July 5th Worship

Order of Service

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

Part I

Part II

Note: individual audio pieces are below with the text


Prelude

Chris Johansen


Confession & Forgiveness

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

Silence for reflection and self-examination

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

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


Hymn – Happiness Never Depends on Success

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

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

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

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

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

Kyrie

Prayer of the Day

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

Psalm 146

Scripture

Isaiah 42: 5-9

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 43: 18-21

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

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

Sermon

Rest, realization, restoration. Sabbath.

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

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

What is Sabbath today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it so.

Creed – Prayer of Julian of Norwich

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

Prayers of Intercession

Peace

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

Communion

Great Thanksgiving

Lord’s Prayer

Benediction

Hymn – The Word

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

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

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

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

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


Postlude

Chris Johansen


Instructions for listening via phone:

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

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

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

June 28th Worship

Linda is off this week, and several people are filling in! The time on Zoom at 10am will include reflections from Christy and Barb, as well as some time to discuss. You can join the live service by phone, too! See instructions at the the bottom of this page.

A mostly full recording of the service is posted here. You can also find audio of the prelude, readings, and reflections embedded in the text below.

Order of Service

Welcome
PreludeEternal FatherChris Johansen, piano
Opening
Prayer
Molly Tulkki
HymnMy Shepherd, You Supply My Need
vs. 1 & 3
Chris Tou, piano
Reading
Reflection
Barb Kass
Reading
Reflection
Christy Wetzig
Discussion
PrayersClaire Scriba
HymnFor the Beauty of the Earth
vs. 1, 2 & 5
Chris Tou, piano
Fellowship

Prelude

Chris Johansen


Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, companion of all who seek you, and seeker of all who turn away from you, draw near to us that we may draw near to you, and grant us the grace to love and to serve you that we may find in your will our true freedom; through Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.
Amen.


Hymn – My Shepherd, You Supply My Need

1.
My Shepherd, you supply my need; most holy is your name.
In pastures fresh you make me feed, beside the living stream.
You bring my wand’ring spirit back when I forsake your ways,
and lead me, for your mercy’s sake, in paths of truth and grace.

3.
The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;
oh, may your house be my abode and all my work be praise.
Here would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;
no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.

Text: Isaac Watts
Music: North American traditional (Tune: Resignation)


Scripture

Luke 15: 11-32

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Reflection

Barb Kass

Two brothers and their father…. One wonders: where was the mom? Died in childbirth, or illness? Clearly no longer with the family.  The older brother is dutifully working for and with his father: did he have other aspirations? Did he love the land? The work? See the gift of working side by side with his father? Or was he caught up in the role of the oldest, the one who was always there, always helping, responsible, focused, undemanding, uncomplaining. Doing what needed to be done.

In contrast, the younger brother did not like the life of his father and brother, did not like the work, and unlike his older brother, complained and demanded his share of the inheritance so he could leave all behind and create a new and better life somewhere else. 

What possessed the father to comply with his youngest’ demands? Life had to be pretty unbearable for everyone on the farm to end up with the father giving him exactly what he asked. I cannot imagine the grief and fear that was felt as that boy took off down the driveway.

How much time passed? We don’t know. But enough to have the inheritance squandered, and to see the carefree boy quickly turn into a man as he scrambles to survive in a distant land, plagued with famine. Desperate, he goes back to the life he left- a farm.  Work which seemed beneath his dignity, now was the only thing that kept him alive, and just barely.  It is hitting bottom when you realize the animals you are feeding are eating better than you are, especially when they are pigs.

In a moment of clarity, the young man realizes he can go back home. Knowing the integrity of his father, and owning it was his mistakes and greed that jeopardized his status as a son, he crafts a statement to reflect both: Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.

How is it that the father saw him while he was a long way off? This says to me he was always waiting, always watching as days became months, became years. Faith in the unlikely, in the nearly impossible.

Here’s where I think Sabbath breaks into this story. Whatever the father was doing when he spotted his son- STOPPED.  All the daily tasks of the farm – the to do lists, plans for the day, STOPPED.  Whatever occasion the fattened calf was being saved for or what weight they hoped he’d fattened to- CHANGED to NOW.

Work changed to celebration.  Lunch became a feast! Forgiveness and restoration to the family done! And gratitude for the lost who was found flowed in abundance!

It was a surprise Sabbath for the father- a dream come true and he was ready and able to respond as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

It was a surprise Sabbath for the wayward son. He was hoping for a job, food, a place to stay. He was welcomed home with an embrace and a kiss, celebrated with a feast, and given a robe, ring and sandals as a symbol that he was recognized as a son, a member of the family.

