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

November 29th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeComfort, ComfortChuck Parsons, organ
OpeningPastor Linda
Gathering SongLost in the Night
#243
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
ScriptureDaniel 6: 1-27Pastor Linda
Gospel Canticlefrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
SermonPastor Linda
Advent CreedPastor Linda
Prayers of Intercessionfrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Lord’s PrayerPastor Linda
Blessingfrom Holden Evening PrayerHarry Johansen
Pastor Linda
Chris Johansen, piano
Closing HymnSavior of the Nations, Come
#263, vs. 1-2
Chuck Parsons, organ
PostludeSavior of the Nations, ComeChuck Parsons, organ

Part I

Part II


Prelude

Chuck Parsons


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: Will not day come soon?

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

C: Will you help us soon?

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

C: Christ is coming soon!

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

C: Come and save us soon! Amen


Gathering Song – Lost in the Night

1.
Lost in the night do the people yet languish,
Longing for morning the darkness to vanquish,
Plaintively sighing with hearts full of anguish.
Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?

2.
Must we be vainly awaiting the morrow?
Shall those who have light no light let us borrow,
Giving no heed to our burden of sorrow?
Will you help us soon? Will you help us soon?

3.
Sorrowing wanderers, in darkness yet dwelling,
Dawned has the day of a radiance excelling,
Death’s deepest shadows forever dispelling,
Christ is coming soon! Christ is coming soon!

4.
Light o’er the land of the needy is beaming;
Rivers of life through its deserts are streaming,
Bringing all peoples a Savior redeeming.
Come and save us soon! Come and save us soon!


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 evergreen wreath that marks our days of preparation for Christ’s advent. As we light the first candle, rouse us from sleep, 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. You heal the broken in heart and bind up the wounds of your people. Strengthen us in our weakness, dispel our doubts and fears. Renew our faith, restore our joy, grant us patience and calm. For it is you who promises life, and gives us life, and joins with us – in life and beyond.  Amen

Psalm 141

Holden Evening Prayer


Scripture Reading – Daniel 6: 1-27

Daniel was clothed in purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made concerning him that he should rank third in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.

1 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. The men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.’

So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.

10 Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously. The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Then they responded to the king, “Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.”

14 When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”

16 Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

19 Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.”

23 Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.

25 Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: “May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel:
For he is the living God, enduring forever.
His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. 
He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth;
for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.”


Gospel Canticle

Holden Evening Prayer


Sermon

    Last week we heard from the prophet Jeremiah, whose life and ministry spanned the end of the kingdom of Judah, the first deportation of the Jewish people into Babylon in 597 BCE, the second deportation, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 587. Jeremiah fled to Egypt with some of the residents of Judah, but most of the exiles ended up in Babylon and the other conquered lands of the fertile crescent. Empires come and go. King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were eventually conquered by the Persians. King Cyrus allowed the conquered people go back home – and we hear about that in Isaiah, but Daniel is one of those who stays in exile. He is one living in the diaspora – in permanent exile within the Persian empire, and the issue for the scattered people of God was how to stay faithful when you are living in a foreign land. How do you practice and stay true to the tenants of your faith when the God you worship is not the god of culture? It’s still a pretty good question – and one we’ll circle back to.

The beginning of this Advent season takes us to the book of Daniel, chapter 6, in the midst of the Persian Empire. King Darius of Mede eventually succeeded Cyrus, and Daniel has distinguished himself to due to his “excellent spirit,” and intelligence.  He pleases the king, and rises to a place of responsibility and power within the imperial court. He remains an outsider, however, due to his devotion to Israel’s God. Both aspects of Daniel’s status – being favored and being an outsider – earn him enemies. The book of Daniel excels at storytelling hyperbole and drama, but don’t be fooled, Daniel is not simply an adventure tale of a long lost kingdom. Its themes and questions are very much alive today.

Within the narrative’s timeline, Daniel comes after the destruction of the temple, during the exile – but it’s believed to have been written much later than that.  It was likely the last book of the Old Testament to be written. It was a story told looking back because, under the Greek Seleucids – the empire that followed the Persians – the people of Judah and the Jews living in diaspora were severely oppressed. It was illegal for them to keep the sabbath, illegal to read or keep the Torah, illegal to practice their faith in the One God. Telling stories set in a similar point in their history offered a subversive critique of their current situation. It gave the people ideas and hope.

