1265 S. Cleve-Mass Road, 
Copley, Ohio  44321

First Grace United Church of Christ

  First Grace, then Faith and Works   

   Most of us would agree that the important thing about Jesus is not his supposed miraculous birth or the claim that he was resurrected from death, but rather how he lived.  The power of his love, the penetrating simplicity of his teachings, and the force of his example of service on behalf of the disenfranchised and downtrodden are what is crucial.  

First Sunday of Advent
November 29, 2020

Call to Worship
In this uncertain season of Advent, we wait.
   Hoping, hoping God is coming to us.
In the vagueness of these days, we try to listen.
   Hoping, hoping the Word will be whispered to us.
In the weariness of our times, we wait, we listen, we watch.
   Hoping, hoping the Spirit will be found in our midst.

Responsive Prayer for Forgiveness

Come, God-who-draws-near-to-us, for we live in fretful times, wondering if we will ever come out of them.
Come to us, with your grace.
Come, God-who-has-walked-these-roads, for we long to be faithful in these days, but find it all too easy to be seduced by worry.   
Come to us, with your hope.
Come, God-who-carries-life-in-your-breath, for we try to stay apart from others and ourselves, but find it easy to listen to those who mock us for being so foolish.
Come to us, with your love.

Word of Flesh:
have mercy;
Friend of the poor:
have mercy;
Bridegroom of the faithful:
have mercy.

Assurance of Pardon
In the midst of all our uncertainty, we are reminded of the old truths, that God loves us, God forgives us, God restores us to new life..
The Child comes, bringing grace, offering mercy, and wrapping us in arms of love!  Thanks be to God, we are forgiven.  Amen.

Isaiah 64:1-9
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
   so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2 as when fire kindles brushwood
   and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
   so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
   you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From ages past no one has heard,
   no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
   who works for those who wait for him.
5 You meet those who gladly do right,
   those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
   because you hid yourself we transgressed.
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
   and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
   and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
   or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
   and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
   we are the clay, and you are our potter;
   we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
   and do not remember iniquity for ever.
   Now consider, we are all your people.

     How often have you heard the expression, “Denial is not a river in Egypt”?  We all know that the Nile is a river in Egypt but denial is a whole other thing.  The expression is a wakeup call to someone who is not fully living in reality.  They deny the truth, even if it is right in front of their face.  They would prefer to have reality be different and so they block whatever it is that they don’t want to acknowledge.
     Currently, we see this being played out by President Trump who insists that he won the election and who claims that voter fraud is what made it possible for Joe Biden to win.  But court after court has struck down his accusations because his team of lawyers are unable to provide any evidence to support their claim.  It’s difficult enough to have a president who refuses to “wake up and smell the coffee” but there are millions of others who thrive on conspiracy theories and who also deny that Biden won.  With so many people living in denial it will be difficult to unify the nation and those of us who live with that thought may also be living in denial. 
     Denial comes also to people in their spiritual journeys; it even comes to whole cultures and nations. In the 1930s in Germany, a whole country and the Christian churches were in denial while Hitler's minions slowly but certainly took over the nation with devastating results. Today, at a time of rapidly advancing environmental degradation, our nation denies that humans are a major contributing factor.  While oceans are fished clean, forests are stripped, and ice caps melt, our administration consciously makes determinations that reverse attempts that have been made to improve and correct the situation over previous decades. Some say that we in the United States live in denial as we blithely consume a disproportionate amount of the world's resources while millions starve. For us, it is important to understand that denial is not just a willful ignoring of circumstances. It's not some blissful choice for unawareness. It is, in a very real sense, a form of spiritual illness. It is part of a numbing process that turns us away from the holy, from what is true, and what is real. Our history as a people tells us that we simply don't do well without God. When we slip into lives of denial, it's not only destructive behavior or actions that we deny; it is the power of God's healing grace and presence that we deny as well. And for us, just like the people Israel, there are consequences. When we refuse to acknowledge the truth of what is going on, whether it is in our own personal behavior or in the actions of our churches or nation, we deny that we are accountable to God for our behavior.
     We can take comfort, though, in the fact that some folks have been there before us. Indeed, we might even learn from them. As we look to the reading from Isaiah, we hear one of the most potent pleas in all of Hebrew Scripture — a call for a God experience, for an advent of the Holy from a people who have long lived with a disturbing sense that God has abandoned them. "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down" (Isaiah 64:1), is a plea from a people who no longer feel that God is with them, from a people who "seek God and delight to know God’s ways" (Isaiah 58:2), but do not find them.The prophet connects God's seeming absence with the lack of righteousness practiced in the community. "You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways" (Isaiah 64:5). He reminds the people that they have "become like one who is unclean, and all their [our] righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth." (Isaiah 64:6).
     When life turns downward how often do we take it as a sign that God has left us? Yet I wonder, do we really believe, as this scripture suggests, that God hides from people? Does God back off and leave us without help — void of resources or possibilities? Do we think, in our misbehavior, our disrespect, and our downright disobedience, that God responds by taking a vacation?
     Think of what it would mean to live a life of purpose, fully aware that God is — in fact — right here with us – a present source of hope.  What would our lives be like if we quit denying that when we are not feeling the presence of God in our lives it is the result of our moving away – not God’s?  How would our personal behavior change? How would our spiritual lives shift? What would happen if we opened our whole being to the incredible and growing presence of God? No more denial. No more hiding from God. No more hunching down in the crowd, hoping no one will notice that we might be Christian.
     It's the first Sunday in the season of Advent; the time of God's emerging, the moment of God's fullness among us. Can we? Shall we? Will we join hands and hearts to remove the deadening layers of denial and live in the truth of God's ever-present love and wonder? Will we stop turning away from God's call? May it be our prayer this day is that we will move as a community to a new level of awareness. Let us pray this day is that we will accept God's great gift of sensitivity over the numbness and denial that permeates our lives.  As Christ's community awaiting his coming, we let us commit to a new beginning that renews our quest to not only talk the talk of the gospel, but to walk the walk in Jesus' name. Amen.

In your weariness of all our foolishness,
you could have clung to your holiness
and left us on our own, to find our way,
but you chose to love us,
coming to be one of us in Jesus.
He came to a people 
whose anxiety about the future was high,
   to remind them, and the generations to come,
   that you are in control, even when it seems doubtful.
He came to those who struggled
in the deep poverty of despair,
   to empty his pockets of all
   the hope and grace they needed,
   just as you do for us in these days.
He came to his kinfolk
who were weakened by fear,
   to strengthen them with the assurance
   that the road they walked was well known to him.  
And when death thought that it
could defeat him with its power,
   he simply waited for you
   to bring him out of its clutches
   with your resurrection power.

With those who try to stay alert,
and with those who toss and turn trying to sleep,
we proclaim that mystery which is our faith:

Christ died, giving his life for all;
Christ was raised, the light of resurrection showing the way;
Christ will come, gathering us in love and hope.


on this pilgrimage of uncertainty,
   may we remember God has walked
   this road many times before.
as we live through these endless moments,
   may we remember Jesus shares hope
   with us every day, every day.
in this season filled with isolation from others,
   may we remember that the Spirit
   knows our loneliness and cradles us in love.

Reign of Christ Sunday
November 22, 2020

Call to Worship

Christ, our king and shepherd, gather your sheep from every land.
  Give them pasture in green and fertile meadows.
Christ, our leader and savior, form all men into your own people, heal the sick, seek out the lost, guard the strong,
   call back those who have wandered away, strengthen those who waver, gather all    sheep into one flock.
Judge of all ages, when you hand over your kingdom to the Father, place us at your right hand,
   so that we may inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the beginning of the world.
Prince of peace, break the weapons of war,
   and inspire the nations with your peace.
Christ, heir of all nations, gather humanity and all the good things of your creation into the kingdom of your Church which your Father bestowed on you,
   so that the whole body of your people, united in the Holy Spirit, may acknowledge you as their head.
Christ, firstborn of the dead and first fruits of those who have fallen asleep in death,
   bring all who have died to the glory of the resurrection.

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
   For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
   Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

Matthew 25:31-46
    ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 
     And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Rev. Dreese
    Do you remember going to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus when it was still travelling from town to town?  Who could forget those daring acrobats balanced on the trapeze or high wire and, under them, a net?  When the act was finished, they would fall gracefully from their lofty perch into the open arms of the net, a kind of tease, I suppose, a hint of the terror of even the slightest slip or false step. Occasionally there was a daredevil who would work without a net, and the drum would roll, and people would gasp, a few would scream. 
     Such is the origin of the term “safety net.”  Today a safety net has come to stand for that last resort of protection and assistance provided by government for people who are otherwise helpless and vulnerable. The continuing debate is over whether or not we should have such a social safety net, and how much is necessary and for whom. The questions have to do with how much or how little responsibility a nation has for those who cannot help themselves, and those decisions are made by people who are making six or more figure salaries.  What do they know about being poor?
     Over the past nine months the challenge to best define “safety net” went into warp speed.  The pandemic has caused so many people globally to lose their jobs or have them significantly reduced.  Less work means less pay and so people, due to no fault of their own, have worried about how to put food on the table, pay the rent and utilities, maintain health insurance for medical care.  While smaller businesses were given supplemental support with which they have barely struggled to survive our nation’s billionaire class (Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, etc.) saw their wealth increase by $845 billion this year through September 15.  Keep in mind we are two additional months beyond that date with greater earnings in their pockets.
     Our government has never filled the job description of “Christian nation” it likes to claim.  Historically, when the government social safety net begins to fail, faith communities and other non-profits are left to fill the void.   First Grace struggled to do just that at its 350 location.  Our departure left “our” neighborhood without the food, childcare, youth, advocacy and listening ear services we were providing.  We were an employer in Akron.  In part the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank and the United Church of Christ blamed us for being “too generous” while they plundered our financial resources without any meaningful offer to assist us in the mission.
     This week Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, as part of the Trump administration’s scorched earth policy, demanded that the Federal Reserve return $455 billion in funds that were designated for pandemic relief for businesses and communities and not set to expire until December 31.  I guess the Fed did not understand that the pandemic has ended according to the President.
     The Scripture given for today, the Reign of Christ Sunday, addresses the concern of Christ, the Judge of the nations, for the welfare of persons who cannot be self-supporting but who must rely on the compassion and generosity of others. Of course, that concern includes all of us to some extent, because every person is dependent upon others. Nobody is completely self-sufficient. It’s really just a matter of degree.The prophet Ezekiel, writing almost six hundred years before Christ, was distraught that the leaders, or "shepherds," of Israel had taken advantage of the weak and had devoured the very sheep they were supposed to tend. Thus, the prophet envisions a day when God will personally shepherd the people of Israel, a day when there will be a Good Shepherd who will care for and feed the flock with justice and tenderness, not avarice and greed. Ezekiel’s imagery is vivid. The Good Shepherd will seek the lost and bring back the head strong sheep who keep going astray. The Good Shepherd will bind up the injured and crippled sheep, strengthen the fearful and weak. The Good Shepherd will watch over the fat and strong sheep, so that they do not take advantage of the lean and weak ones. The Good Shepherd will act as judge, and will be especially watchful to see that as the sheep graze in a pasture they do not trample the grass around them and thus spoil it for others. The Shepherd Judge will act to be certain that sheep who drink from a stream do not jump into the water with their feet and thus foul the water for those who must drink it farther down the bank (ecology is not a new concern). Finally, says Ezekiel, the Good Shepherd will control the fat sheep, that is the strong and robust sheep, to see that they do not thrust at the weak with their horns in order to threaten and intimidate them.
     All this, says the prophet, God will do through an appointed shepherd whom God will send, a servant like David who will guarantee that in Israel there is a safety net for those who are hanging by their fingernails to the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder. Six centuries later, in the imagery of the last judgment, Jesus assumes the role of Ezekiel’s Good Shepherd/Judge. The nations of the world are assembled before the enthroned Shepherd/Judge who divides them, sheep from goats, based on the nations’ responses to the lowest or least of persons in their societies.
     Jesus’ final concern for the least of his brothers and sisters is not surprising. He had an affinity for the poor, the outcasts, the dregs of society, and they seemed to have gravitated toward him as well. In the imagery of the last judgment, Jesus goes so far as to suggest that he is so identified with human need that the way we respond to the needy of the world is the way we respond to the Lord himself. It would appear that the Lord of the church is saying to those who are the church that we are to be, in some sense, God’s safety net. How much plainer could it be said that in this parable the church’s love for Christ will be realized or lost by our efforts to feed and clothe and shelter and console? The world is filled with persons who are unprotected, uncared for, hungry, abused, and belittled, and Christ the King is looking for his church to be their support, the embodiment of a God who is Refuge and Strength.
     To put it succinctly, the world is in a mess, and there are few signs that we are even gaining ground on the crises of hunger and poverty. In depressed moments a person could justifiably conclude that our world is heading toward a multiple choice end, the choices being: (a) starvation, (b) nuclear holocaust, (c) environmental collapse, (d) viral pandemic, or (e) all of the above! But the answer is not despair! None of the sheep in the parable of the last judgment was excused because she or he gave up hope and quit. Notwithstanding the complexity and magnitude of the problem, there are steps the church can take. The weaving of a safety net is our task even if it must begin with small stitches.
     First Grace is not a church that lives on its good deeds of the past.  In every move we have made over the past ten years we have maintained a focus on doing for others.  Yes, we have had less to share but we have figured out ways to keep doing something: Product from Panera is picked up two nights a week and taken home to be repackaged for distribution.  The first night’s gathering is distributed to students at Beyond Expectations Barber College which provides the training for men and women for a vocation in the grooming industry and to The International Village of St. Tomasso.  The second night’s gathering is distributed to the Paul E. Belcher building in downtown Akron and Harmony House.  (More nights are available if you want to join in on this project.)
     The congregation makes a $1,000 donation to the Akron AIDS Collaborative and I serve as treasurer for the group.  As a board member I participate in community meetings to discuss and plan for meeting the needs of the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS members of our community.
     The congregation is a member of the Akron NAACP.
     The Market Path continues to provide support for artisans from around the world to support their families and local communities.  Besides product, the store serves as a model of advocacy to and for our neighbors.  While sales have declined through the pandemic staff have continued to keep the store open and created an online store.  The church (you) has paid $1200 for the store’s insurance and the $604 monthly rent for the store’s middle section for three months.
     In addition, there are all the actions of you, the congregation, in extending the love of Christ to others which you do without fanfare. So, even while we are unable to gather for worship First Grace continues to serve in these frustrating times. 
     This past week you received an email from Chuck Bell announcing changes that were happening with our rented spaces in Copley.  Although we have been unable to gather for worship since March, we have paid $604 in monthly rent.  As mentioned above, we have also paid $1,812 rent for the middle section for the Market Path.  I view the request of our neighbor Cardinal Bakery to acquire those spaces as a gift at the right time.  Reducing the Market Path to the upper level simply returns us to the footprint we had originally negotiated when we went there three years ago.  As part of the deal our rent will remain the same for the next three years which is different than other tenants whose rent went up. 
     As to where we will worship, I think that God is not done with First Grace yet and that an answer to that need will come when the pandemic allows us to gather together again.  That will be at least nine months from now giving us an opportunity to use the respite from paying rent to finish paying off the credit card we were forced to live off of the last years at 350.  When we start gathering again, we could be debt free and faced with the welcome challenge to engage in current and new ministries as sheep and not goats.
     We have a freedom which so many other congregations do not – we do not have a building to worry about.  As winter approaches insurance companies are warning about keeping heat on to protect the plumbing and other aspects while raising the deductible by 150%.  I think it is possible for us to consider this as a time of transition and blessing.  I will continue to provide these weekly services.  As Advent approaches, we will engage a ZOOM or similar method of “connecting” on a regular basis to replace our person to person contact.  We will need a team of people who are able to assist others in setting the system up on their computers.
     Keep in mind Jesus’ words at the judgement: “And the faithful will say, "You must be mistaken, Lord. As much as we might wish we had, we simply never did all that. How could we feed or clothe or console you? You are above human need. How could we pray for you when you are our Intercessor before the Father? We never did that for you." "O but you did," the Shepherd King will say, "for inasmuch as you did for the least and lost and lonely, the little and the limited, you did for me. So, come close to me, for you see I still desire the touch of those who care." Throughout the centuries of the Christian Faith this is among but not the worst of times.  The church and its sheep will survive and continue to serve as Christ’s presence in the world.  Amen. 

May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
November 18, 2020

Call to Worship
This is the Lord's Day, the day of wonder and grace.
This is the day to worship the One who calls to us.
This is the Lord's Day, the day we are given joy and peace.
This is the day promised to us, the day of healing and renewal.
This is the Lord's Day, and it has come just in time!
This is the day we gather with hope, with faith, with love!

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
     Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 
     But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Rev. Dreese
     Mark your calendar.  Two weeks from today will be the First Sunday of Advent.  Its pretty hard to imagine that the year, and this year in particular, has gone so fast.  Next Sunday will be the last Sunday of our Christian year, and we will conclude the lectionary readings for year A.  Year B will begin the next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, November 29.  And then, just four weeks later will be the last Sunday of Advent and from there we glide into Christmas.  It is clear that every hope we may have had for our celebrating Christmas together has been dashed.  The virus we were promised would be gone by now is raging at new levels and as difficult as it is to accept Christmas will be less about travel to be with extended family and being stuffed with stuffed turkey and more about an opportunity to reflect on our hopes for Christmases to come.
     Mark your calendar.  This time for February 12-15, 2021.  These are the dates of The National Audubon Society’s Great Backyard Bird Count which asks that volunteers take at least fifteen minutes or longer, to intentionally observe, count, and identify the birds they see in their yard. Though not strictly a “scientific” survey, these “what’s-in-my-back-yard” observations help scientists to get a general idea of what is happening with various bird populations. The shifts in population numbers, and the sightings of, or absence of, various species gives researchers an early “heads up” about the dynamics in bird populations and the possible environmental issues that might be affecting their success or stressing their survival.  If you decide to participate you can report the information you have gathered to birdcount.org
     Bird-watchers are considered to be like “computer nerds.” They used to be among the most maligned, the most targeted and teased, in the world of scientific research. Stereotyped as gawky social clods wearing ugly shorts, pith helmets, and peering through giant binoculars, serious bird watchers were the ultimate odd ones out. But that image was challenged when a bird watcher named Rachael Carson wrote an expose of an environmental disaster that was threatening our entire ecosystem. “Silent Spring,” published in 1962, revealed the extent to which the unregulated use of chemical pesticides was toxic to the ecosystem, decimating whole populations of wildlife, impacting air and water quality, and directly related to the rise in illnesses linked to chemical exposures in human populations. Since birds live in the air, water, and land, and their diets vary from eating insects, fruits, seeds, berries, worms and grubs, they were the perfect target populations to keep an eye on in order to keep track of these environmental threats.
     Carson’s work eventually led to an executive order by President Richard Nixon creating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Bird watchers” brought about the ban of DDT, which was killing the bald eagle, and helped get pesticides and poisons cleaned out of local landscapes and waterways throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  Unfortunately, much of the good works that were brought about through our intentional healing of the environment have been threatened, halted and reversed by the Trump administration.  Hopefully, the ill will and mismanagement of our environment is something which can once again be corrected before it is too late.
     I will never forget the awe that I felt the day I was sitting in my backyard enjoying the view of the water when a giant shadow silently crept over me.  Astonished I looked up to see an eagle gliding along on wings that stretched out probably six feet.  After that day I never went out without looking for an eagle and my family probably grew tired of my dinner table reports when I had seen one or more. You may have never strapped on a pair of binoculars. You may not know the difference between a robin and a raven. But if you are a member of First Grace you are definitely in the company of “rare birds.” The Latin phrase for rare birds, “rara avis,” was one of the Reformation leader Martin Luther’s favorite titles for those who performed outside the norm of usual behavior, those who went above and beyond the call of duty. He called certain “princes” a “rara avis.” He called some political leaders a “rara avis.” He called the average everyday people in the pews “rara avis” when they expressed their faith instead of their fears.  These “rara avis” individuals were the unique “indicator species” in their communities and in their churches. Their health—or their decline—revealed much about the environment in which they were living.
     For the past seven months we have been transfixed by the stories of doctors and nurses and all the essential staff that have kept our hospitals serving those who have been cut down by the virus, the “rara avis” of our times, who have risked everything, even their very lives, to go help those suffering from the Corona 19 virus. In Luther’s day the context of “rara avis” was not Covid or pesticides, but pestilence, the scourge of the Black Death, a different pandemic that was ravaging all of Europe.  The conventional wisdom of the day held that if you became infected you had lunch with your family and then had dinner with your ancestors. Death came that swiftly. Yet even as the plague swept through the cities and small towns of Europe, there was one group of people that kept taking care of the sick and the dying and the dead: Christians. When other people ran away and left loved ones to fend for themselves and die by themselves, Christians stayed.
     Within the Christian community care for plague victims was intense and intentional. While everyone else kept their distance, Christians moved in closer. These “rara avis” followers of Jesus offered care and comfort to those who were in need, subjecting themselves to the plague in the process. What enabled these Christian caregivers to swim against the stream of a frightened, fleeing citizenry? What made Christians such a “rara avis?” Or as we would call them today, not “rare birds” but “odd ducks?”
     In this week’s epistle message, as “odd” as some of the language sounds to twenty-first century ears, there is a revelation of the central faith that has kept Christians operating on this same “odd duck” momentum from the first century when the return of Christ was expected at any moment, through the sixteenth century when the plague ravaged Europe, to the twenty-first century, where the threats of human violence and biological disasters are everyday news. Paul puts this faith in extremely “short-form” but his words say it all: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died” (v.14).
     “Jesus died and rose again.” That is the single most “rara avis” confession that Christians can make. It is the confession that defines and transforms our lives, defines and transforms our faith, and has the power to define and transform this world. “Jesus died and rose again” is a confession of faith in the power of God to transcend and to obliterate the power of death. “Jesus died and rose again” is a confession of faith in God’s promise to overcome the power of death in the lives of each and every one of us.
     Christians are the ultimate “odd ducks,” “rara avis,” because we do not fear death, because we believe that the end of our physical life is not the end. 
     We are “odd ducks” because, instead of despairing in the woes of the world, we are honed in on hope. 
     A Christianity that is one and at peace with the world is pitiful and powerless. Authentic Christianity is odd and at odds with the world it loves.
     Christian faith is odd and at odds with the culture of consumerism that tells us life is all about more — more money, more fame, more power, more influence.
     Christian faith is odd and at odds with a culture of celebrity that insists that if our lives are not on stage, on screen, on YouTube, on Tik-Toc or US Weekly, we are inconsequential.
     Christians are the original “odd ducks” who know life is not about what we own, or who we are, but whose we are. Odd ducks say “no” to a consumer culture which tells us that a successful life comes from “heaping it up” — money, homes, investments, powerful associates. Odd ducks say “no” to a celebrity culture which tells us a successful life comes from stockpiling social connections, fame, attention, glory.
     We live focused towards a future that the rest of the world longs for. We live with resurrection faith and hope, not monetary heap-it-up urges or emotional pile-it-higher-and-deeper surges. We live odd lives with odd beliefs and odd dreams, odd ducks in a world that fails to understand what true peace and happiness is. 
     We are a peculiar people. We are odd ducks. Now let’s go forth into the world and live odd lives, lives that are IN the world but not OF the world.

