Posts Tagged ‘Psalm 23’

Opening Words of Gratitude 

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

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

Opening Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 23
Common English Bible 

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

John 1:11-18
Common English Bible 

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

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

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

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

Prayer for Others 

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

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

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

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

1 John 3:16-24
Common English Bible 

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

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

Reflection on the Scriptures 
Rev. Tonya Vickery 

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

Creating a World Where No One Fears Evil

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

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

Even though . . . I will fear no evil.

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

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

God loves us.

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

Does God love you? Oh yes! 

Well, how do you know that God loves you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our greatest calling is to love one another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Thanksgiving 

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

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

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

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

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

Sending Out 

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

Closing Song 

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

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

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

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

Acknowledgements.

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

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


 

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