The same could be said for us – with these stories. Through them we see our own life with God and the pulls and strains of our culture. The similarities are what keep ancient scripture and these stories relevant. We are not persecuted, but our faith is challenged just the same. It needs to be – it ought to be – if we are to keep growing personally, and if we are to keep a prophetic critique of society as part of our Christian calling. Faith that isn’t questioned by what you see and hear and read, faith that doesn’t question you, faith that fits neatly into the package of your life, perhaps isn’t faith in the living God. God rarely leaves us unchanged, unchanging, it seems.

But, back to Daniel. This book, Esther, Ruth, Job, and Jonah are similar biblical books in ways. They are microcosms, up-close and personal stories about one of the people of God. They employ clever and fun storytelling – and so, often, are left to Sunday School lessons and picture books. But, like Jonah and Ruth and Esther, Daniel is very much a grown-up story. Daniel is resistance literature the way the Bible most often does resistance – sneakily, from the bottom up – through fidelity to God as push-back against culture, power and principalities.

The strategy of Daniels’ political rivals was to rid themselves of Jewish upstarts, former slaves and  exiles who were making a name for themselves in this new generation. Coming at things from the slant, they could remove troublesome Jews by making worship of other gods illegal. In mock humility they suggest that the king should write an edict: “For the next 30 days, if anyone should pray to someone, divine or human, other than to the king, they shall be thrown into a den of lions.” The unity of thought is astonishing. Anyone with experience in a board meeting will recognize the difficulty of reaching such a clear consensus: “All the presidents of the kingdom, all the prefects and the satraps, all the counselors and the governors are agreed … ” That’s impressive.

They used flattery and manipulation to subvert the king’s affection for Daniel. Once they secured a court ruling “according to the laws of the Medes and the Persians”, it couldn’t easily be revoked. King Darius is made out to be a bit shortsighted and foolish here, a bit too easily swayed by flattery, or by the miraculous agreement of all his leaders, but whatever his motivation, he goes along with their suggestion.

When Daniel hears the new law ending his religious freedom, he doesn’t change his religious rituals and remembrances, but continues to pray three times a day. The Satrap’s spies catch him.

When the king hears the charge against Daniel, and understands the consequences of his own behavior, he is distressed and determined to save his valuable political ally. Right up to the last moment of daylight, Darius makes every effort to rescue Daniel. But the king is unsuccessful.

The Satraps and prefects and presidents and governors win. Daniel is housed in the lion’s den for the night, sealed in with a great big stone. The king is forced to use his own signet ring to seal the tomb. Daniel had been at the heart of the empire and was now a victim of imperial sport. The lion was a tool of spectacle and the empire’s dehumanizing power… a clear symbol of control over life and death.

The king went back to his house but could neither eat nor sleep. At the break of day, he got up and hurried out to the den of lions and cried out anxiously, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God – whom you faithfully serve – been able to deliver you from the lions?” It’s kind of a funny line to picture – the king stooped over, bending in to listen through a large rock, hoping and fearing, wondering about the fate of Daniel and his faith.

And that’s where I want us to stop and stay for the day, for this first Sunday of Advent…. with that image… bending in to listen, hoping and fearing, wondering about the fate of Daniel and his faith.

Daniel’s great act of civil disobedience and resistance to empire was simply his own private prayer; to continue in whatever fashion he had available to him to serve and worship God. On the one hand, I would say we don’t give prayer enough credit in our daily lives. I would guess that not many of you think your prayers are acts of civil disobedience or quiet resistance to culture. We tend to picture big public protests like those we’ve seen during the Black lives matter demonstrations or those standing with the Native people at Standing Rock defending their sacred land and water source. Those things can be powerful acts of civil disobedience and are vital critiques of cultural, corporate and consumer-driven shame. But so, too, apparently, are the prayers you raise from your living room. So, too, apparently, is the counter cultural, quiet, lived integrity and faithfulness of your daily life.

How does the image of bending in to listen, hoping and fearing, wondering about the fate of your faith strike you in this first week of Advent?

How do you practice your faith and stay true when we can’t visit or gather or worship together? When the God you worship is not the god of culture? That’s the big question of this story. What difference does it make that we say we are Christian? What difference does it make if we say we believe that God’s concern, Christ’s vision, Jesus’ actions were about justice for all people, compassion for all people, love for God with all our heart and soul and mind, and strength? What does it mean to you to love God with all your strength – your actions, your work, your body, your values, your strength of will and strength of character? How does love of God show up in your life? What does it feel like in your soul, your emotional world, your spirit?

