Pentecost 8, July 26th

Call To Worship (based on Psalms 118 & 119)

P This is the day that the Lord has made.
C Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
P Lord, you are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you.
C Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
P O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
C For God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Collect

P Lord God you are our treasure, you are our pearl of great price, your blessings fill our nets as we cast them into the sea.
C Whereas we might struggle to understand other parts of your word, your lessons today in the parables of your Son make it clear that nothing matches the worth of your kingdom, and the salvation that you have offered to us this day.
P Yes, Lord, we seek you, we love you, we serve you, and we worship you.
C These things we pray in your mighty name. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

P How marvelous, O Lord, our God, are the many ways in which you are revealed.
C You are revealed in the parables found in your Word, as well as in the examples we find in your world.
P Help us, Author of all things, to read your parables in the lives of those around us, as we seek to be your healing presence in our local and global communities.
C Amen.

Prayer of the Day

P Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
C Amen

Song: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”

1 I want Jesus to walk with me;
I want Jesus to walk with me;
all along my pilgrim journey,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

2 In my trials, Lord, walk with me;
in my trials, Lord, walk with me;
when my heart is almost breaking
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

3 When I'm in trouble, Lord, walk with me;
when I'm in trouble, Lord, walk with me;
when my head is bowed in sorrow,
Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.

Psalm 119:129-136

Your teachings are wonderful, and I respect them all. Understanding your word brings light to the minds of ordinary people.

I honestly want to know everything you teach. Think about me and be kind, just as you are to everyone who loves your name.

Keep your promise and don’t let me stumble or let sin control my life. Protect me from abuse, so I can obey your laws. Smile on me, your servant, and teach me your laws. When anyone disobeys you, my eyes overflow with tears.

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Jesus told them another story:
The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a farmer plants a mustard seed in a field. Although it is the smallest of all seeds, it grows larger than any garden plant and becomes a tree. Birds even come and nest on its branches.

Jesus also said:
The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a woman mixes a little yeast into three big batches of flour. Finally, all the dough rises. The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when someone finds a treasure hidden in a field and buries it again. A person like that is happy and goes and sells everything in order to buy that field. The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a shop owner is looking for fine pearls. After finding a very valuable one, the owner goes and sells everything in order to buy that pearl. The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a net is thrown into a lake and catches all kinds of fish. When the net is full, it is dragged to the shore, and the fishermen sit down to separate the fish. They keep the good ones, but throw the bad ones away. That’s how it will be at the end of time. Angels will come and separate the evil people from the ones who have done right. Then those evil people will be thrown into a flaming furnace, where they will cry and grit their teeth in pain.

Jesus asked his disciples if they understood all these things. They said, “Yes, we do.” So he told them, “Every student of the Scriptures who becomes a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like someone who brings out new and old treasures from the storeroom.”

Reflection

If you’ve been with us for the past couple of Sundays, you know that the lessons have been parables . . . those special and unique stories told by Jesus. Today we’ve got more parables. Actually, it’s kind of parable overload today . . . and so we’re going to consider just the last three. Jesus came preaching and teaching the good news about the kingdom of heaven. He would begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” But so often, the Pharisees and the other leaders of the day didn’t quite get it. Certainly the concepts of what Jesus and the religious leaders think of when they refer to the kingdom of heaven are not going to be the same.

'Tell us," the religious leaders say, "tell us about this kingdom of heaven. You've been preaching about it and teaching about it now for some time. Where is it? When is it coming? Substantiate your claims. [These religious leaders tend to get a little ugly sometimes.] Give us proof that what you say is true." What is the answer to the 64,000 denarii question?

And how does Jesus answer?

He tells the religion experts that the kingdom of heaven is not coming with recognizable signs or warnings. It is not arriving with a flourish so that someone plowing a field can look up from his labors and say, "Look! There's the Kingdom!" The kingdom of heaven will not knock at the door or ring the bell to announce itself so we can fling the door open wide and exclaim, "Look! Here is the kingdom of heaven!" It's not like that at all, says Jesus.

As theologian Marcus Borg reminded a number of years ago when he was the presenter at the Washington Island Forum, Jesus response to the experts is, "The kingdom of God is within you!"

In other words, we don't have to be wild-eyed about our faith, tilting at windmills and far-fetched ideologies because the root of God's heavenly kingdom lies within us. This is what St. Paul means when he says, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels". We must search for the kingdom within ourselves. Thus Jesus, when he talks about the kingdom of heaven, tells his parables. Jesus can only tell us what it is like: a mustard seed which is small but when it takes root, it becomes a great shrub providing spice, shade, and a nesting place for birds. But for us, the key thing is that we must search for it. Our three parables today tell about seeking the kingdom of heaven.

