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Romans 5:1-5, July 5, 2020

 

Under the category of questions asked by your parents when you’re young that you should never answer:  “What do you take me for? Who do you think I am? Do you think I’m an idiot? And, the one we all hear over and over again: “Well, if Johnny and his friends jump off a cliff are you going to follow him?”

         

I know you remember that one. You heard it said to you and in one way or another you said it to your own children. Monkey see, monkey do, is an indicative version of the question.

         

It’s remarkable how much money as a society to set up all kinds of social science experiments just to demonstrate stuff our grandparents knew in their bones, because it was traditional wisdom that had been turned into proverbs and aphorisms.

         

But nonetheless I’m going to share the results of a few of these investigations because they convince us when we think we’ve outgrown what our mamas used to say.

         

One of the interesting things I’ve learned is the parallel nature of behavior and disease. A few weeks ago, Bo put up on the signboard this message: “Your virtue and your vice, are contagious.”

         

We live in a time of heightened awareness of contagion, of infection. Clearly the coronavirus that seems to have originated in China can sicken and kill the older and weaker among us. Men seem to be more vulnerable than women by a slight margin. Our fear of it has been stoked by the media, which seems to be what the media often does; if it bleeds it leads, as they say.

         

So we’re hyper-aware of contagion. We look at each other differently, calculating whether someone is a vector of disease. We treat one another differently now, avoiding normal social behavior that we thought nothing of only 4 months ago.

         

Those who haven’t read, or have forgotten the novel 1984, or Fahrenheit 41, or Brave New World, sometimes don’t have the same sense of looming danger when the authorities tell us to stay home, stay indoors, don’t go to school, or work, or church! Wear a mask. Funerals are banned. We’ve struggled with restrictions that most of us don’t remember, not being alive in 1919 for the Spanish Flu. And then the massive, often violent, protest marches were allowed, sometimes encourage, and even joined by some mayors and Senators.

        

 

In the context of all this controversy, we are reminded of the contagion of example, whether good or bad. And not just for children.

         

There’s a research journal, Social Forces, which ran an article in 2013. IT used data from the Framingham Heart Study which followed 5,000 people for 32 years and found that divorce, is contagious, independently of the normal factors that lead to divorce.

         

What they discovered was that if your close friends divorce, your odds of being divorced rise, and they rise drastically, about 75%. In fact, even if it’s friends of friends who divorce, the odds rise by 33%. It’s contagious.

         

We all know, and have experienced, that we often yawn when others yawn, some of you will start yawning here soon, and we’re more likely to smile and laugh when others smile and laugh. It’s contagious. That’s why people who smile and laugh a lot make other people smile and laugh. We catch it. We like to be around happiness. It rubs off.

         

But divorce, that’s a whole nother ballgame from an infectious smile. The 2013 study reinforces the notion of the power of human networks.

         

We are social animals. We live in a herd. We’re linked in all kinds of ways: families, neighborhoods, schools, churches, workplace, friends, and all those networks connect to other subsidiary networks. The urban legend, which may be accurate, is not one is more than seven degrees of separation from anyone else.

         

And the networks are not random. We connect most strongly to others who are like us in some way, sex, religion, race, age, politics, could be geographic, a common hobby, or even a club, an antique car club maybe, or model railroading, rescuing French bulldogs. Networks.

         

The coronavirus spread through networks, but so do other things. Political preferences of course, obesity has network causations, suicides develop in hot spots, teenage drug use, tobacco smoking, many things are driven by social connection in ways that are surprisingly strong and are too non-random not to be connected to the influence that we exercise over each other. Stronger even than our grandmothers’ proverbs would indicate.

         

Good thinks are contagious, as well. Adolescents are at an age where they’re easily influenced by their peers, and there are human network causations behind groups of kids who DON’T smoke, or do drugs, and kids who get higher grades, and win at science fairs, and get admitted to exclusive colleges are also influenced by their networks in a good way.

         

When we focus on the good behavior, however elicited by whatever means, we have arrived at the first part of Romans 5:1-5, which begins with faith, ends with love and passes through hope on its way. As the very same writer said in his letter to the Corinthians, Faith, hope, and love, these three abide, but the greatest of these is love.

         

How do you get from one to the other, from beginning to end? Paul goes over both ways for us. I don’t call them paths, because they’re not two separate roads to our common goal. Paul describes for us the first and requisite way in verse 1 – Justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.

         

In seminary some of the professors would commonly talk about unpacking statements like this one and you can see why. There’s a lot in there. It’s a very dense verse. Big words, power nouns: faith. Peace. God. Christ. And that crucial verb, justified.

         

To understand all this we have to not only know the story, we relive the story. Every person that confronts their own willful failures, the fact that they do the things for which they condemn others, this story starts in the Garden of Eden. The woman thou gavest me, she gave me fruit from the tree! And Eve said, The serpent tricked me, and I ate. The first 11 chapters of Genesis established the need.

Many people have been alarmed by the upsurge in violence in some of our cities this summer, but I gotta tell you, in Biblical terms, this is nothing. Read the Psalms and Proverbs and note how much they talk about violence, to say nothing of the book of Judges. And of course history begins with brother killing brother in Genesis 4.

Our world today, in this country, is having a spasm because of the ignorance and irreligion of the many and the privilege of a few, but this is not Bronze Age Canaan. As the old radio show began, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” It’s not the Shadow, it’s repentant humanity, only the repentant person can see within his own heart, through the illumination of the Spirit of God who probes all things.

When we’re confronted by the truth of Jesus on the cross, we see the truth about ourselves, and we finally come to understand that, just as with Abraham, God justifies, he makes righteous, through our confidence in the faith of Jesus Christ, who held his faith all the way to the cross and beyond.

Let’s think of that as the Y-axis on our graph, the divine aspect of what God has done in creating us in his image, and giving us the blessing of being part of the Body of God when we’re joined with him through baptism and saving faith.

Then, on the X-axis, Paul walks the way of the cross with us in vss. 2-5. Through that faith, we stand in grace, we rejoice in the hope for the Glory of God, and even find with troubles and trials we rejoice in them as well, because we know we’re not alone on that road that leads from tribulation through patience, through experience, to hope that does not disappoint, because God’s love rains down on us, “is shed abroad” by the Holy Spirit.

So the point of this second way that together with the first makes up the road we’re on is that we walk not a solitary path, we are not lonely journeyers, without company, nor without support and aid and comfort.

This is why I began today talking about behavioral contagion and infection. Faith is contagious. As are patience and hope and love. Let me take just a simple example. Without Nancy James leadership, there wouldn’t be the involvement of many of you at Journey Home and Coldest Nights, cooking for and feeding the hungry and homeless. What Nancy does, and what we all do is contagious.

I reported that we had 88 items donated in June for the Nourish Food bank, and already, when I got here this morning, there were 75 more items in the foodbank bins next door.

Take the simple act of going to church. The more people who go to church, the more will go to church.

Let’s go boating Sunday. Well, I have to go to church. You have to? Well, I want to. But why, you went last week? Well, Jesus doesn’t ask much from me but my presence with him and others around his table. Let’s go boating Saturday, and you can come to church with me Sunday.

The more people who don’t go to church, who don’t help others, who don’t share their faith, well, you know the results. It’s contagious.

We’re on a road. We need each other’s good example; we need the contagion of others’ joy and faith and good works. We are a social people. We live in a herd, and too often the herd stampedes the wrong way.

Those who stay on the right path can lead others back to the road we all need to travel.

Sermon, 6/28/20 Revelation 22:12-21

 

Do you look at the headlines much anymore? Or watch the News like you used to? A professor of mine from seminary days advised us to not only keep up with the news, but to read old books, and not only old books, but to read old sermons, and to read old biographies of preachers, wherever we could find them. I read a huge biography of Harry Emerson Fosdick years ago, by Robert Moats Miller. Highly enjoyable.

Fosdick, you may remember, was the leading and most well-known American liberal preacher throughout the middle of the 20th century. There was Billy Graham, Bishop Fulton Sheen, and Harry Emerson Fosdick.

If you knew the names of any clergymen besides your own, you knew those three. Fosdick was very controversial, leading the charge in the 20s and 30s from the Modernist side against the Fundamentalists of the day. He was a prolific writer, and turned his many sermons into many very readable essays. The church library has some of his books. The experience of learning from his life led me to others.

Another of those preachers that I read about was a man named Helmut. Helmut Thielicke. He was German, of course, and in the thirties was a professor of theology in Germany, until hounded out of work by the Nazis and repeated interrogations by the Gestapo. Thielicke was ordained, however, so he was able to serve as the preacher in a Lutheran church in Stuttgart, until the British bombs began falling and his family’s home was destroyed in 1944, when they temporarily evacuated to Korntal, a suburb.

He said, in a sermon called, “Jesus Christ in the Front-line Trenches,”

“When I was bombed out with my family, and on the following evening walked through the quiet, peaceful streets of a village, looking for emergency quarters, I had a curious experience. Before this I had often recovered from the sight of ruins and the heaviness of heart that came at nightfall, by sending my imagination off on a journey. I thought of a peaceful village with cows coming down the roads to their barns, and people talking about the harvest and sitting around the lamp in the evening, a place that was spared the tumult of war. The people in the village to which we evacuated, said a friendly “Good Evening,” the cozy lamplight shone through the chinks in the black-out curtains, and everything was as I had imagined it to be. But the longed-for peace would not come into my heart. I felt ostracized and the idyllic scene was tormenting rather than tranquilizing. In the next few days that experience drove me back to the ruined city and the people whose faces were still marked by the runes of terror. There I felt at home. They understood what I had gone through because they had suffered it themselves.”

Perspective. That’s what my old professor was hoping we’d gain by reading old books. I never met a preacher who suffered through the most massive air bombing attack in history to that point. And it was weird, as a consumer of many WWII movies and TV shows in my childhood, to think of this German as my brother, my colleague, my superior in knowledge and experience. Perspective. It’s a valuable commodity. Hard to come by sometimes.

We’ve all been whining and complaining these last few months. Think about all the stuff that’s been going on.

The headlines can certainly make you yearn for the good old days, when things were stable and seemed simpler. Now the bad news is literally everywhere. A deadly respiratory virus originating in China has killed more than 100,000 Americans. US and South Korean military leaders are meeting for emergency talks in response to North Korea’s latest provocation.

Russian and Western troops are sometime involved in dangerous, sometimes deadly standoffs in the Middle East, and North Africa. Russian military aircraft are buzzing US ships and planes, lunging at NATO airspace, and violating treaties. 

Equally troubling, NATO is dealing with as many internal problems as external threats. We seem to be drifting in opposite directions. In fact, anti-American protests are flaring across Europe.

Speaking of protests, waves of racially charged demonstrations and full-blown riots have scarred dozens of American cities. The throbbing anger has overwhelmed police departments all across the country—and exposed a deeply divided America. The National Guard has even been deployed in several cities.

Even as the president tries to end an unpopular war that’s gone on too long, his president’s popularity is draining away. Sensing America’s exhaustion, the enemy is surging as US troops pull back. 

We know all of that; except for one thing. What I’m describing took place 52 years ago, in 1968. Do you remember that? MLK, Jr. assassinated. RFK assassinated. Cities on fire. 39 dead, 2,600 injured, over 21,000 arrested.

Smithsonian magazine said that 1968 was “the year that shattered America.” The next year, 1969, was not much better. A lot of this is forgotten, but from January 1969 to April 1970, 16 months, there were 4,330 bombings in the United States… resulting in 43 deaths.

         

I need not rehearse for you the first half of this year, with an election still to come. But even in this world, there’s good news, and in our text from Revelation, Good news from start to finish.

Yet even as people who say they’re Americans burn the flag and pull down statues of Washington and Jefferson and Grant, the people of Hong Kong are waving the American flag and singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Those people have perspective. They know what freedom is and what it isn’t. And they’ve had the rug pulled out from underneath them. They know what’s right across the straits in Mainland China. It’s encouraging that some people—somewhere—still believe that America, while imperfect, is a great and good country. England is pondering offering UK citizenship to 3 million of them. I think maybe we should offer to take the other half.

“See, I am coming soon.” Some people are afraid of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, as if that means the party’s over, the fun is gone, and we all have to sit on the clouds and play our harps for eternity. But the Bible describes our final goal, the Resurrection, the New Creation, as built around a garden, a garden of paradise, built around the water of life flowing from the throne of God and not just one, but twelve trees of life on either side of the river of the water of life.

The Streets of Gold, the gates of the city made of Pearl, no more night, the light of God illuminating all and everything, all that is in these last two chapters of Revelation, which are written in a style and with figures that make best sense to the writer and his first readers.

I’m not betting the store that there will be twelve and only twelve trees, or that the streets will me made of gold. Transparent gold.

But the point is, there is an end to death and destruction, which is the beginning for which we all long. And there are at least two things to take away from this chapter.

Time. And Ethic. This chapter is pointing to an event in time, which at the same time will end, change, and transform time, into what, I don’t know. “See, I am coming soon.”

Remember when your kids used to ask you, are we there yet? When will be there? And you’d say, We’ll be there soon! What did you mean? In 2,000 years? Of course not. You meant, at most, a couple of hours, maybe, maybe sooner.

But this doesn’t feel like soon, does it? We worry about the near future of our country, but remember. Perspective. The overwhelming majority of Christians today, and throughout history, have never known a country with our blessings and freedoms. They perhaps have a different perspective. But many American Christians are worried. Worried about division, about losing freedoms, about poverty, about spreading violence and about the ignorance, so prevalent in our country, of the importance of history.

Jesus says to John, “I am coming soon.” You meant something different by soon, than what your kids meant back then. To a child soon is 5 minutes. Tops!

To God, what does it mean? Well, as Peter says, “do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

So, he’s coming back in, maybe a couple of days? Whatever that means? I get very anxious when I’m late. Late to anything.  Husbands and wives often see these things differently. I’m an early guy, because to me on time is late.

What I think of as time, is to God merely opportunity. We might think God has all the time in the world, but even that misunderstands it. God is the maker of time. For you and I, and our planet, the sun, the solar system, on and on, for all this to exist requires time, as a matter of fact, in a very strange way consists of time. That’s what existence is. But God doesn’t so much exist, as he just is. God is what existence comes from.

If I wake up late on a Friday morning and my wife says, the Garbage Truck will be here soon, you should see me move. I don’t want to miss it. It’s coming soon. I have a small opportunity to beat the truck to my front curb. If I’ve forgotten to take out the garbage on Thursday night. He’s coming soon.

Time. The first rental contract I ever signed was for an apartment rental in Lexington, KY, before we were married. Mom and Dad and I and little brother took a road trip up to see friends of theirs in Massachusetts, and we stopped in Lexington to find an apartment the month before Nelia and I were to be married, a long time ago now.

Lawyer Dad, who couldn’t resist the opportunity to teach me how to read a contract, pointed out a phrase in the lease. “Time is of the Essence,” was on one line all by itself. What does that mean, he said. I have no idea, I replied. It means, he said, that if you’re late in paying your rent, you’ve violated your contract. Time is relevant to your obligations to the owner of the property. Time, is of the essence. “Behold, I am coming soon.”

The ethic of this passage is also of the essence. In our understanding of the gospel, the promises made to God’s children are possible because of the action of one child, one son, the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus says in verse 16, I am the Bright and Morning star, that is a word of warning. It is again, a message in and about time, for the Morning Star in that part of the world, normally the planet Venus, was the last star visible in the night sky, the late night sky, the early morning sky, before the sun rose and it was day. No more night. He follows this statement with v. 17,

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.”

The water of life is a gift. But it must be taken. Back in vs. 14 and 15, we read: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

Not an attractive bunch. Everyone who loves and practices falsehood. My Aunt Carolyn loved to tell stories. She told so many stories, in such an entertaining fashion, you just never knew where you were with her. We’d be sitting at the dinner table, at Family Reunion, on Thanksgiving day, and she’d say to us kids, Now y’all don’t be like your Aunt Nelle, her older sister.

Why not, we’d say. Well, she waited too long to get married, and nobody wanted an old maid, so the only man she could marry was Norman cause she was faster than he was, and he just couldn’t get away from her.

Of course, uproar ensued at the table. I never knew what was true and what was not when Aunt Caroline was talking. But it was true, Uncle Norman did move a little slow. So who knows?

But over all the laughter and the hollering, you could hear Aunt Nelle, I can still hear her, Carolyn, there will be none there! There will be none there! I asked my mother what that meant and she said look it up. Revelation ch. 22. They were a very religious family, the Cave family. Aunt Nelle wouldn’t come out and call Carolyn a liar, but she would remind her that there will be no liars in heaven.

 

It is clear from ch. 22 that some will have a right to the Tree of Life, and some will not. There will be some inside, and some outside. Idolaters, adulterers, liars. The believer lives life in a way that is ready. Ready to arrive. Eager for Christ to arrive. Acknowledging our thirst, our need for that water of life.

An ethic is a way of life, that is drawn for us here, for the Christian is to be like the 5 wise virgins of Matthew 25, whose lamps were full of oil and their wicks trimmed, ready for the bridegroom to arrive. Readiness is an ethic. Don’t be late. In Mark 13, Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—  lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.  And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

Sermon Sunday, June 21st

It’s a challenge for all readers of the Bible to come to terms with the fact that the Bible is both the least political and most political book in history. Psalm 97 kicks off the argument with such language as “The Lord is King! Let the earth rejoice.” And yet the transcendence of the Lord’s kingship mitigates our sense of its earthly political relevance. The universality of that divine monarchy of itself lessens our attention to its reality. It’s to some degree like shouting “The Air is full of oxygen!” At first, till you figure it out, you want to hold your breath, but then you go on about what you were doing.

 

As one professor in my seminary would have put it, “The Lord is King. OK. What’s the cash value of that?” In other words, how does that work out in a way I can see it, or measure it, or point to it, or, have it affect my life?

         

We normally like to let this kind of language, The Lord is King, roll off of us because it’s uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in an anti-monarchical democracy. We used to say we don’t kneel to anybody, we’re Americans, but that seems to have, at least temporarily, gone out the window. But king language is still a bit uncomfortable for American Christians in our religious non-establishment regime. Is it a bid for power, this assertion of the monarchy of God, some sort of theocratic establishment?

It’s uncomfortable when we’ve heard the phrase “separation of church and state” all our lives, even though that phrase is non-constitutional, originating from a letter from ex-President Thomas Jefferson, and, by the way, I hope the DC police have a guard around the Jefferson Memorial, the way things are going.

         

We’re uncomfortable because too often the absolutist political claims of the Bible are turned into mousetrap cheese by Republicans and Democrats eager to score partisan points. From city councilmember race all the way up to a run for the presidency, many, often the most religious of candidates, cannot resist claiming the mantle of morality, the scriptures, the church. It’s understandable, a lot is at stake.

         

Even a phrase like “claiming the mantle” has biblical echoes, coming from the story of the mantle of the prophet Elijah falling on his successor Elisha, along with a double portion of his spirit.

         

So, ironically, the political nature of the Bible overrules those who would make political hay of the scriptures. The Lord is King. The Word of God asserts total claim over the affairs of humanity. Whose picture is on this coin? Well give to Caesar what is Caesars. But give to God what is Gods.

         

Now this is deeply offensive to the Kings of this world, and I include all political office-holders in that phrase, for to say that the Lord is King is also to say that the King is NOT the Lord. That is to say, the king, with a small k, let’s call him, is not the source of all authority, the king, in a real sense is not the source, not the fount, not the origin of any authority, nor is the people, the constitution, the strongman, the priest, the bishop, the congress, etc.

         

In the confession of the synagogue and the church, the king, meaning any and all positions of earthly authority, must live with the idea and the reality that some at least of his earthly subjects have a higher allegiance, an other allegiance, than to the king, that they see and live by the truth of justice and righteousness as found in the nature and actions of the Lord.

         

This is why I have no problem pledging allegiance to the flag. The Pledge of Allegiance is limiting, and it’s limited. It’s limiting in a similar fashion to the oath that a member of the military takes. The primary part of the Oath of Enlistment states that “I, state your name, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It’s not a personal oath to a particular president or General. It embodies the secondary sense of authority found in the Constitution of this country, which constitutes the nation. That’s the primary allegiance of the military, put into practice by an allegiance to follow the orders of the President and officers above one in the chain of command.

         

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag is to the flag of this country, which it represents, not a party, or a president, or an ideology. But the Pledge of Allegiance is limited as well. It is limited in that, as amended in 1954, it now states allegiance “to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

         

You see, pledging allegiance are strong words, words of power really, in Northrop Frye’s terminology, allegiance coming from the old meaning of liege, one’s sovereign, one to whom is owed fealty and devotion. And I would not pledge that kind of service unless it was understood to be a subservient allegiance to my primary allegiance to the Lord, for the Lord is King.

         

By the way, it was the Knights of Columbus, who lobbied to have the Pledge modified in that way, not that they seem to have anything to say about the recent destruction of Columbus statues in St. Louis, Minneapolis, Boston and Richmond. But I digress.

         

But the Lord is King, Psalm 97 says. Look at v. 2, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” The throne of the Lord. The throne is that from which the decrees of a king issue. The throne is a word that stands for the authority of any king.  It’s a symbol of monarchy. Why? Because the king sits, while others stand or kneel before him.

         

The throne is the picture of power, because it tells a story. I dominate the moment, it says for the king, and all the people, just by remaining seated, while others come into my presence. IN the Tudor age in England, everyone kneeled if the King came into a gathering from outside, and no one stood until the King, or Queen, gave them permission.

         

The throne is the Monarch. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of the Lord’s throne. The foundation sets the standard for what the house looks like, how it functions. That’s why you build your house on the rock, and not on the sand. The house, the building, partakes of the essence, the nature of the foundation.

         

And the Lord, before whom we kneel, our King, is the source and origin of justice and righteousness in this world. Of course, there are those who say there can be morality without religion, which I would challenge since every society that I’ve ever heard of, to the degree it is a society, that is, “a compact of people” organized for the purpose of common good, exists with a type of religion, that is to say, that which binds it together, its higher purpose, its goal.

         

It is religion, good or bad religion, that creates culture, which generates politics, which guides a society in achieving its stated ends. A society with no goals, a society in which virtually no one understands its goals, cannot prevail, nor long survive, the centrifugal forces that buffet all organized groups of fallen humanity.

         

Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart, v. 11 says, and this is a good reminder of why justice and personal virtue are needed in a society that is intentionally self-governed. A republic is a group of people all concerned with the res publica. That’s Latin, res publica, for the public things, that which we hold valuable in common. Peace, prosperity, family, freedom.

         

There’s an old Unitarian hymn, of all things, that’s always spoken directly to me in ways that highlight the power of words and images and poetry.

 

“Peace is the mind’s old wilderness cut down-
A wider nation than our founders dreamed.
Peace is the main street in a country town;
Our children named; our parents’ lives redeemed.

The peace not past our understanding falls
Like light upon the soft white tablecloth
At winter supper warm between four walls,
A thing too simple to be tried as truth.

Days into years, the doorways worn at sill,
Years into lives, the plans for long increase
Come true at last for those of God’s good will:
These are the things we mean by saying, Peace.”

 

         

But the only way in which a republic, which is a political regime without a king, without one ruler, but rather an agreement to settle for lesser goals, to pause disagreements about ultimate questions, to give room and space for people of goodwill to search, to solve, to hand on the answers that they find to posterity, the only way for the res publica to endure successfully is for the king to rule.

         

For a republic to work, to prevail, to survive, there must be governors, let’s say, on every street corner, in every place of business, in every home. You see what I mean. If a people are not self-governed, if enough members of a society cannot govern their own wayward impulses, the passions that are endemic to that crooked timber of humanity, then they will be governed by that which is stronger, and in this world that is always coercive force.

         

The Lord is King. We will be governed from within or without. A people that can truly and honestly rejoice that the Lord is King, a people that is willing to acknowledge with gratitude the remembrance of his holiness, as we should probably translate that last line, ‘give thanks to his holy name,’ there is the people that can govern themselves.

         

For it is only that soul that is a slave to Jesus Christ who can truly say that he is free. Clearly, truth is requisite for freedom, but not sufficient. A bended knee to the Lord, an acknowledgment with gratitude of his holiness, a willingness to be corrected over and over, to be forgiven, to be taught, and discipled by one greater than ourselves, is our only hope, and the only hope of a group of people who want to joyfully serve others by attending to that most human of callings, the res publica.