If Daniel is resistance literature – like the Magnificat is resistance literature – it is about God coming at us from the bottom, God lifting us up when we fall, God strengthening weak hands and making firm feeble knees as it says in Isaiah 35. It’s about God caring about you – who you are, what you do, how you feel and live, how you treat others in your family and community and culture and world.

            There are lots of competing claims on our lives, things that clamor for our attention, our time,  resources,  money – you might feel forced to conform to things that undercut your most basic convictions – things that run contrary to the values you hold. There is a living edge to these stories: there are genuine threats to our wellbeing, the diminishment of our lives, there are risks, genuine fears and oppression – the lions are real enough. The good news of quiet resistance – of prayer and integrity, is not that you will be spared the lions, the good news is that if there is going to be a promise of life, it will come from a God who bears you through the lions – so that you know and believe and feel and experience Christ coming, God entering, God intruding, God subverting culture and business as usual – because who among us really wants business as usual?

“O Daniel,” cried the king, “servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?”


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


Hymn – Savior of the Nations, Come

1.
Savior of the nations, come;
Virgin’s son, make here your home.
Marvel now, O heaven and earth:
God has chosen such a birth.

2.
Not by human flesh and blood,
But the mystic Breath of God,
Was the Word of God made flesh,
Fruit of woman, blossom fresh.


Postlude

Chuck Parsons

November 15th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
PreludeGift of LoveChris Johansen, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongHere I Am, Lord
#574
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 40vs. 1-8Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureIsaiah 1 & 6Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnHow Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord
#580
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Statement of Faith
Prayers of Intercession
Lord’s Prayer
Pastor Linda
Benediction
Dismissal
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnYou Are Mine
#581
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
PostludeI WillChris Johansen

Part I

Part II


Prelude

Chris Johansen


Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: In heart and spirit, if not in person, we are gathered together in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.                          

     Amen

P: God of goodness and mercy, help us as we open our hearts and our inward eyes. Hear our confession.

C: We convince ourselves that we cannot do the work you have called us to do. Loving others in the way of your love carries a high cost. We would prefer to be left alone and to follow our own guidance and plans.

You give us your word to follow and your mercy to sustain, yet we behave as though we can’t hear and don’t need you.

Selfishness, greed, the many distractions around us, bind us, insulate, and isolate us from the world. It is easy to ignore the needs and voices of others when we act with only ourselves in mind.

We are truly sorry and ask for your forgiveness. Open us to do what’s right and good in the days to come; surround us and renew us with your grace. AMEN

P: God is good, and loves us unconditionally, at all times and in all places. Unmerited, we have been saved. In the name of Jesus our sins are forgiven. AMEN.


Gathering Song – Here I Am, Lord

1.
“I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.

I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?”

Refrain
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

2.
“I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.

I will break their hearts of stone,
give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my word to them.
Whom shall I send?”
Refrain

3.
“I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.

Finest bread I will provide
till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send?”
Refrain


Greeting

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

         And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

Creator of the Universe, preserve us from our own presumption. Do not let us close ourselves into ourselves, but open us always to your way. Increase in us kindness, make us people who care, who venerate the truth, and who recognize each other in your love.    Amen


Psalm 40: 1-8

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.'”


Narrative context and Scripture Reading – Isaiah 1 & 6

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Woe to a people whose guilt is great! They have forsaken the Lord, the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores. Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste overthrown by strangers. Listen to the teaching of your God!

“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord.“I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?  When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.Your hands are full of blood!   Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.                      

~ from Isaiah, chapter 1

We hear from Isaiah today – another of the major prophets from the books of Hebrew scriptures.  We are in the southern kingdom, inside the temple of Jerusalem, and it’s around the year 739 BCE. As was true of Elijah and Jonah, not much is known about the prior life of Isaiah. He, too, just seems to be minding his own business when God imposes God’s business in his life.  The scripture reading appointed for today begins in the 6th chapter of Isaiah, but we just heard the context in which this reading falls.

All is not well…on multiple fronts.

Isaiah is tending to his business in the temple while this tirade of God’s lament is taking place in another realm. God is angry at the empty worship of his chosen people – who seem willing enough to follow the rituals and festivals, but have forgotten their higher calling. They make sacrifices and burn incense to appease God’s sense of smell, and hope that God will overlook the injustice and oppression they practice even as they pray for deliverance from the Assyrian army.                       

