Posts Tagged ‘following Jesus’

Coming through….
The limitlessness of God’s love and work is revealed through Jesus. This Sunday’s scriptures remind us to reach out to God through prayer and reflection as we work to stay focused on being God’s children which means we serve the world.

Faith in Christ sustains and restores us.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship

When we are stretched thin, challenged and doubting,
We walk with God.
When we are in the midst of the life-giving, the exciting and the nourishing,
We walk with God.
When we question every decision and when we are truly certain,
We walk with God.
When we walk with hesitancy or dance with enthusiasm,
We walk with God.
In the simple act of stilling minds and hearts for worship,
We walk with God.

Prayer of Adoration
Let us pray:

God of light and love,
warming February’s chill,
tempering the winds,
peppering hard ground
with early shoots of green
and hints of blossom,
we lift to you
the cold bones of winter
and hearts aflame with hope.

We praise you
for the Light
that has arrived with Jesus,
shining in the darkness,
unquenchable and true.

We praise you
for the hope of his presence,
guiding our feet,
lighting our pathway,
casting warming rays
and the glow of fulfilment.

We praise you
for the discomfort
of his searchlight beams,
concealing nothing,
truth-telling,
life-changing.

Examine us and know us, O God.
Drive out the darkness,
turn our hearts to you
and fill our souls
with the song of salvation,
with the message of your love.

Holy God, we worship you!
We sing your praise
now and forever.
Amen

Song of Praise
Praise the One who breaks the darkness
Author: Rusty Edwards
Tune: NETTLETON (anonymous)

1 Praise the One who breaks the darkness
With a liberating light.
Praise the One who frees the pris’ners,
Turning blindness into sight.
Praise the One who preached the gospel,
Healing ev’ry dread disease,
Calming storms and feeding thousands
With the very bread of peace.

2 Praise the One who blessed the children
With a strong yet gentle word.
Praise the One who drove out demons
With a piercing, two-edged sword.
Praise the one who brings cool water
To the desert’s burning sand.
From this well comes living water,
Quenching thirst in ev’ry land.

3 Praise the One true love incarnate:
Christ, who suffered in our place.
Jesus died and rose for many
That we may know God by grace.
Let us sing for joy and gladness,
Seeing what our God has done.
Praise the one redeeming glory;
Praise the One who makes us one.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Common English Bible

Praise the Lord!
Because it is good to sing praise to our God!
Because it is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!

The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem, gathering up Israel’s exiles.
God heals the brokenhearted
and bandages their wounds.
God counts the stars by number,
giving each one a name.
Our Lord is great and so strong!
God’s knowledge can’t be grasped!
The Lord helps the poor,
but throws the wicked down on the dirt!

Sing to the Lord with thanks;
sing praises to our God with a lyre!
God covers the skies with clouds;
God makes rain for the earth;
God makes the mountains sprout green grass.
God gives food to the animals—
even to the baby ravens when they cry out.
God doesn’t prize the strength of a horse;
God doesn’t treasure the legs of a runner.
No. The Lord treasures the people
who honor him,
the people who wait for his faithful love.

God hasn’t done that with any other nation;
those nations have no knowledge of God’s rules.

Praise the Lord!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthem
This Little Light of Mine
Arranged by George Mabry

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Every day, I’m gonna let my little light shine.

On Monday, he gave me the gift of love,
On Tuesday peace come from above.
On Wednesday, told me to have more faith;
On Thursday, gave me a bit more grace.
On Friday, told me to watch and pray;
On Saturday, told me what to say.
On Sunday, gave me power divine,
Just to let my little light shine.

Mark 1:29-39
Common English Bible

After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them. That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him. Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!” He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Let me begin with a confession. I have been avoiding some of the lectionary readings from the Gospels that have healing stories. We are, after all, still in the throes of a global pandemic where almost 500k people have died because of the coronavirus in the last 13 months. I have avoided these healing stories not because I feel a need for us to ignore what they say but because they are often misused in ways that I don’t think Jesus intended. Today I will venture into the healings in Mark 1 convinced that we need a better way to think about prayer, healing, and death given our global pandemic.  

At our Wednesday night online Bible study this past week, we were discussing James 4:4 in which James (whoever he is?) warns against friendship with the world which can lead to becoming “God’s enemy.” It is a strikingly brash statement that needs some context to understand. It seems clear that in the 1st century when the book of James was written, Christians were a small and insignificant minority of citizens in the larger Greco-Roman Empire that considered the pantheon of gods and goddesses as the “normal” understanding of religion. In that context, it is easy to imagine that James is teaching the same kind of distance from pagan gods and idols that other writers of the New Testament also required. In other words, for Christians in the first century, “friendship with the world” likely meant keeping the traditional idols of your family’s favorite goddess, or participating in the local festival to the patron god of your city, or thinking of Jesus as being like all the other sons of Greek gods as though he were somehow like Perseus who was half-human and half-god because his father was the god Zeus and his mother was a woman named Danaë.  

If that’s part of the caution James is offering Christians back then, what does it mean today for us to be warned about being a friend of the world and possibly becoming God’s enemy. Or to say it differently, how are we tempted to be friends of the world and end up embracing ideas that are counter to a Gospel-centered faith? Other people likely have some good answers to that question. I want to put forward these three things, from my perspective, that we have let our “world” define for us that are simply out of line with Jesus’ teachings. We have adopted too much of the world’s teaching on wealth, race, and health.  

To be honest, Christianity’s struggle with wealth has been a problem for millennia. But it’s also the easiest to critique. The biblical teaching is that no one is defined as more holy because they have more money. No one is cursed by God because they are poor.  Any reading of what Jesus says about the poor, his criticism of wealth, his focus on generosity and giving…these are clearly at odds with the American ideal of having mounds of money and living in luxury. The Gospel highlights generosity, the American Dream encourages greed. James thus warns us to consider that our money may be making us an enemy of God. Some money is necessary; too much desire for money makes us enemies of God. 

Likewise the Gospel is clear that one’s race, as defined by one’s country of origin, or language, or citizenship status, or family has nothing to do with God’s preference for any one group. The starting point for this conversation in the New Testament is the dividing line between Jew and Gentile. Over and over and over again the Bible denies the “racist” idea that God privileges Jews over Gentiles. From John 3:16’s “for God so loved THE WORLD…” to Peter’s clear confession “God shows no partiality…” but accepts “anyone from any nation…” (Acts 10:34-35) the Christian scriptures in no way supports any teaching that one race is more blessed, entitled, holy, or beloved of God. It should be clear to all Christians, that racism as well as race privilege are actively taught to us by our culture and will make us an enemy of God. 

But then we come to the subject of health, and here it may seem that the way is less clear. Our current pandemic and its firestorm through the US sets us on edge. It is like we have been on a year-long airplane flight. Perhaps like me you have that feeling, every time you board a plane, that it is possible that this plane will crash and we will all die. The odds are low, but it is not impossible; the fear is not debilitating but it should be acknowledged. Really faithful Christians are not immune to airplace accidents. I know this to be true in part because my first cousin was on the US Air flight that crashed while attempting to land in Charlotte in 1994. Facing the pandemic has the same effect. For the last year, every fever might be COVID, every face-to-face meeting might share a viral load that is infectious, every trip to the grocery is a possible transmission encounter. These are not irrational, in fact the exact opposite is true—they are both logical and proven as evidenced by the 27 million times it has happened in the US in the last year. Given our new context for disease and health, we are today in a new environment for understanding the relationship between faith and health, or in this case between Jesus and healing. With this in mind, let’s consider our story today from Mark 1:29-39. 