Parable One: A man finds treasure in a field. Maybe he was a realtor for Century 21 (or would that be Century 1?). Maybe he was taking a shortcut from his house to a nearby village through this field, when he stubbed his toe on something shiny. Curious about it, he digs around it and discovers buried treasure. So . . . he buries the treasure he finds, sells his property, and goes to the real estate office and buys the farm. We learn that the kingdom is like priceless treasure, hidden away and waiting for us to discover it.

Reflection (continued)

Parable Two: The next parable appears to be much the same as the first, but it isn't. The first parable is about us having discovered hidden treasure and having an "Aha!" experience. In other words, we make the discovery. The second of three parables is about a merchant and has to do with being found. You see, on the one hand, we seek and search and find; on the other, we are sought for and found. Jesus is saying, in effect, you and I are the pearls God seeks. Think of it this way, Jesus says; the kingdom of heaven is like a child sorting through his baseball cards. Some he keeps, while others he packages to trade at the comic book store and trading card convention. This parable seeks to show us that we are of value to God, the treasure discovered by the kingdom, and God sells all that God has to obtain us. We are of such supreme value to God that God's only beloved Son came to be with us, died for us, and was raised from the dead for us . . . the price paid by God. So, as the second parable indicates, God searches for the one who will recognize the kingdom within him or herself and ascribe to such a one supreme value. Jesus says as much to his disciples before he departs from them: "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also."

Parable Three: The final parable in this trilogy is very similar to Jesus' difficult saying about the signs of the end regarding sheep and the goats. When the sheep are separated from the goats, they are herded into the kingdom of heaven, while the goats are left to face eternal punishment. A net full of fish is caught and brought to the shore to take to the village fishmonger. The nets are emptied, and the fish flip-flop around while the fishermen sort through them: "This one, this one, not this one; this one, not this one, not this one." Perhaps the neighborhood cats had a field day when the boats docked and the fishermen came ashore. These men had to make a living; the faster they sorted the good fish from the inferior, the sooner they could mend their nets and set out for the evening catch. So the bad fish didn't make it. As if to make their fate worse, the cats and seabirds didn't go hungry. Jesus is stressing the importance to us that we need to recognize and then allow the kingdom within to find us so that it may take root in us. The trick in all of this is: You and I have to go on our own quests. And unfortunately, such quests don't always happen decently and in order, as there is a certain amount of spontaneity involved and untrodden ground to cross. I can't point out the kingdom for you as much as I would like to; nor can you do it for me. Besides, I don't think any of us would want to have someone else's personal "Aha!" experience for us; it wouldn't be fair. And I pray that in this day and age that we have not become so smart and sophisticated so as to dismiss a mystery . . . such as the kingdom of heaven.

We spend too much time trying to solve riddles and mysteries, attempting to understand how and why things work as they do, why they are the way they are, that sometimes we take the wonder out of so many things. It is a sad state of affairs when we become so numbed by our discoveries and vast amounts of information that we are hardened to mystery.

Toby Johnson, who began his quest for the kingdom as a Roman Catholic monk in a southern California monastery, offered a clear warning when he wrote: It is a familiar theme in religious stories that people fail to see God when he appears to them because he is not what they're expecting. They already have a clear conception of what God is like, and when the Almighty confronts them directly, they turn away because "that just couldn't be right" (The Myth of the Great Secret, pp. 73-74)

A mystery such as God's heavenly kingdom is something to be known, something to be experienced, but in order to know and experience the kingdom we must rely on our own personal insight, our own experience.

When the disciples asked him why he spoke about the kingdom in parables, Jesus said, "To you the kingdom of heaven has been revealed; to the crowds, to the religious experts and to whomever else, it has not. So I speak in parables. If they see and hear the inner meaning of the stories I tell, they will begin to see the reality of the Kingdom."

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

P Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need. Merciful God, your reign is revealed to us in common things: a mustard shrub, a woman baking bread, a fishing net. Help your church witness to the surprising yet common ways you encounter us in daily life. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P When your word is opened, it gives light and understanding. Increase our understanding and awe of your creation; guide the work of scientists and researchers. Treasuring the earth, may we live as grateful and healing caretakers of our home. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P Your Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for the saints according to your will. Help us when we do not know how to pray. Give comfort to the dying, refuge to the weary, justice to those who are oppressed, and healing to the sick. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P In you our lives are never lost. Strengthen us by the inspiring witness of your people in all times and places. Embolden our witness now and one day gather us with all your saints in light. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
C Amen.