The older son must have been on the back 40, had ear protection in, or was simply so absorbed in his work, he missed the whole homecoming scene. As he came in for lunch, something was out of the ordinary- there was sounds of joy, music and dancing coming from the house- at noon, on a Tuesday, in the middle of harvest season! He asked one of the servants what was going on and was completely incredulous at the answer: His brother had returned.

Resentment is a powerful emotion, especially when it has been a driving force in a life consumed in duty. It’s easy to hear the valid questions: Where was he when the crops needed harvesting before the rain and we had to work all night? He was off living the high life when I had to watch father be consumed with worry and grief… I have given up my whole life, my dreams, my hopes to help father run this farm. I have no life, no friends, I am too tired to do anything fun. Ever. I don’t know who is more pathetic- my brother who spent money and resources freely and recklessly with wasteful extravagance. Or my father who is celebrating his return on the same lavish scale.

A side note, both of those descriptions are definitions of the word prodigal. The story might just as well be titled The Prodigal Father!

The brother not only disagrees with what is happening, he feels it is unjust and wrong.

The father reaches out to his oldest son who would not even enter the house. It may be the most honest conversation they ever exchanged. It may have been the first time he recognized the hurt and frustration of the son, or his feeling of not being appreciated. The holding back of reasonable requests to be able to celebrate life, have fun, have friends in the face of the sadness he saw in his father probably never occurred to him.  And maybe it was the first time the father acknowledged to his son that indeed this son was always with him, and that he just assumed that the son knew that all he had was his as well.  A fact so simple and so profound that it had never been said aloud. Maybe this was the surprise Sabbath for the older brother.

Was the conversation enough to soften the resentment and replace it with new seeds of restoration of relationships and of family? The story lets us write our own conclusion.

So where are the surprise Sabbaths in our lives? Those unexpected invitations or unplanned opportunities to stop what we are doing, no matter how important it seems at the time. I think many of the opportunities are small and it’s a discipline to keep eyes and hearts open to recognizing them and welcoming their needed gifts of rest, or zest, or breath even on the most mundane day.

Bigger surprise Sabbaths might be closer to the story- the chance for a reconciling cup of tea, or an honest conversation with a neighbor or family member about racism, or CAFO’s which leads to some kind of understanding and restoration.

Yesterday James mentioned the concept of Sabbath work-  at first it seemed like an oxymoron. If Sabbath is about rest, where does work fit in? I googled rest vs restoration and found this simple reflection:

Look closely at how Jesus practiced Sabbath because therein lies a lesson. For one, almost all Jesus’ Sabbath practices, in the eyes of the religious leaders of the day, looked like Sabbath breaking. Whatever the religious minds thought Sabbath should look like, the reality, for Jesus, was quite different. 

For Jesus, Sabbath is mostly about restoration. Has a cow fallen in a well? Lift it out! Has a woman been bent over for 18 years? Straighten her up! Are people hungry? Pluck grain and feed them! Story after story carries this same point: Sabbath is for restoration. Whatever is lost, broken or sick, Sabbath is meant to make whole.

As I look again at the story of the Prodigal Son I see the father practicing Sabbath- stopping everything to thank God for great mercy. And I see that father in turn doing Sabbath work for both of his sons. Giving forgiveness, rest and unconditional love to the younger, and an invitation for restoration with the same unconditional love for the older.


Scripture

Genesis 2: 1-3

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Reflection

Christy Wetzig

So God finishes making the heavens and the earth–the text adds, “all the host of them” as if to say, “what a lot to do in six days.” It’s understandable that someone would want to rest after such a mammoth task, and yet the work just doesn’t seem that arduous. After all, God’s been merely speaking–”Let there be light,” like the conductor of an orchestra, not some construction worker busting his butt to raise a skyscraper in a day. The God who speaks the universe into existence can’t be tired. So why take a day of rest?

The notes in my Bible connect this account to other ancient Near East stories in which “divine rest is associated with temple building” [ESV Study Bible, Crossway, 2008].

So in the creation story, when creating the universe, with its hosts of galaxies, and in one galaxy: a planet called Earth, with oceans and horseshoe crabs and hummingbirds and maple grass, God is building Godself a house. Somewhere to live. A God-sanctuary. The earth, then, springs up out of nothingness not as an accident or a divine whim but as a temple dedicated to the God who created it.