Jesus is in Capernaum with his first apostles. When he goes to Simon’s house, it turns out that Simon’s mother-in-law has a fever. No big deal, it’s just a fever, or so we used to think. Just take some Advil or Tylenol, maybe the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic, and the fever will go away. In Jesus’ day they had no medicine and physicians only treated illnesses with no real expectation that they could heal any fever. It is not difficult, then, to imagine the people in Capernaum living with the concern that a simple fever may in fact lead to death. So when Jesus enters Simon’s house and he discovers that this woman has a fever, this healing story becomes a way for Mark to tell us something about Jesus. Since Mark has no Christmas story, he identifies Jesus’ divine nature in chapter 1 this way: no one can heal a fever but God; no one can cast out a demon but God; no one can cure leprosy but God. Since Jesus healed a woman with a fever, and cast out demons, and cured a man of his leprosy, he is, therefore, divine. In other words, Mark’s healing stories here are to identify something about Jesus. What they say about our health in general is not the main part of the story.  

Look with me at what Jesus does after a few healings in Capernaum. Verses 35-39 read, “Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down. When they found him, they told him, ‘Everyone’s looking for you!’ He replied, ‘Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.’ He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.”  

What these verses tell us is that Jesus left many people in Capernaum un-healed. In our contemporary lingo, Jesus takes some “me time” and goes into the wilderness. For Jesus this is a spiritual retreat and not just a stress-relieving hike. He goes away alone to pray. He recognizes that spiritual fitness is an exercise more important than what we find at the gym or track. I’m not going to tell you that this means God wants us to all get up before sunrise to pray and this is the preferred method for any real Christian to have a meaningful devotional life. What is important here is not Jesus’ method or time of prayer, but the intentionality of prayer and the purposeful practice of a healthy spiritual life.  

In this way, our current times have led us away from a biblical understanding of health. We are easily led to believe that physical health is more important than spiritual health. We want people to pray for us when we’re sick (and this is a good practice and something we encourage) but we don’t often admit even to ourselves when we are spiritually unhealthy. And when we do, we find little help from the world. When society takes on spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, they become defined by secular purposes and outcomes. In other words, spirituality does not have a spiritual outcome or deepen a relationship with God. Instead we tend to create a measureable productivity even for prayer. That’s a problem. To use a cultural example, it has become common to teach “mindfulness” in schools, which is an adaptation of a Zen Buddhist practice. The purpose for school students has no spiritual goal even though its only purpose in Buddhism is spiritual. For students, however, it has an educational aim. As one advocate for mindfulness states, its purpose is to help school students “flourish academically, socially, and emotionally”. Hear me clearly: I’m not opposed to teaching mindfulness in schools to children even if it comes from Buddhism. I am emphasizing, however, that spiritual practices in our Christian faith are ends to themselves. To spend time in prayer or some other spiritual practice is not necessarily assessed based upon measurable outcomes. In this way, prayer is a “waste of time” to borrow a phrase from Marva Dawn. The purpose of prayer is not to lower my blood pressure, or to help me relax. Prayer is not one of the “5 Steps to a Healthy You.” It is to encounter God personally and genuinely.  We are called to pray for the sake of praying, to have time to hear and listen to the Holy Spirit of God so that we’re not just hoping for a selfish dream. Or as the great Thomas Merton said, to intentionally “entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God—to pray for your own discovery [of God],” as Thomas Merton said. If we want an outcome to prove prayer effective, that goal is immeasurable and by our world’s standard a “waste of time.”  

If we go back to the book of James chapter 4 again, he says that prayer is wasteful in a different way. He warns that prayer that seeks to fulfill our own “cravings” (in the CEB), or prayer that is from “evil intention” are wasted. This time, James calls prayer a waste because it fails to seek God but rather is used as a tool to pry something out of God for our own end. It puts our desire first, our need takes priority, our craving seeks to be satisfied at God’s action in response to our prayer. Prayer that seeks to convince God to give us what we want is not prayer but trying to bend God’s will to ours. Every prayer to win the lottery or the Superbowl is, in James’ words, a waste. That’s prayer that displays our attempt to control God when instead, genuine prayer begins with humility and a hope to participate in God’s Way rather than ours. That’s why in the Lord’s prayer Jesus tells us to pray “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” to “hallow” God’s name and not ours, to forgive because God forgave us. Prayer’s origins and hopes are to know God better long before it is ever to be healed or blessed. Prayer is meaningful, Jesus seems to be teaching us, when it comes as a result of our reliance on God, when it seeks a deepened relationship with God so as to better live God’s Way in this world. At least it is easy to infer that is why Jesus retreats to pray in Mark 1.  

We must recognize, however, that in heading out of town in the dark of the morning, Jesus left some people behind still sick. Someone in Capernaum likely died after Jesus left and went on to the other cities. It turns out that Jesus did not heal everyone. Why? Jesus certainly healed some people who were sick, but his purpose was not to come to Earth and be a physician alone. He is becoming famous in the Gospels for his healing, so much so that I think he left Capernaum so that the emphasis would not be on his healing but on his teaching about salvation. Jesus is our Savior always, but not our medicine for good health. If the only reason we become a Christian is because we think it will make us “healthy, wealthy, and wise,” then we need a course correction to our Christian journey through life. Faith is not a protection against illness. Following Jesus is not a guarantee of health. Just praying that we won’t end up with COVID is not an exercise in faith in God. It’s a reckless attempt to test God based upon a flawed understanding of faith that has been defined by the world around us rather than the Bible.  

From the very beginnings of Genesis to the book of Revelation, hundreds of examples of faithful God-serving neighbor-loving people die too soon, experience serious illness or crises, and suffer in this life. In Genesis just after the Garden story, the son of Adam and Eve who most pleased God in worship, Abel, was killed. He had more faith than his brother, and he died. Jumping to the end of the text, Revelation tells us that faithful Christians who hold their faith will likely die, but they should be faithful anyway because the emperor can kill but he cannot take away our salvation. What it says directly is this: “Don’t be afraid of what you are going to suffer… Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). 

People who think they can pray “a hedge of protection” around those who are sick are often  reflecting an American cultural understanding of health and not a biblical one. This kind of thinking reduces health to a faith-test or an effective prayer exercise. It teaches us that to pray and have faith is to protect us from illness. That’s not a Christian truth. It is both not biblical and likely sinful. I sigh when I read about a popular study in which the writer describes prayer as “storming the gates of heaven” in order to, as the marketing for her book says, learn the “secret to praying prayers that really ‘work.’” These are disappointing because they equate good health with good faith. They dilute prayer into its measurable result. That’s not just a waste, it’s dangerous. This kind of theology puts every Christian with a chronic illness, every parent who loses a child to disease, every family member reeling from a sudden deadly accident, every Christian and/or caregiver of someone with cancer or Alzheimer’s or MS, each of the 500k families who are grieving death by COVID… it puts them all either in the category of “God caused your illness/death” or “you don’t have the right faith” or “your prayers are not effective because you are not praying right.” No —  a thousand times, no.  

