Posts Tagged ‘love’

Opening Words of Gratitude

As the elements give life,
soil and air,
sun and rain providing nurture,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
With restless impatience
that counts the minutes,
wanting it now,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
With steady patience,
trusting roots buried
deep in the ground,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
With ceaseless work,
the strenuous effort
of trying to make a difference,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
With unforced hope,
living in anticipation
of days yet to come,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.
In effort and expectation,
in work and rest,
in doing and being,
We wait for growth; we hope for new life.

Opening Prayer

Holy God, you call us together to reflect on your Word and our life in your world. Be with us now as we hum along to the music, as we pray together, as we listen to the scripture readings, that we may hear your voice and understand your way. This we pray through Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Song of Praise
Sing out Earth and Skies
by Marty Haugen

Come, O God of all the earth: Come to us, O Righteous One;
Come and bring our love to birth: In the glory of your Son.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Come, O God of wind and flame: Fill the earth with righteousness;
Teach us all to sing your name: May our lives your love confess.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Come, O God of flashing light: Twinkling star and burning sun;
God of day and God of night: In your light all are one.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Come, O God of snow and rain: Shower down upon the earth;
Come, O God of joy and pain: God of sorrow, God of mirth.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Come, O Justice, Come, O Peace: Come and shape our hearts anew;
Come and make oppression cease: Bring us all to life in you.
Sing out, earth and skies! Sing of the God who loves you!
Raise your joyful cries! Dance to the life around you!

Psalm 98
Common English Bible

Sing to the Lord a new song
    because he has done wonderful things!
His own strong hand and his own holy arm
    have won the victory!
The Lord has made his salvation widely known;
    he has revealed his righteousness
    in the eyes of all the nations.
God has remembered his loyal love
    and faithfulness to the house of Israel;
    every corner of the earth has seen our God’s salvation. Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
    Be happy!
    Rejoice out loud!
    Sing your praises!
Sing your praises to the Lord with the lyre—
    with the lyre and the sound of music.
With trumpets and a horn blast,
    shout triumphantly before the Lord, the king!
Let the sea and everything in it roar;
    the world and all its inhabitants too.
Let all the rivers clap their hands;
    let the mountains rejoice out loud altogether before the Lord
    because he is coming to establish justice on the earth!
He will establish justice in the world rightly;
    he will establish justice among all people fairly.

Song of Praise
Jesu, Jesu Fill Us with Your Love
Tune: CHEREPONI, Ghanaian Folk Song

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love,
show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.

Knelt at the feet of his friends,
silently washing their feet,
Jesu, you acted as a servant to them.

Neighbors are rich and poor,
varied in color and race,
neighbors are near and far away.

These are the ones we should serve,
these are the one we should love;
all these neighbors to us and you.

Loving puts us on our knees,
showing our faith by our deeds,
serving the neighbors we have from you.

Kneel at the feet of our friends,
Silently washing their feet,
this is the way we should live with you.

Prayer for Others

Choral Anthem
If Ye Love Me
by Carson P. Cooman

If ye love me,
keep my commandments,
and I will pray the father,
and he shall give you,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may abide with you forever,
even the Spirit of truth.

If ye love me, keep my commandments.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 15:1-8
Common English Bible

[Jesus said,] “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. As a result, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.

Reflection on the Gospel
Rev. Tonya Vickery

When I was a child, my Aunt Evelyn gave me a little yellow colored card which had a poem on it along with a tiny wooden cross glued to the paper.  My house burned the summer before my junior year of high school, so I no longer have the card. But thanks to the internet, I a picture of one and here’s what it said.

I carry a cross in my pocket
A simple reminder to me
Of the fact that I am a Christian
No matter where I may be.

This little cross is not magic
Nor is it a good luck charm
It isn’t meant to protect me
From every physical harm.

It’s not for identification
For all the world to see
It’s simply an understanding
Between my Savior and me.

When I put my hand in my pocket
To bring out a coin or key
The cross is there to remind me
Of the price He paid for me.

It reminds me too to be thankful
For my blessings day by day
And to strive to serve Him better
In all I do and say.

So I carry a cross in my pocket
Reminding no one but me
That Jesus Christ is Lord of my life
If only I’ll let him be.

The card made an impression on me teaching me many things which became foundational to my faith.

First, I learned that when you see a cross, it should remind you that you are always a Christian and you should always act like one.  To my child’s mind the cross meant, “You had better behave and if you don’t you will get in trouble.”  I was too chicken to break the rules, so behaving wasn’t hard for me. And, there definitely were not any tempting misbehaving behaviors to do.