 Sermon Sunday, June 14th

It was back at the end of April that I sent Nicole my list of sermon texts that I would be preaching on through the end of June. I normally plan out a couple of months ahead. So it was interesting to come upon the description of the activities of this mob in Acts 16, in the context of today, where many mobs have rampaged in Minneapolis and Seattle and New York, Chicago and Washington and other cities.

         

Of course, Mobs are not an unusual feature in the Bible, the most famous of course being the mob that shouted Crucify Him! Crucify Him! And we come across a variety of mobs in the book of Acts especially, altogether described in eight different chapters, 7,13, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, and 23. The first is the mob that stoned Stephen and in ch. 19 we read of the mob in Ephesus. Beginning in vs. 32 we read: “ Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further,[g] it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.”

         

The town clerk, who seems to be quite a brave man, may his tribe increase, referred to a very real danger, for Rome did not tolerate lawlessness with impunity. The mob, of whatever kind, or time or place, is a fickle and dangerous beast, as apt to turn on the innocent as upon the guilty, if only they may slake their blood lust on some weaker person, for a mob has no reason, no thought, no prudence.

         

The primary purpose of a duly constituted and organized government has always been to control the passions of violence that blow upon mobs like tornados, sending them this way and that, until the fever burns out or blows out.

         

A political entity, to the degree it has any degree of legitimacy, must always maintain a monopoly on violence, or all power and legitimate authority will be seized from its frail and weak hands. When a legitimate authority drops the reins of power, there are always others eager to pick them up, though they may not be an improvement. The shark-like ability of mobs to smell blood in the water is well-known.

         

The mob in Acts 16 is swayed by the slave-girl owners’ cries of “These Jews! These Foreigners!” and the magistrates allow the mob to rule briefly, instead of ruling the mob and protecting the innocent, Paul and Silas. In the end, the magistrates only preserve their position and possibly their lives by the mercy and forbearance of the Foreign Jew they arrested, had beaten and thrown into prison, who also happens to be a citizen of Rome, the apostle Paul.

         

Like many mobs, this mob’s motives are mixed and confused, for they are blown upon by their own fears and hatreds, as well as the financially motivated slave owners, who know quite well what to say to get the mob all spun up and violent.

         

Peoples in every age of recorded history have hated Jews, partially because they remain Jews and don’t normally assimilate wholly into the larger society, and partially because of their wealth. They are slandered by those who are envious of their success, success increased by their family centered and religious solidarity, and adherence to a developed code, now called the Law of Moses. Many who hate God, hate restriction of any kind, hate competition, hate any kind of law that hampers them in their evil deeds, normally also hate Jews, for Jews are their obvious opposite.

         

Paul and Silas have not come to Philippi to preach the law of Moses. The Holy Spirit called them across the Aegean Sea to leave Asia Minor, now called Turkey, to come to the mainland, the philosophical heart of Europe, now the nation of Greece, to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

         

They came to Philippi, home of many retired Roman soldiers, given property there after the defeat of Brutus and Cassius by Octavian and Mark Antony 100 years previous. Paul goes to where the Jews seem to gather, perhaps having no synagogue in town, outside the gates down by the river, where he meets a woman named Lydia, who had been there to pray with Jews of the city. Lydia was a non-Jewish “God-fearer” or “worshiper of God” like Cornelius back in ch. 11 whom Peter baptized.

         

God Fearers were gentiles who were attracted to the scriptures and the Jewish way of life and often attended and supported the synagogue. Lydia and her household believed Paul’s message and were baptized.

         

Sometime after that Paul and Silas were, while staying at Lydia’s house, going back outside the gates of the city to where other Jews continued to gather by the river. It’s then when they had their encounter with the Slave-Girl who continued to shout, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.”

         

Now for years I’ve been puzzled by this. I’m puzzled by Paul’s annoyance. What exactly is objectionable about what she’s saying? Why is he annoyed? It all sounded right to me, sounded very religious, sounded Christian.

         

Two things helped me to understand what’s going on here. And they’re both relevant to our environment as Christians today. The first is we tend to think of our world these days, as almost entirely secular, outside of the churches. Part of this has to do with the emphatic attempts of the ruling class to keep Christians in a religious ghetto, where we worship in private, and the rest of the time, stay out of important business. Stay out of politics. From their perspective, any political, policy, or philosophical argument is invalid to the degree it has religious justifications. Only secular standards of reasoning apply in the modern world. Science! This is what we’re told, in many different ways.

         

But secularity, the world we live in, is a modern invention. An invention of the Christian world actually, which disenchanted the world of gods and spirits and fairies and demons and nymphs.  Secularity just did not exist in the ancient world. Everything, every aspect of life was “religious,” in that everyone considered themselves surrounded, controlled, influenced, or strengthened by spirits, gods, demons, denizens of the unseen world, which was not thought to be far off in some unseen heaven, but all around. The air itself, at all levels upward, and certainly the earth and all levels beneath it, teemed with dangerous spirits and gods whom one had to placate and please in order to move through one’s day and life safely.

         

For example, most of us aren’t aware of the actual millions of insects in a cubic acre above us in the air, or the approximately 400 million insects in the soil per acre to a depth of six inches, but that would not have surprised an ancient person, if, you said spirits, instead of insects.

         

This is relevant to our story because Paul was proclaiming one Lord, Jesus Christ, who was the Son, the embodied Word of the Father, The Lord, who had created all things, chosen Abraham and his descendants to be his servant nation, given the law to Moses, blessed his people, and punished them when they were wicked and disobedient.

         

This is the God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom Paul proclaimed.  The slave girl, as our NRSV translation says, had a Spirit of Divination. Theoretically, she could “divine” things. But when you look a little deeper the original text says she had a pneuma puthon, “A Python Spirit.”

         

Now for us a python is a pet snake that got loose in the everglades, so you want to watch where you step. They’ve done so well in Florida they’re holding down the Gator population as well as the wild hogs. Rough on the puppy dogs, though.

         

But for the people of Paul’s day, the story of the Python was of the snake that guarded the Delphic Oracle in Greece, in Delphi. In the Greek Myth, the god Apollo slew the serpent and took over the Oracle. There were “pythons” or let’s say, ventriloquists, all over the empire, and Christians and Jews rejected this kind of consorting with spirits.

         

So when the slave-girl said “These men are servants of the most High God,” this is not a compliment from Paul’s point of view. She is including Paul and Silas in her group.

         

Because the other thing I learned lately is that that phrase, Most High God, Theos Hupsistos, was a name sometimes used to refer to Zeus, or Jupiter, and other times to an actual god, that represented all the gods, for after all we all believe in God, don’t we a god worshipped by members of his own cult. In a sense the ancients were just early Californians, can’t we all get along?

         

So, from Paul’s perspective the slave-girl was misleading everyone. And doing it repeatedly. Again, from Paul’s perspective, it’s not actually the girl who’s doing this, but the pneuma puthon, the python spirit.

         

Paul, never one to run from a fight, says to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”

         

There’s your explanation. IN the name of Jesus Christ. We are not servants of the Theos Hupsistos, but of Jesus Christ. Paul speaks to the spirit, not the girl, and with the simple word of command, drives the python spirit out of her. Her putative “owners” when they realize what he’s done, kick off the whole rest of the sorry story that leads to arrest, kangaroo court, beatings, being placed in the stocks, and eventually embarrassment all round for the city and the magistrates. But it does bring salvation to the jailor, who’d been hearing Paul and Silas sing and pray all night, until the earthquake sprung everyone loose from their chains.

         

Whatever you might want to call it, I think the prevalence and the work of demons in our world is underestimated. The wishes of the evil one with regard to how we think about him, I think are of two kinds. One wish is to be overemphasized, to the degree that evil and its emanations are the center of attention, blamed for everything that goes wrong, so that all sin is attributed to the devil. This is a mistake. This is the Flip Wilson school of Diabology, “The Devil made me do it!”

         

The other wish of evil, and it’s a mistake, is that people close their eyes to the reality of evil itself, and pretend that it’s all happenstance, it’s a mental illness, brain disorders, faulty childrearing, bad nutrition, any problem you want to  name, the secularist has a reason for it.

         

And all of those things listed are real, but reality doesn’t occlude reality. Ideology hides reality. Evasion blocks truth. There is an evil being that wishes ill upon all of God’s creatures. He is neither God’s opposite or equivalent. He is powerful, but the Christian, washed of his sins, need not fear his power.

         

It is the name of Jesus Christ which is our power and protection. That is why contemporary theologians who want to come up with all kinds of names for God, but won’t say Lord, bother me. I worked with a minister one time who talked a lot about the Christ Spirit, but had a hard time saying Jesus from the pulpit. I sometimes see hymns that have this flaw. When you write a hymn about all the names of God, but you leave out Jesus, and The Lord, that’s a problem.

         

We are not the servants of some sort of generic God. This is why ancient Romans accused Christians of being atheists. They denied the existence of that or any other God. People think they know that God is love, but there is no God of Love who hasn’t died on a cross. His name is Jesus. He’s Jewish. His mother was Miriam. What we know of God we know because he has revealed himself to us.

         

He is not the most high god of some divination spirit, or of some Delphic Oracle, he is not your grandmother, he does not hand out participation trophies, he calls us to follow Jesus Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, the man who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

         

Paul filed no lawsuit against the city of Philippi. He had his sights set on a greater goal. He staged no march to protest his own beating. Paul was glad to come out of jail having led his jailer to faith in Jesus Christ, the Jew of Nazareth. The Lord was shaking the earth in those days.

         

Perhaps he will again. We may certainly pray that he will. But will we notice? “And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Sermon June 7, 2020 Luke 11:29-32

It will be a long time before we know the extent of the destruction wrought in our country in the last two weeks, not to mention the last three months. While we are in the process of attempting to recover from the economic, family, and mental health issues of the enforced stay at home policies, cities small and large have been subjected to an organized invasion which is killing people black and white, in the name of peace, safety and equality, and destroying the future for small business owners and employees of all skin colors for a very long time.

         

We learned Friday that the month of May saw the largest rise in Employment figures in recorded American history. But that was May. June seems to be a time some have decided that the destruction brought on by the pandemic was not enough. Violence seems to be erupting in our cities like a rampant cancer, and it seems to many to be planned and organized to elicit more violence from the authorities in protecting the vulnerable, unless you’re in NYC, where it seems all bets are off, and the only place off-limits is the Mayor’s mansion.

         

I could go on. So could you. I know you’re sick of hearing about all of this for nearly two weeks now, as I am. But this is not a political platform, it’s a pulpit. I am not running for office, I have been given an office, and a voice, so we’re going to talk about the Bible today, we’re going to talk about Jonah, we’re going to talk about the gospel.

For our problems in this country are the same problems of the church in Ephesus, to whom the Risen Christ said in Revelation 2: “I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

         

Jesus was challenged by the crowd in Luke 11 to work a sign. It says, “Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

         

Matthew tells us that Jesus, just like Jonah, had retraced Elijah’s footsteps down to the coastland of Tyre and Sidon, and healed a Syro-Phoenician woman whom Matthew startlingly calls a Canaanite, startling because the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 7 left no room whatsoever for Canaanites. This is the woman who is rebuffed by Jesus, before, at her insistence he heals her daughter. There were multitudes from the gentile populations of Tyre and Sidon who followed Jesus as Luke 6 tells us and in Luke 10, when Jesus warns the Jewish cities of Galilee for their faithless unrepentant attitudes, he says, “if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” (Remember those words)

         

Interestingly, these are kinds of people Jonah found in the boat he entered to run away from God on his way, he thought, to Tarshish. This is the man about whom Jesus says, “There will be no sign given but the sign of Jonah.”

         

Already in Luke, Jesus has healed the sick and raised the dead, and his critics ask for a sign. They want him to prove that he does not work his mighty works by the power of the devil, Beelzebul, which name has come into English as Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, but the original Hebrew is Beelzebul, Lord not of the Flies, but Lord of that which the flies buzz around in the farmyard, as I remember walking through the clouds of flies when we picked up the eggs in the chicken coops on the farm. Jesus minces no words.

         And verse 29 says “As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.”

         When Matthew tells this story in Ch. 12, it says, “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

         What is the sign of Jonah, and why is it pertinent today? Jesus understands the demand for a sign as evidence of unbelief. We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt that way.  Show yourself to me, Lord, and then I’ll know for sure. We tempt the Lord, we try the Lord, rather than trusting him. We are the evil and adulterous generation that seeks a sign, and when a suitable sign does not come, we go our way, thinking we now know the truth, even as we blindly stumble into every kind of wickedness and societal dysfunction and catastrophe.

         All who seek a sign are like the man who says he believes and yet denies Christ, the fearful apostle Peter, who under the pressure of the mob, swears he doesn’t even know who they’re talking about. Never heard of him.

         Jonah is the sign. There are those who think Jonah is a silly story for Sunday School children. It’s such a good story it’s fallen victim to illustrators and cartoonists and children’s book authors. But Jonah is a multivalent and complex story about the faithlessness and fearfulness of God’s man, and also the fear of God evidenced by the Gentile sailors. It’s about a man who hits bottom, all the way to the bottom, you can’t get much closer to the bottom than swallowed by the Leviathan of the deep, way, way down in the depths of the unknown deeps of the sea. Then, only then, Jonah prays. When he’s hit bottom.

         Now, the prayer of Jonah is a pastiche of various psalms, and not written by a romantic poet in a fine frenzy of authenticity. Every verse of Jonah’s prayer in ch. 2 can be matched with one or another of the Psalms. It starts off in a very psalm-like manner: “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of hell I cried, and you heard my voice.”

         

Is that the way you would have started off a prayer in a similar situation? “Oh God, what’s happening? Help?”

Jonah’s prayer is an affirmation of the tradition of the common, written and sung prayer tradition of temple practices. Verse 4 says, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight; yet I shall again look  upon your holy temple.’

         

He describes his plight in verses 5 and 6, “The waters closed in over me to take my life;  the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head6  at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.”

         

The roots of the mountains are thought of as at the bottom of the sea, and notice how the “sea weed” wraps around his head, and he’s enclosed in the “bars of the Pit” likely the ribs of the great fish, or whale. And as he says in verse 7, “When my life was fainting away,  I remembered, the Lord,
and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.”

         Jonah has fled from the Lord, and now prays, to be returned to his presence, assuming that the Temple is where God is. But Jonah has a ways to go before he returns to the Temple, for Nineveh, that great city, is waiting for his word.

         The sign of Jonah. Jonah, as low as possible, prays and is delivered. A somewhat messy delivery: the great fish vomits him up.  The sign of Jonah, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 

         The gospel of Jesus Christ is found in that one little word: second. The Word of the Lord came to Jonah the SECOND time. Do you ever get disgusted with people who let you down? Do you get impatient with people who don’t follow through, who avoid their responsibilities, who evade their promises?

        

 Jonah was not just anybody. II Kings tells us Jonah is a Prophet, one on whom the Spirit of God has fallen, one whom God has plucked up to fulfill God’s purposes in the world. Go to Nineveh, he tells Jonah. And Jonah runs away, we later learn in chapter 4, because he did not want Nineveh to repent. “ But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

         

You see, now we’re getting somewhere. The sign of Jonah is the word of Jesus to a wicked and unbelieving generation: who is like that? Nineveh. Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.””

         

The sign of Jonah is given. But a sign is only a sign to those whose eyes are open, to see it. I knew, JONAH says, “that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

         

God has the last word in the book of Jonah, so we don’t know Jonah’s disposition, but the story of Jonah and Nineveh emphasizes the haste and quickness with which Nineveh repented of their wickedness.

         

“Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, (remember those words?) from the greatest of them to the least of them. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”

         This prophetic book gives us no clues that it is set in some actual historic happenings of Nineveh. We don’t know who the king is, we don’t know when all this took place, we’re not asked to understand and believe something about the inner digestive workings of the cetacean denizens of the deep, but we learn who God is. That’s what the story is about. And that is enough.  He is a gracious God and merciful.

         The word came to Jonah a “second” time, that’s a gospel word. A second chance. Jonah’s spiteful acknowledgement of God as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” is a gospel word. Even spoken in spite and disappointment, Jonah cannot help but tell the truth. It’s the sign of Jonah.

         Over and over we must acknowledge, Jesus is the people of Israel, re-living the call and promise of the unhearing nation. He is the chosen people But Jesus needs so “second word” as Jonah did. Jesus IS the second word. Jesus is the gracious God and merciful. Jesus goes all the way down to the depths, all the way to the belly of hell, as Matthew points out in the parallel passage.

        

 “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

         

The sign of Jonah. Nineveh didn’t last. It’s a few bricks and sand and dust today.  It was captured, but not destroyed, by Persians. Babylon didn’t last. It too was captured by the Persians, but was a home to the Jews and a center of great learning for centuries. Who would have ever believed that Nineveh would believe Jonah and repent? Almost like believing in 30 AD that the Jews could overturn Rome. The famous atheist Nietschze reminds us in fact that by means of belief in Christ the Jews did indeed conquer Rome. Just a few centuries after crucifying the homeless Jew on a cross, all of Rome was bending the knee, bowing down to him and worshipping him as God in the flesh.

         

Nineveh came to naught, and Babylon came to naught, but one could argue that the overturning and repentance of Rome is the figural completion of the prophecy of Jonah, who spoke to that great city. There is indeed one greater than Jonah present.

         

Jonah is the sign, the sign of Jesus Christ. Notice that Jonah offers no sign. He gives the shortest sermon on record, maybe there’s a lesson there, (but don’t get your hopes up) “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” That’s it. No invitation, no Just as I Am, no begging and pleading. NO Sign. No sign.

         

The Word of the Lord came to them, and it was sufficient. Jesus is saying, this is the time of your visitation. “The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment and condemn this generation, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah. And behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”

         

The smoke of burning cities is all over our country these days. I’m starting to smell it. In our time of visitation, will we repent? Will God relent of the judgment he has planned for us? Has the Word come to us a Second time? And are we listening?

 

 

 

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Sermon May 31, 2020

I’d like you to close your eyes for a moment. Sometimes our vision distracts us from really seeing. Our text today begins, “After this, I looked, and there before me….”

         

John was given vision to see what no one else had seen. To receive the vision. To see our way clear. To behold God—these require the capacity for imagination. An ability to see, what others perhaps cannot see. TO perceive a reality that is visible to those who’ve been the given the gift of sight that is uncommon.

         

You may open your eyes now.

This notion of seeing a reality that’s not easily visible is not only a Biblical concept. Plato famously told the story of what’s become called the “allegory of the cave.” It’s along the lines of other “Life is like…” statements of philosophers, like Forrest Gump’s mother. “Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.”

         

In Plato’s philosophy, life is like a cave. The reality we think we see is only the shadows on the back wall of cave. Socrates, in Plato’s telling, describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and they give names to these shadows. The shadows are these prisoners' reality.

Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not reality at all, for he can now perceive the true form of reality rather than the manufactured reality that is the shadows seen by the prisoners.

The truth, or otherwise, of our perceptions is a perennial question. You can see a bush at a distance and think it’s a person. You can get chewed out by a teacher, or coach, or a parent, and think they hate you, when they’re really loving you. As Proverbs 27 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

A story I think of when reading our text from Revelation is another Bible story, from the Second book of Kings. In chapter 6, Elisha is in the city of Dothan, which is only mentioned here and in Genesis, where Joseph’s brothers were keeping their flocks when he went looking for them. When Dothan AL was incorporated, a local minister suggested the name, but I couldn’t find out why that name, or whether he was thinking of the Genesis story or the story of Elisha.

In 2 Kings, the Aramean king is frustrated because Elisha has been advising the king of Israel on how to avoid and evade the Aramean army, and so he sends his army after Elisha, who’s in the town of Dothan, northwest of Jerusalem.

13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.

15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Stuck in Dothan and surrounded by the Aramean army, Elisha prays for his servant, who’s anxious. “Open his eyes,” he prays, the assumption in the story being that Elisha somehow sees what the servant cannot see. Clearly, the horses and chariots of fire are a picture of God’s power and provision for Elisha.

Interestingly, in this case, the chariots of fire, and the angels of fire, who presumably drive the chariots, do nothing. Maybe they’re there just for the unnamed servant. I don’t know.

But the story proceeds when Elisha then prays that the Lord would strike the army blind, which he does. Elisha then goes out to the army and says, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.”

He then takes the army to Samaria, where the king of Israel waits. The Lord opened their eyes inside the city and, at Elisha’s suggestion, the king feeds the army and sends them back to their own home.

This is the classic Biblical text on true vision, for the servant was blind to the reality of God. It points to the gospel of John, when Jesus sits down with his disciples.  “Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” 

  Vision is central to the way we express ourselves. We say things like, “You see what I mean?” or, “I don’t see where you’re going with this.” Look before you leap. You can observe a lot just by watching, according to Yogi Berra.

Joseph’s brothers back in Dothan could not see God’s plan, and could not see the visions revealed to Joseph. Elisha’s servant could not see the security God provided for his servant Elisha, until his eyes were opened. The Aramean soldiers could not see their situation, until God opened their eyes. Saul could see what no one else saw, the Risen Christ, on that road to Damascus when he was blinded, and when he came to baptism by Ananias his vision was restored.

Moses said to the Lord at Mt. Sinai: “Show me your glory.” And the Lord said to Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name, “The Lord.” But you cannot see my face for no man can see my face and live.”

Have you ever thought, if I could just see God, then I would know! There’d be no doubt!

Seeing God, what Dante and others call, The Beatific Vision, the Blessed Vision, is a desire planted by God in our hearts. But, as we see in the later story in Exodus, when God revealed his goodness to Moses, he placed his hand over Moses as he passed by, while Moses was in the cleft of the rock.

This is a puzzle, that sometimes confuses, but it need not. For we tend to think of God most often in terms of morality and salvation, and that leaves out a lot. We reflect on God often in the context of sin, our sin. “I’m caught up in sin, God is holy, but he promised to forgive.”

I’m justly condemned by my sinful life and actions. In God’s grace he has come to us in his Word, his Son Jesus Christ, and taken upon himself the sins of the whole world, that the power of death and its condemnation might not control us eternally.

But to understand why we may not, must not see God, goes beyond questions of sin and morality.

There is a very real sense that the presence of God, who dwells in unapproachable light as I Timothy 6 says, is a type of refining fire, as Malachi the prophet says. Our God is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12 reminds us.

Fire is dangerous, we know that, and we think of fire as destructive, as it is in many ways. But fire is also transformative, turning matter into energy, just as plants and trees turn energy into matter.

When Paul says that God dwells in unapproachable light, he is speaking from the Hebrew Biblical tradition, as well as that of the Greek philosophical tradition. We are, in this life, protected by God from too close of an encounter with his consuming fire.

So much of the Old Testament law was for the protection of God’s people, as Unholiness is burnt up by Holiness. You can’t toss kindling into a hot fire without it being burnt up. So God gently comes to us as a man, who starts off wearing diapers and suckling his mother’s breast. God puts a damper on the fire, he puts a governor on the engine. God limits himself that we might hear, and live, Isaiah’s word:

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

God is different from us in ways we can’t comprehend or perceive, but he has, from the beginning, made us in his own image. He has stooped down from his lofty height, to lift us up, in and through Jesus Christ.

This is why to know God, to see God, we must take the path he has given us, the path he has blazed. Without the shocking and unprecedented nature of the story of Jesus Christ, what would we know of any God we might dream up?

Powerful, orderly, just, unpredictable, frightening. To try know God simply and only from the world around us, or as a large reification of human society in itself with some sort of monarch at the apex, is to be left simply and solely with an oppressive other that is only from outside, or only the conglomeration of all perceivable power, whether in nature or humanity.

It is only with the story of the gospel, when we contemplate the manger, when we remember the bloody cross, and the dead body of God in the tomb on Holy Saturday, that then, then we begin to see. Then our sight is restored and the vision of Revelation 7 takes shape.

Then we see and understand why the angels, the 24 elders, and Four Living Creatures, who speak the gospel, then we understand why they cry out in a loud voice,

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The language in Revelation 7 takes us back to Genesis when God accepted the sacrifice offered by Abel, as also seen in Egypt when the Lamb is sacrificed at Passover and the lintels and doorposts are signed with blood the night before the Exodus. The OT imagery of the Lamb is most prominent in Revelation and the gospel of John, where the Baptist says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

The crowd in white robes are described in baptismal language and the language of martyrdom. “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night in his temple;
    and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

He who sits on the throne is strong language, for the time, theologically speaking. The New Testament writers were all working at understanding the complicated relationship with the Trinity of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and this is three centuries before the church has time and freedom to come to terms with some of this.

