Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Opening Words of Gratitude 

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

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

Opening Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 23
Common English Bible 

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

John 1:11-18
Common English Bible 

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Others 

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

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

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

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

1 John 3:16-24
Common English Bible 

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

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

Reflection on the Scriptures 
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

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

Creating a World Where No One Fears Evil

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

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

Even though . . . I will fear no evil.

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

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

God loves us.

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

Does God love you? Oh yes! 

Well, how do you know that God loves you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our greatest calling is to love one another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Thanksgiving 

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Out 

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

Closing Song 

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements.

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

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


 

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

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

Come let us worship!

Easter Proclamation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Prayer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for the Church 

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

Silence is kept. 

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

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

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

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

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

Refrain

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

Refrain

Mark 16:1-8
Common English Bible 

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

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

Reflection on the Scriptures 
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessing 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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world
photo taken by Adam Blust

Tuesday of Holy Week Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this….

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

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

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Invitation to Worship

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

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

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

Song of Praise 

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

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

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

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

Opening Prayer 

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

Song of Praise

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

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

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

Litany 

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

Song of Adoration   

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

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

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

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

Refrain 

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

Refrain 

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

Refrain 

Mark 11:1-11
Common English Bible

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

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

Call for Reconciliation

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

Prayer for Forgiveness (in unison)

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

Silence is kept.

Assurance of Pardon

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

Anthem
This is the Day
Composer: Leon C. Roberts


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

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

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

Reflection on the Scriptures
Rev. Tonya Vickery

Prayer of Thanksgiving

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

Song of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Out

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

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

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Invitation. Our waiting is over! Christ has come! On this first Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the gift of God’s redeeming grace. This is no small thing! With our hearts and minds turned towards God as we worship, may we reaffirm God’s unhindered ability to reshape and restore. May we recognize the spark of God’s holiness in one another and all things. And may we work to make visible the reign of God — a reign of grace and love, a reign that claims us as God’s own.

The Worship of God

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

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

Call to Worship
~posted by Rev Gord on the site, Worship Offerings

The people who walk in darkness. That’s us!
We have seen deep darkness in the world around us.
So we have come to search for the light.
We want the light to shine on us!

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”
A child is born for US!
A son is given to ALL of US!
We come to see the child that has been born,
we come to gather in the glow of the stable,
we come to sing with angels and wonder with shepherds.
Come and worship, come and worship!
Worship the one who is born for us this day….

Opening Prayer
Almighty and Everlasting God, who by the birth of the holy child Jesus has given to all a great light to dawn upon our darkness: Shine your light on us! We want to see more clearly the great love you have for the world. May the light of your love brighten our hope in you today and always. Amen.

Song of Praise
Joy to the world! the Lord is come!
Author: Isaac Watts (1719)
Tune: ANTIOCH

1 Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth its praises bring;
let ev’ry heart prepare Christ room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

2 Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3 Christ rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of God’s righteousness,
and wonders of God’s love,
and wonders God’s love,
and wonders, wonders of God’s love.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 148
Common English Bible

Praise the Lord from heaven!
Praise God on the heights!
2 Praise God, all of you who are his messengers!
Praise God, all of you who comprise his heavenly forces!
3 Sun and moon, praise God!
All of you bright stars, praise God!
4 You highest heaven, praise God!
Do the same, you waters that are above the sky!
5 Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
because God gave the command and they were created!
6 God set them in place always and forever.
God made a law that will not be broken.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all you ocean depths!
8 Do the same, fire and hail, snow and smoke,
stormy wind that does what God says!
9 Do the same, you mountains, every single hill,
fruit trees, and every single cedar!
10 Do the same, you animals—wild or tame—
you creatures that creep along and you birds that fly!
11 Do the same, you kings of the earth and every single person,
you princes and every single ruler on earth!
12 Do the same, you young men—young women too!—
you who are old together with you who are young!

13 Let all of these praise the Lord’s name
because only God’s name is high over all.
Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven.
14 God raised the strength of his people,
the praise of all his faithful ones—
that’s the Israelites,
the people who are close to him.

Praise the Lord!

Song of Praise
Hark, the herald angels sing
Author: Charles Wesley (1739)
Tune: MENDELSSOHN

1 Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the Christ-child bring:
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinner reconciled!”
Joyful, all you saints arise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with the angel host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”
Refrain:
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the Christ-child bring.”

