April 18th Worship

Order of Service

PreludeChris Tou, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongAs the Sun With Longer Journey
#329
Molly Tulkki
Chris Tou, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 98
ScriptureActs 6:1 – 7:2a; 44-60Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnI Received The Living God
#477
Molly Tulkki
Chris Tou, piano
Statement of FaithPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionChristy Wetzig
Lord’s Prayer
Benediction
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnThat Easter Day with Joy Was Bright
#384
Molly Tulkki
Chris Tou, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
PostludeChris Tou, piano
[Photos]Claire Scriba

Audio Recording


Prelude

Chris Tou

Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

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

   C: Amen

P: Trusting in the promise of God’s word, we admit the sin that confronts and confounds us.

     Silence for reflection and self-examination.

P: Most faithful God,

C: We confess that we have failed to walk in the way of your Son. We have shut our ears to your call to serve as Christ served us. We have shut our eyes to the suffering of your people and of your world. We have closed our minds to the possibilities of life and the mysteries of faith.
Call us out, gracious God, and grant us life.

P: We who were once far off have been brought near to God through the cross of Jesus. May almighty God grant you grace to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.     Amen.


Gathering Song – As the Sun with Longer Journey

1.
As the sun with longer journey melths the winter’s snow and ice,
with its slowly growing radiance warms the seed beneath the earth,
may the sun of Christ’s uprising gently bring our hearts to life.

2.
Through the days of waiting, watching, in the desert of our sin,
searching on the far horizon for a sign of cloud or wind,
we await the healing waters of our Savior’s victory.

3.
Praise be given to the maker of the seasons’ yearly round:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- Source, Sustainer, Lord of life,
as the ever turning ages roll to their eternal rest.

Text: John Patrick Earls
Music: Carl F. Schalk


Greeting

P: The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

       C: And also with you.  

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

                           

      


Psalm 98

1 Sing a new song to the Lord, who has done | marvelous things,
whose right hand and holy arm have | won the victory.

2 O Lord, you have made | known your victory,
you have revealed your righteousness in the sight | of the nations.

3 You remember your steadfast love and faithfulness to the | house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen the victory | of our God.

4 Shout with joy to the Lord, | all you lands;
lift up your voice, re-|joice and sing.

5 Sing to the Lord | with the harp,
with the harp and the | voice of song.

6 With trumpets and the sound | of the horn
shout with joy before the | king, the Lord.

7 Let the sea roar, and | all that fills it,
the world and those who | dwell therein.

8 Let the rivers | clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord, who comes to | judge the earth.

9 The Lord will judge the | world with righteousness
and the peo-|ples with equity.


Narrative Connection

Today we leave the gospels and change gears a little bit, but not by much.

In the next few weeks we will be reading from the Acts of the Apostles – which is volume two of the set written by the author of Luke. Chapter 1 of Acts begins with Luke’s address to the same nobleman or patron to whom he wrote the gospel of Luke: “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… While staying with them, Jesus 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. 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 all the ends of the earth.”

Today we skip over the story of the Holy Spirit coming among them – we’ll pick it up for Pentecost – but instead we find the disciples in Jerusalem, following step one of their instructions. Peter has experienced a transformation and has become the rock, the leader of the seedling movement of witnesses. They are in the beginning stages of forming the body of Christ, a communion of fellowship in his name.

The end of chapters 2 and 4 are nearly identical: “Awe came upon everyone, because many signs and wonders were being done by the apostles.The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
                  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number.”

It sounds too good to be true – well, at least too good to last.           

As we know from history, claiming allegiance to Jesus’ way – living into an alternative kingdom – is never done without risk. Continuing to preach the message of Jesus raised the hackles of the establishment. The chief priests and Pharisees and scribes who had had Jesus killed are still hot under the collar. They thought this nonsense about the Messiah had been laid to rest, but here is this group acting and speaking in Jesus’ name. It was risky business the apostles were about. They were compelled by the Spirit and the force of Christ’s love to share their good news, anyway – to care for one another and the least and lowest, anyway – to tell what they believed to be true of God in Jesus in spite of the risk. This might tell us something about God’s love. It isn’t a cozy hug. It isn’t a ‘keep you safe, hot coca and slippers’ kind of love. God never promised you a rose garden. (You have to be at least as old as I am to know that reference). The risk warns us that it is worth paying attention, pulling up your socks, and trusting that you are part of God’s will, part of the glorious works that will be achieved – thorns and all.

Sure enough, the disciples were arrested and brought before the high priest and council. The Sanhedrin was enraged and wanted to kill them. However, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time.

35Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37After him another man rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them — and you may even be found to be fighting against God!”

A wise man. The disciples were off the hook temporarily and were released. But even without the controversy and agitation of the religious elite, there was trouble. It may be one of the encouraging parts of this awful story – that even in the first rendering of Christ’s community, even with this communal, all-in practice of koinonia, there was grumbling and conflict. The encouraging bit is that God always finds a way forward…in spite of our efforts,   our actions,    our failings.

Scripture Reading – Acts 6:1 – 7:2a; 44-60

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” 5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prokorus, Nickanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them, blessing them for their task.

7The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

8Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9But some of those who belonged to the synagogue stood up and argued with Stephen. 10They could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; and they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

The high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” 2And Stephen replied:

Well, Steven replied with one of the longest speeches in the New Testament. The result should stand, perhaps, as a warning to pastors not to preach so long. Stephen did not answer the charges, but instead recounted the history of Israel – to the teachers of Israel – with special emphasis on their doubt, their divorce from (and headstrong disobedience to) the will of God. This was received by the Sanhedrin as we might expect. He ends with this:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

Well, 54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven… 56Look, he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

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


Sermon

Even the apostles couldn’t do everything. And even within an ideal community of sharing all things in common, not all things can be shared in common… because not all people have the same gifts and needs. So, Stephen becomes a kind of subversive refectory worker, equalizing food distributions between the Greek and Jewish widows in his day job – and doing signs and wonders when the dishes are washed and he can get out of the kitchen.

It’s the signs and wonders that get him into trouble – that, and that he can’t seem to stay quiet. His powerful witness provokes the already irritated religious elite so much that he is killed in an impulsive act of mob violence. Stoning was the preferred Jewish method of execution, but the Jews were not allowed to put people to death under the terms of their occupation by Rome. That’s why Jesus was passed back and forth between Herod and Pilate with the crowd controlling matters from the sidelines by threatening to riot and revolt. The Jews weren’t allowed to kill outright.  So, in his stoning, Stephen becomes the first Christian martyr, and he comes not from those on the frontline preaching the word, but from those back in the kitchen feeding the hungry.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus was all about feeding people and eating with the wrong sort of people. Improper table fellowship was one of the most persistent criticisms against him. And serving God through caring for the poor, for sojourning immigrants, for widows, for children left at the border is not something we should expect (or hope) to get away from. In Luke’s theology, ordinary becomes extraordinary. Regular people do highly irregular things when God gets involved, and salvation has more to do with this life than the next. God’s care, in Luke, is evident for living people who hunger and thirst and struggle and grieve. This world matters – if not ultimately, at least certainly while you are living it!

Luke fashions the telling of Stephen’s involvement in a way that reveals the mission and ministry and the risk of the church; showing the cruciform nature of Christian discipleship. Stephen’s story is a mini-series redo. In his serving, in his teaching, in the way he interprets scripture – opening it up to new vision – in the forgiveness and mercy he calls down on his enemies, Stephen reflects Jesus’ model. Faith, community, serving in Christ’s name is a commitment that comes with risks and consequences – occasionally, like the martyrs of every age, including the risk of death.   

We are formed in the image of God, we say; Luke says that image also reflects the image of the cross, of Jesus broken by the sin of the world. Scriptural echoes in today’s story remind us that suffering has always been a consequence of the calling for God’s people, because suffering is a side effect of love. As Stephen prays for his enemies and forgives his attackers, “Lord, do not hold this against them,” we hear the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”

One of the points to ponder about the kingdom of God is that ordinary, unknown people keep popping up as main characters for a moment or two. That might worry us if we think that staying in the background might keep us safe, might let us pass by un-noticed, unscathed.

Stephen wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the gospels. He might have been part of the crowd, but from the little we know, these seven kitchen workers joined the group of disciples after the resurrection and Pentecost, like us. Along with the others, his name is Greek, indicating that he was one of the Hellenists – Jews from the diaspora who spoke Greek, not Aramaic. This new community formed in Jesus’ name was a lumpy amalgamation, not a smooth mixture despite their sharing of resources and holding all things in common. Cultural and social differences created tensions. But Stephen shows up, hears the story, is given a way to serve, gets caught on fire by the Spirit of God, and dies for his faith.

Aside from being commemorated as the first Christian martyr and getting a prize spot of Feast Days – the day after Christmas – Stephen is an unknown character. He did his bit. It had life and death consequences. He was included in the story. Becoming a martyr shouldn’t be a career choice, but it happened – it happens. The language of the reading today, the social dynamics of insider/outsider,  cultural differences creating conflict, willful misunderstanding and false accusations, mob violence leading to impulsive killing of the innocent… sounds eerily familiar – ancient ways that have not gone away. Our nation is a lumpy amalgamation – where cultural, racial, language differences are still sharp points of conflict, inciting violence, mob mentality, the death of innocents. The disregard of the value of lives, bodies because of skin color or sexual, gender, religious, language differences is still a sin, a divorce from the way and love of God (who created all of our bodies and distinctions as signs and wonders of divine love).

Mostly, the story of Stephen is here to teach us about being “the church” – the community that enacts the work of Christ in the world…. it is a mission dropping us in the deep, way over our heads. Stephen shows that the impossible ethic of love is possible, although costly. He didn’t set out to die, he was fulfilling his vocation of serving in the kitchen in Jerusalem – making sure the rations were distributed fairly. It was just an ordinary job. He, an ordinary person doing an ordinary job. That is the life of the church. That is the life of the church living the ethic of love in our daily lives. There are lots of ordinary jobs represented among us. There are just as many extraordinary people – ordinary people who might one day trip over the stumbling block that is Christ, and rise up, bruised but inspired, set on fire by the Spirit of God.

Through us, the ripples of small, ordinary and unknown become amplified in ways that might be invisible to us, but together are overwhelmingly wonderful – as they are orchestrated and seen by God.

One does not need to be divine to do what Jesus did. In the simple act of feeding widows, Stephen does the work of Jesus and opens himself to the realm of God. The church is not an hour a week commitment: it is a living. Your mission, child of God, is to live it:   to follow Christ into the world in your ordinary, everyday life; to imagine the realm and the pleasure of God; to take up the task that is yours to do, to be love incarnate for those who need its life-givingness and hope…. to care… for the world, its impoverished, its isolated, its biodiversity, its suffering, its joyful, amazing creative life-force. To see this all as God’s work, God’s doing, God’s concern – and to share in that love, no matter what the cost to you.

It may be minimal, or it may cost you your life – but if it is the work of God, it will be all and it will be enough. Sometimes that is a word of grace – that what you do and who you are is enough, it is God’s love enacted through you, and you are adequate for the job. Like Stephen in the kitchen, or in the street doing signs and wonders, you have been given what you have to give, and in the ripples of life, what you do is enough…it spreads out all around you in ways you can’t imagine. All that is asked of you – of any follower of Christ – is the witness of your life. Live it with joy and in hope and in the solace of the saints who have gone before. Be the love of God, and all shall be well. In God’s watchful love, all manner of things shall be well.


Hymn – I Received the Living God

Refrain
I received the living God,
and my heart is full of joy.
I received the living God,
and my heart is full of joy.

1.
Jesus said: I am the bread
kneaded long to give you life;
you who will partake of me
need not ever fear to die.
[Refrain]

2.
Jesus said: I am the way,
and my Father longs for you;
so I come to bring you home
to be one with us anew.
[Refrain]

3.
Jesus said: I am the truth;
come and follow close to me.
You will know me in your heart,
and my word shall make you free.
[Refrain]

4.
Jesus said: I am the life,
far from whom no thing can grow,
but receive this living bread,
and my Spirit you shall know.
[Refrain]

Text & Tune: Anonymous


Statement of Faith

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

~ Julian of Norwich

Prayers of Intercession

Trusting that God wants to hear the desires of our hearts, let’s approach God’s throne together. I’ll end each prayer with “Lord, in your mercy,” and I invite you to respond: “Hear our prayer.”

Let’s pray.

Dear God, we come before you again, and the world doesn’t seem any better than it was last week. Still, we come before you again, lifting up the needs of the world up to you, who grieves each sparrow that falls, and rejoices when love is shared in the world. Help the church, your body on this earth, do your work. Give us eyes to see injustice. Give us lips to speak the truth in love. Give us hands to bind up wounds. And let our feet spread your good news of mercy wherever we go. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Dear God, thank you for those who stand up for peace and justice in our community and the world. We ask that their voices be heard and that laws would be changed, armies would stand down, prisoners would be freed, weapons would be dropped, forgotten, as love conquers the world, the kind of love that casts out all fear. We pray that compassion would take the place of suspicion. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of mercy, the earth groans under the weight of our greed and selfishness and willful ignorance. How long must it suffer from our sin? Teach us humans the meaning of “enough,” and help us take care of each bit of earth we touch. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of mercy, we bring to you those who are sick, those in pain, those whose minds and hearts grieve, those who are weary of doing good. Especially we think of Selma and her family and Carl. Be the rest they need for their souls. In this silence we name before you those for whom we’re especially burdened….

God of mercy, we also speak to you in this silence that which we don’t speak to anyone else, knowing you listen with love and compassion to our deepest secrets….

Gather all the prayers of all the people to your bosom, O Lord. Amen.

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

Benediction


Hymn – That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright

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

2.
O Jesus, king of gentleness,
with constant love our hearts possess;
to you our lips will ever raise
the tribute of our grateful praise.

3.
O Christ, you are the Lord of all
in this our Easter festival,
for you will be our strength and shield
from ev’ry weapon death can wield.

4.
All praise, O risen Lord, we give
to you, once dead, but now alive!
To God the Father equal praise,
and God the Spirit, now we raise!

Text: Latin hymn; tr. John Mason Neale
Music: European tune, adapt. Michael Praetorius


Dismissal

Go into this week with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And trust that the Spirit of God goes with you.  Amen


Postlude

Chris Tou

April 11th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeChris Tou, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongSigns and Wonders
#672
Molly Tulkki
Chris Tou, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 4
ScriptureLuke 24: 13-35Barb Kass
SermonPastor Linda
HymnChrist Has Arisen, Alleluia
#364
Molly Tulkki
Chris Tou, piano
Statement of FaithPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionNikki Strandskov
Lord’s Prayer
Benediction
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnAlleluia, Jesus is Risen
#377
Molly Tulkki
Chris Tou, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
PostludeChris Tou, piano

Audio Recording


Prelude

Chris Tou

Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

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

C: Amen

P:  By our baptism we are united to Christ and raised to new life. Let us confess to God all that awaits resurrection in our lives.

       Silence for reflection and self-examination.

Lord of love,

C: 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 instead 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

P:  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.


Gathering Song – Signs and Wonders

1.
Signs and wonders lead the dancing from the heart God frees from fear:
wings of angels greet the maiden, and God finds a dwelling here:
boldly may we lift our hands, bow the head, and voice Amen;
thus does glory shine at midnight: open hearts invite the starlight.

2.
Hope and freedom join the circle: Mary to the garden came,
saw the radiance of the marvel, heard the Risen call her name;
boldly may we heed Christ’s call, step beyond the garden wall:
beautiful the feet proceeding with good news of death’s defeating.

3.
Cast aside all fear and hiding; hand in hand we dance the round.
God is with us, Christ abiding, and the Spirit’s gifts abound.
Called by God to holiness, let us boldly serve and bless;
and to hearts that sigh and hunger may our lives dance signs and wonders.

