Friday, February 19, 2021

February 21, 2021 - God Moves First

We are in the middle of Snowmaggedon 2021 here in Texas.  Everyone I know has been affected by the weather in some way.  They have either lost electricity or lost water or lost both.  My daughter in Fort Worth and granddaughters in Denton are in that last desperate category. The granddaughters are under a "boil water" alert which is difficult for them.  These girls are in college and they have never faced living life like they were in a developing country.  I've travelled enough in Guatemala that showering with my mouth closed is a simple request but it's a scary thought for them. We have had dependable electricity and water but for a while we worried about our septic system pipes and that was a scary time. 

In the meantime, any church that had managed to re-open in-person worship has cancelled.  If the Covid didn't get us then the weather did.  It just seems like the devil is after us to keep us from connecting with God through God's word.  So I thought I would write some thoughts down and post them to the internet to make it accessible to anyone stuck inside. I can even print this out and mail it, although I understand the weather is so bad that the mail isn't even getting delivered. 

Some day we will have whole sermons based on how people worshipped during the pandemic and weather isolations of this period of time.  Because you can't keep us from God.  This is our most basic connection.  Our umbilical connection to our mother is physical and severed at birth but our connection to God, being spiritual, is totally portable and we take it with us wherever we go and can plug into it under any circumstances.

Oh dear, I'm getting ahead of myself.  That's another sermon for another day.

Here is what we are here to talk about today.  I will be very brief.  I realize you don't want a whole big rigamarole.  You probably didn't even get dressed to read this in the comfort of your home. But I do have a little music video to celebrate at the end.  Don't worry about getting your bible out; I've got the scriptures right here for you. 

Our scriptures given to us by the Revised Common Lectionary are 

Psalm 25:1-10
Genesis 9:8-17
I Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

The RCL groups these passages by taking from each of four categories: Psalms, Hebrew Testament, Epistles, and Gospel. Sometimes the preacher will find a common theme in the way the scriptures have been grouped together. Churches, bless them, leave preachers the latitude to pick through these scriptures to find a message Christ wants to speak. And, finally, one of my mentors has told me that my job is now to "illumine the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ" through the sermon. 

OK, you can wake up now.  I apologize  if I got too geeky for a minute there.  I just thought you might like to know these things.  

So, that is my assignment today. What will we do with it?

The first things I'm going to do is focus on the Genesis and Mark passages.  Feel free to read the others if you want but it won't be on the test.

The other two will provide more than enough because they are two of the most visually exciting scenes in the bible.

In Genesis we have the classis story of the rainbow.  Let's read it together:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.[a] 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

         +++++++++++++++

Who doesn't love a rainbow?  And, as a lover of words, I just love it when I hear God promise Noah, "I have set my bow in the clouds..."  How many times have we seen this and whipped out our phone to snap a photo to post to the internet? We always want to share this moment with our friends.  "See what I saw?!"  Check out my good fortune!  It's almost like the rainbow was there just for you when we all know it was sent for all humanity.

But notice the word "covenant." God uses that word seven times in this passage.  And it's the first time it has ever been used because God invented this act, this relationship, this movement.  God invented the covenant.

Now, if you look up the word "covenant" in the dictionary or Google it you will get a dry definition of the word and it basically means the same thing as a promise and there's no big surprise.  But, in reality, a covenant is far more binding than just a mere promise.  If you take it seriously, a covenant is the ultimate promise.  And the way God intends covenant it is unbreakable, far more unbreakable than anything you do with your pinky fingers.  A marriage vow is a covenant-- it's made until death do you part.  That's a covenant.  That's what God intended with the rainbow....for all eternity, God intends to keep the vow God made through the rainbow. As long as rainbows exist the promise stands. 

One of the things I learned a long time ago through just sheer observation more than any class or catachism is the concept that God Moves First.  In the relationship with humanity, God always makes the first move.  

This is mostly because humanity is too clueless, too powerless, too unaware to initiate any movement in our relationship with God.  We are clearly the passive partner in the relationship.  The best we can ever do is either accept or reject God's offer of love and give thanks. 

The best we can do with a rainbow is enjoy the pretty colors and spend our lives living in constant thanks to God for God's love. Maybe whispering under our breath, "wow, I don't know what I did to deserve that pretty sight but Thanks."  or "wow, dodged a bullet on that one....again."