2 Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time the Savior comes,
offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail the incarnate Deity,
pleased on earth with us to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel. [Refrain]

3 Hail the Bearer of God’s peace!
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Light and life our Savior brings,
risen with radiant, healing wings.
Mildly laying glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us all from earth,
born to give us second birth. [Refrain]

Prayer for Ourselves and Others
~written by John Birch and posted on the site, Faith and Worship

Circle us, Lord
Circle us with the light of your presence within this dark world
Enable us to be overcomers of fear and temptation
Enable us to be victors over sin and despair
Enable us to become that which you would desire
(Silent prayer)
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle us with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord
Circle our church family within the shelter of your outstretched arms
Protect them in each moment of their daily lives
Protect them in the decisions that they face
Protect their homes and relationships
(Silent prayer)
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle our church family with the light of your presence

Circle us, Lord
Circle this world with the joy of your Salvation
Where there is sickness and disease bring healing
Where there is hunger and despair bring hope
Where there is torture and oppression bring release
(Silent prayer)
Lord of creation, Lord of Salvation
Circle this world with the light of your presence

Song of Adoration
Gesu Bambino
Composer: Pietro A. Yon

When blossoms flowered ‘mid the snows
Upon a winter night
Was born the Child, the Christmas Rose
The King of Love and Light.

The angels sang, the shepherds sang
The grateful earth rejoiced
And at His blessed birth the stars
Their exultation voiced.

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

Again the heart with rapture glows
to greet the holy night
That gave the world its Christmas Rose
Its King of Love and Light.

Let ev’ry voice acclaim His name
The grateful chorus swell
From paradise to earth He came
That we with Him might dwell.

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

A Reading from the Prophets
Isaiah 61:10-11 to 62:4
Common English Bible

I surely rejoice in the Lord;
my heart is joyful because of my God,
because he has clothed me with clothes of victory,
wrapped me in a robe of righteousness
like a bridegroom in a priestly crown,
and like a bride adorned in jewelry.
11 As the earth puts out its growth,
and as a garden grows its seeds,
so the Lord God will grow righteousness and praise before all the nations.

For Zion’s sake I won’t keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I won’t sit still
until her righteousness shines out like a light,
and her salvation blazes like a torch.
2 Nations will see your righteousness,
all kings your glory.
You will be called by a new name,
which the Lord’s own mouth will determine.
3 You will be a splendid garland in the Lord’s hand,
a royal turban in the palm of God’s hand.
4 You will no longer be called Abandoned,
and your land will no longer be called Deserted.
Instead, you will be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land, Married.
Because the Lord delights in you,
your land will be cared for once again.

Reflection on the Reading from Isaiah
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

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

Let me tell a brief story about two Christmas gifts I received as a child. One gift, the one I wanted really badly because it was in the JC Penney Catalog, was a pogo stick. The other gift, the one I didn’t ask for but received because my older brother wanted one and I had to get the same thing he got … longer story there …, this other gift was a bicycle. The pogo stick was the trendy gift that year. It was shiny and red and the child bouncing on it in the catalog looked so happy. I was too (happy, that is) when I took the pogo stick out that Christmas day and the next and jumped and jumped. Then, I was done with it. I tried jumping with it down the street to Rudy’s Convenience Store but it took way too long. It was easier to walk. I continued to like the pogo stick and even bragged about having it. But I just never really used it again.  

The bicycle was different. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t choose the orange color but it was different than my brother’s yellow one so we could tell them apart. It was also too big for me at the time with my tip-toes barely reaching the ground. But it was a ten-speed Schwinn. That was good. And unlike the pogo stick, it was great for transportation. That bike took me far beyond Rudy’s Convenience Store. I rode that bicycle everywhere. For months. Actually, for years. I used it to go across town to my friend Allen’s house by the lake. I rode it to the elementary school yard on Sundays to play football after church. I won a “Bicycle Derby” contest with it at school the next year. I rode it to church, to baseball practice, and just sometimes for fun. The Christmas bicycle I had not expected is the one that I probably used the most of any Christmas gift I ever received.  

If you’re like me, you find that Christmas is fun, it’s beautiful (especially with this year’s snow), it is approached with anticipation. We long for Christmas to come so we can give gifts and open them. We can watch children’s wonder and joy. But then what? What’s left after the glittery and marketed Christmas consumerism?   

On this first Sunday of the Christmas season, now just two days since we celebrated the birth of Jesus who is proclaimed as “Emmanuel, God with us,” we have a gift from God that comes with a question – what do we do with Jesus now? The gift of Jesus doesn’t jingle. He’s not a toy to entertain us. If we’re honest, we don’t do a good job of teaching ourselves that the gift of Jesus is enough regardless of anything else we have. Yet Jesus remains more substantial than any box with a bow that we unwrapped on December 25. The coming of Jesus engages us far beyond the holiday. We will soon wind up the lights and box away the ornaments. The pretty Christmas day will be in the past. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll one day soon realize that Jesus doesn’t remain a baby, but grows up to call us into a Way of life and love that is much more needed than any gift we wanted. In short, we asked for and received salvation so that now we can practice discipleship far beyond Christmas. 

