Posts Tagged ‘Psalm’

Preparation for Worship

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Worship of God

Invitation. Today’s gospel reading, Matthew 14:13–21 contrasts the scarcity values of empire with the abundance values of God’s realm. The former teaches us to make what seem like practical decisions, sending people off to fend for themselves. The realm of God values proclaimed by Jesus is one of compassionate assurance that through the abundance of God, there is enough for all.

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Psalm 17: 1-7

Listen to what’s right, Lord; pay attention to our cry!
Listen closely to our prayer; it’s spoken by lips that don’t lie!
Our justice comes from you; let your eyes see what is right!
You have examined our hearts. You’ve looked us over closely,
but haven’t found anything wrong. Our mouth does not sin.


But these other people’s deeds?
We have avoided such violent ways
by the command from your lips.
Our steps are set firmly on your paths;
our feet have not slipped
.
We cry out to you because you answer us.
So tilt your ears toward us now—
listen to what we are saying!
Manifest your faithful love in amazing ways
because you are the one
who saves those who take refuge in you,
saving them from their attackers
by your strong hand.

Opening Prayer.
Gracious and loving God, you enabled the Psalmist to turn to you in the confident assurance that cries and prayers would be heard and answered by you. Prayers uttered in the belief that your steadfast love would not permit despair and desolation to have the last word. We offer our prayers in that same belief, and with even greater confidence that we are heard by you, for the wonderful evidence of your love has been revealed in Jesus Christ, in whom we seek refuge time and time again. Through Jesus, our burdens are lightened and our sins are forgiven. Through your love, our lives are blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. For these great and glorious gifts, we offer our thanksgiving, our praise and our adoration. Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty

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

Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
God everlasting through eternity.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye made blind by sin thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy: there is none beside thee
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

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

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Listen to a church member read or read below.

The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, and full of faithful love.
The Lord is good to everyone and everything;
God’s compassion extends to all his handiwork!

The Lord supports all who fall down,
straightens up all who are bent low.
All eyes look to you, hoping,
and you give them their food right on time,
opening your hand
and satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all his ways,
faithful in all his deeds.
The Lord is close to everyone who calls out to him,
to all who call out to him sincerely.
God shows favor to those who honor him,
listening to their cries for help and saving them.
The Lord protects all who love him,
but he destroys every wicked person.
My mouth will proclaim the Lord’s praise,
and every living thing will bless God’s holy name
forever and always.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular this week, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com.]

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.

Prayer in Song
Ruah! Breath of Life
(“Ruah” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for Spirit.)

Ruah, Breath of Life, breathe in us.
Jesus, Bread of Life, give us strength.

Ruah, Bread of Life, breathe in us, we pray,
that we may spread goodness to all people on earth.
Spirit, wind of change, bring a peaceful day,
and we will join you, bringing life to birth.

Ruah, Breath of Life, breathe in us.
Jesus, Bread of Life, give us strength.

Jesus, Bread of Life, give us strength, we pray,
that we may help others who are hungry and poor.
Fill us with your grace; show us all the way
to share your table and your open door.

Ruah, Breath of Life, breathe in us.
Jesus, Bread of Life, give us strength.

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 14:13-21

Listen to a church member read the gospel and/or read below.


When Jesus heard about John, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. That evening his disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here except five loaves of bread and two fish.” He said, “Bring them here to me.” He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them and broke the loaves apart and gave them to his disciples. Then the disciples gave them to the crowds. Everyone ate until they were full, and they filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. About five thousand men plus women and children had eaten.

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

“Conversion to Compassion” 

We Christians experience many conversions in our lives of faith. Whatever brings us to that initial decision to follow God, whether it’s the “still small voice” of God, or the gentle nudge of a caring mother, or the regret of too many personal sins, or the fear of death and hell, something and someone was a part of the beginning story of our faith. This initial conversion is most often then followed by baptism. We do well to mark this spiritual change with a physical reminder. I remember a few small details of my baptism at the age of 9. But I can’t forget the weight of the water pressing against my white robe, or my “baptism buddy” as we call them here – that friend who was baptized in the same service – his name was Cliff Adams. Yet since the age of 9, I have lived through many more conversions in the name of Christ.  

It is the nature of our discipleship with Jesus that our faith grows and matures. Repentance does not end after baptism. As our knowledge of God deepens, so does our experience of the world. As our love for the Gospel grows, it compels us into communities of grace. When Jesus becomes more than the poor guy who takes our punishment to let us off the hook, then we can hear Jesus calling us to take responsibility for justice and peace rather than letting someone else do it.  

These other conversions, as I want to name them, are rarely if ever marked with a ritual. The time when we realize that forgiveness from God becomes the avenue for our forgiveness of others, is not celebrated in the church with a ceremony. Nor am I suggesting that it should it be. And yet the conversions must keep happening in our lives of faith. We continue to need God to change our hearts. Our experiences of God are not simple acts of self improvement that make us better people. They transform us into becoming God’s people for the world and on behalf of others.  

All of this brings us to Matthew 14:13-21. In these words from Matthew, we hear the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 men plus many other women and children. It is both an iconic story in the New Testament, and also one that we take for granted. We know this story, right? We’ve heard it thousands of times perhaps. It is the scale of this miracle that is breath-taking. Imagine half of the football stadium at WCU filled to capacity. Jesus is standing on the field teaching through the day and the sun is beginning to set behind the mountain ridge. The disciples suggest sending them to Speedy’s Pizza or Kobe Express for dinner but Jesus has another suggestion. You feed them. I don’t know if this is a test of their faith in Jesus, or a simple lesson in feeding the hungry. Either way, they have some bread and fish, just a bit, and with this portion of God’s creation Jesus feeds everyone. No one is left hungry or wanting.  

I love that Matthew doesn’t record Jesus’ words when he looks to heaven and blesses the bread so that we’re not tempted to turn genuine prayer into magic formulas. The giving of God’s blessing is not found in saying the right words. God doesn’t respond on command like a well-trained spaniel. Instead, the economy of Matthew’s description emphasizes Jesus’ relationship with God rather than some knowledge of a magical incantation. So often in the New Testament, the miracles of Jesus are built around relationships rather than formulas. While I genuinely love the concept of memorizing scripture, and I honestly think we don’t emphasize it nearly enough in our day and time, the purpose of memorizing Bible verses is not to use it like magic but to initiate a relationship with God. 