Why does Jesus not heal everyone, either in the Gospels or now? I don’t know and neither do you nor does the person who writes the books we read. Whether we remain sick or become healed, our hope is in God’s salvation rather than our physical health and longevity. We can take comfort that the fragility of health and life is not a human weakness in the eyes of God. Disease is not God’s judgment on a lack of faith or the presence of sin. Death is neither a failure of faith nor an end – it is another beginning of life with God that is unfiltered by our human limits.  Jesus understands that healing illnesses is not more important that bringing salvation. That leaves those who live with illness and caregiving and grief with a hope beyond this present suffering. The miracle of wholeness and healing is God’s salvation. If we put our hope in medical care and treatment, it will one day let us all down.   

So at the end of this story in Mark, Jesus leaves Capernaum to go to other cities — not to heal more people but to preach the good news. He leaves behind some who are sick knowing that illness is not an impediment to salvation. Disease is not a judgment against someone’s faith. Healing when it does happen does not come because that sick person had more faith, prayed the right prayers, or somehow trusted more and sinned less. Our human mortality does not offer a commentary on God’s justice or our faith. Were that the case, then those 500k people who have died from the coronoavirus would not include any “real” Christians. Try saying that, and defending it without giving up practically every dimension of Christian teaching. You can’t. 

Please keep praying for people with COVID, those in the hospital, our family who have long-term chronic diseases. Pray for their comfort. Pray for their hope. And, yes, pray for their healing. Just know this: whether healing comes or not, it is not bestowed as an act of God’s preference, nor is it a commentary on God’s love, nor does the ongoing disease in any way diminish the certainty of our salvation. Anyone, literally anyone, who tells you otherwise is speaking as one who is not God’s friend.  

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

Song of Faith
Guide My Feet
Tune: GUIDE MY FEET
African American Traditional

1 Guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

2 Hold my hand while I run this race,
hold my hand while I run this race,
hold my hand while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

3 I’m your child while I run this race,
I’m your child while I run this race,
I’m your child while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

4 Stand by me while I run this race,
Stand by me while I run this race,
Stand by me while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

5 Search my heart while I run this race,
Search my heart while I run this race,
Search my heart while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain!

6 Guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:
may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

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

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

Acknowledgements:

  • The image is a photo taken by Stefan S uploaded to Flickr on April 8, 2018.
  • The call to worship was written by Fiona Barker printed in Winter Liturgical Resource for November, December and January, ed. by Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, © 2016.
  • The opening prayer was written Louise Gough printed in Spring Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April, ed. by Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications, Iona Community, © 2019.
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy and accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The anthem was sung by Ally, Mindy, Elizabeth, Laura, and Tonya, accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Mindy on the cowbell.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    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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Who’s in charge? To what authority will you defer? After which authority will you follow? These are the questions upon which we reflect in worship today. May the following prayers, scripture readings, music, and reflections serve as a guide in your worship of God today to help you focus your heart on the Lord.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. Genesis 8:22

The trees of the wood await spring’s re-clothing;
the branches will be green again:
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

The sun will rise higher in our skies;
its light will be warm upon our faces once more.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

The days will grow longer;
light will push back the darkness.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

Seeds will germinate and grow;
the flowers will bud and bloom.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

The ears of the wheat will form and ripen;
the grass will grow to feed the cattle.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

Swallows will return and fill the skies;
birds will fill the land with song.
This we affirm: God is faithful and true.

Opening Prayer
Let us pray,
As the days lengthen
Alpha and Omega, you were there at our beginning
and you will be there at our end.
Coasts and islands wait for the dawn,
the dark sea surrounds us like waters in the womb,
like the last river we have to cross.
We wait, trusting, seeing the sky lightening, horizons opening up,
colours of dawn dancing across restless waves.

Spirit of God, in Jesus, you shared our birth and our mortality,
and you are present with us now. We wait.
The clouds become bright, the rocks glow,
our hearts catch fire with sudden joy – the sun rises.
Rise in our hearts, we pray, today and every day.
God of creation, you greet us every new day,
and, as the days lengthen, we see green shoots of spring;
snowdrops, faithful in their presence year by year;
lengthening days and sunlit moments,
all these speak to us of your love.
We praise you for these signs of your life-giving Spirit
and for Jesus, who embodied that love,
who came to share our human lives,
calling men and women to follow him,
and to be salt and light in their communities;
Jesus who listened and shared meals, taught and healed,
walked country tracks and city streets in the land that we call Holy;
who kept the faith and challenged apathy and abuse of power;
who was rejected and reviled, tortured and nailed to a cross.
Who died.
And who rose again, like the sun in the morning,
so all the world can see that your love is stronger than death.
We praise you now in the power of the Spirit,
enlivening, encouraging – and present with us now. Amen

Song of Praise
God of Grace and God of Glory
Author: Henry Emerson Fosdick
Tune: CWM RHONDDA

1 God of grace and God of glory,
on your people pour your pow’r.
Crown your ancient Church’s story,
bring its bud to glorious flow’r.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.

2 Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn your Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us,
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

3 Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal.

4 Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore.
Let the gift of your salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving you whom we adore,
serving you whom we adore.

Psalm 111
Common English Bible

Praise the Lord!
I thank the Lord with all my heart
in the company of those who do right, in the congregation.
The works of the Lord are magnificent;
they are treasured by all who desire them.
God’s deeds are majestic and glorious.
God’s righteousness stands forever.
God is famous for his wondrous works.
The Lord is full of mercy and compassion.
God gives food to those who honor him.
God remembers his covenant forever.
God proclaimed his powerful deeds to his people
and gave them what had belonged to other nations.
God’s handiwork is honesty and justice;
all God’s rules are trustworthy—
they are established always and forever:
they are fulfilled with truth and right doing.
God sent redemption for his people;
God commanded that his covenant last forever.
Holy and awesome is God’s name!
Fear of the Lord is where wisdom begins;
sure knowledge is for all who keep God’s laws.
God’s praise lasts forever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthem
Undivided Mystery
Author: Bev Easterling
Composer: Mark Schweizer

Holy Father, Saving Son,
Blessed Spirit, Three in One:
Undivided mystery,
Author of eternity.

Loving God, Anointed Son,
Eternal Spirit, Three in One:
Word Incarnate, Well Beloved,
Heav’nly King and Lord of Love.

Mighty God, Redeeming Son,
With the Spirit, Three in One:
As the sacred Trinity
Alpha and Omega be.

Mark 1:21-28
Common English Bible

Jesus and his followers went into Capernaum. Immediately on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and started teaching. The people were amazed by his teaching, for he was teaching them with authority, not like the legal experts. Suddenly, there in the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit screamed, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are. You are the holy one from God.” “Silence!” Jesus said, speaking harshly to the demon. “Come out of him!” The unclean spirit shook him and screamed, then it came out. Everyone was shaken and questioned among themselves, “What’s this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands unclean spirits and they obey him!” Right away the news about him spread throughout the entire region of Galilee.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

Listen to Tonya’s reflection or read below.