But the Lamb on the Throne is perhaps the strongest affirmation of the meaning of the name given to Jesus in Matthew 1, “They called his name, Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”

God is with us in the midst of racial violence around the country, in the midst of the pandemic some have suffered greatly under, and in the midst of economic catastrophe as a result of the pandemic.

The Christian has a story that is longer than his or her life. The Christian has a story that connects through time and space. It goes back to Abel, who not forgotten. It goes back to the enslaved Hebrew Children, whose cry was heard by God, it goes back to those early Christians, hounded and persecuted by family, neighbors and government.

“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

May 24, 2020

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

Sources from the early church confirm the practice of sharing the gift of peace. In the Didache, an early Christian writing nearly as old as many of the New Testament Worship Formation & Liturgical Resources: Frequently Asked Questions writings, the Christian community is encouraged to "come together on the Lord’s day, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. Anyone who has a quarrel with his fellow should not gather with you until he has been reconciled, lest your sacrifice be profaned." This passage from the Didache confirms that the pattern Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount became a regular weekly occurrence in the early Christians’ practice of Holy Communion. (Link)

Joys and Concerns of the People

Our planned re-opening May 31, as well as churches unable to reopen

Nursing Home residents around the country

The Light of Christ Enters

Prelude   "Victory In Jesus" by Bartlett

https://youtu.be/MN0OJGb2Pjg

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One:  Give ear, O heavens, and let the earth hear our words for we will proclaim the Name of the Lord.

All: Ascribe greatness to our God, for his work is perfect and his ways are just.

One: Enter his gates with thanksgiving

All: and his courts with praise. Amen.

 

Hymn of Praise 108

(Refrain)
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred name.

1. Come, Christians, follow where the Master trod,
our King victorious, Christ the Son of God.

2. Each newborn servant of the Crucified
bears on the brow the seal of him who died.

3. O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
your death has brought us life eternally.

4. So shall our song of triumph ever be:
praise to the Crucified for victory!

(An interesting a cappella version:) https://youtu.be/TetkXEiCrOk

Invocation

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Call to Prayer

Easter is a time when we change some things in the service, to reflect the move from to the Easter season. Dona Nobis Pacem is what we planned for the Call to Prayer. Here’s a beautiful version.

Pastoral Prayer

 

Prayer Response

At every baptism I witnessed as a child, the congregationally seemed to spontaneously sing the refrain of this hymn: Into My Heart

Scripture   Luke 12:22-34

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[d] 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;[e] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his[f] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 

Sermon

I like and I don’t like this passage from Luke all at the same time. I like it because, o the surface at least, it confounds the many who ride around with bumper stickers like “The Bible! God said it, I Believe it, That Settles it!” Given this well known passage from Luke, it seems kind of ironic to see that on the bumper of a an expensive car, or any car really, because I wonder, how does one believe that Bumper sticker in a way that allows one to ignore “Sell your possessions and give to the poor?” Luke 12:33.

I think our modern reaction to language like this: Sell your possessions and give to the poor, or “Seek his kingdom and all this will be yours as well,” is different from what his first hearers’ reaction would have been

At first glance, what Jesus says about lilies and birds seems to contradict Genesis 3:17-19, which describes the changes from living in a paradisal garden where food drops from the trees and falls into our hands, to a condition of life filled with toil and trouble.““Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

 Is the necessity of work abrogated by Jesus’ language here? For even in the Ten Commandments, the assumption seems to be we will work all our lives, and have to be told to rest, if only one day in seven.

Do all who follow Jesus have no need to work for the necessities of life because the Father will provide all w need without toil and trouble and the sweat of our brow?

On the other hand, while a part of me likes this passage, with its emphasis on the Father’s care for his children, another part, preacher part, does not because I can’t seem to make sense of it. I can’t in good conscience promote surface sense of this passage, if my above understanding is correct.

I know a divorced woman in Texas not much older than me, who inherited her daddy’s ranch, which was no bed of roses really. Inheriting the ranch in that world meant taking on the responsibilities of managing a couple hundred head of beef cattle. Haying the cattle, and supplementing their feed, and repairing fences, and loading them onto trailers and hauling them to market, and carrying a rifle to shoot at the coyotes that from time to time would come after the calves.

She was really living life in the old west, everything except shootouts in the street and, a shot of rye bartender. Her business provided no fat profit margins, so it wasn’t possible to hire extra “hands” to do the hard stuff.

Very iffy kind of “business” that was, and if the grass didn’t grow because of a dry summer, most of her profit went into buying hay shipped down from Kansas or Nebraska.

Is she supposed to sell her herd? Give it all away? And then what? Who feeds her? Who feeds the people she was feeding with her herd of cattle? How do we reconcile stark challenges like Luke 12 with economic realities of today? And even in the first Century.

One of the things you learn in looking at the literature of commentary about this passage is that Jesus’ mandate did not seem to cause consternation among those reading and interpreting. In fact, it seemed to do the opposite, which fits with the way the passage begins in vs. 22; “do not be anxious.”

Jesus’s words of vs. 33, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor<’ are directly in line with the standard tradition of Jewish piety from the time of the Law as found in Leviticus (23:22) and Exodus (23:11) and throughout the OT and even in the Apocrypha, in that period between the Testaments, as it were.  

When we studied the Apocrypha last year, one of the books we read, Tobit, looked at Almsgiving as a foundation of Jewish piety. Giving to the poor is a repeated refrain in the book of Proverbs as well, as seen in 19:18, which says “Whosoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deeds.”

Did it ever occur to you that one could “lend” something to the Lord? The mind boggles, does it not? And yet there it is. When you put your money in the bank, you’re lending to the bank, you might say. They pay you, a pittance really, for the privilege of using your money for their own business, at whatever the going rate is, at least till we hit negative interest rates. And then I guess you have to pay them!

As Jesus advocates in Luke 12, instead of storing your money in the bank, give to the poor, that is, “provide yourselves with moneybags that don’t grow old, which no bank robber can steal.”

Money often makes us anxious, whether by its absence or presence. This seems to be the first goal of Jesus’ words here, to help us to not worry about money.

Which is different from being diligent, hardworking, thrifty, reliable, smart, savvy, and a good steward. Can we not do those things as well, without worry, without anxiety?

The context is seen in the parable that precedes our text, the man who builds more storehouses for his harvest, but had neglected to be on his “guard against covetousness; (vs. 15). “Life does not consist in abundance of possessions,” Jesus says.

So, when we try to focus our understanding on Jesus’ context, as well as see clearly from our standpoint, looking backward, we have to take into consideration all kinds of things about how the world has changed.

One of the first things to note is that the problem of poverty, by which I mean not enough to eat, is the perennial problem of politics. And by politics, I mean the act and art of governing. Kings, presidents, prime ministers, dictators, all have to take into consideration the poor. How to control the poor, how to help the poor, how to feed the poor, how to ameliorate poverty, how to prevent poverty from growing.

The ancient Romans of the Empire period had to provide the dole, free bread to the tens of thousands living in poverty in the city of Rome. Without the dole, there would have been regime threatening riots. Modern democracies solved part of the problem by encouraging self-rule, and by encouraging the virtues necessary for that experiment. Some of which are the same virtues necessary for leaving poverty behind.

And the spread of political and financial freedoms instituted by the West, especially since 1980, has seen the poverty rate absolutely plummet to depths never before seen in history.

To understand this, we have to remind ourselves that our current wealth is the exception, and poverty normal status of most of humanity. It is poverty, struggling for life’s necessities, in which the overwhelming majority of humanity has lived for almost all of history. The Biblical notion of being made in the image of God has, within the last 500 years, begun to play a more prominent role in the ideas of political philosophy and economy, beginning before that time, but growing slowly.

When Wat Tyler led the Peasant’s Revolt in England in 1381, their slogan, against the notion of special privileges for an elite class, was “When Adam delved, and Eve span, who was then the Gentleman?”

Europe inherited Roman imperial governmental practices and the system of monarchy from the Frankish and Gothic warlords, and to the Medieval system of Monarchs, Nobles and Peasants, which was long lived and hard to overcome.

The gradual fall of the USSR beginning in the 1980s, was part of the cause of the fall of Poverty rates around the world, for financial markets and free trade between countries began to operate in a more liberal atmosphere. Globalism, or globalization, that now is gaining a bad name by the way we’ve allowed it to be exploited and abused by communist China, was also a part of the radical reduction in poverty rates around the world.

So in spite of the current economic crisis brought on by the pandemic lockdowns, we still live in the wealthiest society in history. But it seems to be an unstable situation, which feeds our anxiety even when we do have income, and of course, when we don’t.

I wrote about the distance of the Bible in today’s column, and this is a good example of that. Jesus says, “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. But clearly without food, you die. As the old saying goes, do we eat to live, or do we live to eat.

It seems Jesus means more than we might at first glance think. For we all could agree, there’s certainly more to life than just worrying about what I’m going to eat. After all, who wants to be anxious all the time?

But I think he’s pointing to a deeper kind of life, a kind of life that he somehow discerned at this particular moment of his own life. He could perceive that life, true life, is that which, when someone takes it from you unjustly, they unwittingly bestow a greater life upon you. As he says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” As well as, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Here’s where we part company from the unbeliever. What could be greater, more important, more valuable than life itself? Without life, there’s nothing, we’re told.

Not so. He who saves his life shall lose it. When we cling anxiously to what we think is all we have, do we not inherently reject that which we are promised? When we walk by sight only, are we not closing our eyes to faith, and our hearts to the promise?

When we clutch our wallet like a drowning man clutches his life preserver, are we not throwing away the Pearl of Great Price?

 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 

 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 

         

Hymn of Response  635

Faith of our fathers, living still

In spite of dungeon, fire and sword,

O how our hearts beat high with joy

Whene’er we hear that glorious word!

Faith of our fathers! holy faith!

We will be true to thee till death!

2

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,

Were still in heart and conscience free;

And blest would be their children’s fate,

If they, like them should die for thee:

Faith of our fathers! holy faith!

We will be true to thee till death!

3

Faith of our fathers, we will strive

To win all nations unto thee;

And through the truth that comes from God

Mankind shall then indeed be free.

Faith of our fathers! holy faith!

We will be true to thee till death!

4

Faith of our fathers, we will love

Both friend and foe in all our strife,

And preach thee, too, as love knows how

By kindly words and virtuous life.

Faith of our fathers! holy faith!

We will be true to thee till death!

https://youtu.be/cSHzrlGoelQ

Offertory

https://youtu.be/HzjSzYJoa_E

 

Doxology

The Old 100th

https://youtu.be/yYvbAJuQEDo

Prayer of Dedication

God of grace,
financially, we are sometimes in the dark.
We don’t always know how much money we have,
or how secure our resources are,
or even what expenses we will have in the future.
We choose to give our money to you with light hearts,
gifting boldly and cheerfully,
knowing that our security lies in your grace,
and not in our bank accounts.
Accept these gifts from our hands,
for the work of your church.  Amen.

Communion Meditation

We leave out the Prayer of Confession for the Easter season, and at other times of the year. A prayer of confession is not typical of Disciples of Christ worship practices, but many of us are from other traditions, and so we include the confession for a time and alternate with a communion meditation.

 

Communion Hymn 387

Bread of the world, in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul, in mercy shed!
By whom the words of life were spoken,
And in whose death our sins are dead!

Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinners shed,
And be Thy feast to us the token,
That by Thy grace our souls are fed!

https://youtu.be/iAK5Frl n1l0

Communion Words

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[c] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.[d] 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

Bible Gateway passage: Luke 22 - New Revised Standard Version

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief...

 

 

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 23)

Closing Litany

Easter is also a time when we change the closing Litany, now to a Psalm you all know well.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen

 

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving 679

1 God the Omnipotent! King, who ordainest
Thunder Thy clarion, the lightning Thy sword;
Show forth Thy pity on high where Thou reignest:
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

2 God the All-merciful! earth hath forsaken
Thy ways all-holy, and slighted Thy word;
Bid not Thy wrath in its terrors awaken:
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

3 God the All-righteous One! man hath defied Thee;
Yet to eternity standeth Thy word;
Falsehood and wrong shall not tarry beside Thee:
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

4 God the All-provident! earth by Thy chastening,
Yet shall to freedom and truth be restored;
Through the thick darkness Thy Kingdom is hastening:
Thou wilt give peace in Thy time, O Lord.

https://youtu.be/TTXgJyoi0Z0


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, such as this one from Hebrews 13:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

 

Postlude 

 "Go Out and Tell" by Christopher

May 17, 2020

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

What are we doing when we “exchange the peace?” How does this impact the world? And our lives? Long ago, in “olden days,” there was a promulgation by the Council of Charroux in France called “The Peace of God,”. It’s been called the first mass peace movement in history. As the Carolingian empire had fallen apart in the 9th century, there had grown more and more violence between minor nobilities all across what we now call France. The church declared  excommunication would be the punishment for attacking or robbing a church, for robbing peasants or the poor of farm animals – among which the donkey is mentioned, but not the horse (an item beyond the reach of a peasant) – and for robbing, striking or seizing a priest or any man of the clergy "who is not bearing arms". Women and children and merchants were also in the protected class. They prohibited fighting on Sundays and feast days as well as throughout Advent, the season of Lent, and from the beginning of the Rogation days until eight days after Pentecost. This prohibition was subsequently extended to specific days of the week,  Thursday, in memory of the Ascension, Friday, the day of the Passion, and Saturdays, since Christ was in the tomb, as well as Sunday, of course. By the middle of the twelfth century the number of proscribed days was extended until there was left only some eighty days for fighting. The movement was not entirely effective, but it set standards and expectations, and changed people’s behavior over time. Peace is not just the absence of violence, but it is at least that. May the Peace of God be with you.

Joys and Concerns of the People

Please be in prayer for Ella Mikkelsen, who was having some lung issues last week.

Don Greever is having problems with balance, at Adams Place.

The Light of Christ Enters

Light is first mentioned when God speaks. This is in Genesis chapter 1, “’Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” When light enters, God is speaking. When God speaks, the world, the listeners, are enlightened, illumined. To see the light of a candle on the Lord’s Table, is to be given the message, “Listen, for the Lord is speaking.”

Prelude  "Freely, Freely" by Owens

https://youtu.be/bjd3m_ykkzI

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One: Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever, to whom belongs wisdom and might.

All: The Lord changes times and seasons, he removes kings and sets up kings;

One: God gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those with understanding;

All: He reveals deep and mysterious things; and knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.

One: To you, O God, we give thanks and praise.

All: Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Hymn of Praise

 In Christ there is no east or west,
In him no south or north,
But one great fam'ly bound by love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

2 In him shall true hearts ev'rywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord
Close binding humankind.

3 Join hands, disciples in the faith,
Whate'er your race may be!
Who serve each other in Christ's love
Are surely kin to me.

4 In Christ now meet both east and west,
In him meet south and north,
All Christly souls are one in him
Throughout the whole wide earth.

https://youtu.be/rbxlXAJk-Xs

Invocation

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Call to Prayer

Easter is a time when we change some things in the service, to reflect the move from to the Easter season. Dona Nobis Pacem is what we planned for the Call to Prayer. Here’s a beautiful version.

https://youtu.be/Mv98FwR0DWc

Pastoral Prayer

 

Prayer Response

At every baptism I witnessed as a child, the congregationally seemed to spontaneously sing the refrain of this hymn: Into My Heart

https://youtu.be/WPb4ZDIhvHs

Scripture  Luke 24:36-53

36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

 

Sermon

When Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles, he spoke of the “forty days” during which Jesus appeared to the apostles between the resurrection and his later ascension to the Father (Acts 1:3). The story as described in the gospel of Luke, which I assume (though don’t know) was written first, tells the story of the events following the resurrection from the vantage point of happening all on that one day, that first Resurrection Sunday.

Mary Magdalen, Joanna, and James’ mother Mary find the empty tomb and are frightened by the two angels. Peter views the empty tomb and is amazed. Cleopas and another disciple encounter him, unaware, on the road to Emmaus, but he vanishes when they start to eat (Lk 24:30-31).

They return to Jerusalem, find “the eleven” and their companions and tell their story of this unexplained appearance and disappearance after someone says, “he appeared to Simon” an incident which Luke only references but does not describe.

Our passage for today picks up the story from there when Jesus appeared among them and says “Peace be with you.”

Kaboom! A memorable entrance, and entrance line, but the immediate effect is not very peaceful.  The different gospel writers tell the same story in different ways with different emphases, but the way Luke structures the direction of this chapter enables us to see his goal clearly. For the goal of that movement, from confused women, unperceptive and puzzled disciples and frightened companions, is revealed when Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”

Ghosts do not bring peace. Ghosts are considered to be that which remains where it should not be. A ghost is always out of place. People in all cultures have thought of the ghost as that which doesn’t belong. That which persists after an unjust or violent death, that which is the result when someone is not buried properly, with all due rites and procedures. This is where the phrase “ghosts laid to rest,” or “laying the ghost to rest” comes from. People believed that the dead must be escorted out of life properly, reverently, respectfully, or they wouldn’t leave. Death and its ceremonies carried a nimbus of danger, that all must heed, or pay drastic consequences.

This was the disciples’ situation. What everyone feared the most, seemed to be happening, and who would have more of a claim to be an angry, vengeful, frightening ghost than the one who was crucified? And unjustly, betrayed and abandoned by his so-called friends?

But Jesus begins with Peace. He returns to those friends with Peace. It’s the lack of peace that people ascribe to ghosts that makes people fearful of ghosts, revenge-seeking, old score-settling ghosts.

Jesus is at peace. He blesses his friends with peace. He is not angry. He comes not in wrath and vengeance. He has received all the promises of the Father given to his child Israel, whom Jesus embodies, and by obedience, has overcome the world, which means he has overcome revenge, and hatred and anger and bitterness, and grudge- holding and pay-backing. All that carries death, is now destroyed. All it took was one man who simply listened to the word of God. Psalm 3 says: “Lord, how many are my foes!    How many rise up against me!2 Many are saying of me,    “God will not deliver him.”3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,    my glory, the One who lifts my head high.4 I call out to the Lord,    and he answers me from his holy mountain.5 I lie down and sleep;    I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. 6 I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. ”

Read that through the lens of the resurrected Jesus and you see what I mean. Jesus receives the promise. “He answers me from his holy mountain. I wake again because the Lord sustains me.”

Peace. The strife is over. The Battle won. Jesus shows his disciples hos this can be: “A ghost does not have flesh and bones.” Look at my hands and feet, he says. Not only is he not a ghost, and thus he is at peace, and they may be at peace, but he’s the same man from 3 days prior. He asks for supper. And I think, “well, it’s been a long time since Thursday night. The Last supper. Guy’s hungry.

This is not sacrilege. He really is not a ghost. He is a risen from the grave human being. Something entirely new. That’s why he’s called the Second Adam, in Romans. And this gives voice not only to the physicality of the resurrection. It also expresses and highlights the freedom from anxiety for his disciples and the importance of Jesus’ continuous identity.

Anxiety first. Jesus is not anxious. He’s not scared of the authorities. How do you kill a man you just killed, and yet he won’t stay dead? Kind of a lose lose proposition for the authorities. Something wrong here, from the standpoint of anything arrayed against God. This is not how things are supposed to be.
 

And that’s part of the point, isn’t it? Jesus conveys his peace to his disciples because, as he said in John 14, “where I am you may be also.” As it says in Revelation 14: “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

Jesus brings peace, because the only fear that can threaten and disturb has been not just removed, but conquered. Why is a ghost scary? Because of what it represents. An afterlife of punishment, of eternal loneliness, of wandering, of endless regret. There is wailing in ghost stories, because a ghost has something to wail over. To wail is to endlessly, hopelessly, mourn oneself and one’s own eternal suffering.

The anxiety that haunts humanity is laid to rest, with the arising of the risen Jesus. The worm in the bud, the silent cradle, the dashed hopes, the smoke of the funeral pyre, are all now, not yet gone from this earth, but their power is destroyed. For death now has no dominion. We live under a new king, and we live in hope for a new kingdom.

The identity of this new figure of Jesus that confronts the disciples is important as well, See my hands and feet. There is no break, no division, no separation, between the person of the Jesus of Thursday night and Sunday morning.

There is no hard break between the dying Jesus and the risen Christ of faith, as those who have difficulty believing would have us describe him. He’s not the “Christ of faith.” My faith does not create anything. The risen and conquering Son of God, done to death by me and mine, by all of us, he creates my faith, engenders my faith, elicits my faith.

I told you about this, he says. Jesus reminds the disciples of who he is, and, as verse 45 says, “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”

In the hubris of the enlightenment mind of the 18th century, which infected the church as well, we thought we could just look at the facts and decide for ourselves, this Jesus is who I’ve decided to trust. And this leaves the all perceiving mind of man in charge. I looked at the evidence. I decided this makes sense. I came to a rational decision that this must be true.

This is a form of theological self-righteousness that looks down on the unconvinced without any humility, instead of with mercy. If you believe, your mind has been opened. By the living Jesus through his Spirit. All who believe in Jesus are filled with and enlightened by his Spirit.

One may weigh up the arguments. One may examine the evidence. One may scrutinize the record. But in the end, one is either confronted by the resurrected Son of God or not. The mind of the human must be converted, must be brought into captivity just as the spirit and soul.

I cannot convert myself. I cannot save myself. The Jesus who walked the shores of Galilee, who healed the blind man, who sat down the hungry crowds in the green grass and fed them the bread of heaven, this same Jesus had told the disciples who he was and what must happen.

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

“This is what I was talking about. This is what it was all about.” The God who called Abraham is the God who now calls us. The God who laid his finger on the impulsive and dangerous David is the God who came to the earth as David’s descendant to live out all the promises, to take up all things into himself that his will might be done, as he intended. “The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself—Yea, all which it inherit.”

Not dissolved, as Shakespeare’s Prospero would have it, but transformed, recreated, reborn into the very life for which we were made. When our minds are opened, as Jesus says in vs. 45, to understand the scriptures, we can see and understand who we are and why we are here for this short time. For we are born for a better place, to which Jesus calls us.

Fear not! Be at peace. Trust in the Lord with all your heart,  and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your path.

         

Hymn of Response

1 Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

2 Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

3 I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who like thyself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

4 I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless,
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

5 Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes.
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me. 

 

https://youtu.be/3FCkbICxhAA (Did you know Jimmy Dean recorded Abide with Me?)

Offertory

https://youtu.be/FGq_uBFOtmA

Doxology

The Old 100th

https://youtu.be/gYcy_j6vOqI

Prayer of Dedication

God, you have given each of us gifts to use as members of the body of Christ. Here are our gifts – the work of our hands, our hearts, and our lives. We pray that they may help to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to our world, today and always, here and everywhere. Amen.

Communion Meditation

We leave out the Prayer of Confession for the Easter season, and at other times of the year. A prayer of confession is not typical of Disciples of Christ worship practices, but many of us are from other traditions, and so we include the confession for a time and alternate with a communion meditation.

 

Communion Hymn

We come as guests invited

          when Jesus bids us dine,

his friends on earth united

          to share the bread and wine;

the bread of life is broken,

          the wine is freely poured

for us, in solemn token

          of Christ our dying Lord.

 

We eat and drink, receiving

          from Christ the grace we need,

and in our hearts believing

          on him by faith we feed;

with wonder and thanksgiving

          for love that knows no end,

we find in Jesus living

          our ever-present friend.

 

One bread is ours for sharing,

          one single fruitful vine,

our fellowship declaring

          renewed in bread and wine:

renewed, sustained and given

          by token, sign and word,

the pledge and seal of heaven,

          the love of Christ our Lord.

https://youtu.be/MJeU0v_qbm4

 

Communion Words

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[c] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.[d] 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

Bible Gateway passage: Luke 22 - New Revised Standard Version

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief...

 

 

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 23)

Closing Litany

Easter is also a time when we change the closing Litany, now to a Psalm you all know well.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen

 

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving

God of the fertile fields,

Lord of the earth that yields

     our daily bread;

forth from thy bounteous hand

come gifts thy love has planned,

that all in every land

     be clothed and fed.

 

We would thy stewards be,

holding in trust from thee

     all thou dost give;

help us in love to share,

teach us like you to care,

that earth may all be fair;

     your children live.

 

As grows the hidden seed

to fruit that serves our need,

     thy kingdom grows.

So let our toil be used,

no gift of thine abused,

no humble task refused

     thy love bestows.