So here we have Matthew 14 and the feeding of the 5,000 and are awed at Jesus’ miracle once again. But what if we missed something in the story that is as important as the abundance of fish sandwiches? What if there’s more than just one miracle here? We are deeply committed to hunger ministries at the CBC. Yet it is a reality that if we feed someone today from an all-you-can-eat buffet, they will be hungry again in a few hours. Jesus’ miracle of feeding is vastly important and inspiring, but it didn’t last beyond the next day’s dinner. On the other hand, we too easily brush past the first miracle, the lasting miracle, in this story. Let’s look again at verse 14: “When [Jesus] went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” 

How can we overlook the curing of the sick? We are so enamored by the spectacle of the feeding that we skipped past the healing Jesus did. Perhaps we are so accustomed to Jesus healing people that we’ve presumed this to be “normal” when this miracle should leave us in as much wonder as the feeding of thousands. Or maybe we overlook the healing because we know we can feed people, but healing is a different kind of gift and we don’t have it. After all, I have prayed for thousands to be healed and am not sure the results, but I know without a doubt that I have helped to feed thousands—just not all at one time! 

Let’s dial it back even more into verse 14. For the miracle of healing starts with compassion. It says, Jesus had compassion for them and cured the sick. I venture to add that the feeding of the 5,000 is the result of this same compassion. Can we then say that compassion is a pre-requisite for miracles? Maybe so. Perhaps more certainly we can assert that our conversion to compassion is necessary for God to use our lives for ministry.  Or if we wanted to be more bold in our assertion, no ministry of justice and mercy and grace happens without human compassion for others. At the very least, it is clear that Jesus did not act without compassion nor should we. In fact, when our actions lack compassion, it is obvious that we do not represent the Gospel.  

If I’m right about our need to convert to compassion then I also must assert that it is a choice we make. Just like we are free to choose to become a Christian and be baptized, we have the freedom to exercise compassion towards others – or not. Compassion is a product of spiritual intention. In this way, compassion can be developed and grow stronger. It’s not like being tall – that’s not a talent. What someone does with being tall (or not) matters more. Thus no matter how much compassion we may “naturally” possess, we can develop more compassion, and we can choose to use it for the work of justice and peace and hope. In this way, learning compassion is a discipline of our discipleship. 

Compassion is built upon a genuine empathetic care and concern for another person. In a literal sense, it is to feel something another person feels. It asks us to take on their hurt, or feel their wound as though it were ours, or sense their hunger in our own belly. Compassion allows us to understand not just from a distance but to internalize their struggle as though it were our own. Compassion is not pity; it is not feeling sorry for someone and their circumstances. Nor is it to be an exercise in elitism – “Oh you poor thing; I want you to be like me.” Compassion requires us to enter into their situation in a way that turns our heart toward their need and motivates us to respond in a way that brings them wholeness and restoration.  

In the imaginary world of superheroes I have long thought that a superpower for a doctor or nurse would be to feel precisely what the patient feels. Where it hurts. How much it hurts. At what intensity. If a doctor can move a patient’s knee and feel the same pain in the same location, they would know better how to treat it. They will also develop an earnest need to find the right cure, and soon. In many regards, this superpower describes compassion. Every superpower has its weakness, however. It’s easy to see that if doctors felt their patients’ pain, we would have fewer doctors. Who wants to feel pain every day at work? Maybe this same effect explains why some people are only focused on themselves and have not developed a holy compassion for others.  

Compassion it turns out is easy to forego because its consequences are difficult to bear. True compassion leads us to action on behalf of others. We may remain in a continual state of being unsettled on behalf of those who suffer. In this way, compassion becomes more than a prelude to a miracle of Jesus, it motivates us to help find justice for others. As such, it is both a spiritual gift and an act of obedience to the call of God.  

Without compassion, we may be tempted to respond to people’s needs out of guilt, obligation, or selfish motivations. Good writers use this obvious duplicity in their craft. Two characters in the same book or movie are working toward similar ends – marriage, crime solving, success — with one person showing compassion and genuine care for those around them while the other character is manipulative and selfish. Readers and viewers learn the difference and easily find the truly compassionate one more Christ-like. It is no wonder, then, that genuine exercise of compassion for others is both a pre-requisite for ministry in the name of God, and also a witness to the world of God’s care through God’s people. 

In our personal discipleship and our church’s ministries, we will only respond to real needs if we exercise compassion. If a Christian doesn’t have compassion for immigrants, then no ministry will seek to help them find community and welcome among us. If Christians do not learn the discipline of compassion, then we will feel no pain in the pit of our stomach when someone tells us that 1 out of every 5 child in the US regularly misses a meal…or two. But when we learn compassion, we then respond with love, we feed those who know hunger, we do not accept the injustice of deportation, or the ravaging of native lands, or the misuse of creation for profit, or the scape-goating of African Americans. Shall I go on? Who else did I not name? The people you would add to this list will reveal your own compassion. If so, then lead on, good disciple of Christ, to serve them and help them and care for them and heal them and bring them justice in the name of God who not only knows all but feels all.  

In the end, the miraculous ability for Jesus to heal and feed leaves us in awe. But if he had exercised these acts of ministry without compassion, Jesus might just as well have been a robot. It is in the depth of compassion for others that we are most like Jesus. And it is out of this Christ-like compassion that we will respond with love and grace to those who are oppressed, sick, poor, and hungry. Without compassion for others, we’re left in need of another conversion in our faith. May it be that today, we feel more deeply and serve more completely in the name of God, the Most Compassionate One. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

  1. With whom or for whom do you feel deeply?
  2. Since compassion is something that can grow, with whom or for whom do you need to learn more compassion?
  3. In addition to compassion, what are other human emotions that God can use in us for the sake of others?

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
All Who Hunger

All who hunger, gather gladly;
holy manna is our bread.
Come from wilderness and wandering.
Here, in truth, we will be fed.
You that yearn for days of fullness,
all around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, never strangers;
seeker, be a welcome guest.
Come from restlessness and roaming.
Here, in joy, we keep the feast.
We that once were lost and scattered
in communion’s love have stood.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, sing together;
Jesus Christ is living bread.
Come from loneliness and longing.
Here, in peace, we have been led.
Blest are those who from God’s table
live their lives in gratitude.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

Sending Out
May the blessing and peace of God uphold you
the compassion and love of Christ enfold you
and the vitality and power of the Holy Spirit nourish and sustain you
this day and always. Amen.

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

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

Credits: The image is from https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vlnvt [retrieved July 31, 2020]. The Opening Prayer and Sending Out were written by Moira Laidlaw. Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty! was written by Reginald Heber (1826) with words inspired by the Nicaean Creed. It is set to a tune composed by John Bacchus Dykes (1861) which he named NICAEA in recognition of Heber’s text. The hymns were played by Tracy. The Psalm was read by Kendall. Ruah, Breath of Life was written by Jann Aldredge-Canton and composed by Larry E. Schultz. Mindy, Ally, Elizabeth, Kendall, and Tonya sang, Tessa played the flute, and Tonya accompanied on the piano. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. The gospel was read by Annelise. All Who Hunger was written by Sylvia G. Dunstan (1993) and set to the tune HOLY MANNA attributed to William Moore. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible translation. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Worship of God

Invitation. Today’s gospel reading gives testimony to the often hidden and subtle power of the Realm of God at work in our lives and world. The parables tell that the reality of God’s realm is at work now, and we are called to decide if this is the realm in which we choose to live.

