Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Invitation to Worship

based on John 20:19-22

It was evening on the first day of the week. The disciples were meeting together behind locked doors because they were afraid. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. They rejoiced. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” And said, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  

Let our rejoicing be heard far and wide  
as we witness to our belief in the risen Lord. 

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

Song of Praise 
O Sons and Daughters Let Us Sing 
Words: Joean Tisserand; J.M. Neale, trans. 
Tune: O FILII ET FILIAE (French, 15th century) 

O sons and daughters of the King, 
whom heavenly hosts in glory sing,  
today the grave has lost its sting.  
Alleluia!  

When Thomas first the tidings heard  
that some had seen the risen Lord,  
he doubted the disciples’ word.  
Lord, have mercy!  

At night the apostles met in fear;  
among them came their Master dear  
and said, “My peace be with you here.”  
Alleluia!  

“My pierced side, O Thomas, see,  
and look upon my hands, my feet;  
not faithless but believing be.”  
Alleluia!  

No longer Thomas then denied;  
he saw the feet, the hands, the side.  
“You are my Lord and God!” he cried.  
Alleluia!  

How blest are they who have not seen 
and yet whose faith has constant been,  
for they eternal life shall win.  
Alleluia! 

Opening Prayer 

We worship you today, O God. We rejoice in the word of the gospel where John declares that he has written his gospel to confirm and strengthen our belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that in believing, we might have life in his name. We worship you, O God, with praise and thanksgiving for that gift of life made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Strengthen and confirm our belief in Jesus in this time of worship here today. May we know the blessings of your peace within us and the breath of your Spirit upon us. We offer this prayer and our worship in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen 

Psalm 133 
Common English Bible 

Look at how good and pleasing it is 
    when families live together as one! 
It is like expensive oil poured over the head, 
    running down onto the beard— 
        Aaron’s beard!— 
    which extended over the collar of his robes. 
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon 
    streaming down onto the mountains of Zion, 
    because it is there that the Lord has commanded the blessing: 
        everlasting life. 

Song of Praise 
How Good It Is 
Words: Ruth Duck 
Tune: DOVE OF PEACE (Southern Harmony, 1854) 

How good it is, what pleasure comes,  
When people live as one.  
When peace and justice light the way  
The will of God is done. The will of God is done. 

True friendship then like fragrant oil  
Surrounds us with delight;  
And blessings shine like morning dew  
Upon the mountain height, upon the mountain height. 

How good it is when walls of fear  
Come tumbling to the ground.  
When arms are changed to farming tools,  
The fruits of life abound, the fruits of life abound. 

What quiet joy can bloom and grow 
When people work for peace.  
When hands and voices join as one  
That hate and war may cease, that hate and war may cease. 

Prayer

We gather here as a fellowship of people who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. One of the major marks of our fellowship is the sense of joy we experience as we gather to worship God, to give thanks for Jesus Christ, and to witness to the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Yet, we admit that there are times when we feel afraid, abandoned, and lonely; when faith leads to doubt and questions rather than a sense of joy or peace of mind. Lord Jesus Christ, unlike those first disciples, we cannot touch you or see you, and so it is all too easy to become downcast and given to despair. 

  Forgive us when, like the disciples, we find the truth of Easter hard to believe.   
 Come to us, risen Christ, come through the closed doors of our hearts and minds and take away our fears and doubts; 
    Come to us, risen Christ, breathe on us and fill us with the joy and peace of your presence. 
    Bless us all as people who have not seen you, but who believe that you are truly the risen Christ, Son of God. Amen 

Anthem   
A Gaelic Blessing 
Composer: Roland E. Martin 

Deep peace of the running wave to you. 
Deep peace of the flowing air to you. 
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. 
Deep peace of the shining stars to you. 
Deep peace of the gentle night to you. 
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you. 
Deep peace of Christ, the light of the world to you. 
Deep peace of Christ to you. 

John 20:19-31 
Common English Bible 

Listen to the gospel being read and/or read below

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” 

Thomas, the one called Didymus, one of the Twelve, wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” 

But he replied, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger in the wounds left by the nails, and put my hand into his side, I won’t believe.” 

After eight days his disciples were again in a house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus entered and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here. Look at my hands. Put your hand into my side. No more disbelief. Believe!” 

Thomas responded to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” 

Jesus replied, “Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” 

Then Jesus did many other miraculous signs in his disciples’ presence, signs that aren’t recorded in this scroll. But these things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name. 

Reflection on the Scriptures 
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

Listen to the sermon and/or read below. The sermon was recorded live from our 2pm outdoor service, so there is definitely wind noise. 🙂

Jesus’ death was traumatic. It was real. It was on display for everyone. Lifted up on a cross, high above, everyone could see his suffering and his death. As news of his crucifixion and inevitable death was shared throughout Jerusalem, no one would have doubted it for they saw it with their own eyes. It was believable because countless others had suffered death by crucifixion from the government.

But when Mary Magdalene shares the good news that she has seen the risen Lord, people have a hard time believing it. Even though a couple of disciples run out to the tomb, look in, and find it empty, they still doubt Mary’s word that Jesus has risen from the dead. For them, the empty tomb is a source of disappointment instead of affirmation, and a seed for growing fear instead of great rejoicing. The trauma from the reality of Jesus’ death only allowed them to deduce that his body has been stolen. Fear saturated their opinions, ideas, and choices. Fear of what the authorities and bandits had done to Jesus, led them to lock themselves away apart from whatever might be out there to harm them.