When we give our thanks we can remember the first people to ever see the rainbow were those to survive the flood. They were the survivors of the flood: the ones who lived, the ones God chose to save. We usually think of the rainbow as the promise God made to never again destroy the world by flood. But sometimes I like to remember the gratitude of those first survivors of the flood who were so grateful for their lives. The rainbow can remind us to be glad we are alive.

Now, let's move on to the Mark passage:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.

                                  ++++++++++++++++

Here's our old friend Mark using the word "immediately" again.  Mark moves fast, doesn't he?  But he tells the story and doesn't waste a lot of words.  I like that about the guy.

And this is one of my favorite stories because something jumps out at me that a lot of people fail to notice.  This is a great lesson on Good Parenting Skills.  Did you catch it?  

Jesus' Daddy (or Mom) told him he was proud of him!  And in front of everyone!  What young person doesn't ache for that kind of approval?  What a difference that can make when you are facing life's challenges! Because.....look where Jesus went "immediately" after this pronouncement of God's love and pride.  He went straight into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for 40 days. That must have made a difference in helping Jesus stand up to the temptations to know that God claimed him, God loved him and was proud of him.  "You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased."

That had to have made a difference in standing up to temptations.

But there is something else to notice about this interchange.  

God said this BEFORE Jesus went into the wilderness.  In other words, before Jesus had done anything.  Jesus didn't have to pass any kind of test to EARN God's love and approval.  Do you know what they call this, folks?

This is Grace.  Pure and simple.  

When God loves us before we do anything to earn the love, before we pass a test, that is grace.  

When God forgives us before we deserve it, before we even know what we've done wrong, before we can even apologize for it,  that is grace.  

When God sends the rainbow even though we have no power of our own, that is grace.

When Christ died on the cross for me knowing all about me, sins and all, that is grace.


Let us pray.

There are many words in our language but the only adequate one that comes to mind at the moment is Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!

Thank you for loving us before we were created.  Before we knew how much we knew we needed your love.  Before we knew how hard we would be to love. 

Help us to love each other because we still haven't figured out that part yet. 

We confess that we sin when we allow our actions to separate our lives from you.

Yet in Christ we are reassured that nothing can separate us from your love.

And we know that, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we want to do better, somewhere along the line, we know we will inevitably fail you because that is the nature of being human.  Thank you for loving us anyway. 

God, thank you for all the people who stepped forward last week when everything around us was just in a mess:  when we had a pandemic and the coldest cold we've ever seen, when the electricity went out and the water pipes froze and now they've thawed and water is going everywhere and flooding everything.  Some of us are just at our wit's end, God.  Help us.  Help!  Help! 

In Christ's holy name we pray,

Amen


And, now, for a little music to close our time together:




One last brief note:  if you are visiting from your home church, don't forget to mail in your pledge.  If you don't have a church "home" I encourage you to find one and if you want to help somebody recover from the bitter cold of last week I have just the organization for you:  Google "Presbyterian Disaster Assistance" and their page should pop up with a button somewhere on that page for donations.  I know this to be a good place to put your money.  

Go with God.  Have a safe week.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

October 18, 2020

 October 18, 2020

First Presbyterian Churches of 

Paris and Deport, Texas

Announcements:

When Armel and I built this blog we wanted it to be as much like a regular worship service as you would find if you were walking into the sanctuary at church.  But we are living in extraordinary times right now.  I decided to pare this service down to just the basic elements of worship: There will be music along the way to listen to. 

Let us be called to worship:


Here we go again, God, online.......again.

And we don't want to be here. But this virus has hit too close to home and we have some folks in our congregation exposed to it so we're going to play it safe and cancel in-person worship for now. 

We're not really happy about any of this, to be honest.

But, God, if  we can't be honest with you, 
where can we?  You know our inmost thoughts.

We don't want to worship you online.

We would much rather be in a church.
A real church.
With real pews.
And real people.
Our friends.

God, you know how much we miss them--real people.
We miss seeing their smiles behind the masks..
We miss their hugs.

But we still want to worship you.
Because you haven't changed.
Not a bit.

You are still the same God.

So we will worship you in this new way.

Trusty old God, 
new fangled worship.

We might need a little encouragement.
So, here is our prayer:

Help us, Divine Holy Spirit.
Be with us today in our worship.
Light our hearts and our souls on fire.
Turn our minds toward worship!
It is you we worship, O Holy one!


Amen.