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Piano Prelude

Psalm 105:1-5a

Give thanks to the Lord;
call upon his name;
make his deeds known to all people!

Sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord;
dwell on all his wondrous works!

Give praise to God’s holy name!
Let the hearts rejoice of all those seeking the Lord!

Pursue the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always!

Remember the wondrous works he has done,
all his marvelous works, and the justice he declared—

Opening Prayer
Eternal God, we come to offer this time of worship to you. Help us to so focus our thoughts on you, that we experience afresh your grace, mercy, and love as fresh gifts in our lives. We praise you for blessing us in this way and for revealing your love in Jesus Christ. With his endless love flowing through us, and the Holy Spirit guiding us, may our love for you and all you created never cease.

God, source of loving kindness and strength, we worship you.
Jesus, foundation of our faith, we worship you.
Holy Spirit, ground of our very being, we worship you.
Amen

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Hope of the World

Hope of the world, O Christ of great compassion:
speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent;
save us, your people, from consuming passion,
who by our own false hopes and aims are spent.

Hope of the world, God’s gift from highest heaven,
bringing to hungry souls the bread of life:
still let your Spirit unto us be given
to heal earth’s wounds and end her bitter strife.

Hope of the world, afoot on dusty highways,
showing to wandering souls the path of light:
walk now beside us, lest the tempting byways
lure us away from you to endless night.

Hope of the world, who by your cross did save us
from death and dark despair, from sin and guilt:
we render back the love your mercy gave us;
take now our lives and use them as you will.

Hope of the world, O Christ, o’er death victorious,
who by this sign did conquer grief and pain:
we would be faithful to your gospel glorious;
you are our Lord, and you forever reign!

A Reading from the New Testament
Romans 8:26-39

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son. That way his Son would be the first of many brothers and sisters. Those who God decided in advance would be conformed to his Son, he also called. Those whom he called, he also made righteous. Those whom he made righteous, he also glorified.

So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. Who is going to convict them? It is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised, and who also is at God’s right side. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us.

Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.

But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular this week, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com.]

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.

Prayer in Song
Come, Dearest Lord

Come, dearest Lord, descend and dwell
By faith and love in ev’ry breast;
Then shall we know, and taste, and feel
The joys that cannot be expressed.

Come, fill our hearts with inward strength,
Make our enlarged souls posess,
And learn the height, and breadth, and length
Of thine unmeasurable grace.

Now to the God whose pow’r can do
More than our thoughts or wishes know,
Be everlasting honors done
By all the church, through Christ his Son.

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-50

Parable of the mustard seed
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”

Parable of the yeast
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”

Parable of the treasure
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.

Parable of the merchant
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.

Parable of the net
The kingdom of heaven is like a net that people threw into the lake and gathered all kinds of fish. When it was full, they pulled it to the shore, where they sat down and put the good fish together into containers. But the bad fish they threw away. That’s the way it will be at the end of the present age. The angels will go out and separate the evil people from the righteous people, and will throw the evil ones into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

Listen to the reflection and/or read below.

Today we enter into a parable laden passage from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has taken common everyday experiences and fashioned them into stories to help us understand the mysterious works of God. The first two parables this morning are told to a crowd of people interested in what Jesus has to say. A small mustard seed is planted in a field and becomes a tree so large that birds can nest in it. A bit of yeast is worked into 50 pounds of flour and the dough rises to feed the neighborhood. Both stories offer the crowd hope and encouragement in God. A little bit of God goes a long way. God’s goodness might seem small but it is more than sufficient. God is more than able to permeate all of life, to bring change, and help one rise.

Maybe it was getting dark, maybe it was time to eat, for whatever reason, Jesus leaves the crowd and goes into a house along with his disciples. Inside with his close companions, he tells a few more parables offering more hope and encouragement. First a story about a hidden treasure that brings great joy to the one who discovers it. So great is the treasure that everything is sold so the field in which the treasure is buried can be bought. The second story is about a merchant who discovers the most beautiful pearl ever seen. The merchant sells everything so the fine white jewel can be bought. It is easy to see that the disciples are like the treasurer hunter and merchant.  They have left everything behind to follow Jesus. They have found the Treasure, Jesus, and have left everything to be with him. They have seen the Pearl, Jesus, and have set everything aside to follow him. 

The third story Jesus tells is a fishing tale. I would imagine this context probably meant more to the disciples than stories of buried treasure and pearls. A handful of the disciples had once been fishermen. They knew firsthand what it was like to cast a net out over the water and draw a catch of fish up into the boat. As the fish are removed from the net, they would be separated. Keep the edible fish, the kosher ones–like trout, mahimahi, flouder, cod, and sardines to name a few. Toss away the non-edible ones, the non-kosher ones–the eels, the sharks, the swordfish, and the dolphins. They didn’t have all these kinds of fish in the Sea of Galilee, but you get the idea. Put the good fish in the basket and toss out the bad fish. 

Then Jesus goes on to say that this is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come from heaven and sort through the catch of fish. But they don’t toss the bad fish back into the sea because this is the end of the age. Instead, they toss the bad fish into a fiery furnace accompanied by weeping and gnashing teeth.  

It would be quite easy and maybe preferable to skip these verses in Matthew about fire, weeping, and gnashing teeth. These types of Bible verses seem to fuel the fires of judgment against others who are not like us. However, here at CBC we are not that kind of faith community which labels people as good or bad, in or out, heaven or hell bound. We have all seen how the good news of Jesus has been distorted by such labeling and finger pointing and judgement all in the name of Jesus. Judging others isn’t our calling. 

These types of verses are also excellent fodder for preachers who like to dish out “turn or burn” sermons. These stories have been used throughout the years to plant fear in the hearts of everyone, including believers, so that people might act good instead of bad. If you are bad, you will be tossed away, into the fire, where you with weep and gnash your teeth. Leading people to fear God isn’t our calling.

These types of verses have also been used to motivate Christians to witness and to give money to support evangelical mission work.  They have been used to guilt us into witnessing.  If we don’t share God’s love now, today, with everyone, there will be people who will spend eternity burning, crying, and gnashing their teeth. Our actions or lack of actions are not saving. It is God’s grace that saves us not someone else’s witness. 
Convincing and coercing people to live the way of Jesus is not our calling. 

