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Welcome and Announcements                                                     

Litany of Praise

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Adoration

Gathering Song                                                                               

Just As I Am
Words by Charlotte Elliott
Tune of WOODWORTH

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

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

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

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

Psalm 123

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

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

Song of Praise                                                                                           

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Others

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

Choral Anthem

Prayer of Hildegard
Words by Barbara Wallace

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

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

Mark 6:1-13                                                                                        
Common English Bible

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

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

Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

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

Reflection on the Gospel
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

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

Song of Response                                                                                 

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

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

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

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

Sending Out                                                                                      

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

Closing Song                                                                             

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

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

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

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Welcome and Announcements 

Choral Song of Praise 

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

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

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

Opening Words of Praise 

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Adoration

 Song of Praise                                                   

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

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

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

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

Mark 5:21-43
Common English Bible 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection on the Gospel 
RevTonya Vickery 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 130
Common English Bible 

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

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

Prayer for Others 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Petition                                                 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Out  

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

 
Closing Song DENNIS (Nägeli) 

Blest Be the Tie 
Words by John Fawcett   
 

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

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

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

Acknowledgements 

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

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

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Welcome and Announcements                                                               

Call to Worship  

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

 Opening Prayer 

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

Song of Praise                                                                        

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Praise                                                               

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Others

Choral Anthem     

Be Still
Words by Rick Sowash

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

Mark 4:35-41                                                                                   
Common English Bible

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

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

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

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

Reflection on the Gospel
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

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

Song of Response                                                     

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Out

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

Closing Song                                                                          

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements

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

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Call to Worship   

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

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

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

Opening Prayer  
  

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

Song of Praise   

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 20 
Common English Bible  

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

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

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

Song of Praise 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Others 

Choral Anthem   

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 6  
New Revised Standard Version 

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

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

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

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

The Psalmist’s Prayer, And Ours 
DrBill Bellinger

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

Song of Affirmation 

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Out 

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

 Closing Song  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Call to Worship

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

Opening Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Others 

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

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

Acts 2:1-21
Common English Bible 

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

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

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

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

Reflection on the Scriptures
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving 

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

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

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

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

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

Chorus 

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

Chorus 

Sending Out  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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