The gospel of Mark demonstrates the power of the ministry and mission of Jesus through the telling of the story of Jesus.  Through each story we see and hear the kin-dom of God breaking into our world. Mark offers no explanations or dogmas or theories. Mark doesn’t outline theologies or rules and regulations. Instead Mark writes down the story of Jesus knowing that the stories themselves are full and meaningful enough to attest to the amazing ministry and mission of Jesus. This is a quick paced gospel with exciting news. We are invited on an adventure into the amazing revelation that God is interested in us, God has come among us, and God offers free grace to everyone!

One of Mark’s favorite words  to use is the word immediately.  Just in chapter 1 alone Mark uses immediately 11 times and the passage for this morning contains three. Mark uses this word like a drumbeat. It emphasizes moments and increases the momentum of the story moving forward into more momentaneous moments. This aural drumbeat gets lost in translation. Did you catch how many times I used a form of the word moment in the previous sentence?  In English composition classes we are taught not to use the same word over and over again.  Repeating the same word too often is poo-pooed. So translations clean up Mark for our English ears and eyes. “Immediately” becomes “then” or “at once” or “when” or “just then” and yes, sometimes “immediately.”  However, if the same word is translated multiple ways, we don’t lose the meaning of what is being said, but we do lose that insistent gospel drumbeat. So let’s “immediately” turn our hearts and minds to the gospel this morning.🙂

In this Sunday’s passage, Jesus and his newly called disciples travel to the village of Capernaum. Capernaum was a town or village of perhaps 600 people. “Immediately on the Sabbaths” Jesus goes to the synagogue and he teaches. Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus is teaching. Mark doesn’t share with us any information about the audience. But we do know Jesus’ teachings blow their minds and astonish them. Jesus’ teaching is different and they are amazed by it.

Synagogues were stone block buildings a little bigger than the footprint of our the concreate area behind the church where we have held outdoor worship (80 by 60 feet). Synagogues were something akin to community centers. The building functioned as court, and as places for political discussions. Archives were stored in synagogues. Children were educated there. And of course this was the place where the Torah was read aloud and taught by rabbis, and it was a place of prayer. Regular meetings were held in the synagogues on the Sabbaths.  No work was done on the Sabbath out of respect and honor to God. It was a day set apart as holy unto God as defined by the 10 commandments. Back then there were two sure signs of your Jewish faith and your commitment to God–circumcision and keeping the Sabbath.

Without hesitation (think “immediately”), Jesus attended synagogue services while in Capernaum. And he was called upon by the synagogue officials to teach. That he was invited to teach is not surprising to the people of Capernaum. But what surprised everyone was the manner in which Jesus taught. The lessons Jesus shared with them set him apart from everyone else. Normally, rabbis taught by sharing the words of the Torah and then explaining them by referencing the teachings of other rabbis.  The teachers of the law (also called “scribes”) were professional experts in the Torah. They studied, explained and applied the Torah to specific situations. But Jesus did not teach this way. Jesus didn’t reference other rabbis nor was he a trained professional expert in the law.

Instead, Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is Divine come to live among us. Jesus is a part of that undivided Mystery of which the choir sang. This revelation of the Undivided Mystery, this Jesus does not need to consult any human authority to bring truth to those who listen. Jesus speaks on the basis of his own authority.  Nothing less could happen than they be profoundly impacted by this experience, for it is with Jesus–with God. Were they astounded because the teaching was extraordinary? Or were they astounded because the teaching was bold, true, and prophetic? Were they astounded because Jesus was teaching them something new, something they had never considered before? Or were they astounded because Jesus’ teaching challenged their safe sanitized understandings of God forcing them to rebirth their imaginations about God? I would say, all of the above is possible.

What if Jesus were to come literally and physically among us and teach us today? What would astound us? Would we be astounded merely by God being present with us? Would we be astounded because we were hearing something we had never heard before?  Would we be astounded because Jesus’ teaching was redirecting our ideas about truth, justice, compassion, and love? Yes, all of the above is possible.

In the midst of  teaching, an impure spirit interrupts Jesus.  (An impure spirit or  unclean spirit is synonymous with demon.)  It wasn’t the man that cried out, it was the impure spirit. The influence of the impure spirit is at odds with a liberating God who came, in no small part, to set the captive free. This impure spirit has a hold on this man–mind, body, and/or soul. And this human needs to be set freed from its grip. This kind of work is central to the gospel — setting people free from whatever keeps them away from God and restoring God’s vision for all humanity.  The action does not happen without opposition. The unclean spirit identifies Jesus by name and place, and as the “Holy One of God.” The first thing Jesus does is silence this enemy of humanity. Jesus takes away the voice of the enemy and the grip loosens. Then Jesus demands the spirit to come out and the man is set free. The kin-dom of God which will come one day in all its fullness, this kin-dom has broken into the world and the captives are being set free. In the words of Zechariah 13:4 , On that day I will remove from the land the unclean spirit.  This day has come with Jesus Christ.  When Jesus commands the impure spirit to come out of this man here at the very beginning of the story of Jesus, it is like a flag for the kin-dom of God has been staked on earth. The territory claimed was not Capernaum or even the synagogue, but the territory claimed is the person who is possessed, oppressed, who is suffering, who is pulled away from God. And in this act, Jesus reclaims the holy place of humanity. 

If Jesus were to come to be literally and physically among us today, what impure spirits would he silence, rebuke and exorcise? What powers would Jesus silence? From what evil grip would Jesus set us free? What impure and unclean spirits torture us, overshadow us, overwhelm us? What evil is attempting to stand between you and God?  What addictions, habits, apathies, or attitudes are holding us back, pulling us away from the kin-dom of God? What evil powers among us would Jesus command to leave?

I’ve led us astray a little bit for I’ve seemed to imply that Jesus being among us is something like a dream or a distant hope instead of a present reality. Jesus has full authority over heaven and earth. But that authority is not something in the past only or only for the future. That authority is present now. God is interested in people. Jesus’ life shows us this. God cares about us, loves us, seeks us out to save us. A flag has been staked, a kin-dom is being built where we will live with God forever. And that life is not in the past or only in the future, that life is for today. God is at our side and all that causes us pain and suffering is painful and alien and antithetical to God. God in Jesus enters our sufferings. Jesus’ ministry shows a defiance of the destructive powers that enslave humanity. God doesn’t like them and God is against all that would rob us of the fullness of life God would have us experience. So I need to change the questions. What astounds you today about Jesus’ teachings? And what impure spirits today are keeping you away from God?  Jesus is still teaching us. Faith is not to be a static part of our lives, but something that should be growing deeper day by day. And yes, there are still impure spirits getting in the way of us living the Way. As in the 1st century as is today and will be tomorrow, Jesus will silence them, rebuke them and cast them away so that we might know that God loves us and is always at our sides.

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

Song of Faith
O Christ, the Healer, We Have Come
Author: Fred Pratt Green
Tune: CANONBURY LM (Schumann)

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

2 From every ailment flesh endures
our bodies clamor to be freed.
Yet in our hearts we would confess
that wholeness is our deepest need.