Here at CBC we answer the call of God to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ so that God might be honored and glorified. How many have already been told by the world that they are “bad,” or not good enough? How many have already been tossed out, cast away, pushed aside, and all in the name of Jesus? And now to hear Jesus use those same words in his parable, well, how in the world does that square up with “For God so loved the world….”  I know, I know, I have heard it explained so many times. Some say, it’s God’s corrective punitive love. God loves us enough to punish us so that we will do the right thing. That seems like hog wash. Honestly, I do believe that God is abundantly more creative and wiser than to make us afraid so that we might learn to love and trust. Any relationship that uses fear to produce love and trust, that’s a relationship from which you should run. Think about it this way.  If you were afraid of the teacher, you didn’t misbehave. Right? Did you ever hear Jesus say, “I came that they might learn how to behave”?  No. Jesus said, “I came so that they might live.” God’s goal for us is to know God’s constant abiding never-fading love for us, and that we share that same love with others and all of creation. 

So, do we just get a pen out and strike through these verses from Matthew’s gospel? We could use a black sharpie marker, but it would bleed through to the other side of the page and mark out even more verses. We could use that handy little white out rolling thing, but it would leave the thin pages of my bible encrusted. 

The focus of all these parables is the kingdom of heaven. Let’s remove the imperial language Our Anabaptist ancestors were persecuted under imperial law. So let’s go with “reign of God” instead The starting point for all of these parables is the reign of God. The reign of God began in the ministry of Christ. It has not yet fully been revealed, but we pray for it. It is not yet fully here, but the Spirit is always present and already working towards it. Christ helps us put aside those other-worldly views of life like an after-life refuge or eternal damnation. We have this hope given to us in Jesus Christ of the reign of God already here in the present, here and now, already with us. So how does this fishing net parable help us understand God’s reign here and now?  All of the above ideas about how this parable has been used, I still refute. 

Let’s remember that Jesus shared this story with the 12 disciples. Not with those who were interested or curious about Jesus, but with the 12 who were already committed, who had already invested all they had in Jesus. Jesus invites them to take a glimpse at the reign of God, where the bad is discarded and the good is gathered up. What a strong reminder that Jesus has come to call us to a way of life that is consistent with God’s reign. You cannot remove the idea of judgment from this passage, but you must see it in the light of God’s reign. God is just and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. What a blessing it is to know that the evil empires and individuals with whom we deal day in and day out do not have the final word. Jesus does not condemn evil deeds in order to frighten us into nonaction. Instead Jesus invites us to go ahead and start living in and under the reign of God. We anticipate the reign of God. We eagerly anticipate living in that full reality. We anticipate the ways of God, being the way everyone lives. We anticipate it. The reign of God–when everything, everything is made new. 2 Corinthians says, If anyone is in Christ, that one is a new creature. Look, everything has become new. (2 Cor. 5:17)  God’s great future for the world is coming. And it is what we anticipate, a future where evil is destroyed and God’s righteousness shines bright like the sun. 

Even though we are not in the season of Advent, this pandemic is teaching us how to really long for something–or in fact, many things. So therefore as much as you long for the day when the pandemic is laid to rest, long even more for the day when God’s reign is fully alive in the world. 

Questions for Reflection

■ If you were to write a parable about the reign of God, what object or image would you use?
■ In what ways has the past week been difficult? Which, if any of today’s parables helps you not to feel defeated from the week?
■ What are parts of the full reign of God that you really anticipate these days?

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
Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
And His righteousness
And all these things shall be added unto you
Allelu Alleluia

Ask and it shall be given unto you
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and it shall be opened unto you
Allelu Alleluia

Sending
God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep!
They are as mysterious as God’s judgments,
and they are as hard to track as God’s paths!
Who has known the Lord’s mind?
Or who has been the Lord’s mentor?
Or who has given the Lord a gift
and has been paid back by the Lord?
All things are from and through and for the Lord.
May the glory be to God forever. Amen.

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

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

Credits: The image is from https://www.pikist.com/free-photo-vccsr [retrieved July 25, 2020]. The Prelude is Andante written by Handel and played by Barbara on June 10, 2018 for worship. The Psalm is read by Dale, Jeff, Matthew, Wyatt and Jeffrey. The Opening Prayer was written by Moira Laidlaw. Hope of the World is set to the tune TORONTO composed by John W. Peterson (1954). The words were written by Georgia Elma Harkness (1974) who was the first woman to teach theology in an American seminary. The hymns are played by Tracy. Romans was written by Paul and is read by Dianne, AJ, Charlie, and Gary. Come, Dearest Lord was written by Isaac Watts and composed by James Kirby. Accompanied by Tonya, singers include Mindy, Laura, Ally, Elizabeth, Kendall, and Tonya. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. The gospel was read by Wren, Reason, Aiden, Addie, and Tonya. Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God was written and composed by Karen Lafferty. Tessa plays the flute. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. All scripture passages are from the Common English Bible translation. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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Preparation for Worship

  • Something green. Christian worship has different seasons throughout the year. We are in the season after Pentecost. The color green represents this time communicating growth and discipleship. Add some green to your worship area with cloth, paper, or plants.
  • Two candles. Our worship begins with the light of two candles: one represents Christ’s humanity and the other represents Christ’s divinity.
  • Something to eat and drink to celebrate communion. The type of food and drink does not matter for they are merely symbols which help us celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Typically, each week we have the option to hear the scriptures being read by one another, but not this Sunday. (It’s just been too busy a week for us to get that together.)

The Worship of God

Invitation. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus provides another agricultural parable about the reign of God using the imagery of wheat and weeds. Both weeds and wheat grow together in the world and may look similar to one another, but in the end, they will be sorted and dealt with accordingly. Jesus highlights that this separation does not happen until the seeds have borne fruit. It is important to approach the text with caution, as it has the potential to harm and hurt by drawing lines between “insiders” and “outsiders.” There is mystery in how God plants, nurtures, and weeds to secure a harvest of promise, and we are invited into hope-filled trust in God.

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

Gathering for Worship

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

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

Opening Prayer
God of all generations, as the author of the Psalm acknowledged your creative presence in such an intimate and personal way, so we affirm your presence with us in an even more wonderful and personal way – in the relationship established through Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit. We praise and thank you, O God, for reaching out to us and touching our lives in this way. We turn towards you in gratitude seeking to love as we have been loved and pray that this time of worship will be a worthy offering of praise and thanksgiving for the way you lay your guiding hand on our lives. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heav’n to earth come down!
Fix in us your humble dwelling,
All your faithful mercies crown:
Jesus, source of all compassion,
Love unbounded, love all pure;
Visit us with your salvation,
Let your love in us endure.

Breathe, O breathe your loving Spirit
Into ev’ry troubled breast;
Let us all in you inherit,
Let us find the promised rest:
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
set our hearts at liberty.

Come, almighty to deliver,
Let us all your life receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Nevermore your temples leave.
Lord, we would be always blessing,
Serve you as your hosts above,
Pray and praise you without ceasing,
Glory in your precious love.