How would this change our view of the world if we let this idea soak thoroughly into our beings? That God made this universe so that God could move in to it; that our land is not ours after all but in fact the land where God rests–forests made holy by God’s presence, creeks along which God sits.

Besides all the creatures and plants, God peoples this planet with a certain species charged to “tend and keep” this sanctuary, to “have dominion” over it, in the sense of a parent having dominion over the children. In other words, this is a priestly species, endowed with God’s own breath and image, to do a certain job–taking care of God’s sanctuary, in the same way that a priest tends and protects a temple.

How would this change our idea of what it means to be human? It’s somehow both expanding and humbling, to be the capstone species, intended to take care of everything below it.

Sometimes it seems like no matter how hard we try to take care of the earth we still mess up–we love a place and trample it to death; or we kill snakes to keep our children safe and then get invaded by rodents; or we plant a pretty tree and watch it take over the woods. Because the world is too big for our imaginations, and sometimes we get too big for our britches. We need that sense of humility, the kind that comes from the soil, humus.

I wonder if Sabbath could be, then, a time to quit striving at our contrived human goals and chew on these ideas, that this universe is God’s temple and we have a job to do in it: to minister to God by tending and keeping God’s home.

What if one day in seven we lie on our bellies in the grass and watch the worms and bugs carry on their lives among the roots and soil? What if our time of rest was a time to look honestly at the world, so that we can take better care of it? What if one year in seven we stop earning money and plant trees and prairies instead? What if one minute in seven we stop what we’re doing and listen–and breathe with gratitude and humility the air of this amazing, sanctified world?


Prayers

Father of mercy, we pray today for all the people of this earth as we try to find our way through the pandemic.  We are confused and fearful.  Send good people to lead and inform us.

            Almighty father……………hear our prayer

We pray for all the children who are missing playtime and schooltime and a safe pattern to their days. 

            In your mercy…………hear our prayer

We pray for everyone in financial distress

            In your mercy…………..hear our prayer

We pray for peacekeepers and public servants

            In your mercy………..hear our prayer

We pray for parents and teachers

            In your mercy………..hear our prayer

We pray for the sick and those who care for them

            In your mercy………..hear our prayer

We pray for everyone who is separated from loved ones by disease, for everyone who is lonely and anxious

            In your mercy………..hear our prayer

We pray for this beautiful earth, her creatures her skies and waters.  Keep us vigilant in our care for her

            In your mercy……….hear our prayer

We pray for ourselves as a faith family and as your hands and feet in the world

            In your mercy…….hear our prayer

Bless and keep us, Father, train us up and give us courage

            In your mercy……….hear our prayer. AMEN                              


Hymn – For the Beauty of the Earth

1.
For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth over and around us lies:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

2.
For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night
hill and vale and tree and flow’r, sun and moon and stars of light:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

5.
For each perfect gift of thine, peace on earth and joy in heav’n;
for thyself, best gift divine, to our world so freely giv’n:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise this our sacrifice of praise.

Text: Folliott S. Pierpoint
Music: Conrad Kocher


Instructions for listening via phone:

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

Then, you will be asked to enter the meeting ID and password. You can find that in Linda’s email with subject, “Sunday Zoom”

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

June 21st Worship

This week will look slightly different! Linda is off, and Shawn Mai is presiding. The time on Zoom at 10am was like a traditional worship service, and the audio from that is posted right here. The text of readings and reflections can be found below the Order of Service.

Order of Service

WelcomeShawn Mai
PreludeSoftly and TenderlyChris Johansen, piano
PrayerShawn Mai
ReadingsIsaiah 35
Matthew 11: 28-30
Henrik Strandskov
Opening ReflectionShawn Mai
HymnThis is My Father’s WorldChuck Parsons, organ
PoemSabbath 1985, by Wendell BerryMercy & Abel Wetzig
ReflectionShawn Mai
PrayersNikki Strandskov
HymnO God Our Help in Ages PastChuck Parsons, organ
BenedictionShawn Mai
PostludeChuck Parsons, organ
FellowshipYou!

Prayer of the Day

The sacred is everywhere,
At the heart of everything
That was, is, or to be…

Creativity God, whose renewing breath fills our planet,
may we discern this vibrant presence among us,

In these long life giving days of summer light,

In the aliveness of the landscape at the steps of West Denmark
and in the mysteries of the northern forest.

May our spirits be lifted to rejoice with the forest that surrounds us
and all the creatures this day.

May it be so.