It was a different kind of lockdown than what we have been experiencing over the past year.  But in many ways we can identify with the fear of the disciples. We too feared the unknown.  We have had to stay at home to stay alive. We have been separated from one another and still are–six feet apart.  The unpredictable, invisible to the eye, wafting through the air, living on surfaces? Virus, we were able to shut out of our lives until we knew more about it. But don’t forget that fear we had 12 months ago. Fear of what might happen.  Fear of the unknown, the unpredictable, and the uncontrollable.

Our sister church in Brazil, Igreja Batista da Algeria, they don’t have the protection of vaccination which has been afforded to us. On Tuesday night Pastor Vando sent me a message via WhatsApp. He asks us to pray for the church and for their country. You may have seen it on the news, but on Tuesday alone, Pastor Vando said 4200 Brasilians died from COVID.  In one day, 4,200 people died. Their president is very much in control, but does not care about the people. The government has not worked to make their country a safe place to live in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic. Our sisters and brothers of Igreja Batista da Algeria, I imagine they still live in that fear that we lived in just a short time ago. They are suffering. Do you remember the fear you had of going out? Of what you might bring back to your home, to your family, to your friends? Our sister church in Brazil, they are still living through many things which have been alleviated for us. We are slowly rising above our fears as we learn more and more and especially as the vaccine becomes available to everyone. But do remember our sister church in Brazil and how they continue to grow their faith separate from each other. The fear brought by this pandemic shares similarities to the fear the disciples felt after Jesus died. We know very well that faithful living during times of great fear is difficult. But we claim the promise that nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus–not even our fears.

Even as our fear lessens, we are starkly reminded during recent days of what trauma looks like. We know what death looks like. We know what a traumatic death looks like. We now know what it is like to see someone die under the hands of the authorities. If you have watched any of the trial of the death of George Floyd or seen any of the newsclips, you have seen the effect a needless death has on bystanders. The women at the foot of the cross, the disciples at a distance, the Roman soldier, they were all bystanders to the traumatic death of Jesus. How wrenching it was during Holy Week to hear the testimonies of bystanders who felt helpless, angry, and afraid as Mr. Floyd suffered and died. We have also seen the grief of parents in Myanmar. Their children killed by soldiers who needlessly and for no reason at all have shot them to death. We have seen what we only thought we would see in movies, Americans chanting to hang an elected official, Mike Pence. When I saw those images, I couldn’t help but think of the crowd that was stirred up against Jesus chanting, “Crucify him.”

The gospel story this morning show us how Jesus responded in the midst of fear, trauma, and doubt. God responds to such threats with peace and forgiveness.

On the evening of what we now call Easter, Jesus appeared before the disciples even though they were behind locked doors. What did he say to them? Look at verse 19. Look in the last phrase of the verse. Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  Now look down at verse 21. Jesus again says, “Peace be with you.”  Eight days later, Jesus’ followers are still afraid. Imagine I would be too. Jesus comes and goes. So they still lock themselves in the room together. And again Jesus comes. What does Jesus say to them this time? Look with me at verse 26. Jesus says again, “Peace be with you.”

Before Jesus died and was resurrected, Jesus talked with his disciples about peace. It is recorded in John 14. If you have your Bibles, turn back there with me. Look at verse 27. Jesus says these words to his followers, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t troubled or afraid.”  Turn a few pages and look at chapter 16. Here Jesus highlights the contrast between the peace he offers and the peace the world offers. Beginning in verse 31 Jesus says, “Now you believe? Look! A time is coming—and here it is—when each of you will be scattered to your own homes and you will leave me alone. I’m not really alone, for the Father is with me. I’ve said these to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” 

The betrayal and death of Jesus must have made the disciples feel just like the writer of Lamentations. In 3:17-18 the lamenter shares, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is. My future is gone, as well as my hope from the LORD. My suffering and homelessness are bitterness and poison. I can’t help but be depressed. And all I can do is wait, for surely the faithful love of the LORD has not ended. Surely, God’s compassion isn’t through.” 

Oh how that empty tomb, Jesus’ numerous appearances before he ascends into heaven, his words to the disciples and to the world, “Peace be with you. My peace be with you,” these things tells us loud and clear that God’s compassion is not through. The faithful love the LORD has not ended.  In the word, we have distress, but in Christ, we have peace. The peace we share does not come from the world.  It is not created by human plans or designs.  Any type of peace the world affords us is just temporary and can change abruptly. The peace that sustains, that grounds, that makes a difference, is the peace which comes from God through Jesus Christ.  “Have peace in me,” Jesus says to us. Jesus invites us to share in God’s peace. You see, just as the lamenter writes, the LORD is our portion. We have a hope that does not disappoint.

The second posture the gospel story encourages in us when we face fears, disappointments, and betrayals, is that of forgiveness.  We clearly read that Jesus did not hold it against Thomas that he was having a hard time believing that Jesus was truly alive, risen from the dead. Jesus didn’t come back to scold Thomas. Think back to what Jesus called Peter when Peter tried to convince Jesus that he need not go to Jerusalem and die. Jesus called him Satan. “Get behind me Satan.”  But there is no language like that here. When Jesus appears to Thomas, he says to him, “No more disbelief. Believe!”  However, this is not the setting within the passage where we read about forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t say here, “I forgive you for having a hard time believing.” No, Jesus speaks of forgiveness in regards to the relationships we have with one another and with God well before Thomas is in the room.