Destruction is cresting the horizon and that is the occasion of their prayers, not worship of the holy one, not faith in God’s grandeur beyond rulers and principalities. They invoke the rights of their chosen status, but have forgotten why it was given to start with – to be the exemplar of radical trust in God’s ultimate provision, in God’s word that creates life, in God’s purposes of justice and compassion.

So on this day, in the year that King Uzziah died, God claims a prophet to incarnate his word. And it is a word that carries both judgement and hope. In a vision, Isaiah is transported – the golden, carved, inlaid walls of the temple expand in the glory of the Lord. The Holy of Holies transforms. The mercy seat of the arc of the covenant becomes the throne of God. Seraphim and cherubim and creatures carved into the arc – mighty, fearsome beings, not the chubby cherubs of Valentine cards – come to life and fly and sing around him in thunderous, horrifying glory as the distinction between the earthly temple and God’s indwelling presence blurs. “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” the song crescendos inside, shaking the foundations.

Yet, despite this otherworldly setting, God is deeply entwined with in the earthliness of history and our lives outside the temple walls. God is not ‘here” exactly, in ways we can readily identify or identify with, but according to Isaiah, God is not an abstract idea, or the prime mover manipulating earthly endeavors from a distance. God is present

Isaiah chapter 6:

 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”


Sermon

This is a strange time. Ours, I mean. Between the behavior of our President and his advisors which betrays and confuses his followers who believe what he tweets, and the continued threat posed by the coronavirus to the economy, our health, and happiness, it’s a disheartening, confounding time. And as we move toward winter, the increasing darkness seems somehow personal. Isaiah would understand. A sense of foreboding and gloom surrounds the people of Judah and Jerusalem. The northern kingdom is quickly falling under the shadow of Assyrian domination. It is a time of fear and uncertainty.

Enter the prophet, Isaiah, whose job in these darkening days is a difficult one; to assure the people and to call them into account for their actions and lack of faith. It’s more than a confusing message, it’s one meant to confound. The passage continues:

9 And God said, “Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; … if even a tenth part remains, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.

Isaiah is demanded by his God to speak in such a way that no one will finally understand what it is he is saying. Their eyes and ears will be useless, so dull and sightless that their minds will be clouded and clogged. And their healing delayed. It’s a tough assignment.

God’s word will not make their lives easier, their road smoother, or their responsibilities plainer. The time ahead will not right the wrongs of oppression, will not see them rise to the top as the chosen people of a powerful God. Their right hand will not know what their left is doing.

Not surprisingly, that eager prophet of verse eight, sounds a bit different in verse eleven after hearing what God has in mind. Where once he offered, “Here am I, send me!” now he whispers, “How long, O Lord?”  

Isaiah’s message isn’t tailored to suit his people’s sensibilities or be what they want to hear – so it’s a different form of public speech than, say, our political leaders who target very specific subsets of the population giving them a message they will approve of and support. Isaiah isn’t a politician, he’s a prophet. He’s there to tell them the truth, God’s truth.

But it’s not only bad news and condemnation. The truth is also, and more importantly, good news, transformative news. We hear it in the seraph’s song: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  Not the heavens – I mean God’s glory must also be in the heavens, but not only there – the earth is full of God’s glory – as frightening as that glory is to Isaiah, it’s still really good news. God’s glory is here, God’s presence is here. God’s face is shining on this life, in your life, our history; God’s grace is finding a way to shine through the cracks of our hopes and fears.

And we hear the promise hidden in those few final words: “How long, O Lord?””Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; … like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled. The holy seed is in its stump.

That’s the promise. It might sound like small comfort, a seed for the future hidden in a smoldering stump of the present day, but the seed bears God’s promise that God will not desert them (us), that God maintains a potent power – though unseen and often unrecognized… that God will always reveal the divine, holy nature of mercy.  The seed buried in the stump of the terebinth tree of Judah, though the tree is cut and burned will one day again grow mercifully green and strong. A shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse. That promise overrides not only Assyrian history, but all history. Goodness, justice, mercy, God’s version of love from the bottom up, from deep within, from hidden, humble, extraordinarily everyday seed has power for which kings and armies have no match. It has the power to transform lives from darkness into love.

“Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Ebenezer Scrooge had no need to be told that the bell was upon the stroke of One….and lying down again, established a sharp look-out all round the bed. For he wished to challenge the Spirit on the moment of its appearance, and did not want to be taken by surprise, and made nervous. I don’t mind calling on you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.