Scripture

Isaiah 35: 1-8

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;

Matthew 11: 28-30

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

Reflection

Shawn Mai

Good morning.  A blessed Father’s Day to all who are fathers, who have fathers, and who take on role of Father, Grandfather, uncle or mentor. 

We also recognize today the gift of light in the summer solstice.    In these long days we are especially aware of the lushness of creation, the food it provides, and the context for rest and reflection.

Pastor Linda has set up a thoughtful, reflective topic this summer.  Sabbath.  The context she tee’d it up with was provocative for me…the pandemic.  When Linda talked about a “forced Sabbath”, that got me thinking about sabbath in a very different way than I have before.   Life tends to offer up the unexpected…even unexpected rest or a “stopping” we did not see coming.

As a hospital chaplain, I work every day in a context where people are sidelined from life unexpectedly because of illness.  An unexpected diagnosis, a body part malfunction, or a nasty virus that alludes a vaccine.

I think about the dear woman in our own congregation who was out walking her dog last Advent season and unexpectedly fell and broke her leg in several different places.  She ended up immobilized at home for eight weeks through the Christmas holiday and into the new year.  The way she engaged the world, understood herself, and found value was in being active and engaged.  The fall and breaking of her bones forced her into an unexpected Sabbath of sorts.  

Collectively, we walked out of this West Denmark church last March, not knowing that we would be taking a sabbath time away from this building and our being together in person.  Today we worship apart on zoom.  A forced exile or a Sabbath time to reflect on what it means to be a faith community defined in new ways.

Sabbath- the Sabbath (/ˈsæbəθ/; Hebrew: שַׁבָּת‎) is a time set aside for rest and worship. According to the Book of Exodus, the Sabbath is a day of rest on the seventh day, commanded by God to be kept as a holy day of rest, as God rested from creation.

I dug into the word for Sabbath a bit more.  The Hebrew word for rest is nuach-to rest, to be quiet. Sometimes, it is synonymous to shabat- to cease or to rest. The Greek word for rest is anapausis meaning cessation, 

Cessastion- Stopping, halting, ceasing. 

So, today we halt.  Not everything is neat and tidy.  It would have been more convenient to know that a pandemic was coming so we could have planned for it.  But more often than not, life doesn’t unfold like we need it too. 

Also, we live in a society that isn’t necessarily wired for Sabbath. 

So today, we once again ponder the meaning of the messiness with the help of Wendell Berry and his Sabbath  Poem 1985.  The image Barry uses in his Sabbath poem 1985 is a forest.  As I ran through Straight Lake Park yesterday, I had to crawl through some downed trees, slip and slide through some mud, and I noticed the forest floor is a bit of a mess with its tangling of limbs, vines, and plants,   that make unique from any other forest floor.  That is God’s creation. 


Hymn – This is My Father’s World

1
This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–
His hand the wonders wrought.

2
This is my Father’s world:
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

Text: Maltbie D. Babcock
Music: Franklin L. Sheppard


Sabbath, 1985, by Wendell Berry

Voice 1:  How long does it take to make the woods?

Voice 2 As long as it takes to make the world.

Voice 1 The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past, and of all its time to come.

Voice 2: It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction.

Voice 1: It is a part of eternity, for its end and beginning
belong to the end and beginning of all things,
the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.

Voice 1: What is the way to the woods, how do you go there?

Voice 2: By climbing up through the six days’ field,
kept in all the body’s years, the body’s
sorrow, weariness, and joy.

Voice 1: By passing through
the narrow gate on the far side of that field
where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way
to the high, original standing of the trees

Voice 2:.
By coming into the shadow, the shadow
of the grace of the strait way’s ending,
the shadow of the mercy of light.



Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come in among these trees you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood [and sisterhood!] of eye and leaf.


Reflection, continued

Berry reminds us that at a certain point we must leave our expectations at the door.  Expecting nothing, remembering nothing.

Life happens and recreation will happen.  Maybe Sabbath is also rest from our illusion of control.

Last summer Mike and Barb experienced the sudden alteration of the forest they live in. 

As far as what we are doing with our forest post blow down it is as simple as this. I was told by an agro-forester from UW Madison to do as little as possible with the remains. The forest wasn’t destroyed it was made young. She said that I am now managing a young forest instead of an old forest. We don’t want to disturb the soil or run over young trees with big equipment. Without a canopy sunlight will be hitting the floor so too many trees will come up too close together. There are not enough grazing animals going through the woods to thin the overgrowth so there will be some hands on management to do. Also no fires sweeping through which has the same result. Ecologically informed stewards are going to have to do the work along with nature. 