Think back to when Jesus comes to John to be baptized. John says of him, “Look! The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  In the New Testament letter 1 John, it is written, “Everyone who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion.  You know that Jesus appeared to take away sins….” Now here at the end of John’s gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection and breathes the Spirit of God into us and upon us. Why? so that we might forgive anyone’s sin. That’s a tall order. That’s a lot to expect from us. But there it is. We are called to forgive. We are empowered by the Spirit of the Holy One to have the courage, the compassion, and the care to forgive. Jesus came to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. Now we step into those shoes and share those possibilities with the world.

The good news of Jesus firsts highlights some bad news. There is something wrong with each and every one of us. The world is a broken place.  It is not the way God intended it to be nor created it to be. Our lives are broken too. We do not live the way God intends us to live, nor do we embody what God created us to be.  We are falling short of what we could be in Christ Jesus. Every day we do things, say things, think things, that separate us from God and hurt our neighbors and harm the world. Some of those things are big and easy to spot, and some of them are little and hidden from others and even easy for us to turn a blind eye to. But as we have been reminded through the scripture passages of the Lenten season, God will not respond to a broken world again by destroying it and starting over. Just as we celebrate on Easter that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, defeating death not only for himself but for all of us, we also celebrate that in Christ Jesus our sins are forgiven. Those things that separate us from God, they are forgiven.  The forgiveness God showers upon us brings us back to life, raises us up again, never giving up on us. It is a forgiveness Christ calls us to share with others.

We have life in Jesus’ name, a life that has the blessing of peace upon it. A life that is brought about and sustained by a forgiveness that is to be shared.  May we live the life we have been given to the fullness of the glory of God. Thank you, thank you for caring about God today to come and worship whether at home or in person this afternoon, and thank you for hearing the word of God and how we are to live our lives in Christ Jesus.  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    
Faith Will Not Grow On Words Alone 
Words: Vernon Griffiths 
Tune: DUNEDIN 

Faith will not grow from words alone,  
from proofs provided, scripture known;  
our faith must feel its way about,  
and live with question-marks and doubt.  

The pattern Jesus showed, we share:  
life comes through death, hope through despair.  
God is made known in brokenness,  
and faith feeds on God’s emptiness.  

The church still tells how Jesus came  
through death to glorious life again –  
the strangest story! Yet, may be,  
our faith will thrive on mystery.  

Faith takes the little that we know,  
and calls for hope, and tells us: Go! 
Love and take courage, come what may;  
Christ will be with us on the way. 

Sending Out 

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

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements 

The prayers were written by Moria Laidlaw. Used by permission. The hymns were sung by our Mindy accompanied by Tonya on piano. The anthem was sung by Ally, Elizabeth, Laura, Mindy, and Tonya.

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

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world
photo taken by Adam Blust

Tuesday of Holy Week Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this….

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

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

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God says in Isaiah 58:6-7

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints,
untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
& breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
& bringing the homeless poor into your house,
covering the naked when you see them,
and not hiding from your own family?

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. (John Birch)

May these 40 days before Easter be a time of spiritual spring cleaning, of removing what hinders and renewing what facilitates our relationships with God, the world, and one another.

The Worship of God for Fourth Sunday in Lent

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

Invitation to Worship

Listen to the invitation and/or read below.

Friends of God, believe this –
God loved the world,
God loves the world,
we are the beloved!

May the truth of this great love story,
shine through our worship today,
and renew our sense of calling.

So come, with your tiredness,
your frustrations and your discouragements;
come with your doubts, your fears,
and your longings;
come, to discover yet again
how Jesus reveals God’s love and mercy.

Come, in friendship to God
and to each other,
and in friendship to the world,
to listen for God’s Word to us,
to offer our prayers,
and to renew our calling.

Friends of God, let us worship!

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

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

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

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

Come and walk with me, my brothers.
We will walk with God.
Come and walk with me, my sisters.
We will walk with God.

We will go rejoicing,
til the kingdom has come. (Repeat)

Opening Prayer
Let us pray:

Living God,
as we continue our journey through this season of Lent
we are reminded of the steadfast love that the psalmist wrote about.
A love which would endure forever,
through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
A love given not to judge,
but to save,
causing human sinfulness to be encountered by divine compassion.
No wonder we sometimes see the placard thrust in front of television cameras
with the words written large – “John 3:16”.
These words about the depth of your love for us
are etched on our hearts
and made visible through our lives.
Accept our praise and thanksgiving, O God,
for this priceless gift of lives lived eternally with you,
a gift made possible
through the sacrificial love of Jesus, your Son, our Lord,
in whose name we pray. Amen

Psalm 19
Common English Bible

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

17 Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
18 They had absolutely no appetite for food;
they had arrived at death’s gates.
19 So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,
and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
20 God gave the order and healed them;
he rescued them from their pit.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love
and his wondrous works for all people.
22 Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices
and declare what God has done in songs of joy!