The end of the book of Isaiah tells us of a time much anticipated by Jesus’ Jewish ancestors. They had been captured and taken away to another country, to Babylon. For decades they worked, lived, married, birthed children, and made a home as best they could in a place that was not theirs. They struggled to find hope enough to imagine a return to their land. They tried to tell their children about Jerusalem and keep alive the dream of a home-going. For at least 70-something years they had various messages from God. It started with a reminder that the consequences of their sin of idol worship contributed to their being conquered. They had worshipped other gods and thus weakened their trust in and commitment to God. Worse than angry, God was disappointed in them. Isaiah 43 puts words to God’s perspective of their disobedience: “You did not call upon me…you have wearied me with your sins” (Isaiah 43:22, 24). The people later respond to God and in so doing they recognize the rift they have caused between themselves and God: “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14). These honest appraisals of their sin give way in the later chapters of Isaiah to hope. God’s voice through Isaiah changes and the message becomes one of renewal. Imagination is now embellished with hopeful visions. Among them are the words of Isaiah 61 and 62 in today’s reading. They can now announce their good news: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation, and covered me with the robe of righteousness.” 

It is not just a turn of events but a change in relationship. The people of God understand that they will not just return to the land, but they will be restored. Whereas before their sin stood between them and God, now they are presented before God as righteous. From sin to righteousness – it is a conversion of relationship, a renewal of identity, and a blessing hoped for but unable to attain on one’s own. God provides the “garments of salvation” and God covers them with the “robe of righteousness.” God has granted this gift. Now they must wear it. 

And so the children and grandchildren of those who were captured in warfare return to Israel, they anticipate the rebuilding of Jerusalem, they eagerly plan to replant their ancestors’ vineyards, they commit to both peace with God and one another. If there had been gaudy plastic battery-powered strings of LED lights in the 6th c. BC, they would have decorated their caravans with glitz and bling as they marched back from Persia to Judah. The gift they longed to receive was about to be unwrapped.  The people returning from exile also received a gift they had not put on their list. The long hoped for gift was a return. That’s now done. The gift they had not anticipated was a new name and with that name, a responsibility.  

Isaiah 62:4 tells us that Israel during exile had been called “Abandoned” and “Deserted.” These are figurative names, to be sure, but they represent the way “the nations” perceived the people of God. Disobedience of the people showed their abandoning God and God abandoning them—or so it must have seemed. And then being conquered by Nebuchadnezzar left the land that had symbolized promise now reminding the remnant of a vacant deserted home. These are names of insult and derision, but also symbolic of the consequences of their sin. But the gift of return brings new names, the first being “My Delight is In Her” and the second is “Married.” This was surprising. It is the gift they didn’t ask for but received anyway. God takes delight in the people, and they so belong to God that marriage symbolizes the constancy of this new relationship. 

According to Isaiah, God’s gift of return didn’t just leave them with the work of building homes and walls and a temple, it gave them the responsibility of changing the way the “nations” understood both God and God’s people. It turns out that God is invisible to others. The non-Jewish people around the Israelites learn about God by seeing God’s people. This happens both when the people of God act in accordance with God’s will and when they fail to be holy and just. In this regard, little has changed. People here and everywhere will only see and know God through those who take God’s name and live it among them. It’s a high calling.  

Names and titles instill meaning in many ways. For example, we call the celebration of Jesus’ birth “Christmas” rather than “Jesus-mas” because the title “Christ” identifies what God brings to the world through the birth of this child, not just what God gives to Mary and Joseph. At Christmas we don’t just celebrate the birth of Jesus but the bringing of salvation that breaks into the world anew in this Incarnate One. Just as the name “Christmas” amplifies the meaning of Jesus’ birth, when we take the name “Christian” we do more than offer approval of carols and tinsel in December. We take the responsibility to show the immortal invisible God to the people who stand before us. Christmas is a season but the identification as “Christian” defines a life-time responsibility to be part of God’s work in the world. Today as in biblical times, people will only see God through the reality of God’s people. Other folks will believe God loves and forgives and sees goodness on the Earth only when those of us who call ourselves “Christian” serve in the example of Jesus. We have received the gift of Jesus this child born in Bethlehem, but we also receive a new responsibility from God. God has granted salvation and we are called to daily discipleship. Forget the motto of “keeping Christ in Christmas,” it’s time for us to be Christian every day of the year with the understanding that as we show God’s mercy the nations will begin to believe that God is merciful. When we demonstrate love for all people our neighbors will believe that God is love. When we exemplify grace and peace our family will believe that God gives grace and desires peace. And here’s the key: God invites this identification between us and God. God wants us to be the representatives of the divine.   