Let us confess our sins:

We are broken people who mess up.  Like people in all times an places we have malice in our hearts.  We wish ill upon those we do not like and fail to recognize our own shortcomings.  We are certain in our opinions rather than humble about our assumptions. We think the best of ourselves and the worst of others, despite your admonishment to tend to the log in our own eye, rather than the speck in our neighbor's.  We want to partition off our lives, offering you a portion of our loyalty, time and resources, when we are called to give our wholes selves to you.  Forgive our pettiness, our hard-heartedness and our stubbornness.  Use our repentance as a means for the Spirit to work in us and remake us into a closer likeness of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

+++++++++++++++
And, after a period of reflection, we are almost immediately assured that the Lord our God answers us and forgives us.  The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.  Through Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.  Amen. 


As you read the scripture today, ask God to illumine your mind and your life.

The Word of God

Exodus 33:12-23
 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

This is the word of the Lord. 

Thanks be to God.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

What does all this mean? 

The people, who had been traveling a long time and were tired, wanted God to reassure them.  They needed to know somebody was in charge.  Somebody who loved them and wanted the best for them and was interested in their future.  They needed to know that things were going to be OK in the end.

They knew they were not at the end of their journey.  They understood that there was a long walk still ahead of them.  But they were asking God to show them God's glory so they could have the energy to continue the journey. 

And God did just that.  

And it must have been a marvelous sight.  So wonderful that God knew Moses couldn't bear to take it all in at once so God covered Moses-- protected him, you might say--from the full view of God by placing Moses in a cleft in the rocks, a kind of alcove, so Moses wouldn't get the full view of God as God passed by.  Kind of like when you covered your face at something when you were a kid and peeked through your fingers. 

Now, I can understand this part in the terms of peeking through my fingers as a child but it's still a difficult situation to picture:  a physical God walking around shinning like an incredible bright light. 

God does something similar today--if you know where to look....  I decided to take a walk one day and called the dogs and was intent on getting exercise-- never thinking of all the wonderful time I was about to have alone with my Creator.  Taking a walk in my neighborhood is just a festival of nature since I live out in the country.  It's all country roads and I don't even bother putting a leash on the dogs because we rarely see a car.  In fact, we're more likely to see deer in the autumn.  But I've started taking this all for granted lately.

Until the other day when God reminded me to take some time to think about what I was doing.  Because as soon as I stepped out my front door this is what I saw:


I wonder if this might be something like what Moses saw when God passed by the cleft in the rock.  When the sight of God's face would have been too awesome for Moses to take in.  So God gave Moses just a suggestion of the beauty.

Now, I don't know how accurate this idea is.........but here is what I do know:

God cared enough about the people of Israel to listen to them. God knew they were tired of traveling and they needed to be reassured. 

God knows we are tired of this Corona virus.  God knows we are scared.  God knows we need reassurance.  Because our Creator lived as a human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, God understands humanity in every way. 

Look for God's face in the face of your friend. Look for God's face filtered through the cloud.  God is there caring for us.  The trick is to know where to look. God will be in the unexpected places... working through the nurses and doctors...in the gentle healing of the changing season around us...in someone's voice on the phone...in a greeting card... But you can be sure that God has heard us. 

Let us pray:

God, we thank you for loving us and for listening to us in our fear and uncertainty.  We long to see your face and know you better.  

We are so worried, Lord, we don't know when or where this virus will strike next and our fear is that it will be someone we love, someone close to us, possibly even our selves. 

We mention some of these people by name now:  Joyce and Charlie Davidson in Deport who are both sick, several others in the Deport and Paris congregation who have either tested positive or been exposed to Covid, teachers exposed to it, first responders and others who are around the virus a lot.  There was also a husband and wife in Winnsboro (Cecelia and Dewayne Bull of His House Ministries) who died and are mourned greatly in that city. God, the names are starting to come more frequently now and that worries us. 

Loving God, we feel at times as if we are being tested.  One crisis passes and another one comes in its wake.  The hurricanes churn over warming waters, the fires burn on the West coast, injustice follows injustice and this pandemic will not cease.  How long, O Lord, how long?  We cannot endure without a sure sense of your presence.  We cannot rest without a glimpse of your power.  While we want to remain faithful, we cannot help but lag in zeal.  Hear our cries for help, we pray.

Gracious God, knowing all too well that today's problems are enough for today, we entrust to your compassionate care all the burdens we can no longer carry, the worries we can no longer bear.  Take from us the anxieties that threaten to overtake us, the grief of cumulative losses, the fear for our well-being and that of those we love, the shame of deeds we cannot undo and the doubts that prevent us from moving forward.  We hand them over, right now, believing that our Lord intercedes for us an the Spirit translates our sighs too deep for words.  