Secondly, the poem taught me that the cross is not magic. I watched cartoons as a child and a regular Saturday morning one was Scooby Doo. It was not unusual for the Scooby Doo gang to run into vampires. But no worries, Velma always had a cross at the ready to ward them off. We all knew that was just a story, it was a tall tale that vampires would run away from crosses. As I got older and watched different movies, I could readily see that a cross didn’t amount to a hill of beans when used on Friday the 13th.  Anyhow, this idea that the cross is not a magical “weapon” helped me to understand early  on that bad things can happen to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not.

The poem also taught me not to turn the cross into a badge of honor. I learned that we don’t “wear” a cross to brag to the world of our position or title or religion. The poem reinforced the idea that a Christian is to be humble and that being a Christian doesn’t make me better than everyone else.

Lastly, the poem taught me that on the cross Jesus paid a price for me therefore I should be grateful and work hard to serve God.  As a child, I liked pleasing people, so it was easy for me to want to please God. I was at the ready to serve God however God wanted me to serve.  Growing up in the USA, I also strongly believed that if you work hard, you will reap a great reward. The more you put into something, the more you get out of it. Now the idea of “Jesus paying a price for me” made sense because I saw grownups had to pay for a lot of things in life.  If you wanted a new dress, or a new pair of shoes, you had to pay for them. My mama loved to shop which meant as a child I spent a lot of time in department stores and malls. I figured the phrase, “Jesus paid a price for me” meant Jesus thought I was good enough to buy.  I watched mama spend a lot of time deciding which was best to buy. However, as a child I’m not sure I ever thought about or asked anyone who Jesus was paying.  I heard more phrases like, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe,” or “Jesus died so I could live,” but I never remembering thinking about who Jesus was paying.  You see, I didn’t grow up in a religious culture that said God was angry and Jesus had to pay the price for all the bad things I had done. Somehow instead, I had this idea that Jesus was rescuing me, helping me not choose the bad things of life. And the rescuing cost Jesus a lot.

Over the course of 2,000 years, the cross has become for us a symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation. It is grounded in the theology that Jesus laid down his life for us, died on a cross in order to save us. 

Years ago one of our local preachers at the Easter sunrise service shared with us his belief that Jesus had to die on a cross for it to matter. If Jesus had died of old age, then his death would not have mattered. If Jesus had died from an infection while travelling around Galilee, his death would not have mattered. If Jesus’ life and ministry was cut short by a stroke or heart disease, then his death would not have mattered. Any other way of dying would have been something other than a sacrificial death, any other way of dying would have been something other than Jesus willing to die, choosing to die, offering to die.  Any other death would have not been laying down one’s life for one’s friends.

If you are like me, there are times when I look at the cross and I wonder about our interpretation of its meaning. Sometimes we polish the cross up. We wrap it in silver or gold or bronze. Sometimes we even wear a decorative image of it around our necks.  I have lots of “cross” jewelry–a simple silver one given to me upon my ordination to the gospel ministry, a rose gold colored one my Aunt Bobby gave me at my ordination, a silver colored one with a blue stone that one of our youth years ago bought at Disney as gift for me, I used to have gold cross earrings, I also have a very, very old golden cross pendant that came from my Grandma Easterly’s family. It is interesting how some of those cross pendants are meaningful and some of them are just jewelry items. You know what I mean. For some people a cross pendant is just wardrobe accessory along the same lines as the buddha in my Aunt Almedia’s house. It was a decorative piece in the den. Think about how we print the cross on a t-shirts. We put the cross on bumper stickers. Some people turn the cross into an instrument of hate and violence.  I will never understand what a few of you may have seen with your own eyes, how a group of white people who called themselves the kkk turn the cross into a message of violence and hate against black people. What message of “salvation” does oppression or personal adornment mean for the cross? 

A simple wooden cross stands in our churchyard on the edge of the cemetery. It’s presence proclaims among the graves the great hope we have through Christ Jesus. Jesus suffered and died. God raised Jesus from the grave. Jesus has ascended into heaven and that is where we will join him one day. 

A brass cross stands on our communion table every Sunday. During Lent we tend to exchange it for the rustic wooden one that Ron made for us. But we always have a cross on our communion table. Placed on that particular table the cross echoes the words of Jesus, “This is my body, broken for you.  This is my blood, shed for you…” Like the cross on the yellow card in my pocket, the cross on the table reminds us.

