you;
Without your presence,
darkness and death fill our thoughts and crowd you out.
Hear our cries,  O God, as you have in the past.
Dispel the dark horizons of our fear with the assurance of your presence.

Help us know that we are never ever abandoned by you
and that we can put our trust in your steadfast love.
So we praise you, O God, for delivering us
from darkness to light,
from death to life.

Remembering your great mercy,
we lift our voices to you in songs of endless praise.

Opening Prayer
We acknowledge, O God, that we are part of a suffering world – a world where human beings experience pain and torture on a daily basis. All too often we join our cries to that of the Psalmist – how long, O God? How long will you hide your face from all those who suffer right now throughout this world? Yet, in saying this, we are forgetting that rather than hiding your face, you have revealed it in Jesus. Rather than abandoning us to all the destructive powers of evil, you chose to confront the power of evil by sharing our humanity and our suffering in and through the sacrificial love of Jesus. Through his love, lives previously overwhelmed by the fear of death and darkness have been enlightened for ever. God of grace and mercy, we pray as we worship you today, that our lives will be transformed by the light and life of Christ and renewed by the power of the Holy
Spirit so that we praise and glorify you not only in words but in deeds of love and mercy performed in Christ’s name and for his sake. Amen


Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 89:1-2, 15-18

 I will sing of the Lord’s loyal love forever.
    I will proclaim your faithfulness
    with my own mouth
    from one generation to the next.
That’s why I say,
    “Your loyal love is rightly built—forever!
    You establish your faithfulness in heaven.”

The people who know the celebratory shout are truly happy!
    They walk in the light of your presence, Lord!
They rejoice in your name all day long
    and are uplifted by your righteousness
    because you are the splendor of their strength.
By your favor you make us strong
     because our shield is the Lord’s own;
    our king belongs to the holy one of Israel!

Song of Praise
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above (MIT FREUDEN ZART)

1. Sing praise to God who reigns above, 
the God of all creation, 
the God of power, the God of love, 
the God of our salvation. 
With healing balm my soul is filled 
and every faithless murmur stilled: 
To God all praise and glory.

2. The Lord is never far away, 
but through all grief distressing, 
an ever present help and stay, 
our peace and joy and blessing. 
As with a mother’s tender hand, 
God gently leads the chosen band: 
To God all praise and glory.

3. Thus all my toilsome way along, 
I sing aloud thy praises, 
that earth may hear the grateful song 
my voice unwearied raises. 
Be joyful in the Lord, my heart, 
both soul and body bear your part: 
To God all praise and glory.

4. Let all who name Christ’s holy name 
give God all praise and glory; 
let all who own his power proclaim 
aloud the wondrous story! 
Cast each false idol from its throne, 
for Christ is Lord, and Christ alone: 
To God all praise and glory.

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 10:40-42
Listen to the Gospel being read and/or read below.

“Those who receive you are also receiving me, and those who receive me are receiving the one who sent me. Those who receive a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Those who receive a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. I assure you that everybody who gives even a cup of cold water to these little ones because they are my disciples will certainly be rewarded.”

Prayers for Others.
Pause after each line to give voice to prayers as prompted.

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.

The Prophet Reading

A Reading from the Prophets
Jeremiah 28:5-9
Listen to the passage and/or read below.

Then the prophet Jeremiah responded to Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the Lord’s temple. The prophet Jeremiah said: “Indeed. May the Lord do just as you have said! May the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied and bring back from Babylon the equipment of the Lord’s temple and all the exiles to this place. However, listen closely to what I have to say to you and all the people: The prophets who came before you and me long ago prophesied war, disaster, and disease against many lands and great kingdoms. So the prophet who prophesies peace is recognized as one who is actually sent by the Lord only when that prophet’s message is fulfilled.”

Reflection on Jeremiah 27-28 from Tonya

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

It’s summertime. It’s the year 594 BCE. As we step back into history, the great powerhouse, Babylon has already taken over Jerusalem. The reigning Jewish king, Jehoiachin has been deported to Babylon along with all the leading officials, mighty warriors, and talented artisans. In his place, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon appoints a man named Zedekiah to be king. We all know what role Zedekiah is expected to play; he’s been appointed king by a foreign government. So here’s a 21-years old who owes his royal title and position to Babylon. He’s told to maintain order among his people. And he is told to collect yearly payments for his Babylonian overlords. To add to his struggle in a job he didn’t apply for, the majority of the people still consider Jehoiachin to be their rightful king. Do you think they are going to pledge allegiance some dude appointed to the crown by the enemy? They assume that Babylon will soon be overthrown and Jehoiachin will come back and restore God’s kingdom like it used to be.

