July 5th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeAmerica, the BeautifulChris Johansen, piano
Welcome
Confession & Forgiveness
Pastor Linda
HymnHappiness Never Depends on Success
#70 in World of Song
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Kyrie
Prayer
Pastor Linda
Psalm 146Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ReadingIsaiah 42: 5-9
Isaiah 43: 18-21
Mike Miles
SermonPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionBarb Kass
CommunionPastor Linda
Blessing
Benediction
Pastor Linda
HymnThe Word
#24 in World of Song
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
PostludeChris Johansen

Part I

Part II

Note: individual audio pieces are below with the text


Prelude

Chris Johansen


Confession & Forgiveness

If the repeated storyline of white police killing colored bodies, of the coronavirus infection rate soaring in places where people refuse to abide by guidelines that protect their neighbor because they hold their personal rights above the consideration of others, of animals and ecosystems struggling to survive as climates change and the interrelationship of systems collapse – if this has caught at our hearts and taught us anything, it is that together, we must confess our entanglements with justice, hubris, entitlement, greed – and God’s difficult, blessed vision of a very different way. We seek the face of God, confessing our sin.

Silence for reflection and self-examination

God of heaven and earth,
we name before you the sin that enslaves, the sin that wounds us and others, the sin that scars our world. Forgive us and heal us. Give to us, and to all, the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Recall us to the essential inter-connection of your image residing mysteriously within each and every one. Call us to arise and act in love.   
Amen

Come, all who are weary, all who carry heavy burdens. As tender as parent to child, so gentle is God to you. As high as heaven is above the earth, so vast is God’s love for you. As far as east is from west, so sweeping is God’s forgiveness for you, and of all we would confess, renewing our lives in +Jesus Christ, our friend, our Redeemer, our All in all.          
Amen


Hymn – Happiness Never Depends on Success

1.
Happiness never depends on success
Won in the struggle for glory or treasure;
Often the humblest of homes may possess
Happiness unknown to seekers of pleasure

2.
Happiness dwells with content in the soul,
Follows the honest and faithful endeavor;
Happiness comes when yourself you control,
Free and unshaken by fear or by favor.

3.
Live not in dreams that are selfish and vain,
Look not with envious thoughts on your brothers.
Pure is our happiness, rich is our gain
When we rejoice in the welfare of others.

4.
Happy is he who has peace in his heart,
Peace with himself, with his God, with his neighbor.
He has of happiness found the best part,
Reaps he but little reward from his labor.

Text: C. Gandrup, Translated by S. D. Rodholm
Music: P. E. Lange-Muller

Kyrie

Prayer of the Day

Divine Spirit, give us grace to set a good example to all among whom we live; to be just and honest and kind in our dealings; to be conscientious in the discharge of every duty; mindful of the consequences of our actions and enjoyments. Lead us to be gracious, forgiving and courteous toward all – so that the mind of Christ may be formed in us, and lead us toward ever closer discipleship, ever truer expression of the image of God we bear.  O Spirit of Peace, be our guide in radical love. 
Amen.

Psalm 146

Scripture

Isaiah 42: 5-9

5 Thus says God, the Lord,
   who created the heavens and stretched them out,
   who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
   and spirit to those who walk in it: 

6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
  a light to the nations, 
7to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
   from the prison those who sit in darkness. 

8 I am the Lord, that is my name;
   my glory I give to no other,
   nor my praise to idols. 

9 See, the former things have come to pass,
   and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
   I tell you of them. 

Isaiah 43: 18-21

18 Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old. 
19 I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.

20 The wild animals will honor me,
   the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
   rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
21 the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.  

Sermon

Rest, realization, restoration. Sabbath.

If you’ve been with us during the past month, you’ll have the idea that Sabbath is more than a day off spent in front of the Telly; more than an occasional Jammy Day to do whatever you feel good about doing. More than the few hours a week carved out for church… (although those things are important for self-care, especially if they sound like a novel concept). 

But what are we to make of Sabbath?  We’ve spent four weeks talking about it from various angles. We’ve heard the original context in Genesis and the Ten Commandments. We remember stories from the Gospel about Jesus getting in quite a bit of trouble for breaking the law code of his day of proper Sabbath observance. He healed a crippled woman and a man born blind. He allowed his disciples to glean, shuck and eat wheat as they walked through a field. I mean, that’s not much to get excited about. We might remember references to Sabbath lack of activity from books like Laura Ingles Wilder’s ‘Little House on the Prairie’. If Sabbath is sitting on a hard-backed chair reading the Bible all day, no play allowed, and eating left-overs because you can’t cook, it’s not going to gain many adherents. 

What is Sabbath today?

George Robinson, on the webpage, My Jewish Learning, teaches about Sabbath.

“The rabbis who began to codify Jewish law during the time of the Second Temple, [this is what Jesus would know] specified  39 categories of prohibited activities– based on the activities that were involved in the building of the Tabernacle as described in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. One should not handle a hammer or money. One should not rearrange the books on a shelf.” [They were detailed oriented people!] He goes on…

“We are commanded in the Torah, ‘Six days shall you labor and do all your work.’ As Abraham Joshua Heschel says in his magnificent little book, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man [modern as of 1951], to abstain from labor on the seventh day is “not a depreciation but an affirmation of labor, a divine exaltation of its dignity.” We are suddenly lifted out of the process of time, removed from the world of natural and social change. Instead of creating the world anew, we are at one with the world created.

“We are not beasts of burden. We should not live to work. We should not be chained to routine. Shabbat unchains us.

“Shabbat is meant to be a day of peace. It offers us a chance for peace with nature, with society, and with ourselves. The prohibitions on work are designed to make us stop – if only for one day of the week – to stop our relentless efforts to tame, to conquer, to subdue the earth and everything on it. The prohibition against making fire is also said by the rabbis to mean that one should not kindle the fires of controversy against one’s fellow humans. And, finally, the Sabbath offers us a moment of quiet, of serenity, of self-transcendence, a moment that allows us to seek and perhaps achieve some kind of internal peace.

“Shabbat is also a time of joy, of good food and wine (even if the food preparation must be done beforehand).  The Sabbath was designed to be “a delight,” as our liturgy tells us. 

“But what about rest, menuchah? Rest means many things to different people and the crush of the modern world buffeting us has changed its definition for many… Perhaps we should be guided by a relatively simple principle, one derived from the quotation from Genesis with which we opened. We rest in a Sabbath sense when we no longer interfere with the world. In this way, we emulate God’s rest on the Sabbath, when the Creator ceased working on the world. During the six days of Creation, God asserted mastery over the universe by actively changing it. Then came a day in which the Creator relinquished that mastery. We emulate God when we relinquish our mastery over the world on the Sabbath, by refraining from altering nature. For one day, we declare a truce between ourselves and the rest of God’s creations.”

Rest, realization, restoration. For ourselves and the creatures whose habitats we share.

These are the words of sabbath. 
They are also the words of mental health. 

I’m still slowly reading Rob Hopkin’s book, From What Is to What If – Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want. Here are some statistics he reports: 83% of the people surveyed by the World Health Organization in 2018 report that they spend no time whatsoever “relaxing or thinking.” As many as 30% of adults in America seek medical help for insomnia. Depression and anxiety – especially among the 18 to 26 year olds – are considered an epidemic with physical, social, educational and economic consequences. In 2018, the average total electronic media consumption for US adults was 11 hours and 6 minutes per day. The average. 11 hours and 6 minutes looking at a screen or plugged into a device.  

And these are not statistics of personal failing. We are being played. Tech companies, and advertising giants use aggressive strategies and have clear objectives for how you spend your time. “A handful of people at a handful of technology companies…will steer what a billion people are thinking today,”  says Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. And this Information Age is only 20 years old.

I’m reading from Rob Hopkin’s: pg 67,68.      (I can’t copy it w/o permission and haven’t heard back yet!)

Our lives can be better: Calmer. Focused. Intentional. 
Our communal life can be better: Calmer. Thinking. Empathetic.

It is not an accident that I chose  Sabbath as a theme for our COVID-19 lives. But it’s serendipity that the Black Lives Matter movement has taken hold of our imagination at the same time. (You may have noticed that the Marketing mind-meld caught up very quickly and is taking full advantage of our new awareness of Black lives.)

In COVID time, we are living in two time warps – fast and slow. Much of our lives seem to be on pause – progressing in slow motion. We can’t look forward to our accustomed schedules – everything future is hypothetical. Of course, it always has been, but we are easily lulled into thinking that we are in control, that the status quo is static as we bustle along, too busy to give it much thought. What is, will always be, and can be relied upon. Ah, ooops!

In our enforced Pause, the cultural, social world picked up speed. Maybe it’s because we have time to focus on one thing at a time, to rest our brains, to get enough sleep, to eat better food. Our increased brain health allows the hippocampus to imagine. And so we notice and care about injustice, we have time to think, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, time to imagine new ways – perhaps, to perceive the new things of God. While we are paused, even nature seems to be enjoying a Sabbath from human interference.

Jesus’ parable comes to mind: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”    Mark 4:26-28

Our busyness, multitasking myth believing, tightly packed calendar lifestyle diminishes our experience of life. Physiologically. Fitting more in than fits, doing more than being, accepting stress as a necessary daily companion, chronically increases the stress hormone cortisol. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes. It communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation and fear. Remember that epidemic of anxiety and depression? Our bodies, our minds, our souls need Sabbath. Rest, realization, restoration. 

And not only for self-help, but for the sake of community – to be able to empathize imaginatively with others, to recognize the chronic stress we mindlessly put on the earth’s vital resources – clean air, clean water, clean soil.  

I was surprised at how quickly the environment reacted to the shut-down of industry and transportation. The earth heals itself given the chance. But that healing creates changes. It doesn’t go back to the way it was. We have had time to look at our lives and the lives of others that our action or inaction impact for harm. How much of the new life you have practiced in COVID-time would you like to continue? What among the things you had to set aside have you realized don’t add value to your life, there’s no need to pick them back up?  What new awareness of your neighbors, of the racism you have accepted or denied as status quo are you inspired to act on, out of love? What good are you prepared to bring forward?  