Prayer of the Day
in the silence,
when we struggle
to control our lives,
     may we, once again,
     empty ourselves of our pride and fears,
          to be filled with your hope.

in these moments,
when we cannot let go
of our worries and doubts,
     may we, once again,
     open our hands to hold your faith.

on this day
which is only and always
your gift to us,
     may we, once again,
     live into your kingdom.

Now, as we lift our hearts to you,
God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.

Let us go forth to be God's faithful servants.
We will not hide our gifts but share them with everyone we meet.
Let us go forth to be the followers of Jesus.
We will not hold back our compassion, but will offer it to all.
Let us go forth to be the Spirit's hope and peace.
We will be the grace, the joy, the wonder others need in their lives.

All Saints Day
November 1, 2020

Call to Worship 
L: Blessed are those who will not trade in their faith for a bushel of fear, for they know God’s heart. 
P: Blessed are those who stand alone at gravesides, for they are wrapped in God’s arms. 
L: Blessed are those who humbly care for the vulnerable, for they shall create new communities. 
P: Blessed are those who miss dinner, and happy hour each night, in order to care for the      
     forgotten, for they shall be filled with the manna of hope. 
L: Blessed are those who are compassionate, even with those who rub them the wrong way,  
     for they will be cared for by others. 
P: Blessed are those who look out for their neighbors, for they live next door to God. 
L: Blessed are the menders of brokenness, for they know what it is like to be reconciled to God. 
P: Blessed are those who are mocked by the rich and the powerful, for they know they are 
     walking the streets of the kin-dom. 
L: Blessed are you when others mock you, point at your mask, think you are foolish for keeping your 
     distance, caring for others, for then you know you are a sibling of Jesus.
P: Blessed are all those who model faith for us in these uncertain days, weeks, months. 

Matthew 23:1-12
     Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi.     
     But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Rev. Dreese

     2020 has been a year which those of us who survive it will long remember.  Covid has changed the way we do things and I won’t bother to even try to list all the things that it has altered.  But let me just suggest that this weekend was the first time where a universal change was observed.   For the first time in memory, children across the United States did not participate in the annual ritual of dressing in costume and mask and going door to door to receive a “treat” in their collection bag or plastic pumpkin.  Halloween 2020 will long be remembered for what it wasn’t and those who missed out on it this year will be able to add it to the list of things we bore them with when we talk about “When I was your age…”.  They will remember the year Halloween was cancelled. . .the year Covid wouldn’t even take a night off to accommodate trick or treaters to run door to door. Whatever “masking” they had planned to use to portray a zombie or vampire or ghost or Star Wars character or princess or whatever is popular this year will have to wait until next year or be replaced with another more popular character.  Instead of a trick or treat mask the children, just like us, are stuck with an every day mask to prevent the transmission of an enemy virus.  We all look forward to the day when we can unmask.
     Who among us is not looking forward to the election cycle being over and who among us does not hope that the voting is not tampered with and that it is decisive enough to not leave openings to challenge the voter tallies?  I suspect that all of us are hoping that by Wednesday or Thursday of this week we will have some assurance as to who the president of the United States will be for the next four years as well as all other down ballot races we are concerned about.     In a way, our elections are unmaskings.  Some candidates like to present themselves as people they are not and their opponents try to tear the masks away so that we, the voters, can see who they really are.  While they are in office, they can play whatever role they want – they can say whatever they want – they can appear to be whoever they want.  But when the mask comes off -- “Trick or Treat”.  And voters get to decide whether they will tolerate their tricks.
     Politicians are not limited to the twenty-first century.  In Jesus’ day there were similar authorities among the Temple/Synagogue patriarchy.  The Pharisees were not priests but they were the politicians who ran all the secular aspects of the faith.  They valued appearances over authenticity.  In other words, looking good was more important than doing good.
Jesus said, "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to be called "˜Rabbi.'"
     Pride and position were more important than sacrifice and service. The most important thing became what other people thought. There is an old Jewish folktale that illustrates in a hilarious way this kind of attitude. The men of the city of Chelm decide that they must do something to prove their town's importance. One man suggests that they choose the wisest man in town and name him "Chief Sage." None of the surrounding towns has a chief sage. Everyone agrees, and so Moishe the tailor is chosen to be chief sage. Now, how to distinguish Moishe, their chief sage, from every other man on the street? The men of Chelm decide that as chief sage, Moishe must wear a pair of golden shoes. Then, everyone who sees his golden shoes will know that he is chief sage. But as Moishe tramps through the streets of Chelm in his gold shoes, he steps right into a mud puddle. The mud covers up the gold shoes completely.
The men of Chelm decide to craft a pair of leather shoes to cover Moishe's golden shoes and protect them from mud. What a problem! Now the leather shoes cover up the golden shoes. How will anyone know that Moishe is the town's chief sage if they can't see his golden shoes? Finally, the men of the town come to a solution: Moishe will wear the golden shoes on his hands. Now, if any outsider wants to know who Chelm's wisest man is, they can point to the fellow who wears gold shoes on his hands.
     The Pharisees, following the directions laid down in Deuteronomy 11: 18, wore small leather boxes called phylacteries on their wrists and foreheads. These phylacteries contained verses of Scripture on them. Unfortunately, some of the Pharisees began wearing larger and larger phylacteries, as if to show that they were even more religious than their colleagues. The Pharisees did the same thing with the tassels they wore at the corners of their garments. A fierce competition developed over who wore the longest tassels on his robes.
To sum up, the pharisees view of religion valued “respectability” over righteousness.
Remember Jesus' words in verse 6: "...they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them "˜Rabbi.'" Some of the Pharisees were using their religious position as a status symbol.
     What makes the difference between a respectable Christian and a real one? Jesus makes that very distinction in verses 11 and 12: "The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." Jesus never wore fancy robes with long tassels. He hung out with outcasts and sinners, not with the movers and shakers. Instead of expecting the place of honor at banquets, Jesus took the place of the lowest servant and washed his disciples' feet. "Respectable" members of society got nervous when Jesus entered the room. He didn't play by their rules.
     Jesus wasn't trying to abolish the Law of Moses. He was trying to go beyond it, to show people the abundant life that flows from living in a true relationship with God.
Brothers David and John Livingstone had very different goals for their lives. John dreamed of being rich and famous. From a young age, David dreamed of following Christ. Both boys achieved their goals.
     John Livingstone became rich and famous. David Livingstone became a medical missionary to Africa. He was never rich, although he did become famous as one of the best-known missionaries of the 19th century. In his later years, he was offered the chance to return to England as a hero and live out his last days in comfort. Here was his chance to bask in the admiration of the people! To reap the rewards from his many years of service! Instead, David chose to remain in Africa, where he lived in poverty. He died of a tropical disease. Both brothers lived out their dreams. And yet, on John Livingstone's tomb are engraved these words: "Here lies the brother of David Livingstone."
     "The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." The saddest secret in most churches is the number of people who sit in pews week after week, year after year, and never develop a true relationship with the living God. They keep all the rules. They look good. They are respectable. But they are spiritually dead.
There is an abundant life waiting for those who are willing to seek God's face and live in God's will.

All Saints Day Prayer 
We continue to bless you, our God, 
as we try to do every day, all day long. 
By your grace, we discover that the boasters are not 
the role models we are looking for, but the whisperers of grace are. 
 We look for saints in the shadows of fear 
and find a neighbor with a candle. 
We long for a saint to ease the ache in our emptiness, 
and a stranger pours love into our souls. 
We wonder if a saint might quench our thirst for life, 
and a little boy hands us a glass of lemonade. 
You surround us with saints in every moment, 
even these uncertain, confusing ones, if we but open our eyes to see. 
We continue to bless you, our Brother, 
as we try to do every day, all day long. 
By your grace, we discover that the powerful are not 
the role models we are looking for, but the whisperers of hope are. 
We look for a saint to spend time with us 
and a little girl asks us to play catch. 
We whisper of our shattered souls, hoping to find a saintly ear, 
and a grandmother whispers, ‘I will listen.’ 
We seek a saint who will overturn injustice 
and a tired woman sits at the front of a bus. 
You surround us with saints in every moment, 
even these days which never seem to end, if we but open our hearts to see. 
We continue to bless you, our wise Sister, 
as we try to do every day, all day long. 
By your grace, we discover that the angry voices are not 
the role models we are looking for, but the whisperers of peace are. 
 We hunger for a saint who will feed our hunger for gentleness, for kindness, for civility 
and a friend packs sandwiches filled with these gifts. 
We want saints to take away our worries, 
and a grandparent laughs and pulls us up into their lap to smother us with kisses. 
You surround us with saints in every moment, 
even these times which seem overwhelming, if we but open our souls to pay attention. 
God in Community, Holy in One, 
it is your hope which wipes away every tear, 
your grace which restores our souls, 
your mercy which makes us one with you.  

L: Let us go to be God’s saints this week.
P: Not because we are more pious or special, but because we are called to care for those 
     whom the world has tossed aside. 
L: Let us go now to serve with Jesus this week. 
P: Not because we are better than those around us, but because we are called to humble 
     ourselves in serving those whom society has forgotten. 
L: Let us go now to journey with the Spirit this week. 
P: Not because we have the inside track, but because we have all lost our way, but hand in hand 
     will be led to God’s heart. 

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
October 18, 2020

Call to Worship 

Each morning, God's grace awakens us, each evening, God's peace cradles us. 
     Compassion is our constant companion, as we go through work, school, the day. 
In every moment, God is present with us; God whispers words which can change our lives.
     Justice is our faithful teacher, pointing to where we can carry out fairness. 
When we find ourselves groping in the shadows, God's light will provide a way home. 
     We turn the corner, and hope is waiting for us; we return home to find the comfort of God. 

Matthew 22:15-22
     Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Rev. Dreese
     There are only two things which are inevitable goes the old expression, death and taxes.  We spend a lot of time (and money) trying to avoid both.  The health care industry has done its part in keeping us alive as long as possible.  Even with the pandemic rates of infection going up the death rates are not climbing on the same curve because the entire medical field has been actively learning, sometimes by their mistakes, on how to better treat the virus.  That does not signal that we have a cure but, if we become ill with Covid 19, we have a greater chance of survival today than we would have back in April. The same is true for the extremely wealthy.   First of all, the tax laws are smoke and mirrors.  They are written by the wealthy to benefit the wealthy.  On top of the that, the wealthy can afford to hire tax accountants and lawyers to assure that their wealth remains intact.  During the pandemic billionaires have made additional billions of dollars in just the last six months while you and I – not so. 
And, of course, in the last couple of weeks we learned that President Trump paid a tax bill of $750 in 2017.  That is a ridiculous number given just his presidential salary of $400,000.  I don’t make that much but I pay thousands of dollars in taxes.  His excuse for not reporting his tax numbers to the public because he is in an IRS audit falls flat because, by law, he should have paid some sort of “estimated” tax.  If he paid too much it would be refunded or credited over to the next year.
     I suppose that most of us are smart enough, or intimidated enough, not to mess with the IRS. There are mafia bosses in jail not for murder or other mayhem but for failure to pay taxes on their ill-gotten gains. Not only can the IRS come after us when we fail to pay our taxes but the penalties that they add on can be horrendous. As someone else has said, “Don’t cheat the government unless you look really good in stripes.”  I know it’s a long time until April 15 and perhaps you would prefer not to think about it. After all, April 15 is not only income Tax Day, it is also the day the Titanic sunk and the day Lincoln was shot. It’s not a good day regardless of how you look at it.
     Actually, taxes were on the mind of people in Jesus’ time as well. However, taxation carried an even more sinister connotation in biblical times, because when you paid taxes you were helping prop up Israel’s oppressors, the Romans. Taxes were not paid to Israel or Judah. Most of the tax dollars went directly to Rome. To most Jews, this was offensive. The people of Israel were no different than any other occupied land. They resented their hard-earned money going to the treasury of the tyrants who ruled over them. To add insult to injury, the Roman tax could only be paid with a Roman coin. This coin had stamped on it the image of Caesar himself. The inscription on it read: “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” This coin with Caesar’s image on it violated the second commandment as far as the Jews were concerned, the commandment regarding the creation of graven images. So, the Pharisees and the Herodians, those in league with Herod, thought they had a winning hand when they posed a question to Jesus about paying taxes to Rome. “Teacher,” they said hypocritically, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
     They thought they had created a no-win situation for Jesus. If he counseled against paying taxes, he would be in trouble with the Romans; if he spoke in favor of paying the tax, the common people would be enraged. His enemies would have him just where they wanted him.
But Jesus knew their evil intent. He said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
When his enemies heard this, Matthew tells us, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
     In churches around the world Fall is often a time of church budgets and stewardship enlistment campaigns to encourage members to make contributions which will cover the anticipated expenses.  I have been cleaning church files that have been carried with me since we left the 350 building.  There are many years of church budgets there and the one thing we had differently than most other churches was The First Grace Foundation which provided funds to support the array of missions we conducted.  I was reminded that even in 2009 the member income barely covered the costs of a pastor and the rest – everything else – was supported by the Foundation.  Back in those days, the church’s financial needs far exceeded what the members were able to provide.
     Having left the building behind things are different now.  Our congregation is smaller.  So too our expenses.  When we pay off the credit card that we had to borrow from during the last years at 350 we will have $1000 per month to expand our mission activities.  Of course, money isn’t everything.  Who we are and what we have are gifts from God and we should challenge ourselves to decide just how we intend to use these gifts in our daily lives to help others.  And by gifting ourselves like this to others we are ultimately gifting ourselves back to God.
     The editorial staff of a Sunday magazine at one time created a “Faith in Life” award. This was their way of increasing their readership and at the same time recognizing those who best demonstrated their faith in daily living. The readers were encouraged to submit letters of nomination to the paper telling stories of those persons who best lived their faith in their daily lives.
     A large number of the nominating letters that came in mentioned people who either (1) had attended church regularly for years; (2) had given a sizable amount of money to their church or favorite charity; or (3) had done both. Many of the letters included newspaper clippings that showed the dedication of the person who was being nominated for the award.
Some folks were surprised when the winner was announced. His letter of nomination had arrived at the paper written in crayon with no newspaper clippings attached. The letter read like this: “Anthony is a plumber. He helped some people fix up a house for my friend’s family because their first house burned down. He also visits my grandmother in the nursing home and makes her happy with his stories and his harmonica playing. He is a lot like Jesus. I hope he wins. But if he doesn’t it won’t matter. He will still be the same good old Anthony.” And it was signed, “Love, Anne.”
     It’s not likely that I will ever benefit exceedingly from the tax laws written by Congress nor is it likely that I will need to hire lawyers and tax accountants to help me hide my money from the IRS and that’s alright by me.  I would rather pattern myself after people like Anthony and Jesus Christ – people who live out their faith in a wonderful way of serving others. Thank God for people like them.
     What do we owe God? Our money and our joyful service.  Amen.

Prayer of the Day 

Steadfast Hope: 
when we want 
to make all the rules 
so we can win every game, 
     you call us to your side, 
     put your arm around us 
          and whisper, 'play fair!' 
When we tremble in fear, 
worried that our lives 
are about to crash to the bottom, 
     you place us in 
     the hollow of your heart, 
          and give us safety. 

Word of Joy: 
when we would follow 
those who pretend 
to be our saviors 
to achieve their own ends, 
     you remind us that we have been chosen 
     to be examples of faith to others. 
When we would 
fill our pockets with 
the treasures of temptation, 
     you ask us to empty them, 
     so we can become 
     servants of hope. 

Crafter of Faith: 
when others are judged  
on their backgrounds, education, looks, 
     you teach us how 
     to treat all people as equal, 
          to welcome each person 
          as our sister or brother. 
When we wonder how 
our needs, our hopes, our lives 
will be made known to God, 
     you mention us, by name, 
     in all your prayers. 

God in Community, Holy in One, 
we know you as 
Glory, Grace, Goodness, 
and lift our prayer to you.  Amen.


Go forth now, filled with God's grace.
     We will cradle others in God's peace.
Go forth now, with the words that can transform the world.
     We will go to speak up for those who are not heard.
Go forth now, taking the Light of God into the world.
     We will go into every shadowed corner with hope lighting the way.

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
October 11, 2020

Call to Worship

Wherever we are this day, we come to worship the living God.
In you, O God, we hope; in you, Creator of love, we live.
With every space sacred, in these very moments, we are invited to come with Joy.
In you, Christ of the Way, we rejoice; in you, dear Brother, grace is as near as your heart.
Here on this day of gentleness and beauty, we are filled with the peace of God.
In you, O Spirit, we find our path; in you, Teacher of hope, we learn to serve.