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

4 Grant that we all, made one in faith,
in your community may find
The wholeness that, enriching us,
shall reach and prosper humankind.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:
may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

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

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

Acknowledgements:

  • The image is from Our Lady of Mercy Lay Carmelite Community website.
  • The call to worship was written by Simon Taylor printed in Winter Liturgical Resource for November, December and January, ed. by Ruth Burgess. Wild Goose Publications.
  • The opening prayer was written Jan Sutch Pickard printed in Spring Liturgical Resources for February, March, and April, ed. by Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications.
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The anthem was sung by Mindy, Elizabeth, Laura, and Tonya, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    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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This week’s readings make compelling arguments for us to drop everything when we are invited to a deeper relationship with God. It can be challenging to leave behind what we once found reliable. Thankfully, God is persistent!

May the following prayers, scripture readings, music, and reflections serve as a guide in your worship of God today to help you focus your heart on the Lord.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship
The invitation is given to every person by Jesus Christ:
“Come to me! Follow me! Be my disciples!”
We come to this place, to this time,
at the invitation of Jesus Christ.

In the name of Christ,
we accept the invitation to discipleship.
In the name of Christ,
as his disciples, we worship and praise God
.
In the midst of a world where cruelty abounds,
we proclaim the God of Compassion.
In the midst of despair that threatens to swallow up
whole lives, whole peoples,
we proclaim the God of Hope.

In the midst of indifference and apathy,
we proclaim the God of Love.
Come, let us worship together
and share our witness of God’s living presence in the world.

Opening Prayer
In you alone we put our hope,
God the Father, Creator and Sustainer,
who gives all good things
seen and unseen.

In you alone we put our hope,
God the Son, Saviour and Redeemer,
who died for our sins
and rose again.

In you alone we put our hope,
God the Spirit, Teacher and Comforter,
who moves us to sing
“Our God reigns!”
In you alone we put our hope.

Song of Praise
Let Us with a Joyful Mind
Author: John Milton; Adapt. Thomas Troeger
Tune: INNOCENTS (The Parish Choir)

Let us, with a joyful mind,
praise our God forever kind,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Newmade earth was filled with light
through God’s all commanding might,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Dazzling bright the sun obeys
God who shines with brighter rays,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Stars and moon that spangle night
all depend on heaven’s light,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Creatures of the sea and land
all are fed by God’s own hand,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Therefore with a joyful mind,
praise our God forever kind,
Rich with mercies that endure,
ever faithful, ever sure.

Psalm 62:5-12
Common English Bible

Oh, I must find rest in God only,
because my hope comes from him!
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
my stronghold!—I will not be shaken.
My deliverance and glory depend on God.
God is my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
All you people: Trust in him at all times!
Pour out your hearts before him!
God is our refuge! Selah

Human beings are nothing but a breath.
Human beings are nothing but lies.
They don’t even register on a scale;
taken all together they are lighter than a breath!
Don’t trust in violence;
don’t set false hopes in robbery.
When wealth bears fruit,
don’t set your heart on it.
God has spoken one thing—
make it two things—
that I myself have heard:
that strength belongs to God,
and faithful love comes from you, my Lord—
and that you will repay
everyone according to their deeds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthem
Lead Gently, Lord
Author: Paul Laurence Dunbar
Composer: Clif Cason

Lead gently, Lord, and slow,
For oh, my steps are weak,
And ever as I go,
Some soothing sentence speak;

That I may turn my face
Through doubt’s obscurity
toward thine abiding-place,
E’en tho’ I cannot see.

For lo, the way is dark;
Through mist and cloud I grope,
Save for that fitful spark,
The little flame of hope.

Lead gently, Lord, and slow,
For fear that I may fall;
I know not where to go
Unless I hear thy call.

My fainting soul doth yearn
For thy green hills afar;
So let thy mercy burn-
My greater, guiding star!

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Common English Bible

The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.) Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant.

God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.

Mark 1:14-20
Common English Bible

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Jeffrey Vickery

Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I admit to being an optimist. Those who know me well are aware of the parent from which I inherit this disposition. As an optimist, then, I hear people state “Murphy’s Law” — “anything that can go wrong will” — as a call to preparation rather than defeat. If we are told something will fail eventually, then we can prepare for its failure, or not trust its permanance, or not pity ourselves at its loss. Every new car will eventually need to be repaired and later replaced. We will dread its unreliability at the end and likely hate this thing we once loved. Knowing that ahead of time helps us balance our expectations and desires. Murphy’s Law can apply in this way to everything from tech devices to careers to pets and even friends. 

Yet as a true optimist, I am aware of Murphy’s Law’s reverse truth, sometimes referred to a Yhprum’s Law (“Yhprum” being “Murphy” spelled backwards) which states that “if anything can go right it will, eventually.” This maxim too is a call to preparation. It allows us to consider lost opportunity as a one-time failure but not a final sentence of doom. All it takes is one person who wants to hire me, just one manager’s email that begins with “I’m delighted to offer you the job.” It will happen one day so prepare for it. 

I want to apply this same principle, optimistic though it may be, to our readings from Jonah and Mark today. Here’s what I hope you take away from this sermon: One day God will speak to you. It will happen. Eventually. Be prepared to hear and respond. In fact, since we don’t control what or when or how God speaks, the only thing we can control is how we respond. So be ready to say “yes” even though it will change you.      

Jonah 

Jonah heard the word of God. I honestly don’t know how. I can’t explain how the prophets heard God, whether they experienced an audible voice or not, but it was understandable and seemingly without doubt from God. “Go to Nineveh and speak these words,” is what Jonah understands God to say. Jonah hears and then has a choice to make. Honestly, his first choice was to do the opposite of what God said. That’s why after Jonah boarded the boat headed away from Nineveh God sent the storm at sea, and the great swallowing fish. Neither of these (the storm or the fish) were God’s punishment of Jonah but instead became a way for God to give Jonah a second chance. When we start reading Jonah’s story in chapter 3, God’s message hasn’t changed, and Jonah hears it again and still has a choice to make. This time he follows the divine request to go to Nineveh and tell. Given what we hear about him in chapter 4, it’s clear that he’s not enthusiastic about his brief career as a prophet. In fact, if I had to describe Jonah’s attitude I would call him petulant and boorish. Yet he fulfills God’s request and in that way furthers God’s work in Nineveh. Always remember that the substance of God’s word and God’s way are of more importance than the personality or proclivities of the prophet or preacher or disciple. Because Jonah lets the words of God move him to action, the people of Nineveh expand our concept of “children of God.” Though they are not Jewish, though they live in a “foreign city,” though they haven’t heard the Torah or the preaching of the prophets, God loves them whether Jonah does or not.  

The People of Nineveh 

Like Jonah, the people of Nineveh hear the word of God. This time we know how God spoke and how they heard it. The voice of God came out of Jonah’s mouth as it uttered God’s message. What prophets have in confidence the rest of us must make up for in trust. The prophets are certain of God’s message knowing its origin, while we have to test to see if the words we hear as proclamation are God’s words or not. Some people find, through prayer and scripture, words to speak that help us hear God’s call, and others can unknowingly tell us what God wants us to hear. The people of Nineveh hear God’s word through Jonah and then have a choice to make. They willingly make the right choice.   