Text: Susan Palo Cherwien
Music: Trente quatre pseaumes de David


Greeting

P: God is here to bless you. And blessed are you, beyond telling.
         Christ be with you in this day and every day, in every need, in every way.    

C: And also with you. 

Prayer of the Day

     God of life, You are the peace of all things calm.
            You are the place to hide from harm.  You are the light that shines in dark.
            You are the heart’s eternal spark.  You are the door that’s open wide.
            You are the guest who waits inside.  You are the stranger at the door.
            You are the calling of the poor.  You are my Lord and with me still.
            You are my love, keep me from ill.  You are the light, the truth, the way.
            You are my Savior this very day.    Amen

                           

      


Psalm 4

1 Answer me when I call, O God, defender | of my cause;
you set me free when I was in distress; have mercy on me and | hear my prayer.

2 “You mortals, how long will you dishon-|or my glory;
how long will you love illusions and seek | after lies?”

3 Know that the Lord does wonders | for the faithful;
the Lord will hear me | when I call.

4 Tremble, then and | do not sin;
speak to your heart in silence up-|on your bed.

5 Offer the appointed | sacrifices,
and put your trust | in the Lord.

6 Many are saying, “Who will show us | any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon | us, O Lord.

7 You have put gladness | in my heart,
more than when grain and | wine abound.

8 In peace, I will lie | down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me | rest secure.


Intro to Sermon

In the prologue to his gospel, Luke says that he set out to make an orderly account of the information regarding Jesus that was circulating at his time – which was at least 50 years after the first Easter Day. There were many stories – some written, some still in verbal form; many of the letters of Paul had been copied and were being carried and shared from town to town; the gospel of Mark was written by this time.  Another source that we call Q contained stories and information which are not included in Mark but are evident in Matthew and Luke’s gospel accounts – so that was in circulation …   

            50 years after the death of Jesus on a cross on the hill of Golgotha there was still a hubbub – still a confusing assortment of ideas, beliefs, parables, misinformation, conspiracy theories, rumors and doubts. Luke wanted to sort it all out and provide an orderly account. So, not a scientific account or a reporter on the scene account, not a dictated from angelic messenger account and not even an historically accurate account, but an orderly, gathered, thoughtful, faithful account of God’s good news for us through Jesus.

The Christian faith is born and nurtured where people share in the life of God through word and action, in expressions of mutual care, in fellowship with Jesus and others, in a sacramental approach to our lived lives and the world around us, in the willingness to gather, to share it all with others. That is what it means to be the church as an encounter space for Christ.

In the gathering and expression, Jesus is present, though not seen. It is not by our will or command or learning, but by God’s grace that he comes among us. First Mary and the women, then Peter, then Cleopas and his unnamed companion, then the rest of the disciples in groups and on occasions were given an experience with the risen one and were transformed by it, unaccountably emboldened and changed. Theirs is the witness, the faith, through which we are given the story.

Though the tomb was empty, the space was filled with God. “And the word lived among us,” to borrow from the prolog to John’s gospel, “the word lived among us full of truth and light.”

Scripture Reading – Luke 24: 13-35

The Gospel according to Luke, the 24th chapter.

Now on that same day two of those who had followed Jesus were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

He asked them, “What things?”

They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.  Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 

Then Jesus said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.      

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.  They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”  Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Gospel of our Lord……Thanks be to God


Sermon

The disciples’ walk to Emmaus is one of my favorite post-resurrection stories – and there are some helpful details to notice:

  • One is that information alone doesn’t create faith.  This is an important point.  Like a virus, faith is infectious; it’s shared and caught and spread, not learned. “Where two or three are gathered,” Jesus said, “there I will infect you.”   As the three were walking along, Jesus explained the scriptures to Cleopas and his companion. He gave them bullet point instruction highlighting scripture that foretold his coming, that explained his suffering, that promised his rising – but even with this first-hand tutoring, they didn’t understand. They didn’t know this ‘walking man’  until the bread was broken and handed on and their eyes opened and Jesus left them. I think this is important because it points to the necessity of relationship – to the intertwining of scripture and life and others and God’s spirit. Memorizing the Bible won’t create faith. Living the gospel might.
  • There’s also our perennial curiosity about Jesus’ resurrected body. The interesting witness from each of the gospels is that no one who saw Jesus after his death recognized him by sight, but only in deed, only through action. Whether it’s here in Luke’s telling of Jesus blessing and breaking bread, or in Matthew’s gospel where the two Marys take hold of his feet, or in John’s gospel when Mary mistook him for the gardener until he spoke her name, or when Thomas was able to poke his finger around in Jesus’ wounded side, or when Peter’s empty nets filled with fish – in all of these recollections and traditions there seems to be a necessity for some physical element, some earthly, human connection in order to complete the transaction from encounter to recognition to belief.   As shown again in these examples, information isn’t enough. Our eyes might blind us. Our rational minds might mislead us or block the possibilities. In all of the gospel stories, faith (mind and life altering trust in the presence of God in Jesus) requires minds, bodies, and spirits – whole selves – experiencing in order to know. This points to the necessity of a church community, of gathering, of being together the body of Christ, of enlightened, interpreted experience in order for faith to thrive.

The most engaging feature of this story for me is its mysterious, ephemeral sense. The unknowing, almost-but-not-quite theme functions like an invitation. I’m interested in the riddle of a story that makes a shift from dark things to light in the presence of absence, in the medium of things that are seen and then not seen.

These two disciples, friends of Jesus, were walking away from it all, leaving town discouraged, scared, heartbroken – Jesus was dead and his tomb empty – robbed? Maybe, but why? The women told a crazy tale about seeing someone who told them Jesus was still living… raised?  How could he be… it was just the women, but still it’s unsettling.  His closest companions had withdrawn to their upper rooms to grieve and worry. Probably, they’d say their goodbyes and go back to whatever life was left for them, whatever pieces they could pick up again. These two were on their way back home. Their forlorn disappointment is palpable. A stranger catches up to them and entrances them with the interpretation of scripture he offers. It stirs their broken hearts. They urge him to stay for supper and the night. They don’t make the connection though until it all changes in a flash of recognition – and then they are left alone again.  The ah-ha moment lit up Christ’s disappearance. I can see them grasping for the trailing wisps as he disappeared. And then it’s dark again.  

I like it when scripture matches my experience. Mostly, I feel that true, mind-altering, life-changing faith is a bit beyond me, that I’m just on the verge of understanding or loving or accepting God’s will in my life, but I can’t ever quite get there. I like the words. I’m drawn to the imagery and stories and poetry of scripture. I like being spiritual and religious. But real belief? Real commitment to this cause of God? All-out giving away of my whole self – heart, body, mind, soul, life – to follow in the Way of Christ – wherever that might lead me?

I don’t think I can do that. I can kind of see what it might ask of me, where it could lead, and I don’t want to let go and go.    I’m not one of the medieval mystics I admire so much and keep quoting to you. I’m just me – mostly afraid of big changes and settled and hopeful and skeptical and happy to keep my faith on a poetic flight path – giving what encouragement I can to those who live it far better and far truer than do I. There is a gap in the transference from what I know to what I do.   If transcendence is living out of myself and into God, then I am rather earth bound, suspended somewhere between Easter Day and Earth Day. Fascinated but cautious.

I love the woods and creeks and bogs and fields around me. I have a theology strongly leaning toward an earth-centered redemption for all of creation in God’s ‘presence and will’ here, now, among the people we know and have opportunity to love, among those who are strangers to us and whom we have opportunity to serve. But I do also recognize that this is a position – a prerogative, a luxury – of privilege. I’ve been born into a pleasant, peaceful place with possibilities – not torture or political oppression or crushing poverty. I recognize the danger of my white privilege, even while I’m not quite sure what to do about it, how to lessen the gap between my comfort and the crumpling needs of the poor, of the afflicted, and of the earth.

In the Covid-19 pandemic, the Chauvin trial, continual gun violence, domestic violence, political posturing, big business, big egos – we see the power of empire. We see it in false divisions that defy the common good. Why is defending the environment, or the value of science, racial justice, excellent education, compassionate health care and funding for those who provide these essential skills a political stumbling block? The earth’s habitat and her creatures are, for the majority of the people of this country and in our world, irrelevant. They are costly. Their concerns are luxuries for those privileged to care, while the rest of the earth’s population concerns themselves with survival… or greed – either end of the extreme of human need. To be alive and aware is to be swept up in the overwhelming issues of the day. It is hard to see what role, what transformative power faith might have in the conflicted values of life inside the empire.

And so, a week after Easter, we’ve eaten all the chocolate, picked through the jelly beans for our favorites and we’re back to this strange version of Covid life, waiting for a time when we can say we’re past it. Chances are your life doesn’t feel particularly Easter-ified. True, things are greening, the trees are budding, the green blade rising, but chances are you don’t expect anything spiritually transformative to happen to you. You aren’t looking for it with the same anticipation you might have for the return of orioles and hummingbirds. We are used to Easter. We’ve heard this biblical word. Christ is arisen…and then we go on to Monday, sink back into the dullness of things hoped for but as yet unseen, of promises made, of God’s love seen and unseen.

But there is this weird bit about the presence of Christ’s absence.

The thing that kept Cleopas and his companion from recognizing Jesus when he was with them might have been that they thought he was dead and gone; they were so lost in their sad and tangled thoughts that they did not recognize him any more than you and I would recognize him as we walk through the world – because – like them – our eyes are conditioned to not see what we don’t expect to see. Our minds filter out the improbable. Yet the freeing, joyful, hopeful improbable is just as real as what we expect to see.

Did you know that Cleopas and the unnamed companion are only mentioned here in this story? Nowhere else in the Bible or other gospels.  Did you know that Emmaus is not mentioned anywhere else biblically, historically, nor is it confirmed by archaeological evidence? I read that the word Emmaus means ‘warm spring’. Their hearts burned within them and they sprang back into life and action after Jesus vanished from their sight. I don’t know that either of these details are significant in their absence of corroborated reality, but they lend themselves to the mystery of Jesus appearing and disappearing, as if Emmaus and Jesus were merely a mirage in the purple gloaming of evening. I’m grateful that it’s only when he vanished from sight that these two unknowns came to believe. It’s only in their shared amazement that they were compelled to action to share their experience. The absence of Jesus caused them to recognize his presence just like the empty tomb was filled with God.

I believe that, even though Cleopas and his companion did not recognize Jesus on the road, Jesus did recognize them – and knew them for who they really were. And I suspect that the reason the resurrection is more than just an old, odd, isolated, poorly explained, extraordinary event that took place a long, long time ago in a land far away but now is over and done with, is that, in spite of it all, God continues to see us, to see you, and know you for who you really are. God continues to be present even in the absence of Jesus’ presence. We need that knowing, and long for it. I believe that whether we recognize him or not, believe in him or not, again and again Jesus comes and walks a little way with us along whatever road we’re following.  And I believe that through something that happens, something we experience or participate in, through someone we know Jesus offers us, the way he did at Emmaus, the bread of life, a new hope, a new vision of light that even the darkness of sorrow and death and daily life cannot quench.

The new life of Easter doesn’t erase or cancel or minimize our disappointment, or render our experiences irrelevant. This is the life we have, the life we live.  Christ among us calls us to retell the bad times, and then to look again, perhaps to see something different that we missed the first time – how God is present in it, with us, along the way – revealed – if not in a trumpet blast, then perhaps in a whisper, a touch, a saving, holy word.    Though the tomb was empty, the space was filled with God. Christ’s true presence is revealed in his absence. Just like at a super table in Emmaus when the bread is broken.

Christ has arisen, for you, for the world, for all the seen and unseen.     Peace be in you.


Hymn – Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia

1.
Christ has arisen, alleluia,
Rejoice and praise Him, alleluia.
For our Redeemer burst from the tomb,
Even from death, dispelling its gloom.

Refrain
Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy;
Death’s fearful sting He has come to destroy
Our sin forgiving, alleluia!
Jesus is living, alleluia!

2.
For three long days the grave did its worst
Until its strength by God was dispersed.
He who gives life did death undergo;
And it its conquest His might did show.
Refrain

3.
The angel said to them, “Do not fear!
You look for Jesus who is not here.
See for yourselves the tomb is all bare;
Only the grave clothes are lying there.”
Refrain

4.
“Go spread the news: He’s not in the grave;
He has arisen this world to save.
Jesus’ redeeming labors are done;
Even the battle with sin is won.”
Refrain

5.
Christ has arisen; He sets us free;
Alleluia, to Him praises be.
Jesus is living! Let us all sing;
He reigns triumphant, heavenly King.
Refrain

Text: Bernard Kyamanywa; tr. Howard S. Olson
Music: Tanzanian traditional


Statement of Faith

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

~ Julian of Norwich

Prayers of Intercession

United in spirit, though physically separated, let us pray for the church, for all people, and for all of creation. Each petition will end with Hear us, O Lord, and your response is, Your mercy is great.

God of Creation, after the joy and sunshine of Easter came grey skies and rain. We thank you for the rain, for the small birds who are singing each morning, for the farmers who are starting seeds. After the hope brought by vaccinations, came surges in new infections. Nevertheless we thank you for science and for the medical workers who guard our health. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is too easy for us to see only the sadness around us, until you open our eyes and hearts to the truth of resurrection. Help us to live in hope. Hear us, O Lord, your mercy is great.

God of Justice, guide our judges and juries, attorneys and investigators. Help them to search impartially, to prosecute and defend ethically, and to decide wisely and justly. Care for those whose mission it is to serve and protect us, especially our members in the police force and military, and keep them safe. Hear us, O Lord, your mercy is great.

God of Love, keep in our hearts love for all your people, not only for the people who are like us. Help everyone on earth to know they are your beloved children, in whatever way they understand you. Hear us, O Lord, your mercy is great.

God of Strength and Comfort, we ask your help and healing for all who are ill, frail, or injured in body, mind, or spirit, especially those known to us whom we name silently or aloud. [Pause for names.] Comfort all those who mourn, especially the family and friends of Jim Christiansen, whose memory is a blessing. Hear us, O Lord, your mercy is great.

We ask all this, and the inward petitions of our hearts, in the strong name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Benediction


Hymn – Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen!

1.
Alleluia! Jesus is risen!
Trumpets resounding in glorious light!
Splendor, the Lamb, heaven forever!
Oh, what a miracle God has in sight!

Refrain
Jesus is risen and we shall arise.
Give God the glory! Alleluia!

2.
Walking the way, Christ in the center
telling the story to open our eyes;
breaking our bread, giving us glory:
Jesus our blessing, our constant surprise.
Refrain

3.
Jesus the vine, we are the branches;
life in the Spirit the fruit of the tree;
heaven to earth, Christ to the people,
gift of the future now flowing to me.
Refrain

4.
Weeping, be gone; sorrow, be silent:
death put asunder, and Easter is bright.
Cherubim sing: O grave, be open!
Clothe us in wonder, adorn us in light.
Refrain

5.
City of God, Easter forever,
golden Jerusalem, Jesus the Lamb,
river of life, saints and archangels,
sing with creation to God the I Am!
Refrain

Text: Herbert F. Brokering
Music: David N. Johnson


Dismissal

Go into this week with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And trust that the Spirit of God goes with you.  Amen


Postlude

Chris Tou

January 24th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeO Sing the Mighty PowerChris Johansen, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongJesus Calls Us; o’er the Tumult
#696
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 19vs. 1-4; 9-14Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureLuke 5: 1-11Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnShepherd Me, O God
#780
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayers of IntercessionPastor Linda
Peace
Lord’s Prayer
Benediction
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnDay by Day
#790
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
PostludeChris Johansen

Part I

Part II

Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: God of goodness and mercy, help us as we open our hearts and confess our sin. 

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

 God of justice,

C: we confess that in the pursuit of our own dreams and desires,
we have not always been civil, not always humane, not always right.
Guided by your Spirit, what we would like to do is change the world –
make it more possible for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves –
a simple gift You intend for all.