 

God of the countryside,

dear to our Lord, who died

     to make us one;

we pledge our lives to thee

to serve thee faithfully

till in eternity

     our day is done.

https://youtu.be/PXaqIBV8NeA


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, such as this one from Jude 24-25

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

 

Postlude  "Fughetta in A" by Barney

https://youtu.be/PVron6qO6n

 

May 10, 2020

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

What are we doing when we “exchange the peace?” Well, the first thing to remember is this is the Peace of God. God’s Peace restores relationship. It forgives. It destroys anger and bitterness and hatred. Shaking a hand and saying “The Peace of the Lord be with you” is a way of reminding ourselves that this peace of God, established by Christ on the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16) of necessity espresses itself in the human world. It changes attitudes, behaviors, speech habits. We institute this exchange to remind ourselves of God’s peace, and to help each one of us remember the steps taken to render that peace, and our own need to forgive and reconcile with those with whom we are not at peace.

Joys and Concerns of the People

Pray for our ability to properly and safely return to worship together.

Pray for nursing home and retirement home residents in a literal lockdown and for their continued health. Don Greever, Jim and Carty Roberts, Dean McCallister.

The Light of Christ Enters

How and where does the Light of Christ enter your life? How does it illuminate you, and guide you on the right path? (Psalm 16:11, 25:4)

Prelude

"Short Voluntary" by Worgan

https://youtu.be/_txFw0AiMrg

(This piece is played at the link on what’s called a harmonium. The pump organ is a type of free-reed organ that generates sound as air flows past a vibrating piece of thin metal in a frame. The piece of metal is called a reed. Specific types of pump organ include the reed organ, harmonium, and melodeon. More portable than pipe organs, free-reed organs were widely used in smaller churches and in private homes in the 19th century, but their volume and tonal range were limited. They generally had one or sometimes two manuals, with pedal-boards being rare. The finer pump organs had a wider range of tones, and the cabinets of those intended for churches and affluent homes were often excellent pieces of furniture.)

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One:  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.

All: You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.

One: For you created all things, and by your will they were created. And worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

All: to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!

One: Now to him who sits upon the Throne and to the Lamb,

All: be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever! Amen.

 

Hymn of Praise

1.    Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord!

o   Refrain:
Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

2.    Vainly they watch His bed,
Jesus, my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead,
Jesus, my Lord!

3.    Death cannot keep his Prey,
Jesus, my Savior;
He tore the bars away,
Jesus, my Lord!

 

Invocation

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Call to Prayer

Easter is a time when we change some things in the service, to reflect the move from to the Easter season. Dona Nobis Pacem is what we planned for the Call to Prayer. Here’s a beautiful version.

https://youtu.be/Mv98FwR0DWc

Pastoral Prayer

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley. (prayer from, The Valley of Vision)

 

Prayer Response

At every baptism I witnessed as a child, the congregationally seemed to spontaneously sing the refrain of this hymn: Into My Heart

https://youtu.be/WPb4ZDIhvHs

Scripture  I Samuel 26:5-25

5 Then David set out and came to the place where Saul had encamped; and David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.

6 Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” 7 So David and Abishai went to the army by night; there Saul lay sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head; and Abner and the army lay around him. 8 Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand today; now therefore let me pin him to the ground with one stroke of the spear; I will not strike him twice.” 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him; for who can raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless?” 10 David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him down; or his day will come to die; or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The Lord forbid that I should raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed; but now take the spear that is at his head, and the water jar, and let us go.” 12 So David took the spear that was at Saul’s head and the water jar, and they went away. No one saw it, or knew it, nor did anyone awake; for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.

13 Then David went over to the other side, and stood on top of a hill far away, with a great distance between them. 14 David called to the army and to Abner son of Ner, saying, “Abner! Will you not answer?” Then Abner replied, “Who are you that calls to the king?” 15 David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? Who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not kept watch over your lord the king? For one of the people came in to destroy your lord the king. 16 This thing that you have done is not good. As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watch over your lord, the Lord’s anointed. See now, where is the king’s spear, or the water jar that was at his head?”

17 Saul recognized David’s voice, and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” David said, “It is my voice, my lord, O king.” 18 And he added, “Why does my lord pursue his servant? For what have I done? What guilt is on my hands? 19 Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the Lord who has stirred you up against me, may he accept an offering; but if it is mortals, may they be cursed before the Lord, for they have driven me out today from my share in the heritage of the Lord, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ 20 Now therefore, do not let my blood fall to the ground, away from the presence of the Lord; for the king of Israel has come out to seek a single flea, like one who hunts a partridge in the mountains.”

21 Then Saul said, “I have done wrong; come back, my son David, for I will never harm you again, because my life was precious in your sight today; I have been a fool, and have made a great mistake.” 22 David replied, “Here is the spear, O king! Let one of the young men come over and get it. 23 The Lord rewards everyone for his righteousness and his faithfulness; for the Lord gave you into my hand today, but I would not raise my hand against the Lord’s anointed. 24 As your life was precious today in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he rescue me from all tribulation.” 25 Then Saul said to David, “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” So David went his way, and Saul returned to his place.

 

 

Sermon

As a child I was fascinated by the Gulf Stream. From the relatively shallow Gulf of Mexico, a current of warm water travels through the Straits of Florida and heads north through the Atlantic passing by the west coasts of England and Ireland, warming their climate, so that even though London shares the same latitude as Calgary in Canada, its weather is much warmer. Apparently, there are many such currents in all the seas and oceans of the world, some on the surface, and many deep in the oceans.

We spy one of the currents that move through the Bible, (one of the deep currents, and there are many) as we come to the story of a tense but peaceful confrontation between David and King Saul. Recall that it was only ten chapters ago that we met David, the boy shepherd, youngest of seven brothers, child of Jesse, who is in the service of the great King Saul, and who heroically defeats the giant Goliath, disdaining the need for armor offered by Saul, using only his slingshot and fallen Goliath’s own sword.

But now, in ch. 26, David is on the run from Saul, who is trying to kill his former ally, hero, and son-in-law. David was so successful in the early days that Saul became jealous and fearful of David’s growing popularity. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” said Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and Saul is uneasy and dangerous.

Learning that his daughter Michal loves David, he offers her to him for his wife, casually commenting all he desires for a wedding gift (the “bride-price”) is 100 Philistine foreskins. A sort of “proof of death” via postmortem circumcision. (Kinda gruesome. Imagine opening that present.)

Saul presumes David will be killed in attacking the Philistines and, if so, problem solved.  But young David, in the heat of his passion for Michal and his zeal for the Lord against the enemies of Israel manages to collect: wins the battle kills 200 Philistines, and gives the necessary trophies to Saul. I guess if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing.

But relations continue to sour, and David’s best friend and brother-in-law, Jonathan, secretly warns David to leave town while he can, which he does, with his own loyal following of soldiers. Saul and his army, sometimes actively, sometimes not so much, pursue David, for he remains a threat as long as he’s alive.

Remarkably enough, David shows great forbearance during this period, though the author of I Samuel has no illusions about David or his saintliness. But David says more than once that he would not incur the guilt of harming the Lord’s anointed. There seemed to be in his mind an aura, an association of divinity connected to the King, and David held his soldiers back more than once, on this occasion and previously.

Once when David and his band were hiding from Saul’s army in a cave, Saul went in that cave to relieve himself. David cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe while Saul was in the cave, to show him later that he could have killed him but did not.

In our reading for today, David and Abishai go into Saul’s camp while the army is asleep. Abishai advises killing their enemy Saul while they can, and David again refuses. He instead takes only the king’s spear and water jug, to show Saul again his harmless intentions. I don’t know if it was the same spear Saul used to try to kill David with back in ch. 19, but it’s certainly pertinent that it is a spear, as well as evocative of a later story.

I’m piecing this out here to encourage you to think ahead, but one of the ruling stories in the Bible, a sort of meta-metaphor if you will, is brotherly love/hatred. There are examples strewn all through the text. Jonathan and David, brothers-in-law.  Esau, wronged if ever brother was wrongs, loves and forgives that scoundrel Jacob. Reuben, the oldest, and Judah, born fourth, both advocate for Joseph and preserve his life against the 8 other brothers. When the incognito Joseph has accused Benjamin of theft from Pharaoh, who offers himself as ransom, but Judah?

There is the of course the hatred of Cain for Abel, right at the beginning, which further poisons the well of humanity, the theft by Jacob of Esau’s birthright, the hatred of the 8 brothers for Joseph, their father’s favorite.

And the relation of Judah and Benjamin is charted throughout the Bible, from Genesis into the New Testament. Before we look up Saul and Saul, back up with me to the book of Judges, a bloodthirsty chronicle of the tribes of Jacob in the Promised Land, between the rule and guidance of Moses followed by Joshua, and the time of the first king, Saul.

Biblical historians have so dominated the study of the Bible for the last couple of centuries that we have lost much of our ability to focus on the artful way the stories are told, we’ve lost knowing what to look for, how to see it for what it is.

In the last three chapters of the book of Judges, the 11 tribes of Israel go to war against one tribe, Benjamin, because some Benjaminites in Gibeah had raped and killed a concubine of a traveling Levite who spent the night in Gibeah. The tribe of Benjamin already had a reputation for military prowess (“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and evening devouring the spoil.” Gen. 49:27) and so the tribes send 400,000 soldiers against the 27,000 of Benjamin.

Somewhat hesitant to attack, the leaders inquired of God, ““Which of us shall go up first to battle against the Benjaminites?” And the Lord answered, “Judah shall go up first.””

Judah. Judah shall attack first. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a feud, perhaps just another example. Remember, Judah himself spoke up for Joseph, offered himself a ransom for the life of his brother Benjamin, back in Egypt.

By the end of the book of Judges, there are only 600 Benjaminite men living, their towns and villages, wives and children, all wiped out in the civil war. Oddly, given the fact that they had nearly wiped out the 12th tribe, they mourn the loss. In 21:2-3 we read, “And the people came to Bethel, and sat there until evening before God, and they lifted up their voices and wept bitterly. 3 They said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, why has it come to pass that today there should be one tribe lacking in Israel?”

 

So they help the few Benjaminites left raid Jabesh-Gilead for 400 virgins, and Shiloh for another 200 more, so the name and tribe of Benjamin might not be lost.

It’s a horrible story in many ways. But the writer of Judges is not a video camera. He’s not simply an annalist, recording history for posterity. He tells his story with purposefulness, telling us in several places what the overall problem was. 2:11 says,  “Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals; 12 and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.”

Ch. 3:7 he writes:  The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, forgetting the Lord their God, and worshiping the Baals and the Asherahs. 8 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim; and the Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.

        

This is reiterated many times. And the last verse of the book, 21:25, we hear, “In those days there was no king in Israel; and every man did what was right in his own eyes.”

         

The writer of Judges mentions no reason for Judah to be first to “go up” against Benjamin. It’s not mentioned again. But there it is. The Lord says it shall be Judah that goes up first against Benjamin. Spelled out. NO other tribe then mentioned after that. Just Israel, the whole confederation.

         

The enmity is seen further in I Samuel. Who’s the first King? Saul. What is Saul’s tribe? Benjamin. Who is Saul’s rival and later enemy? David. (And the women sang to one another as they made merry, “Saul has killed his thousands,     and David his ten thousands.”) What is David’s tribe? Judah. It’s spelled out in the book of Ruth. Judah, Perez  Hezron, 19  Ram, Amminadab, 20  Nahshon, Salmon, 21  Boaz, Obed, 22  Jesse, and David.

         

That’s why the book of Ruth is in the Bible, and why it’s where it is, in the Bible, between Judges and Samuel. Judah is the ancestor of David and we know who David is the ancestor of.

And Saul calls out in I Samuel 26, ‘Who are you? And David says, “Why does my Lord persecute his servant?” (as the Coverdale Bible translates it). Do you hear the echo? The son of Benjamin persecutes the son of Judah. And as we read just last week, the son of Benjamin (Saul/Paul) is again persecuting the son of Judah (Jesus) by attacking the church and throwing them in prison.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,”

Now I’m not suggesting there is some sort of esoteric Bible Code, a la the book of that same title, whereby we can predict everything. The project that resulted in that book put the Hebrew text into a software program and sliced and diced it with equidistant letter spacing to get predictions about Anwar Sadat, and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and all kinds of nonsense.

The book, from 1997, set the fever swamps on fire and now there are assertions the Bible predicts all kinds of thing, including the first and second Gulf Wars, the death of Saddam Hussein, and even the coronavirus pandemic.

The problem with all that is you can accomplish the same thing with Moby Dick, or War and Peace, or Bleak House or virtually any long text. With enough words, and the right software you can find whatever you want. The technical term for this is horse feathers.

That’s not what I’m on about. Because of the way all literature operates, there are patterns, in the Bible as in other literatures. Motifs, metaphors, taken up, modified, repurposed. The Bible is “a” text. Many books into one, all reading and building on what came before. They are part of one tradition.

And the literal reading of the Bible, contrary to popular expectation, is the reading of the text as from one “author,” the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the church’s book, the church possesses the Bible as the gift of the Spirit, and this is how the church is given to read the scriptures from the living Spirit of God.

Just like the Incarnation of the Son, this operates in all the natural ways of the area of humanness it inhabits. Jesus was born in blood and pain. We all are. He lived in the physical world, as we all do. The Bible is understandable, in a limited sense, as the encompassing literature of a particular people and tradition; saga, story, poetry, song, lament, diatribe, folk tale, law, etc.

But moving through this vast ocean are the currents. Somehow we come to Saul killing the church, the bride of Christ, as the Benjaminites killed the wife of the Levite, as King Saul murderously tracks David.

King Saul speaks truth, in 26:25, speaks more than he knows, when he says,  “Blessed be you, my son David! You will do many things and will succeed in them.” 

And David still is doing many things, for the Son of David is alive in a new way. We are the body of the Son of David, all over the world. David enacts Jesus’ words and teaching in his attitude toward Saul. Twice he preserves Saul’s life by his forbearance. As Peter says in 2:23-24, “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,[h] so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

The Bible is not a Magic 8-Ball, it’s not a Rule Book, it’s not a Road Map, it’s not a Constitution for the church, there are all kinds of inadequate and misleading metaphors for the Bible.

It’s best to come to the Bible with a heart set to listen to God, for that is the best question to ask when we come to the scriptures. How is God speaking to me today, in this word?

         

Hymn of Response

1

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;

Come to the mercy-seat, fervently kneel;

Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish,

Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

2

Joy of the comfortless, light of the straying,

Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure;

Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying—

Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot cure.

3

Here see the Bread of Life; see waters flowing

Forth from the throne of God, pure from above;

Come to the feast of love; come, ever knowing

Earth has no sorrow but heaven can remove.

(The original text for this comforting hymn was written by an Irish Roman Catholic, Thomas Moore. Although Moore is the author of 32 sacred songs, he is best known for his ballads and other secular poems. Following the publication of his 'Irish Melodies', 1807-9, he became known as the "Voice of Ireland" in much the same fashion as Robert Burns represented Scotland. It is said that Moore's literary skills, both in prose and poetry, contributed much to the political emancipation of his country, for his writings revealed, to the English public, the spirit of a people, whom they had previously found distasteful. Moore was one of the few writers of his day to have made a financial success of writing poetry. He received several large sums and royalties for his works. However, because of his poor business practices, he spent the last years of his life poor, unhappy, and mentally disturbed.

Moore's father was a prosperous merchant in Dublin, where Thomas was born. After attending Trinity College but not being allowed to graduate because of his Roman Catholic affiliation, Moore trained to become a lawyer but never could bring himself to begin a legal career. He also was given an Admiralty post in Bermuda, but the monotony of this life soon caused him to resign the job and devote his life exclusively to the writing of literature.

The 1st 2 stanzas of this hymn were published in 1824 in Moore's hymn, 'Relief in Prayer'. The hymn as sung today, however, has experienced considerable revision. For example, the 2nd line of the 1st stanza originally read "Come to the shrine of God, fervently kneel." The 2nd line of the 2nd stanza was changed from "hope when all others die". Moore's 3rd stanza was completely different from the one used today. It originally read:

Go ask the infidel what boon he brings us,

what charm for aching hearts he can reveal?

Sweet as that heavenly promise hope sings us,

earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Thomas Hastings, American hymnist, is the one who greatly altered Moore's text. He included the hymn in the collection 'Spiritual Songs for Social Worship' in 1831. It is generally agreed that Hastings rescued an interesting poem and made it usable for evangelical churches. (https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/684)

 

(though it’s not the tune in our Hymnal, here’s Roberta Flack singing “Come, Ye Disconsolate” https://www.last.fm/music/Roberta+Flack+&+Donny+Hathaway/_/Come+Ye+Disconsolate)

 

Offertory

"Valse No. 5" by Sibelius

 https://youtu.be/hpy6zyo99FE

Doxology

The Old 100th

Here’s our Doxology tune in full throat at Westminster Abbey, though with different words, sung as a Hymn https://youtu.be/mj9w7IUQ5AU

Prayer of Dedication

For the wondrous gift of life, we are thankful, O God. Your generous outpouring of grace reminds us of the fruitful life we are called to bear. May these gifts of time and labour, therefore, embody our desire to share and contribute to your coming reign among us. Amen.

Communion Meditation

We leave out the Prayer of Confession for the Easter season, and at other times of the year. A prayer of confession is not typical of Disciples of Christ worship practices, but many of us are from other traditions, and so we include the confession for a time and alternate with a communion meditation.

(I was struck by some comments by Ephraim Radner about the way some churches are, it seems, acting like nothing’s wrong, business as usual. He makes these comments at livingchurch.org)

“We cannot, nor should we, seek to give the impression that life “goes on as normal.” It never did, after all. Our lives are fragile, vulnerable, and ultimately subject to the power and grace of God who has made us and will finally take us. Their maturity is marked by obediently living into the death of Jesus, with a hope of sharing in his resurrection (Rom. 6:5; 8:17; Phil. 3:10-11; 2 Tim. 2:11). That is the goal of anything that the church seeks to do as a formative and worshipping body…

Fr. Paul Couturier long ago wrote a now-famous “prayer for unity” (often used during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity). It is deceptively simple. The second half asks, “May Your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see our sin and to hope beyond all hope.” The sentiment fits Christian maturity well. What if, in this Time of the Virus, we took this kind of honesty and simplicity seriously? We would “suffer” the fact that we cannot gather for worship; we would experience straightforwardly the burdens of the moment, some of them quite harsh, unveiling our long-standing misplaced commitments; we would tutor hope in a time of stark changes and impositions.”

(There are times when we live out one part of the Bible more than others. Life in America, for so long, has been so abundant and so bountiful, that we’ve avoided looking in those scary closets known as the book of Job and the book of Lamentations.)

 

 

Communion Hymn

1. Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine;
thyself at thine own board make manifest
in this our sacrament of bread and wine.

2. We meet as in the upper room they met;
thou at the table, blessing, yet dost stand:
“This is my body”: so thou givest yet;
faith still receives the cup as from thy hand.

3. One body we, one Body who partake,
one Church united in communion blessed;
one name we bear, one Bread of life we break,
with all thy saints on earth and saints at rest.

4. One with each other, Lord, and one in thee,
who art one Saviour and one living Head;
then open thou our eyes that we may see;
be known to us in breaking of the Bread.

 

https://youtu.be/0euXXkvKwhg (not the tune in our hymnal, HOLBORN, which it seems no one else uses. This is SURSUM CORDA, Latin for “Lift up your hearts”)

Communion Words

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[c] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.[d] 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

Bible Gateway passage: Luke 22 - New Revised Standard Version

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief...

 

 

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 23)

Closing Litany

Easter is also a time when we change the closing Litany, now to a Psalm you all know well.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen

 

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving

Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna!
Celebrate this day of days!
Christ is risen! Hush in wonder:
all creation is amazed.
In the desert all-surrounding,
see, a spreading tree has grown.
Healing leaves of grace abounding
bring a taste of love unknown.

Christ is risen! Raise your spirits
from the caverns of despair.
Walk with gladness in the morning.
See what love can do and dare.
Drink the wine of resurrection,
not a servant, but a friend.
Jesus is our strong companion.
Joy and peace shall never end.

Christ is risen! Earth and heaven
nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation
where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus:
'Christ is risen! Get you gone!'
God the First and Last is with us.
Sing Hosanna everyone!

(Don’t know who Lamar Drummond is, but here he is at church by himself, singing our hymn and playing the right tune on the piano! https://youtu.be/aGtDwSQB7ac)


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, such as this one from Revelation 1:5

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

 

Postlude

Golden Breaks the Dawn, Price

https://youtu.be/djXlhCWIzSk

May 3, 2020

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

How do we share the peace with one another in a time of separation?  Take out your church directory, and find someone to text, email, call, or send a postcard to every day this week, which starts today. "The Peace of the Lord be with you,” is your message. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Start the ball rolling! If you need a directory, email me and I’ll send you an email with one attached. And remember, the Peace of God passes all understanding.

 

Joys and Concerns of the People

Looking at infection rates, right now Bledsoe County is leading the state per capita, mainly because of the State Prison there. I know, they’re criminals, but they need our prayers.

 

The Light of Christ Enters

Prelude

"Sonata for Organ in D Major" by Telemann

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OBp0DzAn3Q

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One: To the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,

All: who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light,

One: whom no mortal has ever seen or can see;

All: To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

 

Hymn of Praise

I serve a risen Saviour; He's in the world today.

I know that He is living, whatever men may say.

I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,

And just the time I need Him He's always near.

Chorus:

He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!

He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.

He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!

You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.

Stanza 2:

In all the world around me I see His loving care,

And though my heart grows weary I never will despair.

I know that He is leading, thro' all the stormy blast;

The day of His appearing will come at last.

Chorus:

Stanza 3:

Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian! Lift up your voice and sing

Eternal hallelujahs to Jesus Christ, the King!

The Hope of all who seek Him, the Help of all who find,

None other is so loving, so good and kind.

https://youtu.be/mRi3l_pIKOA

Invocation

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Call to Prayer

Easter is a time when we change some things in the service, to reflect the move from to the Easter season. Dona Nobis Pacem is what we planned for the Call to Prayer. Here’s a beautiful version.

https://youtu.be/Mv98FwR0DWc

Pastoral Prayer

 

Prayer Response

At every baptism I witnessed as a child, the congregationally seemed to spontaneously sing the refrain of this hymn: Into My Heart

https://youtu.be/WPb4ZDIhvHs

Scripture  Acts 9:1-24

9 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul Preaches in Damascus

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.

Saul Escapes from the Jews

23 After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

 

Sermon

         

Within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we often speak to ourselves and others about the purpose of the movement that became our denomination. Loosely organized, we have been known by a variety of monikers, the Restoration Movement, the Stone-Campbell Movement (for two founders) Campbellites. Campbell himself (Alexander, the son) often used the simple term the Reformation Movement, though he differentiated it from the earlier Reformation of 300 years previous.

        

For much of this time, our wing of the movement has emphasized Christian unity, and the re-uniting of churches, which is good, for these are important goals ever since the divisions from the time of the orginal Reformation.

         

There are (at least) two problems with that, leaving aside the practical difficulties of accomplishing these goods. The first is that at the time, the founders of the movement and most Protestant Christians of the day did not consider that goal of unity to include Roman Catholic Christian (not to mention the Eastern Orthodox churches). Campbell considered the Roman Catholic Church to be immoral and apostate, guilty of apostasy, i.e., not a church at all. He stated, in his debate with Bishop Purcell of Cincinnati that the Roman Catholic church was neither catholic, apostolic nor holy, and never had been at any time.

         

Campbell was certainly not alone in his belief, as this represented well, the thought, or perhaps prejudice, of most Protestant leaders and members.

         

Within a century, attitudes by Protestants were gradually changing toward Catholics, and by mid twentieth century, one could say the Roman Catholic church was becoming more protestantized and Protestants were becoming more catholicized. The nature of a pluralistic, dis-established church environment in the US was responsible for much of those changes in attitude. I’m certainly not the only Disciples minister who reads and profits from many Catholic writers, theologians, biblical scholars and historians.

         

So 19th century attitudes toward Catholics are one problem with a dream for and a movement toward Christian unity. But the more serious problem has to do with the age-old philosophical issue of carts and horses, and what happens when you have one in the wrong position relative to the other. For the cart in this situation is the move toward unity, and the horse the great commission “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that one pulls the other. That’s the difficulty with metaphors. The problem is twofold- historical and theological.

