Posts Tagged ‘Ascension’

Opening Words of Gratitude

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

Opening Prayer

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

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

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

Psalm 1
Common English Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Others

Choral Anthem
Eden’s Song
by Mark Schweizer

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

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

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

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

Common English Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Preparation for Worship. For today’s worship, you will need 2 candles, one to represent Christ’s humanity and one to represent Christ’s divinity. To celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are in what we call “Ordinary Time,” the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or greenery.


The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

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

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

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
All Creatures of Our God and King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 145:8-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Listen to the passage and/or read below.

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

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

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

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

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey

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

Work Like It Matters 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Come and Find the Quiet Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits: The Opening Prayer was written by Moira Laidlaw. All Creatures of Our God and King is set to the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN from the Jesuit hymnal Ausserlesene Catlwlische Geistliche Kirchengesänge (Cologne, 1623). The words were written by St. Francis of Assisi and paraphrased by William H. Draper. The Psalm was read by Elise, Ann, and Adam. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy is set to the tune HOLY MANNA, arranged by Mark Schweizer. The text was written by Frederick William Faber. The drum was played by Kendall and handbells by Elizabeth and Tonya. Choral singers include Ally, Elizabeth, Landon, Mindy, AJ, Jeffrey, and Tonya. The gospel was read by Charles, Mindy, and Linda. Come and Find the Quiet Center is set to the tune BEACH SPRING and words were written by Shirley Erena Murray. The Sending Out is from Come to Me! Service Prayers for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, written by  the Rev. Susan A. Blain, Minister for Worship and Art, United Church of Christ.

Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship. For today’s worship, you will need 2 candles, one to represent Christ’s humanity and one to represent Christ’s divinity. To celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are in what we call “Ordinary Time,” the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or greenery.

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

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

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

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

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


Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN

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

The Prophet Reading

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

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

Reflection on Jeremiah 27-28 from Tonya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Teach Me, O Lord, I Pray

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

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

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

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

Credits: https://c0.wallpaperflare.com/preview/124/695/733/doors-choices-choose-open.jpg is the image location [retrieved on June 27, 2020]. The Call to Worship and Opening Prayer were written by Moira Laidlaw. The Psalm was read by Charity and Tessa. Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above is set to the tune, MIT FREUDEN ZART from the Bohemian Brethren’s Kirchengesange, 1566. The words were written by Johann J. Schutz, 1690 and translated by Frances E. Cox, 1897. The song was played by Tracy B. The reading from Matthew’s gospel was read by Tracy T. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. Teach Me, O Lord, I Pray is set to the tune DIADEMATA composed by Geroge J. Elvey (1893). The words were adapted from G. Kearnie Keegan (1960). The Sending was written by Thom Shuman. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship. We are beginning the season after Pentecost which will last us until Advent. Green is the color of this season symbolizing growth in our Christian faith. We invite you to adorn your worship space with green. If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We encourage you to have two candles to light at the beginning of worship–one candle to represent Jesus’ humanity and the other to represent Jesus’ divinity.

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of the presence of Christ.

Gathering for Worship

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

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

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

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Praise to the Living God

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 86:1-
7

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel Lesson

A Reading from Matthew 10:24-39

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection “Take Up What?” from Jeffrey

Listen to Jeffrey reflection and/or read below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

Song of Commitment
Christ to the World We Bring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits: The Call to Worship is from The United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways, Year A, Pentecost 3 – June 21. The Opening Prayer and Sending Out were written by Rev. Moira Laidlaw. Praise to the Living God was written by Curtis Beach (1993) and set to the tune DIADEMATA composed by George J. Elvey (1868). The Prayer for Others comes from Creation Sings Your Praise, edited by Annabel Shilson-Thomas, Canterbury Press, 2010. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1807) and played by Aidan on the piano. Christ for the World We Sing was written by Samuel Wolcott (1869) and sung to the tune ITALIAN HYMN composed by Felice de Giardini (1796) at the request of Selina Shirley (1791), the famous evangelically minded Countess of Huntingdon, England. The tune and three others were contributed to Martin Madan’s Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1769), published to benefit the Lock Hospital in London where Madan was chaplain. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship. For today’s worship, you will need 2 candles. We are in the season after Pentecost which will last until Advent comes. Green is the color of this season to symbolize growth for our Christian faith. We invite you to adorn your worship space with green. If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Peace and Love

Invitation. Jesus saw the world with eyes of compassion. As those who have committed ourselves to live the Way of Jesus, there is no other way for us to look at the world. We are to see the world with compassion AND embody compassion through what we say and how we live. May the Lord teach us today.


The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Choral Call to Worship
Jubilate

Jubilate Deo omnis terra [Praise the Lord, all the earth]
O be joyful, all ye nations, O be joyful in the Lord;
Serve the Lord with gladness; come before his presence with a song.
Enter now his gates with thanksgiving, go into his courts with praise.
O be thankful; call upon the Name of the Lord.

Call to Worship
We will sing glad songs
to you, Commissioning God,
   as we enter your heart
   with thanksgiving on our lips,
for you are
   that love which never ends;
   that joy which overflows;
   that faith which is always full.

We will proclaim our praise
to you, Voice of compassion,
   as you would send us
   into the world in which we live,
for you are
   the Word we can speak to power;
   the healing we can offer to the broken;
   the justice which can replace oppression.

We will offer our hands and hearts
to you, Imaginative Spirit,
   as you teach us new steps
   in this dance we call life,
for you are
   the cleanser of our messy hearts,
   the breath of hope for shallow lungs,
   the password for access to grace.

With our hearts, voices, bodies, souls,
we offer joyful noise to you.

Opening Prayer. We come to worship you, O God, as the one in whom we have placed our hope.  We share the desire of your people of old to tell of the blessings you have effected in our lives. When we think about the greatest blessing of all—the gift of yourself in human flesh—Jesus Christ—we joyfully acknowledge that our hope in you is not misplaced.  We choose to serve you because you chose to touch our lives so graciously in Christ.  May our faithful witness and the service of our lives reveal the depth of our love and gratitude as we worship you, O God, and as we praise and adore you in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Song of Praise
Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee

Joyful, joyful, we adore You,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before You,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Your works with joy surround You,
Earth and heav’n reflect Your rays,
Stars and angels sing around You,
Center of unbroken praise;
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Praising You eternally!