Glorious God, we are told only to ask and that in asking, we will receive.  We ask now for whatever tugs on our hearts, weighs on our minds, calls from our souls.  We ask all this in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from temptation. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. 



Now may the Love of God, the grace and peace of  our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit go with you in the coming week:


Amen.


Credit:  the prayers of confession and prayers of the people above were written by the editor of Presbyterians Today Magazine, Jill Duffield.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

August 23, 2020

 

At Home Worship

First Presbyterian Church of

Deport, Texas

11th Sunday after Pentecost

August 23, 2020




Matthew 16:13-20

 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah


This is the word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.





The text of this sermon:

I think one of the most awesome sights I’ve ever seen was stepping inside St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  It’s a huge building: ornate, old, sacred and beautiful beyond description. We had an excellent tour guide who had prepared us for our visit.  One of the most interesting facts I learned was that the expenses to build it were partly to blame for the Protestant Reformation in the 15th century.  It’s so crammed with masterpieces of great Italian Rennaisance art that Michaelango’s Pieta is sitting off in a corner like they forgot about it. The great churches were built to show the majesties of God and this church is the greatest of them all:  the inside ceiling is 400 feet high. That’s four stories—inside.  And it is the dome in the center of the ceiling I want to tell you about because that is what took my breath away when I saw it.  It was just words, really.  But words written in gold letters, six feet high, gold letters.  And it was the scripture we just read.  In Latin:  “Tu es Petras”  That’s what caused me to stop dead in my tracks and it all came together for me. 

Written in Latin, in a circle around the dome of St Peter’s Basilica are the words Christ spoke to Peter: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.

 


 When You are standing 400 feet below it’s hard to make it out because, even though the letters are six feet high, the whole scripture is up there and it’s just a LOT of words and they ARE in Latin, for goodness sakes.  But for some reason, the day I walked into that building, that gorgeous cathedral, I looked up and it was like God had shone a spotlight on just those three words and it was crystal clear to me:  “Tu es Petrus.”  You are Peter. 

And here I was, humble little Jane, standing there over 2,000 years later in a building named for Peter to the glory of God for the ministry of Christ.  His church. 

People who advocate travel, and I am one of them, will tell you there is no substitute for the experience of actually being there, of being in a place.  And that remains of of the greatest experiences of my life.

Jesus had just asked the disciples “who do you say that I am?” and got all sorts of answers.  Some said Elijah, some said Jeremiah, John the Baptist or a prophet.  But only Simon hit the nail on the head.  “You are the Messiah.”  It was like Simon, son of Noah,  brother of Andrew,  had won the Great Colossal Cosmic Game Show.  You kind of expect to see confetti shoot out and sirens go off and a convertible show up on the stage.

Jesus tells him that this answer didn’t come from Simon himself but that God had provided it for him.  Then he changes everything for the guy.

Jesus completes the relationship. It was two halves of a circle.  Simon had provided the first half and now Jesus would add the second.  Jesus gives him a new name.  This happens throughout the bible.  God changed Abram’s name when he made a covenant with him.  Abram became Abraham.  Jacob became Israel.  And now Simon will become Peter. 

And then, to complete the relationship, Jesus told Peter who he would be.  It would complete the circle.  Who am I to you?  Who will you be to me?  If I am your Messiah then you will be the one to spread my word.

“You are the Messiah”. This might not have been that big a stretch for Simon.  Anyone who had been at Jesus’s baptism would have heard God’ voice coming from a cloud declaring that Jesus was the Son of God. And even though the disciples weren’t there at the time, word must have spread. So, Simon had hints and rumors and just plain old “instinct” to rely on to tell him this. But He had seen the miracles and the healings with his own eyes.  He was there afterwards when the crowds murmured, “clearly this man is the Son of God….”

Jesus also knew Peter’s personality.  He knew Peter better than he knew himself.  Jesus picked him out for his ministry based on his strengths and also what some might see as his flaws.  Peter was a poster child for ADHD.  He was loud and brash and impulsive.  He would say the most outlandish things. And he did outlandish things. 

But Peter also had an instinctive understanding that the other disciples did not:  that Jesus was the one sent by God, that this guy was the Messiah they had been waiting for.  Peter was tuned into Radio Holy Spirit.