Mike’s reflection on their approach to a forest forever changed I find instructive as we face unprecedented times of forced Sabbath and the impact, not of an 80 mile an hour wind but of a microscopic virus that can change our internal landscape.

Sabbath is a time to stop.  To listen.  To breathe.  To accept.  To let go.  To grieve.  To wait for the next unexpected, creative adventure.  To pray.


Hymn – O God Our Help in Ages Past

1.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home:

3.
Before the hills in order stood or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God, to endless years the same.

5.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all our years away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the op’ning day.

6.
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last and our eternal home.

Text: Isaac Watts
Music William Croft


To participate in Zoom using a phone:

If you’re on a cell phone, you should be able to tap one of the “One-tap mobile” numbers in the email. It looks like a complicated number, but it will dial the number, then pause (that’s what the commas tell it to do), and enter the ID, pause, etc. automatically. You’d just have to wait, and you’ll be in eventually.

If you have a landline (or a cell phone without the email on it to tap), then any of the regular phone numbers should work. They’ll just be long distance calls (for example, if you lived in Chicago, then the Chicago number would be a local call). On a cell phone, or landline with nationwide calling, it shouldn’t make a difference. You’ll need the Meeting ID and Password from the email, too, and enter that when it asks.

You can also join on the computer, and use the phone for audio (if you don’t have a microphone on the computer). Join the Zoom on the computer first for video, then when it asks about audio, click “phone call” instead of “use computer audio”. It should give instructions on how to call in – use any of the phone numbers provided there.

The following link has more information on joining by phone – scroll to “Joining by phone only” if you aren’t planning to use a computer for the video:
https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/201362663-Joining-a-meeting-by-phone
Note: you can mute/unmute on the phone by pressing *6

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

Part I

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

Part II

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

Welcome

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

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


Confession & Forgiveness

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

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

God of heaven and earth,

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

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

Amen.


Prayer of the Day

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


Scripture

Deuteronomy 5: 12-15

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

Matthew 11: 28-30

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

Sermon

Linda Rozumalski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lord’s Prayer

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


Come to Me, All Pilgrims Thirsty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text: Delores Dufner
Music: The Sacred Harp

June 7: Deuteronomy 5 & Matthew 11

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

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

Welcome

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

Confession & Forgiveness

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

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

Silence for reflection and self-examination.

God of heaven and earth,

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

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

Prayer of the Day

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


Scripture

Deuteronomy 5: 12-15

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

Matthew 11: 28-30

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


Sermon series introduction

Kara Root

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

Sabbath is a tricky concept for Christians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes:

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


When Peace Like a River

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

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

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

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

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

May 31 : Acts 2 & 1 Corinthians 12

Part I

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

Part II

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

Confession & Forgiveness

It has been one of those weeks.

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

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

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

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

And we pray: Lord have mercy.

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

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

And we pray: Christ have mercy.

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

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

And we pray: Lord have mercy. Amen.


Prayer of the Day

       Rush upon us.

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

       Spill out over us.

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

        Dance among us.

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


Scripture

Acts 2:1-4

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

1 Corinthians 12:1,4-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon

Linda Rozumalski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blessing

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

Be well. All manner of things shall be well.


Spirit of Gentleness

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

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

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

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

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

Text & Music: James K. Manley

May 24: 1 Corinthians 15

Part I

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

Part II

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

Healer of Our Every Ill

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

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

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

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

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

Text & Music: Marty Haugen

Sermon

Linda Rozumalski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 17: 1 Corinthians 13

Welcome!

Reading1 Corinthians 13
(text below)
Nikki Strandskov
Reflection(text below)Mike Miles
Reflection(text below)Nancy Moe
Prayers of IntercessionNikki Strandskov
HymnWill You Come and Follow Me
#798 vs. 2, 3 & 5 (text below)
Chris Tou, piano

Reading

1 Corinthians 13

1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.


Reflection

Mike Miles

Getting married? Asked one of your friends to be the officiant but your fiance’s parents are a little put off because they aren’t ordained? The wedding is out in the woods and you are walking up to the front to the ringing of a Tibetan prayer bowl? Your parents are okay with it but just told you Grandma isn’t coming unless there is a reading from the Holy Bible to consecrate the nuptials?

No problem. Just Google ‘best bible verses for a wedding’ and number one on the list is going to be I Corinthians 13 (I did it and it is). It’s got some really sweet sentiments about love that shouldn’t offend anyone and it never even mentions Jesus.  You might want to edit it down just a bit because of some crazy stuff but it should make everyone happy and help keep the peace with the new in-laws.