Isaiah 25:1-9
     O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt.
     Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.
     On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
     It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

     When First Grace was located at 350 S. Portage Path, we installed a “cutting edge” sign along the street.  It was a then state of the art electronic message board which made it possible for us to have several messages broadcast to the community every hour of every day instead of those signs which someone had to go outside and lift the glass door to replace the individual letters of a single message.  To this day it makes me crazy seeing the same message week after week on a church sign.
     The sign flashed standard messages about worship times and what we did… AMOS enrollment openings, The Market Path, pantry and meal program times…you know, the standard stuff.  But one of the greatest joys of the sign was that we could put up messages to challenge current attitudes and make people think.  From thanking Planned Parenthood for all the healthcare services it provided the community to thanking the Nuns on the Bus for standing against government agendas that brought harm to the least among us we were able to challenge people to examine their attitudes.  And the traffic light held people at the intersection forcing them to take notice of the sign.  And, some of the messages we put there were intentionally confrontational in nature.  One summer we had a protestor out front.  The lettering on his hand-held sign was too small for drivers to read what his issue was.  I suggested to Patty that she change the sign (which she could do from the computer) to tell folks to not pay any attention to him or HONK but she talked me out of it.  I miss that sign.  It was an extremely helpful tool for the church’s ministry.
    Today, The Market Path provides our window on the world.  We have more visitors than buyers but that is pretty common with all retail stores.  Make no mistake, it is an outward and visible sign of First Grace’s ministry.  It demonstrates our commitment to help struggling people to establish economy where they live.  It supports Third World women, families and communities.  In exchange for their crafted items they receive a fair wage.  We may appear to the community as simply a strange little gift shop in Copley which has items one cannot find anywhere else but we know that we are much more. 
     The Market Path serves as a sign of our beliefs and our faith in action.  And over the years we have become a little bolder in how we announce that to the world.  Several years ago, we started to enter a new phase – that of making a statement much like the 350 sign had done.  We started with LGBT flags, stickers and pins. Our last year at Highland we placed a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign in the window – not for sale – just a statement.  And to my knowledge, no one had a problem. To be honest, when we arrived in Copley, we wondered how it would go.  It all came down to remembering that we were not a store to make money (although there would be no harm in breaking even) but to be a mission and, in part, our new mission in Copley was to bring the same messages we had shared in our former locations.  And after a while we expanded our messages by creating our “Left of Center Room” where the number of items of conscience continued to grow (thanks Jan).  And signs like BLACK LIVES MATTER and IN OUR AMERICA and VOTE were placed in the flower beds in front of the store. 
For three years those signs have stood silent vigil.  But, beginning in August, the silence was shattered.  BLACK LIVES MATTER had a march from Copley Circle, up the street in front of the store, to Copley High School and back.  And we were there with T Shirts from Akron AIDS Collaborative that said “ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER” which got us a visit from the police because the landlord had complained about us being there.  When I spoke to the landlord the next week, he said it was because we didn’t ask for permission but he wouldn’t commit to an answer when I asked him whether we would have been given permission if we had asked.
    Then came the phone call from a blocked number threatening us with a boycott if we didn’t take down the signs.  A couple of weeks ago the signs disappeared overnight – we filed a police report which was documented in the West Side Leader. On Thursday Carolyn had a woman in who didn’t want the BLM sign and thought that members of her church would have a problem with the line which says “Women Are In Charge of Their Own Bodies” on the IN OUR AMERICA sign.  [Can you imagine saying that women should not have control over their own bodies?  Oh, I forgot about Amy Barrett.] On Friday afternoon a woman ranted at Pat about the BLACK LIVES MATTER sign which is now displayed on the inside of the window to thwart another theft—“They’re Marxists - they want to destroy families - they want to kill the police”.  [As Pat was closing the store at 4 pm another woman (White) came in and was delighted to buy a BLM sign.  So, is there any question about God having a sense of humor?]
     It’s a sign of the time in which we are living.  The president holds super spreader events at the White House, people continue to claim that wearing a mask violates their rights and free will, Boogaloo Boys form a “Militia” with plans to kidnap the governor of Michigan and/or blowup the capital building or poison a water municipal water supply.  And the covid numbers go up and up. Those with evil thoughts who were always hiding among us have been called “good” over the last four years.  We are restless.  And, I suspect, I hope and pray, that God is restless:“For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy, in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.  When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless is stilled.” Isaiah 25:4-5
     In a sense, The Market Path is in the position that the Church of Jesus Christ should have always been.  Rather than always running away from controversy, convinced that not rocking the boat is the way to go, the church should have been the focus of evil’s anger which should have been standing for right over wrong.  When evil is silent that does not mean it doesn’t exist.  It’s there choosing to be silent but it has words brewing to say.  It has false attacks to make.  And a faithful church needs to have the strength to serve the God of all Creation.  To not speak up to evil, to surrender to it, is not what we are here to do.
    “Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.  It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.  This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”  Isaiah 25:8-9
     Anyone coming to The Market Path to complain about the Black Lives Matter sign in the window will be met with a new tool.  We now have a handout which clarifies our position:

If this sign upsets you – We understand
· Does it sadden you that we need to be reminded that anyone’s life matters?
· Does it remind you of times you did not correct someone telling a racist slur or joke?
· Does it challenge you to question how many Black neighbors and friends you have?
· Does it acknowledge that Black people, who were brought to North America beginning in 1619 as slaves, are still not treated with equality in housing, jobs, education and policing? 

The back of the brochure explains how The Market Path is a mission of First Grace Church and invites anyone with additional comments or concerns to contact me through The Market Path’s email.  Staff will then invite them to choose a heart stone (Peace, Love, Joy, Faith, Courage, Hope, etc.) as a gift from the pastor.

We will continue to be a witness to the community of God’s love for all people!  Amen.

Prayer of the Day

     When we realize how we are blessed beyond every imagining, we can sing of your surprising grace and your steadfast presence to a world which has grown deaf from the noise of empty clichés.
     When we remember your love which has no beginning and no end, when we stand in grace's sweet waters swirling around our hearts, we can rejoice in your hope which sees every person,
even those we would never invite into our circles, as your beloved child.
     When we remember your call to treat every single person with dignity, justice, and hope,
 we can share your peace (even when we don't recognize it) with a society which believes
 violence is the solution to every single problem.
     God in Community, Holy in One, as you live in us, so we will live for others.  Amen.

Go into a new week, 
to live and serve others, 
to share the hope of God,
to live in love with all creation.
Go into a new week,
to offer the gifts of life and grace with all,
to bring joy to those who mourn,
to offer the heart of Christ to everyone.
Go into a new week,
to fill our neighbors with peace.
to walk the Spirit's path with strangers,
to serve all as if they were family.

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 27, 2020

Call to Worship
We come, so God can teach us goodness and love for each person
We will complete God's love by having the same compassion as God.
We come, so Jesus can lead us into lives of service and obedience.
We will complete Jesus' hopes  by putting others before ourselves.
We come, so the Spirit can help us to empty ourselves for God and those around us.
We will complete the Spirit's peace by sharing our lives with others.

Matthew 21:23-32
     When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
     ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Rev. Dreese
     Do you think we can make it through the next five weeks and two days?  Our days are so filled with information and misinformation – facts and lies – false claims and “fake news” that there has to be times when we just want to pull the covers over our heads and hope for a good outcome in the election.  But do we think it’s possible to sustain our sanity for the next thirty-seven days?  We really don’t have a lot of options – we have more than a month before the polls close.  And then we begin a new torturous waiting period as ballot counts are extended and the bickering begins.
     Each candidate running for whatever office wants to convince us that we should believe in their position, support their causes and to come to believe that their causes should be our causes, but most of all, believe that he or she can do the job better than anyone else.  Tuesday night will be the first time the two presidential candidates will debate face to face.  It promises to be entertaining (and frustrating, jaw dropping, nail biting). When all is said and done it’s our job to look at the evidence, the facts as we know them or have experienced them, look into their job history, examine their character, and come to a conclusion whether or not you want to believe not just in what that person says, but in whether that person is being authentic, is telling you the truth about what they really think, will they really follow through with what they say will do to make us safe? What we have to discern is whether a candidate is saying what they think you simply want to hear? Or can you trust that the candidate is authentically trustworthy? Politics makes this kind of discernment very hard.  Politics in 2020 has added many additional dimensions to this task making it very hard indeed.
     It makes “belief” more complicated than just simply taking words at face value. A good rule of thumb; listen to words -- but look at actions. Is there “fruit” as John Wesley would call it? Is there proof in the pudding?  Is there follow through? Is there consistency of works and of character? Or is it just a politics of rhetoric?
     What do we believe? Well, belief itself is not so simple. There are two types of belief here that we are talking about.  On the one hand, do you believe what the candidate is telling you?  Flat out.  Do you believe what is coming out of the mouth of a given candidate is truth (and nothing but the truth)?  Does it make any real sense? On the other hand, do you believe in that candidate? Or in other words, do you trust the candidate –to do a good job, to follow through, to support what is promised, to fulfill the role if elected, to be the person he or she projected during the campaign.
     Whether or not to believe is based in both head and heart, in facts, but also in trust. Only when you put your trust in someone can you say, you truly come on board, and invest yourself heart and soul in supporting and following that candidate.  If you were writing a Power of Attorney for Health Care and had no relatives would you trust the candidate to make decisions for you.  Remember, one candidate will be before the Supreme Court after the election to argue against the Affordable Care Act without any alternative plan on the table.
     Faith is like that too especially when it’s about faith in Jesus. True faith. We talk about it.
We have been taught to say we have it. Belief, that is true faith, however, is tricky for Christ-ians too. You can believe that something happened, but you may be divided on how it happened, if you didn’t witness it for yourself. You can believe that someone is president or CEO. That person holds that position. But if you don’t believe in that president or CEO, that is, you don’t believe he or she has the know-how, power, or authority to behave as such or to do the kind of performance that the job requires, you won’t respect the candidate as your president or CEO.
     Likewise, you can believe that Jesus existed, that he lived and died, that he challenged the powers of his day, that he was a teacher and rabbi. But if that head belief is not coupled with heart conviction you don’t truly believe in Jesus. And you certainly then won’t trust him with your heart and soul or believe that he can change your life – and you, in turn, will not be able to help others change as well.
    The bottom line is that true faith, is very, very hard.  If every Christian who says they believe in Jesus actually believed in the power and authority of Jesus we would have and we would experience more joy and peace in our lives and in our world. Over time, Christianity has been watered down.  Churches, desperate to claim large numbers of members, have made it possible for people to make weak kneed claims that they accept Jesus’ instructions for their lives and that they will order their lives in obedience to him without fully understanding and acting out what that means.
     In our scripture for today, Jesus calls the priests and elders on this very issue.  Hoping to hamstring Jesus they asked him by what authority did speak and act.  On to their game Jesus responds with with a question to them about the source of John’s baptism. Unable to answer with any authority of their own the priests and elders got “political” and tried to determine what the “right” or helpful answer might be, the one they think Jesus and the listening crowd would be willing to hear.  By this “political” maneuver they undermine their own authority as those in the “know.” And they reveal the weakness of their own faith.  Jesus knows, they do not believe in Him. In fact, they don’t know much what they believe, because they are spending their time trying to search for the convenient, political, advantageous answer –an answer that will keep their own authority intact.  It allows them to hide behind the walls of tradition and ritual which has made them look powerful.  They had substituted institutional religion for personal faith and therein lies their failure.  Sadly, the institutional church has successfully repeated the pattern. But Jesus did not leave with a smirk on his face that he had made them look like fools.  He lets them know that it’s ok to get it wrong, to doubt, to hesitate, even to falter, if in the end, you put your trust in him. But if your faith rides only on the words you recite, the creeds you repeat, the mere words you promise, the rituals you act out but don’t feel in your heart, you are creating barriers to your entering the kingdom.
     But this is good news for all of us who are still faltering somewhere between trust and agnosticism. God will always accept those who turn to Jesus, and bid to enter in regardless of how often we go out and slam the door behind us.  When we knock again, the door will open – and we will be welcomed in.

Prayer of the Day
When we think your job is to listen to our petty quarrels,
you lean over, put your finger to our lips, whispering,
     'let me tell you a story.'
Rock Splitter, 
we worship you.

When we want to ask you all sorts of questions, and demand to see
your background check, you put your arms around us,
     gently saying, 'I want you to meet some friends of mine.'
Self Emptier:
we follow you.

When we are burned out by our chronic anger,
when our throats are parched by our litany of laments,
you take us by the hand, inviting,
     'let's go get a cold drink
     down at Rock's cafe.'
Sharing Spirit,
we adore you.

God in Community, Holy in One, you are God, to whom we pray.  

Let us have the same mind as God.
We will see each person as God's child.
Let us have the same justice as Jesus.
We will stand with each person who struggles.
Let us have the same hope as the Spirit.
We will put others before us in all we do.
Just for the fun of it! 

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 14, 2020

Call to Worship
In sacred times of word, wonder, and awe, in ordinary days of work and play:
in every moment, God is with us.
Whether we are stuck in doubt's mud, or standing on faith's shoreline:
in every place, God is with us.
In those who teach us and those who trouble us; in those who surprise us, and those who forgive us:
in every person, God is with us.

Romans 14:1-12
     Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
     Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. 
     We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Matthew 18:21-35
     Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
     ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 
     When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

Rev. Bob Dreese
     It was 1 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.  The entire senior class was crammed into the dorm’s common room with every chair occupied and many more bodies sprawled out on the floor.  Joining the seniors were all of the faculty.  Only at the opening celebration for the beginning of the year were all of these people gathered together in one place.  So, here we all were to do this new thing which was called a Colloquy – a general discussion.   I had no idea how this was going to go and, in all honesty, I wondered if the faculty were secretly grading us in this setting.
     The one thing that had been made clear prior to the gathering which was to be the first of weekly gatherings like this for the rest of the term was that we were expected to participate.  The steering committee, made up of both students and faculty threw out the first question.  Even though it was a question that had come up in little corner conversations or outside on the porch it was a surprise none the less.  “If Adolf Hitler sought God’s forgiveness thirty seconds before committing suicide would God have granted it?”
     The question strips bare any notions one may have about forgiveness.  The cop out answer was that “it was not up to us to determine who God can and does forgive”.  That one brought a strong rebuff from the faculty members.  And so, for the next two hours we each got a turn to flounder around with an answer.  To be honest, I can’t remember what “wisdom” I attempted to offer.  The whole time was hard work and most of us left exhausted – and without a clear answer.
     As life rolls on that “clear answer” continues to be elusive.  The gospel story for today tells a tale that is fairly simple to understand.  A servant who had been forgiven all the debts he owed his master failed to fully appreciate that forgiveness and, to the surprise of others who witnessed his actions, denied a similar forgiveness to one who owed him money.  The story ends with the forgiven servant being taken into custody and sent off to be tortured for his heartless attitude toward his sub-servant.  And most who heard and now hear this story should agree with the punishment.  To really confuse the situation, we can turn to this morning’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  He too is talking about forgiveness.  It would be easy to hear his words and think that all people are to be forgiven and that it is our responsibility to be the ones who forgive.  I can see how one might jump to this conclusion but I want to make clear that I think this is a situation where Paul tries to use Christianity to provide a simplistic answer which does not fit every situation.
     Paul writes: "Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them…Those who observe one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike..." The examples he gives are petty at best – the disagreements between those who would eat only vegetables and those who would not – those who prefer one day over another (I presume this may have had something to do with what day of the week should be the sabbath).  Although these topics can bring about some heated conversations between people who have already fallen into a particular position, their disagreements really do not benefit or harm the social setting as a whole.  War and peace do not revolve around whether or not people eat meat.  War and peace are not determined by the Sabbath day.  Perhaps, because these issues are so petty is the very reason why Paul admonishes folks to be forgiving – they simply do not amount to enough to justify being angry and mean spirited.  Because we all equally come before God, we need to not withhold forgiveness to others over issues such as these.
     Let me suggest that Paul discredits his argument by judging the vegetarians as “weak in faith”.  Clearly, he is trying to sway the majority who like to eat meat by identifying the vegetarians as “weak in faith”.  Basically, he wants folks to just drop the argument and wraps it all up in a blanket of forgiveness.  Fine for such a simple issue but this blanket of forgiveness cannot be wrapped around those who have intentionally supported agendas which have brought harm and death to others.  If Hitler went before the Holy Court of Appeals thirty seconds before his death asking for forgiveness, whether or not he was given that forgiveness is not our concern – that was between Hitler and God.  From my perspective that whole scenario cheapens God’s grace and is an attempt for the one seeking forgiveness to not take responsibility for their actions.  Such a last half minute deathbed confession is simply a final act of once again, like a spoiled child, doing something that benefits themselves.
     We need to be clear that forgiveness does not eliminate judgement.  Even if Hitler felt that God had forgiven him at the end the fact that he took his own life was done to avoid judgement.  He heard what had happened to his friend Mussolini when the crowds got a hold of him and Hitler did not want that same desecration.  So, he took matters into his own hands and took his own life.
     Few people are still living who witnessed concentration camps with smoke stacks pumping human ash into the skies. These are horrors to never be forgotten or forgiven. Hitler’s agenda should never be excused or worshiped. But even in the “Land of the Free” there is a growing element of hate among us that is bringing back what should have been buried with Hitler. Neo Nazis teamed up with White Supremacists show up in our streets with torches and chants and weapons spouting hateful lies and fear. They pretend to be enlisted in a cleanup army to aid anyone whose business has been marked or damaged while carrying automatic weapons. And their cheerleaders show up in Congress and the White House defending them and trying to turn the blame on the millions of young and old and Black and White who have participated in peaceful protests this past Spring and Summer.
     Those who are supporting lies and terror need to be brought to judgement.  I watch people on the news proclaim that the virus is a hoax while the daily statistics continue to mount up.  People argue over the wearing of face masks as if they are suggesting that everyone should eat kale.  I have “friends” on Facebook who share memes and stories without fact-checking.  Foreign agents are attempting to feed false stories into news feeds as if they are coming from reliable sources.  And the president is caught on tape making fun of troops – both living and dead.  What if all of them took Oral Robert’s invitation to hold their hands over their television and pray “the prayer”?  Would they simply be forgiven?
     No, there is more to it than that.  Their words and actions have caused great damage to the lives of many innocent people.  Simply asking for forgiveness, if sincere, may be a start but these folks have been instrumental in not just being wrong but in doing wrong as well.  But forgiving them does nothing to benefit those who were physically, emotionally or spiritually harmed.   One of the things that I struggle with is how to deal with the folks who are failing to understand the responsibility of being forgiven.  Especially those folks who are actively “campaigning” for those who lie and cheat and harm.  There is a meme going around that says: “You may not act like a racist but if you vote for a racist you are condoning racism”.  And that sucks us in to the same acts.  And what judgment of us comes with that?
     We cannot allow these people to put the responsibility to forgive them on us.  Remember, God is the one who is in the forgiveness business.   Our responsibility is not to look the other way when someone needs to be brought before the bar of justice.  Such is not an invitation for us to become self-righteous but to be straight forward.  Children in cages – WRONG!  Not being honest with the nation about the Pandemic – WRONG!  Trying to manipulate our election process – WRONG!   Willfully destroying our environment – WRONG!
I am sure that there are some “good, religious” people who would say that I am the one who is WRONG – that I am playing God – that everyone should be forgiven.  To those persons I would say that I will take may chances.  God can forgive evil doers as God pleases but I do not have to forget.  Amen.  (And may God have mercy on my soul.)

Prayer for Forgiveness

It is never easy for us to confess
but deep down inside, we know that
we have trouble being grace-full to others;
          we are eager to judge and punish all who hurt us;
          we find ways to put restriction on people we fear. 
Forgive us, Servant God. 
You show mercy more often than we deserve; 
you pardon us more times than we can count. 
 And why? 
Because we are the Lord's - sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, 
who died and lived again, 
so we might live beyond death with you.

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 7, 2020

We gather here, where God would teach us:
so we may learn to be more compassionate,
so we may be taught how to be more loving.
We gather here, where Jesus would teach us
the wisdom to choose forgiveness over holding a grudge,
the language of hope so we may speak to all.
We gather here, where the Spirit imparts wisdom,
so we might know how to share grace,
so we would learn to welcome all.

Romans 13:8-14
     Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 
     The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
     Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ

Linda and I spent our first married summer in Columbus, Ohio.  She had been a nurse in the Emergency Room for the year prior and I was hired into a test staffing program of hiring senior college students to assist in the Psychiatric Unit. We lived in an “interesting” apartment comprised of two single room efficiencies with a hole knocked through the common wall. As small as it was it had two full bathrooms which made it easy for us to get ready to go to work at the hospital which was a five-minute walk. By plan or by accident we were always on the same shift but there was a two-week period that Linda had to work the night shift.  One Friday night when I had the next day off with no need to punch the clock by 7 a.m. I stayed up late watching some sci-fi or horror movie on the television (black and white).  I watched in the dark.  But as the room was only lit by the gray glow of the television, I took note of a movement along the edge of gray and darkness.  Yes, I came to the conclusion that there was something there.  I quickly finished my glass of Pepsi, went over and placed the glass upside down on top of whatever this was.   I went back to watching the TV but noticed that now the glass was moving across the floor.  Alarmed, I placed a summer reading book on top of the glass and eventually fell asleep.  When Linda came home in the morning, she asked me, “what’s this all about?”  I explained to her my experience.  She picked up the book and the glass and announced “that’s a roach!  Have you never seen a roach before?”  Sadly, the answer to her question was simply “No”.  (Being a country boy, I had heard stories about roaches but had no idea they were the size of an alligator!)  “If you had turned on the light,” she continued, “they scatter.”  (Remember, she lived there a year before I arrived on the scene.)
     Well, being the experimental type I did just that the next night.  I watched the television in the dark and waited until I thought the time would be right.  I reached over and snapped on the table lamp.  There was the sound of the stampede of a hundred little feet scurrying to get to a dark place.  (We only lived in that apartment for ten weeks until we moved to Canada for me to finish college.)
    Just as darkness lures roaches to bravely come out from their dark hidey holes there is something to be said about how we humans similarly act.  Paul was quick to announce that all the personal sins were unleased at night when it was dark and easier to hide.  In Paul's day as in ours, many people were "good" — morally upright — because they didn't want to get caught being bad. It was often said that people conformed to decent behavior during the light of day but anxiously awaited nightfall when it was party time! "Reveling and drunkenness ... debauchery and licentiousness ..." to use Paul's words.
     Over the past several weeks we have witnessed daily gatherings of protestors in the streets of our nation.  Perhaps you have been a part of this movement.  It’s good to see people taking control of their first amendment rights.  Allow me to suggest that peaceful protests generally take place in the day in the brightness of the sun.  But after the sun has gone down the influence of those who have been in hidey holes appear on the scene intent on turning protest into violence and destruction.  We see it over and over again, night after night, on our televisions.  Is it because people think they can get away with more under the cover of darkness?
     This whole lifestyle of hedonism, Paul argued in Romans 13, was based on one single factor: selfishness. Individuals lived for themselves and their own pleasure. Other people were used, abused, or exploited for pleasure or to provide cover for their actions.   It cannot be that way for believers in Jesus Christ; you cannot love others and exploit them at the same time; you must dare to be different! So Paul came up with a new image that was precisely the opposite of the day and night illustration. "Let us then lay aside the works of darkness," he wrote in Romans 13:12, "and put on the armor of light." Totally unlike those who could hardly wait for the cover of darkness, Christians would live as children of light even in the darkest times: They would dare to be different.
     We admire people who walk as children of the light. We admire those righteous Gentiles who sacrificed so much — often life itself — to help their Jewish neighbors during the Nazi holocaust; or those whites in South Africa who for thirty years resisted apartheid; or people in our own country who give witness to Black Lives Matter or immigrants seeking a better life or other disenfranchised peoples even when it means alienation from their family and peers or ostracism from those in positions of power and influence; or those students who pass up a big night of partying so they can arise early to work with Habitat for Humanity or at a soup kitchen or shelter. They dare to be different. Unlike those who wait for nightfall when they can live a life ruled by selfishness, these people of faith have lived consistent, upright lives fit for the light. They display the primary Christian virtue: selflessness, love for neighbor.
     Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near [for us]. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and [let us] put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.  Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near [for us]. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and [let us] put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
     Any Christian who does not strive to put on Christ’s armor of light – anyone who calls themself a follower of Christ but does not actively try to be a bearer of Christ’s light for others is a complete confusion for me.  Anyone who claims to be Christian but would deny Christ’s love to others places themselves outside Christ’s circle of light and makes their way, like roaches, into the shadows of darkness.The light of Christ requires that love of neighbor be constant and primary.  There can be no darkness in Christ’s church that denies such love to all persons.  We must dare to be different.  We must dare to stand in the light.  We must stand against those who are lurking in the dark shadowed hidey holes.  We must avoid those who hide in their hidey holes only waiting to create havoc and then claim to have acted in innocence.  They are around us – you know who they are.  Keep the light shining!