Always giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Well-spring of the joy of living,
Ocean-depth of happy rest!
Loving Father, Christ our Brother,
Let Your light upon us shine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the mighty chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
God’s own love is reigning o’er us,
Joining people hand in hand.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music leads us sunward
In the triumph song of life.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 100

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with celebration!
    Come before him with shouts of joy!
Know that the Lord is God—
    he made us; we belong to him.
    We are his people,
    the sheep of his own pasture.
Enter his gates with thanks;
    enter his courtyards with praise!
    Thank him! Bless his name!
Because the Lord is good,
    his loyal love lasts forever;
    his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.

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

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for…
God who comforts, receive those who are fearful and lonely…
God whose love is steadfast,

be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them…
God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail
in our community, this nation, your world…
God who seeks our trust,
grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world…
Amen.

Choral Prayer
Prayer of Julian of Norwich

God, of your goodness, give yourself to me.
For you are enough for me: Only in you do I have everything. Amen.

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel Lesson

Listen to the New Testament lesson and/or read below.

A Reading from Matthew 9:35-38

35 Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. 36 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. 38 Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.”

Reflection “Compassion” from Tonya

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

The words to the song of prayer today were written by an anonymous woman whom people called Julian. There is no record of her original name. She was called Julian because she lived in an anchor-hold built against the side of St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England.

Julian was born in the 14th century, around 1342. This was a time of great social, political, and religious change. Life in the 14th century was filled with great suffering and pain. There was the 100 Years War which began in 1337, a never-ceasing series of conflicts between English and French kings. But worse than any war was the plague, a catchall word for the epidemic diseases that “plagued” Europe. 

Between 1348 and ’49, the bubonic plague ravaged Europe killing up to one-fourth of the population. This plague caused very painful, swollen lymph nodes accompanied by a fever that made one feel miserable. It was an awful death and back then no one knew what caused it.

The first outbreak of the bubonic plague reached the city of Norwich at the beginning of the year 1349 when Julian was just seven years old. The city was hit hard. At that time, the population of Norwich was estimated to be a booming 25,000. By the end of the year only 6,000 people had survived. Three-fourths of the population were gone.  

We know today that the 14th century plague was caused the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. It was probably transmitted to humans by fleas that lived on rats. Back then people lived really close to animals and by no fault of their own, in not so clean conditions. So it was easy for rat fleas to find a human host. However, back then people had no idea what caused the disease. Bacteria would not be discovered until 300 years later. So without sufficient knowledge and understanding, the plague was blamed on a variety of things. Some blamed the plague on moral corruption. Others said it was a result of too much exercise. Still others speculated that taking hot baths caused the disease. And there were some who believed that there were poisons in the air.

Religious people have always felt the need to explain in religious terms why bad things happen. The same was true when the plague hit Europe. Many explained the plague by turning to their shallow and wrong-headed idea that God was angry with the people. The plague was a clear sign that God was put out with humanity and had to punish people for all their meanness and corruption. The plague was their punishment.

This way of thinking grew out of the medieval Christian doctrine called “substitutionary atonement.” Substitutionary atonement is a way of explaining why Christ’s died on the cross. Simply put, Jesus became a substitute for us when it came to punishment. Jesus by dying on the cross took the full punishment which we deserved for the wrongs we committed and will commit against God. Because of our many, many sins, we owe God something to make up for all our mistakes. But that is a debt we can never repay.  Our sins are so great and our lives are too short to make up for all our sinning.  So, Jesus becomes the substitute offering himself to pay off our debt.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking paints a picture of God that is just not right. This way of thinking implies that God is angry with us to the point that someone must die to appease God’s anger. This idea of substitution creates a vengeful God who needs pacifying. It teaches that Jesus became a sacrifice to satisfy the ire of God. When you view God like this, it is easy to convince yourself that the horrible painful plague must be a punishment from God.

Julian didn’t see the plague as a punishment from God because Julian didn’t see God as angry. Even though she was surrounded by horrible death, extreme pain and suffering, she insisted that such things were not punishments from God. She saw that God is goodness. Therefore, blame and anger cannot be in God because blame and anger are not goodness. Anger exists, yes, but not in God. Though we sin grievously every day and yes, we deserve blame for our sins, instead God forgives. God makes all things well.

If you take just a brief look at religious artwork from the 14th century, you will quickly see that the go to response to the plague was one of God’s judgement and punishment.  Julian refused to see God this way. She leaned heavily into the compassion and kindness of God. She leaned into the image of Jesus which the scripture reading highlights for us today.

When Jesus looks at the people around him, he sees how harassed they are. He sees how they have been cast aside, thrown away. Look at the scripture passage with me. The Common English Bible says they were troubled and helpless. The New Testament was written in the Greek language, so translators have to choose one English word to explain what the gospel writer is saying. To give you an idea of the meaning of “troubled,” the Greek word literally means “skinned alive” or “mangled.”  This idea really emphases the vulnerability of the people and just how truly helpless they were. They had been cast aside, overlooked, thrown away as if they were of no use.

How did Jesus respond to their needs? Matthew’s gospel says Jesus “had compassion for them.” Did Jesus pity the people because God was angry with them? No. Jesus pitied them because the people lacked someone to guide them and care for them. They were wandering and lost, like sheep without a shepherd. God sent Jesus into the world to be our Shepherd, not to be a peace offering between us and God. God sent Jesus into the world to show us how to care for one another, not to take the heat for us.

In Ezekiel chapter 34 God calls out the shepherds who are not taking care of the sheep. They are abusing their relationship with those for whom they are entrusted to care. Ezekiel says, they drink the milk, wear the wool, and eat the meat, instead of caring for the flock. In Ezekiel, God is talking about the religious leaders who are supposed to be taking care of God’s people. Their relationship is not about compassion; it is about using someone else to make their own life better.

Our relationships with one another should be about these things instead.

  • Strengthening those who are weak
  • Taking care of those who are sick
  • Bandaging those whose lives are broken into pieces
  • Making a way of return for those who have been banished and driven away
  • Seeking out those who have been given up as lost, who have been utterly destroyed

These call outs from verse 4 gives us a good idea of what the compassion of God should look like. The verse ends with God clearly saying there is no room for violence and force.