Historically, Campbell and others were focused on the Great Commission. They aimed at evangelizing the world. They wanted to spread the gospel to every person. But from their perspective at the time, one of the chief obstacles to that primary aim, that founding principle of the church, was the disunity of the church. This disunity was seen to be an obstacle for two reasons, one being organizational. If all the (protestant) churches would pool their resources and pull together, evangelization would be more effective and efficient. Campbell called his journal “The Millennial Harbinger” because he thoroughly believed that this plan would lead to the conversion of the world and bring in the Millennium eagerly awaited and anticipated in 19th century America. It was an age of extravagant hopes.

The other reason disunity was an obstacle to faithful evangelization was that the chronic disagreement between churches about important issues relating to salvation and church organization undercut the testimony, the witness of divided Christians to the educated pagan or non-believer.

How explain the proliferation of churches that did not agree or work together on the primary goal of the church, or did not demonstrate love, forgiveness and grace to one another across denominational lines? If Christians can’t get their story straight, it was thought, and sometimes said, why should anyone else listen to them with seriousness?

This was felt to be the driver. An end to disunity among (Protestant) Christians was a vital and primary issue, for the purpose of being united in our witness to the rest of the world.

But that is not what I hear anymore from national denomination leaders. The drive for unity has become the central, the primary purpose of the church, instead of a secondary means to the primary goal of evangelism. When our denominational motto becomes “A Movement for Wholeness in Fragmented World,” we have forgotten our calling. We can be one, be whole, if you will, in error and mistaken beliefs, and no better off. The goal is to preach Christ crucified, the power and wisdom of God.

This was the message of the Apostle Paul, late to the party, but he made up in effectiveness what he had lacked in timeliness. There’s a great deal to learn in this story of Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

One thing to note is that Paul is not “converted.” He does not leave behind his trust and belief in one God to hare after another. Paul is forcefully convinced of what John Newton later learned, “Once I was blind but now I see.” Acts 9 says “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

When Saul finally got up from the ground, he found when he opened his eyes he could not see. The ironies multiply. Before this visionary encounter with the God whom he thought he was serving but actually persecuting he thought he could see, but he was blind. When he finally sees the reality of what he’s doing, he opens his eyes, and he’s really blind. When Ananias speaks to him, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The scales fall from Saul’s eyes, this is where the phrase comes from.

We later read that Paul, after being baptized, “at once” as chapter 9 says, goes and preaches the name of the Lord in the synagogues of Damascus, who got a surprise when they learned what Saul considered to be the name of the Lord.

And then, after this great confrontation of announcing the King of the Jews, the anointed Son of David, mighty Saul is run out of town, and has to be let down over the side of the city walls in a basket.

Now, I’m just going to highlight some of this, but I want you to see how the Bible interweaves meaning and memory. Galatians 1 & 2 are very important for our understanding of who Paul is and his mission, for he’s dealing with a church that has to some degree turned away from what he had taught them, in Galatia, so he has to speak up for himself and his authority as an apostle.

In Galatians we learn that Paul (previously Saul) was “extremely zealous” for the traditions of the fathers. He was “set apart by God before (he) was born.” He was (Acts 9) the “chosen instrument to carry My Name before the Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel.” When he left Damascus in a hurry, he went to “Arabia” (Gal. 1:17) before he “returned to Damascus.” Arabia, which to us is a big place, we learn from Gal. 4:25 where Jews considered Mt. Sinai to be, which is sometimes called Mt. Horeb (Exo. 3:1, Deut. 1:6, I Kings 19:8).

What character in the OT was considered to be “zealous” for the Lord, preached the Name of the Lord to gentiles, kings and sons of Israel, fled danger to Arabia, to the “mountain of God,” returned to Damascus to announce ‘a new king?”

Paul is asserting his role as the prophet of God, a new Elijah, preaching the name of the Lord to Gentiles, to kings, (Acts 26) and the sons of Israel (Acts 17:2).

We are engaging the mystery of scripture when we hear the story of the call of Saul, zealous for the traditions of his fathers, who has his life upended to preach the name of the Lord, which is Jesus, to the nations.

Now, in one sense, you don’t want to be like Paul. Allowing his self-appointed “zeal” to lead him to throw followers of Jesus into prison. But in another sense, what is our call? To make disciples. To announce the name of the Lord. To preach Christ crucified. This is difficult to do, and to know how to do well, in a secular world that says all religions are basically the same make-believe with an Imaginary Friend up in the sky, and as long as you don’t challenge our secular gods of pleasure, consumerism and materialism, you can pursue your own little hobbies inside your church.

Our task, our call, is proclamation, heralding the kingdom of God as preached by Jesus Christ, and sharing how one can be a part of that kingdom, and be “pure in heart” and see God.

The divisions between Christians are spiritual divisions, caused by spiritual immaturity. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Paul says in Ephesians 4, and in the latter part of the same chapter, he says,

“do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Our divisions in the church around the world, are a spiritual issue, for we are not focused on living a life worthy of our calling. The church is called to be a servant of God, and he has made clear the task to which he has called us. Do you hear him?

         

Hymn of Response

The strife is o’er, the battle done;

The victory of life is won;

The song of triumph has begun:

Alleluia!

The pow’rs of death have done their worst;

But Christ their legions has dispersed;

Let shouts of holy joy outburst:

Alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped;

He rises glorious from the dead;

All glory to our risen Head:

Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell;

The bars from heav’n’s high portals fell;

Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell:

Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded You,

In us You’ve won the vict’ry too,

That we may live, and sing to You:

Alleluia!

https://youtu.be/aJjq4RFnLnk (Well, this isn’t Alan Jackson, but we’ll have to make do with Palestrina!)

Offertory

"Reverie" by Debussy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRjllL-MP0U

Doxology

The Old 100th

This link is music written by the guy who wrote the tune we use on First Sunday, but it’s not the same words. More of a Gloria Patri than a Doxology. https://youtu.be/MvqjnaTovjY

Prayer of Dedication

The prayer of Solomon, I Kings 8:56-60

“Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. 57 May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us. 58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. 59 And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need, 60 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other. 61 And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.” Amen.

Communion Meditation

We leave out the Prayer of Confession for the Easter season, and at other times of the year. A prayer of confession is not typical of Disciples of Christ worship practices, but many of us are from other traditions, and so we include the confession for a time and alternate with a communion meditation.

It is a bit of mystery of the redemption that the word that Paul uses in I Corinthians 11:23, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” is the same Greek word, paradidomai, that is spoken by Judas when he offers to deliver Jesus to the authorities in Matthew 26:15, “what will you give me if I deliver him to you?” Used 134 times in the New Testament, the strange connection of Paul delivering a tradition, a religious practice, with Judas (evocative name) turning over, betraying Jesus to the authorities, opens up for us. Judas (named for “Judah” one of Jacob’s sons) embodies the sin of his people while Jesus (named after “Joshua” Moses’ successor) bears the sin of his people. A tradition is delivered, a savior is delivered. In the mysterious providence of God, his servant the Jew(s) saves the world and demonstrates the power and grace of God to not only make something out of nothing, but to make infinite good out of negative evil.

Communion Hymn

One bread, one body,
one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many,
throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.
servant or free,
woman or man, no more.

One bread, one body,
one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many,
throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.

many the works,
one in the Lord of all.

One bread, one body,
one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many,
throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.

scattered and grown,
gathered to one, for all.
One bread, one body,
one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many,
throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.

https://youtu.be/40FqQoL_na0

Communion Words

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[c] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.[d

 

Bible Gateway passage: Luke 22 - New Revised Standard Version

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief...

 

Bible Gateway passage: Luke 22 - New Revised Standard Version

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief...

 

] 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 23)

Closing Litany

Easter is also a time when we change the closing Litany, now to a Psalm you all know well.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen

 

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving

1 Standing on the promises of Christ my king,
through eternal ages let his praises ring;
glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
standing on the promises of God.

Refrain:
Standing, standing, 
standing on the promises of God my Savior;
standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

2 Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,
standing on the promises of God. [Refrain]

3 Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
bound to him eternally by love’s strong cord,
overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
standing on the promises of God. [Refrain]

4 Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
resting in my Savior as my all in all,
standing on the promises of God. [Refrain]

https://youtu.be/7YQXiQfEjqs (Alan Jackson. Really!)


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, such as this one from Romans 15:

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen

 

Postlude

"Sonata on the First Tone" by Lidon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEcHwrlcMVY

 Sunday, April 26, 2020

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

How do we share the peace with one another in a time of separation?  Take out your church directory, and find someone to text, email, call, or send a postcard to every day this week, which starts today. "The Peace of the Lord be with you,” is your message. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Start the ball rolling! If you need a directory, email me and I’ll send you an email with one attached. And remember, the Peace of God passes all understanding.

 

Joys and Concerns of the People

Cathy Crabtree’s friend,  Adrianne Barnett.

Darlene Bowman’s niece, Catice Dillingham

The Light of Christ Enters

“To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change. Resentments cannot be held with the same tenacity when we enter his gracious light.” Richard J. Foster

Prelude

 "Voluntary in A" by Selby

(Here’s a version that’s a bit unusual) https://youtu.be/AWMHmCQVyJk

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One: Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:

All: God was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels,

One: preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

All: We have gathered in his presence. Let us worship him with pure hearts. Amen

 

Hymn of Praise

1.Sing of one who walks beside us and this day is living still

One who now is closer to us than the thoughts our dearts distill,

Christ who once upon a hilltop, raised against the power of sin,

Died in love as his own creatures crucified their God and Friend!

2. We have walked with him as strangers through the journey of the day,

And have told him of the violence that has swept our hope away.

He has offered words of comfort, words of energy and light.

Did our hearts not blaze within us as he broke the bread this night?

3. Risen on, stay with us, raise us, once again the night is near.

Dine with us and share your wisdom, free our hearts from every fear.

In the calm of each new evening, in the freshness of each dawn,

If you hold us fast in friendship we will never be alone.

HOLY MANNA (This is impressive) https://youtu.be/tzTH9OvbwcM

 

Invocation

God, our Father, hear our prayer and let the radiance of your love scatter the gloom of our hearts. The light of heaven's love has restored us to life - free us from the desires that belong to darkness. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN

Call to Prayer

Easter is a time when we change some things in the service, to reflect the move from to the Easter season. Dona Nobis Pacem is what we planned for the Call to Prayer. Here’s a beautiful version.

https://youtu.be/OSdGW_HBrLE

 Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

God of my ancestors, I cry unto you. You have been the refuge of the good and the wise in every generation. When history began, you were the first enlightener of our minds, and yours was the Spirit that first led us out of our brute estate and made us human. Through all the ages you have been the Lord and giver of life, the source of all knowledge, the fountain of all goodness.

The patriarchs trusted you and were not put to shame;

The prophets sought you and you committed your Word to their lips;

The psalmists rejoice in you and you were present in their song;

The apostles waited upon you and they were filled with your Holy Spirit;

The martyrs called upon you and you were with them in the midst of the flame;

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.

O God, you were, and are to come, and I thank you that this Christian way whereon I walk is no untried or uncharted road, but a road beaten hard by the footsteps of saints, apostles, prophets and martyrs. I thank you for the finger-posts and danger-signals with which it is marked at every turning and which may be known to me through the study of the Bible, and of all history, and of all the great literature of the world. Beyond all I give you devout and humble thanks for the great gift of Jesus Christ, the Pioneer of our faith. I praise you that you have caused me to be born in an age and in a land which have known his Name, and that I am not called upon to face any temptation or trial which he did not first endure.

Forbid it, Holy Lord, that I should fail to profit by these great memories of the ages that are gone by, or to enter into the glorious inheritance which you have prepared for me; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen  (John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer)

Prayer Response

At every baptism I witnessed as a child, the congregationally seemed to spontaneously sing the refrain of this hymn: Into My Heart (Bill Gaither Trio)

https://youtu.be/fNt9MDFoGB0

Scripture 

Psalm 118:1-4, 19-29

1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever!

2 Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.[c]
25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
    O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.[d]
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
    up to the horns of the altar.[e]

28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God, I will extol you.

29 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever. Amen.

 

Sermon

  When you read Psalm 118, and I encourage you to read the whole thing, you should note three things: the tone, the echoes and the centrality of the Lord. The tone is irrepressibly upbeat, trusting, bright, and full of hope.

         His steadfast love endures forever.

         With the Lord on my side I do not fear.

         The Lord is on my side!

         The Lord helped me.

         The Lord is my strength and song, and my salvation.

         I shall live!

         You have answered me.

         Let us rejoice in the day the Lord has made.

         The Lord is God.

         You are my God.

I am not aware of a more sustained song of joy and gladness in the Bible. Scholars are divided as to who wrote it (King David? another king, or General?), and even divided on the nature of the composition. Is it a unitary piece, written by one person at a particular moment, or more in the nature of an edited compilation from a variety of sources?

Hard to say, but certainly it’s important to note that the language and the various motifs we see in this Psalm remind us that, like any literary or religious text, it comes from a tradition, a language system, and a history of practices and expressions which themselves give expression to beliefs, thoughts, and emotions of a group, a people, but which also, like the other side of a coin, form those same beliefs, thoughts and emotions.

        

We normally assume the process works like this: We have a thought and then we use words to express it. But at least as important in that process is the language-world we already inhabit (like fish live in the water). What we’ve already heard, and taken aboard, what we’re accustomed to hearing (for we learn to speak by listening), is what drives our thinking in ways we’re often not aware of.

        

Children who are spoken to directly, who are engaged in real conversation by adults, become themselves more articulate. Reading widely, pursuing understanding, studying things too hard for oneself, enables a form of speech/thought, which runs in both directions.

        

Our emotions, what we call our feelings, are those bodily events that we detect, that we can sense. They are in essence wordless, because experienced in the body. But the words, the phrases we’ve been taught by hearing others describe their emotions, not only describe our feelings, but can engender feelings, or influence their intensity, drive those feelings, reinforce them and extend them as well. Read the book of James, Proverbs and the Gospels. So much of the Bible’s ethical teaching is about speech, beginning with the Third Commandment. What I’m saying is not new.

        

For example, to know the verse, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” can help us recognize something within, but these words, obviously, also had an educational function, for this verse reinforces and drives an awareness of God as Creator even of time (“the day”). It teaches us the proper and right response to the fact that God creates: “Let us rejoice and be glad.”

Notice also the ability of the phrase to overcome the temporary and short-lived disasters that all lives encounter. How do I “rejoice” on the day my child, my parent, my spouse dies? Or, in a much less serious occasion, how do I rejoice on the day on which I get a flat tire?

It’s helpful to realize that developing the habit of rejoicing over a day of frustrations and setbacks can enable us to rejoice in the face of true disaster. Why does God ask us to do things like that? Well, aren’t we all learning that together the last six weeks?

We can remind ourselves that the verse itself both teaches and reminds us, that the day Jesus was tortured and crucified was a day which the Lord made. The Lord made Good Friday just like he made the first Christmas day. The day the tabernacle entered Jerusalem was a day the Lord made, just as was the day Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians.

There’s something in the verse that points us beyond all forms of reaction to disaster and calamity, and that is that the Lord made it. The day, the earth, the sun and its light, time, even life itself, especially life itself, are all encompassed when we speak these words, this verse. This Is the Day.

It’s a gift. If you’re alive to say the words, to breathe in and breathe out, then you have something, if only one thing, for which to rejoice. And thus there is hope in every situation.

For we were given life not for the purpose of accomplishing our frail plans, which are so vulnerable to chance and time. What if you’d worked for twenty years to save and scrimp and save some more in order to open your own restaurant in Manhattan? New Year’s Eve of 2019 was your Grand Opening! And now?

This applies to so many people right now. Unemployed for 2 and half years, and finally got a job in February. Store Manager at a Neiman-Marcus! Sorry. All the other lives, outside of the premature deaths of over 50,000 in this country, thrown into chaos by unemployment?

Man proposes, God disposes. Why are we here? For what purpose were we given this great gift of life itself? Created life is inextricably mixed with the passage of time, and we are recipients of this gift that we might see God. This is the goal of the Gospel, the goal of life itself. This God gives each of us life that we might learn this, know and receive that gift which He offers to all, though forces on none. The acknowledgment found in Psalm 118 to this gift of life drives the relentlessly faithful tone heard throughout the Psalm.

Secondly, as with all hearing and reading of scripture, we must be alert for the “echoes” of which I’ve spoken before. Even speaking only on a human level, all scripture comes from a form of life and language. The writers of scripture, a diverse group in time, think and feel and believe the way they do partly because of the way they've been taught to speak, and the things they’ve been taught to speak of, and have heard others speak (or sing: viz. the Psalms).

We have this tradition, this “handing-on” of words, phrases, and habits of speech in the very first verse, and in its repetition in vss. 2, 3, and 4 and again in the last verse: “His steadfast love endures forever.”

"Steadfast love" in Hebrew is chesed. It’s translated all kinds of ways in different Bibles: loving-kindness, mercy, goodness, favor. Chesed is what we come across when God is, as it’s translated there, “merciful” to Lot by virtue of the angels physically seizing him and his wife and two daughters and dragging them out of Sodom, even though they lose their home in the process.

Chesed, or steadfast love, assumes a prominent role as a part of the Lord’s self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 34, after the Hebrew children have danced around the idol of the Golden Calf, and he had mercy upon them by cutting the Ten Commandments again, on two new tablets of stone. And when Moses is in the cleft of the rock (no small echo there) the Lord passes before him and says, “The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.'”

The triple repetition of “the right hand of the Lord” in vss 15 and 16 of the Psalm point toward not only the activity of the Lord for Israel in the created world, as seen in the Old Testament repeatedly (Exodus 15:6) but also the description of the place of the resurrected Christ in the New Testament, at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 10:12). The use of “gates” is also a pre-figuring of the Jesus entering Jerusalem on “Palm Sunday” in a proleptic picture of his victorious resurrection and ascension into heaven.

There are more echoes of Palm Sunday found in vss. 25-27, specifically the cry, “Save us,” from vs. 25, for this is an English translation of what’s often not translated, the Hebrew word Hosanna, which is like other Hebrew words that have entered our language, such as Amen, maranatha, anathema.

And of course, “the stone that was rejected” is a common motif in many places, most likely tied to David’s early career under Saul, and then later attack by Saul, the King from the tribe of Benjamin. David, the king, and thus the anointed (messiah) one, is the figure for many future messianic themes. The stone, or the rock, is expanded in many places as a figure of Christ (Matthew 7, I Corinthians 10, Gen. 49:24, Ex. 17:6), not least as already mentioned, when Moses hides himself at God’s direction, in the “cleft” of the Rock, a story eventually generating the Augustus Toplady hymn, Rock of Ages.

The third thing which is easily overlooked, like sand at the seashore, is the ubiquity and centrality of God in the Psalm, and for the Psalmist, his centrality to his life. In a psalm with only 29 verses, “the Lord” or “God” is mentioned 31 separate times, and additionally by pronouns (he, his, you) 14 times.

These images, pictures, figures, live and operate within time, which is an artifact of humanity, and thus part of creation, but it’s difficult to nail down what time is. One thing the amorphous nature of time can enable us to see is the unending reality of the past and the future from the standpoint of the Creator, who is not within time, as also his Word is not within time.

Can a Psalm written in the 6th century BC reference a crucified Jew from 600 years in the future? God’s word speaks in time but is not bound, imprisoned by it. Jesus of Nazareth is born of a human mother, but death cannot hold him. When you can answer the question, “Who is Melchizedek?"  you begin to understand how the scriptures operate. The error made 300 years ago was forgetting that neither God nor his Word are or were ever bound by time, controlled by time, limited by time, or overcome by time.

“Be of good cheer,” he said to his disciples, “for I have overcome the world.”

Hymn of Response

1 I know that my Redeemer liveth,
And on the earth again shall stand;
I know eternal life He giveth,
That grace and power are in His hand.

Chorus:
I know, I know that Jesus liveth,
And on the earth again shall stand;
I know, I know that life He giveth,
That grace and power are in His hand.

2 I know His promise never faileth,
The word He speaks, it cannot die;
Tho’ cruel death my flesh assaileth,
Yet I shall see Him by and by.

[Chorus]

3 I know my mansion He prepareth,
That where He is there I may be;
Oh, wondrous thought, for me He careth,
And He at last will come for me.

[Chorus]

Job 19:25

https://youtu.be/8uRbdvMp2WE

Offertory

“Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals” Karg-Elery

https://youtu.be/dPxyDNwASj0

Doxology

The Old 100th

(A beautiful version by Kaoma Chende)

https://youtu.be/PQxZ3hPbBWg

Prayer of Dedication

Lord, we thank for Your faithfulness. Thank you that we can always trust in You. You are an abundant God and out of Your great mercy you have given us so much. We give you this offering today. With it we worship You and give our whole selves to You. Please now take it and use it for Your kingdom and Your glory. Extend and multiply its reach and influence we pray. May it be a great blessing to many. We ask all this in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
 

Communion Meditation

We leave out the Prayer of Confession for the Easter season, and at other times of the year. A prayer of confession is not typical of Disciples of Christ worship practices, but many of us are from other traditions, and so we include the confession for a time and alternate with a communion meditation.

The communion we share with the Lord, is a complex event of giving and receiving. The Lord gave us life and existence, the creation of all things. There were offerings from the earliest times of humanity, e.g., Cain and Abel. The table is where we receive from God this offering of his Son on our behalf. But the elements, the bread and wine are of the earth. We unite them with the money in the plate and offer them to him, just as our human Lord offered himself on the cross. He graciously offers us the opportunity to offer ourselves to him with him and in him. More than a complex event, the Table of the Lord is a dance, a pattern, that exemplifies the grace of God seen not only in salvation, but creation and the redemption of all things as well.

Communion Hymn

Before I take the body of my Lord,

before I share his life in bread and wine,

 I recognize the sorry things within: these I lay down.

The words of hope I often failed to give,

The prayers of kindness buried by my pride,

 the signs of care I argued out of sight: these I lay down.

The narrowness of vision and of mind,

The need for other folk to serve my will,

 and every word and silence meant to hurt: these I lay down.

Of those around in whom I meet my Lord,

I ask their pardon and I grant them mine

That every contradiction to Christ’s peace might be laid down.

Lord Jesus Christ, companion at this feast,

I empty now my hear and stretch my hands,

And ask to meet you here in bread and wine which you lay down.

https://youtu.be/kh6R4Yv1b0w (Choir of First Plymouth Church, Lincoln NE)

Communion Words

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[c] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.[d

 

] 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 23)

Closing Litany

Easter is also a time when we change the closing Litany, now to a Psalm you all know well.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of  righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen

 

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving

1 Come, ye faithful, raise the strain
of triumphant gladness;
God hath brought his Israel
into joy from sadness;
loosed from Pharaoh's bitter yoke
Jacob's sons and daughters;
led them with unmoistened foot
through the Red Sea waters.

2 'Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ hath burst his prison,
and from three days' sleep in death,
as a sun hath risen;
all the winter of our sins,
long and dark, is flying
from his light, to whom we give
laud and praise undying.

3 Now the queen of seasons, bright
with the day of splendor,
with the royal feast of feasts,
comes its joy to render;
comes to glad Jerusalem,
who with true affection
welcomes in unwearied strains
Jesus' resurrection.

4 Neither might the gates of death,
nor the tomb's dark portal,
nor the watchers, nor the seal
hold thee as a mortal:
but today amidst thine own
thou didst stand, bestowing
thine own peace, which evermore
passeth human knowing.

5 "Alleuia!" now we cry
to our King immortal,
who, triumphant, burst the bars
of the tomb's dark portal;
"Alleluia!" with the Son,
God the Father praising;
"Alleluia!" yet again
to the Spirit raising.

https://youtu.be/pJWNdj6e7bg


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, such as this one from  (Num. 6:24-26)

“May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace.”

Postlude

Fugue in C Major, Buxtehude

https://youtu.be/WIumET5Jl5I

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

How do we share the peace with one another in a time of separation?  Take out your church directory, and find someone to text, email, call, or send a postcard to every day this week, which starts today. "The Peace of the Lord be with you,” is your message. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Start the ball rolling! If you need a directory, email me and I’ll send you an email with one attached. And remember, the Peace of God passes all understanding.

 

Joys and Concerns of the People

Remember Collier Hopson in your prayers after the death of his father Robert. Robert was a member of the choir and the dentist of many in Murfreesboro for decades. Graveside service Saturday, May 2, 11:00 AM at Evergreen.