(pause for key change in accompaniment)

Finish, then, your new creation,
Pure and spotless, gracious Lord:
Let us see your great salvation
Perfectly in you restored.
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heav’n we take our place,
Till we sing before the almighty,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Lord, you have examined me.
You know me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up.
Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.
You study my traveling and resting.
You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.
There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord,
that you don’t already know completely.
You surround me—front and back.
You put your hand on me.
That kind of knowledge is too much for me;
it’s so high above me that I can’t reach it.

Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—
even there your hand would guide me;
even there your strong hand would hold me tight!
If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
the light will become night around me,”
even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
Nighttime would shine bright as day,
because darkness is the same as light to you!

Examine me, God! Look at my heart!
Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts!
Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,
then lead me on the eternal path!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted. [Additionally, if you would like our church family to pray for someone or something in particular this week, email the request to tonya@cullowheebaptist.com.]

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.

Prayer in Song
When I’m Afflicted, Poor, and Low

When I’m afflicted, poor, and low, and light and peace depart,
my God beholds my heavy woe, and bears me on his heart.
I waited patient for the Lord, he bowed to hear my cry;
He saw me resting on his word, and brought salvation nigh.

He raised me from a horrid pit, where mourning long I lay,
and from my bonds released my feet, deep bonds of miry clay.
Firm on a rock he made me stand, and taught my cheerful tongue
to praise the wonders of his hand, in a new thankful song.

How many are thy thoughts of love! Thy mercies, Lord, how great!
We have not words nor hours enough, their numbers to repeat.
When I’m afflicted, poor, and low, and light and peace depart,
my God beholds my heavy woe, and bears me on his heart.

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN)

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. The servants of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Master, didn’t you plant good seed in your field? Then how is it that it has weeds?’ “‘An enemy has done this,’ he answered. “The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ “But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. Let both grow side by side until the harvest. And at harvesttime I’ll say to the harvesters, “First gather the weeds and tie them together in bundles to be burned. But bring the wheat into my barn.'”

Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” Jesus replied, “The one who plants the good seed is the Human One. The field is the world. And the good seeds are the followers of the kingdom. But the weeds are the followers of the evil one. The enemy who planted them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the present age. The harvesters are the angels. Just as people gather weeds and burn them in the fire, so it will be at the end of the present age. The Human One will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that cause people to fall away and all people who sin. He will throw them into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Those who have ears should hear.”

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey

Listen to Jeffrey’s reflection, “Both Weeds and Wheat” and/or read below.

Just about anyone who reads the things Jesus says in the four Gospels will recognize how often he talked about growing things in gardens or orchards. In fact, he uses agricultural metaphors in his parables and teachings so much that if someone were to tell me tomorrow that Jesus was not really a carpenter at all but a farmer, it would make so much more sense to me. I cannot remember a single thing Jesus mentioned about building something other than the kingdom of God, and there he was speaking metaphorically. Yet when it comes to farming, he knows his stuff. For example, Jesus talks about how to plow a straight line in a field in Luke 9:62. He discusses pruning vines in John 15:2. Jesus knows when to expect a fig tree to produce its fruit in Mark 11:22ff. And last week, in the Gospel reading for Tonya’s sermon, Jesus discussed sowing seeds in a field. It is not surprising, then, that this week’s parable from Matthew 13 also carries on the farming theme except this time Jesus takes on the weeds and the wheat. He moves the conversation from seeds to harvest. 

Parables are never intended to be straightforward analogies. Something is always unexpected in a parable so that the listeners, or in our case the readers, are brought up short by the surprise. It was a way to remember the story—the sensational component of the parable helped folks remember it and so re-tell it. As we move from seeds to weeds with Jesus now discussing the growing season and harvest, Jesus’ audience recognizes that he’s talking about God’s perspective on humanity rather than best farming practices. You don’t ignore the weeds if you are a good farmer. But if you are a God whose mercy is deeply rooted in the ground of grace, you do. Thus while Jesus uses yet another agricultural metaphor, he’s making a point about our relationship to the Gospel, and God’s tendency toward mercy. Let me see if I can explain what I mean. 

As I read this parable of Jesus, it seems to express one element of our human condition plus two applications for the Church. In brief the first point is that none of us have it all right. And the two practicalities for the Church are that the church is not solely holy, thus it is right to suspend our own judgment of others knowing that only God does so justly. 

It is too simplistic to say that two kinds of people exist—one that is good and right, and another that is evil and unjust. In reality, we are mixtures of all these things even within our own selves. Sorting out a balance of these traits takes wisdom. Recognizing and purging the evil and unjust we choose and emphasizing more and more the good and right within our capacity is to mature as a person and grow in faith as a disciple of Jesus.  I’m not the kind of theologian who thinks that all humans are born “totally depraved.” I argue against the Augustinian idea that Original Sin means that we are all sinners from the time we are born and thus are only deserving of punishment and death. Instead of repeating Augustine ad nauseum, I am closer to the Christian version of human sin often attributed to Pelagius that grows out of Genesis 1—that we are all born in “the image of God” as a “very good” part of God’s good creation. Our sin is an inevitability but also a series of choices. None of us are without sin, but sin is not the “normal” human condition. Thus it is part of the truth of the Gospel that Jesus exemplifies for us all the human possibility of obedience and righteousness. To live like Jesus in the hope of God’s world as God intended us to be within a holy community of forgiveness is the point of all his teachings, including these parables in Matthew 13.  

If we ever wonder why all those annoying people, or even evil people, are not just zapped by God and taken away so that the rest of us, who clearly don’t deserve death by divine lightning strike, can go on making the world a better place, Jesus warns us that the targeted guilty may be standing right next to us, or it may not even be another person. No matter how wise we are, it is impossible to know who is deserving of life, and it is an act of human arrogance to the point of blasphemy to think that we can choose it for them.  

Lest we forget, Jesus is also talking about the congregation of the church in this parable. It is not difficult to imagine that every congregation has some weedy Christians among the wheaty ones.  I remember going with Tonya to a conference one year and a workshop for ministers was titled, “Ministry To and With Difficult Church Members.” I can honestly tell you that we did not feel the need to attend that one! At the same time, like every pastor I know, examples of church members who have not represented well the Gospel of Jesus, or the grace of God, or the hope of salvation lived among a holy gathering of Spirit-led people are part of the reality of the lived church. We are, nevertheless, together with our faults and failings, the body of Christ on earth. It is no wonder that we are called to follow God rather than obey the church, for sometimes we, the church, get it all wrong. Even with this reality, the purpose of the church is to include all of us, weeds and wheat, and let both grow in the same field, sharing the nutrients of the soil of the Gospel. To pull out the weeds is to threaten the wheat. Even to distinguish which one I am, weed or wheat, may change from time to time. It is hard, it turns out, for humans to know the difference in either ourselves or each other. In this way, Jesus is not calling us out for our sin, nor puffing us up for our holiness, but giving all of us permission to take a sigh of relief that judging the sins of others in the congregation of the church is not our job. 