If we continue to see God as punitive, angry, bitter, and blaming, then our lives will become these things as well. Our worldview through the eyes of God will be off. Our relationships with one another will be less than what God would have. God shows us clearly how to look at life and how to look at one another, with compassion. And while living among us, Jesus embodied for us that compassion which has always, always been the nature of God. May the Spirit heal our perceptions which have been clouded by suffering and sin. May the sweet touch of grace teach us to rise above the baseness of vengeance, bitterness, and the hunger to blame. May our lives be lived out of compassion so that God might be glorified in all things. May God make all things well. 

Questions for Reflection

How do angry, bitter, and judgmental people act? Is this how God acts? How does God act? How should we act?

June is Pride Month. This year marks the 50th anniversary of annual LGBTQ+ Pride traditions (https://www.loc.gov/lgbt-pride-month/about/). Around the world our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ+ community have been and continue to be “harassed and troubled” by others. How can we show compassion to our sisters and brothers who have been banished, driven away, and cast off from the community of faith?

Through the prophet Ezekiel, God suggests to us five ways we can show compassion. Choose one and discuss ways to carry it out.

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

Song of Commitment
Reamo Leboga (We Give our Thanks to God)

Reamo leboga, (x3)
modimo warona.

We give our thanks to God (x 4)

We give our hands to you, (x 3),
because you reached for us.

We give our eyes to you, (x3)
because you looked for us.

We give our feet to you, (x3)
because you walk with us.

We give our hearts to you, (x3)
because you first loved us.

Sending Out
As Jesus sent the disciples out into the communities,
so we are sent out in our communities to bear witness to God’s compassion.
Be eager to share God’s love,
without expecting a reward.
Be eager to share God’s love,
without expecting praise.
Be eager to share God’s love,
without expecting to be loved in return.
Go out with the compassion of Christ as your guide.
Amen.

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

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

Credits: Jubilate! was composed by Michael Bedford, played by Tracy, and sung by the Whee Social Distant Choir. The Call to Worship was written by Rev. Thom Shuman. The Opening Prayer was written by Rev. Moira Laidlaw. The text of Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee was written by Henry Van Dyke (1907) and set to ODE TO JOY, a tune composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (1824). Psalm 100 was read by Kendall. Prayer of Julian of Norwich was composed by Carson Cooman, played by guest artist Alex, and sung by the amazing Whee Social Distant Choir. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1807) and played by Aidan on the piano. The gospel was written by Matthew and read by Pam. Reamo Leboga is a Botswanan traditional song. Ally plays piano, Kendall the djembe, and Mindy sings. Blest Be the Tie was written by John Fawcett (1782) and set to the tune DENNIS which was attributed to Johann G. Nageli (1836). Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship. Today is Trinity Sunday! Add white to your worship area with flowers, white paper, or white fabric. White is the liturgical color for Trinity Sunday. Use 3 candles this Sunday, if you would like, to represent the Trinity or add beauty to your worship area in groups of threes. If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Invitation. Trinity Sunday invites us to worship God who is Trinity, whose essence is that of threefold unity bound together in love. Expressions of Trinity abound:
Father, Son, Holy Spirit;
Creator, Reedemer, Sustainer;
Wisdom, Peace, Purity.

The Worship of God

Light candles in recognition of God’s presence.  In our practice, we usually light two: one to represent Jesus’ divinity and the other Jesus’ humanity. This Sunday being Trinity Sunday, you may want to light three to represent the Trifold nature of God’s abounding love.

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship

Praise the Lord!
    It is good to sing praise to our God!
    It is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!
Come let us worship the Lord
    And praise our God!

Opening Prayer

To You, O God, we lift up our souls.
We offer You our praise and prayer,
our worship and thanksgiving,
our desires and very lives.
Teach us Your way.
Show us Your path.
Lead us in Your truth.
We trust You and we will wait for you all day long.
Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Holy, Holy, Holy

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

2 Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
who wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

3 Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee
perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

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

A Reading from the Psalms
A Responsive Reading of Psalm 8

Lord, our Lord, how majestic
    is your name throughout the earth!

    You made your glory higher than heaven!
From the mouths of nursing babies
    you have laid a strong foundation
    because of your foes,
    in order to stop vengeful enemies.
When I look up at your skies,
    at what your fingers made—
    the moon and the stars
    that you set firmly in place—
        what are human beings
            that you think about them;
        what are human beings
            that you pay attention to them?
You’ve made them only slightly less than divine,
    crowning them with glory and grandeur.
You’ve let them rule over your handiwork,
    putting everything under their feet—
        all sheep and all cattle,
        the wild animals too,
        the birds in the sky,
        the fish of the ocean,
        everything that travels the pathways of the sea.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!

Prayers for Others. As we did last week,
pause after each line to give voice to prayers as prompted.

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for….
God who comforts, receive those who are fearful and lonely….
God whose love is steadfast,

be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them.…
God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail

in our community, this nation, your world….
God who seeks our trust,
grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your worl
d. Amen.

Song of Praise
How Majestic is Your Name

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
O Lord, we praise your name.
O Lord, we magnify your name:
Prince of Peace, mighty God; O Lord God Almighty.
[Repeat]

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel Reading

Song of Adoration
We The Lord’s People

We the Lord’s people,
Heart and voice uniting.
Praise him who called us
Out of darkness,
Light and truth revealing.
Bring we now before Him
All our gladness and joy.

O God, the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit,
Trinity blessed, heav’nly light,
The source of our salvation.
Shine forth in our living
Now and ever. Amen.

Gospel Reading, Matthew 28:16-20

Listen to the Gospel lesson and/or read below.

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18 Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”

Reflection “The Proper Use of Authority” from Jeffrey

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

The Proper Use of Authority 

Since today is Trinity Sunday, we are to be reminded that what we say and do as Christians has its basis in the nature of God. Trinity introduces the idea of diversity within the nature of God. That is, God is not and cannot be limited to one image, one name, one characteristic, yet this fact doesn’t divide God into thirds or any other fraction. God is One, but not one thing. If God could be held to a single idea or picture, then God can be made into an idol. From the beginning of the biblical story, in Genesis 1, God is quoted as saying, “Let us make humankind in our image.” God as “us” and “our” tells us that God is One yet understood in diverse ways. Thus for us humans, both women and men image God equally but neither does so fully. One is not more like God than the other. God is both masculine and feminine without God being either male or female. Thus when Christianity began to affirm that God is One in an indivisible and undivided nature but not limited to one thing, the idea of the Trinity began to take shape. The Bible says God is love, a rock, a king, a mother hen, a breastfeeding mom, a father, a light, along with Wisdom, Spirit, and the most-human one of God sent to dwell among us – Jesus, the Christ. Yes, Trinity, at least! 