Help us to be your witnesses, so that we can, with your help, change the world.
Enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to welcome the stranger, migrant and immigrant, and to love our enemy as a friend.
Amen.

~ adapted from a quote from Dorothy Day

Gathering Song – Jesus Calls Us; o’er the Tumult

1.
Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea,
day by day his clear voice sounding,
saying, “Christian, follow me”:

4.
In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”

5.
Jesus calls us! By your mercy,
Savior, may we hear your call,
give our hearts to your obedience,
serve and love you best of all.

Greeting

    The grace and loving-kindness of our Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.

         And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Loving God,

Jesus taught his disciples to cast a wide net — not for fish, but for people. Teach us this fishing craft. May we handle hearts gently. Let our minds be quiet and patient, our eyes searching beneath the surface, our hearts ready for your word. We pray in the name of the one who has caught us for your work in the world, Jesus our friend, brother, and Lord. Amen.

                           

      

Psalm 19: 1-4; 9-14

1 The heavens declare the glo-|ry of God,
and the sky proclaims its | maker’s handiwork.

2 One day tells its tale | to another,
and one night imparts knowledge | to another.

3 Although they have no | words or language,
and their voices | are not heard,

4 their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends | of the world,
where God has pitched a tent | for the sun.

9 The fear of the Lord is clean and en-|dures forever;
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous | altogether.

10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than | much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey, than honey | in the comb.

11 By them also is your ser-|vant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is | great reward.

12 Who can detect one’s | own offenses?
Cleanse me from my | secret faults.

13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion | over me;
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a | great offense.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable | in your sight,
O lord, my strength and | my redeemer.

Scripture Reading – Luke 5: 1-11

Once, while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God,  he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;  and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

The gospel of the Lord…..Praise to you, O Christ.

Sermon

There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like a fool with a stick.  A fine line, fishing line)

Give a man a fish and he has food for a day; teach a man to fish and you might have the house to yourself for the whole weekend.

Good things come to those who bait.

“Carpe Diem” does not mean “fish of the day.”

There is a profound romance associated with fly fishing for trout. But the romance exists in the mind of the angler and is in no way shared by the fish.

And finally, an Irish blessing:  May the holes in your net be no larger than the fish you seek.       

Maybe that was the problem. Peter was fairly well schooled in the schooling behavior of fish. He had (as he points out) been plying those waters all night. Maybe the holes in his net were too big.

It had been a fruitless, disappointing, tiring, depressing effort. He’s is hungry. His arms are sore, his back aches from hauling up those heavy nets time after time; rowing to a new spot, hauling up the nets, empty, and empty, and empty again; nets that just grew heavier in the bleak light before dawn. So as the sun crests the hills and gilds the water, Simon signals that it’s time to give it up. Go in. Head home. Get some sleep.    And then Jesus shows up. He’s surrounded by a crowd trying to hear him teach. Simon numbers the crowd and shakes his head. “Could have sold the whole boatload to this crowd,” he mutters to himself, “if there had been a boatload.” He sinks down to tend his nets, spreads them out, cleans out the seaweed and shells. He’s only sort of listening to Jesus. Only sort of paying attention.

What we missed by not reading the sections in-between last week and this, is that Simon Peter knows Jesus. He knows him well enough to be wary; well enough not to turn his back on Jesus.  

From Nazareth in last week’s reading, Jesus made his way to Capernaum on the shores of Lake Galilee, in the region of Gennesaret, and showed up in the synagog to teach, as was his custom. But a man came in who had a demon and the man begged to be healed – and Jesus did. As tongues started wagging, Jesus left the synagog and went to Simon Peter’s house. We don’t know how they knew each other, or what occasioned the visit. But Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her, and he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it fled. And she got up and made them something to eat. She expressed her gratitude in serving Jesus through her vocation – hostess, homemaker and cook.

Word of the day’s remarkable events spread quickly and before you knew it, people were pouring in and filling Simon’s house with their sick and diseased and dying. And Jesus healed them until he was exhausted. Then he went up into the hills to get away and be alone. From there, Jesus went on to teach in other towns, other synagogs, until today’s story when he shows up again on the shore of Lake Genéssaret, leading another gaggle that’s crowding in on him, hungry for the word of God that he is and that he brings.

Seeing the empty boats, and seeing Peter, Jesus gets in and asks to be taken out a bit so he can teach and be seen and heard by all. Simon stands up, throws his nets back in the boat and says, “Yeah sure, why not, might be the best use for this boat.” While Jesus talks, Peter sits at the oars working them a bit, just enough to keep Jesus from drifting back in to shore. And when the people are dismissed and sent on their way, Jesus twists around in his seat and says to Peter, “Okay, now let’s go do some fishing. Pull on those oars and head for deep water.” And he grins… and maybe winks. I think he winks.

Simon looks at him with one of those long looks and sighs,

“You know… we have worked this water all night. We didn’t caught a single fish… there are no fish.”  Silence.   “But, okay, if you say so, let’s go give it try. I’ll let down the nets.”

Peter gives a discouraged, reasonable response –  and maybe he agrees to the request to put out again because he’s being sort of polite and feels like he owes Jesus something for curing his mother-in-law, and maybe he agrees because he’s too tired to argue and he’s a bit peeved about the lack of fish, and so he’s thinking he’ll prove himself right and Jesus wrong and that’ll be the end of it.

You’ve felt that way sometimes, right? Discouraged? Agreeing to something expecting nothing, but open to the unlikely possibility of a good outcome. Or agreeing to something that’s bound to fail just to prove the point cause you’re feeling a bit ornery? Or agreeing, just to get it over with.

Well, we know what happens next — nets so full of fish they begin to rip, his boat so full of fish it begins to sink. Startled at what is happening, Simon is overwhelmed with fear and wonder. He yells for James and John to get out here, NOW! And watches as their nets come up straining against the flap of fish. Simon is ‘caught’ completely off guard. ‘Caught’ in the act of a miracle in his hands, a sign of the presence and power of God using his body, his boat, his nets. In the midst of his ordinary daily grind, after a particularly lousy night at work, he is ‘caught’ completely by surprise – by one who just reeled in his heart and mind and soul and strength – and this surprise catch changes everything, absolutely.

Instead of shouting and jumping for joy and trying to get his boat empty so he can fill it up again and then sell all these marvelous fish, Peter falls to his knees. Peter feels… what? What would you feel in that moment? Maybe his unworthiness,  maybe the meaninglessness of what to this point has been his life, his work of pulling in nets, hoping for fish. Maybe he feels heart-melting awe… small, human. He is swamped by the overwhelming disparity between God’s power just made evident in Jesus and his own mortal self.

Whatever Simon Peter was feeling before and during this catch doesn’t really matter, of course. It doesn’t matter if he was feeling despair or weariness or excitable joy.  It doesn’t matter because it was

a miracle not connected to Peter’s qualities or traits – or even his faith. There is no mention of faith.The nets go down, the nets come up and they are full of shimmering fish. It was an act of God. Simon saw the glory of God out of the box, out of place of scripture and temple.

And, even though we don’t typically say it this bluntly, the catch of fish, as told by Luke, implies that God doesn’t need our talents, doesn’t need our faith, hardly needs our willingness. God has power to provide fish. The lake was now full of fish. Peter was there, he was needed, simply, to notice.

And Peter can’t help but notice. Jesus quotes the angels: “Do not be afraid.” For unto you is born this day – in the midst of your ordinary pressures and frustrations and overly busy, complicated lives, in the midst of your ordinary worries and fears and work, in the middle of everything and nothing – an act of God is born; another one – that puts you in the company of this living one. Take notice of this agent of salvation. Stay present with Jesus.

And Peter and his partners did –

On this particular day at least, they were not models of great, successful fishermen. The very reason Jesus could commandeer Simon’s boat is because there were no fish in it — it was full of available space!

Jesus calls perfectly incapable people to follow him – capable fishermen, but way out of their depth in this new occupation of catching people. And suddenly we realize that the story isn’t about fishing… it never was. It’s about God’s agency. The moment we notice Christ’s presence, pay attention to the mystery, might be the very moment when God begins to use us in ways we never could have imagined.

Jesus told Peter to head out to deep water. That’s where you’ll get the catch – when you’re out over your head, out where you can’t see the bottom, where you can’t see the dangers or the treasures that lie beneath the waves.      Christian mystics understood about deep water and dark woods – they understood that time spent in the depths of wilderness, emptiness, failure, uncertainty are the times of great possibility and clear revelation.

“Go out into the deep water, Peter, and cast your nets. Use the tools at hand, the nets you’re familiar with. It won’t matter – it’a not about the fine skill of fishing. It’s about going. It’s about being present.”

Use a classroom or a piano, use a computer or a counselor’s chair or a cup of coffee or your telephone or knitting needles or a tool belt – it doesn’t matter – the tools you have at hand will be enough. Because it’s not about your skill or your craft or your credentials. It’s about God…not good deeds. It always has been about God becoming known in ordinary ways. But there’s nothing ordinary about God.

When we’re operating in the deep we have to put certainty behind us and navigate by paying attention, noticing, by sensing, by … faith. Out there in the deep we are vulnerable. Like a fish out of water – but the other way around. And maybe that disorientation, that crisis point, that fear of not being able to touch the bottom, is necessary to get our full attention. Required for us to comprehend our true relationship to this life we take for granted, our relationship to the safety nets available.

Christian community is the net. God’s love is the net. Words of forgiveness, words of hope, words of challenge, words of justice, words of God – this is the net. The holy net of both fishing and safety.

Although they have just brought in the greatest catch of their fishing careers, Simon Peter, James, and John leave their boats and follow Jesus. I like to think they let go of one edge of the net and release their great catch back into the sea. I like to picture the flash and flurry of all those fish fanning out from the boats – redemption as the ones that got away. That morning on the shore of Lake Genéssaret, a remarkable encounter with a whole lot of fish has completely reoriented three fishermen’s lives.

Throughout the history of the church, the ministry and mission of God, has continued to exist and carry on despite the tenuous, and tremulous responses of the actual people involved. I find this to be a comforting thought.

Whether we are the fishermen or the fish is still a bit of the mystery, but the ancient image of the church as a fisherman’s boat tossed about on the sea, sustained by the presence of the living Lord, is appropriate in every age. The fishing boat in our own sanctuary has layers of symbolism and significance, but that is surely one of them as it sails toward the cross, sails toward the circle of the communion of saints. We, too, are sustained by the presence of the living Lord. We, too are called to notice the miracles of God’s presence and to join in the catch that has first caught us  – heart and mind and soul and strength — out in the deep, in the wide net of God’s mercy and love. The net that changes everything, absolutely.

We pause for a few moments of reflection 

Hymn – Shepherd Me, O God

Refrain
Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

1.
God is my shepherd, so nothing shall I want,
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.
[Refrain]

2.
Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul,
you lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing the music of your name.
[Refrain]

3.
Though I should wander the valley of death,
I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope.
[Refrain]

4.
You have set me a banquet of love
in the face of hatred,
crowning me with love beyond my power to hold.
[Refrain]

5.
Surely your kindness and mercy
follow me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore.
[Refrain]

Prayers of Intercession

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

Benediction

Hymn – Day by Day

1.
Day by day, your mercies, Lord, attend me,
bringing comfort to my anxious soul.
Day by day, the blessings, Lord, you send me
draw me nearer to my heav’nly goal.
Love divine, beyond all mortal measure,
brings to naught the burdens of my quest;
Savior, lead me to the home I treasure,
where at last I’ll find eternal rest.

2.
Day by day, I know you will provide me
strength to serve and wisdom to obey;
I will seek your loving will to guide me
o’er the paths I struggle day by day.
I will fear no evil of the morrow,
I will trust in your enduring grace.
Savior, help me bear life’s pain and sorrow
till in glory I behold your face.

3.
Oh, what joy to know that you are near me
when my burdens grow too great to bear;
oh, what joy to know that you will hear me
when I come, O Lord, to you in prayer.
Day by day, no matter what betide me,
you will hold me ever in your hand.
Savior, with your presence here to guide me,
I will reach at last the promised land.

Dismissal

Go with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And may the Spirit of God go with you.  Amen

Postlude

Chris Johansen

January 17th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeBrother James’ AirChris Johansen, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongLight Dawns on a Weary World
#726
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 40vs. 1-13Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureLuke 4Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnWhen Our Song Says Peace
#709
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayers of IntercessionPastor Linda
Peace
Lord’s Prayer
Benediction
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnO Christ the Same
#760 (tune: WOV #778)
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
PostludeBrethren, We Have MetChris Johansen

Part I

Part II

Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: God of goodness and mercy, help us as we open our hearts and confess our sin. 

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

 God of justice,

C: we confess that in the pursuit of our own dreams and desires,
we have not always been civil, not always humane, not always right.
Guided by your Spirit, what we would like to do is change the world –
make it more possible for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves –
a simple gift You intend for all.

Help us to be your witnesses, so that we can, with your help, change the world.
Enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to welcome the stranger, migrant and immigrant, and to love our enemy as a friend.
Amen.

~ adapted from a quote from Dorothy Day

Gathering Song – Light Dawns on a Weary World

1.
Light dawns on a weary world
When eyes begin to see
all people’s dignity.
Light dawn on a weary world:
The promised day to justice comes.

[Refrain]
The trees shall clap their hands;
The dry lands, gush with spring;
The hills and mountains
shall break forth with singing!
We shall go out with joy,
And be led forth in peace,
As all the world in wonder echoes shalom.

2.
Love grows in a weary world
When hungry hearts find bread
And children’s dreams are fed.
Love grows in a weary world;
The promised feast of plenty comes.
[Refrain]

3.
Hope blooms in a weary world
When creatures, once forlorn,
find wilderness reborn.
Hope blooms in a weary world:
The promised green of Eden comes.
[Refrain]

Greeting

    The grace and loving-kindness of our Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.

         And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Let my soul be greening with the living light.
Let my heart awaken morning from the night.
Let the Spirit guide me to the present true and whole.
Viriditas, viriditas, the greening of my soul.
Grant to us, Gracious One, greening, hope, light shining in the darkness.
Grant, Lord, that darkness shall not overcome it, for in that light, there is you,
the Christ – for me, for all.   
Amen                              

adapted from Hildegard of Bingen

      

Psalm 40: 1-13

1 I waited patiently up-|on the Lord
who stooped to me and | heard my cry.

2 The Lord lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the | miry clay,
and set my feet upon a high cliff, making my | footing sure.

3 The Lord put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise | to our God;
many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust | in the Lord.

4 Happy are they who trust | in the Lord!
They do not turn to enemies or to those who | follow lies.

5 Great are the wonders you have done, O Lord my God! In your plans for us, none can be com-|pared with you!
Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! But they are more than | I can count.

6 Sacrifice and offering you do | not desire;
you have opened my ears: burnt-offering and sin-offering you have | not required.

7 And so I said, “Here I | am; I come.
In the scroll of the book it is writ-|ten of me:

8 ‘I love to do your will, | O my God;
your law is | deep within me.’ “

9 I proclaimed righteousness in the | great assembly;
I have not restrained my lips, O | Lord, you know.

10 I have not hidden your righteousness in my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and | your deliverance;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and truth from the | great assembly.

11 You are the Lord; do not withhold your compas-|sion from me;
may your steadfast love and your truth continually | keep me safe.

12 For troubles without number have crowded upon me; my sins have overtaken me, and I | cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head, and | my heart fails me.

13 Be pleased, O Lord, to de-|liver me;
O Lord, make | haste to help me.

Scripture Reading – Luke 4

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him
spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was
praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on
the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to
let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in
the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!’