Now, being prepared for almost anything, Scrooge was not by any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. All this time, he lay upon his bed – the very core and centre of a blaze of light – which streamed upon it when the clock proclaimed the hour; and which, being only light, was more alarming than a dozen ghosts.…

At last, however, he began to think that the source and secret of this ghostly light might be in the adjoining room, from whence it seemed to shine. This idea taking full possession of his mind, he got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to the door.

The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.

It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising    transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from which bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many a winter season gone.    Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, great joints of meat, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.

And in easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see: who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

            “Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in, and know me better, man.”

Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. …Though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.

            “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”

Scrooge reverently did so. The Spirit was clothed in one simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur.  Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.

     “You have never seen the like of me before!” exclaimed the Spirit.

     “Never,” Scrooge made answer to it.

     “Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family..?” pursued the Phantom.

     “I don’t think I have,” said Scrooge. “I am afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?”

     “More than eighteen hundred,” said the Ghost.

     “A tremendous family to provide for,” muttered Scrooge.

     The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.

     “Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will…. If you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”

     “Touch my robe.”

     Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.”

This is the call story of another unlikely saint and prophet, one Ebenezer Scrooge, as told by Charles Dickens. The transformation of his own room into a throne room of warmth, abundance, and generosity is as mysterious, other-worldly, and intimidating to Scrooge as the heavenly throne room was to Isaiah. But there is another transformation. We know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, know that in lowering himself, he becomes great; that in parting with his once hoarded wealth, he becomes a generous and compassionate friend to all in need.

It’s a story, you say, it’s fiction. True. But it speaks of the calling of God and the truth that we can often see best in a story. Like the biblical call it is about love. God loves. God has preferential love for the poor and oppressed. And those who would be followers of God, follow in the difficult, costly steps of that love. Isaiah was called to proclaim judgement for the sake of mercy. Scrooge was called to see both the callousness and the cares, the poverty and the goodness of the people around him – and respond with compassion.  Prophets (even fictional ones) are called to foretell and interpret God’s glory spread ore all the earth, God’s seed buried in a stump, to get us used to the idea of incarnation, of the indwelling of God in earthly and human form.

Biblical prophets eat God’s word on scrolls, they embody the word, they are instructed to act out the word, they see visions, and dream dreams; they become the Word of God for a time, for a people. The Word of God is said to be performative – that is, it does what it says. Not just back then in the olden times, not just in fiction, but even now, today.

The Word of God still has power to become and to change. It can still transform. It can still cut through the clutter and chaos and busyness and disappointments and dread of your daily life and strike fear and awe and joy in your heart.  It still comes to us and lives within us and asks things of us. It still promises us forgiveness and mercy and new life.  The word of God comes and calls and commissions not only us, but you. It’s a personal word, this word of God. It’s personal for the sake of being communal. Like Scrooge, but without the visiting spirits, you are called into a room of plenty and warmth and need and loss and love. We can see the light under the door. Scrooge shuffled over in his slippers. He put his hand on the doorknob and a voice called him by name, and bade him enter.

Isaiah jumped into the breach in a council meeting of heavenly, holy beings and was sent back out, no doubt glowing and deafened by the seraph’s song of praise, and mortified by the message he now bore.  Without doubt, we are called to follow God, to shuffle in our slippers over to the door where the light is streaming in through the crack. To put our hand on the lock and swing it open. We too, are bidden to enter, to give our lives to God’s service in our own unique ways.

Like Isaiah and Scrooge we are called to live the message of love –  where the last are first, the least are greatest, and the greatest among us is a servant of all. It’s not a message that will win many votes.

Respond to the call of God. Know that the call is never easy, never simple to grasp, never designed for ready comfort and success. But you knew that. Love always promises… and risks… much more than comfort and success. It promises to transform your heart.


Hymn – How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord

1.
How clear is our vocation, Lord,
when once we heed your call
to live according to your word
and daily learn, refreshed, restored,
that you are Lord of all
and will not let us fall.

2.
But if, forgetful, we should find
your yoke is hard to bear;
if worldly pressures fray the mind
and love itself cannot unwind
its tangled skein of care:
our inward life repair.

3.
We marvel how your saints become
in hindrances more sure;
whose joyful virtues put to shame
the ca-sual way we wear your name,
and by our faults obsure
your pow’r to cleanse and cure.