Song: “They’ll Know We Are Christians”

We are one in the Spirit, We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity, May one day be restored

Chorus
And they'll know we are Christians, By our love, By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians, By our love

We will walk with each other, We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, We will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news, That God is in our land

Chorus
We will work with each other, We will work side by side
We will work with each other, We will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity, And save each one's pride

Chorus
All praise to God, From whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus God’s only son
And all praise to the Spirit, Who makes us one Chorus

Lord’s Prayer

Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen

Blessing

P Live your lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him, and abound in thanksgiving; and the blessing of the holy Trinity, one God, be upon you and remain with you forever.
C Amen.

Dismissal

P Go in peace. Christ is sending you. C Thanks be to God.

Pentecost 7, July 19th 2020

Call To Worship (Psalm 139:23-24)

P Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
C See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Collect

P Lord, we offer up to you this day this meal which we are about to share, partaking of the Bread of Life, your most Holy Word.
C Through this bounty of scripture you have blessed us.
P May we use this nourishment to strengthen our bodies in service to your Word.
C Amen.

Prayer of Confession

P Had we the faith of a mustard seed, ready to grow into your will for our lives, we would have changed the world.
C Yet we may, Lord.
P Plant with us again the seeds of possibility and water these with your love and your word.
C Amen.

Prayer of the Day

P Faithful God, most merciful judge, you care for your children with firmness and compassion. By your Spirit nurture us who live in your kingdom, that we may be rooted in the way of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. C Amen.

Song: “Shall We Gather at the River”

1 Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God?
Refrain
Yes, we'll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river; gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.

2 On the margin of the river, washing up its silver spray, we will walk and worship ever, all the happy golden day. Refrain

3 Ere we reach the shining river, lay we ev'ry burden down; grace our spirits will deliver, and provide a robe and crown. Refrain

4 Soon we'll reach the shining river, soon our pilgrimage will cease; soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace. Refrain

Psalm 86:11-17

Teach me to follow you, and I will obey your truth.
Always keep me faithful.
With all my heart I thank you.
I praise you, Lord God.
Your love for me is so great that you protected me from death and the grave.
Proud and violent enemies, who don’t care about you, have ganged up to attack and kill me.
But you, the Lord God, are kind and merciful.
You don’t easily get angry, and your love can always be trusted.
I serve you, Lord, and I am the child of one of your servants.
Look on me with kindness.
Make me strong and save me. Show that you approve of me!
Then my hateful enemies will feel like fools, because you have helped and comforted me.

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Jesus then told them this story:
The kingdom of heaven is like what happened when a farmer scattered good seed in a field. But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and scattered weed seeds in the field and then left. When the plants came up and began to ripen, the farmer’s servants could see the weeds. The servants came and asked, “Sir, didn’t you scatter good seed in your field? Where did these weeds come from?” “An enemy did this,” he replied.

His servants then asked, “Do you want us to go out and pull up the weeds?” “No!” he answered. “You might also pull up the wheat. Leave the weeds alone until harvest time. Then I’ll tell my workers to gather the weeds and tie them up and burn them. But I’ll have them store the wheat in my barn.” After Jesus left the crowd and went inside, his disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the story about the weeds in the wheat field.”

Jesus answered: The one who scattered the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seeds are the people who belong to the kingdom. The weed seeds are those who belong to the evil one, and the one who scattered them is the devil. The harvest is the end of time, and angels are the ones who bring in the harvest. Weeds are gathered and burned. That’s how it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everyone who does wrong or causes others to sin. Then he will throw them into a flaming furnace, where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain. But everyone who has done right will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. If you have ears, pay attention!

Reflection

Do you ever wonder where certain expressions or phrases come from? You know, those trite phrases that we all use on an almost day-to-day basis. For instance, we may talk about a young man “sowing wild oats”—and we all know that such a phrase has very little to do with agriculture. Where did that phrase come from? I did a little research. It was apparently in 1542 that an English clergyman by the name of Thomas Becon wrote of “the foolishness of certain light brains and wild oats.” About ten years later a guy named Newton—not the one who let an apple drop on his head—picked up on Becon's phrase. Newton referred to youth as:

“That wilful and unruly age, which lacketh ripeness and discretion, and hath now sowed all their wild oats . . .”