And you will say, “Do here in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”

And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Sermon

“He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The year of the Lord’s favor described in Isaiah’s scroll refers to the ancient law of Leviticus. It was a Sabbath of Sabbaths: “Every 50 years you shall proclaim liberty and release throughout the land to all its inhabitants,” states the law. Slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be manifest.

This mythical law of Jubilee was designed to transform society and undo the damage that human greed causes: it was to free people who have been enslaved because of debt, who have lost their grazing land and homes because of tribal squabbles and bad dealings; in it they are restored – released from their burdens. Both land and people have a sabbath year of rest and restoration.

There isn’t any evidence that the year of Jubilee was ever put into actual practice. In Jesus’ day it stood alongside the promises of the prophets in the narrative of God’s intention for equality and justice, for salvation for all flesh.   But Jesus finishes reading, sits, and announces that today — in their presence — this ancient law and the promise of the prophet is fulfilled. Jesus’ incredibly short sermon will be the theme of his whole ministry. He has come to bring good news to those who are so poor that they have nothing; good news to those whose lives are defined by bad news; good news to those who are captive and burdened by illness, demons, or the strict laws of purity and righteousness; good news to those at the very bottom of the heap where good news is desperately needed.

Jesus’ concern for those who suffer the crushing effects of poverty rings throughout Luke’s Gospel. He blesses the poor and pronounces woe on the rich (6:20–26); he tells a young ruler to sell all he has and give the proceeds to the poor (18:18–26); the salvation that comes to Zacchaeus’ house “today” inspires Zaccheaus to give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times as much as he took from people through fraud (19:1–10); and when, from prison, John the Baptist sends messengers to find out if Jesus is the real deal, the one who is to come, Jesus says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk….the poor have good news brought to them” (7:18–23). Jesus does not separate economics from spirituality. The body matters. Matter matters. The condition of life for the bodies of living people matters. Jesus speaks of, and is, a salvation embracing spirit, soul, and body of this life. Realized eschatology. There is a reversal in store for the poor and oppressed, and for the privileged and wealthy, and in him, in the embodiment of God’s word, the year of the Lord’s favor has come.

             “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

            ….And then he said …  “The truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, yet Elijah was sent to none of the Israelites, but to a penniless Gentile widow in Sidon, the land of our enemies.  There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but God sent him to heal none of them, but rather to Naaman, a commander of the hated Syrian army.”

            When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.

So, that seems kind of abrupt … Why this sudden reversal on the part of his townies? What is there in this short sermon in Nazareth that changed their attitude so dramatically? In what way did he offend?

Isaiah’s quote echoes Mary’s song, that in Jesus’ birth, God is casting down the mighty and lifting the lowly. The people of Nazareth in Galilee thought this was going to be good news for them. They had for centuries been trampled by the great powers of the world passing through. Residents of Galilee were considered inferior even by other Jews. Galilee was surrounded by Gentile nations, and in the way of things, intermarried with different ethnic groups. Therefore, Galilee was not pure… they were considered uneducated and of no account. You might remember Nathaniel saying, “Can anything good come from Galilee?” That from a future disciple.

The home town crowd would have been very proud to have a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.

But Jesus crossed the isle. He pointed out that in their own scriptures, God worked to benefit their enemies. In lifting the lowly, in leveling the rift of old animosities, they felt their own status lowered. The reversal is working against them if those further down the Totem pole are raised to be their equal.

There is something very true to human nature in the reaction that welcomes God’s new world order as long as they see themselves as the downtrodden beloved of God, but who can’t extend that jubilee beyond their borders. The hard thing about the God we know in Jesus is that whenever we draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, we will find Jesus with those we’ve pushed out. Reversals don’t favor insiders. That’s the problem with immigration, and the civil rights movement, women’s equality, religious pluralism, national health care. Equality upsets the balance that benefits the insiders.

The problem in this story is the wideness of God’s mercy.  In telling the stories of Elijah and Elisha’s merciful acts to non-Israelites, Jesus announces salvation not only to Galilee, not just to Israel, but beyond them to all people, chosen or not, local or not, ritually, religiously worthy or not. The very graciousness of the words, the spread of God’s salvation, becomes offensive to them. It irks the hometown-ers who want to claim Jesus’ message for themselves.  He grew up here, after all, why would he say God bestows equal favor on those hated Samariatans, or the Sarophenechian dogs, or tax collectors, lepers, and sinners, for that matter? The people of Nazareth call God’s justice into question.

The Jews of Jesus’ hometown read scripture as promises for them through God’s exclusive covenant, a promise of deliverance from their oppressors. But Jesus announces that this is not their deliverance. It is Gods deliverance that is, in fact, for all people who are oppressed and poor regardless of nationality, gender, race, or status.  Jesus greatly broadens the list of who counts. And that was offensive.

It still is. We, too, seem to have problems discerning the place of mercy, generosity and inclusion in justice. We’re good at judgment. We’ve got exclusion down to an art form, splintering off into ever more specific, distinct affiliations. Our society has become a study in pointillism.  

As Christians we like Jesus’ message because we recognize that we are the ones being brought into a new covenant. But most Christians – too many Christians, I would say, want the door to close behind us. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then that’s God’s exclusive salvation club, right? We are God’s new chosen people, based on proper belief in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Selection becomes even more pointed depending on what must be professed and believed in order to qualify as a true Christian. God is left with a very small wingspan.

And if that is the argument, aren’t we are reenacting the morning in Nazareth? Is exclusion really true to the nature of the God we proclaim? Jesus consistently attends to the sinners and outcasts, to the political enemies of Israel, to the nobodies and untouchables.

It is true to human nature, though, to see ourselves in the role of whichever group is being spoken well of. It’s a hard sell to suggest that we are the problem, the oppressors, the privileged insiders whose lifestyle and worldview is unsustainable.  There’s an economy of greed and inclusion, an accounting mentality, that is wired in to our survival instincts and is offended – or perhaps frightened – by generosity and equality and justice.

Still, Jesus did bring good news of great joy. Salvation, redemption – these churchy words that I think mean inclusion and acceptance are available for all people. That is the good news. Free will has more to do with the limitations of the offer, than God’s will.

Normally, I try to stress the communal nature of God’s salvation and downplay our personal, sentimental, individualized acquisition of God through Jesus as our personal Lord and savior. But my aversion to that is due to the baggage the words carry, not to the concept of a personal relationship with God or Jesus.

 So, how about ending exclusion with a God chosen “you.” If we are all individuals, then there’s no comfort in numbers, no general admission, no exclusive groups. In a chosen “you”  there is the I and Thou relationship that Martin Buber wrote of with God. There is no longer “us and them” … but only “you.” A community of chosen “you’s.” (Not female sheep, but maybe like sheep – since all have gone astray).

And like all the chosen “you’s” of scripture, God hopes and expects things of you. We hear about a lot of individuals in scripture. We know of a great many people by name. But a pattern emerges when you look at those individuals. One is named, known, chosen for the sake of many. Sarah, Abraham were chosen and blessed to be a blessing to others. Moses, chosen to bring his people from slavery to freedom. Esher, Ruth, David: each is chosen for the benefit of many. Israel was chosen to be a light among the nations – not so that Israel would have exclusive rights to God, but so that others would see the light of God shining through them and be drawn toward the light and therefore to God. Jesus, himself, born not to rule as God’s king on earth, but as a “son born to you, a child given you,” to bring all people, all the separate, chosen, belov-ed “you’s” into the fellowship, justice and service of God’s holy, whole-of-many, embrace.

In leaving the categories of “us” and “them” behind, in reaching beyond it, perhaps the reversal God intends is one of full inclusion, equality borne in love. The wealthy, strong, and powerful are brought down (or perhaps, in the irresistible light of love, step down?) from their faulty and false love of self. The poor are noticed and lifted and systems change, and somehow we all meet in the middle, the valleys raised and the mountains made low.       

Because they were not open to the prospect of others sharing in God’s bounty equally to themselves, the people who heard Jesus preach that Sabbath morning were not able to receive it. It wasn’t the result of God’s doing, it was the natural consequence of their own free will. They refused to be one of many “you’s”, preferring the “I” that creates the “them”.

It is always a challenge to leave the categories of salvation up to God – especially if we take to heart Luke’s conviction that it is now, here, as well as in the fullness of time. But if God includes and invites and shows mercy in all directions and is not finally about judgment and exclusion … then really, we have nothing to worry about or fear and plenty to celebrate.

So let’s be about that, instead.  

Hymn – When Our Song Says Peace

1.
When our song says peace and the world says war,
we will sing despite the world.
We will trust the song, for we sing of God,
who breaks the spear and sword
and stills the storm of war.

2.
When our song says free and the world says bound,
we will sing despite the world.
We will trust the song, for we sing of God,
who opens prison doors
and sets the captives free.

3.
When our song says home and the world says lost,
we will sing despite the world.
We will trust the song, for we sing of God,
who brings us home at last,
and gives a song to all.

Prayers of Intercession

Peace

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

Benediction

Hymn – O Christ the Same

1 O Christ the same, through all our story’s pages–
our loves and hopes, our failures and our fears;
eternal Lord, the King of all the ages,
unchanging still, amid the passing years:
O living Word, the source of all creation,
who spread the skies, and set the stars ablaze;
O Christ the same, who wrought our whole salvation,
we bring our thanks for all our yesterdays.

2 O Christ the same, the friend of sinners, sharing
our inmost thoughts, the secrets none can hide;
still as of old upon your body bearing
the marks of love, in triumph glorified:
O Son of Man, who stooped for us from heaven,
O Prince of life, in all your saving power,
O Christ the same, to whom our hearts are given,
we bring our thanks for this the present hour.

3 O Christ the same, secure within whose keeping
our lives and loves, our days and years remain,
our work and rest, our waking and our sleeping,
our calm and storm, our pleasure and our pain:
O Lord of love, for all our joys and sorrows,
for all our hopes, when earth shall fade and flee,
O Christ the same, beyond our brief tomorrows,
we bring our thanks for all that is to be.

Dismissal

Go with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And may the Spirit of God go with you.  Amen

Postlude

Chris Johansen

January 10th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeWe Three KingsChris Johansen, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongAs With Gladness, Men of Old
#302
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 145vs. 1-10Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureLuke 3Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnCome, Beloved of the Maker
#306
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayers of IntercessionNikki Strandskov
Peace
Lord’s Prayer
Benediction
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnO Day Full of Grace
#S-18
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
Postludeby MozartChris Johansen

Part I

Part II

“We too have a star to guide us, which forever will provide us with the light to find our Lord. And this star as bright as day, which will never lead astray with its message so appealing, is the Word of God, revealing Christ to us as Lord and King, Christ to us as Lord and King.”

~ from Splendid are the Heavens High, v 6 and 7

Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: God of goodness and mercy, help us as we open our hearts and confess our sin. 

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

 God of grace and truth,

C: in Christ Jesus you come among us as light shining in the darkness. Standing in this new year, we are offered possibilities, yet continue to carry the fears and doubts that have held us captive. We celebrate the gift of Jesus, but forget that he was a gift of love to all the world, every tribe and tongue; at times, in our selfishness, we cannot hear God’s call and become quiet when our voices are most needed. Help us to do what’s right in the days to come. Surround us and renew us by your grace so that we may live in the fullness of your love, trusting in the compassion of the Lord of life.

P: In the mercy of almighty God, in the Word made flesh among us, in the child of Mary born to set us free, – in him, our sin is forgiven.    Amen

Gathering Song – As With Gladness, Men of Old

1.
As with gladness men of old
did the guiding star behold;
as with joy they hailed its light,
leading onward, beaming bright;
so, most gracious Lord, may we
evermore be led by thee.

2.
As with joyful steps they sped,
Savior, to thy lowly bed,
there to bend the knee before
thee, whom heav’n and earth adore;
so may we with willing feet
ever seek thy mercy seat.

3. As they offered gifts most rare
at thy cradle, rude and bare,
so may we with holy joy,
pure and free from sin’s alloy,
all our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to thee, our heavenly King.

4. Holy Jesus, ev’ry day
keep us in the narrow way;
and when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed souls at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.

5.
In the heav’nly county bright
need they no created light;
thou its light, its joy, its crown,
thou its sun which goes not down;
there forever may we sing
alleluias to our king.

Greeting

    The grace and loving-kindness of our Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.

         And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Eternal God and Father,

we thirst for your love, we long for your presence, we yearn for your peace.  Come, Lord, restore us that we may live in your mercy.  Amen.

      

Psalm 145: 1-10

1 I will exalt you, my | God and king,
and bless your name forev-|er and ever.

2 Every day | will I bless you
and praise your name forev-|er and ever.

3 Great is the Lord and greatly | to be praised!
There is no end | to your greatness.

4 One generation shall praise your works | to another
and shall de-|clare your power.

5 I will speak of the glorious splendor | of your majesty
and all your | marvelous works.

6 They shall tell of the might of your | wondrous acts,
and I will re-|count your greatness.

7 They shall publish the remembrance of | your great goodness;
they shall sing joyfully | of your righteousness.

8 The Lord is gracious and full | of compassion,
slow to anger and abounding in | steadfast love.

9 Lord, you are | good to all,
and your compassion is over | all your works.

10 All your works shall praise | you, O Lord,
and your faithful | ones shall bless you.

Scripture Reading – Luke 3

1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased.’ 23 Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, 24son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi … [this goes on for quite a while, then] … son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.

Sermon

The first two chapters of Luke provide us with a colorful, gilded Renaissance-era Illumination of God’s entry into our lives, of God taking up residence in the world. The Nativity is what it would look like. ‘Heaven cannot hold him’ and the angels and heavenly hosts of the first two chapters portray that celebration, the in-breaking glory of the kingdom of God in earthly life – a visitation of Joy, with a capital J.   Chapter 2 ends with these words: “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

We turn the page and it suddenly becomes a very grown up world. We are brought up to date with the political realities of the day – in this case, the reality of Roman occupation. Luke begins with a roll call of the important and powerful, naming the hierarchy of rule. The Roman Emperor Tiberias, who sits over all; Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea; then the regional rulers – sons of Herod the Great – Herod Antipas and Philip who are Jewish, aristocratic, collaborators with Rome: feared, powerful, not well loved.

From there, Luke goes on to name the religious power-structure: the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas. They might be on the list because the high-priesthood was subject to annual re-appointment by the Roman authority (and so Annas and Caiaphas are just another cog of the political wheel). Or it might be that Luke sees them as a religious parallel to the political hierarchy and hegemony: Annas was high priest for nine years, followed by his five sons and then his son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas. They represent one more form of control and oppression, and another layer in the conflict that is to come.

During the reign of these formidable rulers, “the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.”  The redemptive work of which Mary sang in the Magnificat is underway; the claims to authority that Tiberius or Herod or the high priests make are not ultimate. God “is bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly.” John has been commissioned to prepare the way not for Caesar or any earthly lord, but for the one who turns the world upside down – the one who brings peace, justice, and pardon. The one whose upside-down power is love.

We should not miss how peculiar this is. We know the story, and because of that might miss how unexpected it is. The word of God doesn’t find voice among those with power or influence. That would seem to be a much more efficient way to spread and activate this good news, wouldn’t it?  Let Gabriel have a private word with Herod. Turn his heart. Start this revelation with one who is positioned to bring others along, in the manner of Constantine 300 years later. The conversion of kings is how much of Europe came to Christianity.

But, no, instead, the word of God comes to the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness – someone no one has any reason to know. The word of God comes to John sloshing along the banks of the Jordan river as it cuts a path through the desert.

Very odd… but in keeping with this God whose ways are not our ways. God chooses the mustard seed approach. Because as loud and blustery as John may have been, lacking more effective social media, the attraction was by word of mouth. You still had to take yourself out to the wilderness and within shouting range to hear him. A small start, indeed.