Song of Adoration
In Deep Distress My Soul Declares
Composer: John Bell, based on Psalm 130
Tune: SHAPIRO

In deep distress my soul declares
its song of lamentation:
“Lord hear my voice. Your list’ning ear
determines my salvation.
If human guilt was your delight,
and sin alone obsessed your sight,
Lord who’d escape damnation?”

Though punishment should be our price,
another gift is given;
for pardon is your property,
the greatest grace of heaven.
We fear your love more than your might
because you exercise the right
to name our sins forgiven.

So now my soul in penitence
affirms the hope I stand on.
Like those who wait to see the dawn,
I yearn to know your pardon.
No pow’r can weaken or deform
God’s will to challenge and transform
abase but not abandon.

Lenten Prayer
Let us pray,

Pray along with the recording above or with the words below.

You have to look your evil in the face to be healed.
The snakes that plagued the Hebrews in the desert
were their betrayal come back to bite them,
their being Eden’s serpent.
The cure was to gaze at their sin.

So we gaze upon the Crucified One, our victim,
and look our awfulness in the eye
and only there grasp forgiveness,
and only then become truly alive.

On the cross is lifted up
our racism, our violence, our materialism,
our deep seated me-first-ism.
Posted there is our last text to God,
“I’ll let you know when I need you.”
We look at it, look at it hard,
to get free of the lie that we’re just fine,
the lie that keeps us from knowing
how deeply we are forgiven,
how vastly we are blessed,
how infinitely we are loved.

silent prayer and meditation

Assurance and Hope

Listen to and/or read the words below.

Even when we were dead, Paul writes.
Even when we turned away from the One who had created us.
Even when we lived in the grip of what drew our gaze from God.
Even when we were oblivious.
Even when we followed a path fashioned of nothing
but our own desires.
Even when we wandered far and willfully away.
Even when we forgot to look past our own feet and to see
the wonders not of our making.
Even when we failed to stand in awe, to breathe thanks,
to lean into the love that had waited long for us.
Even when, Paul writes.
Even when,
even then:
grace.

Anthem
There is a Balm in Gilead
African American Spiritual
arr. Jacques Rizzo

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sinsick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.

If you cannot sing like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus, and say “He died for all.”

Numbers 21:4-9
Common English Bible

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

They marched from Mount Hor on the Reed Sea road around the land of Edom. The people became impatient on the road. 5The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill us in the desert, where there is no food or water. And we detest this miserable bread!” 6So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people and they bit the people. Many of the Israelites died.

7The people went to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned, for we spoke against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord so that he will send the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and place it on a pole. Whoever is bitten can look at it and live.” 9Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole. If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.

Reflection on Numbers
Rev. Tonya Vickery

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

As I flip through the pages of the book of Numbers in my Bible, I like to read the headings. There’s

  • Confession and restitution
  • Offerings, various offerings
  • Aaron and Miriam are jealous of Moses

Then there are things like

  • Keeping the passover
  • Departure from Sinai
  • And of course, complaining in the wilderness

One of my favorite headings is

  • Aaron’s rod bears almonds. 

Numbers is a disjointed book to say the least. It reads like a story and then all of sudden you run into a bunch of legal matters—take this, put this on that, wash this this way, carry this quickly, build this this way, and so on. It is a story that begins at Mt. Sinai, wanders along a wilderness journey, and ends in the Plains of Moab. It begins with a generation of people who had been set free from Egyptian bondage by the wise and mighty hand of God. And it ends with a whole new generation, a generation of orphans actually, l for all their ancestors, save for one or two, have died somewhere along the journey. 

The entire book is about what life is like when God, the Holy One is in your midst. When God lives among us, life is fraught with danger and possibilities. God’s presence makes a radical difference in how we live. Numbers teaches us that it is possible to push God too far. Sin is real and dangerous.  We ignore our sins at our own peril. Numbers also teaches us that God is all about forgiveness.  We read those words in Numbers 14:8, 

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Yes, God justly punishes our sins, but God forgives us with abundant grace. God does not overlook our sins.  At times we are severely punished for putting other things before God. But God’s judgment never, ever overshadows the fact that God forgives those who regret what they have done, and God offers salvation to all who will receive it. 

One of my favorite stories from the book of Numbers is when the Lord tells all the people to add fringes to the corners of their clothes. Fringe reminds me of the 70’s—remember those bobble tassels on our curtains, on the corners of our pillows, and on our ponchos. However, in Numbers fringes are to remind the people about who they are and whose they are. When the people see the fringe on their clothes, and there is to be fringe added to the corners of every garments, they are to remember all the commandments of the Lord so they will do them. They are to remember not to follow the lust of their hearts nor desires of their eyes. When they see the fringe, they are to remember that they are to be a holy people unto their God. They are to remember that God brought them out of bondage, set them free, so the Lord might be their God. 

I sure do like that story better than the snake on a stick story. But there is a reason the snake story is in the lectionary cycle.  In fact, it is the only story from Numbers in all three years of the cycle.

The story of the attack by poisonous serpents comes at the end of a series of stories about the murmuring, complaining, and grumbling mood of the people. They have complained about the conditions of life in the desert. There’s no meat to eat. The food in Egypt was better–remember the cucumbers! Their patience runs thin and they can’t get along with one another. They resent Moses, the leader the Lord has provided them, for leading them out on this wild goose chase. They are thirsty. They are thirsty. Again, they are thirsty. All this grumbling and mumbling comes to a head in Numbers 21. 