How ironic it is that you and I have pledged our lives to a crucified savior. Those two words “crucified” and “savior” only work together when enacted by the Divine. Nothing or no one else could be crucified and save.  Crucifixion was the Roman’s answer to how to deal with people who rebelled against Rome. Crucifixion was public, out there for everyone to see what would happen to you if you didn’t follow the rules and if you tried to overthrow those in charge. It was torture. It was shameful. It was humiliating. It was cruel. Even the words of Deuteronomy say, “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”  (21:23) 

But Jesus’ death on a cross firmly says, “Hope comes from being defeated.  Suffering and death do not have the last word.” The crucifixion of Jesus was a wrongful outrageous death, but it became God’s critique over and against dark and harmful powers.  You see, the worst can happen. The most honest and honorable people can be falsely accused. The right ways can be abandoned. The weak turned over to oppressors. The kind and compassionate can be hated. The gentle can be brutally murdered. But none of that is greater than the hope we have in God through Jesus Christ. Suffering and death do not have the last word.  Life is meaningful even in the face of death. Hope can remain alive in the midst of defeat and powerlessness.

The words of Jesus found in John 15 come just two pages in your printed Bibles before Jesus is arrested. Jesus is about to lay down his life for his friends. Jesus is about to show us the fullness of God’s love for us. Jesus is about help us understand clearly that suffering and death do not have the last word. Jesus is getting ready to show us that hope can remain alive in the midst of defeat and complete powerlessness.  As Jesus prepares us for the defeat, what does he say?

First, Jesus reminds us that he loves us. And Jesus wants us to have the same kind of joy in life that he has and he wants it to be full and complete. In fact, Jesus wants our joy to be filled to the brim!  Not just a little joy. Not just enough to get you by. But Jesus wants you to have complete joy.

Second, our relationship together with Christ is on-going. This is not a one-time event, meaning when Jesus has left the scene, when Jesus is no longer apparent to our eyes, our relationship is still happening. Jesus says, “I chose you.” But it a choosing that is ongoing. It is better understood perhaps by saying Jesus chose us and keeps on choosing us. Jesus says, “I appointed you” and it is the same perpetual idea as the choosing. The appointing never stops. Jesus appointed us and keeps on appointing us. And just like the choosing and the appointing, we are to bear fruit and keep on bearing fruit. (For a better understanding about bearing fruit, go back and listen to last week’s sermon.) You see, this relationship with God through Jesus Christ is not a checklist of things to be done, it is a way to be and it is ongoing all the time.

Third, Jesus calls us friends! We are not bond servants–working to pay off a debt. We are not employees of Christ–working a job to earn the pay check called eternal life. We are not paid workers–reaping success because we are doing what Christ says. We are Christ’s friends. We are Christ’s associates. In other words, we are in this life together through the thick and thin. We are friends for life–a bond that cannot be broken even by death.

Fourth, Jesus reminds us that this is not a solo “job.” We are in this all together. And we are to love one another. If we haven’t learned anything this far in our Sundays after Easter, it is this. We are to love one another. In fact, Jesus commands us to do so. How do we maintain that love for one another? You can list all the many things that break down relationships, they are easy to spot after they have torn things apart. But what are the things that keep that relationship of love going?

We have it easier than any other group out there. For our love for God through Jesus Christ is the source of our love for one another. Our love for God through Jesus Christ is the source of our love for one another. Let me say it this way. We love one another because Christ loves us and we love Christ.  The 4th chapter of 1 John shares the same idea but says it quite bluntly. You may recall these words, “Those who say, I love God,” and hate their brothers or sister cannot love God.” And earlier in the chapter we read, “If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.”  Again, “Those who love God must love their brother and sister also.” 

This love for one another is woven deeply into our lives because it comes from God above. Our love for one another is a discipline, a habit that is perfected over time through our love for God and our care and concern for each other. 

So you can imagine what happens to our love for one another when our love for God grows. Our love for each other grows too.  Now this doesn’t mean I’m not going to drive you crazy. This doesn’t mean that we will never have a spat or never disagree. This doesn’t mean that our relationship with one another will be perfect. But it should mean that at all times, we love one another through the thick and the thin, just as Christ loves us.

I pray that our church family will continue to embody the love of God for everyone as we continue growing our love for one another!


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

Song of Reponse
Help Us Love Each Other
Words: Fred Kaan  

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;
teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.
Be present, Lord, among us and bring us to believe
We are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.

Teach us O Lord, Your lessons, as in our daily life
we struggle to be human and search for hope and faith.
Teach us to care for people, for all, not just for some;
to love them as we find them, or as they may be come.

Let your acceptance change us, so that we may be moved
in living situations to do the truth in love,
to practice your acceptance until we know by heart
the table of forgiveness and laughter’s healing art.

Lord, for today’s encounters with all who are in need,
who hunger for acceptance, for righteousness and bread,
we need new eyes for seeing, new hands for holding on;
renew us with Your Spirit; Lord, free us, make us one!

Sending Out

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

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

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

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

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

The opening words of gratitude were written by Jan Berry, Summer: Liturgical Resources for May, June, and July, ed. Ruth Burgess. The prayer was written by the United Church of Canada, Voices United, 2007. Wild Goose Publications, the publishing arm of the Iona Community, ©2019.  Used by permission. 