4.
In what you give us, Lord, to do,
together or alone,
in old routines or ventures new,
may we not cease to look to you,
the cross you hung upon,
all you endeavored done


Statement of Faith

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.
We believe in God, who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.

We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
     to celebrate God’s presence,
     to live with respect in Creation,
     to love and serve others,
     to seek justice and resist evil,
     to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our center and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.  Amen

Prayers of Intercession

Sustained and nurtured by our generous God, we gather to pray for the church, the world, and all of God’s creation.

         The response today is “Hear our 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


Benediction

Dismissal

Go forth into the world to serve God with gladness; be of good courage; hold fast to that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor all people; love and serve God, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God.


Hymn – You Are Mine

1.
“I will come to you in the silence,
I will lift you from all your fear.
You will hear my voice,
I claim you as my choice.
Be still and know I am here.

2.
“I am hope for all who are hopeless,
I am eyes for all who long to see.
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light.
Come and rest in me.

Refrain
Do not be afraid, I am with you.
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me,
I will bring you home;
I love you and you are mine.”

3.
“I am strength for all the despairing,
healing for the ones who dwell in shame.
All the blind will see,
the lame will all run free,
and all will know my name.
Refrain

4.
“I am the Word that leads all to freedom,
I am the peace the world cannot give.
I will call your name,
embracing all your pain.
Stand up, now walk and live!
Refrain


Postlude

Chris Johansen

November 8th Worship

Order of Service

Part I
Preludeby MendelssohnChris Johansen, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongTo Be Your Presence
#546
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Greeting
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 100Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Part II
ScriptureJonah
Luke 15: 4-6
Pastor Linda
SermonPastor Linda
HymnWill You Let Me Be Your Servant
#659
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Statement of FaithPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionBarb Kass
Offertory Prayer
Lord’s Prayer
Pastor Linda
Benediction
Dismissal
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnChrist Be Our Light
#715
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Postludeby ClementiChris Johansen

Part I

Part II


Prelude

Chris Johansen


Welcome

Confession & Forgiveness

P: In heart and spirit, if not in person, we are gathered together in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.                          

     Amen

P: God of goodness and mercy, help us as we open our hearts and our inward eyes. Hear our confession.

C: We convince ourselves that we cannot do the work you have called us to do. Loving others in the way of your love carries a high cost. We would prefer to be left alone and to follow our own guidance and plans.

You give us your word to follow and your mercy to sustain, yet we behave as though we can’t hear and don’t need you.

Selfishness, greed, the many distractions around us, bind us, insulate, and isolate us from the world. It is easy to ignore the needs and voices of others when we act with only ourselves in mind.

We are truly sorry and ask for your forgiveness. Open us to do what’s right and good in the days to come; surround us and renew us with your grace. AMEN

P: God is good, and loves us unconditionally, at all times and in all places. Unmerited, we have been saved. In the name of Jesus our sins are forgiven. AMEN.


Gathering Song – To Be Your Presence

1.
To be your presence is our mission here,
to show compassion’s face and list’ning ear,
to be your heart of mercy ever near,
alleluia!

2.
To be your presence is our mission bold,
to feed the poor and shelter homeless cold,
to be your hands of justice, right uphold,
alleluia!

3.
To be your presence is our mission blest,
to speak for all the broken and oppressed,
to be your voice of hope, your love expressed,
alleluia!

4.
We are your heart, O Christ, your hands and voice,
to serve your people is our call and choice,
and in this mission we, the church, rejoice,
alleluia!


Greeting

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

         And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

God of the seas, sky, and dry land, when Jonah turned to run from you, you showed him that nothing and no one could hide from your presence. You are in all things, and you love all things. Show us the gift of your presence, and help us to carry your word of compassion and inclusion to all the world. We pray in the name of Jesus, who flawlessly carried out your love. Amen.    


Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, | all you lands!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence | with a song.

3 Know that the Lord is God, our maker to whom | we belong;
we are God’s people and the sheep | of God’s pasture.

4 Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving and the | courts with praise;
give thanks and bless God’s | holy name.

5 Good indeed is the Lord, whose steadfast love is | everlasting,
whose faithfulness endures from | age to age.


Scripture: Jonah

1Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ 3But Jonah set out to flee from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5The mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6The captain came and said to him, ‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.’

7 The sailors said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8Then they said to him, ‘Tell us: What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’ 9‘I am a Hebrew,’ he replied. ‘I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ 10Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, ‘What is this that you have done!’ For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

11 Then they said to him, ‘What shall we do to you, that the sea may quieten down for us?’ For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12He said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.’ 13Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.’ 15So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16Then the men feared the Lord God even more, and they offered a sacrifice and made vows to God.