By Number 21, the people have continued to fail in trusting God and God is just tired of it. On their journey, they needed to pass through the land of Edom to make the route shorter. But the Edomites refused to let them pass through. So they had to go around Edom. They head south toward the Red Sea, but they are attacked by poisonous snakes. And of course, the people complain. Who wouldn’t. But you see, the snake attack comes after the people became impatient and spoke out against Moses, but also against God. Why did you bring us here? There is no food. There is no water. Well, the food we do have tastes horrible. Why did you bring us here?

All along this wilderness dessert journey, Moses has tried to move the people forward in trusting God. Trust that God will keep God’s word. Trust that God will keep that divine commitment to lead you to a new land. Trust that God will provide. But the people’s ability to trust in God ebbs and flows. At one moment, they sing the praises of the Lord their God and then they fall right back into that lame attitude of unfaithfulness and untrusting. They complain and speak against God. 

Trusting in God is not the same as believing in God. Did they believe in God? Sure. But did they trust God? Not always. Trust is faith. The New Testament tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen. Faith means that even though they are tired, even though they are weary, even though the food doesn’t taste the same or has no taste at all, even though the way is hard and laborious, their feet hurt and their legs ache, you trust that God will keep God’s word—the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.

The promises of the Lord are everlasting. The grace of the Lord is forever. The love of God which is for the world, and that includes us, the love of God towards us abounds and remains steadfast and sure. Trust that God loves you. Trust that God will never abandon you. The suffering, the bad food, the darkness, the long nights, the pains, the lack of meat, those struggles of the day, those disappointments, they do not define God’s love for us. Can you imagine the relationship between a child and a parent if the child measured the love of the parent by how good or bad their day was? We shouldn’t treat God this way either. We can recognize the silliness of the complaining and murmuring in the story of these people on their journey. You are going throw out your faith in God because you don’t have any meat to eat? You are going to abandon your faith in God because you are tired of walking? Because your feet hurt? It is easy for us to see that the uncertainty of the future was brewing a fear within their hearts that became greater than their faith in God.

Eventually God has had enough of the whining, and sends a pack of poisonous snakes to grab their attention. The fringe didn’t do it. The blooming rod didn’t do it. The water from the rock didn’t do it. The pillar of fire by night and the cloud in the sky by day didn’t do, so let’s give them some snakes. And for some reason, this gets the people’s attention. They own their lack of trust in God. They admit they have done wrong. And yes, they regret it. They ask God to take the snakes away, but God doesn’t. Instead, God provides them another way to practice their trust in God. God has Moses make a snake out of bronze, and set it on a pole. And everyone who is bitten by the snakes can look at the pole and they will live. The snakes don’t stop biting. The snakes don’t go away. They are still there. But if you are bitten, look up at the bronze snake and the snake bit won’t kill you like it did others.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather look at the fringe on my clothes to remember that God loves me and expects me to behave like a child of God, than to have to be snake bitten and look up at a bronze snake on a pole to remember how to act like a child of God. But you know, God will do whatever it takes to make sure we know that God expects us to live like God’s people. And repentance and forgiveness are always options in our relationship with God. God will judge our sins, yes, for they make us less than what God created us to be, and they really do disappoint God. But from God’s view point, repentance is always a possibility and faithful repentance is always met with God grace.

When we recognize and own the wrongs we have done, when we come before God, when we admit our mistakes to our Creator, when we admit how they have harmed us and others and the world, then by the grace of God we start making things right again, for we have been forgiven. When we take responsibility for our wrong doings, our sins, God’s forgiveness and God’s healing are readily available. The Holy One has called us to be more than this and provides us a way.

In the writings between the two Testaments, Old and New, these words are written in a book called the Wisdom of Solomon:

   For the one who turned towards the bronze serpent was saved,
   not by the thing that was beheld,
   but by you, the Savior of all. 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
God’s People Were Impatient
Author: Carolyn Winfred Gillette
Tune: ANGEL’S STORY 7.6.7.6 D (“O Jesus, I Have Promised”)

1 God’s people were impatient and spoke against the Lord:
“This wilderness is dried out and we detest the food!
We can’t find any water and so we ask you why,
O God — if you still love us — you’ve brought us here to die.”

2 As sinning leads to judgment, the people soon knew fear.
For snakes were in the desert and danger lingered near.
So Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole;
Whoever looked upon it was once again made whole.

3 O God, this Lenten season reminds us of our sin;
We know our lack of trusting, the times our faith wears thin.
We also know your promise to lead us on our way,
To faithfully be near us, to guide us day by day.

4 Though sinning leads to judgment, repentance is God’s plan;
So on the cross was lifted the suffering Son of Man.
God, may we look upon him and in his suffering see
The one who brings redemption for all humanity.

Sending Out

Let us rejoice: God so loves the world!
May God your Maker
send you out into the world with creative energies refreshed.
May Christ the Light
illuminate your darkest moments.
And may the Holy Spirit of steadfast love
guide you until we worship together again.
This day and forevermore. Amen!