Even in the early days of the church, apparently during Matthew’s time around 80 CE in Antioch, these words were already necessary for they are part of what the gospel writer wanted that congregation to hear from Jesus. The church of Jesus’ followers by this time already diversified. The first followers of Jesus (fifty years before Matthew was written) were mostly Jews who heard and saw Jesus, witnessed the resurrection, and believed Jesus to be the Messiah. The congregation for whom Matthew was collecting the things Jesus said and did lived miles away from Jerusalem in Antioch, a huge city with a heavy Greek influence. Matthew’s church included both Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus. They almost surely were cautious and perhaps afraid since the Romans had destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem a few years before this was written. It is even likely that they no longer knew anyone alive who actually had seen or heard Jesus. But they also needed to hear that the church did not demand perfection among its followers. The church was not just for Jews, not just for the perfect, not only for the holy-like-Jesus ones. As it turns out, Jesus is easing the task of the congregation. It is not the responsibility of the church to weed out people, but to harvest us all. 

The weeding, or as Jesus explains it, the judgement before God, is left to God alone. While we have too often had “the judgement of God” wielded like a weapon of our impending destruction, here the idea that God judges both the weedy and the wheaty is hopeful and encouraging. The great Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote convincingly that the image of God as just judge is one of the most important parts of the Hebrew scriptures. It is not hard to imagine, then, that when Jesus mentions God judging, the people of God are to find relief in his words. God will always judge rightly whereas our judgement will always prove imperfect. God knows the heart’s true condition whereas we flinch at the pain of the wounds we sometimes cause each other. God sees the good or evil inside whereas we judge only what we know and hear and feel.   

These words of Jesus at the end of the parable are not doom and gloom, but goodness and truth. They do not signal an everlasting spiritual warfare of demonic and angelic powers hovering over our heads seeking to infiltrate and influence us for either good or bad. Such fanciful imaginations are informed more by the movies we see and the myths that we inherit than they are by the good news of these words of Jesus. I am convinced, that Jesus wants us even today to hear that we can go on and try to love and forgive each other. We can build a church that is always incomplete and imperfect without the need to eradicate all who err among us. Instead we love all who come and care and commit to the Gospel as best we can, and we take seriously the call to forgive one another, as we want others to forgive us, and as we have known forgiveness from God. After all, the unlovely often are those who need to experience genuine love; the crass and unkind are those who need to receive grace unmerited; the mistaken are those who need to feel forgiven by the people of the church in order to recognize the real forgiveness of God. 

In this we find perfection in love, and humility in spirit as the way to be the body of Christ as the church. Let God be God and make good and just judgement. But let the church be bold and fearless in community. Let her attempt more than just what’s comfortable and convenient even if sometimes we make mistakes. We are all in God’s harvest, brother weed and sister wheat, and only God knows the difference.  

Questions for Reflection

■ Who are some of the most important people to you that you have known because you were in church together?
■ How are being created as “good” and choosing to do what is right different?
■ What personal characteristics do we need to develop to get along with difficult people?

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

Song of Faith
Come Ye Thankful People Come

Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,

Sending
Go into this week knowing God’s hand is upon you,
blessing you and nurturing the life of Jesus within you
through the energy and power of the Holy Spirit.

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

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

Credits: The Call to Worship, Opening Prayer, and Sending were written by Moira Laidlaw. Love Dinive, All Loves Excelling is set to the tune BEECHER composed by John Zundel and named after his pastor, Henry Ward Beecher. The words were written by Charles Wesley. The hymns are played by Tracy with his friend John. The words to When I’m Afflicted, Poor, and Low are based on Psalm 40. Words were written by Isaac Wyatts and composed by William Bradly Roberts. The CBC Social Distance choir this week includes Mindy, Ally, Tonya, Elizabeth, and Laura accompanied by Tracy on the piano and Tessa on the flute. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. Come Ye Thankful People Come is set to the tune ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR and composed by George J. Elvey. The words were written by Henry Alford (1844). Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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


The Worship of God

Invitation. Jesus’ parable of the sower highlights God’s generous and surprising, disruptive, ways. The gospel reading today is one of three agriculturally based stories about the reign of God, In this parable, the harvest reaped from seeds sown on varying types of soil illustrates the number of ways people experience receiving God’s word. The seed is sown generously among all people. Despite the tensions and struggles among those who received the word, the work of God’s realm will yield a harvest.

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship
We bring our hopes and fears,
our struggles and our lives as they are,
into the presence of the one
who leaves the doors and futures
open to gracious possibilities.
God’s word lights the path before us.
May this time of worship
empower us to make faithful choices.
God’s word lights the paths before us.
May this time of worship renew and restore
our relationships with God and each other.
God’s word lights the paths before us.
Come, let us worship.

Opening Prayer
Abundant God,
use our senses to open our hearts and minds
to the richness of scriptures.
Help us to receive the gifts you sow
so graciously and freely in our lives,
and inspire us to share such bounty
generously with our neighbours. Amen.

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Another Sabbath Day Has Come

Another Sabbath day has come,
Another week is o’er;
And we, a grateful, happy throng,
Are gathered here once more.

We meet to sing of Jesus’ love,
And bow to Him in prayer,
We meet to read His holy Word,
And learn our duty there.

Oh, may the seed thus early sown
Spring up on goodly ground,
And in our hearts, our souls and lives
May fruit of grace abound.

Immortal fruit, that yet shall bloom
In paradise above,
Where we, with those now gone before,
Shall sing redeeming love.

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 65:9-13

You visit the earth and make it abundant,
enriching it greatly by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows, leveling its ridges,
you soften it with rain showers;
you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness;
your paths overflow with rich food.
Even the desert pastures drip with it,
and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
The meadowlands are covered with flocks,
the valleys decked out in grain—
they shout for joy;
they break out in song!

Prayer for Others
Pause after each paragraph to give voice to prayers as prompted.

God of each, God of all:
we pray for our families,
those with whom we are drawn together
by birth or by marriage or by adoption.

We pray for our friends and neighbours,
those with whom we are drawn together
by common places of work or learning,
by common aspirations and values.

We pray for our fellow citizens,
those with whom we are drawn together
by birthplace and nation,
by regional ties and societal traditions.

We pray for those who are part of this community
and in the whole Christian Church,
those with whom we are drawn together
by a common faith and uncommon grace.

We pray for those who are fashioned in your image,
with whom we are drawn together in one family.

Thank you Lord for hearing our prayers. Amen.