Their hopes of restoration and freedom were embolden by news from the previous winter. There had been a revolt in Neb’s army. Neighboring monarchs from the west have sent envoys to Jerusalem to talk with Zedekiah about the possibility of all of them joining forces and breaking Neb’s hold on them. Zedekiah has a big decision to make. Life has been chaotic for the past couple of decades.  Once again, the future of Judah is at stake. Should Zedekiah lead his people in a revolt against Babylon and possibly gain independence and freedom from the overlord, or it might all go wrong and they would be completely crushed? Or should he just continue to encourage his people to submit to the yoke that has been forced upon them with a guarantee of life without freedom?

Into the middle of the question walks a strangely dressed prophet. His name is Jeremiah. He has a word from the Lord to share with the people, all the people–the king, Zedekiah; the envoys from neighboring kings; the priests there in the temple, and all the people. He stands before them wearing on his neck a yoke of straps and bars and he proclaims these words from God, 
“The Lord of hosts, the God of Israel made the earth and all that is in it. And God gives it to whomever God pleases. God has given all into the hands of Babylon, God’s servant.  Don’t listen to your prophets, diviners, dreamers, soothsayers, or sorcerers who say, ‘Do not serve Babylon.’ For they are telling you lies. But if you bring your neck under the yoke of Babylon, you will live. ”  

Jeremiah isn’t the only prophet in town. With the sun beating down on a desperate and worn out people, the prophet Hananiah comes face to face with Jeremiah in the temple. The prophet Hananiah has a completely different word from the Lord. You see, the Lord has told Hananiah that the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar has already been broken.  Within two years, just two years, all the instruments that had been taken from the temple will be returned. And King Jehoiachin and all those who were deported with him will come home.  The Lord says he will break the yoke of the king of Babylon!”

Jeremiah responds to Hananiah’s total restoration prophecy by basically saying, “Amen. May the Lord do so.” And then there’s that pause and then the words, “But listen now to this word….There have been a lot of prophets whom the Lord sent in ancient times before you and me, Hananiah. Many of them told about the terrible realities of war. They also prayed for peace. Now, if a prophetic word proclaiming peace is true, then it will come to pass. However, if the prophetic word proclaiming peace is nothing but a comforting lie to support popular opinion that crowds love to hear, that prophet had better beware.”

This really ticks off Hananiah. He takes the yoke from Jeremiah’s neck. He smashes it to the ground and breaks it to pieces. He then repeats the word he says he has received from the Lord, “In this same way,” he declares staring down at that broken yoke, “the Lord will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar from all our necks within two years.” And you can almost hear him say, “Mark my word,” instead of “Mark the word of the Lord.”

At this point in the tit for tat, Jeremiah simply walks out of the temple and goes on his way. He lets Hananiah have the last word. He will not engage in a shouting match. But the point has been made. Beware of someone who will sell his own soul in order to announce good news that makes for a popular prophet or leader. Peace, true peace, requires social justice and soul justice. You cannot announce comfort at the expense of announcing the cost of peace and justice. 

Hananiah’s message is promising. It makes a valid point. Shouldn’t we trust in God’s commitment to us. Surely God will deliver us from our enemies. That’s the message that Isaiah preached 100 years before this and Isaiah’s words came true. But Jeremiah’s message is completely different. It appears to be one of doom.  Jeremiah says that Babylon is God’s servant. How could that possibly be? 

A few thousand years later, we know who was speaking the word of the Lord and who was not, because we know how history played out. And we do know that Hananiah doesn’t have a book in the Bible with is name on it. But back then they had to choose. They had to decide which word was the truth and which one was not. Our lives are bombarded these days with choosing between conflicting truths. 
The virus is real. The virus is a hoax.
Wearing a mask protects. Wearing a mask harms.
The virus is over. The virus is raging.
This sentence means this. This sentence means that.
It goes on and on and on. So how do we choose between conflicting “truths.” 