If we practice Sabbath – rest, realization, restoration – we can change our individual lives and our communities. 

 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you; 
I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness. 

 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 
 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness; rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Make it so.

Creed – Prayer of Julian of Norwich

In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, and Savior. 
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.     Amen

Prayers of Intercession

Peace

In the coming week, please seek reconciliation with any you have wronged, any bruised relationship you have the power to heal, unless to do so would inflict upon them further pain. The Peace of Christ be with you always –

Communion

Great Thanksgiving

Lord’s Prayer

Benediction

Hymn – The Word

1.
With the Word all things began,
Life in ocean, life on land;
With the Word was man and woman
Raised from dust, created human,
Prince of earth and Child of God.

2.
When the soul of man was stirred
By a breath divine, the Word
Was in heart of man created;
This on earth inaugurated
Human life and history.

3.
Not the clever hand or brain
Can humanity explain.
For its secret is the spirit;
Only in the Word we hear it,
Self-revealing, heaven born

4.
Only in the Word ascends
Man beyond the life that ends;
In the Word he breaks his prisons,
Soars aloft to higher visions,
Comprehends eternity.

Text: N.F.S. Grundtvig; Adapted by S. D. Rodholm
Music: Aage Sorensen


Postlude

Chris Johansen


Instructions for listening via phone:

Call this number: (312) 626-6799
It will be long distance, if that applies (on a landline, for example).

Then, you will be asked to enter the meeting ID and password. You can find that in Linda’s email about the Zoom worship.

We will keep you muted, but you can participate in the discussion if you’d like – press *6 to unmute – and it helps to say your name before you talk, since we won’t know otherwise!

June 14: (Not a repeat except for scripture) Deut 5 & Matthew 11

Part I

PreludeSummertimeChris Johansen, piano
Welcome
Confession
Prayer
Pastor Linda
Psalm 4Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano

Part II

ReadingDeuteronomy 5: 12-15
Matthew 11: 28-30
Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionChristy Wetzig
Peace
Lord’s Prayer
Blessing
Pastor Linda
HymnCome to Me, All Pilgrims Thirsty
#777
Harry Johansen (vs. 1 & 5)
Chris Johansen, piano

Welcome

Hello, this is pastor Linda, and I welcome you to take this time to set aside whatever it is that’s occupying your mind. Turn off the TV, silence your phone (unless that’s the device you are using to listen in on!). Breathe in a huge, lung filling, belly-out, life-giving breath. Let it go – slowly. Close your eyes, breathe again. Try to focus your mind and body on the moment of now, the position in which you are seated, the sounds of your surroundings. Try to be open to the word of God, to a word of God to you. Be still. Breathe in fully again. Let it out slowly. Listen with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind.

We gather apart, yet never alone, in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 
Amen


Confession & Forgiveness

If the anguish, news videos, repeated storyline of white police killing black bodies again this week has taught us anything, it is that together, we must confess our entanglements with justice, hurts, entitlement, greed – and God’s difficult, blessed vision of a very different way. We seek the face of God, confessing our sin.

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

God of heaven and earth,

we name before you the sin that enslaves, the sin that wounds us and others, the sin that scars our world. Forgive us and heal us. Give to us, and to all, the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Recall us to the essential inter-connection of your image residing mysteriously within each and every one.     Amen

Come, all who are weary, all who carry heavy burdens. As tender as parent to child, so gentle is God to you. As high as heaven is above the earth, so vast is God’s love for you. As far as east is from west, so sweeping is God’s forgiveness for you, and of all we would confess, renewing our lives in +Jesus Christ, our friend, our Redeemer, our All in all.         

Amen.


Prayer of the Day

Open our eyes, Lord, especially if they are half shut because we are tired of looking, or half open because we fear we see too much, or bleared with tears because yesterday and today and tomorrow are filled with the same pain. Open our eyes, Lord, to gently scan the life we lead, the home we have, the world we inhabit, and so to find, among the gremlins and the greyness, signs of hope and beauty and love. Show us the world as in your sight, and grant us grace to heal.    Amen


Scripture

Deuteronomy 5: 12-15

12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Matthew 11: 28-30

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Sermon

Linda Rozumalski

I initially chose the topic of Sabbath for this first series of the summer because of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and the new shape that the virus has given to our communal lives. We don’t have many non-essential, laid-off workers as members in the congregation. We haven’t had anyone get terribly sick. So, I don’t think COVID has changed our lifestyles as dramatically here as it has for those in other regions of the country. And we’re rural (most of us). We aren’t confined to a room or building. We can go out into the woods or our gardens. Perhaps the biggest impact of COVID has been in the shift to on-line schooling and cancelled events or postponed medical office visits, and the inability to gather for worship. But still, being aware of the restrictions and wary of the illness, being told to stay home, watching the virus play out on a bigger stage, has put our usual patterns of ‘in and out and about’ into unusually intentional consideration.

That’s what the Sabbath was meant to do. At least one day a week, the Israelites were to remember that God brought them out of slavery. They were to stop. Put down their tools. Stop whatever work they were doing. Turn off their smart-phones and computer screens and amusements. Go home to share a meal and prayer. And rest. And remember. They and their slaves, their servants, their animals, the land. One day a week, stop; be intentional about their bodies and limitations, be intentionally together within their family units, and remember that they were not to fall again into slavery.

That was the point of Sabbath. Jesus told the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. It was a command, true, but a blessing, not the oppressive rule of law it had become by Jesus’ day. The intent of Sabbath is to step back and consider, to recognize the shiny new taskmasters for what they are, to put the competition, the striving, the dehumanizing way of the world on pause. To reject that slavery of domination where billable minutes, units of completion per hour, a never-ending push for worth and status through production becomes the sole measure of your value.

One day a week, God would have you remember that you are not defined by your output. One day a week everyone rests, and all distinctions and distractions – put in place to artificially prosper your worth – disappear. Old, young, rich, poor, slave, free, citizen, foreigner, of every eye and hair and skin color — are all simply and completely human beings, bodies alongside other bodies, all bodies beloved children of God. All in need of care. … And also your cattle, and goats and camels and sheepdogs, too.

This is the hardest lesson to absorb – it’s the commandment we throw away as optional. But it’s not, it’s vital. We have to regularly step out of the mindset and activity of the world, the powers and principalities that divide and polarize, that prioritize one set of values over another, one set of people over and against another, if we are to understand and follow the Sabbath intention. It’s not about taking a day off. It’s about taking yourself in. Observing the way of people and nature without the filters of your daily life and thought patterns and preferences. It’s about self-care and care for the all the others.

Pastor Kara Root wrote the commentary I’m reading about Sabbath. “One day in seven, this command says, you on purpose remember that you are not God. And you on purpose remember

that you are neither better nor worse than anyone around you, but connected in a mutual belonging to God and each other. This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to be free. But we forget this most of the time,” she wrote.

We think of freedom as personal, individualistic, our right. “I’m free and the law grants me my own, personal freedoms – and no one better mess with ‘em.” But true freedom can only exist if it is communal. The Israelites weren’t to trudge out of slavery in Egypt only to force others into it in Israel. Our nation has never been free, as much as we tout the value. Our individual and corporate freedoms come at the expense of someone else’s worth. They have from the moment we landed and claimed the land as our own.

Our disregard for Sabbath observance – regularly stepping out of the importance of self and humbly seeing ourselves as one among equal others – has been made clear in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25th. I had never thought of Sabbath as a commandment for social justice. I had the luxury of thinking it was about self-care, spiritual-care, and family time. Wrong. That’s another lie of privilege I hadn’t seen until now.

This is where the second of these paired readings comes in. I’ve been struggling with this passage from Matthew. It seems paradoxical – and it might be – but I still wanted to figure it out and connect it more closely to Sabbath. Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I like the first sentence. I mean who wouldn’t want rest from our burdens and cares? But “take my yoke”? Be like Jesus? Work alongside Jesus? My “this is asking way too much of me” antennae are wiggling. “Learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The very first image I get when hearing that phrase is of the sun shining into the kitchen – a plate of two eggs, sunny side up with toast. Wrong yoke.

The next image I get is the visual memory of any number of rocky, root-tangled trails in Quetico as seen from beneath the canoe I’m portaging. Wearing a bulky Duluth pack, balancing a canoe, seeing only 8 or 10 feet of the trail ahead of me, no hands free to swat black flies, deer flies, horse flies or hordes of mosquitos. That was no sabbath rest, and the yoke was neither easy nor the burden light. Jesus must mean something else.

I remember a Carl Larsson print of an ox and work horse yoked together in front of a disk slicing and turning a black curl of Swedish earth. That yoke didn’t look easy, although it did balance the pull of the animals. The two could work as one.
Is that the kind of yoke Jesus meant?

My mind flashes to another image – a young African woman hauling two enormous buckets of water dangling from the ends of a yoke across her shoulders.

You can see why this passage has not settled easily into my mind.

The yoke is a tool of slavery, oppression, burdens. In our life experiences, the yoke may help us bear up under the load, but we will recognize it for what it is – the oppressive presence of the ‘powers and principalities of darkness’, as Mike Miles says. All those things that get in the way of healthy, mutual connections with others and even within ourselves. It is a national value to multitask and overwork and cram our schedules, grab a bite to eat and get back to it. The one who wears out first is a sissy. It is a national value to consider ourselves the very best kind of people and everyone else out to get us. It seems to be a national value to ‘divide and dominate’, to assume that peace can only be won with the biggest weapons. Talk about a paradox and a burdensome yoke.

So what is Jesus talking about? “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In rabbinic tradition, the rabbi’s particular teaching of the Torah was referred to as his yoke. We might liken it with the term ‘mantle’ – a mantel of learning. Jesus’ teaching of the Torah – the law and it’s interpretation – was easy. At least easy to remember. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength (every bit of yourself), and love your neighbor as yourself.” Those three loves, in that order. Not necessarily easy to do, but free of all the oppressive sub-laws, clauses, judgments and restrictions that the scribes and Pharisees insisted upon. Jesus gives us one thing to do. Love – actively, whole heartedly, indiscriminately, and aim it especially at those who can’t believe it.