Prayer of the Day
Liberating God:
you set us free from our loneliness
by the touch of another's hand;
you deliver us from our selfishness,
so we may be of service to others;
you break the chains of our pride,
so we might walk with you in humility.
Christ of love,
when we would cling to our anger,
you send forgiveness to take us by the hand;
when we would snack on our bitterness,
you show us the way to reconciliation,
when we would drink from sin's fountain,
you pour out the a better portion.
Spirit of new life:
you gather us together on this day
to teach us how
     to live together,
     to love together,
     to serve together,
so that those around us might know
that you are in their midst.
God in Community, Holy in One, Amen.

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 31,2020

Call to Worship
Some of your people gather in sanctuaries
while others create sacred spaces
in their living rooms or back yards.

     Yet, all join to worship you,
     God who is with the scattered and gathered.
Some of your followers are going out to serve and work,
while others stay at home,
helping children and grandchildren learn virtually.

     Yet, all seek to follow your example,
     Jesus who calls the scattered and gathered.
Some care for others by shopping for them,
while others plant seeds of peace and hope.

     Yet, whether gathered or scattered,
     all seek to live out your gifts, Spirit of us all.

Matthew 16:21-28
     From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
     Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

     The year ... 177 A.D.
     The place ... the arena at Lyons.
     The celebration ... fiesta time.
     The sport ... killing criminals, runaway slaves and Christians.
     A letter from the local church to a sister church in Turkey describes what happened:
The governor had the blessed ones form a procession for the enjoyment of the crowd ... Maturus, then Sanctus, Blandina and Attalus were led to face the lions in the amphitheater .... The virgin Blandina, after the whips, after the lions, after the iron chair, was at last thrown into a basket and presented to a bull. For a time, the animal tossed her, but she had now lost any sense of what was happening, thanks to her hope, her steadfast faith and her close communion with Christ (as quoted by Christopher Kelly in Times Literary Supplement, 22 December 1995, 22).
     The emperor Claudius was so hooked on violence that he ordered his soldiers to turn the faces of the mauled, mutilated, dying Christians in his direction, so he could enjoy their final moments of agony. The people who were in the stadium, the people who roared even louder than the lions when Blandina and her brother-sister Christians were led into the arena, were not the rabble, but the respectable, the wealthy, the good, decent, law-abiding citizens of Rome.
     Think we have finally risen above exploiting the kind of canned violence that the Romans cheered at in the Coliseum? Maybe you should think again. I grew up watching television and it wasn’t all Howdy Doody.  In the post-World War Two era I grew up on Victory at Sea, The Valiant Years, Combat all retelling the horror stories of war.  Heading back into history there was The Riffle Man, Gun Smoke and Bonanza.  Detective and murder mysteries came through programs like Mannix and Alfred Hickox Presents.  Just like the Romans, we call this violence "entertainment." Just like the Romans, we want to see the faces of those who are in the final throes of dying especially when we have decided they deserve to die. Just like the Romans, bombarded by images of brutality, numb to the heaps of bodies that pile up on our small screens, we seem to desire ever more heinous acts to quench our blood lust.
     We try to think this is okay because television violence is all "make believe"? Think again because the news networks do not bring us fantasy.  They try to “soften” the brutality by making a declaration that “The following scene contains violence that may be objectionable to some” or “The following is pretty graphic.  Younger viewers are advised to look away”.  In many situations such an advisory only perks up our interest and we stop whatever we are doing to pay closer attention to the screen.  And with DVRs we can back it up a few seconds in case we missed something “important”.
     It’s not all fiction.  This week we were warned about the graphic image of a video of a black man being shot in the back by a police officer – seven times.  And a couple of nights later we saw video of a seventeen-year-old vigilante shooting an AR15 at people who were chasing him resulting in the deaths of two and serious injury to a third.  Sadly, these events have become increasingly common and the horror of these real events and the real carnage they are creating seems to become less alarming.  We’ve seen it before – we’ll see it again.  Another day – another shooting.
     Today's gospel text acknowledges the painful reality that we live in a violent world, that we are a violent people. Jesus followed up the revelation of his identity as the Messiah with the stunning prediction of how he would be violently killed by his enemies. It is a message that still makes all of us recoil with horror just as Peter did. For post-Easter Christians, however, it is easier to read Jesus' passion predictions than it was for his disciples to hear them in real time. Unlike them, we tend to focus on the Resurrection as occurred event rather than as a promise. The much more difficult message to hear in this text is the challenge Jesus extends to those who would be true disciples: "Take up [your] cross and follow me .... those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (vv. 24-25). These are calls to sacrifice, and they intrude rudely into our safe, secure, convenient faith-lives. In the words of Father Daniel Berrigan, "If you want to follow Jesus, you had better look good on wood." Would you look good on wood?
     What made it possible for first-century Christians to choose a martyr's death? What has kept generations of Christians from losing faith and falling apart when confronted by the violence and hatred of this world? How can we realize even the day-to-day sacrifices of our faith that demand we do things we don't want to do; go where we don't want to go; love people we don't want to love?     When we become Christians, Jesus calls us away from our old identities, our old selves. When we become Christians, we undergo a character change. By our practicing self-denial, Jesus calls us to become members of a new family, part of a new reality -- the body of Christ. This Christ-body community lives according to a new set of shared values which develops a Christian character in each one of us. Living out these values builds up our character more strongly every day. It is only through the strength of this Christian character that any one of us can hope to successfully pick up and carry our own cross for Jesus.
Through Christ and our baptism into Christ, we are empowered to "live a new life". When Christ enters our lives, we experience the deepest character changes one can ever have.
Are we prepared for a such a significant character change? Think we could look good on wood?
R J  Dreese

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 23, 2020

Call to Worship:
Give thanks to God with all your hearts.
We will hold nothing back from our God.
Sing our solo songs of praise to our God.
We will join in thanksgiving for God's abiding love.
Glorify God and that Word we know as Jesus Christ.
We will worship our God with wonder and joy. 

Unison Prayer for Forgiveness:
   We confess our struggle to be transformed into disciples, God of mystery.  The desires of the world would shape us into people you would not recognize.  The demands of our society pull us away from your heart.  Our culture values the rich, the powerful, the successful, but you are on the side of the weak, the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed.
   Forgive us, Merciful God, for looking for you in all the wrong places. Reawaken us with your voice that calls us to service; revive our weary hearts with your vision of creation; refresh our fatigued spirits that we might boldly proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and go forth to serve your people, in Christ's name. 

(The scripture is formatted differently than you have seen before.  In the black type you will find the Old Testament scripture for today Exodus 1:8-22.  It is the opening story of Moses.  In the red type you will find my 21st century rewrite of the scripture.  If you are on Facebook, you may have already seen this.  Read them in any manner you desire -- separately or together.)

Exodus 1:8-22
1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
Now a new president arose over America, who did not trust any former officials.
1:9 He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.
He said to his people, “Look, the black, brown and tan people are growing in numbers and will someday outnumber us.
1:10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."
Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of an election, join our enemies and vote against us and break their bonds.
1:11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.
Therefore he hired his children and Jared and Steven to oppress them and to force them to work in meatpacking plants and produce fields where Covid 19 was abounding.  They were essential “workers” in the food supply chain.
1:12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.
But the more the black and brown and tan people were oppressed, the more their white supporters multiplied and the power elite came to worry about their future.
1:13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites,
The power elite became ruthless in how immigration laws were to be interpreted,
1:14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
And made their lives bitter with hard service standing next to each other among slabs of meat and in fields harvesting veggies for the elite’s salads.  And all the while they sent ICE agents to intimidate and arrest the brown people.
1:15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah,
The president said to his henchmen, one of whom was named Miller, another Kushner and another Barr,
1:16 "When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live."
“When you are standing at the border and you see the brown people coming, if they have children, take the children and lock them in cages.”
1:17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live.
But there were those in the nation whose faith called them to disobey the president’s orders and they demonstrated in the streets and advocated in the courts to let the children be free and to protest police mistreatment of Black men.
1:18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?"
So the president declared cities with Democrat mayors to be out of control and sent secret police to shoot ear gas and to throw them into unmarked cars and take them away.
1:19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them."
Seeing what was happening in the streets of their communities “MOMS” showed up to protect the younger protestors and then came the “Dads with leaf blowers” and the veterans who had served in the armies of prior presidents.
1:20-21 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
And God was pleased with Her/His children.
1:22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live."
Then the president made executive orders to throw every immigrant back across the Rio Grande but the first plague named Covid had already arrived and Mexico had closed the border and would not let them cross. (Funny how God’s will is done.)

     Joseph, the guy with the wonder filled coat, had been sold into slavery by his older brothers and had worked his way into the court of Pharaoh and became for him an interpreter of dreams.  It was at that time when many Hebrews fled from their drought stricken home of Canaan and went to Egypt.  Due, in part, to the good favor Joseph had with Pharaoh he was able to advocate that the people be welcomed as the guests of the Pharaoh. To those semi-nomadic people, the land of Egypt, even though passing through a period of exceptional famine, must have seemed lush and green compared with drought stricken Canaan and the desert which they had crossed. It was a different time then.  They were there as resident aliens.  They were accorded special privileges, thanks to Joseph's position at the Pharaoh's court.
     What we see in this scripture today is that the time came when this favorable status changed. Exodus 1:8 graphically portrays the shift in fortune which followed the death of Joseph. "Now there arose a new king over Egypt who knew not Joseph." We are not told the new king's name nor how long a period had elapsed since Joseph's death, but a good guess would be that the Pharaoh who reduced the Hebrews to slavery was Raamses 2, the mightiest sovereign of the nineteenth dynasty and ruler of Egypt for sixty-seven years, from 1292 to 1225 B.C.
     By this time Joseph had died and Raamses, a new Pharaoh, didn’t care at all for the relatives and friends of Joseph and so he enslaved vast numbers of people.   He was an ambitious builder, and wanted to complete a tremendous construction enterprise by which he felt his personal glory would be enhanced.  A wall alone would not satisfy his ego. He was also a powerful warrior, but fought a losing war with the Hittites who controlled Syria and, as a result, all of Syria and Palestine revolted against him. The revolution spread even to the frontier forts and the northeastern delta of Egypt itself. Located in that vulnerable territory were some resident Hebrews who had been there a long time but had never been truly assimilated into the Egyptian culture.  Raamses feared, if war broke out, these unassimilated foreigners would side with his enemies. So, he thought up an ingenious plan: he put the Jews to work strengthening the defenses of that border area. Thereby, he got a beneficial contribution from them and, at the same time, sought to control their strength.
     To cower a people into slavery was (is) a typical way of controlling them.  The Hebrews were forced to become the cheap labor, human machines needed to build and maintain the empire.  Throughout history slaves have been used as these tools.  The formation of the United States was built with this kind of free labor.  The thought of losing these tools resulted in the Civil War and, even today, we are still trying to reconcile this chapter in America’s history.  Slave labor has been disguised in the minimum wages which are paid to our fellow citizens for the essential work they do.
     Like all slaves the Hebrews longed to be free.  They labored for the farmers during the planting/growing/harvesting seasons and then between the end of harvest in April and the end of the Nile floods in November, the average farmer in Egypt was unable to work his land. The slaves then were a ready supply of forced labor available to the government in the “off season”. The Pharaohs used this labor often, because it cost them little more than the food the workers ate.
     A new term that has been introduced in our society over the past six months is “essential workers”.  Immediately, we think of the medical personnel who have been forced to hover over ICU beds as the Pandemic has raged on.  In every sense of the term they are essential.  But what about all the other staff at the hospitals from the parking attendants to the floor scrubbers to the food service people to the billing clerks to the lab techs to the pharmacists to the chaplains?  Perhaps not as readily recognized as such, but all of these and more are “essential” to our health and safety. There is a whole host of other workers who are also essential – folks employed in groceries, gas stations, driving trucks, farm workers, meat packers, N95 mask makers, government and on and on.  All of these and more have proven “essential” to our survival these past six months and it looks like they will continue to be called upon for the near or long term future. Once our eyes are opened to the vast numbers of folks who, working around us, contribute to sustaining our lives we need to take a long hard look at how cruelly they are treated.  Only a few are paid in any way that respects just how essential they are.  How they are paid demonstrates how we so easily overlook their humanity.  Paid so poorly they are not much above the status of “slave”.  And like times past, these “slaves” are essential to the functioning of our economy. 
     If we take an even more serious look, we will find that a significant number of these “essentials” are immigrants – both registered and not.  And we gladly take advantage of their labor because they keep our costs down and they don’t dare complain or they risk being sent away.
     What happens with the Exodus story for today is that a child is born who will, through a variety of mind-blowing circumstances, grow to be a leader who frees his people.  As people of faith we can accept that God is at work, even today, in ways that will liberate all people.  We are part of that liberation movement but it may not come as soon as tomorrow.  It would be a good guess that Moses was about thirty growing from the discovery in a reed basket in the Nile to the one who stood before Pharaoh pleading for the release of his “slave” people.
     There is a Hebrew word for hope whose root means to twist, to twine, and, in Moses' life, a hundred little strands of events came together, became entwined, and, eventually, made a cable of hope which proved to be strong enough to pull the Hebrew people out of their slavery and propel them into a new world. Moses came into a world which didn't have much hope. The dreams of the people were small. Their aspirations, at least as far as the Hebrews were concerned, were almost non-existent. But, in Moses, they found hope.
     How do people like Moses come to pass?  There must have been ten thousand children in the Pharaoh's court that, to all outward appearances, had the same gifts and graces, brilliance and charisma of a Moses. Moreover, history does not produce holiness, but God does. Suddenly, in a dark and despairing world, appears a chosen instrument, a person who can respond, who is captured by a dream beyond all reasonable dreams, one in whom love, judgment, and healing are combined. This personality breaks on the world like the dawn after a dark night. At that moment, ancient and discredited dreams suddenly become creditable and people begin to believe in new possibilities.
      We can be thankful that once in a while God lifts up a champion to tell and live God’s story.  Moses was one.   Jesus would come along about 1200 years later.  There were many leaders between these two men.  There have been many since Jesus.  But the one who still is chief among them all is Jesus.  He is the one that we are challenged to “pattern”.  He is the one who is our savior.  He is the prime example of faithful living. 
     Today, we are between two national party conventions.  They are selecting candidates for the office of President.  Some believe that Donald Trump is a chosen one of God.  We know better than to be fooled by that lazy thinking.  But neither is Joe Biden.  We are choosing a president – not our master.  Our discernment over the next several weeks will be to determine which one best represents the “pattern” of Jesus and will lead us and our neighbors out of slavery.  Amen.

Go out as God's people,
willing to do God's work in the world.
Go out as Christ's disciples,
ready to serve wherever we have the chance.
Go out as the Spirit's hopes,
eager to proclaim peace to all. 

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 16, 2020

Call to Worship
We are a people searching for healing and hope:
here we are met by the One who would bless us with abundant life.
Here we are called to gather as members of God’s family:
and even so we are a family in absence yearning to hug each other.
Here we discover the truth that God makes no distinctions among us:
here we are welcomed and embraced by the One whose arms are open to all.

Matthew 15:10-28
     Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 
     Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’
     Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. 

Let there be no mistake – we have lived in pretty amazing times.  Just think of it – more has happened in the past fifty years than any half century before.  Men have walked on the moon, cardiac surgery has prolonged many lives, computers provide information at our fingertips whether on the desk, on the lap, or the phone in hand – all of these and so many others are precious gifts in our lifetimes.  We have been fortunate to benefit from so many advances in science, technology, manufacturing, communications, etc. 

But despite all of these advances there are several situations which remind us how anchored we are to the past.  Systemic racism is a real thing.  People can beat their gums all they want proclaiming that Americans are not racist but record keeping and statistics prove us wrong at every turn.  As long as more black men are pulled over, arrested, shot, and killed than whites – as long as white men and women make higher wages than their non-white counterparts – as long as housing is red lined, nutrition is stymied by food deserts, healthcare remains too expensive for the poor to afford – then we have to come to terms with the fact that racism and sexism and culturalism and economic disparity are all problems which are not new but continue to plague our community and world.

But let’s go back to the idea of living in pretty amazing times.  When we were children it is unlikely that a Black man becoming president would have ever entered our minds.  Our view of the world and of the men who ruled it was that they were white and old.  But then the most remarkable thing happened – Barak Obama was elected to two terms as our President.  This week the selection of a Black/Asian woman being nominated as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate has gone the next step.  When we were kids this possibility was even further from our thinking. 

Her nomination puts us to a test in this twenty-first century.  Within twenty-four hours of Kamala Harris’ nomination all that is affiliated with evil raised its ugly head.  “Is she even eligible to be nominated?”  “Was she really born in the United States?”  “What kind of a name is that?”  “She’s just plain nasty.”  And the one who said these things is the cheeseburger and fries/Kentucky Fried Chicken eater who currently occupies the White House.

OK, so Jesus said that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person.  They pass through and go into the sewer.  But Jesus is clear that what comes out of the mouth is what defiles.  It’s the words we speak and what we say about others that defiles us.  And even more damning is Jesus' contention that the words and harmful things we say have their origins in our hearts. 

If we sincerely complement another person -- that comes from our heart, and we are quite capable of doing that.  Family, friends and even strangers appreciate compliments that they sense sincerely come from our hearts. But let’s admit that there are times when we also express hurtful if not hateful things to people and people can interpret that those barbs come from our hearts as well.  Sometimes we say things in a moment of anger and rage, and they may not truly reflect our nature or the person we are striving to be.  When those words slip out of our mouths, we may need to take time to reflect on our hearts, to examine just where those words came from, and if there is something wrong with our hearts. 

After a heart health crisis, a person may do what is called cardiac rehab to strengthen and support their heart’s health.  Similarly, we may need to take time to do some “cardio” and support our heart's health whenever it and our spirit has turned sour.  We need to exercise our spiritual base to restore the health of our spiritual personality so that our words once again portray the positive and loving person we are deep down inside.

Where his teaching originated in Matthew 15 was around the criticism made by the Pharisees of Jesus’ disciples for not going through the ritualistic handwashing practices which their faith had taught and demanded.  In the disciples defense, Jesus puts a “spin” on their question and goes down an explanation road which is difficult to understand the connection – this whole argument about what goes into the mouth and on to the sewer as opposed to the words that come out of the mouth.  Even the disciples are confused and ask for further explanation.  Jesus responds with, “For out of the heart come evil intentions…These are what defile and person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Jesus has made a semantic argument over what “defiles”.  In this time of pandemic, the not washing hands stuff will not work.  We are to wash our hands after being in public and certainly we are to wash them before we eat – or at least use hand sanitizer before we put anything in our mouth.  It’s the times in which we live. 

After Jesus gave this somewhat terse explanation to the disciples he takes off and goes to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  It is there that he encounters a Canaanite woman who asks him for help.  These stories from Matthew 15 are brilliantly woven together because they portray Jesus talking to this woman in ways that display how even he was caught in systemic racism, sexism, religiosity and bigotry.  And we see in this story how a woman, of all people, is the one who confronts Jesus and forces him to examine his own words and the evil thinking they convey.

And so, there are two teachings here.  First of all, the aspect that our words reveal exactly who we are and what we are thinking.  If our words are hurtful and judging they portray the judgmental way of how we view others.  The second teaching comes from the Canaanite woman who confronted what Jesus was saying about her and her people.  She “stood her ground” even in the face of the holy one and that act helped Jesus to see how out of sync his words were with his own teachings and in that moment, he was able to open his eyes to how great her faith was.  The story ends with Jesus having a change of heart and granting what he had earlier been willing to deny simply because she came from the wrong side of the district.

In 1972, George McGovern kicked off the Fall Campaign on Labor Day speaking from the gazebo at Lake Anna in Barberton. Here it is August and the campaign has been in full swing even before the virtual conventions – some would say that the 2016 campaigns never ended.  We are going to hear all kinds of words.  Some will be kind and caring and hope filled.  Others will be full of slander and inuendo and rumors and yes, even lies.  It will be the American people’s task to discern the true nature of the candidates’ hearts and to cast votes for the ones who whose words and hearts match what we think portray what would be best for our nation and world.  Stay aware!  Amen.