Song of Praise
There is Much in the World

There is much in the world that can call forth our praise.
You have made it all.
As our song now takes up sights and sounds of the earth,
all voices shall be one.
For the sound of the rain, for the fierce rushing waves,
for water quiet and cool;
we give praise and thanks, in each droplet we see,
all of your love for us.

For the warmth of a fire, for a blaze through the sky,
for orange and yellow sparks, we give praise and thanks.
In each flicker we see, all of your love for us.
For the green of the earth, for the rich, leafy trees;
for air that’s fresh and clean;
we give praise and thanks,
through each breath and each glimpse,
we see your love for us.

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN

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

The Gospel Reading

A Reading from the Gospels
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Listen to the passage and/or read below.

That day Jesus went out of the house and sat down beside the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he climbed into a boat and sat down. The whole crowd was standing on the shore. 3 He said many things to them in parables: “A farmer went out to scatter seed. 4 As he was scattering seed, some fell on the path, and birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground where the soil was shallow. They sprouted immediately because the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up, it scorched the plants, and they dried up because they had no roots. 7 Other seed fell among thorny plants. The thorny plants grew and choked them. 8 Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit, in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one. 9 Everyone who has ears should pay attention.”

18 “Consider then the parable of the farmer. 19 Whenever people hear the word about the kingdom and don’t understand it, the evil one comes and carries off what was planted in their hearts. This is the seed that was sown on the path. 20 As for the seed that was spread on rocky ground, this refers to people who hear the word and immediately receive it joyfully. 21 Because they have no roots, they last for only a little while. When they experience distress or abuse because of the word, they immediately fall away. 22 As for the seed that was spread among thorny plants, this refers to those who hear the word, but the worries of this life and the false appeal of wealth choke the word, and it bears no fruit. 23 As for what was planted on good soil, this refers to those who hear and understand, and bear fruit and produce—in one case a yield of one hundred to one, in another case a yield of sixty to one, and in another case a yield of thirty to one.”

Reflection on the Gospel from Tonya

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

In western culture, Friday the 13th is a day of bad luck. Tuesday the 13th is a bad luck in Greece. Even in Afghanistan some believe the number 39 is cursed because 39 is three 13’s.  Today and the next two Sundays, we will be looking at the teachings of Jesus from the 13th chapter of Matthew. The beginning of the chapter is anything but bad luck. The chapter is packed full of stories told by Jesus. Stories to strengthen, stretch, and shore up our faith in God. Stories that help us understand the love of God more fully, the depth and breadth of God’s love for humanity and the world.  

Today’s story is about a sower. Not a “sewer,” like someone who sews masks or a dress, but a “sower,” like someone who sows seeds to grow plants. Jesus is out at the lake today. Wouldn’t we all love to be there with him. Sitting on the shore, an eager crowd starts to gather and it becomes so big that Jesus has to get into a boat and float out a little into the water so he can have some breathing room. He sits down in the boat to teach while the crowd stands on the shore. I regret that the translation of the passage in our Home Worship Guide leaves out the first recorded word Jesus says. We have been using the Common English Bible translation this summer. Each of the church’s children have been given a copy and the translation lends itself so well to being read out loud. But the translation left out the first word Jesus said, “Listen!”  Matthew even adds an exclamation point after the word. Makes sense. Jesus is out in a boat out on the water teaching people standing on the shore. He had to get their attention somehow. So he shouts out to them, “Listen!”  It is an invitation.

Then Jesus tells his first story. A farmer goes out to scatter seeds. Notice that the farmer scatters seeds everywhere. Seeds are tossed onto the path where people walk. Seeds are scattered on the rocky ground where people usually don’t walk because it hurts your feet. Seeds are even thrown in and among the weeds and thorns. And as we would normally expect seeds are scattered on good soil too. My first reaction is what kind of farmer is this? Who wastes seeds on places where they cannot sprout and grow? It is either a not so smart farmer, or perhaps it is an overly optimistic farmer. And then the great realization, only God would do such a crazy thing, scatter seeds anywhere and everywhere, seeing potential in all spaces for life-giving abundance. It really makes sense, doesn’t it? Jesus doesn’t tell them or us who the farmer is but we do know what this farmer is like. A generous farmer who sees potential in all places. 

Later one, Jesus tells his disciples that the seeds represent the word about the kingdom of God. Those seeds are all the things that make up what we call the Christ-like way of living . A way of life that’s defined by the Creator and is characterized by those fruits named in Galatians chapter 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And that just the beginning, It is a way of life that professes God’s love, that loves the stranger and welcomes the neighbor. A way of living molded and shaped by the Creator’s love for everyone, a way of living that is characterized by sincere humility and active love. A way of living that favors life, humility, awareness, and never plays favorites. If it did play favorites the seeds would only have been scattered in the most loved places, or the places where they had the most potential to grow. Thus we have no right as followers of the way of Jesus Christ, as Christians, to deem who is worthy of wasting God’s love on and who is not. No matter what. So we are invited to scatter the word through seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, just to name a few, we scatter those seeds on everyone, everywhere. We don’t waste time trying to figure out if the ground is good or not, if the person is good or not. We just do it by living the way of Jesus Christ at all times.

In this story Jesus tells us more about the soil than the seed. Jesus describes four types of soil, each one representing a type of receptiveness to the word concerning living the way of Jesus. Jesus invites all to listen, but the word is received differently. First in the story, there are those who hear about living the way of Jesus and it is like the seed thrown on the path. The word is not understand and evil comes and takes it away. They don’t understand, not because they are not smart, but because their hearts are dull. They have insensitive, calloused hearts. They put up walls and refuse to let the word of love come in even through a crack. Next, Jesus says there are some who hear the word about living the way of God, they listen, like what they hear, and eagerly start to follow. But like the seeds sown on the rocky soil where the seed cannot take root and grow, the decision is short-lived in their lives. Trouble comes along, things are harder than they had expected, they suffer because of living the way of God, so they give up. The effort wasn’t worth it to them. Thirdly, there are others who hear about living the way of Jesus and it is like the seed thrown among the weeds and thorns. Living like God is in charge is crowded out by worries and concerns. Living the way of Jesus becomes last in line to pursuing wealth and success. They pay more attention to the worries or success of the world than to living like they live in the kingdom. Now the one who hears, takes the word in, and lives it, they are like seeds sown on good soil. They bear fruit in amazing quantities. 

Jesus goes further than just telling us that things won’t happen if we are not the right kind of soil. Truly we won’t bear fruit if all these other things get in the way. It does matter what kind of soil you are. It matters if you have a huge wall put up against things and your heart is callous. It does matter if you give up easily on living the way of Jesus when the going gets tough. It does matter if you are easily distracted by the cares of the world. Jesus looks back to the prophet Isaiah, chapter 6, especially verses 9 and 10 to help us get it. Reversing the negative, I’m going to summarize those verses for us and get right to the point. It takes eyes to see, ears to hear, a compassionate heart, and a willingness to change. And with those things shaping who we are, the Lord will heal us. The soil isn’t doomed. You are  not doomed.