On this Sunday after Christmas as we recycle the wrapping paper we note that salvation has come from God as a gift, but so has our lifetime of discipleship. We can take hope for God’s eternal gift but we must also exercise our daily calling. Whenever a Christian only glories in salvation but does not take out the gift of discipleship and live it among the world, the Gospel appears like an empty box, without substance or hope or cheer. So Christians, here are far, take heart and listen to what the inside of God’s Christmas card might say to us…paraphrased from Isaiah’s words: God says, “I delight in you, and I am proud that you carry my name. I will help clothe you in righteousness; I commission you to follow my Way; I will tell your neighbors that they can look to you to know who I am. I claim you anew as my people, and will tell everyone to see your works and know your heart. We belong together, and to all who willingly receive my gifts of salvation and discipleship.” 

Unwrap this gift of discipleship with both humility and resolve. Take it out and practice it with near and far with joy. Let it carry you around the corner, to your friend’s home, and into the world. And as we go, may we find ourselves renewed by God’s confidence in our lives each day. Amen. 

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

Song of Faith
Go tell it on the mountain
African American Spiritual, adapted by John W. Work
Tune: GO TELL IT

Refrain:
Go tell it on the mountain,
over the hill and everywhere;
go tell it on the mountain
that Jesus Christ is born!

1 While shepherds kept their watching
o’er silent flocks by night,
behold throughout the heavens
there shone a holy light. [Refrain]

2 The shepherds feared and trembled
when lo! above the earth
rang out the angel chorus
that hailed our Savior’s birth. [Refrain]

3 Down in a lowly manger
the humble Christ was born,
and God sent us salvation
that blessed Christmas morn. [Refrain]

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

Closing Prayer
Blessed be the tie
Author: John Fawcett

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

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

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

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

Credits. The anthem was played by Tonya on the piano with Mindy, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, Kendall and Elizabeth singing. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

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Invitation. Christmas Eve is special night for us; the night we celebrate the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ. Oh how we miss gathering together in the sanctuary, singing Christmas carols, hearing the Christmas story from Luke, sharing communion, and singing Silent Night by candle light! As we stay safely at home this year, may the peace of Christ be with you. We are blessed to know that God welcomes and appreciates our prayers and our praise even as we are apart from one another. So pause this Christmas Eve to pray, read the story, and sing. You may even want to have your own candles at the ready for Silent Night.

The Worship of God

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

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

Opening Prayer
(from RevGord’s worshipofferings.blogspot)
(have one or more persons read while other follow along and/or listen)

Story-telling God, tonight we retell the old, old story.
Tonight we listen for angels and shepherds and a baby’s cry.
Tonight we look to the old story and ask
that you would be born in us again this year.

Tonight, this year, God, we listen for the story of PEACE
Peace in a world so given to conflict.
All year we have heard the stories of the ways things go badly.
This night, and in the year to come,
open our ears to the other stories,
the stories of the kind and good things people have done
and are doing for each other.
And in hearing those stories
may we be re-committed to our own acts of kindness,
the small ways we can make “Peace on earth, Goodwill to all” a reality.

Tonight, this year, God, we listen for the story of HOPE
Hope in a world that gives us so many reasons to despair.
Tell us, we pray, the stories that lie beyond the despair.
When the world falls apart at the seams,
remind us that you are there as we stand in the wreckage,
helping us to pick up the broken pieces.
Open our hearts to feel your presence,
open our souls to the possibility of new hope, new life.

Tonight, this year, God, we listen for the story of JOY
Joy in a world where so many struggle and grieve.
Life does not always go as we had planned,
some days it feels like life never goes as we had planned.
Help us find the possibility of joy both on the good days and the bad.
When the bad news makes us depressed,
show us the Good News hiding in the shadows,
and let that Good News fill our heart with joy again.

Tonight, this year, God, we listen for the story of LOVE,
Love in a world so full of fear and hatred.
You would have us act lovingly to friend and family and enemy.
In a world where love is so sorely needed,
help us all take the risk to love.
Show us the drama of love enacted in our community.
Help us bear the wounds and scars that may come
with being vulnerable, open and loving.
And when love seems too hard,
help us remember that we can love others
because we are loved with a love that will not let us go.
As we gaze at the baby in the manger,
may we see Your amazing love for the world
shining across the miles and centuries.
And may that love fill our own hearts to overflowing.