Prayer of the Day
When we are alone,
you make us known
     to our sisters and brothers.
When we are lonely,
you whisper, 'come closer,'
     inviting us into your heart.
Great is your love for us,
Welcoming God.

When we wander lost and afraid,
you take us by the hand,
     so we may settle in your kingdom.
When we hunger
for the crumbs of hope
which the world offers to us,
you feed us with
     the fullness of your joy.
Great is your grace for us,
Accepting Christ.

When those around us
make clear they want nothing
to do with us, ever,
     you persist in being our friend.
When we stand on
despair's welfare line,
     you invite us to come
     to a sumptuous feast.
Great is your hope for us,
Embracing Spirit.

God in Community, Holy in One,
you weep openly as you welcome us
into your heart and your hopes.  Amen.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
August 2, 2020

Call to Worship
Come and worship, proclaim God's ways of faithfulness and steadfast love.
  We will tell of God's love, which unfolds in our lives.
Come and worship, for we are God's people, rejoicing in his graciousness.
   God is always with us, there is nothing which can keep us apart.
Come to the One who tells stories; worship our God who keeps promises.
   We rejoice with God who is with us always.

Genesis 32:22-31

     The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

     Ellen expected the knock at the door.  When it came, she put down her television remote, grabbed the handles of her walker and rocked forward in her chair so that she could stand.  Clip-clop, clip-clop she made her way to open the door.  Standing there was a State Highway Patrol officer who respectfully greeted her saying that he was there to give her a driving test.  (Her daughters had turned her in because they were concerned about two recent accidents.) 
     She welcomed him in and clip clopped her way back to her chair where her purse was sitting on the side table.  As she picked up her purse the officer asked her for her license which she dug out of her wallet.  The officer thanked her saying that he would be keeping her license.  “But you haven’t given me a driver’s test yet,” she said.  “After watching how difficult it was for you to walk to your chair, I’m sure you should not be driving a car," he responded.
     Her impaired walking was the result of a life of wrestling with the normal, day to day activities of childhood play, career, raising children, running after the dog, a washer and dryer in the basement, working in the garden and on and on.  All of us have similar stories to tell and have some kind of “waddle in our walk” as a result.  It’s a result of aging or ailment and all of us suffer to some degree.
     Our scripture tells us the story of someone who also limps along.  Jacob’s situation is different than ours – or most of ours as well as I know you.  Jacob’s leg was put out of joint by a wrestling match with an angel messenger from God.  This event came on the eve of a meeting between Jacob and his brother Esau from who he had been hiding and running from for nearly twenty years.  And the reason for this estrangement was that Jacob had deceitfully stolen Esau’s birthright.  Esau was on his way to this meeting with four hundred warriors which did not suggest that he was going to be happy to see his brother.  And now, laid up with this injury, Jacob is at a disadvantage.
    Now, let me be clear, Jacob was a grifter.  He came out of the womb with his hand grasping his brother Esau's ankle seeking to be the first born because the first born received a greater portion of the inheritance.  He stole his brother’s birthright.  He tried to act deceitfully with his uncle who was providing protection for him from Esau’s wrath. That is how he got his name, "Jacob," which means one who strives. At Bethel Jacob had prayed arrogantly, "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then the Lord shall be my God." However, Jacob prayed a different prayer as he prepared to bed down beside the brook with Esau headed toward him. He prayed this time, "O God...I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies..." Something profound was happening in Jacob's life, and it was more than fear of his brother. It had to do with the recognition of who God is and who we as human beings are. For Jacob it culminated in this wrestling match beside the brook in a place he will later name Peniel.
     Jacob had always been a competitor, a striver, with man and with God. He knew where he was going. He knew what he wanted. He was determined to do what he needed to do in order to get there. He would be in control. He would master the possibilities. The sky was the limit. Do you know anyone like that? They have always been determined to grab all the gusto that life has to offer them, and when they do, they discover themselves standing holding a handful of foam but nothing real or lasting. Jacob needed something more. He needed an overall purpose for his life. He needed to understand the overall scheme of things and where his life fit in. Suddenly he saw that his life was nearly over and all that he had thought was important would soon be dust. What does it all mean? Who am I, really? Does my life really matter? He had finally come to a point of having an identity crisis. As he wrestled with God that night, the encounter was so demanding that he threw the hollow of his thigh out of joint. From this day forward, he would never be the same again.  The limp he would walk away with would be a sign of his being a changed man.
     Jacob needed more than anything else in life to understand that God was the Master of the universe and not Jacob. It is interesting that the being with whom Jacob wrestles does not prevail over him. Jacob is like a grand stallion. It is not God's desire that Jacob grovel at his feet. God has no use for one who is continually groveling. God wanted a grand stallion, but one who could be useful, one who could be saddled, one who would know who his Master is that he might fulfill his intended purpose. That is what God desires from us, as well. Our lives are useful only to ourselves and only for a season if we refuse to give God the reins.
     Do you ever wake up in the morning having tossed a turned all night long and your bed covers seem to indicate that you were wrestling with something during the night?  Yes, you may have thought that you were kept awake simply by ideas, arguments, regrets that were racing through your head.  Yours eyes were closed but your mind was on overdrive.  Perhaps, like Jacob, you were having your moment with God resetting your life to understand that God, not you, is the one in charge.  And if you didn’t come to that understanding that night…well there will be another. And that “waddle in your walk” that hampers your trip to the bathroom in the morning…consider it a limp of honor.  But do mention it to your doctor next time you're in for a checkup. 

Prayer of the Day
God of those empty of hope
and those who are cast out:
into the chaos of every life
you enter with the silence of love;
when we choke on bitter memories,
you hand us the cup of healing;
when we wander down lonely streets,
you bring us home to your heart.

Jesus Christ,
conqueror of sin's power:
into our deepest pain
where life has bottomed out,
you dare to enter;
when we cry out with fear,
you cradle our hearts;
when we face death,
you stride out of the grave,
pointing the way to the kingdom.

Spirit of the forsaken
and bearer of compassion:
you are the mist shimmering
over the valleys,
stirring the waters of creation;
you are the dew bathing
the flowers every morning,
anointing us with resurrection's grace.

God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.

Always remember that you may be the only grace
someone will meet this week.
   We go, to share God's graciousness with all.
Remember you may be the only love someone will encounter this week.
   We go, to be the love of Jesus for all.
Remember you may be the only peace  someone will find this week.
   We go, to share the Spirit of hope and reconciliation with all.

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
July 19, 2020

Call to Worship

From the moment we open our eyes each morning,
until we close them at night, God is with us.
   There is no one like you, our God!
In times when we are surrounded with struggles,
in all the surprising places we find hope, Jesus is with us.
   There is no one like you, our Brother!
When we feel orphaned by the world,                                                             
when we are welcomed into faith's family,
   The Holy Spirit is with us.                                                                                                                                                                     
There is no one like you, Witnessing Spirit!

Psalm 139
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
 If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night’,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
   for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
   test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
   and lead me in the way everlasting.

     Psalm 139 is a minister’s old chestnut.  The text is not always preached on a Sunday morning, but it frequently takes center stage at a funeral service.  To tell the truth, there are very few funerals that I have conducted over my ministry that did not include this Psalm.  It succinctly lays out for us who we are in relationship to who God is.  It serves as a statement of faith giving homage to God as being Omniscient and Omnipresent.
     God is omniscient.  The word omniscient comes from the Latin omni which means "all," and the Latin word scientia which means "to know." Literally it means "all knowing." God knows everything about everything and everyone all of the time. Have you ever been around anybody who acted like a "know it all?" Well with God, it's not acting; God is the true "know it all." But God's knowledge is not just intellectual, it is personal. In fact, God knows us better than we know ourselves. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.” (vs 1-3)
     A small-town prosecutor was trying a case, and called as his first witness an elderly woman who had lived in this town all of her life, and happened to be the nosiest gossip around. He approached her and said, "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?" She said, "Why yes, I know you Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a young boy." He smiled until she said, "And frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, you manipulate people, you talk about them behind their backs, you charge far too much money, and you don't have the brains to realize you're never going to amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you."
     Well, this lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and said, "Mrs. Jones, do you know the Defense Attorney?" She said, "Why yes I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster as well. In fact, I used to baby sit him for his parents. He also has been a tremendous disappointment to me. He's lazy, he has a drinking problem, he cheated his way through law school, he can't find any woman that will marry him, and he's one of the most crooked lawyers in this state. Yes, I know him."
  Well, at this point the judge's gavel came down with a thunderous boom, and he said, "Silence! I want both counsels to approach the bench." When they got there, in a very quiet voice, he said, with fire in his eyes, if either one of you ask her if she knows me, I'll jail you both for contempt of court." Well, that is exactly what God is in four ways:
     God knows our character – God knows how we normally behave and whether or not that meets divine expectations.
     God also knows our contemplations – God knows what we are thinking and what we have thought. 
     God also knows our conduct – our behavior is either a delight in God’s eyes or is a source of great sadness.  Nothing we do is beyond the sight of God.
     Finally, God knows our conversation. "For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether." (v.4) God is present in every conversation we have and is a witness of every word spoken.
     You see, God knows everything about us: heart, mind, deeds and words. That's why David said in vv. 5-6, "You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it." In effect, what David said was, "God's mind blows mine!" In his perception God is omniscient.
     God is also omnipresent.  "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" (v.7) Yogi Berra once made a great observation. He said, "I have noticed that everywhere I go, there I am. Well, everywhere you go, there God is. You see, unlike us, God never has to go anywhere. Death cannot take us away from the presence of God. "If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." (v.8) It would be foolish to think you could run to heaven and get away from God, because that's where God lives. Even hell cannot take you away from the presence of God. Distance cannot take us from the presence of God. "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me." (vv.9-10) David said if you fly in the air, you'll find God soaring with the birds. Darkness cannot take us from the presence of God. "If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide me from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.'" (vv.11-12) If you turn out the lights, God can see you as if it were twelve o'clock noon.
     I heard about a skeptic who was trying to persuade a little boy that there was no God. He said, "Son, you show me where God is, and I will give you an apple." The little boy replied, "Mister, you show me where God is not, and I'll give you a whole box of apples." But now if you're sitting there saying "So what?" Well, here is what. This God not only knows you, but you can know Him. A skeptic was having a little fun with a man he worked with, and they were talking about God, and the skeptic said, "Let me ask you this—Is your God big or small?" The man smiled and said, "He is both." The skeptic said, "What do you mean?" The man said, "My God is so big this universe cannot contain Him; but He is so small He can live in my heart."
That is how awesome God really is. That He, though being omniscient and omnipresent, can live in your heart through faith in Jesus Christ.

Prayer of the Day
You we praise, Steadfast Love,
for your presence never abandons us,
but is at our side in all of life.
There is no cobwebbed corner
that is not claimed by your grace.

You we praise, Teller of parables.
Your words challenge us in moments of doubt,
as well as in our times of great faith.
When we run around in circles
chasing our worries and fears
like a dog after it's tail,
you whisper hope to us.

You we praise, Spirit who calls to our hearts.
Your voice is that gentle whisper
in a world filled with angry shouts;
your joy is that refreshing shower
when despair parches our souls;
your wonder opens our eyes and ears
to the gifts which surround our lives.
You we praise, God in Community, 
Holy in One,  Amen.

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
July 12, 2020

Call to Worship
Fresh corn dripping with butter,
juicy peaches topping our cereal:
   praise is due to you, God of the harvest!
Children chasing fireflies in evening's shadows,
a tomato on the plant being nurtured the past months:
   Praise is due to you, God of summer days!
Mothers tightening training wheels on bikes,
fathers teaching kids to bait a hook:
   praise is due to you, God of our lives!

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
     That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
     ‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person imme-diately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’

     In the so-called 'good old days' there was a little song that boasted about being taught the '3-Rs' 'reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic all to the tune of a hickory stick.' The parable of the sower provides us with 4-R's which are the key survival skills of the 21st century: roots, rituals, relationships and realities. Jesus' parable of the sower and the seeds suggests the power of these '4-R's' is such that when all are positively present, they can bring us to the very brink of the reign of God. In Jesus' parable, the sower casts out seeds which fall on four different environments. The environment determines the seeds' ability to grow and survive and to bear fruit.
     The first seeds cast out by Jesus' sower landed 'on the path.' The way was smooth, but the ground was hard, compacted by back-and-forth traffic. All the seed could do was lie on top of the soil, exposed and barren. Not surprisingly, these seeds were swiftly scooped up by hungry birds. It’s hard to survive in a life that is barren of beauty, devoid of decoration, empty of ritual. We need special markings and moments to help us define the parameters of our lives and the passing of our days. To this end, all of us create rituals that help guide us forward and bring us back again. Some rituals are practiced so often they become ingrained habits. We have 'morning rituals' which help us get up and prepare to face a new day. Whether these involve a 20-minute hot shower; or brewing a fresh pot of coffee, or a 40-minute walk around the block, or taking our handful of prescription drugs, or a review of the morning news, these rituals help set our clock.
     Rituals move us through life with intention and integrity. Without rituals, the sands of time run unheeded through the hourglass of our lives. With rituals, these same grains of sand create a particular pattern or design that helps tell the story of our lives.
     The church, of course, is steeped in ritual. Protestant churches may seem rather less concerned with formalized ritual. I have Eastern Orthodox friends on FaceBook who have been ranting against any move to prevent worshippers from chanting.  One went as far as to say that without chanting there is no worship.  I suspect we are all missing the ritual of communion over the last several months.  Ritual is intended to reach our hearts and speak a message to our souls, it enriches the soil necessary for faith.  But ritual alone is not living in faith.
     The second batch of seeds cast in the parable of the sower fall onto the rocky ground. Immediately, they shoot up high stalks, for there was virtually no soil for putting down roots. But all this frantic upward growth was in vain. The first day of scorching heat withered these high stalks. They had no root system to bring them nourishment and sustain them through the fierce midday sun.
     Roots are just as crucial to human beings as they are to plants. Even in this restless U-Haul culture, we still develop a sense of who we are based on where we come from. In baseball, home plate is both the beginning and destination of your journey. You go from base to base, with perils in each base path pickoffs, rundowns, force-outs, double plays, strike-outs. You are finally safe only when you get back to your roots at home plate.
     Christians need to get in touch with their roots. To understand who has gone before us, to know who brought the faith forward to this time and place, takes a complex root system that is now nearly 2,000 years old. While we do not need to memorize every branch and snarl in that web of life-supporting nourishment, we do need to recognize that it is the dense complexity of those roots that provides us with the solid ground we stand on and the enzymes and nourishment that enable us to grow.
     The third batch of seeds described in Jesus' parable had a short life because of the company they kept. There was nothing wrong with the soil these seeds fell upon it was deep enough, soft enough and rich enough to sustain them. But this soil also supported a fine crop of thorns and thistles. These prickly neighbors were stronger and more vigorous than the seeds of our parable. In the race for survival, the thorns won choking out their neighboring plants.
     Relationships are tricky things. We can't live without them, but sometimes we sure wish we could. We have all had days when you and your spouse fight, the kids hate you, your co-workers mistrust you, and even the guy who bags your groceries gives you a dirty look, the possibilities of a hermit's life might begin to look pretty good. But we are hopelessly interconnected creatures. From the day we are born, we are enmeshed with the lives of others. Those very first relationships we develop with our family are different from any others we will ever know. Together they create for us our first home.
     In the church we have found a home away from home.  We find there friends who we may consider more dear than some relatives.  Love, understanding and support are present in a church that is truly following Jesus’ instructions of loving one’s neighbors as yourself.  We may be feeling as if we have been on house arrest by the Covid virus and we have been forced to miss the weekly greeting and sharing of our church family. We yearn for this to end so that we can, once again, be together.
     The final seeds mentioned in Jesus' parable were the lucky ones. Falling onto good soil, free of weeds and sheltered from weather, these seeds sprouted and grew vigorously. Because everything was working in their favor, these seeds were able to produce a harvest that far exceeded the norm. And, let’s face it, life doesn’t always go the way we want.  We feel dragged back by either current circumstances or something of our past.  We are often reminded that God did not promise us a rose garden and that the challenge is to work with the situations in which we find ourselves to bloom as best we can.  Not knowing the true problems others are dealing with we may have to work our way through envy and better focus on our own lives.
     One of the misinterpretations that may come from the Parable of the Sower is that we are victims of where we have been scattered.  As if we have no control over our lives and as if we are on the rocks and we succumb to the feeling ‘that’s the way it is’. Not so!  Again, life will not always be restful, beautiful or accomplished.  It may be depressing, disappointing and difficult.  But God has promised to stand with us and we are encouraged to find the right balance of Rituals, Roots, Relationships and Realities which will help us thrive.  Go and be fruitful.

Prayer of the Day
     You open our hearts, O God, as you put a sail on your hope so it may reach the furthest shores of our despair. Your showers of grace fall softly upon the loose soil of our dried-up dreams.
     Your words do not return empty to you, Story-teller. They take root deep within us, blossoming into gentleness which can comfort a broken heart, into compassion which can transform a cold shoulder into an embrace, into kindness which can make a curmudgeon break into laughter.
     You move into our lives, Spirit of life, quietly taking those fears which trip us in the night hours and putting them out in the trash; gently watering the seeds planted in our inept souls until they become bushels of grace.
     We join all in coming to you God in Community, Holy in One. 
Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
July 5, 2020

Call to Worship
Come to our God, all who hunger for life:
   for it is God who nourishes.
Come to our God, all who are worn out by life:
   for it is God who provides the rest we need.
Come to our God, all who are weighed down:
   for it is our God who carries our burdens with us.

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
     ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
     At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
     ‘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.’

     How do you relieve stress?   Just about everyone feels overwhelmed with stress from time to time and living with Covid 19 has brought us to a whole new level of stress. A mental health foundation in the United Kingdom ran a poll on the effects of stress. Respondents to the poll said that overwhelming feelings of stress led them to overeat, drink and smoke. People re-ported that stress made them feel depressed, anxious, alone, even suicidal.  Unrelieved stress is a serious condition. We all need healthy techniques for dealing with it. Sometimes people search for healthy stress reducers:  walking, running, a hobby, playing a musical instrument, listening to music or a book on tape.  For the do it yourselfers among us, there is a long list of activities. 
     I was surprised to learn that many people are finding temporary relief from their stress by watching videos on YouTube. OK, that’s not too surprising. What is surprising is that they’re watching videos of people cleaning their house. As a matter of fact, there’s a whole industry on the internet built around people who create videos on how to organize and clean your house. And these videos are hugely popular, with millions of fans. Why do people like to watch videos of people cleaning up their house? Many fans of cleaning videos say that watching someone else organize and clean their house makes them feel less anxious, more in control of their own surroundings. Hosts for the most popular cleaning shows regularly get emails telling them how their show helped a fan through anxiety, depression and various life crises.
That seems like a harmless, if somewhat strange way to deal with stress. But it doesn’t tackle the deeper problems in our life that cause us to feel out of control in the first place. As if our “normal” lives did not bring about stress the pandemic has been stressing us on a daily basis for going on six months now and there is no real promise of controlling it for at least another six or twelve.  (So, we are either half way or one-third of the way there.)  And then there is the stress of the talking heads who on one hand advise us to be cautious in all our social contacts while at the same time there are the politicians whose value for the economy seems to outweigh the value of our lives.  (And they call themselves pro-life?)
     In our Bible passage today, Jesus challenges the people around him with these words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.” Jesus is saying to us that weariness is not meant to be our natural way of living. That’s not what God created us for.  In fact, no matter how productive our out-of-control sense of our lives makes us feel, it is actually living in opposition to the rhythms of life that contribute to peace, clarity, and purposeful living.  (This is where the “take a deep breath” notion comes in.).
     Weariness and burdens blind us to the true purpose of our lives and bind us with a sense of powerlessness. When you are weary and burdened, your focus narrows to what is right in front of you, to what is urgent instead of what is important. This behavior is the norm in our culture, so we don’t question it. That’s just the way life is. Except that Jesus says it isn’t the way things are meant to be. So, what did Jesus mean by rest for our souls? Rest for our souls is not the same thing as taking a nap, or a vacation, or breathing in positive-ionization-filtered air while gazing at a fake waterfall. It’s not a temporary respite from our stress. Rest for our souls is a re-orientation of our values and perceptions of life to match up with the values and perceptions of God, the One who created us—the Source of our soul.
     Listen to Jesus’ words again: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.”
The first thing Jesus is saying to us is, “You have a soul.” Or to be more accurate, you are a soul. You are not a random collection of cells. You are not the sum of your current circumstances. You are a work of art, made in the image of God. You have the imprint of the eternal, all-powerful God within you. Your soul is a mark of God’s abundant love for you. It marks you as incredibly valuable in God’s eyes.
     Here is the second thing we need to acknowledge in our stress: We have a Savior.
We have a bridge between our soul and God. Jesus did not say, “Come to me, and all your troubles will go away.” He said, “Come to me, and I’ll share your life. You won’t be alone anymore.” That’s what he meant when he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . .”
Jesus lived every moment knowing that there are certain things worth living and dying for, and everything else is just noise. We have a Savior who understands what we’re facing. Jesus knows what it’s like to be tired. He knows what it’s like to be lonely and misunderstood.  He knows what it’s like to pour your heart and soul into a mission and not see any results. You have a Savior who chose to live as we live—as a human being—so he could show us that our identity, purpose, strength and hope aren’t based on our circumstances. They are based on the reality of a loving God living within us.
     And finally, Jesus is saying to us in this passage, we have a solution to our weariness and burdens. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.” If Jesus were to live a day in your life, would he have the same priorities as you do? Would he view your circumstances as you do? Would he get stressed over the things that stress you out? Why not? Because Jesus looks beyond the circumstances of our lives to the greater story that a loving God is writing through us.
     What other source of peace or rest are you counting on besides Jesus? This life can take so much away from us. But there is a part of us that cannot be taken away. It’s not affected by outward circumstances or inward doubts. It’s that eternal stamp on your personhood that says you were made in the image of God. That’s your soul. And God loves you so much that God came in the form of Jesus to share your life and to die for you. That’s your Savior. Come to Him and join your life to his guidance and his priorities, and you will find rest for your soul.
     “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.”