With this image of God as the example of diversity within the unified nature of God, how can we suppose that God has endowed any one person or one race with more grace than another? If what we say and do is a reflection of God, how can any people who claim God’s name allow for racism? With the fear and foolishness in this week’s news, it’s time to speak clearly. 

The United States of America is a country that has a racist past that led to the death, enslavement, and mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of Africans. That past is not behind us, for we are living today in a racist country that continues to allow the death, incarceration, and maltreatment of hundreds of thousands of Americans who are people of color. Only some of that racism is found in some of the police in our nation, or in some of our politicians who promote racist policies that diminish or deny opportunities. Even more racism, is passed on to another generation when it is tolerated among our friends, modeled by the adults our children emulate, spoken with words that are both repeated and believed, and brought to light by people who claim authority by majority and benefit from privilege by social leverage. In every case, racism is sinful. Since racism is not something we are born with, we must confess that it is against God’s will for our life and society. It is not a part of the biblical teaching of Christianity.   

So let us confess boldly. After all, confession is what we Christians can and should do well. Let us confess our sin. Know we are wrong. Acknowledge that we can and could and should do more. Let us ask God to change our hearts and our minds and our words and our parenting and our education and our politics. But also confess that if it was my child that was killed unjustly by a policeman, I’d be angry, and throwing things, and calling officials who cover it up lots of names, and asking for powerful men who claim authority over the life and death of my child to be fired, jailed, or both. I would read the story of Jesus turning over the money tables in the temple court, and making cords into a whip to drive them away (read Gospel of John 2)…I would read that story differently. Jesus is not guilty of property damage.  Jesus is rightly angry that their greed, or self-righteousness, comes out in seeking personal gain through the use of God’s name. It is the same violation of the gospel that President Trump displayed recently.  

On Monday the President of the United States stood in front of a church he doesn’t attend, walked there without any intention to pray or worship, and raised a Bible in his hand in order for the press to take his picture. Regardless of what was on his mind or who helped stage it, the image of any president holding a Bible, without any briefing or explanation, is intended to communicate a man of power acting on God’s authority. He was claiming God’s will legitimated by biblical teaching as the basis for his actions and words and policies. With the context of this week’s racist events and the president’s own threats of violence against US citizens, everything about that image is wrong from the point of view of the Christian message of peace and justice and forgiveness and reconciliation. 

I cannot say to you it will get better. It may not. The Gospel calls us to be peace makers, but it does not guarantee peace from the powerful in the world. The misuse of power leads to more injustice rather than a more gracious society. The birth of a military dictatorship begins with a single narcissistic megalomaniac in power with an army that supports him and politicians that will not oppose him and a population that is silenced. But this is a sermon so let me put this in a biblical context–what we see daily in our country at this time is against the “Great Commission” offered by Jesus in Matthew 28, our text for today where the only proper authority over anyone is Jesus. 

It’s an audacious claim when Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (v. 18). I don’t typically trust people who chest-thump and say “I’m the greatest!” (I find Muhammad Ali amusing, I must admit!) Mostly, however, history is filled with the horrors of authority exercised over others by those who claim the right to authority for themselves.  

So what makes Jesus’ statement different? How is it that he can claim God’s authority and then ask others to participate in carrying out his wishes? I’m not going to stand here and give you a glib answer like, “well, he is God after all.” And I’m not questioning Jesus’ divinity. But I want it known that any claim to holy authority, even when Jesus makes it, is only as valid as the nature of the person who claims it, the manner of their life and speech, the pattern of their service to and love for others, and their willingness to take on the responsibility to bring life rather than take it. And in the case of Jesus, we can say that he unwaveringly and without exception said and did the things of God in a manner that demonstrates his divine nature and rightful authority.  

If you are listening to this sermon, then likely you agree that Jesus has the proper authority to tell us what God wants us to do. In brief, here’s what I find (vv. 19-20) when I consider Jesus’ final words of commission to those of us who claim his name.   

  • “Go.” Don’t stay where we are, which we can take literally or figuratively. The Gospel of Jesus propels us into the world rather than seeking our own comfort.  
  • “Make disciples.” Not followers, but disciples. Being a disciple implies learning and growing and being better in our understanding of loving God and loving each other today than we were yesterday. 
  • “Of all nations.” Not some nations but all. Not Europe alone but Asia and Africa. Not just southern-born English-speaking Americans but Farsi speaking people from Iran, and Mexican-born Spanish-speaking children of God. The Gospel’s native tongue is any language that tells of God’s love found in Jesus. 
  • “Baptize.” Jesus isn’t asking us to count the number of people baptized in order to boast. Another generation is invited to the Gospel party and invested with the right to be disciples alongside us. We are not the only ones necessary for God’s work to be done. It’s not all our responsibility either. But it does matter that we open the doors wide and baptize any willing to be Jesus’ disciples. 
  • “In the name of God.” It is not my church I represent. If what I do and say does not resemble God’s actions and voice in this world, then I am abdicating the right to act in God’s name. If God would love, then I will too. If God won’t hate, and I choose to do so anyway, I am working actively against the will of God. May it never be so. 
  • “Teaching them what I commanded.” Jesus’ teachings inform what we both teach and learn. If what my country teaches in example or policy is against the Gospel, I choose to teach the Gospel instead of American values. If what my family expects is not what Jesus teaches, then I have no obligation to my family’s values. If any church, school, friend, troop, lodge, work, platform, or other social identity group asks us to teach something in opposition to the teachings of Jesus, our obligation is to teach Jesus’ commands regardless of the cost.    

Jesus is asking a lot of us—a great deal of love for everyone, kindness to one another, justice on behalf of the oppressed, and spirit-filled speaking of the truth of God’s eternal welcome for us all. May we decide to take on this commissioning from Jesus, knowing that it comes only with the promise of God’s presence, not the vain promotion of success — “I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth.” 

Questions for Reflection

  1. What stories of overcoming the racism in your own life (or family, etc.) are important to you and the way you understand systemic racism today? When did you first recognize racism, and/or when did you choose a different way to live?   
  1. Jesus’ teachings include acting out of kindness, generosity, humility, patience, and empathy with others. Where do you see these things in the world today? 
  1. Make a commitment with each other to speak truthfully and directly if you see or hear each other acting in ways that do not promote God’s love and justice. 