Christ asks us these questions today.  Who do we say that he is? We have all the evidence laid out for us in the bible.  We even have something Peter lacked at the moment Jesus asked him the question:  we know the ending to the story.  We know about the resurrection.  Peter was able to answer without knowing that part.  So we are given a test with the answer sheet tucked into the pages. 

We still have to muddle through the question through our own life.  Who do we say that he is?  Is Jesus the Messiah of the world? Is he our personal intercessor? A buddy in the foxholes of life? Somebody to talk to in the checkout lane at the store? At night when the world is dark and scary?

Our own understanding of Christ will change and grow as we mature in the faith because that is the very definition of faith. Faith that claims to know everything ceases to be faith. Who do we say he is?  We can spend our lifetime figuring that one out and fortunately, God has    forever.

I was at a youth retreat once when a teenager told the story of a low point she reached when she was balled up in tears over a huge disappointment.  I think her disappointment was in herself, actually, at the moment.  But whatever it was, she had reached a point where she saw no hope ahead.  And she told her mom, “I don’t think I believe in God anymore.”  And her mother took her in her arms and said, “That’s OK, baby, I will believe in God for you while you can’t.”

Faith is like this.  There is plenty of room for uncertainly to sneak in.  When we go to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” the very question indicates some sort of uncertainly.  God knows that we may need some time to answer that question.  It may be that only an impulsive guy like Peter has the answer ready immediately.

And here is the cool thing about Jesus:  Even when we don’t have a clear understanding of who he is or what exactly to do with him, he knows who we areTu es Petras.  You are Peter.

Jesus knew who Peter was. He was a man full of frailties and faults.  But he also knew who Peter was capable of becoming.  Upon this rock I will build my church.  And there is a magnificent building in Rome as a statement of that fact today.

Do we know who Jesus is?  He knows who we are.

Peter would go on to deny Christ but he would also preach great sermons, travel far and suffer imprisonment. And there is a great cathedral built literally on top of what some believe are Peter’s bones. 

My life may pale in comparison but I know that God can take my small talents and my large frailties and weave them into something wonderful for God’s Kingdom.

Peter won the quiz show called “Who Do You Say I Am?”  He knew the correct answer when others dithered. 

Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Step out in faith and claim him.  God will do the rest. 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Regrettably, Armel's sermon didn't post.  The camera cut off right at the end.  I think there may be a limit.  

May I take a moment here to mention that Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary does NOT teach a class in electronic technology?  All of what you are seeing is self-taught brought to you by two people who barely took typing in high school (and I seriously doubt Armel took typing in high school because it was assumed that boys would all have secretaries to do that for them)?

So, this week, we failed to capture Armel's excellent sermon on video.  But he delivered it in person to the folks in Paris, Texas and I will post the text of it here.  wiat.  I will post it later when we gets back.  I don't have a copy of it right now.  






Saturday, August 15, 2020

August 16, 2020

 

At Home Worship

First Presbyterian Church of

Deport, Texas

11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 16, 2020

 

GREETINGS

 

OPENING SENTENCES     

 

Maintain justice, and do what is right.                                 Isa. 56:1

God our Savior is coming soon.

 

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters

Dwell in unity!                      

It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!  

 

Trusting in the word of life given in baptism, we are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

                                            

CALL TO WORSHIP (responsive)

 

This is a Sabbath dedicated to our God.

Let this gathering place be a home for all people.

         May God be gracious to us and bless us.

         May God’s face shine over all the earth’s people.

Let all the people praise the God of all nations.

Let us give thanks and enjoy the blessings God gives.

         May God grant us understanding and courage.

         May faith grow beyond our doubts.

The earth has yielded its blessing.

Let all the ends of the earth revere our Creator.

         God brings us together in unity of purpose.

         May our circle grow as we welcome newcomers.

 

 

PRAYER OF THE DAY (in unison)

How good and pleasant it is, O God, when kindred live together in unity.  Draw us now into the community you intend for all your people.  Help us to listen and understand, both your word for us and our sharing with one another.  Keep us from being misled by popular acclaim and the wisdom of the marketplace.  May we not be unobservant guides to one another but rather be fully open to your gifts and obedient to your call.  Come to us now with healing and blessing.  Amen.

 CALL TO CONFESSION

 Both our speech and our actions call into question our faithfulness to God.  In times of stress, we have made statements that we regret.  Jealousy and anger have led to deceit, betrayal, and broken relationships.  Our best intentions sometimes go astray.  Rather than being distressed with ourselves, we bring the wounds of our common life to this time of confession, that we may receive God’s healing.