John commands repentance to escape the wrath to come. He uses imagery of an ax laid at the root of a tree, a winnowing fork and a fire ready to burn the chaff and those felled trees that did not produce good fruit in unquenchable flames.  John’s teaching is not user friendly – but neither is it revolutionary. He was preaching nothing more than what the law required – if you see someone naked, clothe them; hungry, feed them. You shall not slander or covet, steal or kill. These laws concerning kind and just treatment of the neighbor were well known.

But,  knowing isn’t doing.

We know that aligning our behaviors with our values and beliefs is not as easy as one might think it should be. There are always other factors to consider, costs involved, inconvenience, options. 

Repentance of the kind John is talking about, metanoia, means a change of mind and heart, an inner transformation – a change that bears visible fruit – actual change – not spiritualization, approval of the concept, or accounting methods that make the command more manageable and compensatory. There’s no sliding scale in John’s message. His baptism is understood as an assault on the status quo, a call to embrace the behaviors of God’s purpose.

John’s rhetoric and the fire and judgment motifs gets the people wondering and worrying and asking, “What then should we do?”

I have watched the events in Washington this week with John the Baptist in mind. Large crowds following a charismatic preacher, a counter-cultural message of warnings and judgement and fear. And the people asked, “What then should we do?” The similarities seem striking.

I don’t know what it is about us as humans, but I do think we are all susceptible to this dynamic: we are all credulous, exploitable, willing to narrow our perspective, apply filters so that we are exposed only to experiences or news that supports our world view. We begin to trust the filters more than the breadth of information. From the book of Acts onward, Christians have struggled with filters. How much of the world, it’s richness and pluralisms are we to let in or are we to limit our perspectives? In the world, but not of the world? The danger in filters, of course, is when we assign them God, as well.

Physiologically, we are wired for this. We can only attend meaningfully to so much information. Our brains help us focus on essential things by numbing us to the background noise. You probably are not noticing the presence of your clothing at this moment. Yet every hair follicle is sending information about it to your brain. So maybe it’s in our wiring to attend to the disrupter of our status quo. And when there is a convergence of need and disruption we become ready to act.

That seems to be what John the Baptist is hoping for; to incite these crowds to act on their fears of judgment with genuine repentance, with real change that will align their behavior with service to God’s kingdom embodying mercy, justice, humility.

He compares them to a brood of vipers – if you spend a moment picturing a writhing nest of snakes you can probably feel visceral effects of John’s criticism. To be born of poisonous snakes is to share in their character or nature. The crowds who found their way into the wilderness to hear John didn’t see themselves that way any more than we do. But we have begun to see the poisonous, hostile environment we inhabit and support and create. Those who are privileged and empowered can’t continue indefinitely along pathways of racial, economic and environmental exploitation without consequences. For Luke, those consequences are introduced in Mary’s magnificat. John echoes them in the wilderness, Jesus will take up the song in his sermon in Nazareth next week. The big difference between John the Baptist’s throng and most of history’s cult-like movements is that he was calling them to radical change away from what they already believed; radical change out of their comfort zones and away from self-service or self-gratification – away from ‘self’ as the primary focus of concern. He wanted them to be transformed to alignment with God in preparation for the coming of Christ. He wanted them to help turn the tables.

We want the world to turn, if it favors us; we think that it should turn for the sake of the poor and oppressed, for innocent victims of war, abuse, violence, intolerance… but we tend to want change without repercussions requiring change from us. The poor and dispossessed, the hungry, the lowly ones can find sustenance and comfort somewhere if they are deserving. We don’t need to suffer for their sake. Right?   We make these rationalizations because change is hard, and we like being comfortable, and what’s wrong with being comfortable, and surely there are others who need to change more than we do, so we’ll let it begin with them first, and see how it goes.

There’s a reason both the word of God and Jesus are sent out into the wilderness. It is a place of stark contrasts and starker conditions. It is a place of desolation and testing, but also a place of God, of vision quests and theophanies; an unexpected place of hope and new beginnings. The gospel begins in a desert landscape, because the wilderness clears the air of expectations and business as usual; it equalizes all who would survive. The wilderness brings all of life to immediacy and urgency – and that is where God would have us dwell.

The wilderness landscape is vast, expansive, open – always changing and yet changeless, familiar to the people who know it, yet feared and held in awe even by those who know it. One needs guidance – stars, or cairns, or altars set up to mark the way. John is a voice in the wilderness, “Prepare the way – like the people of ancient Israel in Egypt, join an exodus out of slavery; like the Babylonian exiles, leave that which holds you captive, and head home into the wilderness. Come into the wilderness and meet your maker. Come into the wilderness and be changed; come into the wilderness free and freed from your burdens; loosen the cords of security, declutter your priorities, clarify your vision; face your demons in open space.

Come into the wilderness and come to rely – not only on God, but on our common humanity and the essential connections between us…leave your places of position and religion and control and predictability and self assurance. Come into the wilderness … do not take life for granted, come into the wilderness… for in its disorienting and dangerous terrain we are more likely to discover what it is we seek… Come into the wilderness … for that is where you are called to Be.

Hymn – Come, Beloved of the Maker

1.
Come, beloved of the Maker,
come, behold the Firstborn One;
see revealed creation’s splendor
crowned in glory like the sun.

2.
See the Morningstar now beckon
to those bound to doubt and night;
“Follow me,” Christ calls in welcome,
“come from darkness into light.”

3.
Follow to the birth of newness;
follow to the life of peace;
follow to the hill of anguish;
follow to the garden bliss.

4.
There we too will burn and brighten,
God’s resplendent work begun;
glory will ascend and heighten,
crowning us with glorious sun.

5.
Christ, bright image of the Maker,
God, whose glory none may pass,
Spirit, sun of love and splendor,
bear us into light at last.

Prayers of Intercession

Peace

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

Benediction

Hymn – O Day Full of Grace

1.
O day, full of grace, which we behold,
Now gently to view ascending;
Thou over the earth thy reign unfold,
Good cheer to all mortals lending,
That children of light in every clime
May prove that the night is ending.

2.
How blest was that gracious midnight hour,
When God in our flesh was given;
Then flushed the dawn with light and power,
That spread o’er the darkened heaven;
Then rose o’er the world that Sun divine
Which gloom from our hearts hath driven.

3.
Yea, were every tree endowed with speech,
And every leaflet singing,
They never with praise His worth could reach,
Though earth with their praise were ringing.
Who fully could praise the Light of life,
Who light to our souls is bringing?

4.
As birds in the morning sing God’s praise,
His fatherly love we cherish,
For giving to us this day of grace,
For life that shall never perish.
His Church He hath kept these thousand years
And hungering souls did nourish.

5.
With joy we depart for our fatherland,
Where God our Father is dwelling,
Where ready for us His mansions stand,
Where heaven with praise is swelling;
And there we shall walk in endless light,
With blest ones His praise forth telling.

Dismissal

Go with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And may the Spirit of God go with you.  Amen

Postlude

Chris Johansen

January 3rd Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeAway In A MangerChris Johansen, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongOnce In Royal David’s City
#269
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Part II
ScriptureLuke 2: 21-40Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnGood Christian Friends, Rejoice
#288
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayers of IntercessionPastor Linda
Communion
Lord’s Prayer
Prayer
Pastor Linda
BenedictionPastor Linda
Closing HymnLove Has Come
#292
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
PostludeRise Up, Shepherd and FollowChris Johansen

Part I

Part II

Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: God of goodness and mercy, help us as we open our hearts and confess our sin. 

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

 God of grace and truth,

C: in Christ Jesus you come among us as light shining in the darkness. Standing in this new year, we are offered possibilities, yet continue to carry the fears and doubts that have held us captive. We celebrate the gift of Jesus, but forget that he was a gift of love to all the world, every tribe and tongue; at times, in our selfishness, we cannot hear God’s call and become quiet when our voices are most needed. Help us to do what’s right in the days to come. Surround us and renew us by your grace so that we may live in the fullness of your love, trusting in the compassion of the Lord of life.

P: In the mercy of almighty God, in the Word made flesh among us, in the child of Mary born to set us free, – in him, our sin is forgiven.    Amen

Gathering Song – Once In Royal David’s City

1.
Once in royal David’s city
stood a lowly cattle shed,
where a mother laid her baby
in a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little child.

2.
He came down to earth from heaven
who is God and Lord of all,
and his shelter was a stable,
and his cradle was a stall;
with the poor and meek and lowly,
lived on earth our Savior holy.

3.
And our eyes at last shall see him,
through his own redeeming love;
for that child so dear and gentle
is our Lord in heav’n above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.

4.
Not in that poor lowly stable,
with the oxen standing by,
we shall see him; but in heaven,
set at God’s right hand on high;
there his children gather round,
bright like stars, with glory crowned.

Greeting

    The grace and loving-kindness of our Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.

         And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

O God the Three, be the God of me,
Come, my Lord, my light, my way;
Come my lantern, night and day;
Come, my healer, make me whole;
Come, my Savior, protect my soul;
Come, my King, enter my heart;
Come, Prince of Peace, and never depart.  
Amen          

~ adapted from a Celtic prayer

Scripture Reading – Luke 2: 21-40

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel Gabriel before he was conceived in the womb.

23When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),  and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,  Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;  for my eyes have seen your salvation,  which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.  At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Sermon

Luke is a very good story teller. Very organized.

He begins by drawing his original reader in, to connect the most excellent Theophilus to Hebrew scripture, traditions, piety – to the things Theophilus knows, and to things that he doesn’t know, in order to convince him of the truth of this claim – that Jesus is the son of God and that through him, salvation has been given now, to all people, through grace. Once and for all.

It is still a worthwhile message to tell.

This second chapter of Luke contains the entire nativity story.

It begins with Joseph and Mary journeying from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, and ends with their return. Enclosed is the fulfillment of the law.

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” So, despite being great with child, Mary and Jospeh traveled because Joseph belonged to the house and line of David. Bethlehem was the city of David. Therefore, Joseph had to go there to be registered for the census. While there, the time came for Mary to give birth. And eight days later, in accordance with the law of Moses, they took Jesus to the temple to be circumcised.  Circumcision marked Jesus’ inclusion into the covenant community. His name was conferred – the name given – not by Joseph, but by the angel Gabriel. Jesus, Yeshua, meaning, “to deliver, or save; to rescue.”

Now, 33 days later, they are back at the temple to fulfill what the law of the Lord prescribes. Two additional acts are required of devout parents: the consecration of the ‘firstling’ and the purification of the mother. As a reminder of the Jewish exodus experience, all firstborn sons were to be dedicated to God. Firstborns could be redeemed (bought back) from priestly service by paying 5 silver shekels. I was curious, and searched for the price of redeeming a firstborn female. According to midrash, “The Torah did not grant to women any holiness of the firstborn for any matter.”

After giving birth, a mother was ceremonially unclean. Leviticus 12 lays out the three-step purification procedure required: at the birth of a male, there is a seven day period of impurity, followed by 33 days of ṭahara (or purification). This time of isolation and impurity is doubled for a female child.

After the 40 or 80 days, she was to offer a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove. If she could not afford a lamb, she could offer instead two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons. This is what Mary and Joseph offered.

It is beautifully ironic that Mary could not afford a lamb – she who bore the Lamb of God, and that Luke did not mention the 5 shekels of silver which would have redeemed Jesus, freeing him from devoting his life to God’s service.

In all of these things, Mary and Joseph prove their obedience to the demands of human and religious law. They are free to return home and begin life as a family.

But Luke wants us to know that the Law – human and spiritual –  is not the only thing to be fulfilled.

Mary and Joseph meet two people in the Temple who recognize their tiny son.

Details about Simeon and Anna are given so that we know they are reliable witnesses; they are the elders, imbued with the knowledge of God; they are prophetic characters who greet this baby with great joy, but also with the fore-knowledge of who he is. Unlike the shepherds, these two do not need to be told – they’ve been anticipating this moment, faithfully waiting – echoing Gabriel’s message to Mary and the shepherds about who Jesus is and what he will be.

The moment is choreographed by the Holy Spirit.

Anna, we are told – was old, widowed, a spirit person, a prophetess – who seemingly lived in the temple – never leaving it, praying and fasting night and day. Simeon, though, lived in Jerusalem. He came to the temple that day, at that time, to that location in the temple, precisely to find this child.

‘The temple’ was the locus of God’s presence in the world. ‘The temple’ houses the holy of holies, the closest contact with divinity that the Jewish people experienced or expected – only there, only through their high priest, and only one day a year on the day of atonement for the people’s sin.

‘The temple’ was built on temple mount, which (in talmud tradition) was the first bit of dry land of creation and from which the rest of the world expanded into its present form. It is here that God gathered the dust to create the first human. It is here where tradition says Abraham demonstrated his devotion to God by taking his son Isaac to be sacrificed. It is here that King David had the vision of angels ascending a golden ladder into the sky. ‘The temple’ is the meeting place between divine and human – a thin spot in Celtic tradition. And it is here – in this story – in this most holy of Jewish locations, that God brings the word of salvation to all people, Gentile and Jew, free and slave, male and female. It is here that God uses the faithfulness of ordinary people – Joseph and Mary – to fulfill the promise of redemption for all.

To this place, in this moment, God’s Spirit draws Simeon to find the baby he has been expecting. To the place of holy encounter. And, holding this newborn, Simeon thanks God and knows his prophetic vocation is fulfilled. With Jesus’ conception, birth, and now, presentation – in the recognition of who Jesus is and what he is to do, by old Simeon and Anna, who represent the best of expectant Israel, salvation has come. The promises of God, have already been fulfilled. (1.)

I want to let that settle for a moment.

At 40 days old, according to Luke, Jesus has already fulfilled the promise of salvation, of redemption, ransom, for the all the people of the world, for all time, in all places.

What was it the angel said to the shepherds? “Do not be afraid, for behold I announce good news to you of great joy which will be to all the people. Because was born to you today a savior who is Christ the Lord in the the city of David.” 

I feel obligated to remind you that Luke is the only gospel that tells this nativity story. That in Mark, for example, we first see Jesus as an adult. “And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan River by John.”

We get there soon enough in Luke, too, sort of. There’s one more quick story about a 12 year old Jesus, and then chapter 3 begins with John out in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And then John is arrested and imprisoned. And only then we read, “When all of the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized, too, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove; and a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   It’s a different order. There is no conversation or observed meeting of Jesus and John together. No disciples getting their first glimpse.

But, more to my point, that’s the last we hear from God. Chaper 4 talks about Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit, led by the Spirit, and Jesus himself reads from the scroll of Isaiah where it is written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has appointed me to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That’s what Gabriel told Mary, what Mary sang in her Magnificat, what Simeon and Anna sang and recognized. In the living Jesus, salvation has already come.

I’m not going to say that the resurrection was unnecessary. I have no idea. But – to me – it seems that Luke is clearly saying that Jesus was enough. In his birth, in his being, he was God’s good news (the gospel) of great joy and was filled with the Holy Spirit. And accomplished – even as a baby – the redemption of the world. Because redemption is not fulfilled by human or religious law, by correct belief or pious acts. God’s love incarnate in Jesus creates redemption. A child of divine love for all the earth and her creatures. I may be wrong, but I do believe that.

As we read on from here, we will recognize that the mystery and majesty have changed, dimmed. Where did the angels go? And why? Why are they so prominent – even named – Gabriel, we feel like we know him… he and the heavenly host fill these opening chapters of Luke’s gospel and then play no part in the rest of it what-so-ever. Why don’t they appear from time to time? Why do they not swoop down in their fearsome, blinding glory and put an exclamation point on some of Jesus’ most difficult teachings?  Or rescue him when he is most in need?  Psalm 91 offers the narrative: 11 For God will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”  Who would this apply to if not to Jesus?

Why does the spirit of God not inform and enlighten other principle players in this passion play?      

I spent bit of time fussing about it this week, and it might be whimsical, but theology often is – so here’s what I’ve come up with.