The people of Nineveh in many ways represent us. We are not Jewish nor born in the Promised Land. We are foreigners and Gentiles. At the same time, we are heartened that God’s beloved community of saints is not defined by looks or language or location. The only restriction on God’s call is either to refuse to hear it, or defy any meaningful response. Although Jonah was not from Nineveh, his meager message was received with enough truth from God that the people responded. We don’t know the sins they confessed or the prayers they uttered before God. Yet fast and pray they did. They all did. From the king of Nineveh to the domesticated livestock, from the head to the herd. They sought God’s forgiveness with utter humility – sackcloth for clothes, ashes on their heads, no food or drink to bring them comfort. They felt the burden of their sin and each itch of skin or grumble of the gut poked and proded at their need for God’s forgiveness. They heard God’s word through Jonah and responded – not to Jonah but to God. God not only heard their prayers but read their hearts. The people prayed, yes, but they also changed. We would say they repented. The translation we have of verse 10 simply says “they ceased their evil behavior.” That’s repentance. Again, the people heard God and made a choice. Their prayers were not words that they simply said in order to either trick God or make a demand of God. A single prayer spoken lacks substance by itself. We don’t speak magic when we pray to God. And we don’t cross our fingers behind our back, even figuratively speaking. “God forgive me” is a great prayer unless we don’t really intend to end our sinful behavior. “God I’m sorry” is meaningful except for when it actually means, “God I’m sorry I was caught and now let me convince you to forgive me so I won’t feel guilty.” The people of Nineveh are not giving us any “method” to achieving forgiveness from God. Instead, they demonstrate where a genuine response to God leads. They will not stay in sackcloth for long, they will eventually eat and drink again, but they seem truly to have turned from their evil ways to God’s Way. They can go back to farming and blacksmithing and shepherding and cooking. But they have chosen not to go back to sin, or evil, or life before God’s word moved them to action. 

Peter and Andrew, James and John 

If we jump ahead in time historically to the Gospel of Mark’s story of Jesus, we find that some of the people who hear Jesus speak believed that they heard God’s words. Isn’t it so much more certain that we hear God’s words through Jesus than wondering about a transcendent divine appearance. Divine encounters on this side of the thin veil between the physical and the spiritual will sometimes come, but in the meantime, the words of Jesus say things we must hear as the words of God.  

Simon and Andrew are at work and they hear God’s voice in this Jesus from Nazareth. They were fishermen, rowing their boats and casting their nets as a business that supported their families and fed many others. The Sea of Galilee was the primary source of meat and protein for thousands of people so long ago. The heat and weather of the Middle East meant that herds were less profitable than fishing, although, to be sure, sheep and goats played their economic role. The lake was, nevertheless, a reliable source of fish in all seasons and therefore both nutrition and income. So when we hear of Simon and Andrew, and add to that the story of James and John, consider that they were not fishing on their day off – it was not a hobby or a relaxing weekend on the water. They were at work and heard God’s word through Jesus’ call and they had a choice to make. That choice changed them—they left their jobs and hometowns and reasonable comfort. Fortunately, it seems they were prepared to respond. Unlike Jonah, these disciples didn’t need a second calling. Maybe they had heard John preaching by the Jordan, and they remember their Jewish teachings about the Messiah, and they were prepared to choose to follow should they have the chance. Well, the opportunity came, Jesus spoke their names, and they responded by leaving their jobs, and their father (in the case of James and John) and went with Jesus. These disciples don’t pray and fast about their decision, perhaps because they had already committed to God in prayer that, given the opportunity to hear God’s voice, they would say “yes.” They were, in this way, prepared disciples already. Maybe one morning as they were putting away their nets, James said to John, “I pray that God will send the Messiah soon. And if I have the chance, I will follow God’s Servant. I will not let wealth and work prevent me from participating in God’s Way. I sincerely hope I can see that day and hear God’s voice. One day, maybe. If not me, then I pray it will be you. If possible, maybe it could be both of us.” Well, James, if anything can go right, it will, eventually. God called and you responded.  

The Rest of Us 

Like Jonah, and the people of Nineveh, and the apostles of Jesus, one day we will hear God’s word. It will happen or perhaps it already has. Certainly most of us have heard the call to repent, believe, and be baptized. Yet if that is the end of what we hear from God, then we are less than God intends for we, too, hear God’s words and have a choice to make. Do we follow them? Do we change our actions, our choices, our desires, our hearts? Do we leave behind what we once thought defined us? Do we pray and fast, or just pray and pretend? Just like it is impossible to explain how Jonah heard God’s words, it is unpredictable how any one of us will hear God next. Perhaps we will hear the very voice of God, either “still and small” as the Psalm describes, or startling and courageous as a Wild Goose as the Celtic Christians described the Holy Spirit. Like the people of Nineveh, we sometimes hear God’s words in each other’s messages when they reflect and resemble the heart of God. And we all have the Gospels to help us hear the words of Jesus, which are no small wonder and certainly not to be ignored by those who call ourselves Christian. So hear this one and all, not because I think I’m speaking God’s word but because it is what I hear this day from the Gospel – be prepared to hear God’s words and make a choice to follow them. Whenever they come and whatever call they make. God’s words will come to you and me. Eventually. For God still calls disciples to follow, and to love, and to offer grace, and to be kind, and to reconcile differences, and to make peace, and to overcome injustice, and to heal and pray and hope and care. Be ready to respond, for we will hear God’s voice. Maybe even today. Amen. 

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

Song of Faith
You Walk along Our Shoreline
Author: Sylvia Dunstan
Tune: SALLEY GARDENS (traditional Irish melody)

1 You walk along our shoreline
When land meets unknown sea.
We hear your voice of power,
“Now come and follow me.
And if you still will follow
Through storm and wave and shoal,
Then I will make you fishers
But of the human soul.”

2 You call us, Christ, to gather
The people of the earth.
We cannot fish for only
Those lives we think have worth.
We spread your net of gospel
Across the water’s face,
Our boat a common shelter
For all found by your grace.

3 We cast our net, O Jesus;
We cry the kingdom’s name;
We work for love and justice;
We learn to hope through pain.
You call us, Lord, to gather
God’s daughters and God’s sons,
To let your judgment heal us
So that all may be one.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:

may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

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

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

Acknowledgements:

  • The image comes a stained glass window created by George Walsh in 2005 at the Church of the Most Holy Rosary, Tullow, County Carlow, Ireland to celebrate the bicentennial of the church (1805-2005) and depicts an ichthys (Jesus fish) in combination with a cross. The image was taken by Andreas F. Borchert in 2014.
  • The call to worship comes from the On Earth Peace website. http://www.onearthpeace.org/
  • The opening prayer was written by John Birch, and posted on the Faith and Worship website. http://www.faithandworship.com/
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The anthem was sung by Mindy, Elizabeth, Laura, and Tonya, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, and posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

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

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The forecast for the week ahead of those of us who live in the United States appears to be one of potential turmoil and uncertainty, sickness and death. Just south of us in Greenville County, SC the number of COVID cases is soaring with a positivity rate of almost 40%. Even with the two major healthcare systems in the county pleading with residents to wear masks and social distance, we see South Carolinians in the upstate heed the hospitals — the very people who will care for them when they are sick — with deaf ears. The US inaugurates a new president this week, but rumors of hate and potential violence swirl in response. On Monday the US celebrates the birthday of civil rights leader and Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King reminded us to meet anger with compassion in order to heal hurts, right wrongs, and change society. All these events create a stage upon which we have the opportunity to “display” our faith in God and the hope we have through Jesus Christ that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. So do not flag in zeal in your faith and in your hope in God! In Joshua 24, Joshua challenges the people to be faithful to God. “Serve the Lord honestly and faithfully,” says Joshua. “Focus your hearts on the Lord.”