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 words by John Birch are posted on “Prayers for the season of Lent (faithandworship.com).” Accessed February 18, 2021. https://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Lent.htm.
  • The image was retrieved from https://i2.wp.com/www.catholicteacher.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Lent-prayer-service.png?fit=1000%2C667&ssl=1.
  • The Invitation to Worship is offered by Emily and was written by Ann Siddall, and posted on the Stillpoint Spirituality Centre website. https://stillpointsa.org.au/
  • We Will Walk with God is sung by Mindy, accompanied by Kendall on the djembe.
  • The Opening Prayer is offered by Robin and was written by Moira Laidlaw.
  • Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 is read by Kristin, Addie, Alyvia, and Alizabeth.
  • In Deep Distress My Soul Declares and God’s People Were Impatient are sung by Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano.
  • The Lenten Prayer and Words of Assurance are offered by Jeffrey and were written by Jan L. Richardson as posted on The Painted Prayerbook. http://paintedprayerbook.com/.
  • There is a Balm in Gilead is sung by Ally, Elizabeth, Michelle, Tonya, and Mindy, accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Michelle on the guitar.
  • The Sending Out is offered by Jeffrey and was written by Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, in So Loved: Service Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Posted on the Worship Ways page of the United Church of Christ website. http://www.ucc.org/worship_worship-ways

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

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Invitation. Today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. In one of my worship resource books, Winter (ed. Ruth Burgess; Wild Goose Publications) there’s a poem about Jesus’ baptism titled Pirate Jesus written by Thom Shuman. The poem ends with these words

but you come
to me,
dripping wet
with that dove
perched on your shoulder
(like a pirate
with his parrot)
and grabbing me
by the hand
you count, ‘1, 2, 3!’
and together
we jump
faith-first
into
grace.

May the following serve as a guide in your worship of God encouraging you take the hand of Jesus and jump “faith-first” every day.

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 heavens open. The Spirit descends.
Jesus emerges from the water.
And a voice echoes through the blue expanse.
“This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”
Jesus is named. Claimed.
We come to the water. We remember we are named. Claimed.
Can it be so? What a thing to be named. Claimed.
Let us worship the one who names and claims us still.

Opening Prayer
We come before you God in prayer today seeking your calm and peace after a week of shame, disappointment, fear, anxiety, and visual hate. We turn our hearts to you today. Shine your light upon us as we worship you. Wash our emotions, hearts, and minds with your love so we might better praise and honor you. In the name of the One in whom we have placed our trust, Jesus the Christ, Amen.

Song of Praise
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Author: Cecil Frances Alexander
Tune: ROYAL OAK

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

1 Each little flower that opens,
each little bird that sings,
God made their glowing colors,
and made their tiny wings.

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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 1:1-5
New Revised Standard Version

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from god swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Song of Praise
God, Your Almighty Word
Author: John Marriot
Tune: ITALIAN HYMN

1 God, your almighty word
Chaos and darkness heard,
And took their flight:
Hear us, we humbly pray,
And where the gospel-day
Sheds not its glorious ray,
Let there be light!

2 Savior, you came to give
Those who in darkness live
Healing and sight,
Health to the troubled mind,
Sight to the inward blind:
Now to all humankind
Let there be light!

3 Spirit of truth and love,
Life giving, holy dove,
Speed on your flight!
Move on the water’s face
Bearing the lamp of grace
And, in earth’s darkest place,
Let there be light!

4 Holy and blessed Three,
Glorious Trinity,
Wisdom, Love, Might!
Boundless as ocean’s tide,
Rolling in fullest pride,
Through the world, far and wide,
Let there be light!

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 Baptizing Day
Author: William Allen Pasch
Based on Martin Luther’s Christ Our Lord to Jordan Came
Tune: DOWN TO THE RIVER TO PRAY (American Folk Hymn)

Jesus went down to the river one day,
his Father’s calling to obey.
Then John baptized him, and the Lord God said,
“This is the way!
This is my own dear son,
Follow him; his work’s begun.
Sin’s drowned, the victory’s won!
River, wash guilt away!”

This water flows as the river of grace
for all God’s children in this place,
It’s not our doing; Christ has done it all.
Give God the praise!
Now let this flood of love wash us clean,
all fear remove.
From earth and heaven above,
loud thanksgiving we raise!

When I go down to the river to pray,
thinking on my baptizing day,
the Holy Spirit tells me I’m newborn,
Old sin, away!
My Savior died for me.
Resurrection sets us free,
Grace reigns eternally,
through this baptizing day!

Mark 1:4-11
Common English Bible

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Reflection on the Gospel
Dr. Jeffrey Vickery

This past Wednesday we celebrated as a man stood in front of a crowd of people to address them. They had come from out of town specifically to see and hear him. He was, some claimed, a prophet of God. The words he said to them mattered. They had consequences. Those who listened to his words were moved to action. And shortly after he spoke, they responded.  

This celebration was Epiphany and the man I’m referring to is John the baptizer, cousin of Jesus, who was out near the Jordan. With his words he issued a call to seek forgiveness from God, to admit to sin, to have hearts changed from selfishness and greed and power and desire to the holy pursuits of God’s children, principally these two: forgiveness and humility. The people responded by marching toward the waters of the Jordan to be baptized. In the words of Mark 1 that I just read, “they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” God’s pleasure that day did not only rest on Jesus, but on these other children of God with whom God found happiness. 