You won’t find a recipe for how to decide anywhere in what Jeremiah says. However, you do hear these things. 

First, God is faithful. God’s faithfulness to us is constant and everlasting. Did you hear the description in Psalm 89? God’s loyal love. God is faithful to you and me always, at all times, in all circumstances, but that does not mean that we own God. 

Second, we believe that God is faithful and we believe that God is sovereign. There is nothing that our God cannot do. But that does not mean that God is an insurance policy that kicks in when we think we need deliverance from hardship.

Third, we believe that God’s love towards us is constant and everlasting. There is nothing we can do that would cause God to turn away from us. God’s faithfulness to us is constant, but the way God shows faithfulness may be different today than it was yesterday. God cannot be contained to one thought, one way of moving, one way of providing, one way of declaring love and care for creation. Our relationship with God is living, growing, and dynamic. We serve a living God who is not set in stone. 

Discerning truth is not an easy task. The task is often clouded by our opinions and our desires, and by culture’s tendency towards denial of problems and despair when facing problems. But as people who have chosen to live the way of Jesus Christ, it is Christ who informs our opinions and it is Christ who shapes our desires. God continually calls us to be radical truth-tellers against denials of injustice, and God continues to call us to bring radical hope to those who despair, a hope that is grounded in community–in the communal nature of our triune God, in the fellowship of the saints who have gone before us, and in the community of believers who surround us today. 

Questions for Reflection
1. How does being part of a community help in discerning what is true?
2. How do we let Christ inform our opinions and shape our desires?
3. What injustices do you see that are being denied which Christians can speak the truth against?

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
Teach Me, O Lord, I Pray

  1. Teach me, O Lord, I pray, your precious truth divine.
    Lead me to follow in your way and make your will be mine.
    Impart your wisdom, Lord. Shed light upon the way
    That all may know your boundless love.
    Teach me, O Lord, I pray.
  2. Teach me, O Lord, I pray, in knowledge and in skill
    O daily let me walk with you and do your blessed will.
    O clear my heart and mind to hear you when you call.
    Help me to understand your heart
    To share your love with all.

Sending Out
Let us go forth to walk in God’s light.
We will show others the way to God’s heart.
Let us go to bring hope and healing to the world.
With a gift as simple as a cup of water,
and as complex as our lives, we will join Jesus 
in serving those around us.
Let us go forth to gather up the little ones
of our communities into our homes and hearts.
With the gift of the Holy Spirit,
we are no longer strangers but God’s family.

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: https://c0.wallpaperflare.com/preview/124/695/733/doors-choices-choose-open.jpg is the image location [retrieved on June 27, 2020]. The Call to Worship and Opening Prayer were written by Moira Laidlaw. The Psalm was read by Charity and Tessa. Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above is set to the tune, MIT FREUDEN ZART from the Bohemian Brethren’s Kirchengesange, 1566. The words were written by Johann J. Schutz, 1690 and translated by Frances E. Cox, 1897. The song was played by Tracy B. The reading from Matthew’s gospel was read by Tracy T. 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. Teach Me, O Lord, I Pray is set to the tune DIADEMATA composed by Geroge J. Elvey (1893). The words were adapted from G. Kearnie Keegan (1960). The Sending was written by Thom Shuman. 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. We are beginning the season after Pentecost which will last us until Advent. Green is the color of this season symbolizing growth in our Christian faith. We invite you to adorn your worship space with green. If you want 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 encourage you to have two candles to light at the beginning of worship–one candle to represent Jesus’ humanity and the other to represent Jesus’ divinity.

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of the presence of Christ.

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
Summer has arrived.
The sun shines brighter and the warmth of its light stays longer.
So we shake free of our routines.
In this new moment,
We wander about the wilderness:
Hoping God will open our eyes
Praying God will make us worthy
Wanting to grow with God.
Let us grow together in the wild ways of God.