May the following prayers, scripture readings, music, and reflections serve as a guide in your worship of God today to help you focus your heart on the Lord.

The Worship of God

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

Call to Worship
based on Psalm 139

 O God, you know us inside and out,
         through and through
You search us out
        and lay your hand upon us.
You know what we are going to say
         even before we speak.
We praise you, O God, 
         for the wonderful knowledge that
whoever we are and wherever we go,
         you are with us.

Opening Prayer
Insistent God,
by night and day you summon your slumbering people,
So stir us with your voice
and enlighten our lives with your grace
that we give ourselves fully
to Christ’s call to mission and ministry.
Amen.

Song of Praise
We Are Marching in the Light of God
Author: South African Traditional Song
Tune: SIYAHAMBA

We are marching in the light of God.
We are marching in the light of God.
(Repeat.)
We are marching. We are marching.
We are marching in the light of God.
(Repeat.)

We are singing in the light of God.
We are singing in the light of God.
(Repeat.)
We are singing. We are singing.
We are singing in the light of God.
(Repeat.)

We are dancing in the light of God.
We are dancing in the light of God.
(Repeat.)
We are dancing. We are dancing.
We are dancing in the light of God.
(Repeat.)

We are praying in the light of God.
We are praying in the light of God.
(Repeat.)
We are praying. We are praying.
We are praying in the light of God.
(Repeat.)

1 Samuel 3:1-10
Common English Bible

Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was. The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said. Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did. Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.” (Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.) A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been. 10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthem
What Star is This?
Author: John Chandler
Tune: TALLIS CANNON (Arranger: Richard Shephard)

What star is this, with beams so bright,
More lovely than the noonday light?
’Tis sent announcing a new King,
Glad tidings of our God to bring.

’Tis now fulfilled what God decreed,
“From Jacob shall a star proceed”;
And lo! the Eastern sages stand
to read in heaven the Lord’s command.

While outward signs the star displays,
An inward light the Lord conveys,
And urges them, with force benign,
to seek the Giver of the sign.

O, while the star of heavenly grace
Invites us, Lord, to seek Thy face,
May we no more that grace repel,
Or quench that light which shines so well!

To God the Father, God the Son,
And Holy Spirit, Three in One,
May every tongue and nation raise
An endless song of thankful praise!

John 1:43-51
Common English Bible

The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.” Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?” Philip said, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these! I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

One of the choir’s favorite hymn writers is John Bell. Not our John Bell of Cullowhee, but the John Bell  of Scotland. One of our many favorites is the hymn called The Summons. It begins with Jesus asking

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

The hymn ends with the people responding to God
Lord, your summons  echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and breath in you, and you in me.

Over the past couple of weeks here in the United States, we have seen a lot of  examples of “following.”  It has highlighted the fact that who you follow matters. It matters not only in the physical world but in the virtual world too. We know that when protesters rallied in Washington over a week ago, not everyone was dead set on violence. Not everyone circumvented barricades. Not everyone pushed law enforcement aside. Not everyone broke a window. Not every busted down a door.  Not everyone screamed hateful language. Not everyone murdered. But did you see how many people followed?  Who you decide to follow matters.

The gospel reading for this 2nd Sunday of Epiphany takes us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He has been baptized by the Holy Spirit through the baptism of John. And now he is making his way back to the region of Galilee and he is calling disciples to follow him. Our reading begins with Jesus calling Philip. As Jesus sets out on the road to Galilee, making the journey home after being baptized, Jesus finds Philip on that same road. Philip being from Bethsaida, the same hometown of other disciples, Andrew and Peter.  And as Cullowhee means Judiculla town, Bethsaida means Fisher town. Anyhow, along the road to Galilee, Jesus meets Philip and invites him to join the company of his followers. Two simple words tell the story. With a note of authority Jesus says, “Follow me” and Philip does.

There’s no record of what Philip says in response to Jesus’ invitation, but we know that he follows, for the gospel tells us that Philip goes to find Nathanael to share the good news about finding Jesus. Philip says to Nat, “We have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote! His name is Jesus. He’s the son of Joseph of Nazareth.”  Why include the father’s name and the hometown? That’s just how they did it back then. Like, “here is Stone, the son of Mike of Cullowhee.” But it wasn’t the name that mattered, it was who they had found that mattered. Philip was saying to Nathanael, “We have found the Lord’s anointed one. The one about whom the prophets wrote. The one who will bring and establish worldwide righteousness. The one who will bring peace to everyone along with the fear and knowledge of God.” Let that sink in for a minute. Imagine how Philip must have felt. The excitement. The awe. The amazement. The overwhelming sense that here is the One. Here is the One whom the prophets foretold. Here’s the One whom Moses spoke of. What we have been taught, Nathanael, what we have come to believe and hope for, here is God’s anointed One among us.

Nathanael isn’t impressed at first. News of finding the Messiah, or the Anointed One is exciting, but who cold imagine the messiah coming from Nazareth. Just to be clear, Nazareth was  not an important place before Jesus came along. Jesus is the one who put Nazareth on the map. Nazareth was a village of maybe 300 people. (And we thought Cullowhee was small.) The Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, doesn’t mention Nazareth at all. It was too common a place for the Messiah to come from. It was just a small little hole in the wall village. Not a place of origin fit for the Anointed One of God. You can hear the doubt in Nathanael’s voice. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It’s like saying, “Philip, you’ve made a mistake. Nazareth cannot be the origin of the Anointed One of God.” A simple Jew from an insignificant village in Galilee. Surely the Messiah would come from a more significant town and family. Well, the best way to figure something out is to see it for yourself. And that’s what Philip invites Nathanael to do.  “Come and see,” he says.

Now this interaction between Nathanael and Jesus is a curious one. It seems to be one of the longest recorded conversations Jesus has with the calling a disciple.  Most of the time the gospels just record Jesus saying, “Follow me.” And people drop what they are doing and they start tagging along. But not with Nathanael. There’s a few background stories playing out in the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael. I figure if it was important enough for the writer of John’s gospel to put it down this early in story of Jesus, then there must be some to it.

First off, Jesus greets Nathanael as if he had known him quite well.  Jesus says of him, “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” This isn’t a quiet reflection like Jesus is pondering something. Jesus says this with an exclamation point at the end of the gospel sentence. To better understand Jesus’ loudly proclaimed compliment of Nathanael, we have to go back to the Hebrew story of Jacob. 