In these opening chapters of Luke, there is a sensory overload of God’s presence brooding over the earth like the spirit brooded over the primordial soup of creation in the opening verses of Genesis. Because there is a new creation here, a new upending order.

God is restless, nesting, like a pregnant mother, freewheeling in the universe, sparking up stars, whispering even to blades of grass, (the Talmud tells us) “grow, grow,” sinking into small dark places like Mary’s womb and bringing light and life. The angelic messengers, the spirit of God, swirl around the town of Nazareth, startle the sheep-filled hills outside the little town of Bethlehem, herald God’s presence around the ancient temple mount. Whispering the news of a birth, of a beginning, of great joy to the earth, searching the faithful young and old and those ready to hear, igniting old memories and wistfully held dreams; God is readying the scene. Preparing, expecting.

And then there is the birth and a manger glows, and God is greatly pleased and quieted and time passes. And one day, Jesus walks down into the Jordan River to be baptized and the moment has come, and God imparts the fullness of his grace – completely – in Jesus. Just in Jesus. God is just there in Jesus. This is the scariest, riskiest time of heaven and earth – these three years when God is all in all, and all in Jesus. No wonder the disciples and pharisees are clueless. The voice from heaven is silent because the voice of God is Jesus’ voice, the light of God is Jesus’ life, Jesus and God are one in the same. God isn’t freewheeling in the cosmos, sparking up stars to guide and enlighten, God is Jesus. Incognito. Living. Observing how this will all come to pass. And so Luke’s songs end, and the skies over Bethlehem darken, and the shepherds and townspeople and powers and principalities are true to their own nature, and the narrative changes. We know about people: that people are willful and ignorant, often corrupt, generally self-serving, easily led astray, quite temporal beings – of the moment. We know this to be self-evident. They/we couldn’t seem to see God because, unlike Simeon and Anna, they didn’t expect to.

I know this is not proper theology, but I kind of like the idea of heaven being empty of God. Briefly. That during Jesus’ lifetime, the Christ, the Creator, the Spirit were all incarnate. Tremendously vulnerable. If so, it makes sense that the song of the angels is spent. I picture Gabriel biting his fingernails and hovering, worried, anxious, but constrained; waiting until those alleluias could ring out again through the heavens and earthly realm.

In the continuing ministry of Jesus, as when he lay in the animal’s manger, and in old Simeon and Anna’s devoted gaze, Luke’s gospel has eyes only for him, ears only for him, because Luke would move heaven and earth, invoke heaven and earth, for us to understand that Jesus is the Son of God and that through him, salvation has been given, to all people, through the abundance of God’s love. Once and for all.

______________

1. The Gospel of Luke, Joel B. Green. “The manifestation of Jesus to Simeon” pg 143    

Hymn – Good Christian Friends, Rejoice

1.
Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
give ye heed to what we say:
Jesus Christ is born today;
ox and ass before him bow,
and he is in the manger now.
Christ is born today!
Christ is born today!

2.
Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door,
and we are blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!

3.
Good Christian friends, rejoice
with heart and soul and voice;
now ye need not fear the grave;
Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all
to gain the everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save!
Christ was born to save!

Prayers of Intercession

Let us, God’s People, Pray

Jesus, the Joy of Simeon who knows Your arrival is a cataclysmic event!  Keep us always surprised and joyful at your sudden arrivals in our hearts and minds and let our lives radiate the exhilaration of being in Your Presence.
 O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Anna, we present ourselves to you as pilgrims on Your Way.  Refine and purify our hearts and souls so that we may find favor as servant messengers of your presence, your faithfulness and your love.
O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Simeon, attend to those who present themselves in the world’s temples of government.  Fill their hearts with Your wisdom, justice, and mercy and diverge them from paths of greed and inhumanity. We pray especially for peace in Georgia as voters go back to the polls, and peace throughout the  nation during the transference of power.
O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Anna, we ask Your Healing for all who are seriously ill, frightened, or exhausted, and for those who tend to their needs  

We pray especially for:  Cordelia Strandskov, Dorothy Kass (Barb’s mom), Vivian Johnson (Brenda’s mom), Bob Clifton, Ken DeVries, Tom Cuttill (Mike M’s bro-in-law);

We also remember all those we don’t get to see each week during this dumb time apart – especially Donna and Hartvig, Danny and Marilene, Mary Adams, Donna Pedersen, Milda and Darrel, Norman, Tom and Joyce;  parents and grandparents subbing in as teachers – especially Nikki and Henrik; teachers working so hard to connect and teach; caregivers of elderly and homebound; families changing configurations for financial stability; those serving in the military (Luke, Matt, Phillip, Alec – known to us) …. And we remember those who fall between categories, into the cracks, who struggle with addictions, identity, mental health, loneliness. Be present with all these, your beloved, and send us into their lives.

O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Simeon, open our eyes to Your Place of peace in the desert of sorrow, as the ones whose loss we mourn are set free in peace to a new life. We pray especially for: Judy (Dodge) Cummings, her children and family

O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

Jesus, Joy of Anna, Grant continuous discernment, wisdom, and prophetic understanding to Pastor Linda and the West Denmark community who worship together while apart.  Help us all be merciful and faithful followers of the incarnation, of you with us. 
O God who abides with us
Response: We put our trust in You

On this first Sunday of the new year, we rejoice with Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph, and prepare ourselves for the many risings and fallings yet to come in our own lives.  We  re-dedicate ourselves to You on this day and ask Your blessings for strength, integrity, and faithfulness.  Amen.

Communion

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

Prayer

In the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, you shine light into the darkness, provide water that brings new life, and give bread that nourishes your people and frees us from our fear. Help us be incarnate witnesses of Jesus’ birth and resurrection and empower us to show your glory to all the world.  Amen.

Benediction

Hymn – Love Has Come

1.
Love has come, a light in the darkness!
Love shines forth in the Bethlehem skies.
See, all heaven has come to proclaim it;
hear how their song of joy arises:
Love! Love! Born unto you, a Savior!
Love! Love! Glory to God on high!

2.
Love is born! Come share in the wonder.
Love is God now asleep in the hay.
See the glow in the eyes of His mother.
What is the name her heart is saying?
Love! Love! Love is the name she whispers.
Love! Love! Jesus, Immanuel.

3.
Love has come and never will leave us!
Love is life everlasting and free.
Love is Jesus within and among us.
Love is the peace our hearts are seeking.
Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas.
Love! Love! Praise to You, God on high!

Dismissal

Go with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And may the Spirit of God go with you.  Amen

Postlude

Chris Johansen

Christmas Eve Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeWexford CarolChris Johansen, piano
Call to WorshipPastor Linda
ReadingThe Shortest Day by Susan CooperChris Johansen
Gathering SongPeople, Look East
#248
Shawn Mai
Chuck Parsons, organ
HymnIt Came Upon a Midnight Clear
#282
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Christmas Litany
HymnOf the Father’s Love Begotten
#295
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ReadingJohn 1: 1-5Chris Johansen
ReadingBirth from Crossings by Susan Palo CherwienPastor Linda
Readingby Gertrude Mueller NelsonShawn Mai
HymnIn the Bleak Midwinter
#294
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ReadingJohn 1: 14-18Pastor Linda
Readingfrom The Road to Daybreak by Henri NouwenShawn Mai
HymnO Little Town of Bethlehem
#279
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ReadingMicah 5: 2-5Shawn Mai
ReadingsHenrik Strandskov
Nikki Strandskov
HymnTwas in the Moon of Wintertime
#284
Harry Johansen
Paul Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ReadingPastor Linda
HymnThe Bells of Christmas
#298
Shawn Mai
Chuck Parsons, organ
ReadingLuke 2: 1-20Henrik Strandskov
Nikki Strandskov
Musical “offering”Dejlig er den himmel blåThe National Danish Girls Choir
Philip Faber, conductor
Prayers
Lord’s Prayer
Pastor Linda
HymnOn Christmas Night
#274
Harry Johansen
Paul Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Closing Litany
Blessing
Closing HymnSilent Night
#281
Jim Miles

Note: The audio cuts off the first part of Linda’s introduction to the service. The text of the introduction appears below.

Prelude

Chris Johansen

Call to Worship

The undeniable hardship of this winter is a reminder that for much of human history, particularly in colder climates, winter was a season simply to be survived. Winter is a primal time of death and loss, and a time for grief. It reminds us that darkness, not only light, is part of the recurring rhythm of what it means to be human.

In a year that has stripped life to bare fundamentals, the natural world has become our shared story. Natural rhythms of seasons offer the reminder that the world moves on even if our sense of time has blurred. The dormancy of winter provides a beautiful way of assuring us that we have lived through long nights before. It is at the point that the nights are longest and darkest that we actually turn a corner.

Medieval Persian writings suggested that if one can not afford a feast in their season of darkness, it is enough to bring a flower.

Look for the smallest bit of beauty around you. At a time like this, when it seems like the mega-narratives, institutions, and systems are all broken or falling apart, we return our gaze to the small, beautiful details of this Christmas story of birth in the midst of turmoil and displacement. Dormancy is not death. Dormancy, isolation, solitude – these words describe winter – they might describe your life in COVID-19. But the solstice is past. The shortest day came, and now we begin to climb back into the light. Winter’s darkness, our experiences of dormancy and darkness and death cannot overcome it.


Reading – The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
Hymn – It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

1.
It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to all,
from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay
to hear the angels sing.

2.
Still through the cloven skies they come
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heav’nly music floats
o’er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
they bend on hov’ring wing,
and ever o’er its babel sounds
the blessed angels sing.

3.
And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way
with painful steps and slow;
look now, for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing;
oh, rest beside the weary road
and hear the angels sing!

4.
For lo! The days are hast’ning on,
by prophets seen of old,
when with the ever-circling years
shall come the time foretold,
when peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendors fling,
and all the world give back the song
which now the angels sing.

Christmas Litany

P:  When we offer a glass of water to a thirsty person, we are in Christmas,

C: When we clothe a naked person with a gown of love, we are in Christmas,

P:   When we wipe the tears from weeping eyes, we are in Christmas,

C: When we cushion a hopeless heart with love, we are in Christmas,

ALL: When I kiss a friend without hypocrisy,

When the spirit of revenge dies in me,

When hardness is gone from my heart,

When my soul melts in the Being of God, I am in Christmas.

P:  On the night of Christmas …   

ALL: Hatred will vanish

P: On the night of Christmas …

ALL: The Earth blooms

P:  On the night of Christmas …   

ALL: War is buried

P:  On the night of Christmas …   

ALL: Love is born

Adapted from Laylat al-Milad (On the Eve of Christmas) a traditional carol sung by Arab Christians at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church of Bethlehem, Palestine.

Hymn – Of the Father’s Love Begotten

1.
Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore.

2.
Oh, that birth forever blessed,
when the Virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bore the Savior of our race,
and the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore.

3.
This is he whom seers in old time
chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets
promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long-expected;
let creation praise its Lord
evermore and evermore.

4.
Let the heights of heav’n’ adore him;
angel hosts, his praises sing;
pow’rs, dominions, bow before him
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
ev’ry voice in concert ring
evermore and evermore.

5.
Christ, to thee, with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion,
and eternal victory
evermore and evermore! Amen.

Reading – John 1:1-5
Reading – from Crossings by Susan Palo Cherwien
Reading – by Gertrude Mueller Nelson

Hymn – In the Bleak Midwinter

1.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

2.
Heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heav’n and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign;
in the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God almighty, Jesus Christ.

3.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him – give my heart.

Reading – John 1: 14-18
Reading – from The Road to Daybreak by Henri Nouwen

Hymn – O Little Town of Bethlehem

1.
O little town of Bethlehem,
how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by;
yet in thy dark streets shineth
the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.

2.
For Christ is born of Mary,
and, gathered all above
while mortals sleep, the angels keep
their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together
proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the king,
and peace to all on earth!

3.
How silently, how silently
the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming;
but, in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.

4.
O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
oh, come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

Reading – Micah 5:2-5
Two Readings

Hymn – Twas in the Moon of Wintertime

Reading

Hymn – The Bells of Christmas

1.
The bells of Christmas chime once more;
the heav’nly guest is at the door.
He comes to earthly dwellings still
with new year gifts of peace, good will.

2.
This world, though wide and far outspread,
could scarcely find for you a bed.
Your cradle was a manger stall,
no pearl nor silk nor kingly hall.

3.
Now let us go with quiet mind,
the swaddled babe with shepherds find,
to gaze on him who gladdens them,
the loveliest flow’r of Jesse’s stem.

4.
Oh, join with me, in gladness sing,
to keep our Christmas with our king,
until our song, from loving souls,
like rushing mighty water rolls!

5.
O patriarchs’ Joy, O prophets’ Song,
O Dayspring bright, awaited long,
O Son of Man, incarnate Word,
great David’s Son, great David’s Lord:!

6.
Come, Jesus, glorious heav’nly guest,
and keep your Christmas in our breast;
then David’s harp-string, hushed so long,
shall swell our jubilee of song.

Reading – Luke 2: 1-20
Musical “Offering”

Prayers
Lord’s Prayer

Hymn – On Christmas Night

1.
On Christmas night all Christians sing
to hear the news the angels bring.
On Christmas night all Christians sing
to hear the news the angels bring:
news of great joy, news of great mirth,
news of our merciful king’s birth.

2.
Then why should we on earth be sad,
since our redeemer made us glad?
Then why should we on earth be sad,
since our redeemer made us glad,
when from our sin he set us free,
all for to gain our liberty?

3.
When sin departs before his face,
then life and health come in its place.
When sin departs before his face,
then life and health come in its place.
Angels rejoice with us and sing,
all for to see the new-born King.

4.
All out of darkness we have light,
which made the angels sing this night.
All out of darkness we have light,
which made the angels sing this night:
“Glory to God in highest heav’n;
peace on earth, and goodwill. Amen.”

Closing Litany

P:  When we offer a glass of water to a thirsty person, we are in Christmas,

Women: Lo, in the silent night a child to God is born

And all is brought again that ere was lost or lorn.

Men: Could but thy soul, O man, become a silent night!

God would be born in thee and set all things aright.

~15th Century

Blessing

Hymn – Silent Night

1.
Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

2.
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight;
glories stream from heaven afar,
heav’nly hosts sing, alleluia!
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

3.
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
radiant beams from your holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord, at your birth,
Jesus, Lord, at your birth.

Postlude

Chris Johansen

December 20th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeOf the Father’s Love BegottenChris Johansen, piano
OpeningPastor Linda
Gathering SongPeople, Look East
#248
Shawn Mai
Chuck Parsons, organ
GreetingPastor Linda
Canticle of Praise
Thanksgiving
from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Lighting the Advent Wreath
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 141from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureLuke 1: 26-56Pastor Linda
Gospel Canticlefrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
SermonPastor Linda
HymnAll Earth is Hopeful
#266
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Advent CreedPastor Linda
Prayers of Intercession
Lord’s Prayer
Blessing
from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Closing HymnJoy to the World
#267
Shawn Mai
Chuck Parsons, organ
PostludeO Come, O Come, EmmanuelChris Johansen, piano

Part I

Part II

Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Opening

P: We gather in the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

O Lord our God, we stumble as those lost in the night.

C: unexpected and mysterious is the gentle word of grace

P: We live burdened by our sorrows and sins, by the cares of this world.

C: ever loving and sustaining is the peace of your embrace

P: We hear the promise of you Word made flesh, bearing your love for all, and to all, and in all:

C: your compassion for each fragile human life

P: We long for the light of your redemption for this earth, her creatures and people.

C: We watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior’s birth. Amen

Gathering Song – People, Look East

1.
People, look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
trim the hearth and set the table. 
People, look east and sing today,
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

2.
Furrows be glad, though earth is bare,
one more seed is planted there. 
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
that in course the flower may flourish. 
People, look east and sing today. 
Love, the Rose, is on the way.