This past Wednesday another man also stood before a crowd of people to address them. They, too, had come from out of town specifically to see and hear him. He was, some claimed, a prophet of God. But let’s stop right there! I care far too much about Christianity and the Gospel of God to let anyone claim that Donald Trump is God’s messenger. To do so is to ignore the entire sweep of the biblical story which calls for the kind of holy virtues that have not in any way been evident in what he has said or done, either before or after he became President of the United States. He called for force; Jesus praises weakness. Trump wants what is best for himself; Jesus asked us to care for others. Trump demands loyalty to himself; Jesus constantly turned people toward the poor and powerless, and toward God. Trump claims himself to be the best president in history; Jesus praises the humble. Trump says if someone hits you then you should hit them back ten times harder; Jesus says to turn the other cheek. Trump praises his riches; Jesus said blessed are the poor.  Trump uses lies and dishonesty on a daily basis; Jesus said the truth will make you free. Trump boasted in an interview that he doesn’t ask for forgiveness from God; Jesus and John and Paul and Peter and practically every Christian text begins the Way of faith with confession and forgiveness. As an American citizen or an international onlooker or a member of our church, you can have any opinion you want regarding Trump’s politics. I am uninterested in whether you think he’s a good president or who you voted for in November. But as an ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I will not stand by quietly if someone claims that Mr. Trump represents Jesus, or promotes Christianity, or is a prophet of the holy God. He is not and to say so is blasphemy.  

I heard someone say this week that when George Orwell was writing his dystopian novel 1984 Orwell said that when things are at their worst it is time to restate the most basic principles. Fortunately for us, Mark’s story in chapter 1 of John’s preaching in the wilderness is a call back to the foundational basics of a life of faith. If we assume an appropriate understanding of God, then the first movement toward becoming a faithful worshipper of God and follower of the Gospel is forgiveness. The second, is a willing exercise of humility. Forgiveness requires confession. Humility requires trust. John gives voice to both of these, and Mark’s story of John puts them on display at the beginning of Jesus’ story. 

The Gospel of Mark was written 20 years before either Matthew or Luke wrote their account of the things that Jesus said and did. For centuries, the beginning and ending have remained the two most surprising elements of Mark’s Gospel. We know that Mark’s last chapter is uncertain, its actual text missing from any historical document we have. What came after Mark 16:8 we simply do not know. Likewise, something is missing from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, but not because we lost a text but rather because Mark doesn’t say anything about it—that is, Mark’s Gospel contains no Christmas story. Gabriel doesn’t appear to anyone, Jesus is not in a manger, and no wise men travel to worship at the home of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Bethlehem. Mark begins with Jesus all grown up and ready to go. 

I have noted before, in both sermons and Bible studies, that by the time we finishing reading the entire first chapter of Mark, this Gospel leaves us with as much evidence of the incarnation of God in Jesus as any Christmas story. In this first chapter, Jesus is approved by God with a direct voice from heaven, surrounded by Jewish disciples, casts out an evil spirit, heals a woman with a fever, and cleanses a man of leprosy. Any one of these stories would generate hopeful gossip about the possibility Jesus may be the Messiah. All of them together in this first chapter means that one keeps reading the Gospel of Mark with the identity already revealed – Jesus is the Messiah.  

So let’s look at the opening verses of Mark’s Gospel more closely. If these are the first things written about Jesus, what do they tell us about being a follower of this One? Here is where we turn to the two basic principles of faith: forgiveness and humility. 

First, forgiveness is arguably the most central idea in Christianity. I say “idea” but really I think of forgiveness as a self-reflected outlook, a way to see ourselves and God and the world through the lens of our faith. I really like the way the Common English Bible translates verse four: “John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” John didn’t invent baptism as it was already a Jewish ritual associated with spiritual cleansing, but he is the one who attaches the practice of baptism with forgiveness. This biblical baptism story doesn’t spend much time telling us about the “how-tos” of baptism. We do hear that Jesus was “coming up out of the water” which presumes a full immersion perhaps. But we miss the point of the baptism if we focus on how it’s done, or when, or where. The point of the baptism is that people “were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” Without that willfully chosen change, Christianity is unable to be discerned in anyone’s life. Unless we know our need to ask God’s forgiveness, confess our sin, and move to a Way of life exemplified in the grace and mercy of God, then we will be Christians in name only and in no way “followers” of Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus will say, “Many people call me ‘Lord’ … others will say “I preached in your name” … some will claim to have done great things for God in the name of Jesus … but it will be as though I don’t know them.” [my paraphrase of Matthew 7:21-23.]  Christianity begins with forgiveness in the same way that writing a novel starts by learning ABCs in kindergarten.  

Second, Christianity as heard in John’s words and seen throughout the actions of Jesus in the Gospels rests on humility. Consider John’s popularity. Rumors must have flown throughout the country that a new Jewish prophet was out by the Jordan. He sounds like Elijah of old. He’s in the same place where Elijah went to live after confronting King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He’s dressed like a prophet of God and sounds like one too. If John had been in contemporary times, he’d be selling out stadiums of people who applauded his words and started fan clubs. And yet, John has perspective. He is not the important one. These people should not be his followers. He’s not interested in saying something that sounds wise and will find approval for himself. His words, his actions, his popularity, his audience…he seeks to turn all of these things toward Jesus.  

Humility is not the same as self-deprecation. John does not think himself incapable, nor lack esteem, nor is he without motivation to achieve what is in his capacity to do and say. His genuine humility means he knows that, in his own words, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (vv. 7-8). John is not the savior. John is not the incarnation of God. And he won’t pretend that he is, either by lying to himself or to others.  