Opening Prayer. We praise and adore you, O God, for doing wondrous things in our lives – for loving and forgiving us.  Even when we become distracted by the events of our daily existence, we are aware of your divine activity in our lives, prompting us to deepen our trust in you. Your desire for us to live full and abundant lives has been realised in and through Jesus, your most wondrous gift of all.  He is surely the everlasting sign of your steadfast love towards us, and all people.  He is the assurance that we are known intimately and valued by you in ways beyond our human understanding.  May our praise and adoration for such goodness towards us be visible, as we respond to Jesus’ appeal to take up our cross and follow him.  This we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Praise to the Living God

1. Praise to the living God, the God of love and light
Whose words brought forth the myriad suns and set the worlds in flight.
Whose infinite design which we but dimly see,
Pervades all nature, making all a cosmic unity.

2 Praise to the living God, from whom all things derive
Whose Spirit formed upon this sphere the first faint seeds of life;
Who caused them to evolve, unwitting, toward God’s goal,
Till humankind stood on the earth, as living, thinking souls.

3 Praise to the living God, who knows our joy and pain,
Who shares with us our common life, the sacred and profane.
God toils where’er we toil, in home and mart and mill;
And deep within the human heart God leads us forward still.

4 Praise to the living God, around, within, above,
Beyond the grasp of human mind, but whom we know as love.
In these tumultuous days so full of hope and strife,
May we bear witness to the Way, O source and goal of life.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 86:1-
7

Lord, listen closely to me and answer me,
    because I am poor and in need.
Guard my life because I am faithful.
    Save your servant who trusts in you—you! My God!
Have mercy on me, Lord,
    because I cry out to you all day long.
Make your servant’s life happy again
    because, my Lord, I offer my life to you,
    because, my Lord, you are good and forgiving,
    full of faithful love for all those who cry out to you.
Listen closely to my prayer, Lord;
    pay close attention to the sound of my requests for mercy.
Whenever I am in trouble, I cry out to you,
    because you will answer me.

Prayers for Others
God of the impossible,
we pray for justice, peace and reconciliation;
when the challenges seem too many,
remind us of your resurrection power;
when the task seems overwhelming,
remind us of the miracle of love;
and when apathy threatens us,
remind us of your vision of a world made whole.
Help us to hope that the impossible can happen
And live as if it might do so today. 
Amen.

A Second Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 86:8-10

My Lord! There is no one like you among the gods!
    There is nothing that can compare to your works!
All the nations that you’ve made will come
        and bow down before you, Lord;
    they will glorify your name,
10     because you are awesome
    and a wonder-worker.
        You are God. Just you.

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.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them 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 everyone eats, have someone say,
“This food represents the body of Christ. As we eat, we remember Jesus.”

Share what you have to drink. Before everyone drinks, 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.  End communion by singing a hymn. You may want to sing Amazing Grace.

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 Lesson

A Reading from Matthew 10:24-39

“Disciples aren’t greater than their teacher, and slaves aren’t greater than their master. 25 It’s enough for disciples to be like their teacher and slaves like their master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, it’s certain that they will call the members of his household by even worse names.

26 “Therefore, don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. 27 What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops. 28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. 29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. 30 Even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.

32 Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. 33 But everyone who denies me before people, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

34 “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. 35 I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law36 People’s enemies are members of their own households.

37 “Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. 38 Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. 39 Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.

Reflection “Take Up What?” from Jeffrey

Listen to Jeffrey reflection and/or read below.

In the Roman Empire in the year 250, the Emperor Decius finally made Christianity illegal. I say “finally” because it took a series of small and increasingly restrictive legal decisions to get there. For example, under Emperor Domitian, around the year 96, Christians were arrested if they refused to pray to the emperor’s statue in the public square. It was okay to be a Christian but not to be unpatriotic to the emperor. About 100 years later during the time of Emperor Septimius Severus, it was not against the law to be Christian but he made it illegal to convert to Christianity and be baptized. At various times in the first two centuries, Christians were kept from holding civil office, owning property, teaching small children, and serving in the army. That last restrictions was due, it seems, to the idea that a Christian might not follow the order of his commander in battle due to the fact that the loyalty of a Christian was to Jesus first rather than the military.