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

Song of Response
The Church of Christ, in Every Age

1 The church of Christ, in every age,
Beset by change, but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead.

2 Across the world, across the street,
The victims of injustice cry
For shelter and for bread to eat,
And never live until they die.

3 Then let the servant church arise;
A caring church that longs to be,
A partner in Christ’s sacrifice,
And clothed in Christ’s humanity.

4 We have no mission but to serve
In full obedience to our Lord,
To care for all, without reserve,
And spread God’s liberating Word.

Sending
The blessing of the Holy Three,
be gift to thee,
Wisdom, Peace, and Purity. Amen.

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

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

Credits: The Call to Worship is based on Psalm 147 and the Opening Prayer is based on Psalm 25. Holy, Holy, Holy was written by Reginald Heber (1826); set to the tune, Nicaea which was composed by John Bacchus Dykes (1876); and played by Kendall on the steel pan. How Majestic Is Your Name was written by Michael W. Smith; sung by Mindy; and played by Tessa on the flute. Scripture readings are from the Common English Bible. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1807); set to the folk tune, New Britain; and played by Aidan on the piano. We The Lord’s People was written by Jeffrey Rickard; played by Tonya and Elizabeth on the handbells; and sung by Laura, Mindy, Ally, Tonya, Elizabeth, Rachel, Justin, and Josh (Mindy’s brother). The Church of Christ, in Every Age was written by Fred Pratt Green (1969); set to the tune, Germany which was composed by William Gardiner (1853); and played on the piano by Tracy. The Sending is blessing quoted in The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal. It is a ancient Scottish mother’s blessing which would be whispered into the ear of her newborn child, telling the child of her/his birthright. Blest be the Tie was written by John Fawcett (1782) and sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship. For today’s worship, you will need 2 candles. This Sunday add red to your worship area with flowers, red paper, or red fabric. Red is the liturgical color for Pentecost. If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

Passing the Peace
Before passing the peace of Christ, receive the blessing of Christ’s peace spoken in a variety of languages by our church family and their friends.

“May the Peace of Christ be with you.”
“And also with you.”

Call to Worship

No great flowing fabrics of red
adorning the sanctuary today,
yet this is still the day we celebrate
Grace’s breath shattering the shutters of our hearts.

On this day, clad in our pajamas, sitting at home
we continue to let the Spirit
of new life breathe upon us!
On this day, we would touch (virtually) all
who remain sheltered in place, safe in God’s grace.
And in the days to come, we will continue to speak
of God’s love and the Spirit’s peace for all.

Opening Prayer

Imaginative God, a spark is all we need on this day
to light our quarantined alone-ness
so we can burst into bonfires
which signal to all those around us
that you are bringing life and grace to us, and to the whole world.
Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
All Things Bright and Beautiful by Cecil Francis Alexander

Refrain:
All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful,
the Lord God made them all.

1 Each little flow’r that opens,
each little bird that sings,
God made their glowing colors,
God made their tiny wings.

2 The purple-headed mountain,
the river running by,
the sunset, and the morning
that brightens up the sky. [Refrain]

3 The cold wind in the winter,
the pleasant summer sun,
the ripe fruits in the garden,
God made them, ev’ry one.

4 The tall trees in the greenwood,
the meadows where we play,
the flowers by the water
we gather ev’ry day. [Refrain]

5 God gave us eyes to see them,
and lips that we might tell
how great is God Almighty,
who has made all things well. [Refrain]

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

24 Lord, you have done so many things!
    You made them all so wisely!
The earth is full of your creations!
25 And then there’s the sea, wide and deep,
    with its countless creatures—
    living things both small and large.
26 There go the ships on it,
    and Leviathan, which you made, plays in it!
27 All your creations wait for you
    to give them their food on time.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled completely full!
29 But when you hide your face, they are terrified;
    when you take away their breath,
    they die and return to dust.
30 When you let loose your breath, they are created,
    and you make the surface of the ground brand-new again.
31 Let the Lord’s glory last forever!
    Let the Lord rejoice in all he has made!
32 He has only to look at the earth, and it shakes.
    God just touches the mountains, and they erupt in smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.
34 Let my praise be pleasing to him;
    I’m rejoicing in the Lord!

Prayers for Others. As we did last week,
pause after each line to give voice to prayers as prompted.

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for…
God who comforts, receive those who are fearful and lonely…
God whose love is steadfast,

be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them…
God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail

in our community, this nation, your world…
God who seeks our trust,
grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your worl
d. Amen.

Song of Prayer
A Pentecost Prayer

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things,
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort, through Jesus Christ our Lord: Amen.

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Testament for Pentecost

Song of Adoration
Come Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit, into our hearts;
With wind and flame, holy you came,
That the nations might praise your Name.

Come, Holy Spirit, into our hearts;
And thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Come Spirit bright, and with thy light,
Thy people unite,
Forth from the Father, merciful thou art.

Come, Holy Spirit, truth divine;
Come, fill our lives and make them thine,
Come with thy blessings,
Come within our hearts to shine.

A Reading from Acts 2:1-21

Listen to the New Testament lesson and/or read below.

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, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 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! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 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.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 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.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Reflection “Pentecost” from Tonya

Listen to Tonya’s reflection and/or read below. (Due to the high quality of the church’s recorder, the sermon is graced with the sounds of birds, the neighbor’s child gleefully playing, and Jeffrey talking on the phone two floors below on the opposite side of the house. Oh well…..)

Last Sunday we read in Acts 1, Jesus’s directive to his followers. He was going to leave them, but they were to stay put in Jerusalem and wait. God was going to baptize them with the Holy Spirit, but first Jesus had to leave the scene. That Spirit baptism was going to endow them with a power which would enable them to give testimony to Jesus Christ. Jesus was taken up into heaven and the apostles did what they were told to do. They returned to Jerusalem and together they waited. While they waited they prayed.

In addition to the 11 disciples, there were another 120 people among them, men and women who had followed and believed in Jesus. Peter seems to be a little antsy while he waits. It was his nature to always be “doing” something.  So noting that with Judas’ passing they were down to 11 disciples, Peter proposes they tidy things up and fill the vacancy. From their Jewish religious background, the number twelve represents totality and wholeness. The number eleven has no meaning at all. It just communicates incompleteness. Overlooking the women who were with them and who had seen and talked with the risen Christ, the group entertains nominations of men who can give personal testimony to the resurrection of Jesus.  When it is all said and done, two men make the final list. Then everyone prays asking that God’s will be done. To determine God’s choice, they cast lots and the lot falls on Matthias. You probably don’t even remember the name of the other man even though the Bible provides three names for him. He was Joseph who also went by Barsabbas and was also known as Justus.
  