It has become a part of our lore since then . . . that in the springtime one sows wild oats, and then spends the summer and fall of life praying for a crop failure. Wild oats aren’t so bad, actually. They're more a nuisance than a serious problem. They grow in corn fields especially, and unlike thorns or heavy vines, they offer no resistance to rooting out with the harvest. Even in human growing-up, when one talks of sowing wild oats they usually imply of having later repented and hoping that the young people of today, “Aren’t doing what WE did!"

In spiritual and natural life, there are more permanently damaging crops than wild oats. Jesus offers a tough example in today’s parable.

This morning we consider another parable. It complements the parable from last week which also talked about sowing seeds.

The parables of Jesus often contained double meanings . . . to conceal for a time what he would eventually reveal only to those who would truly understand him. Jesus’ parables usually were stories about the beginnings, growth, and mixed character of God's kingdom. In the parable for today, Jesus speaks of someone deliberately sowing bad seed in a man's good field while the farmer slept. This was serious stuff . . . much more than a fraternity prank. “An enemy has done this,” states the parable—and it would be harvest time before the correction could be made. Sowing seeds (planting crops) is an image that is intrenched in the very history of humankind. There is a 400 foot tower on top of the Nebraska State Capitol upon which there stands the figure of a sower scattering seed, a symbol of that state's agricultural importance to our nation. The oldest insurance company in the United States is the Presbyterian Minister's Fund Society.

Reflection (continued)

Its symbol or trademark: is no Rock of Gibraltar or cupped hands, no blanket, nor umbrella, but—a sower of seed. Sowing seed is the symbol of humankind cooperating with nature—spiritual and physical nature. But in his parable, Jesus warns that even the most beautiful things can become perverted by abuse. And this story is not a mere fantasy idea, either. The weed referred to in this parable is something that was familiar to farmers in the Mideast—a poisonous, bearded grain that twisted its roots with the true wheat so that when it was pulled up, the good crop was brought up with it. The weed, darnel by name, is very harmful. It is a narcotic that causes dizziness and nausea. Even the smallest grain has a bitter, unpleasant taste. The problem? It can only be sorted out after the harvest. We come to the point of the parable: How can we tell the good from the bad? A question for much of life . . .

In the church it has always been difficult to distinguish between what we call doctrine and heresy. Doctrine is what time has shown to be correct, pure, and honest . . . leading toward the will of God. Heresy refers to a thought or teaching not accepted by the church . . . presumed to be dangerous to spiritual health. The trouble is, as always it has been, to know what to keep and what to pull out. So often, today’s heretics turn out to be tomorrow's saints.

Martin Luther, John Wesley, Joan of Arc were all labeled as heretics . . . only time proved them differently. Come to think of it, Jesus was called a heretic in his time . . . his punishment was death on a cross. This is one of those areas in which there is just not an easy answer. We may ask: "Why can't you pull out the dangerous plant, so the good plant can safely grow?" Jesus answers: "Because you can't be certain which is which . . . until the harvest." Our task is to live along side the weeds . . . doing the things that God would has us do . . . “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God” . . . We do this in the hope that the transforming love of God will change them. We have not been appointed as judges. But we love to judge. We take great pride in deciding who is good and who is bad. And, it goes without saying, that we’re good.

But guess what? We are not to be the armchair quarter backs in the game of life. The game is too large and too important for that. We are to be concerned only with discovering who we are and how we fit into God's plan for things. Judging is not only unfair, it is unfaithful. And so it is, that Jesus, once again addresses, another grey area.

We would like more answers . . . but they just aren't there. It would be great if we could divide the good from the bad right now, but that 's not how it works. Only God can see the whole of a person's life in its proper perspective—only God can judge impartially.

And all judging aside . . . what sort of grain are you growing inside the hidden tassel of your head and heart?