The thing my brain does, being a visual thinker – I have to ‘see’ my thoughts in pictures to make sense of them – is to also take the second half of Jesus’ saying literally. “My burden is light.” The burden of love is light – not in weight, but in the absence of darkness and shadows. Once we take the yoke of love, we can’t pretend not to see. After George Floyd’s death caught on camera, after the weeks of peaceful protests and days of violent ones, after the death of Rayshard Brooks, yet another young black man killed by police in Atlanta on Friday, we can’t pretend not to see. The burden of light is shining into every city, every heart revealing what we don’t necessarily want to see or have revealed.

The burden of light illuminates the lie of freedom and peace and liberty, it exposes how deeply the darkness has sunk into us, become normal to us. How complicit good people are in the violence against the more colorful bodies among God’s people. We too have a color – that’s another sign of our presumption that we consider ‘white’ to be the norm, and color to be a variant.

Jesus’ burden was that he saw people in their bravado and in their need. He saw those the Law was killing, misleading, isolating, negating – and, seeing them, he loved them with the Beloved’s love.

That now is our burden, too… to observe the Sabbath, to see it as the equalizing compassion of God, and to carry-on the mantle of Jesus’ teaching, his loving, his seeing. “The Light shines in the darkness… and the darkness did not overcome it.” Nor shall it ever.


Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
      your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
      Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
      as we forgive those who sin against us.
      Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
      For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen


Come to Me, All Pilgrims Thirsty

  1. “Come to me, all pilgrims thirsty;
    Drink the water I will give.
    If you knew what gift I offer,
    You would come to me and live.”

    Refrain
    Jesus, ever flowing fountain,
    give us water from your well.
    In the gracious gift you offer
    there is joy no tongue can tell.

  2. “Come to me, all trav’lers weary;
    Come that I may give you rest.
    Drink the cup of life I offer;
    At this table be my guest.”    
    Refrain

  3. “Come to me, believers burdened;
    Find refreshment in this place.
    Come, receive the gift I offer,
    Turn to me and seek my face.”
    Refrain

  4. “Come to me, repentant sinners;
    Leave behind your guilt and shame.
    Come and know divine compassion,
    Turn to me, I call your name.”    
    Refrain

  5. “Come to me, distressed and needy;
    I would be your trusted friend.
    Come and seek the gift I offer,
    come, your open hands extend.”
    Refrain

  6. “Come to me, abandoned, orphaned;
    lonely ways no longer roam.
    Come and take the gift I offer,
    let me make in you my home.”
    Refrain

Text: Delores Dufner
Music: The Sacred Harp

June 7: Deuteronomy 5 & Matthew 11

Note:
Linda is not feeling well today, but a text introducing the sermon series on Sabbath appears below. The other pieces of worship are in the audio here.
We will still be holding the planned 10am Zoom service.

PreludeHere Comes the SunChris Johansen, piano
Welcome
Confession & Forgiveness
Prayer
(text only)Pastor Linda
Psalm 131Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ReadingDeuteronomy 5: 12-15
Matthew 11: 28-30
Henrik Strandskov
Introduction to Sabbath series(text only)Kara Root, Pastor at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, MN
HymnWhen Peace Like a River
#785, vs. 1 & 4
Chris Johansen, piano

Welcome

Hello, this is pastor Linda, and I welcome you to take this time to set aside whatever it is that’s occupying your mind. Turn off the TV, silence your phone (unless that’s the device you are using to listen in on!). Breathe in a huge, lung filling, belly-out, life-giving breath. Let it go – slowly. Close your eyes, breathe again. Try to focus your mind and body on the moment of now, the position in which you are seated, the sounds of your surroundings. Try to be open to the word of God, to a word of God to you. Be still. Breathe in fully again. Let it out slowly. Listen with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind.

Confession & Forgiveness

We gather apart, yet never alone, in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 
Amen

If this week has shown us anything, we know that together, we confess our entanglements with justice, hurts, entitlement, greed – and God’s difficult, blessed vision of a very different way. We seek the face of God, confessing our sin.

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

God of heaven and earth,

we name before you the sin that enslaves us, the sin that wounds us and others, the sin that scars our world. Forgive us and heal us. Give to us, and to all, the freedom of the glory of the children of God, loved by your image residing mysteriously within each and every one of us.     
Amen

Come, all who are weary, all who carry heavy burdens. As tender as parent to child, so gentle is God to you. As high as heaven is above the earth, so vast is God’s love for you. As far as east is from west, so sweeping is God’s forgiveness for you, and of all we would confess, renewing our lives in +Jesus Christ, our friend, our Redeemer, our All in all.
Amen.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and ever-loving God, throughout time you free the oppressed, heal the sick, and make whole all that you have made. Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin. In your lavish mercies, revive our faith, heal our bodies, restore us to wholeness, inspire kindness and courage, and mend our suffering communities. In all the beautiful names of God, we offer this plea.
Amen


Scripture

Deuteronomy 5: 12-15

12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Matthew 11: 28-30

28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Sermon series introduction

Kara Root

Source: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4093

Sabbath is a tricky concept for Christians.

We’ve tended to see it as a Jewish thing, not really applicable to us, or, more recently we’ve conflated it with trendy forms of self-care. It’s the only one of the Ten Commandments that we brush off as not really that important. But it’s the longest and most descriptive commandment, the hinge words between how we relate to God and how we relate to each other. It’s not a throw-away comment.

The Israelites are no longer slaves, no longer owned by a master and locked into a system that dictates their worth solely by what they produce. They’ve lived this way some 400 years; it’s deep in their psyche. Now they are free, and they will need to learn how free people live, alongside other free people, with God as their master instead of Pharaoh.

The other commandments take the people out of slavery; the Sabbath command takes the slavery out of the people. One day in seven, God says, you stop all work. You do this because you are not to be defined by your output. One day in seven everyone rests, and all distinctions that you erect to define your value and measure your worth disappear — old, young, rich, poor, slave, free, citizen, foreigner — you are all simply and completely human beings, alongside one another, all beloved children of God.

This is the hardest lesson to absorb, so we have to do it regularly, God tells us. We have to regularly step out of the mindset and activity of the world around us, the measuring, comparing, competing, striving, producing and consuming. We have to regularly stop doing and practice just being.

Like all the other creatures and the earth itself already do, we must succumb to the cycles of rest and renewal that God built into the fabric of existence, which we are brutally determined to transcend. One day in seven, this command says, you on purpose remember that you are not God. And you on purpose remember that you are neither better nor worse than anyone around you, but connected in a mutual belonging to God and each other. This is what it means to be human. This is what it means to be free. But we forget this most of the time.

While we seek meaning from our lives, forces around us seek to shape how we find that meaning. 24/7 connectivity in our pockets ensures we’re saturated with messages that strip us of our freedom and humanity, and suck us into relentless comparison and division, ranking and judging, striving and measuring. With social media, texting, email and phones ever at the ready, we’re justified in acting as though the world can’t run without us; (the average American checks their phones 80 times a day while on vacation).1

Spirituality is nice, and God is, of course, real, but do we really need God?  We’ve got it pretty much covered. Meanwhile we’re so disconnected from true selves that we can barely stand when emotion of almost any kind arises — it throws off our equilibrium. We’re chronically over-committed, under-resourced and exhausted, and who in the world has time for Sabbath?

If we step off the spinning carousel it will all fall apart, and we’ll never figure out how to put it together again. In fact, let’s label Sabbath self-indulgent, or keep rest a reward for a job well done! Let’s bolster our Protestant work ethic with a good dose of self-effacing pride. “How are you?” we’ll ask each other. “Busy!” we’ll answer, holding it out like a badge of honor, proof of a life well-lived. Look how well we are producing and consuming! We are not wasting any time.

Sabbath is one of God’s big ten, right up there with not murdering, because unless we regularly stop, we forget that God is God and we are not. We forget that we are creatures — with bodies and minds and hearts that need tending, dependent on the love and care of a creator who is ready to meet us when we stop moving long enough to be met. We forget that we are in this together, alongside everyone else, and we need one another because life isn’t meant to be done alone and against. And human beings that forget their humanity are arguably the most destructive force in the universe.

Rest is not a reward to be earned. It’s the starting point. The Jewish day begins at sundown. All creativity, invention and construction happen in the second half of the day, fueled by, and resulting from, rest. And when the Sabbath day arrives, everything stops, whether you are ready or not. Sabbath interrupts and takes over.

You don’t start Sabbath after all the work is done, the house is clean, the thank you notes are written, and the gutters are cleared. When the sun hits the horizon, you stop. The phone goes off, the screens go dark, the work is put down and the only thing left is human beings being human, in the presence of God, who was there all along but who largely went unnoticed until now.

It’s uncomfortable. It’s strange. We are trained to measure the worth of a day by what we accomplish; what do we do with a day in which the goal is not to accomplish a thing? Expect there will be restlessness. Often there are tears, as emotions we’ve stuffed down come up in the space we’ve made. These become, like hunger pangs during a fast, a sacrifice back to God and a gift to us, a reminder of our pressing need to stop, so unaccustomed and painful it is to have our basic humanity in our face like that. We’re out of the rhythm. We’ve forgotten how to remember.

Our texts this series all touch on the underlying truth that Sabbath is God’s strategy for helping us remember that God is God (and we are not), and that we are human beings, made in God’s image for love and connection, (and not locked in a never-ending competition for worth and resources).

You’re made to care for one another like God cares for you. You must stop, regularly, to remember this, or all the other commandments will become simply another way to measure, compete, and dehumanize yourselves and others. You’ll forget the God who saves you and the freedom you’ve been saved for, and you’ll go back to being slaves.


Notes:

1“Time for a digital detox? Americans check their phones 80 times a DAY while on vacation – and more than half have NEVER unplugged when taking time off,” Daily Mail, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-5741687/Americans-check-phones-80-times-DAY-average-vacation.html


When Peace Like a River

vs. 1
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain
It is well (it is well) with my soul, (with my soul),
it is well, it is well with my soul. 

vs. 4
Lord, hasten the day when our faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, 
the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend;
even so it is well with my soul.