Okay, manpower is complete, now what to do. Wait and pray and wait some more while praying always. By Day 9 of waiting and praying, the Jewish festival of Pentecost had arrived as well as the Spirit of God.  

The Holy Spirit’s entrance in Luke’s story is anything but discreet. This holy visitation enters the room unannounced, unexpected, and with an echoing roar that overfills the room.  Accompanying the audible drama was the sight of something like flames of fire. Whereas the thought of flames of fire hovering over your head may scare you and me, no other sight could be more symbolic of the presence of God. Fire had always been a symbol of the Divine presence–purifying, refining, and energizing.  Think back to Moses and the burning bush that was never consumed or the pillar of fire shining at night leading the people through the wilderness.

The Spirit’s coming may not have been seen by all, but the sound of the Spirit’s arrival could not be overlooked. The loud ruckus created by the God’s presence draws a crowd. The Galileans are speaking different languages, so well that everyone present can understand what was being said. Of course, the crowd is amazed, astonished, perplexed.  So much is happening that Peter has to raise his voice to be heard. In Acts the coming of the Holy Spirit is not associated with whispers, murmurs of a dove’s song, white gloves, or dainty manners. The coming of the Holy Spirit is noisy, loud, interrupting and full of power.  Not a power that crushes and destroys, or knocks sense into another. No, the Spirit comes with a power that enables, a power that creates, a power that makes it possible to give verbal witness to the resurrected Christ and a power that makes it possible for others to heard and know. The gift of fluency in other languages and the gift of understanding. 

The ability or rather the non-ability to speak in different languages proved to be a huge barrier in giving witness to the love of God. Jesus expected that his followers would give witness to his love all the way to the ends of the earth. But if you cannot speak another’s language, how can they understand what you are saying?  On the day of Pentecost God removed the language barrier providing the abilities to speak and understand. What was said and heard that day? The TED Talk was all about the magnificent mighty works of God. 

Can you imagine being empowered by the Spirit so that your life speaks all about the magnificent mighty works of God? That’s the goal, that our lives “talk” about the wonderful works of God. Way back in the day, one of our Bible study teachers, Polly Rice, had a quote posted in her classroom. It read,  “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”  The Spirit enables our lives to proclaim, to preach the wonderful, works of God. We do so by the way we live and sometimes with our words.

Now can you imagine being empowered by the Spirit so that we can “hear” about the magnificent mighty works of God? If we don’t “listen” to God, we won’t have worth saying. If we don’t receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’s understanding, then we won’t hear and we will run the risk of sharing something less than the good news of God’s love. The Spirit’s coming enables us to not only share, but to also understand.  

Well, Google translate has rid the world of the barriers of language. But there are a lot of other divisive barriers still standing in the way. Can you imagine those divisive barriers built by our fear and greed, can you imagine them being replaced with understanding so that the marvelous mighty works of God might be proclaimed?  The Spirit of God is willing, but are we?

The gift of diversity which God endowed upon creation whether it be skin color, country of origin, gender, even sexual orientation has been turned into a curse. And the most divisive barrier from this past week’s experience here in the United States has been race. Whether consciously or unconsciously, whichever way you need to see it to hear it, we continue to define people’s worth by the color of their skin instead of by the love of God. 

Our church family, Cullowhee Baptist, is a group of white people. We have never felt powerless, vulnerable, unloved, or even hated because of the color of our skin. We don’t bear the burdens of grief and anxiety that people of color bear every day and have born for generations. We don’t have to wade through the waves of vicarious trauma when a person of color is murdered. We have never been afraid to go to church because the color of our skin gives cause for another to dehumanize us and our house of worship so much so that they may bomb the building while we are in it or join us in praise and prayer and then turn a gun on us. We can test the limits of speed while driving because our skin is white and the only fear we have from getting caught is a ticket and facing an angry parent or spouse. We can wear a mask during a pandemic to stop the spread of COVID and people are grateful. But people of color wear a mask and they are immediately suspect or accused of trying to deceive or do wrong.

We white people need the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit to empower us with the ability to understand. The problem does not belong to those whose skin the Almighty Creator God has blessed with color. The problem belongs to those of us who have always checked the “white” box. Christians pray and live lives in such a way that the will of God is done here on earth as it is in heaven. Christians empowered by the Holy Spirit proclaim the mighty works of God. Christians faith in God through Jesus Christ is colored with hope, love, and abundant life. However, the world as people of color experience it, is not the world as it should be, as God wants it to be. When a person is treated as less than human, less than a child of God, for whatever reason, then the mighty works of God are not being proclaimed.  But if the world is going to change for people of color, it will require us white folk to shut up, listen, and understand.  And our ability to hush, listen, and comprehend will require the Spirit of God.

God has already shown us what can happen, if we would but humble ourselves and listen.  May the Spirit of God work in us so that we might understand how to resist the evil of white supremacy, the evil of criminalizing someone based on skin color, the evil of apathy, and the evil of turning God’s creative diversity into a curse.

May the Spirit come and replace the divisive barriers we have created with understanding.  

Questions for Reflection

How do (or can) our differences enrich our experience of unity?
What is the greatest obstacle to good communication?
How does the Spirit renew and refine us?

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

Song of Response
God, Our Author and Creator

God, our Author and Creator, in whose life we find our own,
Make our daily witness greater, by our lives make your love known.
Help us show how love embraces those whom fear and greed down-trod.
In all yearning hearts and faces, let us see a child of God.

Like those first apostles, Savior, give us strength to love and serve;
When our fainting spirits waver, fire our hearts and steel our nerve.
Teach us wisdom and compassion, bid our restless thoughts be still;
By Your guidance help us fashion lives conformed unto Your will.

Keep us faithful, Holy Spirit, help us bear the message true;
That at last all lands may hear it; “God is love; Christ died for you.”
Join our lives in mighty chorus till we come from ev’ry place;
With all those who went before us, to the fullness of God’s grace.