Again . . . this is where the parable breaks down . . . once a seed has been planted and begins to germinate, it's future is guaranteed—there's no change, no redemption. A weed seed of will not grow into a mighty oak tree. But with us, it can be different. Bad seed can become good fruit. Wild oats may develop mature wheat. In your life, God can make the miraculous difference in what you can become.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

P Confident of your care and helped by the Holy Spirit, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need. God of the harvest, you sow the good seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ into your field. Help your church throughout the world to be both diligent and patient, full of resolve and gentleness, that our witness may be faithful to your intentions. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P God of all space and time, your whole creation groans in labor pains, awaiting the gift of new birth. Renew the earth, sky, and sea, so that all your creation experiences freedom from the bondage of decay. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P God of the nations, teach us your ways, that we may walk in your truth. Mend the fabric of the human family, now torn apart by our fearful and warring ways. Guide us by your mercy, grace, and steadfast love. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P God of hope, you accompany those who suffer and are near to the brokenhearted. Open our hearts to your children who are lonely and abandoned, who feel trapped by despair, and all who suffer in any way. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P God of the seasons, in the midst of summer, give us refreshment, renewal, and new opportunities. We pray for the safety of those who travel. We pray for those who cannot take the rest they need. Lord, in your mercy,
C hear our prayer.
P In the certain hope that nothing can separate us from your love, we offer these prayers to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
C Amen.

Song: “Let Us Break Bread Together”

1 Let us break bread together on our knees;
let us break bread together on our knees.
Refrain
When I fall on my knees,
with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.

2 Let us drink wine together on our knees; let us drink wine together on our knees.
Refrain

3 Let us praise God together on our knees; let us praise God together on our knees.
Refrain

Lord’s Prayer

Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen

Blessing

P Live your lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him,
and abound in thanksgiving;
and the blessing of the holy Trinity, one God,
be upon you and remain with you forever.
C Amen.

Dismissal

P Go in peace. Christ is sending you.
C Thanks be to God.

Pentecost 6, July 12th

Call To Worship

You are seeds planted by God — free to change, free to choose new soil. Rise up, people of God. See God, and God’s people, from a different angle today.

Collect (based on Matthew 13:11)

P Lord you have given to us the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
C You have given us much, and you expect much.
P Let your word rain upon us, bringing life and drawing us to your eternal light.
C Amen.

Prayer of Confession

P Hid from who, Lord?
C They’re as clear as glass.
P Who could fail to understand your parables?
C Unless, of course, we simply don’t want to face the facts.
P We are not seeds — we make choices.
C Yet your parable causes us to consider — what sort of seed have we become?
P What sort of soil do we choose to plant ourselves in?
C We see at last, Lord, that your parables are not clear glass for us to look through.
P They are mirrors. We see ourselves.
C Good move, God. Amen.

Prayer of the Day

P Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word. By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith and hope and love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
C Amen.

Song: “Give Me Jesus”

1 In the morning when I rise,
in the morning when I rise,
in the morning when I rise,
give me Jesus.

Refrain
Give me Jesus,
give me Jesus.
You may have all the rest,
give me Jesus.

2 Dark midnight was my cry,
dark midnight was my cry,
dark midnight was my cry,
give me Jesus. Refrain

3 Just about the break of day,
just about the break of day,
just about the break of day,
give me Jesus. Refrain

4 Oh, when I come to die,
oh, when I come to die,
oh, when I come to die,
give me Jesus. Refrain

5 And when I want to sing,
and when I want to sing,
and when I want to sing,
give me Jesus. Refrain

Psalm 65:9-13

You take care of the earth and send rain to help the soil grow all kinds of crops.
Your rivers never run dry, and you prepare the earth to produce much grain.
You water all of its fields and level the lumpy ground.
You send showers of rain to soften the soil and help the plants sprout.
Wherever your footsteps touch the earth, a rich harvest is gathered.
Desert pastures blossom, and mountains celebrate.
Meadows are filled with sheep and goats; valleys overflow with grain and echo with joyful songs.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus left the house and went out beside Lake Galilee, where he sat down to teach. Such large crowds gathered around him that he had to sit in a boat, while the people stood on the shore. Then he taught them many things by using stories.

He said: A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field. While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn’t very deep. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots. Some other seeds fell where thorn bushes grew up and choked the plants. But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered. If you have ears, pay attention!

Now listen to the meaning of the story about the farmer: The seeds that fell along the road are the people who hear the message about the kingdom, but don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the message from their hearts. The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it right away. But they don’t have deep roots, and they don’t last very long. As soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.

The seeds that fell among the thorn bushes are also people who hear the message. But they start worrying about the needs of this life and are fooled by the desire to get rich. So the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything. The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted.

Reflection

Some years ago, an American was invited to lecture in China. He stood on a platform facing a thousand people, none of whom could speak English. “I'm glad to be here,” he said in English, whereupon his interpreter jumped up and spoke for a full five minutes. "But, I didn't say all that," he cried, "I didn't say all that!"