Remember your friends who find fear creeping up on them, who can’t stop worrying, who can’t stop reading or watching the news. Remember the old refrain: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
  In the light of His glory and grace.”

The Light of Christ Enters

“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.” C S Lewis

 

Prelude

Andante for Organ and Trumpet, Verpeaux

https://youtu.be/lXmdYMI7-d8

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One: O the depth of your riches and wisdom and knowledge, O God! How unsearchable are your judgments and how inscrutable your ways!

All: For who has known your mind, or who has been your counselor?

One: Or who has given a gift to you that they might be repaid?

All: For from you, and through you, and to you are all things. To you be glory forever! Amen.

 

Hymn of Praise

You probably don’t have a hymnal at home, so I will post the words here. You can also google search with the title and find many versions of each hymn online.

1 Crown him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns
all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing
of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless king
through all eternity.

2 Crown him the Lord of life,
who triumphed o'er the grave,
and rose victorious in the strife
for those he came to save;
his glories now we sing
who died and rose on high,
who died eternal life to bring,
and lives that death may die.

3 Crown him the Lord of love;
behold his hands and side,
rich wounds, yet visible above,
in beauty glorified;
no angels in the sky
can fully bear that sight,
but downward bends their burning eye
at mysteries so bright.

4 Crown him the Lord of years,
the potentate of time,
creator of the rolling spheres,
ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail!
for thou hast died for me;
thy praise shall never, never fail
throughout eternity.

https://youtu.be/32sf7-EXL0w

Invocation

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that we, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

Call to Prayer

Easter is a time when we change some things in the service, to reflect the move from to the Easter season. Dona Nobis Pacem is what we planned for the Call to Prayer.

https://youtu.be/9fhJ6XrZ4jg

Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

From John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer:

Almighty and eternal God, you are hidden from my sight: you are beyond the understanding of my mind: Your thoughts are not as my thoughts: Your ways are past finding out. Yet you have breathed your Spirit into my life: Yet you have formed my mind to seek you: Yet you have inclined my heart to love you: Yet you have made me restless for the rest that is only in you: Yet you have planted within me a hunger and thirst that make me dissatisfied with all the joys of earth. O my God, only you know what lies before me this day. Grant that in every hour of it I may stay close to you. Let me be in the world, but not of it. Let me use this world without abusing it. If I buy, let me be as though I possessed not. If I have nothing, let me be as though possessing all things. Let me today embark on no undertaking that is not in line with your will for my life, nor shrink from any sacrifice whicy your will may demand. Suggest, direst, control every movement of my mind; for my Lord Christ’s sake. Amen

Prayer Response

At every baptism I witnessed as a child, the congregationally seemed to spontaneously sing the refrain of this hymn: Into My Heart

https://youtu.be/eCJuFt_cHzE

Scripture Acts 10:30-43

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31 He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

 

Sermon

The interesting aspect of this short drama found in the Acts of the Apostles is the picture it gives us of an all-powerful God who, without compromising the way he moves in history connects one man with good news to another man who needs good news. Here we have, not the hinge of history, which was the event of Jesus Christ, but maybe “a” hinge of history, even though really that doesn’t make a lot of sense. This, let’s say, an event, an act of God that moved history forward in the direction of his choosing, which Peter finally perceives. A redemptive history in which non-Jews may receive repentance (Acts 11:18), and forgiveness of sins.

I call it a drama because of the way the story develops, each paragraph moves the story along through events that lead toward a denouement, which is the apostle and other Jewish Christians “glorifying God” at the story Peter tells them of what had happened to him with Cornelius and the other Romans. It’s a drama because of the obstacles overcome to arrive at that goal.

The Lord speaks to Cornelius through a vision of an angel. Cornelius, a venerated ancient Roman name, would carry many good associations for Romans, being a name often found in the lists of former consuls of the Roman Republic.

But it would not have brought any warm feelings to a Jew, being such a stereotypically “Roman” name. Notice also that Cornelia is residing in Caesarea. This was a Phoenician village captured by Jewish leader Alexander Janneus in 90 BC, until the Roman General Pompey absorbed in with his conquest of all of Judea in 63 BC. The Roman Client-King Herod renamed it for his benefactor, Caesar Augustus. So just the name of the town would have left a bad taste in Peter’s mouth.

The other part of the setting of this drama is found in Peter’s location, which is Joppa, location of the modern city, Jaffa, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Joppa should set off more echoes, because it is to Joppa that the prophet Jonah fled to find a boat to take him to Tarshish so he could avoid the Lord’s call to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the gentiles in the capital city of the Assyrians, the great enemy of Israel in the 8th century BC.

Jonah’s resistance and flight from his call and his duty, sets up the story of being cast out of the ship into the mouth of the great fish (Jonah and the Whale) where he repents of his rebellion and goes unenthusiastically to call all Nineveh to repent, which they do promptly and enthusiastically, somewhat to Jonah’s dismay, for he had apparently been expecting that God would “smite” them, judging from his reactions in ch. 4.

Peter already has a history. Always the disciple who speaks up, who asks questions, during Jesus’ ministry on earth, he is also the disciple who betrays Jesus and himself later repents. God has a plan for Cornelius and it included Peter. The angel has told Cornelius to send to Joppa, for a man called Simon Peter.

Cornelius, the pagan, gentile Roman, serving as an officer under the oppressive, despotic Roman regime, is instantly obedient, in an ironic contrast with Peter (in Joppa!).

As Luke sets out the dramatic events, Peter too is praying. We don’t see it, because our habits have changed, but Peter and Cornelius pray at fixed hours of the day, like all ancient Jews of that time, and like pious Muslims today (who inherited the practice from Christian monasteries).

Cornelius was in prayer at 3:00 PM (the “ninth hour”) when he saw the angel. Peter, too, is praying the next day, at noon (the 6th hour) and, unsurprisingly at noon, is hungry. We’re told that while lunch was cooking, Peter “fell into a trance” and saw the “heavens opened” and “something like a great sheet” let down upon the earth, filled with animals.

They clearly seem to be non-kosher (“reptiles”), because even when the voice from heaven calls on him, three times,  to rise, kill and eat, he refuses, three times, Luke tells us, just as the Word of the Lord came to Jonah three times in his book.

Jonah is the prophet famous for being swallowed by a whale, of course, but actually famous for being the only named prophet sent specifically to a non-Jewish gentile nation.

It’s remarkable to  find this story in the Old Testament, and we’re seeing in the book of Acts its importance in the beliefs of early Christians being quietly reference here, just as when, asked for a sign to prove he was the Christ, Jesus replied, No sign will be given, except the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12).

Peter is the unwilling prophet living out the figure of Jonah, and the Lord has to speak to him three times. This is “a moment” in the history of redemption. Paul is known as the great apostle to the gentiles, but it is Peter, who gave the first sermon on Pentecost, Peter, who walked on the water, Peter who made the great confession “you are the Christ, the son of the Living God,” Peter is God’s messenger of good news to Cornelius and his friends, which begins the spread of the good news to the Roman world of the day.

The drama continues when the men sent by Cornelius to Joppa, residence of the unwilling prophet, arrive at Simon the Tanner’s house, where Peter is living. By the time they arrive, Peter has been pondering the vision, and the Spirit tells him to welcome the men from Caesarea and accompany them back there to Cornelius. Which is what Peter does.

Now it’s pertinent to pause here a moment to notice two things: the place of Simon the Tanner in the story and what led up to this. As Acts 9:43 and 10:6 reveal, Peter is living in a house with Simon the Tanner. How did this happen?

After Saul’s conversion in ch. 9, we read that the church “had peace” and was “built up” and grew. Peter went to Lydda, which was near Joppa, and healed a paralyzed man named Aeneas, in God’s providence, named for the mythological founder of the Roman empire, who fled Troy when defeated by the Greeks. Mighty Rome is powerful, but paralyzed, unable to turn toward God, until the power of Jesus Christ brings healing. Then, in Joppa, a much-loved believer named Tabitha had died, and the disciples in Joppa sent for Peter, since he was nearby in Lydda. They had laid out her body in an upper room, and Peter, sending everyone out of the room, kneeled and prayed, and she was raised to life. This naturally became well known, and Peter stayed awhile. And he stayed in a tanner’s house, which we pass over without noticing.

But in the complicated system of Jewish law as the school of the Pharisees read it, Simon the Tanner was an outcast. Simon would have been always ceremonially unclean, ritually impure, because he was a tanner, a leatherworker. Simon’s work brought him into daily direct contact with the dead bodies of animals. There was also a great deal of stench involved in the tanning process.

It seems odd to us, since people don’t shun taxidermists. But Simon would have been a bit of an outcast, though perhaps not at the level of a tax-collector. But not by Peter. I emphasize this to show us the way God was already preparing Peter for his call to go to Cornelius.

Of course, Simon was still a Jew. But he was on the religious periphery. The “second thing” I mentioned above was the gradual movement that was already happening in the larger story.

In ch. 8 of Acts, Peter and John had gone to lay hands on the recently converted Samaritans, whom Philip had baptized. Luke doesn’t explain why this was necessary, but perhaps some sort of additional confirmation of forgiveness was needed because they weren’t considered wholly Jewish, having been separated from Judean Jews by the accidents of history for 6 centuries.

As well, immediately after that, the circle expands when Philip is sent, by the Spirit, toward Gaza, where he meets a Eunuch, a member of a class excluded from the Assembly of the people in Judaism (Deut. 23:1) who nevertheless asks Philip’s assistance in understanding Isaiah 53. Whereupon Philip tells him of Christ and leads him to faith and baptizes him.

This is preparing the way for expansion of those whom Jesus calls into the people of God. When Peter learns that Cornelius and others are God-fearers, that is, they attend synagogue and study Torah, but are not fully Jews, that is, not circumcised, he tells them the story of Jesus.

He begins by saying, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

It’s interesting to me how Peter ties the reception of the gospel to those who fear God and do what is right. This is enhanced when the apostles to whom he tells his story in ch. 11 conclude, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

The gospel message in this part of Acts, and elsewhere, recorded for us by Luke, emphasizes the way in which the early preachers (as well as John the Baptist and Jesus himself) portrayed front and center, the need to repent, to turn around, to change one’s life direction, while at the same time acknowledging that it was a gift of God, as 11:16 reveals.

There was more to conversion than the old sinner’s prayer, inviting Jesus into one’s heart, which is never mentioned or limned in the New Testament at all. The presence of the Holy Spirit, in preparing the human soul for reconciliation with God through the sacrifice of Christ, “grants repentance” reveals to the human person the need for forgiveness, creates the desire to live in accordance with God’s guidance, and opens the sinners eyes and heart to reality of Jesus Christ and his call to all.

Now part of the story is the Holy Spirit comes upon Cornelius and his friends before Peter even finishes preaching. But all this happens because of three things.

First, both Cornelius and Peter prayed regularly. I don’t know what they prayed, or how long, or with what fervency. They just made prayer a “regular” (from the Latin word for rule, “regula”) item in their day. Ninth hour, sixth hour. How many times had Cornelius done that and never saw an angel at all! You have to be ready. And a rule, a regularity, helps you to be ready. Like Sully bringing that plane down on the Hudson. All that pilot training and rule following: when the unexpected happened, he just followed his regular routine for landing a plane with now power. That’s the kind of thing pilots practice. Constantly.

Second, recognition. Part of the Jew’s prayer in those days, and now, was the Psalms. That is, they spoke God’s Word to him in their prayers, so when God spoke to Cornelius and Peter, they recognized him.

Third, preparation. For Peter, he had been preparing for this moment, even if he didn’t know it, by what he did and by being involved in what God was already doing. Laying hands on the Samaritans. Not rejecting living at a Tanner’s house. Continuing his “regular” prayers, like an athlete continues his exercise regimen.

Are you prepared? Will you recognize God’s direction? Do you have a “rule” to keep you prepared and your eyes open? Is there oil in your lamp?

Hymn of Response

I come to the garden alone,

While the dew is still on the roses,

And the voice I hear falling on my ear

The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own;

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice

Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,

And the melody that He gave to me

Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him,

Though the night around me be falling,

But He bids me go; through the voice of woe

His voice to me is calling.

(You’ll like this version)

https://youtu.be/py-_VnHv3gg

 

Offertory

Canon in D, Pachelbel

https://youtu.be/KwJZoA824sM

Doxology

The Old 100th

https://youtu.be/2kmskQGUIlc

Prayer of Dedication

O God, you have blessed us. We find it hard to name and explain your blessings so that they will make sense to others. Yet they are real. We are grateful . . . for friends, for faith, for freedom. Now, we offer these gifts in thankfulness and in joy. We are giving money and rejoicing about it. We can't explain it, even to ourselves, as we offer these gifts. We rejoice because we offer this money to be used for good in this world. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Communion Meditation

We leave out the Prayer of Confession for the Easter season, and at other times of the year. A prayer of confession is not typical of Disciples of Christ worship practices, but many of us are from other traditions, and so we include the confession for a time and alternate with a communion meditation.

A tether to me was always a part of that intensely competitive game on grade school playground, Tether Ball. Oh how I loved that game. I was good at no other sport, but Tether ball, watch out! I later learned a new meaning for tether, when I witnessed our first “space walk” and realized how important the “tether” was for astronaut to stay connected to life! The Spirit’s tether, so evocative, as we approach the table of the Lord, which we will together again someday, soon, I pray, reminds us of the poor sick woman of the gospel story with nothing to hold onto, nothing to grasp, but the hem of Jesus’ garment, that she may be healed. Who touched me? he said, For I felt power go out of me. The faith that makes whole, and keeps us all tethered to life.

 

Communion Hymn

Draw us in the Spirit’s tether,
For when humbly in Thy name,
Two or three are met together
Thou are in the midst of them;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Touch we now Thy garment’s hem.

As the brethren used to gather
In the name of Christ to sup,
Then with thanks to God the Father
Break the bread and bless the cup,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
So knit Thou our friendship up.

All our meals and all our living
Make as sacraments of Thee,
That by caring, helping, giving
We may true disciples be.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
We will serve Thee faithfully.

https://youtu.be/CGWYe0DSAis

Communion Words

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[c] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.[d

 

Bible Gateway passage: Luke 22 - New Revised Standard Version

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief...

] 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 23)

Closing Litany

Easter is also a time when we change the closing Litany, now to a Psalm you all know well.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of  righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen

 

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving

1 Thine be the glory, risen, conqu'ring Son:
endless is the vict'ry thou o’er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave-clothes where thy body lay.

Refrain:
Thine be the glory, risen, conqu'ring Son;
endless is the vict'ry thou o’er death hast won.

2 Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing,
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting. [Refrain]

3 No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee: aid us in our strife;
make us more than conqu'rors, thro' thy deathless love:
bring us safe thro' Jordan to thy home above. [Refrain]

https://youtu.be/GaoV5w2Qfag


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, such as this one from

If the God who raised Jesus from the dead is for us, who can be against us?  We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. 

Let us be ready to step out into the world in humble confidence; there is nothing about to happen that God has not foreseen, and no situation where Christ will not be there ahead of you, preparing a place and an opportunity for you. Amen.

Be at peace knowing "He has Risen!"

Postlude

The Prince of Denmark’s March, Jeremiah Clarke

https://youtu.be/z1088E6E2fY

 

(and here’s a bonus track for everybody who read all the way through: You can come across some great stuff on Youtube! https://youtu.be/noUeQQ64Q1I)

 

 

 

Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

How do we share the peace with one another in a time of separation?  Take out your church directory, and find someone to text, email, call, or send a postcard to every day during Holy Week, which starts today. "The Peace of the Lord be with you,” is your message. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Start the ball rolling! If you need a directory, email me and I’ll send you an email with one attached. And remember, Peace of God passes all understanding.

 

Joys and Concerns of the People

For those who struggle with surviving and recovering from the virus in  this country and the world.

For those who attend them and nurse them.

For all others who work in hospitals and nursing homes in a time of pandemic.

For our own members in Retirement Homes and Nursing Homes.

For God’s blessings on all who worship with this guide today.

The Light of Christ Enters

It is easy to understand why the candle developed a symbolic importance in the practices of the church. If one is in a dark house, or a catacomb to worship the resurrected Christ, the lit candle is before one’s eyes and the connection grows, and reminds of the first spoken words in the Bible, from Genesis, when God said, Let there be light! To look at the lit candle and remember: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” is to be strengthened by the sight of the light, which brings us and guides to walk in the light, the light of life.

Prelude

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,

https://youtu.be/RdWVfrZ3MeQ

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One: Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!

All: Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.

One: Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!

All: For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Amen

Hymn of Praise

You probably don’t have a hymnal at home, so I will post the words here. You can also google search with the title and find many versions of each hymn online. https://youtu.be/ztugxIfwP4c

1.    Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

2.    Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

3.    Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

4.    Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

5.    Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

6.    King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy pow’r to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

Invocation

Lord of all life and power, who through the mighty resurrection of your Son overcame the old order of sin and death to make all things new in him: grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ, may reign with him in glory; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be praise and honor, glory and might, now and in all eternity. Amen

 

Call to Prayer

Easter is a time when we change some things in the service, to reflect the move from to the Easter season. Dona Nobis Pacem is what we planned for the Call to Prayer. Click here for a somewhat unorthodox version: https://youtu.be/A3kN5uytxK4

Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

From John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer:

Let me now rejoice, O most gracious God, in  the love you have shown to our poor human race, opening up to us a way whereby we might be delivered from our sin and foolishness. O God the Father, I praise the great and holy love whereby, when we had utterly gone astray, you did diligently seek us out and save us, sending your well-beloved Son to suffer and to die that we might be restored to the fellowship your children.

O God the Son, I praise the great and holy love whereby you did humble yourself for my sake and for the sake of my brethren, consenting to share our common life, to dwell in the midst of all our sin and shame, to endure all the bitterness of your most blessed Passion, and at the last to die upon the Cross, that we might be released from our bondage and enter with you into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

O God the Holy Spirit, I praise the great and holy love whereby you daily shed abroad in my unworthy heart the peace and joy of sin forgiven, making me a partaker with all the saints in the blessings of my Lord’s Incarnation, of his Passion and Crucifixion, and of hi Resurrection and Ascension to the Father’s right hand on high.

O holy and blessed Trinity, let me now so dwell in the mystery of this heavenly love that all hatred and malice may be rooted out from my heart and life. Let me love you, as you first loved me; and in loving you let me love also my neighbor; and in loving you and my neighbor in you let me be saved from all false love of myself; and to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be all glory and praise for ever. Amen

 

Prayer Response

At every baptism I witnessed as a child, the congregationally seemed to spontaneously sing the refrain of this hymn: Into My Heart https://youtu.be/gMRBue17Dzs

Anthem

“Darkness Into Light” by Anonymous 4

https://youtu.be/O3dQK7tBnBQ

Scripture

I Corinthians 15:19-28

There is a website called biblegateway.com that is very useful and helpful. It has different translations available for every part of the Bible, about 60 in English from the American Standard Version to Young’s Literal Translation. The Bible in our pews is the New Revised Standard Version, and I post that translation of I  Corinthians15:19-28 below.

19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

Sermon

 I never imagined an Easter Sunday like this year’s. No one else did either, of course. It is of some interest that there’s no evidence that Christians in the first 100 years after Jesus’ resurrection celebrated Easter as an annual event. There were of course the weekly gatherings of believers on the first day of each week for the “breaking of bread.”

This gathering of Christ-following Jews on the first day, and not the seventh day (the traditional Sabbath), is in itself a strong indicator of the reality of the resurrection. Recall that the greatest powers of the day had tried repeatedly to destroy the Jews’ devotion to the Sabbath without success. For Jesus’ followers to suddenly begin gathering on the first day instead of the seventh, points toward a powerful event which could only be the event of the resurrection on the first day. The following events of Jesus’ appearing to his disciples, before the Ascension, on the first day of the week more than once, only added to that powerful effect. A moment’s reflection would convince that a life-less crucified Christ, who did not rise, would not generate this kind of civilizational transforming change of a 1000-year-old practice.

So as I’ve said more than once, Sunday, the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, is a feast of the resurrection. Every week. The feast is the meal we share around the table in anticipation of the promised Messianic Banquet (Matt. 25:10), the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). The Lord’s Supper we share with him and one another is a pre-figuration, a rehearsal, a preparation for what Jesus spoke of in Luke 22, “And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

And yet in this season of isolation we have lost this as well, for televised, or streamed, “communion” is the antithesis of communion, and it’s better not to fool ourselves. If there were not a reason that communion is a physical event, an act “directly” related to life itself, Christ would not have instituted it. “This is my body.” Christianity is incarnational. Resurrection is bodily, not digital.

 In our time of enforced separation, we remember. We anticipate. But we don’t pretend that everything’s fine. We don’t pretend that if we merely watch communion it’s the same. There are those who assert that as long as we eat and drink whatever we have available, at the same time as others eating and drinking while we all are streaming a “church” service on the internet, then that is communion. I disagree. You may not. But we can, I hope, certainly agree on this.

We can agree that we are in a time of lament. Our annual, our weekly re-telling, re-living the resurrection is removed from us by events and powers beyond our reasonable control. And this time of separation, from one another, from corporate, common worship, though not separation from God, is a time to learn what lament is and how to lament. The book of Lamentations would be good to read during this time.

Lamenting, lamentation, is not something that we should avoid. The isolation of death in our society by improved medicine, healthcare, longevity and wealth in the last 100 years has removed it from our view for the large part. We all have heard of death, and buried a loved one. If you live long enough, it comes into clearer focus. But not like 150 years ago, when half of the deaths in large cities were from infectious diseases. Last year, of the top 12 causes of death in the US (heart disease, cancer, etc.) only two were infectious, influenza/pneumonia (one category was 1.88% and septicemia (bacterial) was 1.42%. The good of increased longevity has reduced our familiarity with lament.

150 years ago, infectious disease might carry off anyone, young or old. Now, our world seems suddenly changed. Today is 24/7 reporting on the virus stalking the land. All the indications are, currently, that the virus will continue to kill the weakest among us, though at a slower and slower rate over the next few weeks.

Perhaps, I don’t know, this can be credited to the shutdown, social distancing, facemasks, hydroxychloroquine, media fear tactics, some of all of those, or more. I don’t know, and I don’t believe anyone who says they know all the answers. It is a very unusual disease, and I think some answers will be years in coming.

Some have said, as I have said, it will wind up like a bad flu season. And right now, in the US, that’s what the “models” tell us. 61,000 estimated deaths. But the flu season typically causes from 15,000 -60,000 deaths over a 6-month period, not six weeks, like the coronavirus may do, and which is partly what has put so many hospitals, especially in NYC, or a wartime footing.

Others have said, as I have said, we don’t shut down the entire economy for a bad flu season. But it was, nearly. This may turn out to be a very bad decision, or a genius move. I don’t really know, and I don’t know how we will know or determine the answer to that, especially in a hyper-partisan atmosphere, compounded by being in an election year. It seems like “experts” don’t like to be disagreed with, like the rest of us, and accuse others of being “conspiracy-mongers” when they don’t want to answer reasonable questions.

An old college friend told another friend on Facebook that he just needed to hush and stop asking so many questions, the questions being the kind that experts don’t like to have to put up with. But I think questions are good, for as old hippies remember, “questioning authority” is a very American tradition. Ask a question, learn what you can from the answer, and then ask a better question.

But back to lamenting. The necessity of lamenting is why I preach from the Psalms more than most preachers (as far as I know). The emotional direction of the Bible moves through lamenting to rejoicing. There seems to be a natural understanding of this in the world; no pain no gain, etc.

But that leaves out the content of lamentations, for when we are able to lament over those who have died, and what we have lost, economically and politically, only then will we be ready to move forward. The root of lamentation is the future. We lament over the past because we have a promise from God. Why, God? When, God? How long, O Lord?

A Christian sees lamenting differently than much of the world. We can and must lament even in the face of promise because we are creatures. We were created. We were given bodies, and reason, and many abilities. Our emotions comfort and protect us, as our reason guides and rewards us. But these same aspects of created human life, which anchor us in the created world, expose us to sadness and sorrow and suffering, even as a people who hold tight to the promise of a New World, wrought by God’s righteousness in vindicating his son, and raising him from the tomb, not left to see corruption.

Stuck between the apes and the angels, we are the banner carriers for the beauties and powers of God’s creation and its goodness. As an 11-year-old, running around barefooted in the summers, I constantly “stubbed” my big toe, we called it. Badly. It hurt. I didn’t then stay home because of it. I didn’t even put on shoes.