Sending

The shutters of our hearts have been flung open
by the fresh breath of God!
We will go to offer God’s love to everyone around us
even if only from our living room or porch.
Our souls have been set on fire
by the justice of the Brother of the poor.
We will go to share visions of hope,
to listen to the dreams of the oppressed,
even if only through social media,
a text, or a phone conversation.
Our loneliness and fears will be set aside
by the Spirit of inclusion creating community.
We will speak words of peace to all we meet
even while maintaining a safe distance,
we will open ourselves to the gifts of others
even as we cocoon in place because we love them.

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

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

Credits: The image, slideshow, and video were created by Elizabeth. The Call to Worship, Opening Prayer, and Sending were written by Thom Shuman. Used by permission. The Peace of Christ is shared by Moses (English), Joyce (French & Italian), Sarah (Czech & German), Justin (Spanish), Landon (Latin), Tracy’s friend, Fabian (Portuguese & Argentinian Spanish) and Connor’s friend (Hindi). Scripture readings are from the Common English Bible. The Psalm was read by Connor, Onifer, Tracy, Kelly, Jeffrey and the New Testament was read by Ray. All Things Bright and Beautiful was written by Cecil Francis Alexander and sung to the tune, Royal Oak, a 17th century English melody. God, Our Author and Creator was written by Carl P. Daw, Jr. and sung to the tune, Holy Manna, attributed to William Moore. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1807) and played by Aidan on the piano. The tune New Britain was a folk tune. The words for A Pentecost Prayer come from the Book of Common Prayer (Collect for Pentecost) and arranged by Carson P. Cooman. Tracy accompanies Mindy singing. The words for Come, Holy Spirit, Into Our Hearts were written by Mark Schweizer and set to G.F. Handel’s Come, ever smiling liberty from “Judas Macabeus.” The organ is played by Tracy and the violin by Connor. Mindy mixed the music. Blest be the Tie was written by John Fawcett (1782) and sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship. For today’s worship, you will need 2 candles, ……  If you want to celebrate communion, have some food and drink to share. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Bristol-Christ-medium

Invitation. Today we remember and celebrate the ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven.  God is no longer living in bodily form among us, but God does live in bodily form in the world through those who have committed themselves to live the way of Jesus Christ. We are called to be Christ’s presence. We are the church.

Even in the best of times, being the church can be tough. Even though we look different from what we did a couple of months ago, we still remain the body of Christ. We are putting into practice our belief that being able to occupy a building is not “churching.” “Churching” is living like Jesus. May we celebrate today Christ’s ascension realizing that God totally trust us to keep on “churching” in new and creative life-giving ways!

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship
A new day has begun.
Hope wins!
A fresh start is granted.
Faith wins!
Today you have the opportunity to do something new.
Hope wins!
Christ is entering your life in a new way.
Faith wins!
Come, let us worship God, who is inviting us into life in a new way,
a way that transcends death, a way of hope and faith.
Let us worship Christ, who overcame death and gave us new life!

Opening Prayer
Almighty God,
as we prepare to worship today,
we ask that you will stretch our imaginations
to sense the majesty and mystery of your ascension.
Help us perceive how Jesus’ presence in heaven
can give us confidence in our praying
and hope for the future.
Through Jesus, our Lord.

Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 47:1-2, 5-9

Clap your hands, all you people!
    Shout joyfully to God with a joyous shout!
Because the Lord Most High is awesome,
    he is the great king of the whole world.

God has gone up with a joyous shout—
    the Lord with the blast of the ram’s horn.
Sing praises to God! Sing praises!
    Sing praises to our king! Sing praises
    because God is king of the whole world!
    Sing praises with a song of instruction!

God is king over the nations.
    God sits on his holy throne.
The leaders of all people are gathered
    with the people of Abraham’s God
    because the earth’s guardians belong to God;
        God is exalted beyond all.

Prayers for Others. As we did last week, pause after each line to give voice to prayers as prompted.

Merciful God, who shelters us and guides us,
we give you thanks for…
God who comforts, receive those who are fearful and lonely…
God whose love is steadfast,

be refuge for the ill, the dying, and those who care about them…
God of righteousness,
we ask for your wisdom and ways of justice to prevail
in our community, this nation, your world…
God who seeks our trust,
grow us and guide us in your ways that are life-giving in your world…
Amen.

Song of Praise

Halleluya! We sing your praises,
all our hearts are filled with gladness.
Halleluya! We sing your praises,
all our hearts are filled with gladness.

Christ the Lord to us said:
I am wine, I am bread;
I am wine, I am bread,
give to all who thirst and hunger.

Now he sends us all out,
strong in faith, free of doubt;
strong in faith, free of doubt,
tell to all the joyful Gospel.

Halleluya! We sing your praises,
all our hearts are filled with gladness.
Halleluya! We sing your praises,
all our hearts are filled with gladness.

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Testament
for the 7th Sunday of Easter
The Ascension of Jesus

Song of Adoration
Beautiful Savior

Listen to the New Testament lesson and/or read below.

A Reading from Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Reflection “Where Are We Going?” from Jeffrey

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

Reflection

The Christian good news of grace and peace was never meant to stay in one place. These final words of Jesus as recorded in the book of Acts should make that clear. It seems that the people who saw Jesus after the resurrection had some dreams, and they appear to focus narrowly on themselves and their national hopes. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” We can spiritualize their words all we want and talk about the political role of a hoped for Messiah, but it is easy to read their question as a statement that puts their trust in a stable society–“surely God can use you, Jesus, to make our nation great like it was before.” Whatever was in their hearts, their eyes were focused on the ground beneath their feet. They had not bothered to look west, or east, they weren’t interested in north or south. Why should we care about people who don’t live near us? Shouldn’t we take care of our own first? Isn’t it enough to know that God loves the Jewish people and try to help them here in Jerusalem and Galilee?

Jesus doesn’t dismiss them out of hand, yet he calls them to raise their eyes to horizons they had not yet seen. When Jesus offers this Ascension call, his words include Jerusalem and Israel, but also expands the care of God to infinity and beyond: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8).

This is not about Jesus predicting that Christianity will become a global world religion. It is about the translatable nature of the gospel of Jesus across a variety of cultures and languages and peoples. In essence, Jesus here gives them permission to consider something other than Jerusalem, or a kingdom with borders and leaders, as the central hope or the fulfillment of a promise or a work worth doing. Rather, Jesus’ words ask them to look to the next place, to yet another people, without dismissing what is left behind. Jesus doesn’t criticize Jerusalem, but his teaching is not bound there. Jesus doesn’t condemn Judaism, but his life illustrates that ethnicity and place of birth don’t define God’s people. Jesus doesn’t privilege missionary expansion over ministry at home, but his final words compel us to encourage the vitality of Christianity in places we will never go.