 PRAYER OF CONFESSION (in unison):

Forgive us, O God, for the sin we recognize in ourselves and the wounds we do not see.  Show us how we have hurt one another and grant us courage to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.  Reveal to us our disobedience to you and keep us from leading others into our sin.  We seek your mercy for the times we have willfully offended.  Help us to put aside all actions and comments that defile.  Cleanse us for new life in Christ.  Amen.

 

Silence Prayer and Confession

 ASSURANCE OF GOD’S PARDON

God is merciful toward us and listens to our honest prayers.  Our thoughts and deeds are fully known to God, who is eager to forgive and to lead us to new understandings.  When we earnestly seek God’s help, we are set free to discover new opportunities.  Even in the worst of circumstances, God works with us to bring some good and to preserve life.  May God be praised!

  *GLORY BE TO THE FATHER    

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;                                                                       

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world withoutend.  Amen. Amen.

 

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION (In Unison)

 God of many blessings, whose gifts to us are more numerous than we can count, show us how to use these benefits according to your will and purpose, that opportunities may be opened for all your children and unity may become a reality among us.  May we know a taste of eternal life inthe quality of our mutual caring and our sharing with a needy world.  Amen

 

LISTEN FOR THE WORD OF GOD      

 OLD TESTAMENT READING:      Genesis 45:1-15


Psalm 133

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now[a] receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

 

Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28

10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.[a] And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

 


Matthew 15:10-20   "Words Matter"

Sermon - Jane Els

So, Last week, Armel talked to you about Jesus walking on water. This happened right after the feeding of the five thousand.  We’re getting into the real meat of Jesus’ ministry, the nitty gritty.  He is building up a reputation as a healer and a preacher and teacher.  His reputation is spreading.  So now the Pharisees start coming to him with questions because he is starting to break with some of the laws written in the Torah.  And Jesus is put in the position of fine-tuning some of the old rules and explaining them.

In addition to this story giving us that beautiful pithy phrase of “the blind leading the blind”, Jesus also gives us another short saying  called an aphorism when he says that “ dirty hands don’t defile you but what comes out of your mouth and your heart is what defile you.”  An aphorism is a short saying of a general truth.  And the truth in this case is that you gotta be careful with what you say.  Or, you could be even more brief and just say:  Words Matter.

It makes a lot of sense.  Especially when Jesus explains it so graphically in anatomical terms:  What you put into your mouth comes out the other end and, basically does no harm.  It goes into the sewer, so to speak. Now, this is a great anatomy lesson. And we know the Jews had very strict dietary laws.  These laws were handed to them in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, then elaborated on later by generations of rabbis. 

But it’s what comes out of your mouth that you have to worry about because that is connected to your heart and is, therefore, of more consequence. Jesus says, “For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person.” 

It is easy to imagine a direct line from your heart to your mouth.

Notice Jesus didn’t say there was this connection between the brain to the mouth.  It might have been better for a lot of us if we had this – I know for myself this failure has gotten me into a LOT of trouble.  But this doesn’t seem to be a valid connection for Jesus.  Certainly a connection to your kidneys or your knees or your fingertips or your toes.  No, it’s your heart that he wants to connect to what comes out of your mouth.

And what is your heart?  In the 21st century we know that our heart is basically a pump that circulates blood.  But historically we consider the heart to be the center of our emotions.  Love, joy, rage, bravery and such.  Jesus says this is where we get evil thoughts, murder, sexual immorality, theft, and lies.

Then he says something that gets him in trouble with the religious leaders of the day.  He says that eating with unwashed hands are small potatoes.  This would also probably get him in trouble with the Center for Disease Control today.

But I think the point he was trying to make was that we shouldn’t waste time with religious rituals like handwashing when things like being honest and kind to each other are more important. He was balancing out spiritual matters versus what looked like housekeeping.  This is very similar to the Mary and Martha situation when he told Martha to stop worrying about cooking dinner and come listen to what he was saying.

But here we have it from Jesus that we should be watching what we say.  Our words make a difference.

 Most of the people I know are really pretty decent, well-meaning folks and yes, sometimes they can say hurtful things.  And it’s usually when they don’t think about how it’s going to sound or when they don’t research their facts and they get things garbled………..what they call in England, “ getting the wrong end of the stick”. 