This year, this night, God, we listen for the story of CHRIST
The story of You coming to share our lives.
The story of You coming to change our world.
The story of love and hope, of peace and joy.
A story that happened a long time ago in a place far away,
a story that happens in this very place this very day.
Help us, God, to hear the story, help us, God, to welcome the baby,
Help us, God, to live into the new world that Christmas brings.
We pray in the name of the One who lies in the manger.
Joy to the World! The Lord is Come!
So Be It! Amen.

Song of Praise
Joy to the world! the Lord is come!
Author: Isaac Watts (1719)
Tune: ANTIOCH

1 Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
Let earth its praises bring;
let every heart prepare Christ room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

2 Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3 Christ rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of God’s righteousness,
and wonders of God’s love,
and wonders God’s love,
and wonders, wonders of God’s love.

A Reading from the Gospels
Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius (kwi-RY-nəs) governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Prayer for Others
Jesus, whose mother was Mary,
we pray for families of all shapes and sizes
all over the world.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, cradled in a manger,
we pray for those who have no home,
and for those who have left behind all they know.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, sharing the stable with the animals,
we pray that we might treat the animals and plants
which share our world with kindness and respect.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, worshipped by shepherds and kings,
we pray for all kinds of people
all over the world.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, our Emmanuel,
we pray that all would know
that you, God, are with them this Christmastime.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Sending Out
(from RevGord’s worshipofferings.blogspot)

Peace on the Earth, Goodwill to all.
The angel song rings in our ears.
The baby has been born, the story is just beginning.
The promise of peace shines from the manger,
calling us to live as peacemakers.
As we go out to celebrate the Christmas Season,
we share the light of the Christmas star,
the light that brings hope, peace, joy, and love.
And we do so knowing that the Light shines in the darkness
but the darkness can never overcome it.
Glory to God in the Highest! And on Earth, Peace.

Closing Hymn
Silent night, holy night!
Author: Joseph Mohr
Tune: STILLE NACHT

1 Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child,
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

2 Silent night, holy night,
shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

3 Silent night, holy night,
Child of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from your holy face
bring the dawn of redeeming grace;
Jesus, Christ, at your birth,
Jesus, Christ, a your birth!

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

Today is All Saints’ Sunday. Today we remember the “saints” of Cullowhee Baptist Church who have gone on before us in the past year. We celebrate and give thanks for how their lives among us shaped and informed our faith, how they made our community of faith better, and how their love for the Lord became a blessing to us.

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

The Worship of God

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

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

Invitation to Worship
Blessed are those who will not trade in their faith for a bushel of fear,
for they know God’s heart.
Blessed are those who stand alone at gravesides,
for they are wrapped in God’s arms.
Blessed are those who humbly care for the vulnerable,
for they shall create new communities.
Blessed are those who miss dinner, and happy hour each night,
in order to care for the forgotten,
for they shall be filled with the manna of hope.
Blessed are those who are compassionate,
even with those who rub them the wrong way,
for they will be cared for by others.
Blessed are those who look out for their neighbors,
for they live next door to God.
Blessed are the menders of brokenness,
for they know what it is like to be reconciled to God.
Blessed are those who are mocked by the rich and the powerful,
for they know they are walking the streets of the kin-dom.
Blessed are you when others mock you,
point at your mask,
think you are foolish for keeping your distance,
caring for others,
for then you know you are a sibling of Jesus.
Blessed are all those who model faith for us
in these uncertain days, weeks, months.

Opening Prayer
Sovereign of Creation,
          all that we have comes from you.
Physically distanced, we gather in your presence,
          surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
          people from every tribe and nation,
          every kindred and tongue,
          to lift our voices in praise,
          to be transformed into your saints,
          to be sent out to gather others to share the eternal banquet.
Hear the praise we offer,
          work in us and through us.
You alone are holy,
          you alone are the Most High,
          you alone are worthy of our praise.
Glory to you O God,
          and to the Lamb, our Shepherd,
          and to the Spirit that unites us all,
today and ever more.
Amen.

Hymn of Praise
Sing with All the Saints in Glory
Tune: ODE TO JOY (Ludwig van Beethoven)
Author: William J. Irons

1. Sing with all the saints in glory,
Sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story,
To the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking,
Soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we, awaking,
Know the everlasting peace.

2. O what glory, far exceeding
All that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts, for ages pleading,
Never that full joy conceived.
God has promised, Christ prepares it,
There on high our welcome waits.
Every humble spirit shares it;
Christ has passed th’eternal gates.