4 But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

2Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, 2saying, ‘I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. 3 You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. 4 Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?” 5 The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head 6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. 7 As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.  8 Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. 9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!’ 10Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

3The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

4But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ 4And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ 5Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.

6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’

9 But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes, angry enough to die.’ 10Then the Lord said, ‘You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?’

Luke 15: 4-6

Jesus told this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.”


Sermon

What kind of community are we? Even those of us who are not Danish, enjoy the Danish-ness of West Denmark. Fastelavns, Æbleskiver, nisse, red and white woven paper heart baskets, nordic music, things made with butter, words – seemingly without consonants that sound as though they were just swallowed by accident – there’s a lot to love. Out in the community we are sometimes called West Democrat – I’m sure fondly and with high regard, don’t you think? Because of the pleasure we take in science and the natural world, we are sometimes mistaken for pagans. They’re close. Worshipping God revealed in nature is not quite the same as worshipping nature as a god. 

We self-identify as a congregation who believes in the triune God – the ‘once and on-going’ spirit of creation and transformation and redemption, we sing (pretty well!), we value getting along, unpretentiousness, and take seriously the vocation to “tend and till” –  social and environmental care and justice, life-long education and growth, living in concert with nature – these things are important. We are open and progressive and value traditions and rituals.  Is that about right? And we are small. One of many small ones in the county.

Mobility and the epoch of self-awareness and personal choice have created monoculture communities. For some time now, we have had freedom to congregate where we feel the closest affinity to those around us. Like with like, where, when “one of these things is not like the others,” it shows and can feel awkward or uncomfortable and so we avoid that setting and find one where we fit in, blend in. 

Why am I talking about this? I suppose you’ve got it figured out. We have experienced a tense week, and have every indication that it will be a stressful near future. The tensions have revealed the high degree of unity within and the distinctness from grouping to grouping of Americans.

Many of the elections – certainly that for president – are nail-bitingly close as votes continue to be counted with the promise of re-counts. Nationwide, the two major parties are very close numerically. But that seems to be the only manifestation of closeness. We are exhorted to maintain physical distance to discourage the spread of the coronavirus – and I don’t imagine there is an inter-party positivity rating. We don’t associate. Distance is the reality we hear in rhetoric, see in the news, and experience emotionally. Politics and religion have always been bedfellows – both provide structure and interpretations of how to live as a society: how values, power, wealth, and status are engaged or disengaged from the common good, our common life together. So, it’s not a surprise that inter-religious unity and empathy has taken a further hit in this atmosphere of extremism, demonizing those who do not share similar theo-political perspectives and world-views.

And so, at last, I circle around to Jonah and Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep. I’m not going to talk about the whale. Given what we have observed in our country over the past three to six months, that has become the most believable part of the story. Jonah’s distain for the message of warning and reconciliation he was charged to bring to his mortal enemies, the Ninevites, his desire to run in the opposite direction, to sail to the furthest-most reaches of the sea, to escape God’s gaze – these reactions seem reasonable enough. What sounds to our ears like a fish tale, is the part where the boatload of pagan sailers convert and pray to God and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and well-being after their brief encounter with Jonah. And certainly unbelievable is the part where the entire city of Nineveh, all the animals, and the King hear Jonah’s short proclamation and repent! They fast and pray for forgiveness to a God they do not know, pack away their finery and wear sackcloth and ashes hoping that the God of Jonah, who fashioned the earth and seas and all therein, who is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast loving kindness and relents from punishing, will do just that. They pray that God will hear them and turn away the promised wrath. They believe this strange message from a strange, sullen prophet who wandered into the middle of their city and called out their wicked ways. Hard to believe, right? Like impossible.

The story of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur, the most solemn religious fast of the Jewish year, the last of the ten days of penitence that begin with Rosh Hashanah. The Day of Atonement. In Midrash teaching, God says, “Would I accept the repentance of the people of Nineveh and not yours?”

We leave Jonah still sitting by the withered bush on a hill outside the city watching his hated enemies re-order their lives, shake off the ashes, and tentatively find their new normal as reformed citizens of the world.

We don’t know the end of his story. Did Jonah retreat into an embittered stalemate with God? Did he gradually (or suddenly!) come to terms with this God who is relentless in mercy, entrenched in love?