Jesus is being pretty clear here:  he is telling us a message that he repeats in other places using different words but the message is the same:  he has come to refine God’s original arrangement with humanity.  Some of the rules need to be changed.  God has seen that they just aren’t working.  The old purity laws in the Old Testament that God set up for God’s people to establish their relationship with God, specifically the strict dietary laws, the hand washing, the no pork, the no cooking an animal in its mother’s milk, some of these laws either aren’t needed anymore or they are getting in the way.  Between Jesus and Paul, a lot of these rules will get shoved to the side.  God had bigger fish to fry now. 

I think Jesus wants us to put more thought into what we say.  And I think we can all agree. There’s probably not a person in this sanctuary who hasn’t said something that we regretted at some time in our life.  Or written that email—or text message—and once we saw it zip off into cyberspace realized what we had done only to grasp at the air and wish to have it back.  Maybe you instantly regretted it.  Maybe it was the next day or month you regretted it.

 One thing that is interesting in this passage is that Jesus is choosing to elevate a body part associated with an attribute…………in this case the mouth and the heart that are usually associated with speech and love.  He’s pretty much telling us to speak with love.  He could have used other body parts like feet or brains to say that it was important to walk with wisdom, couldn’t he?  Or maybe knit while we dance?  Of all the things, and he should know…………Jesus was telling us that words have power, they are to be used carefully; Jesus was telling us to use our words like he does:  use our words wisely.  After all, his own words have lasted and look what they have done in the last two thousand years.

 Now, I love Facebook.  I have friends I made on mission trips that I keep up with from Guatemala and New Orleans and even friends from other states in the US that I met in New Orleans on mission trips.  I love to keep up with them on Facebook.  When we have a common interest we will refer books or movies to each other.  So, I’m one of those people who finds a lot of good stuff on FB.  But I do see a lot of political stuff on there.  And, yes, a lot of people get into political arguments there, also.  The other day I saw the perfect solution—somebody said that in the coming election season when she saw anything that she thought was hateful she would just respond with a photo of a kitten.  How can anybody be upset when they see that? 

But I’ve also noticed something else lately, with the Covid pandemic and all the necessity of mask wearing.  Of course, nobody likes wearing a mask. It’s very restrictive.  I realize this pandemic has affected my relations with people in two very important ways:  Nobody can see my smile when I’m wearing a mask. Or when I grimace. Any shape my lips or mouth takes to indicate an opinion.  And I can’t hug people.  And I’m a big hugger. Between facial expressions and hugs I just might as well go out in public wearing a strait jacket. It’s just a very frustrating thing. 

Early on, in some subconscious battle within myself I was desperate to do something to express what I was thinking, what I was feeling.  And the next thing I knew, I just said it in words, out loud:

I love you.

And to my astonishment, the gift was accepted as it was given, understood, that it was all I had to offer, that it stood for all the other things I had that I couldn’t give. And I got an enthusiastic response back, “I love you, too.”

Now, I’ve gotten in the habit of saying these things without embarrassment.  I say them more often.  I tell total strangers “I love you”.  I tell the checker at the grocery store “I love you” and they say it back to me. 

There are two things going on below the surface, I think.  We’re in a pandemic.  Anytime you turn on the television you hear news of folks dying, they count the dead and the sick and you wonder if someone you love will become part of that statistic.  Life is starting to look a little more fragile and precious.  (2) There’s no use beating around the bush or being coy.  I am going to say good things to other people now.  And every word counts. 

Words matter.  They are connected to our hearts.  If our hearts contain good things our words will reflect those good things.  So we must keep our hearts in good shape.

How do we do that?  In the words of the old computer programmers, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Watch what you let enter your heart.  Take care in how you select what you read or watch on TV.  You might need to spend less time watching the news.  Even the people you spend time with can affect your spiritual health.  Yes, there is such a thing as “spiritual health.”  Tend to your own spiritual health.  These are the things coming from our hearts that defile or build us up.

 There was a poem on a Christmas card years ago that became so popular that my church used it as our benediction for the Advent season.  Let me adapt it here for the pandemic:

This pandemic season

Let us mend a quarrel

Build peace

Seek out a forgotten friend

Gladden the heart of a child

Speak your love

Speak it again

Speak it still once again

Amen.


 Matthew 15: 21-28


Sermons:                             Armel Crocker CIM

 

Matthew 15:10–28; Romans 11:1–2a, 29–32

 

Give me your tired, your poor, those you consider dogs.