3. Life eternal! heav’n rejoices:
Jesus lives who once was dead.
Shout with joy, O deathless voices!
Child of God, lift up your head!
Patriarchs from distant ages,
Saints all longing for their heav’n,
Prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages,
All await the glory giv’n.

4.  Life eternal! O what wonders
Crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
When, amid earth’s closing thunders,
Saints shall stand before the throne!
Oh, to enter that bright portal,
See that glowing firmament,
Know, with you, O God immortal,
Jesus Christ whom you have sent!

Psalm Reading 
Psalm 34:1-10, 22. Common English Bible

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be in my mouth.
I praise the Lord—
    let the suffering listen and rejoice.
Magnify the Lord with me!
    Together let us lift his name up high!
I sought the Lord and he answered me.
    He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to God will shine;
    their faces are never ashamed.
This suffering person cried out:
    the Lord listened and saved him from every trouble.
On every side, the Lord’s messenger
      protects those who honor God; and he delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!
You who are the Lord’s holy ones, honor him,
    because those who honor him don’t lack a thing.
Even strong young lions go without and get hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
The Lord saves his servants’ lives;
    all those who take refuge in him
    won’t be held responsible for anything.

Remembering the Saints
We remember all who have gone before us into God’s eternal splendor especially those from our church family who have died in the last year. We remember and give thanks for

Irene Hooper
(January 17, 1922 to December 26, 2019)

Lou Jane Mills
(February 28, 1945 to May 10, 2020)

Anne Setzer
(January 30, 1936 to June 16, 2020)

Pelham Thomas
(April 18, 1922 to July 5, 2020)

Lavonia “Pinky” Andrews
(April 14, 1947 to September 13, 2020)

Carolyn Wike
(November 11, 1935 to September 17, 2020)

We join them and all the angels and saints of heaven in the hymn of unending praise to God our Rock and Redeemer! Amen.

Choral Anthem
Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal
Tune: INVITATION (Sacred Harp)
Composer: Mark Schweizer

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

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Praise the Lamb!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Glory to the great I AM!

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

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

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.  Let us pray,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invitation to Communion
God’s Table is for everyone, no matter how old one is, or young; for those we think of as saints, and those we know are foolish, because we look in the mirror. For God knows that we all try, and no matter how many times we mess up, God will forgive us, quickly and mercifully. I invite you to join in the prayer for forgiveness.

Prayer for Forgiveness
Beloved God,
who was known to our mothers and fathers,
and to our spiritual forebears,
have mercy on us.

We do not always love as you would have us love.
We do not always do as you would have us do.
In stubbornness,
we turn from you when we should turn toward you.
Hold us, Beloved God–
comfort us when we mourn the passing of friends and family,
and help us to know that they are rejoicing in your presence.
We praise you for the grace you shower on us,
constantly forgiving our errors,
especially the ones that we don’t share with any but you.
Hear now our silent fears and worries of our hearts.

Silent prayer and reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel Lesson
Matthew 23:1-12, Common English Bible

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples, “The legal experts and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore, you must take care to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. For they tie together heavy packs that are impossible to carry. They put them on the shoulders of others, but are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others. They make extra-wide prayer bands for their arms and long tassels for their clothes. They love to sit in places of honor at banquets and in the synagogues. They love to be greeted with honor in the markets and to be addressed as ‘Rabbi.’  But you shouldn’t be called Rabbi, because you have one teacher, and all of you are brothers and sisters. Don’t call anybody on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is heavenly. Don’t be called teacher, because Christ is your one teacher. But the one who is greatest among you will be your servant. All who lift themselves up will be brought low. But all who make themselves low will be lifted up.

Proclaiming the Word
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Jesus said, “The one who is greatest among you will be your servant.” Remember that. It doesn’t make sense in many ways. If anyone other than Jesus would have said it, most people in most churches would not be too sure that it’s true. But Jesus did say it, and as far as I can tell he was not being sarcastic when he did. So it bears remembering – the greatest among you will be your servant.  

This teaching of Jesus is part of the great “reversal” sayings we find in the Gospels. Like when Jesus said, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Or when he’s talking about important people at a feast and he concludes by saying the exalted shall be humbled and the humble shall be exalted. Or when he’s discussing wealth and poverty and describes the seeking of wealth as a poverty that depletes our spirit, but praises the poor for having genuine trust in God. These sayings reverse what the world around us teaches is true. Our task is not to serve ourselves first, or work to win fame and awards, or think of ourselves as great because someone else said it about us. In this Gospel story Jesus identifies the greatest as the one who serves. 