Even looking at John suggests a lack of vanity and pride. Here is a person not defined by material comfort. His humility extends even to the way he dresses and eats and lives. We are told that John wore camel’s hair clothing and ate the diet of a desert ascetic not because we are all called to be monks or nuns, but to note that possessions are often distractions from spiritual awareness and trust in God. John exemplifies and Christians are taught that God is not reflected in the outward appearance or possessions or wealth of a person. In fact, since John serves as a first-glimpse of discipleship, Christians are called to consider the value of voluntarily forsaking materialism for simplicity. The comfort of wealth and possession and fashion and beauty and abundance are not a measure of spiritual virtue and may, in fact, hinder our relationship with God. We can debate about whether discomfort (or suffering) is required for spiritual growth (I expect to hear from Dale Melton on this one!) but it seems undeniable that prosperity is an impediment to our spiritual health and that chosen simplicity and intentional asceticism can help our ability to recognize God’s Way in the world. What might this mean in real terms? Perhaps we emphasize “going to church” too much and have neglected private prayer, personal devotional practices, or individual exercises of spiritual discernment. Worship at home has been a practice of spiritual discipline rather than social connectivity. It is therefore an act of humility. The worship of God that we practice when no one knows about it or sees us necessarily grows from an intrinsic acceptance of the value of worship that only God acknowledges rather than that which is motivated by social participation that seeks group approval.   

Humility also requires us to recognize that God has authority over us while knowing that humility is exercised in our relationships with other people. Jesus talked as much about loving someone other than ourselves as he did about loving God. It may be easy for Christians to willingly seek to be humble before God, but the Gospel also calls us to humility with other people. “Don’t think too highly of yourself” is a direct teaching from Romans 12. “When you cared for these people others consider unvalued and poor and overlooked, you cared for me” Jesus said in Matthew 25. “If someone asks you to go one mile, go two” he said in Matthew 5. “No one shows greater love than to give up your own life for someone else” he said in John 15. And in 1 John 3 the New Testament tells to that loving others is exactly the same as and begins from a love for God. All of these holy acts of obedience to God begin with an actual personal understanding of healthy humility. Recently on the news a South Carolina politician said that Americans don’t like to be told what to do. He also said that Protestant Christians don’t like to be told what to do. That reasoning was used as an explanation as to why Baptists in South Carolina don’t wear masks – because someone told them they had to do so. Stubbornness is not a substitute for Christian humility. Pride does not justify disobedience of a biblical teaching. Personal preference is often the opposite of care for others. Jesus’ understanding of being a servant to others, a call to humility that every real-life servant knows, does not allow for Christianity of any kind to justify the endangering of another person for my own personal preference. In fact, it is hard to identify an act of individual convenience as in accord with the Gospel of Jesus if it diminishes or threatens the life of another one of God’s beloved children.  

See, we are tempted read the story of John in the wilderness baptizing Jesus with crowds watching and the voice of God descending from heaven and we think, “wow, what an event—I wish I had been there to post it on my social media account.” Instead, we should read Mark 1, hear John’s story, listen to his words, and consider his example. Confession to seek forgiveness cannot be faked. God will always know the truth of our heart. And genuine humility will always be exercised in relationship with other people so that it is evident to ourselves and others.  

The baptism story in Mark 1 ends with Jesus coming up out of the water and God’s Spirit coming down from the heavens. Imagine the scene. Consider this approval of God upon Jesus that was not called down by any person or affirmed by any observer. It was only made manifest by God’s initiative. These words of God, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness” were said about Jesus. And through Jesus, every single creation of God has the capacity to be God’s delight. That includes you and me as well. May that goal guide our life of faith as we take daily steps toward the practice of forgiveness and humility.  

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
Mark How the Lamb of God’s Self-Off’ring
Carl P. Daw, Jr.
Tune: WAYFARING STRANGER

Mark how the Lamb of God’s self-off’ring
Our human sinfulness takes on
In the birthwaters of the Jordan
As Jesus is baptized by John.
Hear how the voice from heaven thunders,
“Lo, this is My beloved Son.”
See how in dovelike form the Spirit
Descends on God’s Anointed One.

From this assurance of God’s favor
Jesus goes to the wilderness,
There to endure a time of testing
That readied Him to teach and bless.
So we, by water and the Spirit
Baptized into Christ’s ministry,
Are often led to paths of service
Through mazes of adversity.

Grant us, O God, the strength and courage
To live the faith our lips declare;
Bless us in our baptismal calling;
Christ’s royal priesthood help us share.
Turn us from ev’ry false allegiance,
That we may trust in Christ alone:
Raise up in us a chosen people
Transformed by love to be Your own.

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 Emily Burttram. The Call to Worship was written by Caela Wood, Pastor at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Manhattan, Kansas. The prayers were written by Tonya. The Opening Hymn was sung by Mindy accompanied by Ally on the piano and Tessa on the flute. The Song of Praise was sung by Mindy and accompanied by Tonya on the piano. The anthem was arranged by Tonya; sung by Mindy, Laura, Michelle, Tonya, Ally, and Elizabeth; and accompanied by Tonya on the piano and Michelle on the guitar. The Closing Hymn was arranged by Tonya, sung by Mindy, and accompanied by Michelle on the guitar and Tonya on the piano. 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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