You recall the story of the brothers, Jacob and Esau. Esau was the older brother, and therefore in line for the family blessing to be given him by their father Isaac. However, Jacob tricks Isaac, their daddy, into giving him the family blessing. Isaac is almost completely blind and Jacob takes advantage of the weakness. He dresses up like his brother Esau and pretend to be him. He sits down with his father and receives the family blessing. The blessing cannot be taken back. Once it was given back then, it was given. And it mattered back then who physically receives the words. You can imagine how upset Isaac is finding out that Jacob has deceived him. Isaac breaks the news to his son Esau by saying, “Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing.”  That word deceit in the Hebrew scriptures is the same word deceit in John’s gospel. One more thing to note. Later on in the life of Jacob, he gets his life turned around and at that point God gives him a new name, Israel.

So with those reminder, you can hear better the compliment from Jesus to Nathanael. It is like Jesus says, “You are a true Israelite, but not like Israel was when he was full of trickery and deceit.” Jesus says of Nathanael, “Here is one who is honest and dependable, who is trustworthy and sincere, who is decent and good.”
Nathanael forgets to say thank you. Instead he seems to be shocked and asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus merely says, “I saw you standing under the fig tree.” Well that clearly explains it. Surely only true Israelites stand under fig trees, right? Who knows. We can only guess at the significance of the fig tree. Did it imply a place of meditation? Was it a figure of speech to imply one knew  accurately about a person’s whereabouts and thoughts? Or was it merely a place of relief from the heat of sun? Whatever is meant by the phrase, “I saw you standing under the fig tree” it clears up any and all hesitations and doubts that Nathanael might have had towards Jesus being the Messiah. The word spill out of Nathanael’s mouth. “Rabbi, you are God’s son, you are the king of Israel.”  Now “Rabbi” means teacher. But “God’s son” and the “king of Israel” are Messianic phrases.You can call anyone a teacher, but you only call God’s Anointed one, God’s son or king of Israel. The words from Psalm 2 fill Nathanael’s heart and head: for the LORD says of the Anointed One, the Messiah, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill….You are my son; today I have begotten you.”

Whatever the “standing under the fig tree” language implied, Nathanael is persuaded. This is the Messiah, the One of whom Moses spoke and the prophets proclaimed. Jesus is amused by Nathanael’s quick change of heart and mind. And Jesus goes on to promise Nathanael that he will see greater things than this. Just wait and see what is about to happen. “Amen. Amen,” says Jesus. “You will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.” Okay, again, we need to turn back to the story of Jacob to better understand what Jesus promises to us here.

If you remember after Jacob stole his brother’s blessing, he left the family to go back to his mother’s hometown to find a wife. One night along the journey back he had a dream. He was sleeping out in the open using a stone as a pillow (And we thought the National Guard had it rough sleeping on the tiled floor of the Capitol. At least most of them have a backpack they can use for a pillow.) Well, as Jacob slept with is head on a rock, he dreamed of a ladder or a ramp propped up on the earth that went into heaven. On that ladder the angels of God were coming up and going down; coming down and going up.  As he watched the angels of God going up and down, the LORD stands beside him. The LORD tells him that he, Jacob, and his descendants will become a blessing to all the families of the earth. (Reminds me of what God told Abraham.) When Jacob wakes up he considers the place he this first, this surely is the gate of heaven. He recognizes that he was in the very presence of God. And he renames the place Bethel, meaning “the house of God.” [Now I cannot move on without making the note, after this Jacob says, if God will be with me, keep me, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and the ability to see my father’s house again in peace, then this God will be my God…. and by the way, all that you give me, I will give back to you 1/10th. Anyhow, back to Jesus.] 

Jesus points back to the story to make a point. The wonder of Jesus’ special knowledge about who Nathanael is, this is of little importance compared to the wonder of God’s using Jesus as the One who comes from heaven, meets us in human form, and returns to heaven again. Jesus is not merely a messenger from God, but Jesus is the Human One by which we human beings can have an encounter with the divine. We are heirs to this promise. Jesus is the Human One by which we can encounter God. And most importantly, the greatness of God always exceeds what we have already seen and what we can imagine!

So let’s return back to that idea of following. First off, God has already chosen us. We are invited to chose God and follow. God has blessed us with God’s presence literally among us by coming to be with us as one of us as Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the one anointed by God to be the living Word of God among us. It is a gift. We have this great gift, the gift of the presence of God, for all times and every place. But this gift is not like a prize. You put a prize on a shelf. This gift is not an award we post that we have received. This gift is not a reward for our good deeds or a perfect life. It is not a badge of honor or a blessing that makes us untouchable, unstoppable, or unshakeable. This gift of God’s choosing, of God’s constant abiding presence, it is to become a way of life for us.

We follow the One who sees us under the fig tree–the one who knows us through and through. Just as Jesus knew Nathanael, Jesus knows us. There is a blessing to be found in that. That the one who is always with us, knows us. God understand us. We are not alone. God knows the truest depths of our hearts and God can help polish us, and make us into the beautiful person God created us to be because God knows us.

Now, Nathanael showed that he would follow Jesus by calling Jesus “God’s son” and the “king of Israel.” He also called him “Rabbi” or “teacher” too. So that makes me give pause to ask, what names do we give Jesus to show we follow Jesus? Some might be Best Friend or Great Teacher. Sometimes it’s Savior. Sometimes it is Radical Revolutionary. Sometimes it is Word of God. What kind of name are you calling Jesus by? How are you following Jesus? The way you follow gives Jesus that name.

And never, ever lose hope in the promise Jesus made that day to Nathanael and to those around him. In fact the “you” is plural there. “You [all] will see greater things than these!” That promise, that word, that commitment Jesus gave that day to Nathanael and those around him is a commitment that comes down through the ages all the way to us. You will see greater things. As you follow Jesus, don’t limit the way or the road you walk with God to such a small view. The love of God, the reach of God, the embrace of God, the creativity of God is far greater, far greater than we could ever imagine. Hold on to that.

Jesus asks of us,
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Amen.

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

Song of Faith
Jesus Calls Us, o’er the Tumult
Author: Cecil Frances Alexander
Tune: GALILEE

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

2 As, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
by the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for Jesus’ sake.

3 Jesus calls us from the worship
of the treasures we adore,
From each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian, love me more.”

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

5 Jesus calls us! By your mercies,
Savior, may we hear thy call,
Give our hearts to your obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

Sending Out
May the path that Christ walks
to bring justice upon the earth,
to bring light to those who sit in darkness,
to bring out those who live in bondage,
to bring new things to all creation:

may this path
run through our life.
May we be
the road Christ takes.

Blest Be the Tie 
by John Fawcett 

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

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

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

Acknowledgements:

  • The image was taken by Peter Trimming. Source= flickr.com/photos/peter-trimming/5649252218/
  • The opening prayer was posted on Thematic, Intercessory and Scripture Prayers for the RCL, Vanderbilt Divinity Library, http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/.
  • The opening hymn was sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on piano and Kendall on percussion.
  • The anthem was sung by Mindy, Elizabeth, Kendall, Laura, and Tonya; accompanied by Tonya on the piano, Kendall on the marimba and kalimba, and Jeffrey, Ally, and AJ on the handbells.
  • The closing hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Tracy on the organ.
  • The Sending Out was written by Jan L. Richardson, posted on The Painted Prayerbook website.

    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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