Refrain
It is well (it is well) with my soul, (with my soul),
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Text: Horatio G. Spafford, 1828-1888
Music: Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876

May 31 : Acts 2 & 1 Corinthians 12

Part I

PreludeYou’ll Never Walk AloneChris Johansen, piano
Welcome
Confession
Prayer
Pastor Linda
PsalmHarry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ReadingActs 2: 1-4
1 Corinthians: 12: 1, 4-27
Pastor Linda

Part II

SermonPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionBarb Kass
BlessingPastor Linda
HymnSpirit of Gentleness
#396
Chris Johansen, piano

Confession & Forgiveness

It has been one of those weeks.

  • The COVID-19 virus infection rate is rising daily in our county, state, and region even as it and the death rate is finally dropping in New York City.
  • George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer – caught on film from several angles and camera sources. The officer kneeling on the back of George’s neck was aided by two other officers, watched over by a fourth while he pleaded for breath. “I can’t breathe, officer. I can’t breathe.”  We heard his last anguished breaths.
  • In response to yet another tragic, baseless, horrific death of a man of color at white oppressor’s hands, the city erupted in mournful protest. “Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears…” Is the world about to turn?
  • Organized, mainly white agitators and anarchists took advantage of justifiable rage and grief, escalating the protests to fiery chaos and destruction of community businesses and communal property for their own ends.
  • Protests spread across the country. Every city, every heart knowing the truth of its own prejudice, its own mistreatment, negligence, mistrust of neighbors of different race or ethnicity or faith.

And still, the robins begin singing in the dark at 4:25 every morning. Flicks of flighted color, snatches of song fill the woodlands and meadows. Plants in gardens are growing by inches every day. The kids who moved in across from the parsonage late last fall are out screaming and laughing, dogs barking as they play. Loons and geese and owls and frogs echo over the evening lake. It’s the glory days of early summer. Growth and grace and golden sun and weeds and lawn mowers and boats and wonder.

In spite of our communal pause to distance and isolate, the world is racing on ahead in nature, in politics, in the consequences of our acts of omission and commission.

  • And so we stop this morning to look inside, to consider well the life we lead, the lies we live, the truth of sin that astounds, and confounds and convicts us; the loving grace of God that claims and sustains us.

And we pray: Lord have mercy.

We are good people, mostly. We live lives of integrity and kindness, generally. We get along with each other, uphold one another in prayer and thought, want the best for our neighbor and community. Yet we know, “It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.” Excuse the pronouns, it’s a quote from1916, attributed to the Reverend Charles Frederic Aked. Are we, in the safety of our isolation, allowing the oppression and hatred and fear to spread? Or is there a need for the good to stay grounded, aware, supportive, quietly holding onto the life we value – harbingers of hope and peace?

  • And so we stop this morning to look inside, to consider well the life we lead, the lies we live, the truth of sin that astounds, and confounds and convicts us, the loving grace of God that claims and sustains us.

And we pray: Christ have mercy.

It is not wrong to see and appreciate and glory in the beauty that surrounds us. This is God’s creative gift of love. It is not wrong to hold our loved ones tight, to pray for those known to us, cherished, worried over. They are of our hearts. It is not wrong to look for the good we may do in our small realms, within ourselves, to mount our prayers on eagle’s wings while staying safe and close. There are many gifts and many callings and our best work is to discern and use our gifts for the kingdom of God to flourish.

  • And so we stop this morning to look inside, to consider well the life we lead, the lies we live, the truth of sin that astounds, and confounds and convicts us, the loving grace of God that claims and sustains us.

And we pray: Lord have mercy. Amen.


Prayer of the Day

       Rush upon us.

Overtake and consume us, O Holy Fire, until divisions turn to dusty ashes and walls of pride collapse.

       Spill out over us.

Surround and overwhelm us, O Satisfying Fountain, until we lavish love’s richness never measuring the cost.

        Dance among us.

Well up and erupt within us, O Living Word, until our tongues know words of peace, our hands work deeds of love, and our souls sing your praise. Amen. Amen. Amen.


Scripture

Acts 2:1-4

 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

1 Corinthians 12:1,4-27

And from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. …There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But all of these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

            For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

            Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be?

            20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this.

            But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

            27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

The word of the Lord….thanks be to God.

Sermon

Linda Rozumalski

The Corinthians were not a unified body of believers. There was a lot of diversity – age, race, prior religious practices, socio-economic status. There were Jews and pagans, slave and free, male and female, young and old – all together in this new religious community, hemmed in, pressurized by the Roman Empire.

And now we hear that they were ablaze with the Holy Spirit – given gifts willy nilly, covering the whole gamut of spiritual gifts. This broad range of spiritual manifestations in Corinth was to demonstrate the power of God – not to dazzle outsiders with their insider specialness. It was to unify people in the midst of diversity, to show that all were one within God’s whole. It was to make obvious what they, and we, find so difficult to believe – that differences, uniqueness, particularities of language, color, attitudes, personalities, politics, gender, understanding, insight, ability are intentional in God’s design. We are not meant to be homogeneous. Therefore, we are not meant to be in competition. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…” We are meant to be cooperative – each difference and divergence lending color, depth, skill, beauty, integrity, joy to the whole. God distributes separate gifts, all activated by one and the same Spirit, allotted to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

Something pops out each time I read this passage. I think it is important:  “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [Well, that’s one thing. Remember that bit.] To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge, to another faith, to another gifts of healing by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles…” Did you catch it? To some are given the gift of faith…  just to some within the body of Christ….. isn’t that interesting? Others are given wisdom, or knowledge, or healing but they/we/ members of the body of Christ – don’t all have faith! …but still all are members of the cosmic body of Christ. All gifts for the common good.

So that raises a question about the body of Christ. I always assumed it was the communion of saints – everyone who is a Christian in the whole world in all of time… and also then, smaller groupings form representing that communion – denominations or traditions or theological clumps that take shape as hands or knees.

But reading this I’m wondering if I’ve assumed too small, too narrow, too privileged a view of the body of Christ – and of course I have. I’ve figured it’s made up of people like me, Christians like me, believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord…. Because we can’t really believe what we read in the Bible, right? – that the good tidings of Jesus’ birth were to all people, that Christ died once and for all people, that God loved the whole world, that Jesus said this bread is my body given for you and for all people so that we might have life in his name.

We say or hear those words and still think, “Well, yes,  it says “all,” but it really means “all – who are Christians just like me,” right?  We can’t seem to let go of the limiting parameters and allow God’s grace to go willy nilly wherever God chooses. Which is why there’s a disco ball embedded in the sermon. That’s my better image for the Holy Spirit – dancing out in all directions, showering gifts “just as the Spirit chooses,” as Paul wrote.

What if we’re told about this diversity of people and diversity of gifts because that’s how God works in saving the whole world – all people – not just Christians, but all people regardless of creed or religion or status or goodness…

What if that’s the body of Christ? Broken, wounded, betrayed, disparate, whole, redeemed. All people – good, bad, religious, nonbelievers – that Christ/God is in and over and through every single person…  and only to some is faith given, or knowledge to discern, or wisdom. Only some care about God or worship Christ, but all are still part of the redemption of the whole. Herd redemption.

“The Word of God in Christ is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity: Verditas. This Word manifests itself in every creature,” said Hildegard of Bingen, 900 years ago.       Would it make us glad –  or miffed – if that saving Spirit is truly all in all, and not reserved – if the rules for God’s discernment are something we can never imagine or have eyes to see?

“Well, okay,” you may be thinking,” but so what?” The so what is that churches typically spend a lot of time and effort wondering how to get more people to come be like us – that’s the basis of evangelism. “Hear this Good News of God in Christ given for you, and practice your faith in this way, our way.” What if, instead, we spent a little bit of time inviting people to come be like us, but spent most of our time wondering what God was already doing in these other lives, in the left elbow of Christ’s body or the Right big toe?

What is God already up to in our neighbors – in the neighborhoods of Minneapolis and St. Paul, in tribal land, Somali or Mexican communities in our region? What gifts do they manifest? Where is the Spirit of God giving breath that we snuff out of black and brown bodies? What are we missing?

What if the whole world – in all its secular and spiritual and diverse ways – is already acting out of the body of Christ? And our job – our mission if we are to accept it – we who were given the gift of faith or discernment or imagining – is to be using our gifts to interpret theirs. Instead of expecting them to become like us, what if we begin looking at them expecting to see God grinning back at us, wondering why it took so long for those with eyes, to see.

The Holy Spirit is not about to be tamed and if we keep trying to limit the activity to those most like ourselves, then we’re going to be missing most of what God is up to and only seeing what looks familiar. And that, it seems, would be missing most of the wonder of God’s design.

The Spirit of God moves among us and lifts and consoles, enlightens and inspires, but not for our sakes. God’s love is not an emotion, it’s a present reality that has ongoing effects, that splashes out of whatever container we might try to keep it in, that flashes around the room to a heart-pounding beat.

In Corinth and at West Denmark, the manifestations of the Spirit transforms and ignites conviction that changes people’s lives. Its purpose is aimed outward into and through that mystical body of Christ, not inward toward preservation or prestige of the community or individual members. Paul’s goal is not to create a tidy community, but a loving one infecting and effecting change in the world outside of itself.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the body of Christ is cosmic – for the whole of God’s people and not just for Christians (if indeed that’s true, as I believe it is) … Jesus didn’t teach and heal and feed and choose the insiders, he lived and worked outside to bring the outsiders home, to bring them in and give them a feast, and send them out again with the gospel – the good news of God that life-bathing redemption had come, that God was on the move.

There are as many spiritual gifts even in this small congregation as there are members, and it might do us good to take a few moments to pause and consider them so we know what to look for when we see our neighbors and the world.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.… God has so arranged the body, that members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it……..  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”


Blessing

May the love of God afflict you. May the love of God convict you. May the love of God compel you and console you, and give you strength and hope and joy in good measure.

Be well. All manner of things shall be well.