The thing is, these verses are not about sentimental love that makes us all warm and fuzzy. The church at Corinth was seriously divided on so many issues that Paul has to conclude this letter to them, “if anyone does not love the Lord Jesus- a curse be upon them.” Or as Clarence Jordan puts it in his Cotton Patch translation- let them be damned!

So what’s going on here? I believe this would fall under the “it’s all Greek to me department.” There are several Greek words used in the New Testament that are translated into the word ‘love’ that carry starkly different meanings. This confusing exchange between Jesus and Peter, after the resurrection, illustrates how much can be lost in translation:

…Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John do you truly love me more than these? “Yes Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “yes Lord you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time,” Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you.” 

John 21: 15-17

What’s going on here?

Love, agape, is unconditional, sacrificial love. The love that God has for us. It implies action, unmitigated compassion, more than feelings. This is what Jesus keeps asking Peter, “Do you agape me?”

Peter was never very bright so his answer was, yes, Jesus I phileo you which is essentially saying I like being your friend. The reason Peter’s feelings were hurt the third time is Jesus asked the question using phileo instead of agape and it finally sunk in that he didn’t understand the depth of love to which Jesus wanted him to go.

The new commandment that Jesus gave them at the last supper was to love each other as he had loved them. Loving your neighbor as yourself was no longer enough. The new Covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah had been fulfilled in the resurrection. The love of God is now written on the hearts of all who are willing to recognize it.   Unconditional, compassionate love for all is the new normal.

So back to Corinth. They didn’t get what the ‘agape’ of God meant in their new reality so they became  distracted by cosmetic divisions rather than focusing of the universality of love. As my musical mentor Mark Murphy puts it, “If love is not the answer then you’ve just asked the wrong question.

“I belong to Paul.” “I’m more impressed with Apollos.” “I follow Jesus (so there).” “I’m a mystic so I speak in tongues.” “I’m a gifted speaker so I’m going to preach.” “Somebody has to call attention to how unfairly the Romans treat us so why don’t you be the prophet?” “Who wants to cook at the soup kitchen, there’s a lot of people out of work?”

Why is it that what sets us apart always seems more compelling than that which should bring us together? Even before the pandemic, the issues that divide us as a nation were becoming as exponential as reproducing viruses: Left/right, Republican/Democrat, rich/poor, black/white, American/Mexican, Christian/Muslim, rural/urban, coastal/fly-over, vegan/carnivore.

Now we have to sort through who is for tyranny and who for liberty, is it better to have a job or protect our health, do people need financial support or does business need it more, do masks help or hurt, is there plenty of food or are we running out?

The Chinese character for the word ‘crisis’ is a combination of two words-danger and opportunity. There is plenty of discussion bantering about regarding potential lessons to be learned once ‘we’ get to the ‘other side’ of this ‘thing going on’. Where one lands is dependent on way too many variables for me to keep track of.

No matter what happens, my understanding of what discipleship to Jesus entails makes me want to err on the side of love. I don’t need to like everyone who is trying to maneuver the chaos but I do need to love them. I can’t pretend to know what this kind of love looks like in practice, but I do know that undeserved suffering, on behalf of people who somewhere along the way became engaged in way too much deplorable behavior, is somehow an important part of the answer.

One of the mantras that swirls around my attempts to be conscious is a poem from May Sarton. Many of you have heard this before.

We change people, if we do at all, by being something irresistible, not by demanding something impossible.

I hope for all our sakes, that Jesus got it right when he took the stand he took against the principalities and powers of darkness. The new command he left us with is to love each other the same way he loved us. Who’s in?


Reflection

Nancy Moe

Agape is the love inside us that we give freely to others regardless of our relationship to them. We want to help them, cooperate with them, or do good deeds towards them. Them is referring to people, nature and animals.

Food, in my house, is the language of love. I learned this from my Mom who learned it from her Mom. The food that comes into the house is grown sustainability, most often in a family garden. Cooking is done in a way that maintains the most the food has to offer. My concerns are for meals that are varied, flavorful, interesting and pleasing to look at. That is all about the food. Here is the best part…who the food is for. Mostly my family but often for friends and sometimes for strangers. I love to learn about guests food preferences so that I can make a meal that is pleasurable to everyone!

I make mistakes and sometimes fail in my goals for cooking. I’m always cooking by experience and experimentation, even when guests are expected. When dinner is served and loved, I say “Good, enjoy it now I’m not sure I can make it again”. Even when the food is not loved, there was love in the trying.