I have to admit that I find it quite important that we read these words of Jesus on the eve of a presidential election – or any election for that matter. Both politicians that I support and the ones that I find unacceptable have to carry more than their share of ego. Servanthood is not on their radar. Power and privilege and prestige surround any politician and can easily lead her or him to think more highly of themselves than they ought to do. While I love the democratic process in America, this is a good day to be reminded that Christians do not look to politics to save us or our world. Politicians are not to be followed as though they speak God’s truth. Their seat in Congress or the White House does not endow them with God’s blessing or confer on them God’s choosing. The Gospel is found in the teachings of Jesus and not in a legislative agenda. Don’t take me wrong, politics are important as they impact real people’s lives for good and for ill. That’s why all of us who are able should vote, and why we must all be aware that our votes matter for others as much as for ourselves. Yet we must guard against replacing the teachings of Jesus with support for any one candidate or party. And we must recognize that any room in which any president resides, the greatest person in that room will not be the elected official, but the servant who dusts the desk or the custodian that cleans. 

How can this be true when almost everyone refers to the President of the United States as “the most powerful person in the world”? Because in God’s reckoning of people, powerful doesn’t mean “great.” Nor does great mean famous. In the Gospel of God, the greatest is not the winner. Nor is “Greatest” a title of recognition given by bosses or teachers or judges. Jesus wants us to see people through God’s eyes and not our own. We are so deceived that we think God approves of people using the same measure that we do. Instead, Jesus helps us see that God knows and finds greatness when we serve others rather than seeking attention to ourselves.    

In the Gospel story, Jesus uses well-known leaders around his disciples as a way to draw them into the spiritual depth of religious servanthood. He points to the “legal experts and Pharisees” and tells his followers to “take care to do everything they say.” We should not be surprised at this affirmation. They taught people to pray three times daily, to worship every Sabbath, and to practice their faith in every relationship of their life. The Pharisees and teachers had read the stories of Noah and Ninevah, Rebecca and Rahab, Job and Jocabed, and taught these stories to many of the same people Jesus is now teaching. And these Pharisees are not wrong. Their words and teachings are valuable. Yet Jesus turns the proverbial tables. They rightly teach you what to do but not why to do it. They say the right words, but they act from selfish motivations. Imitate their practice but not their heart. Listen to their words but don’t share the same attitude. Jesus is interested in the integrity of our intention before God. These leaders care about how the public perceives what they say, and Jesus wants us to consider what we say and what we do and why we do them.  

Think about it this way. Imagine I am given the advice to bring flowers to Tonya as a way to express my love. So every Thursday I place a clutch of fresh flowers in a vase and put them on the table at home. It’s a good practice but whether or not it communicates love depends on my intent and behavior in buying and giving the flowers, as well as the way I treat her throughout the week. Gifts can be given as a selfish act, or done out of guilt, or just perfunctory in order to check some expected box, or even with lingering disdain. I can use the gift as a way to brag about being a great husband, or better yet, have Tonya brag about me. What is intended to be generous and loving can become meaningless or (even worse) manipulative. The same is true with prayer. Or worship. Or acts of care and kindness and justice. Or servanthood. Jesus does not just expect obedience to God but a genuine intent of our spirit. 

Jesus criticizes the religious leaders, and thus criticizes us if it applies, for wanting attention and praise from others. These Pharisees he notes even change their practice of prayer, not out of a response to God, but in order to appear holy or smart or competent or proper in the eyes of the public. They like their official titles like “Rabbi” and “teacher” but only because it makes them sound influential and important. In other Gospel stories, Jesus will say that when they (or we) receive praise from others for our religious practice it has no bearing on whether or not we have pleased God in our practice of faith. And if we act like a Christian for the purpose of being awarded some prize of reputation or respect from others, then God not impressed.  

So let me repeat, Jesus said the greatest among us is the servant. This is not the place where he says, “in order to be great, become a servant.” That’s something quite different. It is easy to go there with this story because it exposes our desire to be great, or at least to think of ourselves as important. Many will then attempt servanthood in order to be considered the greatest revealing a strange cultural emphasis on personal accolades as a sign of significance. In fact, this approach to Jesus’ teaching is the opposite of what Jesus intends. Imagine one of the Pharisees hearing Jesus say this, and so that Pharisee then starts serving people so that people will think he’s great. Jesus had criticized them for praying excessively in order to gain attention. The same can take place with servanthood. Its purpose is focused on the person being served and not ourselves as doing and giving and serving. If I am praised for going on a mission trip, or helping feed families during the summer, or giving money to help our sister church in Brazil, and what I want is that praise, then Jesus finds little greatness in that approach to serving.  