Spirit of Gentleness

Refrain
Spirit, Spirit of gentleness,
blow through the wilderness
calling and free;
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness,
stir me from placidness,
wind, wind on the sea

You moved on the waters,
you called to the deep,
then you coaxed up the mountains
from the valleys of sleep;
and over the eons
you called to each thing:
“Awake from your slumbers
and rise on your wings.”
Refrain

You swept through the desert,
you stung with the sand,
and you goaded your people
with a law and a land;
and when they were blinded
with idols and lies,
then you spoke through your prophets
to open their eyes.
Refrain

You sang in a stable,
you cried from a hill,
then you whispered in silence
when the whole world was still;
and down in the city
you called once again,
when you blew through your peiople
on the rush of the wind.
Refrain

You call from tomorrow,
you break ancient schemes.
From the bondage of sorrow
all the captives dream dreams;
our women see visions,
our men clear their eyes.
With bold new decisions
your people arise.
Refrain

Text & Music: James K. Manley

May 24: 1 Corinthians 15

Part I

PreludeDown a Country Lane
A. Copland
Chris Johansen, piano
Welcome
Confession
Prayer
Pastor Linda
Psalm 23Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Reading1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57Pastor Linda

Part II

SermonPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionBarb Kass
BlessingPastor Linda
HymnHealer of Our Every Ill
Hymn #612 (text below)
Chris Johansen, piano

Healer of Our Every Ill

Refrain
Healer of our every ill,
light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fer,
and hope beyond our sorrow

You who know our fears and sadness,
grace us with your peace and gladness;
Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts.
Refrain

In the pain and joy beholding
how your grace is still unfolding,
give us all your vision, God of love.
Refrain

Give us strength to love each other,
ev’ry sister, ev’ry brother;
Spirit of all kindness, be our guide.
Refrain

You who know each thought and feeling,
teach us all your way of healing;
Spirit of compassion, fill each heart.
Refrain

Text & Music: Marty Haugen

Sermon

Linda Rozumalski

Kids of every era are interested in superpowers. Maybe X-ray vision, invisibility, the ability to leap tall buildings with a single bound, flying faster than a speeding bullet, having super stretchy arms and legs and the other powers of cartoon life give kids a sense of power in the big adult world where they are small. Super-powered characters instill pride (or hope) for bodies struggling through the awkward transformations of youth when control of form, movement, growth – even voice – seems beyond them. 

The adult world sends many adults back to those dreams of superpowers (video games, not comic books or cartoons) as we realize how little in this life we actually can control. Maybe that is what’s behind all the hero talk. Not every muscle-bound sports star or military personnel is a hero, despite the label they’re given. Superpowers are revealed in times of need.

The teenaged environmental activist Greta Thunberg, holds up under intense public pressure and criticism. She wrote: “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning! I have Aspergers and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm.  And – given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.” She inspires and empowers others with her passionate and eloquent devotion to climate care.

Health care workers and critical personnel who cook and clean and transport COVID-19 patients are deemed heroes, with superpowers of perseverance, self-less service on behalf of those who are likely passing along the virus which they in turn have first received.  Not quite the exchange Paul was writing about to the Corinthians, but we did talk about the similarities between the spread of COVID-19 and Christianity. Superpowers of cartoon and video-game heroes transform and protect their body. We would wish the same for ours.

Paul received his superpower along the road to Damascus. He had an encounter with the risen Christ that blinded him temporarily and transformed him through and through. From a Pharisee charged with reigning in Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, he became the primary proclaimer of the good news of God: Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, and appeared to his disciples – alive, risen from the power of sin and death.

This letter of Paul to the church at Corinth is one of the earliest Christian writings. It predates the writing of the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation by decades. It follows Jesus’ death and resurrection by some twenty to twenty-five years.  But those 25 years were transformative in the lives of his original disciples and others – like Paul – who somehow got caught up by the Holy Spirit and flung into a future and a life they could never have imagined.

In this chapter, Paul is working out the case for belief in Christ. As your ear can tell you, his writing is dense; thick with contingent clauses (if this, and if this, then this, but not this). He employs more commas per square inch than any other biblical writer – a sentence diagrammer’s nightmare. This epistle to newbie Christians in Corinth is a well planned argument laying out the case for Jesus as the Christ and, in today’s reading, in the necessity of the resurrection. Paul was creating the foundation for the Christian faith. Parables or narratives are easier for us to grasp. Maybe a particular image or question caught your interest in the swirling words.  

The thing that landed in my imagination this week was the bit about bodies.

“Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality…”

It’s a passage usually read at the graveside as a word of promise and comfort, but seeing it away from that setting, and with COVID on my mind, I had some new thoughts.

Not many of us are really comfortable in our skin, our physiques, our form. And then, to add insult to injury, we age or weaken, or get sick.  And our bodies lose grace and power and vigor and form and become something else, something other than what we expect to see when we catch our reflected image in a mirror. Bodies are embarrassing. 

The early Greeks certainly thought so. They believed that bodies were so beneath us as a species that we are really only a soul imprisoned in flesh. The part of us that really matters is imperishable, the rest we throw away at death like a dragonfly leaving its exoskeleton on a log.

But that is not the gospel truth, and Paul is belaboring the point. The witness of scripture is that matter matters to God. God formed matter – trees, plants critters, beasts, elements, stars – and us, our bodies – carefully formed, carefully mated, carefully clothed, cared-for  … and to prove it, God became us, a particular body in Jesus, became our matter to insist that we matter, that we – frail, fragile, incredible in our bodies – are beloved and cherished. We are not bodiless souls waiting to shed this mortality, we are whole people, intensionally whole, integrated, marvelously and miraculously made.

Paul is making the case for the resurrection of this body – a transformation, transfiguration, metamorphosis, if you will, from earthly glory – just a little lower than the angles, psalm 8 says of us – into some other glory – the joy of God. And of course we don’t know how it happens or – to be completely honest, if it happens, but we take it on trust, that if there is God, and if Jesus was the son of God in a unique and mysterious way, and if Jesus was raised out of death, then we too share that future with God. For She would not abandon the child of Her womb.

“We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”  When this “perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality…..”

Wait a minute. We will not all die, but this mortal body will put on immortality… This doesn’t apply to all of us, but think of the implications! We will not all die, but this mortal body will slip into something comfortable.… We will swath ourselves in sacred skin…. don the divine like Clark Kent putting on Superman.  

Matter matters: creation is so beloved by God that it will be reworked, not wasted, or discarded or destroyed. In the conservation of matter nothing is lost, no one is lost, no body.  The Law of Conservation of Mass says that mass is neither created nor destroyed in chemical reactions. In other words, the mass of any one element (any body) at the beginning of a reaction will equal the mass of that element at the end of the reaction. 

The Law of Conservation of Energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant— conserved over time. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another.  Mass and energy remain. That’s science… it’s also God’s way with us. 

I don’t know what resurrection is, or even that it is, but I hope that the witness of scripture is true and real and part of the promise of God to remake everything as real and tangible and alive as She formed it in the first place.

“Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;”   begins John Updike’s poem, Seven Stanzas at Easter.
“if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.”

The reality of bodies is that God  has taken your shape, your form, your body as a matter of infinite worth and beauty – and went to all ends to give it immortality, in becoming a body among us, in our image. Let us not be embarrassed by this miracle …………….

May 3 : Acts 17 & 1Thessalonians 1

Prelude

Benedetto Marcello Psalm 19 Chuck Parsons, organ

Opening

Confession

Prayer of the Day

       In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss. In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving. You are our mother, brother, and savior. In you, Holy Spirit, is marvelous and plenteous grace. You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our lover, our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.   Amen       ~ Julian of Norwich, 1342-1416

Sermon

You may listen to Pr Linda here.

Some of you may know that, prior to the mid-March ‘shelter in place for the sake of your neighbor’ close-ing, I was planning a three week coast-to-coast hike in England in May. Fortunately, I was planning a solo hike and arranging the details myself, so there aren’t catering or pre-booked cancellations to manage. Other than a rain jacket, new boots, and various guide books, my only real expense was the flights. Aer Lingus has offered a voucher for the tickets and, hopefully, they’ll continue to fly and I’ll be able to try it all again next year. I’ve been left with a longing – and a number of really excellent maps. Studying them, google-earthing sights along the way, following the hand-drawn topographic maps of Alfred Wainwright (the trail designer) in comparison to my huge detailed map of that area of England is a new hobby. GPS, well marked pathways, and a plethora of maps has given me a (perhaps false) sense of courage. I can do this grand adventure! Especially, since, at the moment, I’m not supposed to leave my yard!

I wonder what of those traveling benefits the apostle Paul had with him. I imagine they had maps of some sort. He must have known where he was going, the general direction of cities in Asia Minor, and the Roman Empire had well marked roads. Knowing the geography is important in getting an idea of the tremendous scope and energy of Paul’s ministry, and in seeing the spread of the early Christian church. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, was not given a home in Jerusalem, nor was it received as truth among many/most of the area’s Jews. Christianity was forced to move beyond the cluster of villages, the home regions of Galilee and Judea where Jesus and the disciples lived. They say the church was born in persecution. Without opposition, hardship and the threat of persecution snapping at their heals,  the Christian faith might not have spread. As it was, Paul traveled and taught throughout the Mediterranean basin, encouraging those who had fled persecution in Jerusalem or Rome and came into contact with the world of Gentiles. On this, his second missionary journey, Paul sets out again from Antioch to travel through Syria and Cilicia.

Along the way he meets a man from Macedonia, and guided by a vision, Paul and his companions set sail for that region. At Philippi their message is well received – particularly by a group of women led by Lydia. But they also encounter opposition after Paul drives out the “spirit of divination” from a slave-girl and her owners get angry about losing their ‘small business’ profit from her fortune-telling reputation. The owners drag Paul and Silas before the authorities, charging them with disturbing the city and advocating customs that are unlawful for Romans, after which Paul and Silas are flogged and thrown into prison. An earthquake breaks open the prison doors (and their chains), and through a series of favorable events, the jailer comes to faith, and is baptized along with his whole household. Meanwhile, the magistrates decided to release Paul and Silas and so they are free to continue on toward Thessaloniki, the leading city of Macedonia and headquarters of the Roman governor. 