Your callous heart can change. Your weak knees and gumption against injustice can change. Your worries can be put in perspective. You see, God will keep scattering those seeds of God’s way of living in your life because God loves you. Your heart might be hard right now, and that’s okay for God’s heart is soft and compassionate and caring, for you and the world. Your determination might be wavering right now, it’s okay. For God is constant, always with you, no matter what. Your anxiety, worries, and concerns may be crowding out all other things, it’s okay, God is with you. Please, please, don’t think that you have to be the right kind of soil for God to love you and spend time on and with you. God will not abandon you. God will keep scattering those seeds in our lives. And as we are able, we listen and hear that God loves us, we look and see God’s love, our hearts are open, and we feel the presence of God, and we start making changes to the hard soil, the rocky, ground, and the thorns and weeds. Take care of yourself. May you recognize the love God has for you and the world. May you hear the voice of God shepherding, consoling, and calling you. May you feel that love of God in your very heart down to your bones. We all serve and worship the same God, but we are all in different walks of our lives. And when we are stumbling, we have God and others standing with us, beside us. 

God will heal. God will make things good. For that’s what the kingdom of God is about. We try to bring the kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven, but it is a long and imperfect journey. But we are on the journey together and God is with us. Don’t let the world’s false expectations pressure you to be strong and courageous because you are Christian. That’s mallarky.  God loves us and that’s what matters the most. We answer that love not by repressing pain, anger, doubt, worries, and fear or by being cheerful, happy, in control, and on top of things at all times. No, we answer the love of God for us by learning to accept that love and by sharing the love of God with others. That’s what it means to bear fruit. These are weird times. But don’t give up. We cannot worship together. I cannot give you a hug. But I can constantly remind us all that God is always present with each and every one of us and God’s presence and love is greater than any human display of that love. May we rest in the knowledge that we have been graced and gifted with the most amazing — God loves you. 

Questions for Reflection

■ What are the different obstacles that restrict growth?
■ What are the qualities of good soil?
■ What are the basic things needed for faith to grow?

Life with God requires a willingness to disrupt norms and to have our lives disrupted by God.
■ What parts of our lives need disruption to serve God better?
■ How might the church disrupt unjust practices that society normalizes?
■ How can we live lives in the Spirit that respond to the needs of the world while resisting the ease and allure of the status quo?

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

Song of Faith
For the Fruit of All Creation

For the fruit of all creation,
thanks be to God;
for the gifts of every nation,
thanks be to God;
for the ploughing, sowing, reaping,
silent growth while we are sleeping,
future needs in earth’s safe-keeping,
thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labour,
God’s will is done;
in the help we give our neighbour,
God’s will is done;
in our world-wide task of caring
for the hungry and despairing,
in the harvests we are sharing,
God’s will is done.

For the harvests of the Spirit,
thanks be to God;
for the good we all inherit,
thanks be to God;
for the wonders that astound us,
for the truths that still confound us,
most of all that love has found us,
thanks be to God.

Sending
Remember this:
the Spirit of God is your life, and
the same Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead,
also lives in you,
giving life to your bodies and souls.
Go about your day with joy and confidence,
knowing that God is at work within you.
Romans 8:10-11

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

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

Credits: The Call to Worship and Opening Prayer are from Seasons of the Spirit™ SeasonsFUSION Pentecost 1 2020. Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2019. Another Sabbath Day Has Come is set to the tune LAND OF REST an American folk tune. The words were written by Fanny Crosby. The Psalm was read by Cindy and Reny. Amazing Grace is set to the tune NEW BRITAIN from the Virginia Harmony, 1831. The words were written by John Newton (1807). The song was played by Aidan. There is Much in the World was composed by Carson Cooman. The piano was played by Tracy. Choral singers include Ally, Elizabeth, Zane, Mindy, Kendall, and Tonya. The gospel was written by Matthew and read by Alizabeth, Sandy and Ron. For the Fruit of All Creation is set to the tune AR HYD Y NOS, a Welsh Melody and words were written by Fred Pratt Green. Blest be the Tie is set to the tune DENNIS which was composed by Johann G. Nageli (1836) and arranged by Lowell Mason (1872). The words were written by John Fawcett (1782). The hymn is sung by Mindy. Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-724755. All rights reserved.  All writings have been used by permission from the posting sites or authors.  

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


The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

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

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

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
All Creatures of Our God and King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 145:8-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN

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

The Gospel Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection on the Gospel from Jeffrey

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

Work Like It Matters 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Come and Find the Quiet Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

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

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

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

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


Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Amazing Grace (NEW BRITAIN

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

The Prophet Reading

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

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

Reflection on Jeremiah 27-28 from Tonya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Faith
Teach Me, O Lord, I Pray

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Worship of God

Light two candles in recognition of the presence of Christ.

Gathering for Worship

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

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

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

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Praise to the Living God

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 86:1-
7

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel Lesson

A Reading from Matthew 10:24-39

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

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

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

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

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

Reflection “Take Up What?” from Jeffrey

Listen to Jeffrey reflection and/or read below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

Song of Commitment
Christ to the World We Bring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and Love

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


The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Choral Call to Worship
Jubilate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Praise
Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee

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

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

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

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

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

A Reading from the Psalms
Psalm 100

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

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

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

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

Choral Prayer
Prayer of Julian of Norwich

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel Lesson

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

A Reading from Matthew 9:35-38

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

Reflection “Compassion” from Tonya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

Reamo leboga, (x3)
modimo warona.

We give our thanks to God (x 4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

Call to Worship

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

Opening Prayer

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

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

Song of Praise
Holy, Holy, Holy

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

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

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

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

A Reading from the Psalms
A Responsive Reading of Psalm 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Praise
How Majestic is Your Name

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel Reading

Song of Adoration
We The Lord’s People

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

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

Gospel Reading, Matthew 28:16-20

Listen to the Gospel lesson and/or read below.

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

Reflection “The Proper Use of Authority” from Jeffrey

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

The Proper Use of Authority 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

Song of Response
The Church of Christ, in Every Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Worship of God

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

Gathering for Worship

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

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

Call to Worship

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

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

Opening Prayer

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

Songs and Psalms of Praise and Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Song of Prayer
A Pentecost Prayer

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

Celebrating Communion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Testament for Pentecost

Song of Adoration
Come Holy Spirit

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

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

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

A Reading from Acts 2:1-21

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

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” 12 They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” 13 Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

14 Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! 15 These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! 16 Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
18     Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
19 I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
20 The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Reflection “Pentecost” from Tonya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection

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

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

Song of Response
God, Our Author and Creator

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

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

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

Sending

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

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

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

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

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