It turns out that the hardest thing about being considered great by God is to desire genuinely to be a servant. And to do so for the sake of the people we serve. And to not get our feathers ruffled if we do something that is servant-like and no one says “thank you” or gives us a plaque that says “Volunteer of the Year.” Many people want to be great; Jesus is interested in those who want to be servants.  

Two things seem necessary: first, to see the people who serve us as great; second, to consider serving others as more important than serving ourselves. 

In case we miss it, Jesus is praising the servants already among us. Probably the ones overlooked by us. The truth is that we are dependent as humans even though the myth of independence is woven into the fabric of American life. But no single person is without the help of many people who are willfully hidden from us. Who is the best person in Cullowhee? Or Jackson County? It’s not the County Council or the mayors or the wealthy business developers or the tourists who bring their spending money or the famous celebrities who were raised here. It is likely the migrant farmworker without whom we would not have local produce or Christmas trees; or the single mom who cleans hotel rooms as a second job to support her children; or the Hispanic construction worker, or the stock person at Ingles, or the recycling center staff, or the high school fry cook at Bojangles. This teaching of Jesus must turn our attention to the personal and spiritual value of the people who are already the servants among us. God knows their name and sees their heart. God’s people should recognize that these servants are greater in God’s eyes than our pastors or politicians or public celebrities. Why? So that we can treat them with respect and care. We are so often the ones who are served that we cannot let our place of privilege blind us to the real valuable greatness of the persons around us who are considered unimportant by the world. We must learn that God’s greatest people are the ones we too often ignore. And may that knowledge compel us to repent of this sin and renew our ability to see the holy virtue of the people that society undervalues.          

Perhaps the harder part of Jesus’ teaching here is that he is asking us to want to be a servant to others. Servanthood is tough. It requires humility, it takes effort, it will not win awards. It is truly found when we take our motivation for servanthood from seeing the virtue and value of the ones we serve. In the Downton Abbey television series, the butler Mr. Carson is a servant in every literal sense of the word. His character is so virtuous, in part, because he sees his task of serving Lord Grantham as a meaningful life’s work because both Lord Grantham and the family are worth Mr. Carson’s efforts. The same can be said about our opportunities to serve others. Many people find the church as a worthy place to be a servant because by serving the church we are serving God and God’s work. The volunteers at United Christian Ministries, or the Center for Domestic Peace, or the Community Table will be Gospel servants when they see the clients they serve as worthy of their service. Whether one is a social worker at DSS or a kindergarten teacher or a Senior Center volunteer, the greatest servant is the one who finds value in God‘s people whom they serve.  

In the end, we read Jesus’ story and hear his conclusion and we are left with a difficult prayer. “Lord, help me to want to become a servant rather than to be considered great.” We will find an answer to that prayer when we serve without hope of consequence but out of the value we already see in another person whose life is worthy of the time and effort we have to give. 

Questions for Reflection 

  1. Who are the people that serve you or your family?  
  1. Who are the people that you serve, or the work that you do that is in service to others? 
  1. Take time this week to honestly assess your attitude and motivation to serve. As you do so, remember the prayer: “Lord, help me to want to become a servant rather than to be considered great.”    

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

Song of Faith
For All the Saints
Author: William Walsham How, adapted by J. Cotter
Tune: SINE NOMINE (Ralph Vaughan Williams)

1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who in the world their faith in God confessed,
your name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. You were the stranger in the dark of night
with whom they strove to find their one True Light,
to whom you gave God’s blessing ever bright:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. They are the folk who gave with Love Divine,
always in service did their wills incline,
forgetting self, they did with glory shine:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. They followed you, cast out the city’s gate
killed by the eyes and guns of human hate,
yet trumpets sound their resurrection fête:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. And there will dawn a yet more marvelous day,
the saints with laughter sing and dance and play,
the Clown of Glory tumbles in the way:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. With earth restored, with this our fragile star,
in gladness home from pilgrimage afar,
we find in God a joy that none can mar:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

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

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

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

Acknowledgements:

The Invitation to Worship and the Invitation to Communion was written by Thom Shuman. The Opening Prayer was written by Bob Gross and comes from Worship Ways an online publication of the United Church of Christ. The Prayer of Forgiveness was written by Lucus Keppel and posted on LiturgyLink. The Psalm was read by Donna. The anthem was played by Tonya and sung by Mindy Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth. Tracy played the organ and Mindy sang the hymns. Aidan played the piano for Amazing Grace. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.

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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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