I don’t really enjoy preaching on the book of Acts, it’s better, more interesting, just to read it – but, pairing it as we are is a good idea. We hear the action of Acts with the letters that Paul wrote to the various communities along the way –  Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Rome, and today – the very first book of the New Testament to be written – the letter to Christians in Thessaloniki.
So, first from the Acts of the Apostles, a few verses from the 17th chapter:

After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessaloniki, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three consecutive sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures,  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”  Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women.  But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house where they had been staying.  When they could not find Paul and Silas, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also,  and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”  The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go. 

The charges brought against Paul and Silas in their absence are similar to those brought against them earlier in Philippi, but ratcheted up a notch. They are charged not simply with disturbing the city, but with turning the “whole world upside down”; not simply for advocating new religious customs, but with what amounts to treason — “acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king, one named Jesus”.

Following what is becoming a typical pattern for Paul, the Thessalonian believers send him and Silas off to Beroea, where they find a more receptive audience in the synagogue. But they have made enemies in proclaiming Jesus the messiah, and the opposing Jews from Thessaloniki follow Paul and stir up crowds against him in Beroea. Crowd sourcing protests are nothing new! So Paul’s sympathizers get him out of the city and convey him as far as Athens. From there, Paul travels on to a safe haven in Corinth, where Silas and Timothy eventually rejoin him.

The term, “geography of faith,” has stuck in my head as I’ve been reading about Paul’s missionary trips. It’s also the subtitle of a book I refer to now and then, An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor. A geography of faith certainly applies to the movements of the apostle Paul. He is constantly on the move, teaching and arguing the scriptures in synagog after synagog, town after town, being shouted down, threatened, imprisoned, pursued from city to city. He has covered most of the north shore of the Mediterranean by now. It’s hard for me to imagine that life, that calling, and passion without feeling increasingly anxious. I get restlessly defensive just reading about it. I could never do that. Never. I have no passion to turn the world upside down, I have no gifts for that. It seems so completely and entirely foreign to me – his world and his life and his faith – that I can find no connection in it to my own. The map of the Mediterranean might as well be the map of the moon. So it is easy for me (and maybe for you, too) to dismiss this stuff as historical and biblical – and therefore doubly inapplicable to my normal quite small, mostly insignificant, peaceful, COVID-sheltered life. And therefore… I don’t have to do anything about it. I’ve found my own safe haven from the threat of the gospel in that I’m so not like Paul, God would have no reason to expect it of me.

Except,…when I stop to think about the lives of people in those towns and villages and communities – like Lydia or Jason. People who listened, were stirred, curious, convinced: Those whose lives the living Word transformed. The travelog of Acts sets out the large context, the map of the Roman world. Paul’s letter to the folks he left behind in Thessaloniki gives God’s mission a particular place, a location, where the hand-drawn topographical maps  – and Google Earth that can bring you to a street view of a specific home – are key to God’s purpose. Maps are ways of marking out a trip, of paying attention to the geography of place names and locations. Looking at the scale of big maps allows one to cover a lot of turf, see the big picture. Traveling it all seems overwhelming. Topo maps show variations in terrain, notice the meanderings of a creek bed, indicate high points and ridges, help one find one’s way. I’m more at home with topographical maps. But then, I notice that I’ve lost some of my excuses for not engaging this grand, “too big for my imagination” mission. God’s word is clearly both all-encompassing and located in small details. God’s purpose, God’s work for us to be about, is clearly about both the world, and our neighbor.

From Corinth, with Silvanus (Silas in Greek) and Timothy, Paul writes a letter back to the community of believers they left in Thessaloniki:

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10   Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.  We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith, and labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you,  because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,  so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only there, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.  For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,  and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, the Christ.

In the synagogs, Paul argued the scriptures, set forth his case for belief in Jesus and the necessity of his death and resurrection.  Paul made enemies as well as converts, and he moved on. 

In his letter to those he left filled with God’s word, but facing the opposition of the enemies stirred up against them, Paul provides pastoral care. 

His letter is to gentiles, converted/converting pagans. They were not part of God’s original covenant and plan. His letter is to all of us who may not feel like insiders in the church, born and bred, dyed in the wool, holy to the core. It is to those of us who have questions and doubts and wonderments about the word of God and Jesus Christ, but yet who are drawn to the word of life, the table of mercy, the community of faith. He says to them, to us …God has chosen you. 

So much for excuses. So much for safe distancing between the missionary activity of Paul and my own little life. 

“God has chosen you.”

“Hmmmm. Chosen for what?” (I mentally reach for my shield of excuses

“Chosen for life.” 

“Oh?” 

“Chosen for all of the ways in which your life, your work, your prayers show the labor of love, the imitation of Christ, the conviction and joy of your faith.” 

“Oh.”  

“You may not be accused of turning the world upside down, but you may very well, be responsible for turning someone’s world around.” 

“Ooooh!”                  (ask Harry about his mom’s one word conversations!) 

“For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only there, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.  For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you…” 

“So, we don’t need to speak about it if our lives demonstrate the love and hospitality of Christ?” 

“You might be asked questions, be drawn into a conversation, be inspired to share the motivation of your service or hospitality, but we don’t necessarily need to hit the road proclaiming loudly the pathway that leads to God.” 

“Oh, good.” 

“In fact, Lydia and Jason proclaimed it more loudly by living their lives, staying home, letting their transformed attitudes and actions attract notice and converts. Staying put may be the more difficult path, to let yourself be known. Being beguiling may be the best form of transmitting the good news!” 

“Ohhhhh!”

The irony is that on the one hand, the charges brought against Paul and his fellow travelers – that they are disturbing the peace and promoting disloyalty to the emperor – weren’t true, just as the same charges brought against Jesus weren’t true. The movement of Jesus’ followers is not about political ambition or plotting to overthrow Caesar. Those who bring the charges, who have incited mobs and gathered ruffians to attack Paul and his companions, were in fact the ones “disturbing the peace.”

But at the same time, there is something that is very true – though not in the way they meant it – in the charges that the proclamation of the gospel threatens to “turn the world upside down.” Loyalty to Jesus the Messiah supplants all other loyalties — to family, nation, empire, or religious hierarchy – to our values, and comfort, and small, peaceful, mostly insignificant lives biding our solitary time. What will happen when we are released? How might our hearts and lives turn from ‘what is’ to ‘what if’? How might this new normal that doesn’t yet feel normal work on us to imprint radical change environmentally, economically, socially.  We have known racial, economic and environmental justice is a necessity, that this nation’s systems must change if we are to live into our own national values of integrity, equality and freedom – now we have the power of knowing that it can happen. Whole societies can change overnight if they are convinced it’s in their own best interest. If we are compelled by a virus, can we not be compelled by the suffering of racism and poverty, the suffering of global climates changing? The world is about to turn. But will we move it, mitigate while there’s a bit of time, or will we retreat and react? 

The good news of Jesus the Messiah does indeed threaten upheaval. It’s true in large scale, world map kind of ways, but more significantly, it’s true in individual lives, in the topographical maps, the peaks and valleys and obstacles that show up in our lives. Hearing that you are chosen by God has a certain comfortable, secure feel, but it is also a truth that won’t let you sit still in comfort. God, as they say, comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Those reversals of being chosen and being challenged, of being forgiven as we practice forgiveness, receiving in joy what we pass along in service, become the topography lines in the geography of our faith. Once we’re infected, the viral nature of God’s ways spreads its sacred contagion throughout our lives, attitudes, outlook, excuses. We can’t help but get involved. It’s good work, being an imitator of Christ, finding ways of translating, transmitting God’s love into your occupations and relationships and convictions. God has chosen you, for life – in every sense of the phrase. And for that we don’t really need a map, you know the way. The path is well marked. 

Thanks be to God.

The Church’s One Foundation

~ Chuck Parsons, organ
  1. The Church’s one foundation
      Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
    She is His new creation
      By water and the Word:
    From heav’n He came and sought her
      To be His holy Bride;
    With His own blood He bought her,
      And for her life He died.

3 . ’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace for evermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
  Shall be the Church at rest.

Samuel John Stone (1839-1900)  Music: Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876)

April 26 : Acts 3:1-20

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Jesus has been raised. He was not in the tomb. Presumably, in spite of their fear and initial silence, the women did share the words of the young men in white who met them in the tomb on Easter morning. “Jesus is not here,” they said, “but will go ahead of you to Galilee, as he told you.”  

We have moved out of the gospels and into the account of the Acts of the apostles.  The disciples have regrouped and are back in Jerusalem. At the end of the second chapter of Acts there is a summary statement saying that in Jerusalem, “awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles”, and that Jesus’ followers “spent much time together in the temple.”

Today’s reading illustrates that point. Peter and John are shown going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, where an encounter leads to a wondrous healing and amazement among the people.

A man lame from birth is carried in every day and laid at a temple gate to beg for alms from those entering through the beautiful gate. In his encounter with Peter and John, the lame man gets much more than he bargained for. “I have no silver or gold,” Peter says, “but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he does. And then he dances and leaps and shouts!

This is a double story of healing and restoration:  The lame man has been given a new life. Imagine, for a moment, this event from his point of view. Unable to walk, if he could move around at all it would be by dragging his body along through the dust, down on the level of dogs and dirty feet. Where would he have lived? Perhaps with his parents if they were still alive. Congenital disabilities like his were seen as signs of God’s displeasure, a punishment for the sins of one’s parents. So both he and his parents were likely seen as fringe members of the community of God’s grace. 

His life of misery and humiliation has consisted of begging for enough to keep starvation away, and gratitude for those who carry him to the temple gates. The gates, though, and no further. The gates are as far as he would have been allowed to go, no closer approach to God was possible. Filth like his could not be washed away sufficiently. He could never be ritually or physically cleansed to the standards of religious inclusion. He could never get past the gates of glory. 

Peter invokes Jesus’ name, and taking his right hand, raises him up. Significant language. They are the words of Resurrection. New life; truly. 