Prayer of the Day
Eternal God: you sing a song of silence to our noisy hearts, inviting us to still our fidgeting souls, and find our peace in your cupped hands which cradle us.

Jesus Christ, Wanderer of the kingdom: you are called to reveal God to us and do so in the tenderness of your touch, the gentleness of your words, the goodness of your heart, the peace of your shared yoke.

Spirit of Rest: your childlike presence opens our eyes to the wonders of the world. As we hand you our anger, our hurt, our sin, may our burdens become our songs of joy.

May we find our rest, our hope, in you, God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.

Third Sunday of Pentecost
June 14, 2020

God is
   that love which never ends;
   that joy which overflows;
   that faith which is always full.

God gives us
   the Word we can speak to power;
   the healing we can offer to the broken;
   the justice which can replace oppression.

With our hearts, voices, bodies, souls,
   we offer joyful hearts to you,
   God in Community, Holy in One, Amen.

Romans 5:1-8
Results of Justification
     Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
     For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

     It was the deciding round of play of the 1983 U.S. Open golf tournament. A player named Larry Nelson was tied for first place. But then he hit a difficult situation. His approach shot to the sixteenth green left him sixty-two feet from the hole. His fans groaned. Please don’t panic – I stole this story since I don’t play anything more than Putt-Putt, but I’m pretty sure that sinking a sixty-two-foot putt is about as likely as a hole-in-one. Larry Nelson paused for a long moment. Then he raised his head, sized up the terrain, and smacked the ball. It rolled downhill for a spell, then up an incline, then down another slope, and up another, and finally it curved, and then Ker plunk! into the hole it went. Some called it the shot of the year. Bolstered by this magnificent putt, Larry Nelson went on to win the tournament, his first victory following a two-year slump. 
     One of the reporters who flocked to get his comments after the tournament asked him if he had been praying during the match, especially before that fateful putt. 
     “Yes,” Larry Nelson answered. 
     “Were you praying you’d make the shot?” the reporter asked. 
     “No,” Nelson said. 
     “Well, then, what were you praying for?” asked the reporter.
     Larry Nelson simply replied, “Peace.” Perhaps this is the story that was used for the film “Billy Madison”. Is there anyone among us who is not, one way or another, seeking peace--peace in our hearts?
     The good news for this Sunday comes from Paul. He says in Romans 5, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” Paul goes on to say to us that even in the midst of suffering and misfortune we can have this peace. Even though we are undeserving of it, we can have this peace because of Christ’s willingness to go to the cross for us. 
     But before we get way ahead of ourselves and wrap ourselves in our warm peace quilt to doze off please keep in mind that the peace that Christ gives is not a passive peace. That is, some people interpret peace as being buried in warm fuzzies.  They ignore the needs of those around them, as well as the needs of their wider community and world. “What, me worry?” is their attitude. That is not the peace that Christ is talking about. There are those who are oblivious to the chaos in the lives of strangers around them and think that everything is calm and peaceful – but it is not.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice for all people.”  Peace making and peace keeping are work which too few are equipped or eager to do.  And getting to a place of peace is not always a peaceful process.
     Jesus saw the money changers in the temple taking advantage of worshippers, and he worried about it to the point of flailing about with a whip and driving them out into the streets. Jesus worried about people who were lost in their sins and he gave his life on theirs’ our behalf. On another occasion he said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”
     There are some things that Christians ought to worry other Christians about. For example, if Christians are not worried about the plight of immigrants today who are fleeing persecution and, in some cases starvation, then shame!  If Christians are not worried about children in cages, people denied access to asylum, or people returned to countries where their health, safety and very lives are threatened, then shame! If Christians are not bothered by a knee on the neck, deny that systemic racism is the way of our land, that police departments have become way too militarized and that Black families have worried way too long for the safety of their children, then shame!
     There are problems over which every Christian ought to have a deep and heavy burden. There is a time for moral indignation and strong remedial action. We are seeing it in the streets right now but the question must be asked about whether these protests are the result of people taking seriously Christian teachings or have they simply had enough? 
     The desire for peace is one that God has planted in our hearts. Remember when Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Peace is one of Christ’s great gifts to us. In fact, a strong sense of inner peace is what allows us to make a positive difference in a world starved for peace.  God calls us to rid the world of wrong-doing and tragic things which are happening in our world that should trouble us deeply and that we should do something about. 

     In this time of pandemic, we are called to include peacemaking in our care about others.  I recently purchased a face mask which has “WE’RE IN THIS Together” printed on it.  Linda and I had to shop at a store today which we have tried to prevent doing over the past several months.  We were appalled by the fact that the majority of shoppers were not wearing masks.  It’s not like masks aren’t available.  The very store we were in had a stand inside the door where shoppers could take a mask and use hand sanitizer if needed.  What is wrong with people?  Do they not care?  Are they immune?  Have they not heard medical people say they wear masks in public to protect others, not themselves?  And I suspect that some of these people are Christians.  Shame!  In what way are they contributing to the way of peace?  The dove of peace cannot survive in a nest of harm – the nest will have to become a focus of change.
     Paul writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What wondrous good news that is. If we do not have that peace, we lose energy worrying about the wrong things. If we do not have that peace, we may carry a life-long burden of feelings of unworthiness.  If we do not have that peace, we may spend our lives running down blind alleys.  Peace really is one of the most precious gifts that Christ offers us.

We could be the healing for those who suffer;
we could be the strength for those who long to endure;
we could be the hope for those buffeted by the world, and so,
we offer ourselves, as gifts from God to all who have need.  Amen.

Trinity Sunday
June 7, 2020

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
     In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
     And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
     And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
     And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
     And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
     And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
     Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
     So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
     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. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. 

Call to Worship
God, whose imagination saw all
that is good, beautiful, and loving,
     continues to see us as beloved
     children in the divine family.
The Word which called forth
the stars in every universe,
     speaks to us of giving ourselves
     through the baptismal life.
The Spirit, which moved over creation,
breathing life into all things,
     fills us with peace and patience,
     with hope and healing to share.

     Admittedly I watch a lot of television.  The only room in my end of the house that does not have a television available is the bathroom.  And if I’m really interested in a program, I can get broadcasts on my tablet or my phone in the bathroom or out in the yard.  I’m a news junkie, and I usually have a couple of the televisions tuned to my favorite news sources (anything but FOX) and remotes are within reach in each room.  As I am writing this on Saturday night (yes, I really let it go this week) there is a television across the room with reports of the protest marches held around the country in memory of George Floyd and against police violence.
     Tonight is not different from any other evening this week.  I have been drawn with a sense of relief that people have finally been moved to get on the move.  Complacency has been the result of Making America Great Again as we have spent the last several years trying to catch our breath from the next stupid thing that was coming our way.  It is amazing to see so many people – so many young people specifically – so many people of different races coming together to give witness to truths that we have known for too long but were lulled into complacency.  We all had excuses for a while.  Now is the time for excuses to be buried with those who were killed during our silence.  Now is the time for those of us who don’t have viable solutions to step aside and let new voices with new visions to be heard.

     If you did not read all of the Genesis scripture, I don’t blame you.  Not only is it lengthy but it is one of the most familiar of scriptures.  Some people pledge to themselves that they are going to read the Bible cover to cover but most often don’t get past this story or Noah and the Ark at the latest.  I tried to find a summary statement to make the reading easier for you but every summary seemed to be almost as along as the scripture itself.  And I’m OK if you didn’t read it since this sequencing of Creation is fairly easy to tell from memory. 
     But did you know there are two distinctly different creation stories in Genesis?  The second one is Genesis 2:5-9 and focuses on the creation of man and woman.  "...when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
      It was this version that caught my attention this past week.  Verse 7 is overwhelmingly visual and significant for us this week -- — ..."then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being."
     Here we are presented with a vision of God breathing life into the Adam that God had created.  I’m sure you can agree with me that this image is such the opposite of what we as a nation (and world) have witnessed this past week when a police officer put his knee on the neck of George Floyd and pressed that life out of him.  For eight minutes and forty-six seconds he pressed the life out of him – a means of torture in itself – a method of killing. 
     Did you see the eulogy Rev. Al Sharpton gave at the memorial service this past week?  What an amazing presentation of scripture, life, sin, death and hope.  Clearly, historically knees have not just been pressed against George Floyd’s neck but collectively on the necks of persons with black and brown skin in every aspect of their lives.  The time for change has come.  The time to make things right has changed.  The time to make this world the creation that God has always intended has come indeed.

Prayer of the Day
Like creation on that first morning,
may we tingle with anticipation
of your goodness and wonder
flowing into our lives,
God who shapes all things.
May we join all creation
in worshiping you,
who is as close as a heartbeat.

As God whispered into the silence,
you ran forth with creatures
of every size and shape at your side,
Word of wonder,
as rivers filled the valleys and ran to seas,
as flowers sprang forth in meadows,
as grace unfathomable sprang forth.

May we join all creation
in emulating you,
who is as close as our flesh
which you wore.
As God’s mind overflowed with dreams,
you brooded over the waters,
stirred the clouds with your wind,
breathed life into all that is,
Spirit of fanciful faith,
planting the seeds of peace.
May we join all creation
in dancing with you,
who is as close to us
as every breath we take.

May we join all creation
in worshiping, emulating, dancing
as we offer our prayer to you,
God in Community, Holy in One.  

Pentecost Sunday
 May 31, 2020
Acts 2:1-4
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
     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.

No great flowing fabrics of red draping the altar,
No red ties, shirts or blouses,
yet this is still the day we celebrate
Grace’s breath shattering the shutters of our hearts.
     On this day, clad in our pajamas, sitting at home
     may we continue to let the Spirit
     of new life breathe upon us!
Even though we cannot be with each other physically,
God’s Spirit bridges the gap between each us,
proclaiming that we are God’s Pentecost.
     On this day, we remain sheltered in place, safe in God’s grace.
There will be no birthday cakes, no red balloons,
no butterflies emerging from cocoons,
yet in the days to come, we will continue to speak
of God’s love and the Spirit’s peace for all.
     So that even apart, people know they are not alone,
     so that when that day comes, and we know it will,
     when we can leave our home shelters to find new shelter
     among the loving arms of our faith community.

     Today is Pentecost.  There was a time when this day would find us gathering together to celebrate the Birthday of the Church.  The altar would have been draped in red with communion trays signaling the importance of this day.  You would have been encouraged to wear something red (can you see in your mind’s eye Chuck and Steve wearing their red “God is Still Speaking” shirts?) and I would have on my red stole.
     Yes, throughout our Christian lifetimes this day was a special one.  This year finds us still confined to home or wherever we are sheltering.  Those sure were the days, weren’t they?  But this year there will be no partying for the church (universal).  But let’s be clear – these circumstances do not diminish the importance of this day.  The church came about with the arrival of the Spirit and it is in that Spirit that we are still held together even though we are not occupying the same space.  In actuality the Spirit bridges the gap which has been forced between us.  So, breath deep the presence of God’s spirit and enjoy the day!
     As important as this day is for us who are united in the church, I will be moving off this topic.  The events of the past week have weighed heavily on my mind.  Once again, a Black man wound up dead after being apprehended by police who, and this is without any doubt after watching the videos, harassed and mistreated George Lloyd to the point that he wound up laying dead on the pavement.  Not from a gun’s bullet, but from the sheer force of a knee on his neck holding him down on the pavement and squeezing the very breath, and life, out of him.
     As I write this sermon(?) my television screen is providing me with pictures of protests taking place in several cities across our nation.  It should come as no surprise that George Floyd’s death is the last straw.  How anyone could think that killings like this could continue without being challenged is beyond me.  For too long similar situations have come and then swept under the rug.  Things cannot continue the way they have over all the years of our lives and it comes as no surprise that people have reached the point where they take to the street to demand that things change.
     Whether they will or not is not just up to them.  It is up to them and to us and to many others.  In my writing (I don’t know what to call this) last week I introduced the words “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”.  I really hesitated to go that far but then this week happened and I’m not surprised. 
     I anticipate that by next Pentecost we will be all together.  Wearing our red – Filled communion trays on the altar.  Celebrating another birthday for the church of Jesus Christ.  All will be well.
     But what about our social well-being?  Will there have been a reckoning in our society to deal more seriously with the issues of race and all the elements that contribute to the systems of disparity that have been built over hundreds of years? 
Read the following scripture…. slowly.   Reflect on each line.  Digest each word.  Consider what these words have to say to you:
Romans 12:9-16
Marks of the True Christian
     Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; out do one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

     In order to be God’s people of change we must ground ourselves in grace in order that grace might abound – you remember that old “First Grace – Then Faith and Works” line.  If we ground it anyplace else, we might get the notion that we bring the Kingdom -- that we can choose the king. And we may spend all of our energy fighting a battle with the wrong weapons in a war that has already been won.
     Grounded in grace we then use that grace to bind up the broken and identify with the oppressed in order to be a sign of the Kingdom. This expands our understanding of grace and makes grace the active force that defines the church as an enclave of resistance.
     Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides a perspective here that makes our discipleship clear.
"When we’re called to follow Christ, we’re summoned to an exclusive attachment to His person. The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the Law and the Gospel. Christ calls and the disciple follows; that is grace and commandment in one . Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ."
     That puts it clearly, doesn’t it? And that’s the reason that we must bind up the broken and identify with the oppressed in order to be a sign of the Kingdom -- to make discipleship real and to be a dynamic enclave of resistance.
     It is the call of discipleship -- a discipleship which is not separated from grace but is the result of grace and empowered by grace. When we practice a discipleship, which calls us to bind up the broken and identify with the oppressed, we will be a sign of the Kingdom. When that happens to a marked degree within any community of faith, that community of faith becomes an enclave of resistance -- a hint, a glimpse, of the Kingdom that is certain to come one day.
     Finally, if we’re going to be an enclave of resistance, we must seek and implement strategies for change that are consistent with the mind of Christ.  The confusion we are seeing on our televisions and living in the midst of a pandemic provides us with plenty of options to consider.  Yes, not being able to meet together does hamper our ability to share and plan and act but there will come a time when we will be called out from the safety of our shelters and go out into the world.
   As you consider the future of our church please keep in mind these three points:
One, we must ground ourselves in grace, that grace may abound.
Two, we must bind up the broken and identify with the oppressed in order to be a sign of the Kingdom.
Three, we must seek and implement strategies for change that are consistent with the mind of Christ.

Prayer of the Day
A spark.
that is all we need
on this day, Imaginative God,
to light our quarantined aloneness
so that we can burst into bonfires
which signal to all those around us
you are bringing to life and grace
to us, and to the whole world.
A word.
just one, little word
on this day, Poet of Pentecost,
so that we can be the voice
of all those forgotten by the world,
so that we can be the warmth
to melt all the hearts frozen by greed,
so that we might speak in that still, small voice,
and be the ones that live out,
your good news to everyone we meet.
A breeze.
a soft, gentle breeze
that stirs the curtains
on this day, Shattering Spirit.
a breeze that will stay quiet,
and peaceful, and still
until the day comes (and it will)
for us to become that storm
of hopes to clear the despair
from all our neighborhoods and lands.
Give us yourself this day,
God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 24, 2020

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Suffering as a Christian
     Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
     Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

     Some people read this passage, and they decide that everything that happens to us is to be seen as a "blessing" from God. They will tell you, quite straightforwardly, that God has every event of your life planned, including anything that seems to be bad at the time. This is way too simplistic for me since it takes away responsible decision making and free will.  To think otherwise gives us the opportunity to blame God for everything that is wrong or goes wrong and that is not what faithful living is all about.  God is our partner but not our manipulator.  God does not create crises to make us suffer or question where God is when we need God most.
     But Peter doesn't say that God wants us to suffer. First of all he couches this type of suffering as being the result of our faith being in Christ – we suffer because we have sworn our allegiance to Jesus.  The suffering that sometimes comes upon those who are faithful to God comes precisely because we are cloaked with God's spirit.
     A theologian of 1930s Germany was a man by the name of Karl Barth. Barth drew a word picture of our lives that portrayed us as living within the very periphery of God. All of the creation exists, he said, inside of God. Outside of God, there is literally nothing. To be outside of God is to descend into darkness and nonexistence. Evil becomes the primary occupant  for this state of nonbeing, and furthermore wars against God.  When evil goes to battle against God we wind up as collateral damage – nothing personal its just a matter of being in the wrong (or the right) place at the wrong (or the right) time.
     Now that may not be particularly comforting. But we need to understand that God does not choose to torment us or "test" us. What Peter is saying is essentially what Barth says: We are tormented because we are seen as being God's people, and those who wish to oppose God will pick the faithful as targets for their wrath. Some 65 years ago, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, there was a general uprising in Birmingham. The African Americans organized and were trained for resistance to being evicted from their bus seats.
     "What're you going to say, when some white man tells you to get out of your seat?" 
     "Excuse me, please, but I paid for this seat, and I'm going to sit in this seat."
     "And what if they threaten to hit you?" 
     A little fainter voice: "Excuse me, sir, but I paid for this seat, and I'm going to sit in this seat."
     "And if the bus driver gets up and tells you to get out of that seat?" 
     "I paid for this seat, sir, and I'm going to sit in this seat."
     "And if they pick you up, and rough you up?" 
     Silence. Then, "I don't fight back, I just go limp."
     "And if they throw you onto the sidewalk?" 
     "I probably won't be able to do much, sir! My bones will be broken!" Nervous laughter, then uproarious, all around.
     They were standing up for what was right -- the right to keep the seat they paid for, not to have to give it up to any person who told them to, just because their skin was not white. And they were beaten, and they were thrown to the sidewalk, and they were jailed.  So, they stopped riding the buses altogether, boycotting the public bus system and started to walk to work and back. Sometimes that meant getting up two hours earlier so they would be at work on time. But they did it. It usually meant they were getting home two hours later at night, too. Eating late. Shorter hours of sleep. But they kept it up. They kept it up for two years, until the wills of the bus company and the city were moved to allow each rider a seat, first come, first served, at the same price.
     What will it take today to bring our national leaders to a point of admitting that not everyone is being treated fairly?  President Trump and the Republican Party have been relentless in their attempts to deny fair healthcare to everyone.  Jarod Kushner sneers that the national stockpile of pandemic fighting equipment belongs to “us” somehow implying that the states are not “us”.  The President threatens to withhold funds from states with Democrat governors because they look to science rather than declaration.
     In the meantime, people of color are infected and dying from the Covid 19 at rates that far exceed those for whites.  Meatpacking plants where thirty percent of the workers are documented and undocumented immigrants, urban hospitals and nursing homes with higher numbers of people of color as workers and patients are leading the death counts across the country except for the outbreaks in prisons with disproportionately higher incidents of African American occupants and the vast numbers of Native Americans who are dying. 
Given the mounting evidence I think it is time to introduce the words “Genocide” and “Ethnic Cleansing” to our conversations.  Yes, I know that both terms imply a systematic plan to remove certain persons from society and I’m not making the argument that the virus was viciously conceived with the purpose of eliminating people as Hitler did at the camps. But I do believe that we are living in a time when there are some in our national leadership who do not intend to waste a good crisis to accomplish their political ends.  All of the delays that we have experienced in supplying ventilators and PPE, complete testing components and clear guidance on how to proceed have resulted in numbers of infections and deaths higher than they should have been.  And a disproportionate number of those being infected and dying are nonwhites. 
And looking at how the virus is cutting down other groups in our society there is a thread.  Instead of ordering the FDA to go into the meat packing plants to help establish best practices to prevent the spread of infection among the workers, President Trump simply used the War Powers Act to order the plants back to work.  Thirty percent of the workers in these plants are immigrants – legal, documented or undocumented.  The death rates among Native populations is shocking.  Immigrant children are being deported.  Our prisons have been hot spots of sickness and death and are disproportionately populated by people of color.
     It was Winston Churchill who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.  The crisis that was not wasted at that time was the ending of World War 2 and the commitment of three wartime allies (Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill) to a post war world a better place.  Together they created the plan for what became the United Nations.  Something good came from that crisis. Sadly, the Trump administration is using this crisis to more easily accomplish their goals. 
     Peter warns us that there is, indeed, an enemy in wait for us. In our current setting the enemy could be the virus or it could be the gatekeepers who have slowed the response that is necessary to smack the virus down. Having the name of Jesus in our hearts. Being clothed with the Holy Spirit. Trying to love one another as we have been loved. For these beliefs, these actions, this reality, we may be made fun of by those “good people” as the President calls them who carry Confederate and Nazi flags and dressed as though they are prepared to assault our Statehouse to challenge social distancing rules.
     What Peter is saying is, "Take heart. You're not the only one who was ever made fun of for being faithful to God. You're not the only person who is shocked at what people do to each other. Peter’s advice is for us to stay alert. Keep our self-discipline. And don't let anxiety take its toll on you. When you go to bed at night, don't fret. Give your cares to God, who knows better than we can imagine how to handle what's wrong here. Eventually, Christ himself will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. Praise God, and in the end, you will have every reason to praise God."