The physical world can be painful. And beautiful. And sometimes both at the same time. Leon Kass theorizes that when human longevity began to shorten after the time of Noah (remember Methuselah?), and people no longer lived for eight and nine hundred years, beauty was born. Beauty, in his thinking, is tied to the evanescence of life. We value life when it is fleeting, like so many things.
 

The Hebrew Scriptures are a lament, calling on God to be the God he has promised to be, which of course he is and will. It’s just hard for us to see the righteousness of God that grows through the generations of the faithful, for our life is short, fleeting, and we come to its end with trepidation. Life is not just coming to terms with death, it’s learning to trust, learning to see the reality of the new world that awaits God’s good time.

Like all learning, trust is something that must be practiced. It is a human, created capacity that can grow, but can also be undermined and destroyed. We practice our trust, which God gives us in order that we may understand the supernatural faith he bestows on all who desire to know him. We know God because he reveals himself to us, and that is only done in the power of the Spirit through his Word. Faith is a supernatural gift, built upon the trust that is a learned behavior.

The thrust and dynamic of that first “Easter” is so different in many ways from our cultural experiences of it. We observe it on a calendrical system. This is why it’s upsetting to have our routine cancelled. We plan on Easter. We celebrate Easter, with our traditional spring time practices.

But the first Easter was a cataclysm. Those caught up in the resurrection were thunderstruck. We say to Mary in the garden, how can you not recognize him? We say to doubting Thomas, how can you not believe? We say to Peter, how its it you want to go fishing now?

The first Easter was like a concussion. They were knocked in the head, and it took time, and study, and openness to the Holy Spirit, who seized them on Pentecost like hound dog seizes a chew toy and shakes it back and forth. It took time for them to remember, oh yes, this is what he meant when he said. This is what he was trying to tell us when he said.

We all feel, these days, a little like we’ve been knocked on the head lately, though for different reasons. And if the Holy Spirit will shake us up, too, maybe we can understand what he was trying to tell us.

“But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The resurrection, except it be but the beginning of a great and glorious harvest that God will reap, makes no sense at all and is but an historical anomaly. But in fact, the Lord of the Harvest will reap the earth, the good wheat will be harvested, “and when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”

Repent, and believe the gospel.

         

Hymn of Response

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus, His the scepter, his the throne
Alleluia! His the triumph, His the victory alone
Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood
Jesus out of every nation hath redeemed us by his blood.

Alleluia! Not as orphans are we left in sorrow now
Alleluia! He is near us, faith believes nor questions how
Though the cloud from sight received him when the forty days were o'er
Shall our hearts forget his promise, I am with you evermore?

Alleluia! Bread of heaven, here on earth our food and stay
Alleluia! Here the sinful flee to thee from day to day
Intercessor, Friend of sinners, earth's Redeemer, plead for me
Where the songs of all the sinless sweep across the crystal sea.

Alleluia! King eternal, thee the Lord of Lords we own
Alleluia! Born of Mary, earth thy footstool, heaven thy throne
Thou within the veil hast entered, robed in flesh, our great High Priest
Thou on earth both Priest and Victim in the Eucharistic Feast.

https://youtu.be/FTrClYH1Yw4

Offertory

https://youtu.be/Bhh40CtNPuU

Doxology

https://youtu.be/YU1wvtYwA7I (An interesting orchestral version of Old Hundredth)

Prayer of Dedication

O God, you lovingly share your only son with all who believe in your name.  On this holy day, receive our offerings as an affirmation of our commitment to be your faithful disciples.  Strengthen our ability to be gifted stewards of your created world.  We pray in the name of the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  Amen.

 

Communion Meditation

We leave out the Prayer of Confession for the Easter season, and at other times of the year. A prayer of confession is not typical of Disciples of Christ worship practices, but many of us are from other traditions, and so we include the confession for a time and alternate with a communion meditation.

When we return to a time of sharing in the body and blood of our crucified savior at the Lord’s Supper, I adjure us all to remember that we are not merely dealing with symbols, which is a word we too often use with some casualness. It is a broad and wide word, and typically our protestant way to differentiate ourselves away from a catholic literal understanding of the elements of communion. Neither you nor I can officiate at the reformation arguments about the literality or otherwise of the bread and wine of communion. It is good to remember the earliest recorded words we have regarding communion, or the eucharist, in I Corinthians 10, where Paul writes: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”

Communion Hymn

1 Alleluia! Hear God’s story,
still unfolding with each dawn.
Taste the wine and body broken:
God’s creative love lives on.
Who the neighbor? Who the hungry?
Who is thirsty for shalom?
God of journey, in your story;
lead us, with the neighbor, home.

2 Alleluia! Sing the story;
God’s great faithfulness proclaim.
Tell of prophets and apostles;
sing the power of Jesus’ name.
Who the neighbor? Who the listener?
Who has ears to hear our song?
God of history, tune our voices,
make our hopeful witness strong.

3 Alleluia! Dance the story;
every sinew now engage.
Tethered close in truthful worship,
boldly face the coming age.
Who the neighbor? Who the watchful?
Who will welcome life’s embrace?
God of gospel, tell the story
through our dancing of your grace.

The tune for this hymn, W ZLOBIE LEZY, is a very popular Polish Christmas carol, often sung to the words, Infant Holy, Infant Lowly. https://youtu.be/d26P2E2ADkA

Communion Words

14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[c] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.[d

 

Bible Gateway passage: Luke 22 - New Revised Standard Version

The Plot to Kill Jesus - Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief...

 

 

] 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

 

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 23)

Closing Litany

Easter is also a time when we change the closing Litany, now to a Psalm you all know well.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of  righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen

 

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving

1 That Easter day with joy was bright:
the sun shone out with fairer light
when to their longing eyes restored,
th'apostles saw their risen Lord.

2 His risen flesh with radiance glowed,
his wounded hands and feet he showed;
those scars their solemn witness gave
that Christ was risen from the grave.

3 O Jesus, King of gentleness,
do thou thyself our hearts possess,
that we may give thee all our days
the willing tribute of our praise.

4 O Lord of all, with us abide
in this, our joyful Easter-tide;
from ev'ry weapon death can wield
thine own redeemed forever shield.

https://youtu.be/Wt5HmvHLUsY


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, such as this one from Revelation 5:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! …To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Amen

Postlude

https://youtu.be/2JKgy1IgmWM

Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

How do we share the peace with one another in a time of separation?  Take out your church directory, and find someone to text, email, call, or send a postcard to every day during Holy Week, which starts today. "The Peace of the Lord be with you,” is your message. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Start the ball rolling! If you need a directory, email me and I’ll send you an email with one attached. And remember, Peace of God passes all understanding.

 

Joys and Concerns of the People

In response to last week’s Walk Through Worship several of you responded with your own concerns. I’ll be sending you our Prayer Vigil guide later Sunday with lots of suggestions for prayer, and you don’t have to wait until Good Friday. Thanks to those who sent ideas.  In addition, let the news be your guide on who to pray for. Send me your prayer requests, and I’ll send them out to the congregation.

 

The Light of Christ Enters

The light of Christ is walking the halls of hospitals in New York and across the world. There are nurses who pray for the occupant of every bed they pass. There are nurses at Vanderbilt gather outside on the empty helipad, hold (gloved) hands and pray for the sick constantly arriving. The light of Christ is sometimes something you can’t easily identify as such. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

 

Prelude

“Triumphal Entry” by Eugene Butler

 

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One: Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

All: Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases;

One: Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love;

All: Who satisfies you with good as long as you live.

One: Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his servants that do his will!

All: Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion! Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Amen.

I recall hearing a seminary professor talking about “blessing the Lord,” and I didn’t exactly know what he was talking about. I was familiar with being blessed, feeling blessed by God, but hadn’t heard the language of blessing God much before. It’s interesting to see how Psalms 103 and 104 back to back begin that way, but you can plug in that phrase into BibleGateway.com and find many more. When we see how this kind of language is learned in context, it’s like a small child learning to speak her own native tongue.

Hymn of Praise

You probably don’t have a hymnal at home, so I will post the words here. You can also google search with the title and find many versions of each hymn online.

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates; 
behold, the King of glory waits; 
the King of kings is drawing near; 
the Savior of the world is here!

2 Fling wide the portals of your heart; 
make it a temple, set apart 
from earthly use for heaven's employ, 
adorned with prayer and love and joy.

3 Redeemer, come, with us abide; 
our hearts to thee we open wide; 
let us thy inner presence feel; 
thy grace and love in us reveal.

4 Thy Holy Spirit lead us on 
until our glorious goal is won; 
eternal praise, eternal fame 
be offered, Savior, to thy name!

https://youtu.be/Iy2JyS0F-F0

Invocation

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A prayer like this, “mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering” receives more than a second glance in a time of pandemic and sickness. But God’s call is not exactly the same for any of us, though all who follow the suffering servant, live and abide in his path, as Paul says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Romans 5

 

Call to Prayer

I don’t recall when I began to sing out “Let the words of my mouth…” to bring a close to our Exchange of the Peace, but I do recall the looks on a couple of faces. But I kept it up, and now we all know that prayer, which has lately been our Call to Prayer, as well. Can you hear it?

 

Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

So much of worship is prayer, preparing for prayer, listening to prayer, responding to prayer. If there was ever a time when God’s people need to pray, these are our times. Worship is all about encounter. We come to God, not at the mountain that smokes, but at the mountain outside the city walls, where he died that sin might itself die, and lose its power to condemn. We come to God who has opened the Holy of Holies, as his body was torn on the cross, so the curtain in the temple has opened to reveal the way to the forgiving Lord of lords.

 

Prayer Response

The musical nature of a prayer response cements the moment in our memory, and when a familiar piece of music is used and repeated, we build a prayer moment for the future, awaiting that music which will remind us yet again to pray for the church and the world and all that are in it.

Anthem

Here is a  link for the Anthem we had planned for this Sunday "Hosanna We Sing" by Pethell https://www.jwpepper.com/Hosanna-We-Sing/8066236.item#/submit Click on the sheet music

 

Scripture

Luke 19:29-28

There is a website called biblegateway.com that is very useful and helpful. It has different translations available for every part of the Bible, about 60 in English from the American Standard Version to Young’s Literal Translation. The Bible in our pews is the New Revised Standard Version, and I post that translation of I Luke 19:29-48 below.

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 They said, “The Lord needs it.” 35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”[b]

45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, “It is written,

‘My house shall be a house of prayer’;
    but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

Sermon

The things we’ve learned in the past month are mostly things we never expected or wanted to know. By now we’ve also all become experts, virologists, public health specialists, just by watching the briefings and spending too much time on Facebook.

          

The guy at the gas station says he heard that sunlight kills the virus and all this advice to stay indoors is wrong. The lady at the grocery store says everybody needs to drink hot vinegar and lemon juice which will kill the virus in your mouth and throat.

          

It was either Mark Twain or Will Rogers who said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so.” But our new creed is wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay six feet or more apart.

          

Emotions are heightened. We should expect that. We’re told it’s probably going to get worse before it get’s better. I’m reminded of the opening of Kipling’s poem, “If.”

“If you can keep your head when all about you  

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;  

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:..”

 

          

If you’re young enough to wonder what it was like for an earlier generation to live and struggle and prevail through the Depression and the WWII, you may find out. You and I just don’t know what the future holds. This applies today, when we’re staring at what we’re afraid the future holds, and it applies 3 months ago, when nobody was worried about viruses and government-imposed shutdowns of the economy.

          

The differences are stark. They were stark when Jesus looked out over Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday.  “And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it,  saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.  For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side,  and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

          

It seems clear he is speaking from divine foresight, looking to the time of the Roman War in 68-70 AD under Emperor Vespasian. Jesus sees a future that Jerusalem cannot see, and regrets they do not. It’s not that he has some secret international strategy for the nation. No, he means that they don’t know what it is that makes for peace; peace with God, peace with neighbors, peace within. And he ascribes the atrocities to come in 40 years to the cause that they “did not know the time of their visitation.”

          

This is a puzzling verse for us 2,000 years later. For we understand the tragic nature of the necessity of the death of Christ for the whole world. We see it from the perspective of our own lives, our faith, the spread of the Good news ever since.

          

If they HAD known the “time of their visitation” would that have changed things? And would that be good? I’m assuming that this would mean a recognition of who Jesus was, an acknowledgment of his divine calling, mission and identity. Can we think of this failure to recognize him as somehow a postponement of the Second Coming and the last judgment day? Are the Jews of that day somehow a collective savior of the world, in an odd, unintentional sense?

          

Because Jesus was crucified by the cooperation of the Jews and the Romans, we see that the new world, the world promised by the OT prophets, began that morning of the Resurrection.

          

Looking back is speculation. Which while it may not profit us to think about what might have been, can still strengthen, comfort, and reassure us about the future, about our future in God’s hands.

          

Future is a little misleading as a word, though we don’t have a simple way to replace it. But future, in a secular sense, is just the next tick of the atomic clock that resides in the heart of the sun. The future. The present is always moving, it never stops so we can catch our breath. We’re swinging in a wide circle around the sun as the earth revolves on its axis and the cells of our bodies gradually disintegrate. The aging process is slow enough to allow us the time to love the world God has made, and praise him for it.

         

 But it also begins to gradually notify us, “this world is not my home.”  At the same time, the Bible teaches us that the Resurrection of Christ is the “first fruits.” In an agricultural setting, that’s the earliest part of the harvest. The metaphor is apt, for the promise is not a promise to turn us into some form of ghostly spirit living in an airy vapor of clouds. Our resurrection is a part of God’s plan for all creation, flawed, damaged by the revolt of humanity as told in Genesis and the rest of the Bible.

         

Christians, in a time of existential crisis like the one we face now, sometimes privately, or not so privately, gloat, as it were, that we need not fear death like the rest of the world. We, accurately realize, inchoately perhaps, that an awareness that there is more to life than cellular activity, more to life than “three score and ten, or by reason of strength, four score,” provides a sense and a reality of strength in the face of uncertainty, calm in the face of peril, trust in the face of danger.

          

But those unbelievers who strive to preserve life, who strive to hold on to the only goodness they have or perceive, are bearing witness to the goodness of God’s creation. They are saying, with all that they are and have, and all their strength, “this world is glorious, and beautiful, and life itself is the essence of that. Therefore, we should do all that we can to preserve it and make it better.”

          

This is partly what Jesus means when he says in response to the Pharisees criticism: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

          

God will be praised no matter what, come rain come shine, come feast come famine, come life come death. The world “sings,” cries out, because it is made by God. We’ve heard a lot lately about listening to the science, following the science, obeying the scientists. A genuine “scientific” point of view, would simply assert that a virus is a part of nature, and it has rights on this planet similar to ours, to a chimpanzee, to a worm, to an amoeba. Science, a values-free medium, as has been asserted over and over in prior controversies about science and religion, can only say, the strong survive, the weak do not, everyone dies sooner or later, the sun goes down, the sun comes up again. Science observes and studies and codifies. But to the credit of scientists of a variety of kinds, and secular people in general, they seek for more than that.  

          

It’s when we act for the good of others even when we can’t explain it scientifically, that we begin to see the power of God’s creative hand. For we are all made in God’s image. What more perfect picture of that image of God, than the lowest paid employee of Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York going to work every day to mop the floors? At the risk of his or her life. Warren Buffet says only when the tide goes out do you learn who’s been swimming naked. Only in a crisis that really squeezes do you learn what’s inside a person. In difficult times we begin to see the real fruit borne on the trees.

When we ask why? Why should we want to know what science tells us? Why should we care? Why does the knowledge of science matter? Why do we save the life of the disabled newborn, why struggle to save the 90 year old, why work so hard and risk our lives for others? Then, then, if you listen. Carefully. You can hear the stones singing. Do you know that song? Have you heard it before? I think you probably have.

         

 

Hymn of Response

1 All glory, laud, and honor 
to you, Redeemer, King, 
to whom the lips of children 
made sweet hosannas ring. 
You are the King of Israel 
and David's royal Son, 
now in the Lord's name coming, 
the King and Blessed One. 

2 The company of angels 
is praising you on high; 
and we with all creation 
in chorus make reply. 
The people of the Hebrews 
with palms before you went; 
our praise and prayer and anthems 
before you we present. 

3 To you before your passion 
they sang their hymns of praise; 
to you, now high exalted, 
our melody we raise. 
As you received their praises, 
accept the prayers we bring, 
for you delight in goodness, 
O good and gracious King! 

Offertory

https://youtu.be/_JZhSbY_sbQ

Doxology

https://youtu.be/FbjpG0SeXYU  (An A cappella Doxology sung at a wedding.)

 

Prayer of Dedication

We dedicate ourselves to listening before we speak, Lord, to reading carefully before we post. To seeking to understand the feel of the words spoken to us. We seek to live your words, as James spoke it, “Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, 20 for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” Amen

 

Prayer of Confession

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Amen

Communion Hymn

We, your people, God, confessing Jesus Christ your Son as Lord,

Gather here in common worship praising your Incarnate Word.

Through the power of Christ within us we are strengthened to proclaim

Gospel truth in witness, service offered in Christ’s holy name.

 

We, your people, God, rejoicing in your vast creative power,

Bind ourselves, each with the other, covenant in love this hour.

Through baptismal rite we enter, rising, newly born to be

Unified with your whole people here in perfect liberty.

 

We, your people, God, communing through the Holy Spirit, here,

Joined together as disciples, in obedience now draw near.

At the table where the emblems of Christ’s sacrifice are spread,

Here we celebrate his presence with the cup and broken bread.

 

We, your people, God, receiving gifts of ministry outpoured

In the light of holy scripture are set free, refreshed, restored.

In the bonds of faith we serve you, God of all, whom we adore.

Yours the blessing, yours the glory, one God, reigning evermore!

 

Communion Words

23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for[g] you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For all who eat and drink[h] without discerning the body,[i] eat and drink judgment against themselves. 30 For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[j] 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[k] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

33 So then, my brothers and sisters,[l]when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come. (I Corinthians 11)

Closing Litany

One: And the Lord said, You shall have no other gods but me. You shall not make for yourselves any graven images.

All: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. You shall remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

One: Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder.

All: You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.

One: You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

All: The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. Amen

Hymn of Thanksgiving

1 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes hosanna cry;
O Savior meek, pursue your road
with palms and scattered garments strowed.

2 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die:
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
o'er captive death and conquered sin.

3 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The winged squadrons of the sky
look down with sad and wond'ring eyes
to see th'approaching sacrifice.

4 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
Your last and fiercest strife is nigh;
the Father on his sapphire throne
expects his own anointed Son.

5 Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
bow your meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, your pow'r and reign.


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, often at the end of a book, such as this one from Revelation:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Postlude

Trumpet Tune and Ayre by Clarke

https://youtu.be/63io_ZPQxNQ

 

Sunday, March 29th

Passing of the Peace

How do we share the peace with one another in a time of separation? How can I sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land, the exiled Jews in Babylon wondered (in Psalm 137).Let’s pledge to not forget one another, when we increase peace with our neighbor, by helping them with their chores, with our grocery store clerk, by taking care not to share infection, with our relatives, by praying for them, with all the people with whom we must have dealings. When we work for the peace of God in their lives, we can remember one another, we can remember the ways in which we’ve blessed one another with our words and deeds. We can remember, that the Peace of God passes all understanding.

 

Joys and Concerns of the People

In response to last week’s Walk Through Worship several of you responded with your own concerns. Let’s remember to pray for the Cooks, and for Garrett Stahr, who’s lost his job. Jim and Carty Roberts and Don Greever are isolated more than most, for they now live at Adams Place, which is having to be very careful with visitors because of the higher risk of all the residents. Send me your prayer requests, and I’ll send them out to the congregation.

 

The Light of Christ Enters

I don’t know how to discover this, but I feel confident Protestant churches like ours did not have candles 100 and more years ago. For a long time “candles” were seen as a Roman Catholic practice only, and so Protestants avoided them. Over our lifetimes, Catholics have become more Protestant, and Protestants have become more Catholic, which I see as a good thing, in general, and an example of what the Christian Church movement from 1809 was aiming, “That They All May Be One.” When you see that lit candle, remember that, and pray for the unity of the whole Church of Christ.

 

Prelude

Here’s one you can go listen to. There are Twelve “Little” Preludes by JS Bach, and this is No. 1 in C Major : https://youtu.be/RHd9tGENe8s

 

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One: The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty.

All: Your throne, O God, is established from of old;

One: You are from everlasting.

All: Your decrees are very sure. Holiness befits your house, O Lord, for evermore.

Amen.

A call to worship sets the stage and sets the tone. When we first speak together, each Sunday morning, we are speaking the language of Zion, the old term for the city of David. Contrasted with Babylon in the book of Revelation, the city of Zion is also the opposite of Babel, from Genesis 11. Speaking, and worshiping, in the tongue, the terminology of the Revelation of God to his people disciplines our thoughts and builds our humility, as we’re reminded we are not the first, nor the last, to speak aloud the Praise of the living God.

Hymn of Praise

You probably don’t have a hymnal at home, so I will post the words here. You can also google search with the title and find many versions of each hymn online.

1 Alas! and did my Savior bleed,

and did my Sovereign die!

Would he devote that sacred head

for sinners such as I?

2 Was it for crimes that I have done,

he groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity! Grace unknown!

And love beyond degree!

3 Well might the sun in darkness hide,

and shut its glories in,

when God, the mighty maker, died

for his own creature's sin.

4 Thus might I hide my blushing face

while his dear cross appears;

dissolve my heart in thankfulness,

and melt mine eyes to tears.

5 But drops of tears can ne'er repay

the debt of love I owe.

Here, Lord, I give myself away;

'tis all that I can do.
 

Invocation

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

You may have said, or thought to yourself, I don’t know how to pray, or what to say. Being asked to pray out loud in front of others is some folk’s worst nightmare. We often don’t think of the Psalms as prayer, but each of them is formatted that way, and when we “pray the Psalms” we’re speaking God’s word back to him in our prayer, and forming our hearts through that word and prayer. The Invocations that I use each Sunday have been around for centuries in a variety of forms. Sometimes called the “Collect” these different prayers have been used in worship at least since 400s AD. They’re thought of as the way we “collect” the dynamic of all the prayers and gather the congregation together to begin worship. Patrick Bouckel describes what most collects or invocation have in common this way:

I. Address –   The prayer begins by naming the God of our worship, most often in the Person of God the Father.

II. Acknowledgement – The quality or characteristic of God is mentioned upon which the prayer request is based.

III. Petition – We ask for a specific thing that we need: guidance, forgiveness, faith, etc.

IV. Aspiration – the result that we hope will come out of the granting of our petition.

V. “Pleading” – the prayer is said through the mercy and merit of Jesus Christ our savior, who by his redemption and ascension is the mediator of our faith and worship.

 

Call to Prayer

Music and memory are strongly tied in the brain. Music activates the motor, the auditory and the emotional centers of the brain.  To be called to prayer is to be called to remember. Remember what the Lord has done for us. Remember, you are the body of Christ, and individually members thereof.  

 

Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

A Pastoral Prayer not only speaks to the Lord, and speaks to the Lord for all present, it also speaks to all who hear. Frank Sikora, a Birmingham journalist, wrote a Civil Rights history titled “Selma, Lord, Selma.” Do you notice how you can hear someone speaking when you read that? Do you notice how it’s constructed as a prayer, but with just an address to God, and one word repeated? A pastoral prayer sometimes needs to only speak a word, or a name, or a situation, to evoke prayers from its hearers. A pastor, too, doesn’t always know how to pray, or what to pray for, but bringing up a name or topic or issue, prompts the hearers to send their prayers Godward, which is what we want. So, for example, today I can say, “Dr. Fauci,” and you not only know who to pray for but you know what to say and how to say it. There are many healthcare workers in the same rooms and wards with the sick, and if you’re praying for Dr. Fauci, you’re praying for them and their success all at the same time.

 

 

Prayer Response

The musical nature of a prayer response cements the moment in our memory, and when a familiar piece of music is used and repeated, we build a prayer moment for the future, awaiting that music which will remind us yet again to pray for the church and the world and all that are in it.

Anthem

Here is a YouTube link for the Anthem we had planned for this Sunday: Kyrie, from Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9. https://youtu.be/1pmQ4Iohfuw

Scripture

I Corinthians 15:12-20

There is a website called biblegateway.com that is very useful and helpful. It has different translations available for every part of the Bible, about 60 in English from the American Standard Version to Young’s Literal Translation. The Bible in our pews is the New Revised Standard Version, and I post that translation of I Corinthians 15:12-20 below.