Perhaps you have an affliction yourself – some shame, some guilt, some humiliation. What would it mean for you, to be taken by the hand and raised up, brought in, celebrated, welcomed? That is the effect of resurrection. For those who can’t see past the dirt, it is offensive. To those who can’t imagine themselves to be beggars at the gate, it is irrelevant or a folk tale. But to those who have been transformed – who have experienced new life – it is a joy and an astonishment.

This is a double healing.
Look at Peter. Wasn’t it just a couple of weeks ago that we heard Peter deny Jesus at Pilate’s gate? Haven’t we been hearing again and again how Peter failed to understand Jesus and the lessons – the connections to God’s power – that Jesus offered?

Peter and John spent years following Jesus with puzzled looks on their faces and now, suddenly, they have come into the power of their conviction. Something has happened.          

Something between his prior life and this day in Jerusalem has changed Peter’s life for good. Not that Peter becomes more prosperous, or returns to his family and lives happily ever after. This is not a fairy tale. Peter is involved in conflicts within the new faith, is uncertain of the way, or how to put Jesus’ words into practice; he is imprisoned, moves to another region – to Antioch to establish a Christian community there, and eventually, back in Jerusalem, he also is crucified.

But Peter has been changed, forgiven, transformed, filled.  He uses this healing as an object lesson to create faith, to bring people in through the gates and to the font and source of healing.  Jesus (of all people) doesn’t promise cures, the cross is proof enough of that. We don’t live forever in these bodies. But God promises healing, wholeness, peace, restoration. Those gifts aren’t nearly as flashy as gold and silver or a miraculous cure with all of the dancing and shouting that would naturally attend it. But wholeness is a lot to be offered.

Jesus has been raised. He is not here. But we are here. You are here. And that is enough. God will use your body, your mind, your prayers, your voice, your compassion, your self to extend the resurrection – so that you will live into it, and pass along the being of God. I don’t know how you’ll do it, or what exactly it will entail. I don’t know if you’ll do it intentionally or by accident. I don’t know if you’ll feel inadequate or self-conscious or stumble around for the right words. But I know from my experience of doing all of those things, that it doesn’t matter. Peter got that part right. It is not through our own power or piety. If God is able to use us for handing over healing and wholeness, for creating a new world by imagining it, then we too will be recipients of the gift. And we will discover more God in the process.

The man was raised to new life within his ongoing life – to new circumstances and possibilities. It’s important to see that. Resurrection life is not the same as if there had been no death. We live – each of us – facing death, knowing death, and yet choosing life. Recognizing the gift of that begins our transformation. New life comes in bodies and friendships and prayer and hope and God’s Spirit binding us together in one, in Christ’s body – broken and yet whole. The rest we take on trust and live out of thanksgiving for the treasure that is each new day.

Be well.

Offering

I want to thank so many of you who have continued to send or bring in your financial offerings for the mission and ministry of West Denmark and the larger church. Not everyone is able to give financially in the uncertainty of these days, and some have given more than the usual amount. For your many gifts, for your generosity, and for your prayers we are grateful.

April 19 : Ascension of Christ

 Hans Suss von Kulmbach The Ascension of Christ, 1513

Confession and Forgiveness 

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen

By our baptism we are united to Christ and raised to new life. In this pause for reflection and self-examination, let us confess to God all that awaits resurrection in our lives.

God of love,
we find it hard to believe the witness of the resurrection: we resist your unfailing love for us and for others, and we turn our backs on the gift of new life, choosing too often the way that takes us away from you and leads us back toward death. Free us from this power of sin, guide us by your Spirit, and help us in our weakness, that we may live as your children, restored to new and everlasting life.  Amen

By God’s grace you are forgiven and born anew.  May you be strengthened daily with the power to walk in God’s light and love.     Amen.

Bell

Acts 1:1-14

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  

14th century manuscript illumination by Jacobus da Varagine

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.  When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.





Hymn

Sermon

Acts is written by the same author as the gospel of Luke. This is Book Two as we heard in the first lines Henrik read. So it picks up where Luke ends, not Mark who we have been reading since Christmas. 

Still, whichever gospel account one reads, the disciples are the same.

 While he was with them, for those three years, Jesus taught the ‘kingdom of God’ in parables, in healing, in preaching, in the choice of his friends and the unusual, inclusive guest list of people with whom he dined and visited and conversed.

Jesus was crucified. The men perhaps felt too conspicuously aligned with one condemned to the cross and stayed in hiding, but the women witnessed it, and could describe his death. The crucifixion would have been all the buzz in Jerusalem. And the disciples knew well that crucifixion kills.

They gathered together for comfort and safety in an upper room  – and on the morning of the third day, the women come racing back from the tomb, breathlessly telling them that Jesus was raised, alive, sort of, I mean he is, but…. At first the others thought this an idle tale.

Then Jesus comes to them himself.

He reappears “presenting himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing over a span of forty days – speaking about the ‘kingdom of God.’” 

And now, gathering them for the last time, their burning question is if he is going to reinstate the kingdom of Israel before he takes off. What? Can you ‘not get it’ to any greater degree than this? 

Oh, disciples.

He replied, “For Christ’s sake!” (I added that bit) It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority!  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” “Lord have mercy!” (I added that, too)

And as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. God did have mercy. “Beam me up, Scotty.”

Detail of a miniature of the Ascension of Christ.  France, N. (Rouen)

After all they had heard, all they had seen and experienced in their years of living and traveling with Jesus, they still have the same expectation as the crowd who shouted, “Crucify”. Jesus hadn’t met the crowd’s expectation of a Messiah. He didn’t intend to overthrow the Roman empire by military or political might. He was not about the business of reinstating the physical kingdom of David. Jesus had a bigger, more inclusive kingdom in mind. And the disciples’ very last words to him – even after resurrection – were about the geopolitical, earthly, defunct kingdom of Israel. Sigh.

There’s a nice flip flop detail at this point.  The disciples are standing agog with their mouths open, apparently, based on many examples from classic art, staring at a pair of feet dangling from a cloud that has absorbed the rest of Jesus.

And who could blame them. It’s not something you’re likely to see again.

But two men/messengers/angels in white robes appear next to them. We might have met these two before in Book One.

“… on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.’”

“Men of Galilee,” the two men ask, “why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” 
“Ah, well, look!!” They respond.
“This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  

I suspect that didn’t clear things up for the dazed disciples. I picture them wandering around in confused little circles until the angels herd them onto the path and give them a push toward Jerusalem. At some later point, they find themselves climbing the stairs to their little room. 

And there they waited for the wind to change. For wisdom and courage to come upon them. But that’s another story.

So the disciples, who wanted an earthly kingdom, were transfixed by a glimpse of the heavenly one, and it was angels who came from the heavenly one, who grounded the disciples and sent them back into the kingdom of Rome. So much for glory. It’s not their turn to bask in it.

One of the points made last week was that we don’t get the God we want, but we get the God we need. This is going to be a difficult and recurrent lesson for the men and women disciples – and, of course, it remains so for us.

None of this went according to plan for the disciples. Jesus gave them the promise (or threat) (or both) of the Holy Spirit coming in power and sending them out as witnesses of the good news in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. But they were fishermen and craftsmen and widows and wives. What went through their heads as they waited? They weren’t given a timeline. How long must they wait? The prevailing community ethos had demanded the death of their teacher, so it wasn’t safe on the streets. How would they earn enough to provide for their needs? They had seen this – well, so many extraordinary things. As days passed, did they start to wonder if they had imagined it? They must have gotten restless with nothing to do but pray. How long must they shelter in place?

We can tear this scene out of our bibles and paste it in our calendars. We have similar questions, similar fears and restlessness. As Christians, if we are non-essential workers, we likely have the feeling that we should be doing something more useful than prayer. In a time when we can’t “gather in place”, or visit house to house, how do we function as a church, worship, care for our community? We are trying various options to stay a flock, but it’s a challenge to keep track. Will we know if one sheep has gotten lost? How many are left out in this new “normal” of web-based worship and Zoom gatherings? In the wider community, how many are struggling?  Rural poverty and hunger are hard enough to see in the old normal. How many confined spaces are becoming dangerous “shelters” of abuse and violence? How many will be infected by COVID-19? How long must we wait?

The kingdom of God we want is not the kingdom of God we get. Jesus inaugurated it among us – already and not yet. We, too are witnesses of Christ, bearers of the good news in word and deed. But, all these generations later, has it advanced?  

It has. It is still not for us to “know the times or periods that the Father has set ‘by his own authority’.” But we have the advantage of hindsight and knowing what to look for. And our expectation is not for a victorious earthly kingdom. We know it will mostly be hidden – a pair of feet dangling from a passing cloud. The kingdom of heaven in the substance of earth, is visible in health care workers who gear up and enter yet another room, and another; visible in the colorful homemade masks; visible in the creativity of artists and manufacturers working “off-label” to fill gaps and meet unusual needs; visible in a new awareness of the elder or single person or large family living next door and the motivation to see how they’re fairing; visible in those who are not visible because they’re protecting their neighbor by staying home; visible in the animals free to roam into civilized space, in air and water able to clean themselves if given the chance; visible in the realization that whole nations can change – and so, what might arise from this ‘death’? Like the disciples, we need inspiration, and the power of purpose and hope. We may take this new normal as an opportunity to align ourselves with a new ethic, create a new ethos of community and oneness and health. There may be new political, economic will to create jobs in sustainable energy, to really address climate change which will be equally and increasingly more devastating to world-wide economies and health and life if the carbon curve isn’t flattened. There may be a resurgence of home gardening and home cooking and family time and realizing who and what really matters in our lives.

We wait in our rooms, in prayer and fear and hope, in anxiety and anticipation – waiting for the wind to change. And that’s a new story for a new day. But a story in which we trust the promise of presence of the Spirit of our living Lord.