All of that changed in the year 311 when Galerius was Emperor and gave Christians their freedom to worship and own land and bury their dead. After Galerius died that same year and Constantine ended up in Rome as Emperor, Christianity had even more recognition and freedom and, some have even said, privilege. Constantine’s reforms included giving his own summer palace in Rome for Christians to use as a church. He appointed Christians to positions of influence, gave them titles and jobs. All of this favoritism led to a great number of new converts to Christianity. But that in itself led to lots of questions. Who were the genuine Christians? Was it those who were willing to be Christian before it was legal? Did those who converted after Constantine started making his reforms do so just to get ahead, or be in the in-crowd, or to secure a job or title or position of power? If Christianity was difficult before Constantine and some people only converted to Christianity after it was expedient personally for them to do so, can their conversion be trusted as genuine?     

            I have tried to imagine what Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 must have sounded like to Christians before Galerius and Constantine. I find that I can’t do it. I am like the Christian who was born after it becomes easy and even practical to become a follower of Jesus. I have never lived in a place where religious freedom is not secured. I have had all the privileges of being white and male and non-poor all my life. No matter how many times I read Jesus telling his disciples these things, I recognize that I’m hearing them from a majority culture and a place of privilege. I have never been in a minority, never been singled out as non-normative, or seen as under suspicion, or treated as second class because of something that I either chose to believe or an attribute that is inherent to my identity. And so I have to be careful that I don’t read what Jesus says in the Gospels as congratulating me for making it, patting me on the back for a job well done, or justifying my life of ease.

            Maybe that means for me I have to take up a mirror before I take up Jesus’ cross. Honest self-examination is hard work for a majority population. We simply accept our place because it’s easy and we don’t ask why. We forget to question the basic things we have come to accept as right and wrong. Being Christian in a country in which Christianity is normative and rarely questioned, we may be at risk of Christian faith by assumption rather than choice. Perhaps Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 will help us look in that mirror honestly.

Guilt by Association. In verses 24-25 Jesus begins a discussion of guilt by association for his disciples. He uses the social realities of teacher and student, or master and slave. In his day, these relationships were so intertwined that it was presumed a student reflected the teaching of the rabbi. And the slave did the will or acted on the orders of the master, thus making the slave’s actions a reflection of the master’s wishes. The disciples of Jesus understood this connection, but they may have been shocked when he said something that sounds a lot like this: “Look guys, if they think I’m a problem and they are plotting to kill me, they will assume you are like me too. If you follow me, it will make you look guilty of lots of things because I did them or said them, except that people in power will accuse you of doing and saying them too. You should follow me anyway.” Verse 28 adds that Jesus’ followers are not immune to people wanting to kill them! Yet they should not be afraid. Sounds crazy, right? Jesus’ point seems to be that if one is right to fear God, but lives in accord with God’s love, then there’s nothing to fear from any human authority. Others may, and can, and did, and still might, kill the followers of Jesus. But being killed for doing what is godly is not the end of the life of a disciple, or the faithful witness of her life. No act of law or violence or death can take away God’s salvation and glory. I think this means that we should seriously consider whether we want to follow someone who upsets power and speaks truthfully against injustice and acts out of compassion rather than compulsion. At the same time, it seems clear that we don’t do so out of a sense of getting something out of it for ourselves. Following Jesus is not about kickback, payoffs, and returns on investment.  

No Secrecy from God; Be Boldly Yourself. Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that they can expect no secrecy (vv. 26-31). What we say will be known. How we live will be recognized by others. Our lives are transparent, being watched both by God and by others. I’m not talking about an invasion of privacy, but an invitation to boldness. If we are living like Jesus, displaying the love of God, then let’s not be shy. We are proud of God’s justice. We are right seek forgiveness rather than revenge. We are supposed to speak out when we are troubled. You know that Jesus said, “let not your hearts be troubled.” Please know that Jesus was speaking about death when he said that. In death, don’t be troubled. But in life, we are called to confront many things that should trouble us: poverty, violence, racism, sexism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, the misuse of power, greed, injustice…the list seems endless. Jesus pushes us to be bold enough to let what we believe inform what we say and what we say compel what we do with the full knowledge that all of these will be known, should be known by God and others. Live the Gospel in full view of the world. Not to seek attention, but so that what we believe, say, profess, or advocate for or against can sound forth from the followers of God. If we do these out of the conviction that they are part of God’s call and will for our lives, then we should do them with pride.