Long ago, in January 1984 to be precise, a divine urging to become a “foreign missionary” began to take root in me. I had been reading the stories of Corrie ten Boom alongside my father’s National Geographic magazines. A married couple from my home church, Dr. and Dr. Roper, were medical missionaries in Lebanon and they came home to share about their work often. Being a missionary not only seemed adventurous, but the idea that an entirely different culture and language and way of living was taking place underneath the same sun was intriguing to me. And it turned out that folks in these other countries had a religious tradition, full of beliefs and practices and hopes and works of justice and kindness just like the Christianity I embraced. So when I read Acts 1 as a teenager, for about the 100th time(!), I heard Jesus’ words about “the ends of the earth” as a hope…a plan…even, perhaps, a calling.

Many things have changed since 1984. I’m no longer a teenager and my understanding of the best way to be a missionary has evolved. Yet that divine urging to see the world know and express God’s love and justice has not waned. That’s why Tonya and I have always connected the local church to “the ends of the earth.” Our partnerships here in Jackson County, our ministry and mission to our neighbors and friends and church family, they are vitally important to the central heart of the church. We cannot be a good “local” church family and ignore the people near us. But lest we ever become convinced that Cullowhee people are somehow unique and let that pride cause us to overlook the real humanity of others, we must always be casting our care out into the world. That’s why we have helped build a foster home for homeless children in Ukraine, and a church in Brazil. That’s why we helped support sister churches in Arkansas and built an adobe house for a pastor on the Mexico border. It’s why we partner with the Alliance of Baptists to empower Christians in Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Morocco carry God’s love amongst their own people with vitality and hope.

On this Ascension Sunday in 2020, we recognize that our daily lives have been narrowed over the last several weeks by the ongoing global pandemic. We have been isolated more than normal, and concerned about our friends and community and the possibility of outbreaks of illness and rising numbers of cases of COVID-19 in our own county. It would be easy to limit our care and concern for those we know. But these last words of Jesus serve as an invitation for us to lift our eyes to the edges of our world and begin to look beyond ourselves. As Christians who claim to love each other as an act of obedience to Christ’s command, we must be intentional about developing a love for people all over the world. We must have compassion and love for Chinese and Iranians and Italians who are grieving their loved ones who died. We are called to help Brazilians and Georgians and Cubans know God’s love even deeper and in turn to be helped by them. We have to learn from other countries, other peoples, other religions, how to live well with the Earth, how to share equitably with each other, how to maintain peace amidst differences, and how to find enough justice to overcome oppression, racism, and poverty. We cannot do these things here alone, we do not have all the answers ourselves, we are not the only ones who love God and are loved by God. We are the foreigners who have lived at the ends of the Earth, farther West than Jesus’ followers could have ever imagined. But God imagined us and the possibility of our faith. And just like those who heard Jesus’ last words, we are all called by a divine urging to discover God’s imagination for the world rather than remain limited to our own place. In the end, we know that “Jesus loves the little children of the world.” But Jesus’ last words were not to acknowledge that he loved the world, it was an invitation for us to love them, go to them, learn from them, and share our love of God together with them. Today that is easier than ever, and also just as hard, but perhaps never more important.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you stay in place in order to be safe and also let your mind and heart be open to the wider world? How is that connected to your Christian faith?
  2. Where in the world would you like to go in order to understand better what a different culture is like? Who in the world would you like to spend time with to understand a new perspective on religion, family, or life in general?
  3. What makes our culture “foreign” to Christian faith and virtue, and what makes it welcoming to Christian practice?

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

Song of Faith
O Christ, When You Ascended

Tune: The Day of Resurrection

O Christ, when you ascended, you took your rightful throne;
Your time on earth had ended — yet we weren’t left alone.
You reign o’er earth and heaven; your Spirit guides our way.
Your prayers uphold your people; you lead your church each day.

We look at earthly rulers and see what they command:
We note their years of power, the borders of their land.
Yet, Lord, you are not bounded by things like time and space;
Your reign is never-ending, you rule in every place.

We’re tempted. Lord, to leave you in stories nicely told;
Sometimes we don’t believe you and say your ways are old.
Sometimes we feel so lonely and live in doubt and fear —
But your ascension means, Lord, you’re present with us here.

It’s often quite a challenge to follow in your Way;
We’re easily distracted! It’s hard, Lord, to obey.
Sometimes we give you Sundays — an hour, maybe two —
But your ascension means, Lord, all life belongs to you.

One day, O Lord, we’ll know you, as we are fully known;
One day this world of sinners will bow before your throne.
One day, God’s whole creation will sing and praise your name;
On earth as now in heaven, we’ll celebrate your reign.

Sending Out
Go with the tenderness of Jesus’ care for each one of us.
Go with the abundance of God’s grace and love.
May compassion, grace, and love overflow from you
and be as blessings to the world.
Go, for Christ is out in the world,
still calling us to life and love.

May the grace of Christ Jesus,
and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you,
today and always.
Alleluia! Amen.

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

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

Credits: The image is Ascension, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54351 [retrieved May 19, 2020]. The Call to Worship is an adaptation from a call to worship written by Rev. Mindi and posted on Rev-o-lution, http://rev-o-lution.org/.  The Opening Prayer comes from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship website. The Song of Praise, Halleluya! We Sing Your Praises is a South African Spiritual. Psalm 47:1-2, 5-9 is from the Common English Bible and read by Carmen, Derick, Zoey, and Joyce. Elizabeth created the video.  Beautiful Savior was written and arranged by Robert Lee. The piano was played by Tracy. The singers were Ally, Laura, Kendall, Justin, Elizabeth, Tonya, Wyatt, and Mindy.  A big thanks to Wyatt for putting the recording together this week so Mindy could spend time with Millie. That college education really works! 🙂 Amazing Grace was written by John Newton (1807) and played by Aidan on the piano. Acts 1:1-11 was read by Gerald and Michele. The tune to the Song of Faith was written by Henry Thomas Smart, 1835 (“The Day of Resurrection”). The words were written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Used by permission. The Sending Out is an adaptation from “May 24, 2020” in Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFUSION Lent • Easter 2020. Blest be the Tie was written by John Fawcett (1782) and sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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