  Pietro Perugino   Ascension, between 1496 and 1500

Hymn

April 12 : Easter

The gospel according to Mark, the 16th chapter“Glory to you, O Lord”

Mark 16:1-8

1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint Jesus’ body. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 

5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 

8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 The gospel of our Lord

So… that’s it. That is the end of the gospel of Mark.  Isn’t it great? It’s my favorite ending of the four gospels – I think it’s perfect. There are other endings – two of them, actually – that you will find in your Bibles, but they are believed by virtually all scholars to have been added centuries after the original writing. They were written by monks who were charged with copying the scripture by hand, and thought Mark was really bad at endings.

And we can see why.  Because, while Mark starts this familiar narrative in the usual way – it’s early Sunday morning, it’s still dark, the women are going to the tomb to tend to Jesus’ body, the sun rises, the stone is rolled away, they hear hear the word that Jesus has been raised, and they’re sent back to tell about it -it is at this point that Mark seems to have lost his notes for the ending.  The women run away from the tomb, full of terror and amazement – and they say nothing to anyone, because they are afraid.

This can’t be the ending! First of all, it’s the only resurrection story in the New Testament where Jesus doesn’t actually makes an appearance. Ever! He said he would meet the disciples in Galilee, but we don’t know for sure. So, that’s something…

And secondly, the women disciples utterly fail. Which seems a little surprising. The women have been Jesus’ best, most intuitive, disciples in many ways. And here the young man in white has met them with the classic greeting that always signals good news: “Do not be afraid.” If that sounds familiar, it should. Throughout the Bible — from the prophets of old to Gabriel greeting Mary — every time someone starts a speech with “Do not be afraid,” we know that what they’re going to say will be be good news. So the young man greets Mary Magdalene with the signal that what he’s about to say is wonderful news, and then offers the best news the women could have imagined: “Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised. He is not here.” He gives them clear and simple instructions: “Go and tell his disciples  and Peter (even Peter who denied him!) that he is going ahead of you to Galilee … just as he told you.” And yet, after all of this, they fail — miserably — fleeing the tomb and saying absolutely nothing to anyone.

And so there we have it: a resurrection scene without Jesus that ends in failure and silence and fear. Not much of an Easter story, actually. 

Well, maybe Mark just wasn’t very good at endings. To be truthful, he’s not all that great with beginnings, either. There is no genealogy in the opening verses of Mark’s gospel like there is in Matthew linking Jesus back through all the generations.  There’s no version of a Christmas story with Mary, Joseph, shepherds, or angels which is how Luke begins. The opening verses of John’s gospel are beautiful, profound theological poetry – a hymn to the Living Word. But look at Mark: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God..” period.  That’s all. No drama, no poetry, not even any verbs, just thirteen little words that sound more like a title than an introduction, and then he changes the topic and starts talking about John the Baptist. He would never get published today!

But, this ending actually fits into a pattern that shapes the whole gospel. The first part goes like this: The people who should know what’s going on, like the disciples, don’t. Jesus constantly has to explain things to them. He predicts his passion, his death, three different times – and yet they still don’t understand, they are still surprised by what happens, and don’t believe what he said. 

Again and again, the disciples miss the point.  The women had the courage to stay with Jesus to the very end and have come back to his tomb to make the final preparations for burial, but now – at the very end – they fail like the rest of the disciples. The people who should know what’s going on….don’t.

The second part of the pattern goes like this: The people who do realize who Jesus is can’t be trusted. Take, for instance, the legions of demons who possessed the man living among the tombs in chapter 5. He recognized Jesus, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” The demon knows who Jesus is, but would you trust a demon for honest testimony?! 

And at the end of the gospel there’s the Roman centurion, who immediately after watching Jesus die states, “Truly, this man was the son of God.” But would you count on a Roman centurion to tell you the truth?

So there we are. All the people who should know, don’t. And those who do, can’t be trusted. Their testimony won’t hold up in court. Except … except there’s one other person who has seen and heard everything Jesus has said and done. There’s one other person who’s heard Jesus’ predictions and then watched as they came true. There’s one other person who listened to the amazing news at the empty tomb and heard the instructions to go and tell. 

That person is you. And all the readers and hearers of Mark’s gospel, from every age and in all places and circumstances.

Mark writes an open-ended account of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus that threatens to end in failure…. precisely to place the burden of responsibility for telling this ‘almost too good to be true’ news squarely on our shoulders. 

Mark isn’t so terrible at endings. As it turns out, he’s rather brilliant; and by ending his account in this way, he invites us into the story, to pick up where the women left off and, indeed, to go and tell that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, who has been raised, is going ahead to meet us, just as he promised.

Once you realize that Mark is better at endings than we thought, we get a different idea about the beginning, too. When Mark says, “This is the beginning of the good news,” he doesn’t mean just that one verse; he’s talking about his whole gospel. All sixteen chapters are just the beginning of the good news because the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ resurrection and the women running away in fear and amazement; it continues, moving forward all the way up to our own day and into our own lives.

And this is the important part – shake yourself awake for this: What was true for the disciples, is true for us: our fears and our failures are not the end of the gospel, our doubts don’t have the last word. We too, are an open-end of a never-ending story, a once-and-for-all resurrection that shows itself again and again, generation after generation in lives that are somehow changed.. transfixed, transformed…  The stones have been rolled away from the tombs in which we are sealed. Will our lives, your life, announce that good news through word and deed?

For those who have felt the claim of redemption and new life, Mark’s remarkable ending is a reminder that this resurrection is a beginning, not an end. And for those who are skeptical or curious about this seemingly impossible claim, it invites us simply to go to Galilee, to go to wherever Jesus meets us, finds us, and see for ourselves. It dares us not simply to write our own ending to the story, but to enter into the ongoing story of God.

We may not always see it, we may never understand it, … but God will be there, because Jesus promised to go ahead. Whatever is broken, whatever is wounded, whatever is ashamed or heartbroken or guilty, whatever is perfect and hopeful and true – Jesus has gone on ahead, and we are called to follow.

Those faithful women approached the tomb early in the morning very long ago. They got caught up in a story with an ending that, while it may not have been what they expected or wanted, was nevertheless precisely what they needed. 

And so also, I believe, have we.
Christ is Risen– thanks be to God!

Maundy Thursday Sermon

 “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread…” These familiar words of institution come from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Mark changes how the timing is marked: “On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed…”

The passover lamb refers to the night of ancient Israel’s salvation – their escape from slavery in Egypt. They were to slaughter a lamb without blemish, take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they ate. “This is how you shall eat it:” the Lord tells them. “your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, … when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Throughout your generations you shall observe this day as a perpetual ordinance. It shall be a day of remembrance for you, a festival to the LORD.”

The passover lamb provides a sign to God to spare those protected by its blood.

Then Jesus took a cup of wine, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. Then he said to them, “This cup is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”    

We can’t hear that as his Jewish disciples would have heard it. It might sound a little icky to us – an allusion to drinking blood, but to the disciples who have just drunk from that cup, condemnation and confusion would mingle with the wine.

Hear the prohibition from Leviticus:

Thus says the Lord your God: “If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the body is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood. For the life of every creature — its blood is its life.”

The very reason for the original prohibition is now the reason Jesus offers the cup as his blood. It is a new covenant for life, for new life in relationship to God.  The Passover meal with its many cups – the Passover event when the spirit of death swept over those protected by the sacrificial lamb’s blood – a cup of salvation that saves those who drink of it – but the cup of wine is convicting, it is blood. A new covenant forms within an old.

In Mark, it is not the act of betrayal of innocence, or Jesus’ willing, sacrificial death and martyrdom that sets the conditions of salvation. It’s not atonement in that way. In Mark, God enters anew into an ancient act of salvation. God resurrects the old covenant – to new life for a new rule.

This time God is not passing over, but entering into, becoming salvation within us, through the human life of Jesus, through his human/holy blood. God’s life is in God’s blood. And that life – through Jesus – is offered for you, given for you, for many, for all.

These are called the Words of Institution – they are not the words of an institution, of the church, of the building, or the creeds and laws and traditions. They are the words instituting, inaugurating, a new covenant, the new life of relationship with Christ and our neighbor. They are words of sacrificial love.

The incredible power of this meal is shown to us by the presence of Judas. “When it was evening, Jesus came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me now.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one among you who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.” While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”

There is no mention of Judas by name here, no indication that he was called out in any way, that the other disciples knew what he has been up to, or that he suddenly stood up and burst from the room. He was one of the 12. He was there and was given the bread to dip. He received the cup of salvation along with all the rest, though heaven only knows what he was thinking or feeling at the time. 

The significance of this detail is that betrayal, resistance to God, denial, rejection – is not out there among some other group of people. There’s no scapegoat. It was within the 12 who ate the meal. It is within each of us.

“When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters…”  And they did.  

But betrayal is not the last word and judgment.  And we are not quite done with the cup. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

In Gethsemane, on the mount of Olives, Jesus prays to be delivered from the symbolic cup that he will drink in his death. And, as if to act out this image, Jesus refuses the last cup, the pain-deadening wine mixed with myrrh that the soldiers offer him before they crucify him. But as he dies, as he cries out the first line of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” he drinks the sour wine that’s offered him from a sponge on a stick. 

This sour wine, from the vineyard managed by the wicked tenants of his parable, is the new wine of the kingdom. Sour wine offered in mockery at a place of torture and death, the sour wine of wild grapes – this is the cup of salvation – the glorious wine of new life received still in this world, in suffering. This is the kingdom of God? A cry, tortured sip of sour wine. This is salvation in the making?

 We’ve read all along, that the kingdom of God is hidden. And we hear – though we cannot see – that it is revealed in Jesus’ death.  We who hear the story are invited to live in the company of God’s life-giving, death-defeating, fear-ending-mercy-come-among-us resurrected Christ. And, like the disciples, we, too, are invited to drink this cup, the cup of his death which becomes the cup of the arriving kingdom, sour wine turned sweet. For it is the sweet blood of God. And life is in it.

Henceforth, there is no place of sorrow or death where God in Jesus has not gone on ahead. In Jesus, God has come to where God cannot be, to the places where our experience says God is not.  Places that are not holy, not powerful, not transcendent. But it is in these exact places, those of deepest abandonment and pain, where the Spirit of God has set a cup of sweet wine, furnished a banquet in the presence of our enemy, and invites us to feast.