The Priority of Identity. I fear I make Jesus sound too easy. Being honest with ourselves is work. Being honest with others makes us vulnerable. Knowing that God is not fooled by our justifications or self-imposed limitations is unsettling. Jesus meant to disturb our ease. He did live as a religious minority, a man of no wealth, in a culture without any sense of civil or human rights. Jesus knew that getting the Gospel right in the lives of his followers was urgent. It still is. Although today the barrier to the Gospel may be Christians rather than Romans. The name itself has become so diluted with … take your pick … money/politics/influence/culture that we can no longer just claim to be Christian without offering a list of defining qualities. At a gathering of Muslim and Christian scholars in Boston in 2009, we all laughed when the Muslim convener began the conference with “we’re Muslim but not that kind of Muslim.” After which his Baptist counterpart started his remarks with “we’re Baptist but not that kind of Baptist.” Far too much sin and greed and dishonesty has been publicly displayed in the name of Christianity. It is the power of culture over faith that we are hearing and seeing in far too many people who claim to follow Jesus. It is the curse of being in the majority. Perhaps when Jesus says to take up  his cross and follow him, he’s asking us to leave our presumptions about American culture to die.

            Jesus doesn’t let us off the hook, in other words. We must steadfastly refuse to let the Gospel of God become co-opted by those who mistake national identity for Christian character, or who spew political platforms as though they are Christian proclamation, or who promote exceptionalism and wealth as God’s blessing and welcome. The Gospel will not be cheapened by culture if we are committed to the Gospel first.

            When Jesus asks us to acknowledge rather than deny him, he’s not asking us to order another box of Christian t-shirts to wear publicly so we can go around and “God Bless” everyone who scowls at us. When he acknowledges out loud that families will sometimes hamper the Gospel’s work in our lives, he’s letting some of us know that peace has a price and not everyone is willing to pay it. I may both love God and others in the radical way the Gospel requires, but people who love me may not love what I do and say about following Jesus. In this very church, family members have actively worked to keep their spouse or children or grandchildren from participating in the worship of God and the discipleship of their family member. We have seen Christians have to choose between pleasing their family and following God. It’s always difficult, and sometimes the family wins. But the Gospel continues, because many of those who hear God’s call to go and do and say are just stubborn enough to follow God regardless. May that be me. And you. And together with the fellowship of the saints and the blessings of God, the one more person will experience God’s grace and peace.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What are your identities? They may be personal, social, etc. How does following Jesus help define your identity?
  2. What are the difficulties of living in a place where the majority of the population is also Christian?

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 Commitment
Christ to the World We Bring

1 Christ for the world we sing; 
the world to Christ we bring 
with loving zeal:
the poor and them that mourn, 
the faint and overborne, 
sin-sick and sorrow worn, 
whom Christ doth heal. 

2 Christ for the world we sing; 
the world to Christ we bring 
with fervent pray’r: 
the wayward and the lost, 
by restless passions tossed, 
redeemed at countless cost 
from dark despair.

3 Christ for the world we sing; 
the world to Christ we bring 
with one accord:
with us the work to share, 
with us reproach to dare, 
with us the cross to bear, 
for Christ our Lord. 

4 Christ for the world we sing; 
the world to Christ we bring 
with joyful song:
the newborn souls whose days, 
reclaimed from error’s ways,
inspired with hope and praise, 
to Christ belong.

Sending Out
May the steadfast love of God surround you;
The vulnerable love of Jesus Christ inspire you;
The penetrating power of the Holy Spirit surprise you.

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.

Blessed 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 is from The United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways, Year A, Pentecost 3 – June 21. The Opening Prayer and Sending Out were written by Rev. Moira Laidlaw. Praise to the Living God was written by Curtis Beach (1993) and set to the tune DIADEMATA composed by George J. Elvey (1868). The Prayer for Others comes from Creation Sings Your Praise, edited by Annabel Shilson-Thomas, Canterbury Press, 2010. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1807) and played by Aidan on the piano. Christ for the World We Sing was written by Samuel Wolcott (1869) and sung to the tune ITALIAN HYMN composed by Felice de Giardini (1796) at the request of Selina Shirley (1791), the famous evangelically minded Countess of Huntingdon, England. The tune and three others were contributed to Martin Madan’s Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1769), published to benefit the Lock Hospital in London where Madan was chaplain. 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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