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

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Opening Words of Gratitude 

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

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

Opening Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 23
Common English Bible 

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

John 1:11-18
Common English Bible 

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Others 

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

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

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

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

1 John 3:16-24
Common English Bible 

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

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

Reflection on the Scriptures 
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

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

Creating a World Where No One Fears Evil

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

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

Even though . . . I will fear no evil.

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

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

God loves us.

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

Does God love you? Oh yes! 

Well, how do you know that God loves you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our greatest calling is to love one another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Thanksgiving 

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Out 

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

Closing Song 

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

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

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

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


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

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


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Suffering Love

Friday of Holy Week Reflection

Photo taken by h.guenda.

John 18 – 19:42. (Click here for the full text.)

My kingdom is not from this world.
If my kingdom were from this world,
my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over ….
For this I was born, and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

We tend to fancy the dramatic, the pageantry, the show. That’s probably why we love Palm Sunday. Waving palm branches in the air while shouting, “Hosanna!” and “Hallelujah!” Imagining the Messiah riding into town, how do you feel?  Invincible? Like, “we’re the winners”?  Or “we made it”?

We celebrate that Jesus is our Savior. He has come to save us from the evil one who brings chaos to the world. We praise him as the only One able to set everything at peace, even loud stormy weather. Here is the One who can defeat the evil one. Of course it will be a struggle. Haven’t you seen those apocalyptic movies? Read those apocalyptic books? It will be a battle like none other, between the forces of darkness and light. A violent conflict is coming in which the appointed of God will overthrow evil and usher in a new age for the world. 

Ah, but the gospel reading today forces us to step back and away from this kind of drama. Can you believe that the only “military” order recorded in the Bible that Jesus ever gave was to Peter. Jesus said to him in John 18:11, “Put your sword back in its sheath.”  And look at what Jesus tells Pilate in today’s reading. “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over…” 

If we truly believe what Jesus said that day to Pilate as he faced death by crucifixion, then all that blood and wrath, all that cataclysmic storytelling, all that final battle stuff, well it might resonant with many, but Jesus desires a better truth for us. Jesus brings about the reign of God by a suffering love that has no whip. Therefore, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Consider this ….

  • What do you imagine the reign of God to look like?
  • What will it require to establish it?

Prayer. Dear Lord, keep our faith alive. Preserve our hope in you. Don’t let us get caught up in dramatic tales, but may our hearts and lives be faithful to your loving grace always. Amen.

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Serve Humbly

Thursday of Holy Week Reflection

Photo taken by Gill Poole.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35. (Click here to read the full text.)

“You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right,
for that is what I am. 
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Throughout the first 80 years of Cullowhee Baptist Church (from 1821 until around 1900) the congregation met once a month, gathering on Saturday for business and Sunday for worship. They also had communion only once a year and it was always accompanied by footwashing.  We do not have details about how they did the footwashing but it’s not hard to imagine a small wooden church near the Tuckasegee, twenty or so bare-footed Baptists, and a good cold bucket of river water.

The story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in the Gospel of John gave Jesus a chance to take a more common practice and give it new meaning for his followers. Walking in sandals through dirt streets left everyone’s feet in need of washing.  When guests arrived at a house for a meal, foot washing was necessary and showed respect for the people who were “reclining” at the table. Jesus is the one who takes a basin of water and a towel and washes the feet of all his apostles. Why did the others not take the responsibility first? It is likely they thought someone else, a servant perhaps, would wash their feet. It is no wonder, then, that they were surprised that Jesus did so. 

Because of this story, footwashing has become synonymous with two things in Christian practice: servanthood and reluctance.  Jesus gave it the servant motif when he sits down and explains to these disciples that “you also ought to wash one another’s feet,” and then adds, “just as I have done, you also must do.”

But if we’re honest, almost all of us are reluctant to wash someone else’s feet. And, it is likely, that we have the same reluctance to truly serve other people as their servants. We want to “volunteer” and then be recognized or thanked. We want to “make a difference” and then feel good about our contribution. These acts of care and giving are certainly part of being a Christian, but Jesus’ call to servanthood includes washing feet precisely because it reminds us that doing for others, even if we are reluctant, is more like Jesus than doing for others so that we will be praised.  

These verses for today end with Jesus’ more comfortable command: “Love each other just as I have loved you” (v. 34). But like serving one another, to love someone like Jesus may require we swallow our reluctance and love another person with no attention given to our own reward.  

Consider this ….

  • What are my motivations to serve and love?

Prayer.  Create in me a clean heart, O God, so that I may serve another with only their care and your love in mind. Amen.

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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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