3.
Stars keep the watch.  When night is dim,
one more light the bowl shall brim,
shining beyond the frosty weather,
bright as sun and moon together. 
People, look east and sing today,
Love the Star is on the way.

4.
Angels announce with shouts of mirth,
him who brings new life to earth. 
Set every peak and valley humming
with the word, the Lord is coming. 
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Greeting

   P: May the One who was, and who is, and who is to come, be with you in grace and hope.

     C: And also with you.

   P:  And may the light of the Christ shatter the darkness and shine on God’s people here.

Canticle of Praise
Thanksgiving

Holden Evening Prayer

Lighting the Advent Wreath

We praise you, O God, for this wheel of time that marks our days of preparation for Christ’s advent. As we light the candles on this wreath, open our eyes to see your presence in the lowly ones of this earth. Enlighten us with your grace, and prepare our hearts to welcome Christ with joy – whose coming is certain and whose day draws near.  Amen

Prayer of the Day

Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Create in us new life. Transform us so that we may reflect the light of your Son in acts and attitudes of goodness, kindness, compassion, generosity, honesty, patience, and peace. May we receive Jesus with joy, whose name brings deliverance and life to all the world.   Amen

Psalm 141

Holden Evening Prayer

Scripture Reading – Luke 1: 26-56

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s unexpected pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, who was of the house and lineage of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of          his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will  overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Gospel Canticle

Holden Evening Prayer

Sermon

Gabriel – the angel – appeared first to the old priest, Zechariah, in the temple. When Zechariah saw him standing on the right side of the altar, he was terrified and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been answered.” Later, we are told about shepherds out in the Bethlehem fields, keeping watch over their flock by night when an angel of the Lord appears to them and the glory of Lord shines around them, and they are terrified. The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid, for see – I am bringing you good news…” And suddenly there were countless angels. The skies were filled. It is completely understandable that the shepherds were terrified. 

But Gabriel appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  We aren’t told that Mary was terrified or overwhelmed. Instead, she eyes him quizzically. “She was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be,” it says.

I think that difference is interesting. I wish we were told a bit more. Did Gabriel tuck in his wings, pull in the glory, damp it down to be less alarming? Did he appear more casually, somehow – gradually? When Gabriel continues, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God,” my guess is that she wasn’t in danger of fainting or running away.  There’s energy and intelligence and adrenaline behind her perplexed pondering.

Somehow, Mary quiets her racing thoughts and fears, and she listens. She listens to what is being proposed, to what will happen to her – she will conceive in her womb, she will bear a boy, she will name him Jesus….   That might be about all she took in of Gabriel’s speech, because when he pauses, she doesn’t ask about the throne of David or reigning over the house of Jacob forever – she asks (simply, incredulously, earnestly),  “How can this thing be?” It’s not a question of doubt, like Zechariah’s question that rendered him mute for nine months. It’s more a question of logistics. She is not married. She’s not experienced.  She is not that kind of girl… How will she conceive and bear a child? How is this possible? She is told:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God

In your imagination, what is the expression on Mary’s face right now? Is she looking submissive, pious, all-a-flutter, scared?

Mary’s gears are spinning. God shows her favor for some unknown reason. I like to think that it has something to do with her eyes – that she meets the angelic face eye to eye; that it has to do with her ability to ponder and question and debate a holy being. It has something to do with her ability to bear God’s presence without fear, within her own body without melting away. It has to do with her ability to love this child of God as her own son, to help create an Incarnate Word – and then listen to this Word, debate with him, teach him, stand up to him, defend him.…to bear the sword that will one day pierce her heart, too, as old Simeon will prophesy to her just eight days after she gives Jesus birth.

Luke goes right on with Gabriel’s speech, telling Mary that this shall be a sign unto her – that she will find Elizabeth, her kinswoman six months along – in spite of being old and barren – that Elizabeth’s pregnancy is a forerunner of the marvelous deed… He tells her that “nothing is too wonderful, nothing is impossible for God.”  And he stops…. and he awaits her reply…   

The next line of biblical dialog belongs to Mary.….

                  … but it is at this point that I like to conjecture.

How much silence do you suppose comes between these two lines of dialog? How much time lapses in that pregnant pause while Gabriel looks on expectantly, eyebrows raised?       

I like to think that Mary got up from her bench and walked slowly, deliberately around the patio, never exactly turning her back on this red-robed angel with resplendent wings, but keeping an eye on him as she considers his words. Gabriel declared that Mary has been favored by God, no reason is given for this choice, just chosen – by God’s grace. That’s…. something!

On the other hand, becoming pregnant while not married is risking not only her engagement and marriage to Joseph, but risking her life – being publicly denounced. She could be stoned, killed for infidelity. 

On the other hand, look at that marvelous Being, that messenger from God…  the clarity, the substance… surely this word is to be trusted.

But, on the other hand, think of the scandal, the dishonor an unmarried pregnancy will bring to her family, to Joseph – who would believe her about Gabriel? How do you tell them about a fatherless baby?  Is this news the fulfillment of her life? Or the downfall?

I see her stepping off the patio – wandering around the perimeter of the garden, absentmindedly picking a sprig of rosemary and twirling the pungent leaves between her fingers as she observes this  Being out of the corner of her eye. I imagine her thoughts, her emotions swirling as she searches her mind – the strength of her will, as she weighs her options, tries to remember some of the prophetic scriptures she might have been told…

And that when she comes back to her bench and slowly sits before him, she is collected, if not at ease… collected enough to utter – with heart pounding – perhaps the most powerful line of dialog in all of scripture: “Here I am; let it be with me according to your will.”

Faith requires radical acceptance of things that we can’t understand or explain. We have to allow suspense – recognize that knowledge, logic, discovery can only get us part of the way there. We can’t figure out or reason through the invitation – but must each allow the unexpected and mysterious into our lives. Wonder must be allowed to reign in some chamber of our heart, traverse some pathways of our brain. 

As Mary demonstrates, though, faith does not require willing ourselves to ignore, deny, or gloss over things that perplex us. Faith calls for questioning, calls for more depth of thought, more perplexed pondering, not less. Trust in God is not an act of being overpowered or struck dumb. Gabriel did not come sword in hand (like Michael does, who appears for battle) in order to force the matter to a successful, pre-ordained conclusion. Gabriel came prepared to wait. Mary had the power to ponder, to question, to slow this conversation down.

Mary had the power to say, “No.”

So do we all.

This year has provided much to ponder. It has highlighted the deep fissures in American culture, startling depths of cynicism and distrust and disregard.  It has also highlighted the hard work of loving kindness and sacrifice in medical workers’ response to the pandemic; the startling ability of the earth to regenerate when humans stay home; the remarkable ways in which we are all connected – exemplified by a virus.

The complicated interplay of natural systems speaks to me of God’s creative patience; of God, like Gabriel down on one knee before Mary, waiting expectantly with eyebrows raised, waiting for our response.

I think there’s something that stands in for Gabriel in each of our lives. Something, some presence, that asks us to attend to more than our own self-interest, that asks us if we’re ready to be a “Theotokos,” a God bearer and birther in our own small, non-divine realm.                  

Mary’s words help us navigate a radical transformation by faith in these three short verses. Her story help moves us from who we think we are, to what God has called us to be; from observers minding our own business, to one pregnant with God.

If we collapse, “How is this possible” too quickly into “Here I am,” then we reduce Mary’s struggle  – and our own – in discerning and responding to God’s call.

We live in a time and place where there is very little risk associated with accepting God. We are rarely called to transformative, difficult, meaningful faith. We can keep it all in our heads – hardly ever allowing God to take up residence in our bodies, in our actual lives. Very rarely do we consider smuggling God into our world. Very rarely are we called to join Mary’s song that turns the world upside down.  And hardly ever do we consider that we are the proud, wealthy, well-fed, and powerful ones in her song.

Our risk may not be prophetic or heroic akin to Mary’s. But it can be as world changing. Gabriel – however Gabriel appears – might be asking us to love and nurture a Word of God, a word of peace and reconciliation and hope and forgiveness and inclusion – to bring that word of life to birth for the sake of others, for the sake of God who is known only through human action and human love.

If we’re serious about it, if we’re honest about it, loving our neighbor of different beliefs, different skin color, different political views, different economic goals – giving yourself and your cherished self-interest away for the sake of that love – as the cost of that love – may be the biggest risk and the best news of all.

“Let it be with me…” we are to say, “according to your will.”

Hymn – All Earth Is Hopeful

1.
All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last!
Furrows lie open for God’s creative task:
this, the labor of people who struggle to see
how God’s truth and justice set ev’rybody free.

2.
People of Israel, you heard the prophet tell:
“A virgin mother will bear Emmanuel”;
she conceived him, “God with us,” our brother, whose birth
restores hope and courage to children of this earth.

3.
Mountains and valleys will have to be prepared;
new highways opened, new protocols declared.
Almost here! God is nearing, in beauty and grace!
All clear ev’ry gateway, in haste, come out in haste!

4.
We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib.
This same Lord Jesus today has come to live
in our world; he is present, in neighbors we see
our Jesus is with us, and ever sets us free.

Advent Creed

Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.

This is he whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long expected; let creation praise its Lord evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father, and, O Holy Spirit, Thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory evermore and evermore. Amen

~verses 1,3,5 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” – Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 348-413 AD

Prayers

Holden Evening Prayer

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

Blessing

Holden Evening Prayer

Closing Hymn – Joy to the World

1.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let ev’ry heart prepare him room
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

2.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3.
No more let sin and sorrow grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

4.
He rules the world with truth and grace
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.

Postlude

Chris Johansen

December 13th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeIn the Bleak MidwinterChris Johansen, piano
OpeningPastor Linda
Gathering SongAs the Dark Awaits the Dawn
#261
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
GreetingPastor Linda
Canticle of Praise
Thanksgiving
from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Lighting the Advent Wreath
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 141from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
Scripturefrom IsaiahPastor Linda
Gospel Canticlefrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
SermonPastor Linda
HymnThe King Shall Come
#260
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Advent CreedPastor Linda
Prayers of Intercession
Lord’s Prayer
Blessing
from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
PostludeBach’s G Major PreludeChris Johansen, piano

Part I

Part II

Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: We gather in the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

O Lord our God, we stumble as those lost in the night.

C: O Star of promise, scatter night.

P: We live burdened by our sorrows and sins, by the cares of this world.

C: we await your light.

P: We hear the promise of you Word made flesh, bearing your love for all, and to all, and in all:

C: may we your healing light release.

P: We long for the light of your redemption for this earth, her creatures and people.

C: Shine your future, that through us streams holiness, bright and blest. Amen

Gathering Song – As the Dark Awaits the Dawn

1.
As the dark awaits the dawn,
so we await your light.
O Star of promise, scatter night,
loving bright, loving bright,
till shades of fear are gone.

2.
As the blue expectant hour
before the silvering skies,
we long to see your day arise,
whole and wise, whole and wise,
O Lucent Morning Star.

3.
As the moon reflects the sun
until the night’s decrease,
may we your healing light release,
living peace, living peace,
unto your holy dawn.

4.
Shine your future on this place,
enlighten every guest,
that through us stream your holiness,
bright and blest, bright and blest;
come dawn, O Sun of grace.

Greeting

   P: May the One who was, and who is, and who is to come, be with you in grace and hope.

     C: And also with you.

   P:  And may the light of the Christ shatter the darkness and shine on God’s people here.

Canticle of Praise
Thanksgiving

Holden Evening Prayer

Lighting the Advent Wreath

We praise you, O God, for this circlet of green that marks our days of preparation for Christ’s advent. The arrival is fast approaching. The light of our wreath is growing. As we light the third candle, we remember Mary – her fear, her puzzlement, her “yes” to make room in her womb for God to grow. Enlighten us with your grace, and prepare our hearts to welcome Christ with joy – whose coming is certain and whose day draws near.  Amen

Prayer of the Day

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, and come. Nurture in us joy, humility, and wonder so that we have eyes to see Christ in the world and spirits willing to to do the work of renewal and new life. Shower us with your peace. Amen

Psalm 141

Holden Evening Prayer

Scripture Reading – from Isaiah

There are three Isaiahs who contribute to the prophetic book bearing this name. The first was prophet to the Assyrian plunder and fall of the northern kingdom. Then Babylonia conquered. And then the Persians, who ascended and ended the Babylonian exile of the southern kingdom. Second Isaiah spoke words of comfort and healing at that time; and now third Isaiah speaks God’s word to those who returned, who are deeply discouraged, who are lost in their own land.

They are refugees who once belonged; who came home to find others in their place – not enemies, but fellow Judeans who had not ranked high enough to be taken into exile. And foreigners – in many cases, now spouses of those left behind – who had been displaced into Judah from their own conquered homelands. Returning a generation later to a place you’ve always thought of as home, but that doesn’t feel like home, doesn’t welcome you home or remember you, didn’t hold your place…. Can you imagine how that would feel? They have longed to return to Jerusalem – and find it in ruins, the temple destroyed, its stones scattered, repurposed. Their hearts are melting with grief and rage and confusion.

 We have those feelings and it’s only been 10 months of COVID. I say “only” – while recognizing that there are gaping wounds of loss and death and financial ruin and exhaustion. However, our walls are still standing; our buildings empty, but waiting for our return, holding your spot in the pew or restaurant or around the family table. Judah was small. Jerusalem was big within it. Every person was affected, disoriented, on edge, exhausted, at cross purposes. They had no stable, unifying leadership. How do you re-establish all that has been lost and ruined? Who is there to help or to care? “Sorrowing wand’rers in darkness yet dwelling,” says the Finnish Advent hymn, “Plaintively sighing with hearts full of anguish…Will you help us soon, will you help us soon?” Trust, hope, wisdom, community had to be re-found, regrown. It was too late for restoration. The prophet’s task was to proclaim the promises, to instill in them a vision of renewal, of healing, of a future… of God.

            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 – somewhat painfully – remind you that this was the situation 500 years before Jesus was born.   That it rings so true for us in 2020 is, I think, because these are stories of life, more than history. And of the interpretation of life seen through a theological lens. These ancient people attributed more to God’s agency than we tend to do, but we, too, look to God for guidance, for a living truth, for wholeness and care, for a new way forward out of the iniquities of our current time.

58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: [God speaks through the prophet] to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Doesn’t that sound remarkably current? Isn’t this the culture we want to create and inhabit? Isaiah continues his sermon in ch 59.

See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2 Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he cannot hear. 9 Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo!there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. 10 We grope like the blind along a wall, we stumble at noon as in the twilight,…11 We all growl like bears; like doves we moan mournfully. We wait for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.

The prophet’s job is to not only to show forth God, but to hold a mirror to the people, to reveal the truth among them. And, when he has their attention, when he has shown the abyss between their behavior and God’s desire for their co-creaturely, co-creative life, Isaiah speaks God’s saving, traveling mercy.

60:1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

I will appoint Peace as your overseer and Righteousness as your taskmaster. [says the Lord your God]18 Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and the gates of your city, Praise. 20…the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. 21 Your people are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands, so that I might be glorified.

61:1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me [Isaiah tells], because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 … to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, [says Isaiah] my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

Gospel Canticle

Holden Evening Prayer

Sermon

Our reading for today (that last paragraph) is beautiful, powerfully hopeful and forward leaning. I added all the rest to it because today is the last reading from the Old Testament for the year, and because I think we always need the context, more of the story, not a ‘feel good’ snippet. I’m sorry about that if you come to worship wanting to feel better and be inspired.  