Prayer of the Day
     Giver of power and strength, you take a rag-tag bunch of denying disciples and
feckless followers, creating a new community of servants who seek to do your will.
     Keeper of all time, you are enthroned on the rubble of death's shattered power,
calling us to your side and giving us a new vocation, by which we serve thebroken of the communities in which we live.
     Constant Presence of hope, you strengthen us so we never give in while confronted by evil;
you continually pray for us that we never quit when faith proves to be more of a challenge than we imagined.
     God in Community, Holy in One, we lift our hearts to you.  Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020
Call to Worship:
Come to worship, people of God, with praises on your lips.
     Even when we are feeling isolated and fearful, we can glorify the One who holds our hands in our loneliness.
Come into the presence of the One who makes holy every place, every space, holy and sacred.
     Even where we continue to stay safe in our homes, the doors of grace are flung wide open for us.
Come and hear the stories of the One who loves you.
     In living rooms, on laptops and devices, We will sing our songs and tell those tales of the peace and of the hope which is ours.

John 14:15-21
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
     ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.  ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

     On a hot southern night in the early 1800’s, a weary slave sat before a tar-paper shack and lifted his voice in a song of lament — a mournful, deep song whose words gave expression to the pain of having been taken from home, separated from family, and subjected to slavery. With hurt and longing he may have sung a song similar to this: https://youtu.be/KiJx1Hbn_KM
    There's a story told of a rookie baseball player just up from the minor leagues who was sent up to bat against the great Hall of Fame pitcher from the St. Louis Cardinals, Bob Gibson, in his prime. Just off the bench and shaking from the combination of excitement and fear the rookie stepped up to the plate and took a couple of tentative practice swings as the great right-hander, Gibson, glared down at him from the mound. Then, with a great windup and pitch, Gibson blew two consecutive fastballs right down the center of the plate, so fast that the poor rookie didn't even have time to swing his bat. With that, the rookie turned on his heels and started back to the dugout. "What're you doing?" his manager shouted at him as he approached the steps. "Get back out there. You've got another pitch coming." "Let him have it," the rookie said. "I've seen enough already."
     Have you ever felt that way? Outmatched by life? Up against what seems to be impossible odds? Depressed? Downhearted? Hopeless and helpless, overpowered by life? What do we do when life bullies us into a corner? Where do we turn when trouble traps us? Well, there is good news.  Today we encounter the resurrected Christ, the one who says to us as he did to the disciples, "I will not leave you as orphans." I will not leave you alone. I will not abandon you.
Orphans ... Now that's a word we don't hear very often any more. It's not a popular word. In fact, we try to avoid the thought that orphans even exist anymore. And yet, it is estimated that the South China Sea tsunami that struck at Christmas time a couple of years ago left as many as 1.5 million children orphaned. Just think — one point five million children left without parents from that one sudden tragedy. And there's more children like them who are made orphans each day by war, disease, and abandonment. 
     And yet, we know that it isn't just children without parents who are orphans. There are countless others who feel abandoned, who feel alone without help, who are left without guidance or comfort who feel like orphans as well.
     It’s been eight long weeks since we were advised to stay home and not go out in public.  Many have not been able to be with family and friends, hairdressers and bowling league buddies, and on and on.  As each day goes by it may seem like being orphaned. 
     In the gospel reading today, Jesus sits with the disciples in the upper room. The candles of the Passover meal have burnt short and it is time to go. One disciple has already fled the gathering, his betrayal a shock to all of them. Another disciple's denial is predicted and the pain of the cross awaits them all. And in the midst of this uncertain gathering, Jesus reaches out to them in love. Listen again to what he says in various verses. I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you. In just a little while, the world will not see me again, but you will. For I will live again and you will, too. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counselor who will never leave you — a Counselor who is the Holy Spirit.
     I will not leave you. I will not abandon you. I will send you a counselor, an advocate, a comforter, a friend who will care for you, who will offer you hope when there is none to be found, help when you are helpless, comfort when you can find none, and life in the face of death. The Holy Spirit is God's gift to us in our baptism. The Holy Spirit is God's presence in life. The Holy Spirit is Christ's gift to us and the promise to all the faithful.
     The Holy Spirit sends us forth then as messengers of God's love to the poor, the unemployed, the young and the elderly, the sick and rejected, the unhappy, the sorrowful, the lonely and the dying. Who is there to say to them, "I will not leave you as orphans"? I will not abandon you. Well, God says it can be us. For we are the ones whom God entrusts with the good news. We are the ones sent forth with his love.
     One of the themes that dominate this passage of scripture is the theme of love. "If you love me," Jesus says in verse 15, "obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another counselor, who will never leave you." In his great love for us, Jesus promises us help. He promises us the Holy Spirit. He promises us one whose presence will comfort us.
One could easily make the case that where there is no love, there is no comfort. That is what Jesus says. "If you love me...." For all too many of us, our Christian faith is centered eighteen inches too high, for that is the distance between our head and our heart, between knowing about God and knowing God, between understanding the presence of God and experiencing it.
You see, ideas are powerful things. But an idea has no power to heal a broken heart. An idea cannot take away the pain of heartache or fill the void of a loss. An idea can bring no comfort in the face of tragedy or peace in the wake of death. An idea is no substitute for experiencing the love of Jesus Christ. That's why Jesus says, "I will not leave you as orphans." I will not abandon you. You will have my love to strengthen you.
     One of the most famous of all the English poets was a woman by the name of Elizabeth Barrett, an invalid for many years, her illness so severe that in the end, she was so weak, in fact, that she could not even raise her head from her pillow. One day, she was visited by a man by the name of Robert Browning, who had come to meet the author of the poetry that had inspired him so. After his first visit, an amazing thing happened. He left Elizabeth with such joy and happiness that she was able to lift her head. On his second visit, she sat up in bed. And on their third, they eloped and were married. Today she is known as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the greatest of all of the English love poets.
     Such is the power of love. Love has the power to heal. It has the power to make well. It has the power to lift drooping heads and fill empty hearts. No wonder people were healed just by coming into the presence of Jesus. Did you ever wonder about that — those stories in the New Testament that tell of someone who just came to Jesus and with just a touch or with just a word were made well? There's no secret to that. If we believe that Jesus was God's love incarnate, God's love in the flesh, why shouldn't people be healed by just coming into contact with him? For love has the power to do that. Love has the power to heal and that's what Christ can do.

     What is our hope?  Simply put, it is that God has not abandoned us.  With such good news, we can dare to bring our prayers to the One who will not cast aside our words or our hearts.  

Prayer for Today
     We must tell you, God who knows us better than we think, how easy it is to put our trust in those who offer easy fixes, quick solutions, cures and tests and false hope in these days.  it is easier to believe the glib words of politicians, the conspiracies of all the theorists, rather than to those who are rational and based in science.  All too easily, we can buy into the notion that the economy is more important than safety, that jobs matter more than the lives of the most vulnerable, that our so-called rights trump the need to be a community of compassion and grace.
     Forgive us, God of mercy.  You are not found in political rhetoric, but in the child who holds our hand.  You are not a simple tweet, but the Word that can transform our very lives.  You are not a disembodied, constantly recalculating voice, but the One who calls us to life, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2020

We are God's household, crafted by the Architect of creation:
     our hearts a shelter for the outcast; our hands open to the stranger.
We are God's people, created in the divine image:
     to tell others of God's love, to offer mercy as freely as we have received it.
We are God's children, called to give of ourselves:
     chosen to serve the lost and lonely, gifted to minister to a hurting world.

1 Peter 2:2-10
Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
     To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner’, and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
     But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

     Which do you think would be easier?  To raise someone from the dead or turn stones into “living” stones.  Take your time to think on this one.  I know its not an easy question to answer.
     Let’s consider the evidence.  The Bible has a few instances of after death experiences.  There’s Elijah for whom an empty chair is left each Passover in a Jewish home awaiting his return.  Then there is that scene when Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave complete with stench.  And, of course, there is the resurrection of Jesus.  So, we can agree that raising the dead has some historical relevance.
     But the turning stones to a “living” status is not one that has happened in the Bible.  There are numerous references to the possibility of an event but none that it happened.  On his entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday when the High Priest instructed Jesus to quiet his followers Jesus claimed that if he did so even the stones themselves would cry out – I guess that qualifies as living stones.  But the stones did not cry out and the people kept on shouting his praise.  And so “living” stones seems to be a concept that presents a real challenge.  On its face it seems to be an impossible concept and yet it is repeatedly held out as an extreme challenge and a near impossible dream.  Clearly, the one who is able to make such a conversion is a true magician or…the son of God. And so, when Peter refers to Jesus as “a living stone” it would get people’s attention.  Here the promise that had long been made is now given.  And not only does Peter describe Jesus as a “living stone” but he extends that image to Jesus being the cornerstone which builders had evaluated and rejected.  They viewed him as flawed and unusable.  It was later that the architect (God) was able to raise Jesus up as the best of all others and to use him as the primary stone upon which all the others rely.  He is the foundation.
     And as things turn out Jesus is our foundation.  And get this, through all of this we become living stones as well.  We are stirred from being motionless and speechless to proclaiming the love of Jesus through words and deeds.  We will move out from our rock pile or gravel pit to make noise and get things done.
     BUT NOT YET!  You probably never expected to hear such words from me.  Usually, I’m encouraging people to get off their butts and do something as ones who follow the instructions of Jesus.  You know – that demonstrate love for others thing.  But now is not the time.  We are still practicing social distancing.  We are still wearing masks if we have to go out.  We are still restricting our visits with others.  And we are still watching the statistics change every day as more people become sick and more people die from this virus.  To act as living stones right now does not require that we leave the house.  Its OK to sit still – like a rock.  But right now, we can do several things:
1.  Make a contribution where it does matter today.  Pick a group that is responding to the virus, helping those who are victims, getting PPE to health care workers, supplying food to families that are experiencing hunger in these days.
2. If you are on social media post encouraging and positive messages.  Don’t allow fear mongers to go unchallenged when they post false stories.  Check things out before posting or sharing a story.  Ask people what was their source for something when you question is legitimacy.
3. Make plans for what you will be doing when it is safe to go out again – see family and friends, eat out, get a hair cut (If you remember I was needing a haircut when this thing started – you should see me now), and whatever you feel you’ve been deprived of. 
4. Then make a second list which follows through with returning to worship and doing good things for others.  There is a world of hurt going on right now.  That is not going to change overnight.  The time will come when you need no longer be stone silent.  With all the uninterrupted planning time we are having we should be spectacular people of faith when this is over.
     Peter concludes this reading with these words: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  I guess living stones are capable of a lot.  Our time to come to life is already here. 
Peace, Dreese.

Prayer of the Day
Our Way:
you call us
   to celebrate your peace
      in a world which worships war;
   to celebrate your freedom
      in the face of oppression;
   to celebrate the seed of faith
      planted in the doubts of our hearts.

Our Life:
you would have us
   celebrate the safe ground of hope
      emerging from the flood of our tears;
   celebrate those who love us
      in the midst of hurt and hatred;
   celebrate our salvation
      as we struggle with sin.

Our Truth:
you teach us
   to celebrate our new life
      in the gift of the Risen Lord;
   to celebrate the grace of your heart
      which melts our fears;
   to celebrate that all our moments
      are cradled in your hands.

Our Way, our Truth, our Life,
we lift our prayers to you.

     ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
     So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Unison Prayer for Forgiveness
     Gate of our lives, you know how easy it is to follow the wrong paths.  We can make the foolish choice to listen to foolish rhetoric, and not to the wisest among us.  We continue to make the mistake that we no longer need to be cautious, thus making life chancy for all around us,  we would rather stir the waters of trouble then to stay at home, safe and content.  And while we have no trouble locking the doors of our hearts, we increasingly grow weary of all this social distancing stuff.
     Forgive us, our Goodness and Mercy.  May our hearts overflow with hope for others, so others might be anointed with healing oil of grace.  May we share from our abundance of caution with all who hunger for hope.  May we follow Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to the places of service and life with you forever, even if only from the interiors of our homes.  Amen.

     I’ve been with First Grace for over twenty years and I will readily admit that I have difficulty remembering what I may have said sometime in the past.  I know that this scripture has come up at least once or twice and there are a few stories that I may have told to support the sermon.  Today will not be any different.  For one thing I know that I have mentioned that my grandfather as an early teen was shipped off to Michigan in the summer to oversee or “shepherd” his uncle’s sheep.  The story always captured me with the issue of such a young person spending the summer off in a field and taking care of sheep.  I could only think about how lonely the nights must have been with strange noises being made by the sheep, other animals and God knows what.  He must have been braver than me or just spent the night shivering, not from the cold but from the scary setting.  
     The life of a shepherd could not have been the most exciting.  Sure, if you didn’t want to be bothered by people or appreciated the solitude of being “one with nature” a shepherd’s life would be reward enough.  The movie “Brokeback Mountain” introduced us to another aspect of the shepherd’s loneliness – of course that was resolved in a way which confronted the mores of the day.   Let’s just leave it that it was exciting to have company over once in a while.
     Perhaps as you are hunkered down you can relate to the loneliness of the Shepherd.  You too may be hearing the thump in the night that makes you worry.  Maybe you are feeling so isolated that you would love to have a tea party with a friend or two or more.  I’m sure the experience helped to form the kind of person my grandfather grew up to be and the same will be true for us when the time comes that we can look back upon this time.
     Life has never been easy or risk-free. Since the beginning of recorded history, life has been uncertain. The bubonic plague, sometimes called The Black Death of the Middle Ages, the Hundred Years War, the Irish potato famine and countless other fearful threats have loomed over peoples down through the centuries, but there was something which provided hope and stability to the lives of people even living under prolonged perils. That something was a set of beliefs and ideals and values which gave purpose to life and which caused people to live in a civilized and productive fashion, no matter what dire circumstances surrounded them. Regardless of how dire life may have seemed there remained a concern for neighbor.
     When we lose sight of these beliefs, ideals and values we wind up wandering away from the flock which has served as “family” to us and we cease to follow the direction of the shepherd.  I believe the people who show up at our statehouse protesting any public order to stay home or like the “thugs” who showed up in Michigan this week with long rifles, semiautomatic weapons and words of threat and hate have lost this better image of life and respect for the lives of others.  They are acting out of fear – afraid of the wolf which comes in the form of an invisible virus which they mistakenly believe they can kill with a bullet rather than science of which they are skeptical. 
     Most of us may not be able to quote much of Charles Dickens other than a familiar line like, “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times” and you and I both know that we could say that is true for us today.  I don’t need to list what makes this the worst of times – we are all in this together and you can complete that list as well as anyone. But the notion of thinking that this may be the “best of times” may seem ridiculous.  Maybe “best” goes too far but we should recognize that as we face this pandemic, we do so with many more advantages than our predecessors would have had.  The science of medicine is far more advanced than those who suffered through the great plagues.  Our food supply chain, even though it is dented a bit, is superior to any other time.  We can even pick food up without going into the store or restaurant.  If you want to talk with someone the only obstacle is whether or not your phone is charged.  I haven’t done a lot of study on the topic but this may be the first time in history that humans are relieved (pun intended) to have two rolls of toilet paper on the shelf.
     But even with the acknowledgement of what’s good about the “best” of times we still live with the unknown.  The virus is the enemy of everyone – the thief that has come to steal and kill and destroy.  It is the wolf stalking around waiting to attack the sheep who stray.  It does not reward some and deprive others.  We all are at risk and must act with the wisdom to wear a mask, to wash our hands, to be aware of our temperatures or any change in our health, to not give up hope even though a vaccine is still many months away and to act with the faith that we are not left alone. 
     Our Scripture lessons for the day are on the Biblical images of the Good Shepherd. The figure of the Good Shepherd is one used in both the Old Testament and the New to refer to God's care for us.
The Bible points out that this is the primary focus of a relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. The shepherd knows his sheep by name, says Jesus. The sheep know the shepherd's voice and come when he calls. They follow where he leads them, for they know he will provide for their needs. In the imagery of the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. . .

     Standing against the image of the thief that comes to do us harm Jesus gives us an image of himself as the one who came so that we may have life and have it abundantly.  These are difficult times and some days may be more difficult than others.  Faith’s light may dim.  We may become so focused on our own issues that we may not hear the shepherd’s voice calling us to follow along life’s journey and to do good where our good can be done. 
     There is another Dicken’s one liner that we should remember during these times: “God bless us, everyone”.  Thank you, Tiny Tim.  Amen.

Day by day, God will lead us:
   to those pools of peace where we can
   care for our friends and strangers

   even from a safe disance.
Day by day, Jesus will call us:
   to give ourselves in service,
   to anoint others with hope,

   to stay in the safe places 
   for the good of all of God's people.
Day by day, the Spirit shows us:
   the people we might be,
   the community we might become

   when once again we can gather.

Third Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2020
Luke 24:13-34
     Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
     As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’

In these moments of isolation and wondering what tomorrow might bring, let us lift our voices to God.
   We will call on the One who promises to hear us and better – to listen to our hearts and   
In days of uncertainty, when the future seems unclear, in life, in death, in every moment, God deals graciously with us.
   We will rejoice in the One who is with us, walking with us, opening our eyes, touching our.     
As God’s people, we know that your gift of life is for us, even as we hunger for hope, life, joy, healing for our brokenness.
   Just as we do with your promise of salvation, we will lift our hearts in thanksgiving to our  

Psalm 116 in Song

     In the decades after President Abraham Lincoln’s death, rumors spread around the U.S. that his coffin was empty. Maybe he hadn’t actually died, it was suggested. Or perhaps robbers stole his body. The rumors became so persistent and intense that in 1887, officials exhumed his coffin to ensure that Lincoln’s body was actually in it. Afterwards, they sealed the casket with a lead lining to defend against future crazy rumors.
     But even that wasn’t enough to put the rumor mill out of business. Fourteen years later, officials had to dig up Lincoln’s coffin one more time to fight off rumors that he was alive. Afterwards, the coffin was sealed inside a crypt in Springfield, Illinois.
     Such rumors or faulty predictions have spread in this country from time to time. Fake news is nothing new. People have been misled by idle rumors since human beings first populated the earth.  These past several weeks we have had to listen to prophecies that the virus would last only a few days, that its victims would be few, that tests would be in abundance, and on and on it went until this week our president suggested that a product like bleach injected into our bodies would kill the covid virus.  Sad and not true.
     Fake news has been around for a long time and rumor is its sponsor.   Imagine the rumors that got passed around Jerusalem in the days following Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. Our story from Luke’s Gospel takes place on the evening of Christ’s resurrection. Two of Jesus’ followers are heading to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were probably glad to be getting out of town.  More than likely they were running away from the confusion and the rumors. Jerusalem was a threatening place right then. The Roman authorities and the Jewish religious leaders were on the lookout for Jesus’ followers. They were prepared to quash a possible rebellion. They had no explanation for how Jesus’ body disappeared from a sealed and guarded tomb, so they spread the fake news that his body had been stolen by his disciples.
     Fortunately, these two followers on the road to Emmaus had heard another rumor. This one turned out to be wondrously true. This rumor was that an angel had appeared at Jesus’ tomb and told the women who followed him that Jesus was still alive. The two disciples didn’t know which rumor to believe—the one spread by the religious authorities or the more fantastic rumor which originated with the women. Nevertheless, this seemed to be a good time to get out of town. They were grieving, in shock, confused by Jesus’ death and the strange rumors about his resurrection. Some of you know what it’s like to suffer a loss and be overwhelmed by so many questions and emotions. How do you clear your head and think straight?
     Our Bible passage reads, “As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.”  Today, in this time of social distancing, we may not be comfortable with a stranger coming up on us while we are out walking.  This past week Linda and I took a walk in one of the Metro Parks with some friends.  We kept our distance from each other.  I had a hiking stick as did many others that we saw on our walk and I said to my group that the sticks were not for walking but for judging the six feet distance we were to stay away from others. 
     Here’s something I recently learned: People in situations of extreme stress, such as mountain climbers, explorers, even survivors of the World Trade Center bombings, have reported experiencing what is today being called the “Third Man” syndrome. This is the sense that in your time of greatest danger and distress, an unseen presence or voice comes alongside you and guides you to safety or motivates you to keep going when you’re ready to give up.  It happens so often that it is being taken seriously by some.  These two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who were wrestling with questions and fears, experienced the ultimate “Third Man” event. What a reassuring statement: “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.”
     Jesus knows the disappointment and pain and fear in our hearts. He knows that we wrestle with understanding God’s ways. So why didn’t Jesus just reveal himself as the risen Messiah and take away all their pain? Here’s the answer, please listen closely: It’s because the greatest blessing God can give us is not an easy life. The greatest blessing God can give us is the knowledge that He is with us in all our challenges and struggles. (Rev. King Duncan). We see this theme over and over again in the Bible.  Jesus never gives a blessing without first giving us a lesson. Jesus often asked for others to participate in his miracles. And it’s not because he needed their help. It’s because they needed to take a step of faith in order for him to act.
When you pray for patience, God doesn’t just grant you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside but sends challenging people and situations into your path.
     When you pray for wisdom, God sends you situations that require humility and discernment. We learn God’s greatest lessons through the challenges God sends us. I think that’s why Jesus asked, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” If God answered our every prayer in our manner and in our time, if God acted in ways that were perfectly reasonable and accommodating to our wants and wishes, we would never need to exercise faith. We would never need to quiet the noise within us and listen for God’s voice. We would seek God’s blessings and gifts, but never seek God. When we notice the lack, the absence, the void, that’s when we set aside minor, shallow pleasures and ache for God.
     And so, these two disciples on the road to Emmaus are discussing Jesus’ death and the rumors about empty tombs and angels and missing bodies wondering if this is all fake news.   And a stranger comes alongside them and asks them what they’re talking about. And they think, “What a jerk! How out of touch is this guy?” Because everyone’s been talking about the huge Passover celebration, and the man who claimed to be king of the Jews, his gruesome death and the disappearance of his body. Everyone’s talking about it! But through his presence with them along the road and later at the table they came to a new understanding.  They exchanged their misinformed vision of Jesus being the one to break the bondage of Rome and return the throne to Jerusalem for one which allowed Christ’s love to be their new authority.  They realized that power was not the purpose of God’s people.  It was to find that in the presence of God’s spirit we can be held together.
     There is an old Celtic prayer that reminds us that Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our disappointments and our heartaches. And that may be why he chose to return to his disciples in such an ordinary state. In the upper room, he showed the disciples his wounds. On the road to Emmaus, he appeared as an average traveler. But each of the disciples experienced overwhelming joy and peace in his presence. And he still promises his presence to us today, wherever our journey takes us.
     In closing I share this prayer as a reminder that as Jesus sends us out to do his work, he is always with us, equipping us for the work.
May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you. Amen. 