The ending is intentionally open, I imagine, because the author didn’t know which path you will take (we will take). 

We have options as citizens. And as American Christians, it would seem. But fewer as shepherds. “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep!’”

If we are to be true to our calling, we at West Denmark are composed by, formed by, the gospel of Jesus Christ – God reconciling herself to the world through this beloved son. We are not defined by adherence to the law – meaning our good deeds working for social or environmental justice, or by our political alliances, or even our adoptive Danishness. We are united by the Holy Spirit through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. That is the grounding of our lives together. Therefore, we are a community that may consist of any amount of diversity and differences – yet remain of “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all, through all, in all.” Ephesians 4We are allowed a vision many do not have because they don’t know the stories about Jonah and lost sheep and God’s love, that puff of divine breath in our nostrils of clay that brings us to life. 

Love is the cornerstone of Christian community and ministry to the wounds of the world. We are blessed to approach our siblings in Christ from that place of love. It may not play out like a “loverly”  encounter. It may not feel very loving. Love may not be what is returned. But, anyone who has loved someone else knows loving them doesn’t erase conflicts or differences.  Neither do conflicts and differences erase love. The shepherd likely did not ‘feel it’ as he backtracked and searched for that one dumb stray sheep, but he acted on it, just the same.

Biblical stories remind us that we are called to represent the promise and presence of God. We’re called to practice hospitality, honesty and hope;* to recognize (and not reject) the modifiers that identify a person’s faith, or lifestyle, or politics. To accept the inevitable (and welcome!) differences. In the radical hospitality of our welcome statement, we want West Denmark to be a safe place to be different, to engage and explore issues, to ask questions, to try out a new way of reading or thinking about the Bible and daily life. We live together in this spiritual space and we will do well to remember the quiet ones. If there is one person among the congregation who voted differently than the 99, one person who feels betrayed and disoriented – the way many of us did 4 years ago, the way Jonah seems to be feeling, if that one person is made to feel other-ed, then we are not a welcoming Christian congregation. The challenge is to live defined, modified by our Christianity, rather than allowing our Christianity to be modified by anything other than Christ.

This sermon comes with thanks to Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and *Joy J. Moore for their language and ideas in a post-election podcast posted on Working Preacher. 


Hymn – Will You Let Me Be Your Servant

1.
Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant, too.

2.
We are pilgrims on a journey,
we are trav’lers on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

3.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

4.
I will weep when you are weeping;
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.

5.
Will you let me be your servant,
let me be as Christ to you?
Pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant, too.


Statement of Faith

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.
We believe in God, who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.

We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
     to celebrate God’s presence,
     to live with respect in Creation,
     to love and serve others,
     to seek justice and resist evil,
     to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our center and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.  Amen

Prayers of Intercession

Lord of heaven and earth
of all nations and peoples
all faiths and no faith

We humbly ask:
reveal yourself


To those who are suffering, those testing positive, those too fearful to get tested. To those caring for the sick as the days become weeks, become months

Compassionate God, we humbly ask:
reveal yourself


To all who are refugees, and especially for families desperately waiting to be reunited with their children,

Compassionate God, we humbly ask:
reveal yourself

To those who are powerful,

Compassionate God, we humbly ask:
reveal yourself


To all who are powerless,

Compassionate God, we humbly ask:
reveal yourself


To ordinary people
in their everyday lives,
that this world
might reflect your love
and your abiding presence with us.

Compassionate God, we humbly ask:
reveal yourself.  Amen


Offering Prayer

Lover of our souls, you open wide your hands and satisfy the needs of every living creature. We thank you and bless you for your tender care. Through the time, skills, and financial resources we give to our congregation help us to serve our neighbors, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bring justice to the oppressed in our world. Help us in these gifts to go where you send us, in all the beautiful names of God.    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

Dismissal

Go forth into the world to serve God with gladness; be of good courage; hold fast to that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor all people; love and serve God, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God.


Hymn – Christ, Be Our Light

1.
Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
light for the world to see.

Refrain
Christ, be our light!
Shine in our hearts.
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in your church gathered today.

2.
Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has pow’r to save us.
Make us your living voice.
Refrain

3.
Longing for food, many are hungry.
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us your bread, broken for others,
shared until all are fed.
Refrain

4.
Longing for shelter, many are homeless.
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us your building, sheltering others,
walls made of living stone.
Refrain

5.
Many the gifts, many the people,
many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
signs of your kingdom come.
Refrain


Postlude

Chris Johansen