My theological life lives in 2nd and 3rd Isaiah. Advent, too, dwells here, I think. And Lent. And there’s a reason for that. Advent and Lent are transitional seasons. Something is ending. There is grief and darkness and isolation in each: but a new thing is about to spring forth. I appreciate the imagery of Advent. Jesus does kind of spring forth in Easter as the gospels describe it (or rather, as they fail to describe it – we see the death and then the life newly sprung from the tomb without knowing the in-between process.) But we know all about birth. In the experience of human females, there is very little springing forth from the womb, but lots and lots of slow, painful labor pushing at that new thing. The last, intense stage of labor is called transition, the new life crowns, then squalls; then the real work begins. That’s proper imagery for Advent, and of the transitional life of Judah in return from exile, and for Christian life between Jesus’ birth and return, and of whatever new thing will be created out of this nation-wide, world-wide year of being unwell, displaced, disoriented, in solitude with time to think and observe other people’s struggle and oppression and lives and death. 

I hope and pray a new thing will be created. We need healing. We need something good to look forward to: there’s been a lot of dread this year and it continues, but with hope around the edges.

There has been, and continues to be lots of painful labor getting us to this point: protests for equal dignity and opportunity; soul-dredging work for doctors, nurses, medical personnel, hospital workers, morticians – so many others; teachers and parents trying to keep children cared for, fed, educated, challenged… you know the list. It seems endless. This has been an extraordinary year of labor, of human capability and sacrifice and innovation and pain. What will crown this Covid year, I wonder? What will it all bring to birth? What have we glimpsed, or experienced, or realized? 

It is an extraordinarily powerful thing to have the whole nation exposed. I don’t just mean to the virus. I mean to the whole thing – the big four of the year – the coronavirus pandemic, our endemic racism, heightened awareness and signs of the environmental crisis – especially in those fires and the plethora of tropical storms, and the devastation and depth of political division. We have learned so much about each other: our lives, beliefs, doubts, fears. Each trauma reveals elements of the other three. It is an incredibly important year – if we pay attention, if we can / are willing to remember, if we are willing to care once things find a way back going forward. We could raise up the former devastations, repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. These devastations are in plain view, in the current imagination. There is the possibility of hope around the edges simply because we have all seen it together. But it will take work and vision and a lot of birthing. It will keep us in Advent mode – a deep blue hope underneath, a surging, growing longing for light and communal well-being, and service to each other and the planet on the scale of that of healthcare workers during COVID. And we know human nature. We know we prefer happy, giddy, gleeful Christmas morning joy to Advent joy. 

The Judean refugees had returned to the place of their familial belonging, but life was not easier – in many ways – in most ways – it was more difficult than it had been in exile. Things were not going how they had imagined or hoped. They had to build up the ancient ruins, raise up the devastations. The imagery of greening and growth, of old oaks still growing by flowing streams, growing as sentinels in vineyards and olive groves might have given them hope. New life among the ashes, green buds sprouting on dead wood can be inspirational and symbolic of what is possible when God is involved. They had been given the mission to build and renew – to bloom again in the desert. 

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 

I don’t think these are conditional in a temporal sense – if you do this, then and only then will this other thing happen. I think they are natural contingencies – if we live in peace and humility, good things naturally will come of it.

11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 

Though joy and praise are not mandated, in the mercy of our God, they are possible – and when they bud, they display God’s glory. 

Hymn – The King Shall Come

1.
The King shall come when morning dawns
and light triumphant breaks,
when beauty gilds the eastern hills
and life to joy awakes.

2.
Not as of old a little child,
to bear and fight and die,
but crowned with glory like the sun
that lights the morning sky.

3.
Oh, brighter than the rising morn
when Christ, victorious, rose
and left the lonesome place of death,
despite the rage of foes.

4.
Oh, brighter than that glorious morn
shall dawn upon our race
the day when Christ in splendor comes,
and we shall see his face.

5.
The King shall come when morning dawns
and light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:
come quickly, King of kings.

Advent Creed

Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.

This is he whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long expected; let creation praise its Lord evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father, and, O Holy Spirit, Thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory evermore and evermore. Amen

~verses 1,3,5 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” – Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 348-413 AD

Prayers

Holden Evening Prayer

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

Blessing

Holden Evening Prayer

Postlude

Chris Johansen

December 6th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeLo, How a Rose E’er BloomingChris Johansen, piano
OpeningPastor Linda
Gathering SongHark, the Glad Sound
#239
Chuck Parsons, organ
GreetingPastor Linda
Canticle of Praise
Thanksgiving
from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Lighting the Advent Wreath
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 141from Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureJoel 2: 12-13, 2: 28-29Pastor Linda
Gospel Canticlefrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
SermonPastor Linda
HymnEach Winter As the Year Grows Older
#252
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Advent CreedPastor Linda
Prayers of Intercessionfrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Great Thanksgiving
Communion
Lord’s Prayer
Pastor Linda
Blessingfrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Closing HymnComfort, Comfort Now My People
#256
Chuck Parsons, organ
PostludeCome, Though Long-Expected JesusChris Johansen, piano

Part I

Part II

Prelude

Chris Johansen

Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: We gather in the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.

O Lord our God, we stumble as those lost in the night.

C: from our fears and sins release us.

P: We live burdened by our sorrows and sins, by the cares of this world.

C: let us find our rest in thee.

P: We hear the promise of you Word made flesh, bearing your love for all, and to all, and in all:

C: hope of all the earth thou art.

P: We long for the light of your redemption for this earth, her creatures and people.

C: Come, thou joy of every loving heart. Amen

Gathering Song – Hark, the Glad Sound

1.
Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes,
the Savior promised long;
let ev’ry heart prepare a throne
and ev’ry voice a song.

2.
He comes the pris’ners to release,
in Satan’s bondage held.
The gates of brass before Him burst,
the iron fetters yield.

3.
He comes the broken heart to bind,
the bleeding soul to cure,
and with the treasures of his grace
to enrich the humble poor.

4.
Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
your welcome shall proclaim,
and heav’n’s eternal arches ring
with your beloved name.

Greeting

   P: May the One who was, and who is, and who is to come, be with you in grace and hope.

     C: And also with you.

   P:  And may the light of the Christ shatter the darkness and shine on God’s people here.

Canticle of Praise
Thanksgiving

Holden Evening Prayer

Lighting the Advent Wreath

We praise you, O God, for this circlet of green that marks our days of preparation for Christ’s advent. As we light the second candle, kindle within us the fire of your Spirit, that we may be light shining in the darkness. Enlighten us with your grace, and prepare our hearts to welcome Christ with joy – whose coming is certain and whose day draws near.  Amen

Prayer of the Day

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, and come. You speak words of comfort and hope. When the things of this world wither and fade, when we are separated by disease, distance and discord, grant that we may stand fast in your Word. Grant us patience in our waiting for renewal and return. Shower us with your peace. Amen

Psalm 141

Holden Evening Prayer

Scripture Reading – Joel 2: 12 – 13; 28-29

12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 
    rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing.

28  Then afterward
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions. 
Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Gospel Canticle

Holden Evening Prayer

Sermon

The biblical book of Joel is short – just 3 chapters, and nothing is really known about him. It was likely written around the year 500 BCE, coming from Judah during the period of return after exile.

Joel vividly describes the results of a drought and subsequent locust plague, comparing the invading grasshoppers to the sound and fury of an advancing army. Grief upon grief.

What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten.What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten. Wake up… and weep; and wail.…

Like blackness spread upon the mountains, a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old… Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, but after them a desolate wilderness. Nothing escapes them. 4 They have the appearance of horses, and like warhorses they charge. 5 As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle. 10 The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.

The locusts chomp through every living plant from field and bush and vine to tree, leaving the land to scorch and burn, to erode and flood, as even the stubble is chewed up and spit out. Fields and vineyards, flocks and herds – all are affected. The locusts enter houses, scale walls, climb and leap and fly and chatter into skin and hair and clothing – everything swarms with cutters and hoppers and eaters. They literally drive people mad as they come on, wave after wave. A great and terrible day of the Lord.

Joel uses this awful natural disaster and language of an overpowering, merciless army to awaken his community to the seriousness of their situation and its significance in regard to God – to their relationship with God. 15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people. Assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast.” No one is exempt. This gathering of the whole community without regard to social class or station is telling of the degree of crisis facing them. Even privilege is suspended.

Malachi promised that God would see the people’s repentance and turn toward them in mercy. But God has been silent. Joel simply hopes this is true. 14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain-offering and a drink-offering…”

But, finally, in the midst of this awfulness, Joel hears God’s word. “Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.” And God makes a promise. After a long silence-of-the-spirit in which there have been no prophets, no visions; days and years into which God has whispered no oracle of judgment or of hope; into the solemnness and suffering and silence – God’s spirit and voice return.

I am sending you grain, wine, and oil overflowing and running down, and you will be satisfied.

I will remove the army far from you, you will know that I am in your midst, that I, the Lord, am your God – and there is no other. 21 Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! 22 Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield. 23 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. 24 The threshing-floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

I wonder if they could do it – rejoice and be glad – ahead of any food, just on the prophet’s word and some rain. I am quite sure we have grown too cynical of words of promise without further proof. I don’t think we would listen, or blow the horn of fast or feast. I’m quite sure we would not be willing to change our ways, to return, to rend our hearts. Climate change warnings, racial/gender/identity/faith differences, our proclivity to argumentation and war – even about wearing facemasks to prevent the spread of a novel coronavirus – these and many other traits of our modern culture and the invading army of locusts seem to have a lot in common, and our response as a people has not been terrifically encouraging.

“Rend your hearts and not your garments,” God said.

This has been a year of rending. Families have been torn asunder by COVID for major life events – births, weddings, graduations, holidays; from expected routines like school, work, worship, and travel; from support systems and basic economic sustainability; some, many, from life itself. Neighborhoods and communities have been rent by violence and protest and death revealing how deep and wide our racial inequality remains. Floods, hurricanes, and fires have torn apart towns, ripped through great swathes of forest and coastal habitats leaving the vulnerable of many species homeless, turned out. An election has divided our nation, families, marriages, friendships; the democratic process in dystopic confusion affecting all of these issues. And through it all, the climate clock is ticking.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing.

In ancient Hebrew life, clothing was precious, valuable – all hand-made, hand stitched. People didn’t have wardrobes. They had a robe. A couple garments. To tear your garment was a sign of deep grief, of pathos. Significant.

In ancient Hebrew thought, the heart was not simply the location of love or emotion, but also of rationality and will. To rend your heart is to totally disrupt, open up, your life. Turning to God is a life-changing offering. Not words, not an outward show like the ritualized action of grief or remorse in tearing a garment, but a Humpty-Dumpty, complete, now-and-for-all-time, never the same again, reorientation to God’s way and word. 

Some life events do that to us. Most of us don’t suffer at that depth. We don’t rend our hearts if we have any choice in the matter; even when the resulting changes are vitally important. COVID is the easiest item of my list. Most of us only need to suffer a little bit, change our lives and lifestyles for months. We have every hope of re-establishing a pattern that feels normal. Racism, however, and all the ‘other-isms’ in which we are complicit, can only be healed by turning our hearts inside out so that we truly see others who are different from us as equal to us in love and value. And then, we have to act on it!  Feeling, thinking, learning about change is good, but incomplete: living it – living the changes that are needed for radical inclusion, radical carbon reduction, real and meaningful change will rend our most cherished sins. It will open them up. Shake things apart.We hear the modern prophets. We can see the trajectories of our actions. But breaking our hearts over those needs and trajectories, remolding our hearts and wills…. sigh.

“Rend your hearts and not your garments,” God says……. “and return to me.”

Into the gloom and fear and hunger and scarcity of his time – Joel’s prophetic vision shines.

Return. “Then, afterward…”

Then, afterward, will come not the dark Day of the Lord, but a day radiant with the outpouring of God’s Spirit. God will bucket down his spirit “on all flesh” — not drizzle a few drops on the elite male priests of Israel, or sprinkle the prophets of the periphery. The spirit gushing, sloshing, drenching is more than a match for the locusts that reduce life to dust and stubble. It speaks of a return to Eden, backing up into the garden of plenty and the presence of the Lord. Rewind and return. The image of destruction is re-formed into one of overwhelming abundance and hope and peace. “Return to me and be restored,” says the Lord your God. Come back.

That is, actually, what Advent is meant to be and to do. It is a harbinger of presence. Rewind and return; seek, accept, discover restoration of God’s spirit, of love and plenty and provision and concern for all, for all flesh… including beasts and beavers and birds, fields and forests, lakes and bogs, streams, insects – all life, all of creation finds restorative justice in God’s gracious Word who took on this matter of life.

Return to me with all your heart, and mind and strength – it’s an intimate invitation – one that involves risk and vulnerability. To whom do you open your heart – or, perhaps the better question, do you surrender your heart, to God or to someone? Do you dare? Are you able to be that honest – and can you trust the tender reception of God, the pathos of God’s patient, judgment-borne compassion for you.

Rend your heart – open your defenses – come with fasting, weeping, mourning – come to God in all your grief, your sorrow; come with your questions, your fear, your doubts; come with your joy – come with all that is in a heart unzipped.  Bring it to God, holding nothing back. This is the invitation – but it is one we very rarely take up.

“Return” in Hebrew does not have the same image as repentance in New Testament Greek. It doesn’t have that dualistic, black and white, turning-around-in-your-tracks sense of metanoia, of becoming a new creation. In Hebrew, it means reworking the old, rewinding oneself, loosening that stiff neck, opening your closed heart, so that you are receptive. It signifies an openness to who God is.

Because, return is not about you.  Return is about the One to Whom you return; the One inviting, the One who welcomes you back and gathers you in. Return requires recognition of who we are in relationship to who God is.  It requires humility and honesty, and, perhaps, allows for too much free will. It allows us to wander away. The people of Israel took one step back, then two steps forward. Always.

“Return to me,” the invitation stands. “Come to me, all who are thirsty and who hunger, Come to me all who bear heavy burdens, Return and rewind, and I will give you life,” says the Lord your God.

Does the invitation sit unopened on your kitchen table?

“O Lord, how shall we greet thee?” an old Advent hymn begins. How do we receive the invitation of this God who bids us come, and who would come into our hearts, into our world, into our lives and change the shape of them? God who would come in person, who would come in the flesh… who would come in a beating heart, and rend it for us? A God who would come, not just for us, in our private lives, but would come for all?  O Lord, how shall we greet thee? With heart and strength and mind rent open, receptive, if not exactly ready.

Hymn – Each Winter as the Year Grows Older

1.
Each winter as the year grows older,
We each grow older too.
The chill sets in a little colder;
The verities we knew
Seem shaken and untrue.

2.
When race and class cry out for treason,
When sirens call for war,
They overshout the voice of reason
And scream till we ignore
All we held dear before.

3.
Yet I believe beyond believing,
That life can spring from death:
That growth can flower from our grieving;
That we can catch our breath
And turn transfixed by faith.

4.
So even as the sun is turning
To journey to the north,
The living flame, in secret burning,
Can kindle on the earth
And bring God’s love to birth.

5.
O Child of ecstasy and sorrows,
O Prince of peace and pain,
Brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s,
Renew our lives again;
Lord Jesus, come and reign!

Advent Creed

Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be, he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore.

This is he whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord,
whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long expected; let creation praise its Lord evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father, and, O Holy Spirit, Thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving and unwearied praises be:
honor, glory, and dominion, and eternal victory evermore and evermore. Amen

~verses 1,3,5 “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” – Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 348-413 AD

Prayers

Holden Evening Prayer

Great Thanksgiving
Communion
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

Blessing

Holden Evening Prayer

Hymn – Comfort, Comfort, Now My People

1.
“Comfort, comfort now my people;
tell of peace!” So says our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness
mourning under sorrow’s load.
To God’s people now proclaim
that God’s pardon waits for them!
Tell them that their war is over;
God will reign in peace forever.

2.
For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
calling us to true repentance,
since the reign of God is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way.
Valleys, rise to greet the Savior;
hills, bow down in humble favor.

3.
Straight shall be what long was crooked,
and the rougher places plain.
Let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits God’s holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
now on earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that God’s word is never broken.

Postlude

Chris Johansen