In a world where there is so much noise, gongs and clanging cymbals and many untruths are spoken, I can share food I prepare with kindness and generosity. Food prepared with love.


Hymn

#798

Will You Come and Follow Me, vs. 2, 3 & 5

“Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer pray’r in you and you in me?”

“Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the pris’ners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?”

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Text: John L. Bell
Music: Scottish traditional (Kelvingrove)

May 10: Mark 9 & 1st Corinthians 1

Part I

PreludeWaltz in A-flat Major; BrahmsChris Johansen, piano
WelcomeShawn Mai
Call to Worshipfrom In the Morning I Will Sing
by Marty Haugen
Molly Tulkki
Chris Tou, piano
PrayerShawn Mai
First ReadingMark 9: 34-35Christy Wetzig
Psalm 63Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Second Reading1 Corinthians 1: 10-18Christy Wetzig

Part II

SermonShawn Mai
Prayers of IntercessionChristy Wetzig
HymnNow Thank We All Our God vs. 1 & 3
(text below)
Chuck Parsons, organ
BenedictionShawn Mai
PostludeChuck Parsons, organ

Now Thank We All Our God, vs. 1 & 3

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms,
has blest us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son, and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven,
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heav’n adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

Text: Martin Rinkhart; tr. Catherine Winkworth
Music: Johann Crüger

Sermon                   Shawn Mai

Grace to you, and peace, from God the creator, Jesus the Christ, and Spirit who sustains us.  AMEN.

If you are listening to this sermon on our podcast for the first time, West Denmark also gathers for a more informal live worship on Zoom on Sunday morning.  In lieu of a formal sermon, members of the congregation reflect in a more lectio Divina style on the texts for the day.  

Last week the Sunday morning church discussion went in an interesting direction.  I don’t remember who launched the idea, but it was something akin to paralleling being infected with the virus as a metaphor to our being infected with the Divine (those are my words).

I’ve been thinking about this parallel all week.

What resonated for me from the metaphor is my theological belief that a spark of the Divine lives within each one of us.   There is a God protected place within each one of us that is a part of God and that co-creates our life.  It is what makes my Shawnness, and your Christiness…your Mikeness and your Jayness.

I believe this part of us is named during the sacrament of Holy Baptism: “You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”  Our belovedness is named in these words.

On this Mother’s Day I’m remembering my mother.  Specifically, I’m remembering the story of my birth.  It is told that when I was born and the doctor told her that she had given birth to a boy, she reached up and kissed the doctor.  She had three girls already and now she had a son.  It was from my mother that I got a sense of my belovedness.  

One of my favorite pictures from childhood was taken not long before my mom died when I was 13 years old.  My mom and dad are standing on the porch of our house and there is a blurry figure in the bottom right hand corner of the picture.  It is me obviously on the move doing something goofy.  My mom has this look of adoration in her eye as she is in the middle of a big laugh, being entertained by her son.   

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is not primarily about people’s belovedness.  In fact, the letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth deals with the paradox of who we are as creatures of God.  As Luther aptly captures in his view of human beings, we are both saint and sinner.  

Each day of our life we work through the tension of living out these tensions.  It can be downright hard being a human being.  It can be confounding to sort out the questions of who are we? and why are we here?   Some days this may seem clear to us and some days we may utterly perplexed by the questions?  Some days I feel a great sense of worth and purpose and the next day I can feel like a worthless piece of…., well you know.

Today’s texts lift up the paradox in our Christian faith.  The first shall be last, the last shall be first.  Arguments with the disciples about who is the greatest.   Tension in the Corinthian community about who baptized who.  

Today a virus is the source of tension in our society regarding how much of a danger we are to one another.  Do we continue to isolate from one another and keep our businesses closed or do we relax restrictions and get the economy going again and avoid total economic collapse?

I’m not going to use this time to answer that question or make some sort of argument, but I am going to invite us to live in the tension of the question.  Who are we and why are we here?  What informs how we understand the answers to THOSE questions?

That is where faith comes in.     Raising our consciousness about what stories we live out is hugely important.  As human beings, our primal responses are rooted in the unconscious beliefs we carry around.  They are the sources of our fears, anxieties, perspective making, courage, imagination, creativity, phobias, behaviors.  