Prayer of the Day
When every day seems the same,
with no one listening to our dreams,
our hopes, our fears, and worries,
you pause, God our Baker,
turning your head
so that you can read our lips.

When every road seems the same,
filled with despair's potholes,
littered with pain's detritus,
you come alongside us, God our Lover,
pointing out that side road
that will take us to Abba's Fine Eats.

When every step trips us,
when every loss weighs us down,
when every grief breaks our heart,
you come, God our Keeper,
with your book of grace
filled with easy words
and lots of pictures
to teach us hope.

When everyone ignores us,
when everything disappoints us,
you walk with us, you talk with us,
you refuse to abandon us,
God in Community, Holy in One.  Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter
April 19, 2020

Christ is risen! 
   Christ is risen indeed!
Though we find ourselves isolated in homes, apartments, and residential places,
   yet, we would listen to the birds singing, reminding us that the whole creation rejoices in the love of our God.
Though we cannot reach out and touch our friends and neighbors,
   we would rejoice that Jesus is in our midst, holding out hands of grace and hope to us!
Though we have to stand at a safe distance from others, whispering hello through masks,
   we know that the Spirit is all around us, breathing peace on us in these moments, surrounding us with grace and hope.

John 20:19-31
     When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
     But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
     A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

     I'm hesitant to ask how your week has been.  Without asking I'm pretty sure that it was the same as the week before, and the week before that, and on and on and on.  Few people would claim that being cooped up at home is what they have always wanted to wanted to do.  Watch TV.  Look up new recipes -- maybe even make a new recipe (as long as you have all the ingredients available).  Clean closets.  Make a mask (they aren't as simple as they say).  Too cold to mow, wash the car, dig the garden.  So, we may simply find ourselves sitting a lot.
     With everything that you are not doing I would guess that the good news is that you are all doing what you are suppose to be doing right now -- staying in, washing your hands, wearing a mask when around other people, limiting trips around town, etc.  I say this because I am not aware that any of you have a  Covid-19 diagnosis.  I hope that we can keep that going until the curve is flattened out.
     But have you seen those jerks who have been protesting these limitations this week?  Yes, they are jerks.  It's one thing that they may want to put their own lives at risk but what gives them the right to risk the lives of those caregivers who will be ask to treat the virus if the catch it running around with their buds.  They insist that their right to work is more important than other's right to not be exposed to the virus through their stupidity.
     They are the Doubting Thomases of our day.  Don't confuse them with science or medicine.  They can't see the virus so they don't believe it exists.  Sure, there are many things that they can see -- a stretched bank account with no pay check coming in, empty store shelves, everyone (except them) wearing masks.  It seems to me that in their panic they choose to disbelieve.  That's a bad choice. 
     I entertain myself by viewing the variety of conspiracy theories that are out there about the Covid-19.  I can't believe how uninformed and illogical some people can be.  In Jesus' day they believed that illness was the result of sin and yes, that theory is making the rounds again today.  Again, in their panic some people are choosing to believe whatever they want and to even try to use religion to justify their actions.  
     Thomas' disbelief (of the witness of the others) was another one of those situations where "I'll believe it when I see it".  We've all had those moments in life. There are people who believe that the Browns can have a winning season.  In Thomas' case it wasn't long before the got to see Jesus.  And -- wait for it -- seeing is believing.  Hands down!
     And so as we sit in our rooms waiting for this isolation to come to an end we daily add to the list of the things we want to see:  family and friends, a movie, a store, a Strickland's ice cream cone (OK, we won't be looking at that for very long), maybe even the new stamps at the post office.  Those things will be a sight for sore eyes.  And there will come a time when we will be able to appreciate them again.  In the meantime we wait.
     Keep the faith, friends.  We don't have to see everything in order to believe it.  Amen.

The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Psalm 16
 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
 I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
   I have no good apart from you.’

 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
   in whom is all my delight.

 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
   their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out
   or take their names upon my lips.

 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
   you hold my lot.
 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
   I have a goodly heritage.

 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
   in the night also my heart instructs me.
 I keep the Lord always before me;
   because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
   my body also rests secure.
 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
   or let your faithful one see the Pit.

 You show me the path of life.
   In your presence there is fullness of joy;
   in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday
Call to Worship
Give thanks! God’s love is constant and devoted to us.
Let us say over and over: God’s hope is unfailing in caring for us, through health care workers and researchers, through teachers offering online lessons, and therapists available around the clock.
Give thanks, O give thanks! Justice is the gate God opens to all.
Let us say over and over: God hears the cries of those who are forgotten: those who sleep rough in emptied streets, those who are most vulnerable around us, those who have no family to care for them.
Give thanks, O give thanks, people of God! God comes to bring us new life.
Let us say this over and over: God takes the stone tossed aside by us to build the foundation of salvation, a foundation made out of grace’s gravel, the sand of hope shaken out of Jesus’ shoes,
and mixed with the waters of life.

Matthew 21:1-11
     When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ 
     The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
      When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Music for the morning

     No parades this Palm Sunday – not unless its groups of ten or fewer standing six feet apart.  And that requirement complicates the lives of those who like to watch parades pass by as well.  I have a sense we’ll get by this year.  Maybe by Independence Day.
     I have no idea how people of Jesus’ day felt about parades.  Depending on where they lived, they may have seen a procession for some important general, governor, or religious person from time to time but a parade by today’s standards was probably much different.  Perhaps as simple as a few horses carrying a government official or soldiers marching along with a chariot or a wealthy person being comported along on the shoulders of slaves.
     Let’s face it – parades back then could not have been all that much.  Our story today demonstrates that.  A group of people celebrating the arrival of a guy who only a few people knew about seems to us to not be that big a deal.  But for the people of first century Jerusalem they had the time to wander away from whatever they were doing to go see what the commotion was all about.  And there they found a stranger arriving on the back of a colt surrounded by a growing throng of enthusiastic people.  In that time this was a big deal.  Such a big deal that people were pulling down palm branches to line the street and, as if that were not enough, they were taking off their outer garments to also lay on the street. What a spectacle.  But, then again, it was probably the best parade of the year, or the decade, or the century…or ever!
     But no parades this year.  What will we ever do?
    We’ll keep on marching.  We won’t be hand in hand, we won’t be arm in arm, we won’t be shoulder to shoulder, we won’t be rank and file.  But we are Christians and like those who paraded with Jesus into town that day we are following in cadence with a spirit that will keep moving us forward with a faith that will see us through this day and time. Amen.

Prayer of the Day
When we are so weary
we cannot seem to put
one foot in front of the other,
you take us by the hand,
Steadfast Love,
so we can join you
on a morning walk
to hear the songbirds.
When we would rather
stuff our ears with cotton
than listen to one more
whine, one more argument,
Word of hope for all,
you teach us how to listen
to the hearts which are ignored
by everyone, everywhere.
When we long to run away
from all the worries, the fears,
the insults flung in our faces,
Peace of the weary,
you model for us
how to be willing to care
for those who suffer injustices
which we cannot begin to imagine.
Steadfast Love, Word of hope, Spirit of peace,
God in Community, Holy in One,
hear us as we lift our prayer to you…Amen.

March 23

     I hope that this finds us all in good health and that we are following all the recommendations and requirements that we can use to fight the Covid19.  Some of you have expressed some worry about being able to tolerate being alone or feeling "locked in".  
     Jesus was a highly social being.  We have stories of him collecting twelve disciples to be his inner circle, reaching out to persons who were typically shunned by society, interacting with women treating them as equals, engaging with children and teaching large crowds of people.  But there were also times when Jesus was alone -- by choice.  He would venture off to solitary places where he could fast, pray and contemplate next moves.
     When we choose to follow Jesus we are challenged to take on all of his characteristics.  For this message that encompasses both the gregarious and the introspective Jesus.  If we have not been comfortable with the latter in our past we must deal with it being forced on us in the present.  And we can try to rebel against it if we want but that will not change the truth which we are dealing with -- that our job in defeating this virus is to limit the number of people we associate with.  Not forever but for how long is not known right now.  We can trust that there will be a time when it will end.     
     I want to encourage you to explore the value of accepting this time of isolation as a time to wonder what value Jesus got out of it and to explore the quiet around you.  This may not be comfortable.  We are use to being able to simply go wherever we want whenever we want.  We may feel way more comfortable among the noise.  But trust the quiet.  It's not there to harm you.  It may, in fact complete you.  And we can trust that even in that quiet we are not alone.  Instead, we are visited by the God who loves Jesus and us.  And trusting that we need not be afraid.
     "The hymn 'Come and Find the Quiet Center' welcomes us into a quiet space where all believers can wait upon God to  speak to us through silence, to know us, and to name us in a deeply intimate way."

Second Sunday in Lent

March 8, 2020

John 3:1-17

     Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”  Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

     “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Nicodemus is obviously drawn to this Yeshua ben Yosef, this teacher, but he is so confused.  

Nicodemus is grounded in the Law and the Prophets, and this new teaching does not fit into those parameters.  

How can a person be born again he asks.  

The Spirit is not concrete; it does not work by human laws.  

It is there, though, working whether we see it or not.  We need to learn to depend on it.  

God is holding our lives, surrounding us with The Holy Spirit.  Trust it.

"I lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence comes my help."

First Sunday in Lent

March 1, 2020

Matthew 4:1-11

     Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.   He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

      Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,  saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

      Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

     Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

     Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

The Rev. Dr. Tom Madden

Expect the Unexpected

Temptation of POWER--Man's domination over others

PRIVILEGE--I deserve this

POSSESSIONS--I need this; it will bring me happiness; these are mine!

Jesus provides us with a new way of seeing, seeing as God does.

God came in Christ to provide us with new lenses through which to see anew

Hope is born of our capacity to see through God's eyes. 

The foundation of our lives is called Easter, when we begin to  see more accurately.

Transfiguration Sunday; February 23, 2020

Matthew 17:1-9

     Six days later,  Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 

     When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Life is full of mountaintop experiences 

as well as experiences in the valleys and the wilderness which can be very dark, shadowy, hard times.

It is how we get through the hellish times that defines our faith, how we view Jesus the Christ, how we approach the world and all therein, that defines who we are. 

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 16, 2020

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

     See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.  If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 

     But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,  I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. 

     Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,  loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.  Nelson Mandela

Lt. Col., Alexander Vindman, US Army

Foreign Affairs Specialist, Fiona Hill

Ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch

Diplomat, David Holmes

Ambassador, William B. Taylor

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 9, 2020

Matthew 5:13-20

     “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

      “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

      “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

What difference will it make that I have been here?

As disciples, we are called to follow the Christ.

Concentrate on what it means to be called a disciple.

Try to make a difference; try to make things better.

The current administration's assaults are purposed to shut us down, to put our our lights, to kill our flavor.

We are in a battle for the soul of the Church and our country.

America has been here before.

Concentrate on what it means to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Do your best at making a difference; make things better; commit sacred acts of resistance.  

To those huddled in the shadows of fear and worry,

     God sends us to be light.

To those whose lives and hopes have lost all favor,

     Jesus sends us to be salt.

To a society where love is tossed aside as easily as a food wrapper,

     The Holy Spirit sends us to be faithful carers of every we meet.

Third Sunday after the Epiphany;  January 26, 2020

Isaiah 9:1-4

     But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Matthew 4:12-23

     Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

     As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

     Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

The Call to Sacred Resistance
The Very Reverend, Susan Russell
January 22, 2017
All Saints' Church, Pasadena

And Jesus said, "Follow me."  And they did.
...follow me out of your comfort zone; follow me as bearers of God's inclusive love; follow me as we offer sacred resistance to all that stands in the way of "Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven."
...let us not be instruments of our own or another's oppression....persevere in resisting evil 
...this is not a time for patience.  This is a time to use our collective righteous indignation as the fuel for the work of Holy Resistance.
...if we are not righteously indignant, we are abdicating our responsibility to both our faith and our country.
...in the final analysis no matter how fervent our prayers or powerful our rhetoric or clever our protest signs--if it is not about love--it is not about God.
...as Dr. King, Jr. taught us, we must seek to defeat the evil system.

First Sunday After the Epiphany

Matthew 3:13-17

   Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The first step Jesus takes as he embarks upon his ministry is to go to John and be baptized.  The challenge for us is to identify with The Christ, to renew our baptism through communion, and to continue our ministries.

Baptized to begin lives of faith, we would witness to all you do in our communities, in our midst, in our world.

Baptized to serve, we would speak up for the voiceless, we would bring justice to those who have none.

Baptized to speak, we would heal, and not hurt; we would bless, and not curse.

Baptized to do what is right, we would not play favorites, but treat each as your Beloved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  (Thomas Shuman)

Second Sunday after Christmas, January 5, 2020

John 1:1-18

   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He was in the beginning with God;  all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

     There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

     The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

     And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

Ephesians 1:3-14

     Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

John is writing his Good News in the mid seventies of the first century, say 75 CE.

The Romans besieged Jerusalem in the year 70 CE.

With those dates in mind, notice what John writes, 

--don't lose hope

--the Light continues to shine

--evil has not overcome

That is amazing faith; hold on to it.

While imprisoned in Rome around 62 CE, Paul writes his letter to the 

congregation worshipping in Ephesus, a Greek city in Asia Minor.

Paul explains to us that 

as God is the Creator of all, God has chosen all.

Fourth Sunday of Advent; December 22, 2019

Matthew 1:18-25

     Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

     But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.  Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying,

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

     Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

COME, let us go with God to bring healing to the world.

     "We are entering the final week of Advent.  The theme of this Sunday's Advent Wreath candle is 'Love'.  It joins prior weeks of 'Hope', 'Joy', and 'Peace'.  Together, they help us get ready for Christmas.

    "As expressions of 'Love', we will be finalizing gift purchasing for 'loved ones' and friends--we will be sending greetings to folks whose inclusion in our lives makes us feel 'loved'--and there may be gatherings, parties. and get-togethers--and, of course, times of worship.  Hopefully, 'Love' will be abundant.

     "But, how well do we know that 'Love' is not always the warm feeling that we would like it to be.  Parents soon learn that if they love their children, there will be times when they will have to discipline their child.  Children interpret discipline as punishment, and most often they will protest that it is unfair.  Excuses and accusations against others will be made, complaints that siblings are not treated this way will be listed, and in retaliation the accusation that 'You don't love me' followed by 'I hate you' will fill the air.  Loving another is sometimes a hard thing to do.  We recognize it is hard work as we try to love faithfully.

     "This past week we witnessed the impeachment of President Trump.  Impeachment is prompted by a love of our Constitution.  The President was called out for doing things that are against the Constitution--the extreme legal document of our nation.  Politics is rampant around the issue, and while we now watch master politicians at work, we are witnessing the dark side of politics used to distract us from the real issues.  The President has reacted like the child we just sent to their room.  

     "I, for one, appreciate the editorial run this week by Christianity Today calling for President Trumps's impeachment.  Please take time to read it:


     "With the Christianity Today editorial, we finally have a statement from a voice among those who have kidnapped the name 'evangelical' which has broken from those who have defended all of the President's actions.

I refuse to surrender the title 'evangelical' to those who defend cutting food supports, who deny health insurance to the poor and those with preexisting conditions, who promote tax cuts which overly benefit the top 1%, who appoint unfit judges to rule over us, and, of course, those who support  the separation of families and the caging of children at our southern border.  The evangel--the Good News of Jesus Christ--condemns all of this and more; it is time for the Church to come together with a resounding voice to proclaim the true story of God's love which has been perverted by those who have attained money and power and use it to allow for these hurtful actions of the Trump era.

     "As we enter this final week of Advent and prepare to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, let us accept the gift of God's Love and may we be energized to proclaim it in thought, in word, and in deed an a world (and a nation) which so desperately need to experience it."

Robert J Dreese, Pastor

Third Sunday of Advent; December 15, 2019

Be patient with us, God of our hearts, as we struggle to speak for the voiceless, to walk with those who have lost their way, to let go of our certainty of what really happened so long ago, and listen to the songs of children which speak of that peace which really can bring reconciliation, of that grace which really can offer hope, of that love which really came to us that night in Bethlehem, 

in the birth of Jesus, our Brother, our Savior.

(Thomas Shuman)

Luke 1:46b-55

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 

for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, and 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.’ 
Matthew 11:2-11

     When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

      Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

     As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.  Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way before you.’  Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, eheh
Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, oh oh oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Yeah, what's going on
Ah, what's going on
(Songwriters: Alfred W Cleveland, Marvin P Gaye, Renaldo Benson
What's Going On lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 
Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Royalty Network)

It was in the wilderness that the people of God learned to trust.
We are reminded, the United States of America will get through this current wilderness.
The Hebrews wandered for forty years.
We are reminded, there are no quick fixes.
By the time they reached the Promised Land, they had become a new people.
We are reminded that we, too, as a nation will be changed by this wilderness experience.
We are reminded that God is ever with us on this journey.

Second Sunday of Advent; December 8, 2019

In this season of bumper to bumper stress, with life more crowded than the stores,

God welcomes us to a feast of faithfulness, where we may sit in peace and gentleness;

In these times of rancorous rants and snide remarks, wit people too busy to offer words of compassion,

Jesus whispers of hope for broken hearts, sings carols of justice for all the outsiders.

In these days of more and more time spent with devices, 

and fewer moments with those who could touch us with joy,

the Spirit embraces us with peace that comforts, loves us with a passion beyond 140 characters.

(Thomas Shuman)

Matthew 3:1-12

     In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight'."  And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.

     Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, 'We have Abraham to our father': for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.  And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.  I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

Isaiah 11:1-10

     And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.  And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.

     They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.  And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.

This prophecy regarding a root, an offshoot, a stem of the family tree of Jesse was pronounced by Isaiah 

seven hundred years before the birth of Jesse's descendant, the infant,  Jesus.

Generations waited in silence; they waited in hope.

Seventy-eight years ago this weekend, Pearl Harbor was attacked; the United States entered WW II.

A generation waited in prayerful silence and hope.

Today's reality again sets us in conflict.

Can we wait in prayerful silence and hope?  

Can we trust that we are part of a progression, part of a Godly conclusion without seeing that conclusion?

Yes, "for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.  And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people..."

As God has welcomed us in these moments, 
let us go to embrace each person we meet.
As Jesus has been our servant of hope and grace, 
let us go to serve the ,most vulnerable around us.
As the Spirit of hope has filled us,
let us go to empty ourselves of joy and peace for all.    


First Sunday of Advent; December 1, 2019

We may not know when, 

but you are coming to us, with grace overflowing from your heart, O God.

We may not know who,

but your hope will be shared by the least likely pe0ple, Friend of the poor.

We may not know how,

but your peace will transfer, our angry words into warm welcomes, our bitterness into cups of love, Spirit of Joy.

Matthew 24:36-44

     But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 

     Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Isaiah 2:1-5

     The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

These earrings are made by residents of a community located outside Phom Penh, Cambodia.  The artisans recycle bomb shell and bullet casings that were discharged in their country during the sixties and seventies.  

"...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;..."

                                                                                                     How do we remold ourselves?