Jesus leaves familiar, comfortable territory and people, the disciples and the Pharisees, to enter a sort of red-light district, a place most people would not dare to go. Going there is socially unacceptable; it’s where the so-called outcasts, unclean, disenfranchised, and undesirables live. On the contrary we discover that the outsider finds a place on the inside of the heart of God.

Being both a Canaanite and a woman is a double whammy. Yet the Canaanite woman is not afraid to confront this Jewish man named Jesus. He’s in her neighborhood now, and she has a desperate need, her daughter is tormented by a demon. What mother would not want her child healed? She goes against social and religious norms for the purpose of receiving healing for her child. She speaks up and out to this man she calls “Son of David” for mercy, not knowing what his response will be. She takes a stand, a risk, and crosses a borderline.

At first, Jesus doesn’t even respond. But the disciples do, taking the opportunity to show their bias when they say, “send her away.” The woman, to whom the text gives no name, receives no apparent compassion from the disciples. She is a foreign woman; they have no concern for her kind; they want to build a wall, like a border wall. And Jesus doesn’t appear to react much better, he seems concerned only with exclusivity in favor of the house of Israel.

But this woman doesn’t give up easily. She presses up against resistance; as a woman she is used to this as in today’s world. She knows that she is discounted by men. She continues to speak up and out until she gets what she wants, she is a protestor. She knows there are cultural norms that may prohibit her deepest desires, but she is not willing to accept those norms as normative, she wants to change the order of systems, she decries salvation and reparations. She pushes against them and reveals her humanity to Jesus: “Lord, help me.” She is a human in need like any other human.

Jesus seems slow in empathy toward her. He even calls her a dog, as opposed to a child of God, a valued human. Yet she doesn’t allow his insensitive, insulting words to deter her. When Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” she replies, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” One might say her nerve saves her. Because she speaks the truth, Jesus says her faith is great, and her daughter is healed. The truth opens the door to freedom.

This woman shows how a person can be bold and brave in approaching God without fear. She has her eyes on the prize of the healing of her daughter, and nothing can deter her, not even an apparent insult from Jesus. Society’s strikes against her do not limit her faith, or her tenacity to reach beyond existential borders. Silence is not an option, only salvation and healing. She believes that her daughter, a valued human being, deserves healing, health care, like any other human being.

Though there is resistance at first, Jesus gives in to this foreigner and embodies God’s mercy for all. Through engagement with the other, it is possible to learn of their human need, that is, that they are not dogs but valued humans, God’s children, who have feelings, needs, and children, who desire mercy and healing like everyone else. Through this encounter, it is possible to see, even if the disciples do not, that we are more alike than different, that we are all children of God.

Jesus engages Pharisees, disciples, and Canaanite women, revealing the expansion of the heart of God to include foreigners, the disenfranchised and outcasts. God is an inclusive God; those we despise are our brothers and sisters, too. We may want to send them away but God brings them near, even to the master’s table. Crumbs are enough for the Canaanite. It may not be what everyone else receives, but she’s grateful for even a little piece of bread, because in the brokenness of that crumb, her daughter finds healing. She fights for a little piece of the dream so that her child’s nightmare can end.

And it does end, because the Lord has mercy on her, revealing how ultimately, as Paul puts it in the reading from Romans, God is “merciful to all.” Jesus welcomes her and her daughter, however begrudgingly, despite cultural, religious, and gender differences.

This scriptural border crossing brings to mind “The New Colossus,” the sonnet by Emma Lazarus inscribed on a plaque on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the “Mother of Exiles”:

From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome . . .
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

A poetic remix might add, Give me those you consider dogs. Send these to me: black Americans, indigenous people, the refugee at the border with her children, people of color, the disenfranchised, the foreigner, and more. Send the wretched refuse, the ailing daughters of ostracized women, because they yearn to be free. The unnamed Canaanite woman reaches out to touch the golden door of God, to set her daughter free.

Amen

                 

APOSTLES’ CREED                 

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

Friends in Christ,
God invites us to hold the needs of our sisters and brothers as dear to us as our own needs. Loving our neighbors as ourselves, we offer our thanksgivings and our petitions on behalf of the church and the world. Hear our prayers, God of power, and through the ministry of your Son free us from the grip of the tomb, that we may desire you as the fullness of life and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world.

We ask this through Christ our Lord who taught us to pray;

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name; Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.

Amen.

 

CHARGE AND BLESSINGS

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,                               2 Cor. 13:13

the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 

 

Amen.

 

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