For me it’s a daily reflection on where I am experiencing connection and disconnection in my life.   My lifelong work is sorting out what stories I ground myself in.  My birth story with my mom is one of those stories I choose to believe.  That story grounds me in a sense of my worth which, in my best moments I believe and live fully out of, and in my worst moments totally forget and flap in the wind, lost and udder less.  Those moments are not pretty.

A faith story that grounds me is my baptism.  I was baptized on August 12, 1964 at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in Gwinner North Dakota.  Those are just circumstantial facts.  The story about what I believe about my baptism and my purpose in life is rooted in a Jewish creation story.  IT goes like this…

Once there was this great ball of light that was everything.   Then, like in all good Jewish stories,  there was an accident, and the light shattered into thousands of shards of light…these thousands of shards of light, the wholeness of the world, the light of the world, fell into all events and all people in the world where they remain hidden to this very day.  

According to the holy story, the whole human race is a response to this accident.  We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all people and in all events…to make it visible once again…  thereby, to restore the innate wholeness of the world.

We are involved in a collective task that is in Hebrew called:

 “Tecunolaum”  

It involves all people who have ever been…who are here now…and who are yet to be born.  WE are all healers of the world.  And now for the other side of the story:

It seems the particular gift of the church at Corinth is to shed light on the truth of paradox.  WE have the power to bring together and heal and at the same time we have the power to draw apart and divide.  In today’s world it is where Fake News is born.  

Initially when I read the reading from 1 Corinthians for today, I did a great big eye roll.

The eye roll felt familiar.  I began to think about the politics of our day.  I don’t much like getting political in sermons but give me a moment to make a point.  

I have a hard time sorting out my confusion when  I hear our country’s leadership talk one day about the numbers of infections and deaths that could explode if we go back to our regular routines while at the same time stoking the cries of those decrying the use of masks, wanting to open up America, and not wanting someone telling them what to do…. I look at the divisions in the church in Corinth a little differently.   I become curious about a human dynamic.  

It’s in the same writing to the church at Corinth that Paul uses a metaphor that makes sense to me:  But we have this treasure in jars of clay.

I am not a philosopher, but the image of a clay jar makes sense to me.  

In third grade a girl in my class had a pottery cup that held the pencils in her desk.  I coveted that piece of pottery so much!  One day she dropped it and it broke.  She was going to throw it away, but I begged her to give it to me.   It was Shelly Butler, who already thought I was a big dork, but I still groveled for this trash she was going to throw away.  

She didn’t quite understand why, but she gave it to me.  I glued it back together and you’d thought I’d won first prize in a drawing for Willy Wonka’s chocolate bar.   The pot was broken and worthless to Shelly Butler but glued back together became a prized possession for me.

WE live in a tension that is called being human.  What one person thinks is important, another person couldn’t care less.  

One philosophical term I came across as I reflected on this over the course of the week was dialetheism.  Wikipedia defined it as “Ambiguous situations where humans can affirm both a proposition and its negation”. The example they used made sense to me: “if John stands in the doorway to a room, it may seem reasonable both to affirm that John is in the room and to affirm that John is not in the room.

So, whether you call it paradox, dialetheism, fake news…

FOR ME, a person who likes to believe I’m always right, its confounding.  

But it’s a thing.  It’s a dynamic that Paul is writing about to the church at Corinth and Jesus is pointing out to his disciples as they figure out who is greatest.   My brain aches when I think too hard about it but apparently, it’s why the first will be last and the last will be first.  

All that arguing and thinking too hard tosses me back to my images and metaphors.  

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

It probably also relates to the story I cling to about my birth and my belovedness.  My mother may have thought I was quite the gift but If you asked my sisters about my belovedness, they would say I was a bit of a spoiled brat.  Both are probably true.  

So, I’m going to go back thinking about being infected with the divine.  That gives me something to do.  I can continue to free up that part of myself, my best self, and keep befriending it.  

It’s like the sun and how great a sunny day can feel.  Paradoxically, a cloudy, rainy day can feel depressing and hopeless.  It doesn’t mean the sun isn’t there…it’s just momentarily blocked.  The clouds don’t make the sun any less a reality.  

Again, from Paul:

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

AMEN

May 3 : Acts 17 & 1Thessalonians 1

Prelude

Benedetto Marcello Psalm 19 Chuck Parsons, organ

Opening

Confession

Prayer of the Day

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

Sermon

You may listen to Pr Linda here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God has chosen you.”

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

“Chosen for life.” 

“Oh?” 

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

“Oh.”  

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, good.” 

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

“Ohhhhh!”

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

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

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

Thanks be to God.

The Church’s One Foundation

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

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

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