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died[e] in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

Sermon

 

I remember thinking a couple of weeks ago, “Well, at least we can re-open for Palm Sunday.” And then, “Well, surely, we’ll have church on Easter.” Now, looking forward, I wonder, when WILL we re-open? Mother’s Day? Pentecost? Our big cities are hives of fear and anxiety, with a brave few working to keep the lights on and provide food and medical care for the rest, in enforced isolation. In smaller towns and cities our eyes are glued to the TV and we’re watching and waiting.

        

We would normally go to church and pray and sing and comfort one another, as on December 7, 1941, or November 24, 1963, or September 16, 2001, but that avenue is blocked, not necessarily from fear but from a desire not to make things worse for others. Many of us are on “the list” of those vulnerable.

         

Of course, you know all this. You probably know more than I do, as I don’t watch the TV news much. I read about it later. Gotta keep an eye on the blood pressure.

         

There’s been a lot of layoffs, and a lot of office workers have been sent home. Some lucky ones get to work “remotely,” and still get paid. Hard to be a waitress remotely. Our church bookkeeper and former secretary has been “furloughed” from her job at a law firm. An AA member I spoke with last week was shocked to learn that liquor stores are considered “essential businesses,” but one health official said that the sudden cessation of alcohol availability would send some to the hospital at a time when we need to keep all the beds available. You know how we sometimes say, “One day we’ll look back and laugh about this?” I don’t think that’s going to happen. We’ve all heard the old saying, thought by some (ironically) to be an ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I want to go back to boring, when buying groceries or filling up the gas tank wasn’t so exciting.

   

We began getting worried when we started seeing those empty toilet paper aisles, and videos of people scrabbling with each other for that last package, punching and clawing. I was at Kroger last week and there was absolutely no fresh meat in the store. Our observation of the pandemic has moved from “It’s out there,” to “who’s next?”

         

All across the country churches have leaped at the opportunity to “carry on” with streaming videos, and live Face Time or YouTube sermons. You can probably guess I’m deeply ambivalent about that. For one thing, I’m not so cute anymore….When I was 26, a very old woman on an Israeli kibbutz looked at me and said to our guide, in Hebrew, “I think this one was born old.”

         

What do you say to that? Kinda like when your friend says, “I don’t care what anybody says, I like you.” (Thanks. I think?) So, count me as certainly not ready for Primetime. Deep down I’m a very shy individual. And quit laughing.

         

But I’ll tell you what I’m starting to think. Maybe I’m just jealous, but it seems to me that many churches (the staff) are enjoying this too much. Not everybody, of course. But there’s an attitude of “upbeatism,” a feeling of, “nothing gets us down!” “We’ll get through this!”

         

I know that people, preachers, that is, are trying to encourage members, keep them from being too anxious, too worried. I get that. But followers of Christ should be searching the scriptures right now, not feverishly, not, what, proudly, boastfully, talking about “nothing gets us down!”  but seriously looking for God’s Word in a time of crisis.

 

I’ve heard some saying “We’re not gonna shut down just for a little ol’ virus bug! God is stronger than any virus! Satan can’t steal our joy!” There are churches around the country who are going that direction, and it’s already having devastating effects. A pastor in Virginia is dead from the virus who insisted it was a hoax, a political stunt. A ninety-one-year-old man in Arkansas, a greeter at his church that remained open, is also dead from the virus, and 34 others from the church are infected, including their pastor and his wife. They are now taking it very seriously.

         

I’ve watched a local preacher in online videos insist that “we’ll get through this. God will restore our health, and our jobs, and our economy and our churches.” And I’ve seen that church in Louisiana, that promises healing from cancer and HIV refusing to close, refusing to mitigate.

         

Here’s what I want you to think about. The writer of II Chronicles, in ch. 36 says this: “And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”

         

I’ve heard a lot of preachers attacking all the sinners in the world for this virus. But, as Isaiah says in ch. 40, “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as his counselor has instructed him? 14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?”

         

I am no oracle of God. I don’t know what he’s doing. I cannot referee those who say God is punishing us, and those who say, God doesn’t do that kind of thing. I would clearly have to disagree with the latter, for the scriptures do indicate that God is just, and his wrath, though patient, is not endlessly deferred. But is that what’s going on here? How do you know?

         

The Bible doesn’t say, look up this chapter for pandemics. That’s not in my concordance. I would imagine that everyone who is going to look to their Bible in this crisis has already done so. And some have found strength, and comfort, and encouragement. But I don’t see any explanations, for the Lord doesn’t explain his ways.

         

Later, in ch. 45, Isaiah writes: “Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth, and let it cause righteousness to spring up also; I the Lord have created it. 9 “Woe to him who strives with his Maker, an earthen vessel with the potter! Does the clay say to him who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’  or ‘Your work has no handles’?

         

I think what I’m hoping for is the development of an attitude in the church, that is patient, and not unwilling, to suffer, with others, this time of pain, correction, and darkness. For this medical/financial crisis is exposing the cracks in many foundations. The church of Jesus Christ will of course prevail until the crack of doom, the day of judgment, though “churches” may fall and fail.  We don’t know what the future holds in this life. But one thing we do know, and that is found in the lectionary reading for today, from I Corinthians 15:12-20.

         

12 Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

         

Why would Paul have to convince these Christians in Corinth that Christ was raised from the dead? Wasn’t that a given for believers? Didn’t they come to faith in Christ because of that? Well, there were confusions in the church from an early time. Remember Ananias and Sapphira? That was early. Many Corinthians apparently meant something different from what Paul preached.

         

Now personally, I’m a strange blend of Pollyanna and Eeyore, which I think is a match-up to my father and my mother, respectively. I’m like both of the twins on Christmas morning, one all gloomy because he didn’t get the pony for Christmas, just a pile of horse manure, and the other twin running around looking for the shovel, “I know there’s a pony in there somewhere!”

         

But regardless of personality type, followers of Christ, BY DEFINITION, engage the scriptures. The scriptures testify to the gospel. The scriptures are apostolic in that they speak for a purpose, to tell the good news.

         

Paul wants his Corinthian readers, and us, to know that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of the righteousness and faithfulness of God, is about dead bodies. Anastasis nekron, in Greek: resurrection of the body. Dead bodies transformed into the unimaginable: a celestial body (15:40), an imperishable body (15:42), a spiritual body (15:44). What exactly are we talking about? I don’t really know. And if Paul knew how to describe the indescribable, he seems to be keeping it to himself. But the earthiness, the physical reality of resurrection should make us ask: Will there be Toilet Paper in the Resurrection? Will there be food? Will there be sex? Will there be time, gravity, etc.? This is why Paul struggles to describe the indescribable. A real body. But not like what we already know.

         All those who first came upon the Risen Christ didn’t know him, until he spoke, or broke bread at a table, or showed them his wounds.

         Resurrection is the centrality of the Christian faith, and it is so powerful it bleeds over into everything else.

         

Resurrection holds creation and redemption together. God has not created the world, just to later abandon his creation and our bodies and the goodness of that created order, even though self-flawed. God loves the good world because it comes from his goodness. We’re not ethereal sparks imprisoned in fleshly cells. We’re persons, and we groan along with the rest of creation (Romans 8:23) while we await “the redemption of our bodies,” not from our bodies, of our bodies. Jesus died on cross, in the flesh, that our selves, our souls, our bodies, might be redeemed.

         

Our culture evades the truth of death, as currently, the whole world is devastated by the rumor of the approaching end. Too many Christians think solely, though perhaps unintentionally and unaware, of heaven as a bloodless, bodiless, anti-earth, the opposite of all we wish to leave behind. But the message of the resurrection of Christ is of a New Heaven. And a New Earth. Not one without the other. A re-creation.

         

Also importantly, Resurrection affirms the moral importance of life in the body. Our body, and what we do with it (which is everything we do or say) is to be “conformed” to the purposes of Christ. Paul says to these same Corinthians “The body is not meant for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will raise us by his power.”  The connection between body and resurrection, though it’s been cut today (for many), had never been clear to the Corinthians. To them the body was just a vehicle. Not related to the divine or the holy in any meaningful sense. Merely a tool for pleasure.

         

Finally, the resurrection binds us to Israel, for as 15:5 says, Christ was raised from the dead, “in accordance with the scriptures.” What scriptures? The only ones they had. The Old Testament scriptures. Isaiah 25 says, “8 He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.

9 It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

         

Jesus was not some cosmic lottery loser. He was the descendant of David, born in Bethlehem, the city of David, for the same purpose for which Abraham had been called, Moses had been sent, the people had been chosen. To be a light to the nations, that is, to you and me.

         

We have waited for him, Isaiah says. He speaks for a people who have been exiled, who are the suffering servants of the world. Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, is always a time to figure a patient time of waiting.

         

Wait for the Lord. “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.”

         

 

Hymn of Response

1 Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

 

2 Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

3 Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

4 Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?

 

Offertory

https://youtu.be/_JZhSbY_sbQ

Doxology

https://youtu.be/FbjpG0SeXYU  (An A cappella Doxology sung at a wedding.)

 

Prayer of Dedication

Dedication, Lord, is what’s going on all around us today, for yet while we read these words, nurses and doctors are struggling, fighting to save another life. As we think of our Offering to you, may we remember the dedication shown by so many in this time. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen

 

Prayer of Confession

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! There is no soundness in my flesh because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! Amen

Communion Hymn

An Upper Room did our Lord prepare

for those he loved until the end:

and his disciples still gather there

to celebrate their Risen Friend.

 

A lasting gift Jesus gave his own:

to share his bread, his loving cup.

Whatever burdens may bow us down,

he by his Cross shall lift us up.

 

And after Supper he washed their feet

for service, too, is sacrament.

In him our joy shall be made complete –

sent out to serve, as he was sent.

No end there is! We depart in peace,

he loves beyond the uttermost:

in every room in our Father’s house

he will be there as Lord and Host.

 

Communion Words

This evening (Wednesday last week) I’m preparing to pick up a curbside order from a restaurant that our son’s treating us to. It’s not really fast-food, it’s a nice restaurant, but still it’s not the same thing as going “out” to eat. I’ve resisted a certain amount of pressure to do “fast-food Communion.” My first experience with the little cups with the tabs on top with a little wafer was at a church I visited years ago on vacation, and we were reminded to pick up our communion by the back door on the way out. Yeah, words fail. I also can’t use them without feeling like I’m in a Waffle House putting “creamer” in my coffee. In times like these extraordinary times we’re living in, there’s some wisdom I think in not trying for workarounds, not trying to make it like it’s not a terrible time. It is a terrible time. Remember that the Lord is speaking, is always speaking. I Samuel 3:1 tells us “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Those are not our days, for he is speaking, if we will but listen. Nonetheless, our days are ours, and we must seek his face. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Luke 22:15, “And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” I think when we are finally able to reunite around his table, we will understand that desire, we will have a better idea what Jesus meant that night, and our communion with the Lord will never be the same again.

Closing Litany

One: And the Lord said, You shall have no other gods but me. You shall not make for yourselves any graven images.

All: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. You shall remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

One: Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder.

All: You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.

One: You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

All: The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. Amen

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving

1 Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended, 
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended? 
By foes derided, by thine own rejected, 
O most afflicted! 

2 Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? 
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! 
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; 
I crucified thee. 

3 Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; 
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. 
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, 
God interceded. 

4 For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, 
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation; 
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, 
for my salvation. 

5 Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, 
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, 
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, 
not my deserving.

 


Benediction

There are a number of benedictions found in the Bible itself, often at the end of a book, such as this one from Hebrews:

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

 

Postlude

A duet for Organ and English Horn inspired by a Sacred Harp singing, “Little Vine.”

https://youtu.be/_7M3KG0l5sg

Sunday, March 22nd

Our service begins with the:

Passing of the Peace

This is, currently, one of the most frightening aspect of worship services, for it involves physical contact. There’s so much I regret about this current virus epidemic, and the physical contact of exchanging the Peace of God is one of them. Highly symbolic, and placed at the beginning of our service, it is a reminder of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter all with one simple gesture, for we are incarnate spirits, made by God to have physical life, in a reminder of the Incarnation of the Word of God. And when Jesus died on the cross, he established our peace with God who gives us the promise of new and eternal life on a New Earth through the Resurrection. I long for the next time we can Exchange the Peace of God together.

 

Joys and Concerns of the People

This is our time to acknowledge our creatureliness in the face of our Gathering in God’s house of prayer. Because we are one body, this is one way we communicate our praise and our prayer with God and one another.

 

The Light of Christ Enters

This was established some time ago in our worship service, before my time, but it’s a good reminder, that there’s a reason for everything done in worship. We live in the light of Christ, so why do we have light candles? Well, you love your husband or wife, so why do you have to kiss him or her? We do things that give us, and God, joy. When the candle is lit, we’re kissed by our savior once again.

 

Prelude

Here’s one you can go listen to: https://youtu.be/620iUrAUtEQ

 

Call to Worship.

Here’s what’s planned for today.

One:  It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

All: to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.

One: You, O Lord, are exalted forever.

All: It is good to praise your Name, O Most High!

Amen.

A call to worship sets the stage and sets the tone. We use scriptural language often, for this is our “native tongue,” an inspired way to praise the Lord and remind ourselves of what we’re doing, and what we’re here for.

Hymn of Praise

You probably don’t have a hymnal at home, so I will post the words here. You can also google search with the title and find many versions of each hymn online.

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”

1 O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down;

now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown;

O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss 'til now was thine!

Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call thee mine.

 

2 What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners' gain:

mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior! 'Tis I deserve thy place;

look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.

 

3 What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest Friend,

for this, thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.

Invocation

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I use a different “collect” each Sunday for this prayer in which we “invoke” the presence and blessing of the Lord. An invoking is a solemn moment, for we are calling on God. It is a different prayer each week, often keyed to the religious season of the year, in which we “collect” all of our prayers into one. Because worship is so different from the rest of our life, it takes a long runway to get “airborne” so to speak. There are seven parts of the service so far, and now we turn to our joint time of prayer.

 

Call to Prayer

Musically, we sing this together to remind ourselves that the Pastoral Prayer is a joint effort and not a performance we audit.

 

Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

The Pastoral prayer says aloud our hopes and fears. It reminds us why we are here. For some, this is the center of worship. At each church I’ve led, (Washington, Texas, and here) we’ve introduced the time of “Aloud and silently,” in which all are encouraged, during the pastor’s pause, to call out names and issues for which they pray and invite others to join with them. My pause in the prayer is intended to enable you to lift up your own personal prayer to the Lord. It is a small bit of silence, which is intended to turn our hearts upward and Godward.

 

Prayer Response

Normally this too is a musical summation of our prayer, using the rich resources of liturgical musical pieces available to us, often from the hymnal.

Anthem

Here is a YouTube link for the Anthem we had planned for this Sunday: Song of Sorrow. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zag3pUSYe38

Scripture

Jeremiah 17:1-10

There is a website called biblegateway.com that is very useful and helpful. It has different translations available for every part of the Bible, about 60 in English from the American Standard Version to Young’s Literal Translation. The Bible in our pews is the New Revised Standard Version, and I post that translation of Jeremiah 17:1-10 below.

17 “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, 2 while their children remember their altars and their Ashe′rim, beside every green tree, and on the high hills, 3 on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your sin[a] throughout all your territory. 4 You shall loosen your hand[b] from your heritage which I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land which you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled which shall burn forever.”

5 Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? 10 “I the Lord search the mind and try the heart, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”

 

Sermon

          Never wrote a sermon designed NOT to be heard, but everyone’s adapting. We are living in extraordinary times, and that is an item for gratitude. We are living, and many are no longer. The suddenness of this epidemic has caused many of us to underestimate its seriousness, as well as the widespread nature of its effects and the reaction to it by individuals, businesses and especially governments.

          Already, over 10,000 people have died from the virus worldwide. And that’s a frightening figure, but it’s also fair to remind ourselves, that in that same time period, worldwide, 14 million have died from all causes, for over 57 million people in the world die every year.

          This is not to minimize what’s important to do to prevent unnecessary deaths. 35,000 people die on US highways every year, but that’s no reason to drive recklessly. We mustn’t allow trust and confidence in the Lord to devolve into fatalism. Soldiers sometimes talk about a bullet having their name on it, but that’s still no reason not to keep your helmet on and your head down.

          Though we’re keeping our helmets on by not gathering physically, Christians still maintain their faith by turning to the Word of God, and seeking a Word for today, a Word for our time. There’s already a lot of what you’ve heard me call prophecy-mongering going on in the fever-swamps of the religious world, so we want to be faithful and prudent in our responses to a time of crisis.

          One thing I’m doing is remaining on schedule with the sermon texts chosen, and Jeremiah 17:1-10 is what I had scheduled for today, several weeks ago. When you read it, it certainly exhibits a certain contemporaneous relevance with regard to what’s happened to GDPs worldwide, and individuals’ 401ks and IRAs, i.e….  “Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your sin throughout all your territory.”

          Is God smiting the Stock Market? Does he send death by virus to the world? Let’s move into this with the duality of interpretation in mind that I’ve spoken of before, for we cannot directly seek only for contemporary relevance and twist a text to support our sought after, predetermined, meaning.

          The reason we first see relevance in this passage has to do with several things. Vss 1-2 are about the sin of God’s people regarding idolatry. That’s easy to see, looking around. Of course, we too often “look around” instead of “looking within,” but still. Idolatry, unlike liquidity right now, is not in short supply. The “Asherim” of vs. 2 were cult objects related to the Canaanite fertility goddess Asherah, referenced in nine different books of the OT.

          So Jeremiah 17 opens with an explanation for the destruction visited on Judah in the time of the Babylonians (6th-7th centuries BC) for their violation of the Covenant they had made with the Lord.

          American preachers have a long history of misinterpreting the scriptures by wrongly substituting “America” for “Judah” or “Israel” in passages like this. We like to aim the Scriptures at our favorite targets. We see passages that promise the blessings of God on his chosen people if they do this or that, and the reverse, the curses that will come if they don’t do this or that, and we move straight to its application to our own country, as if we were the Chosen People. But we are not.

          It’s a difficult habit to break for a variety of understandable reasons. We are accustomed to this way of thinking. We’ve heard respected religious leaders talk this way: “Our country has turned away from God, and he’s sent this virus (war, Crash, Depression, epidemic, etc.) to punish us.”

          I understand that this thought pattern can be helpful and comforting to some, for it offers an explanation, a reason for the things that are happening. We always want to know WHY something’s happening. We would rather know that we’re punished by God than think he’s simply abandoned us. The “us” is the way our minds naturally work, for we still think of our “country” as Chesterton described it, “A nation with the soul of a church.”

          But this is misleading, and I want to dissuade you from that interpretation. It is too much like a “Grab-bag” school of theology, as I call it, where, in any sort of crisis, we reach in the Grab Bag, (the Bible) too often without looking, and we put the text we pull out to the uses we have already determined for it.

          Instead, let’s remind ourselves of this. It is the Chosen People first, the Jews (not Americans) and their embodiment, Jesus of Nazareth, who are the servants of God. Chosen for the purpose of blessing the world with the knowledge of God, and his promised salvation.

          I will give you as a light to the nations,

    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

And nations shall come to your light,

    and kings to the brightness of your rising. Isaiah 60:3

And as Jesus said to his Jewish hearers in the Sermon on the Mount: ““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15 Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matt. 5:14-16

          And in reference to himself: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

          Jeremiah 17 describes the promised righteousness of God. That righteousness is that God keeps his promises, and the first promise is to Abraham, ““Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

          There is a moral component to this righteousness, and those who trust in this promised kingdom of righteousness can be seen in the contrasts later in ch. 17. Hear the resemblance to Psalm 1, which is one of our regular Closing Litanies.

“Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man

    and makes flesh his arm,

    whose heart turns away from the Lord.

6 He is like a shrub in the desert,

    and shall not see any good come.

He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,

    in an uninhabited salt land.

 

7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

    whose trust is the Lord.

8 He is like a tree planted by water,

    that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

    for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

          Jeremiah, a prophet, lives in the time of the propagation of the book of Deuteronomy, re-discovered in the reign of King Josiah, a generation before Jeremiah, and he lives in a way that is undergirded by the promised faithfulness of God, to not forget his faithful people.

          I do not think we can assert that God has sent a virus on a sinful world. The Lord makes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust, Jesus said, and rain can be good or bad, can’t it, depending on where you live and whether you fear drought more than flood, or vice-versa.

          The Lord in his mercy to Adam and Eve, gave a limit to their, and our lives, that we might learn of his mercy, and not live forever in isolation and idolatry and proceed downward into eternal Godlessness. The “world” today, which means, in biblical terms, that way of thinking and living without any dependence on, love for, or understanding of the Lord; that world lives willingly out from under the protecting hand of God. This is the world’s choice.

          To live in a creation of time and space, gravity and consequence, is to be under the rainfall. Some of God’s children are killed before they are born. Have they not a just complaint? Some of us live a century. Some of us die for our country, or our Hippocratic Oath, as some doctors have already done in this crisis, or in protecting citizens of our city as police.

          Jeremiah is not about when we die, but how we live. When the heat comes, be not afraid, when the drought comes, be not anxious. There is a blessing that comes from the Lord, should he give us enough humility, and it is the ability to say, as Jesus commanded in Luke 17:10:  “So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

 

Hymn of Response

Forty days and forty nights

You were fasting in the wild;

Forty days and forty nights,

Tempted, and yet undefiled.

2 Shall not we your sorrow share

And from worldly joys abstain,

Fasting with unceasing prayer,

Strong with you to suffer pain?

3 Then, if Satan on us press,

Flesh or spirit to assail,

Victor in the wilderness,

Grant we may not faint nor fail!

4 So shall we have peace divine;

Holier gladness ours shall be.

Round us, too, shall angels shine,

Such as served You faithfully.

5 Keep, O keep us, Savior dear,

Ever constant by your side,

That with you we may appear

At th'eternal Eastertide.

 

Offertory

https://youtu.be/5-qpQnUKCQY

Doxology

https://youtu.be/tQUTvMtUhw4

(I want you to sing like this the next time we worship together!)

 

Prayer of Dedication

Dear Lord, Bless those of your children that continue to support their congregations around the country and the world with their gifts of all kinds. Bless those that deliver food to the hungry, from our church and others. Bless those who count and account for these offerings. Bless those who get up in the morning and offer to you their highest devotion before they head to work at the Nursing Home, or the Emergency Room at the hospital. Bless all who look for your coming kingdom in the living of their lives. In Christ’s name. Amen

Prayer of Confession

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand. Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! Amen

 

Communion Hymn

1 Loving Lord, as now we gather,

of that love unworthy still,

give us courage to surrender

rebel heart and stubborn will,

and in us, in faith maturing,

all your promises fulfill.

 

2 Holy Lord, as here you give us

bread and wine, as means of grace,

grant to every true believer

now to meet you face to face,

and to own, in silent wonder,

Lord, how holy is this place.

Communion Words

There are sometimes perhaps those who have partaken of Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, without words, in silent meditation. We now share in this moment of communion with our Lord and one another, with words, but without the Bread and Wine, during this time of separation. Always remember we are not unique in the challenges this brings us. Christians in concentration camps and gulags have not foregone their worship and communion even when separated from one another, even when feeling separated from God. Remember that words are things, creations, part of God’s gift to us as real and tangible as the simple food we normally share on the First Day of the Week. Remember.

 

Closing Litany

One: And the Lord said, You shall have no other gods but me. You shall not make for yourselves any graven images.

All: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. You shall remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

One: Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder.

All: You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.

One: You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

All: The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. Amen

 

Hymn of Thanksgiving

In suff’ring love the thread of life is woven through our care, 
 for God is with us:  Not alone our pain and toil we bear.


There is a rock, a place secure withing the storm’s cold blast; concealed within the suff’ring night God’s covenant stands fast.

 

In love’s deep womb our fears are held; there God’s rich tears are sown and bring to birth, in hope newborn, the strength to journey on.

 

Christ, to our hearts your joy commit, into our hands your pain; so send us out to touch the world with blessings in your name.



 In suff’ring love our God comes now, hope’s vision born in gloom; 
 with tears and laughter shared and blessed the desert yet will bloom.

Benediction

If you’ve gotten this far in our Walk Through Worship together, then the Blessing, the Benediction, the “good words” are already with you and within you, waiting for you to disperse God’s good word to all around. Go in Peace. Pax vobiscum.

 

Postlude

https://youtu.be/HxwhKM-khOE

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