Jesus often has a similar problem. He told a number of special stories known as parables. Each parable contains a great truth—a main point. Over the years, the words of Jesus have often been so expanded upon that we sometimes miss the point. You can almost hear Jesus shouting: "I didn't mean all that! That’s not what I said!!"

So . . . let's go back and look again at this little parable: Once there was a man who went out to sow grain . . a sower went out to sow . . . Can you imagine a farmer stupid enough to sow seed in a thornbush, a rock-pile or right down the center stripe of the interstate? We laugh at such a farmer . . . but is the church any less laughable? Look at where we spread our seeds . . . the remote jungles of third and fourth world countries . . . migrant worker camps . . . blighted inner city neighborhoods. If there is anything sillier than sowing seed in a rock-pile, it's the Christian Church spreading the Good News.

We hear the parable and we think, "What a dumb farmer!"

But who really is the fool in this parable. Could it be . . . is it perhaps, God?

Isn't it God who has commanded us to go into all nations . . . to cover the world with God’s word? And God doesn't seem to care whether anyone listens or not.

I mean, God doesn't say we should compile a list of "hot prospects" or recommend evangelizing only where there's enough cash to build a church.

God says, "Preach!", (sow the seeds) . . . but we are modern and figure we know more than God.

Herman Stuempfle, former president of Gettysburg Seminary, used this same text for a sermon to a class of graduating seniors about to move out into parish ministry.

Reflection: Continued'

He told the story of his going to preach at a small congregation in rural Pennsylvania. Before the service began, he found a congregational history of that parish and looked through its pages. One page gave a summary of the church's history, according to tenures of various pastors.

One pastor was credited with organizing and developing the parish; another with building the first sanctuary; another with great growth in stewardship and financial stability; another with a second building program. Then one pastor was listed and it said, "Nothing of note occurred."

And Stuempfle concluded, "How dare we say that nothing of note happened? Was not the Word preached? Were not the sacraments administered?" How dare we credit our successes to bricks and mortar and growth, and make no mention of sowing the seed, the Word of God?

What is called for in the church is the faithful sowing of the Word, in season and out of season, and not always worrying with counting the harvest . . . Often times our priorities become confused.

But we also need to be honest—the results of our farming are often less than impressive. So few seem to respond.

We've been preaching for 21 centuries and yet only a fourth of the world's population can be counted amongst those calling themselves Christian. (With a lot less actually participating in a specific faith community.)

At least the parable understands the odds: rock and thorn and highway.

The radical message of the Gospel is a hard sell.<

Maybe we aren't desperate enough, hungry enough, hurting enough, or hard-up enough to really hear the Gospel.

Twenty-first century America is rocky soil indeed. An off-Broadway play from a number of years ago showed a couple sitting in a big-city apartment, thick pile rugs and slinky couches . . . when all of a sudden a Salvation Army band parades by their window blaring, “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

The young man gets up, slams the window and says, "I really don't see what God can do for us."

Maybe that’s the problem . . . we don't see what God can do for us.

Can God fill our tanks with cheap gas? Can God get us a job? Can God curb inflation?

God simply doesn't speak to our agenda . . . so we don't see what God can do.

And so it is easy for us to get discouraged . . . to lose heart. When nobody wants to listen, who wants to speak? Maybe that's what has happened to many main-line churches, we've quit speaking.

We've turned evangelism over to the razzle-dazzle, techno-savvy, in-your-face evangelicals figuring their kind of evangelism is better than none at all.

Instead of scattering seed, we've kept our church lawns well-mowed. How easy it is to become discouraged . . . to lose heart.

But wait just a minute . . . before we get too discouraged, we need to look at the end of the parable: there is going to be a harvest.

God takes our foolish, left-over, throw-away seeds and turns them into triumph . . . there's a harvest coming.

A New Yorker cartoon pictures an apartment overflowing with plants. They are everywhere. Barely visible, in the middle of the room, a little lady is explaining to a friend, "Would you believe it all began with an African violet!"

We may laugh at such a cartoon, but we should laugh for joy. God will take our foolish seeding of the Gospel and turn it into a miracle.

This parable, then, really contains the agenda for the church: Speak the Gospel and trust God. But, for God’s sake, why don't we do this?

There are probably a bunch of reasons . . .
- we’re too caught up with whatever’s going on in our own lives;
- we’re afraid of rejection;
- or we figure it’s best to leave this task to the professionals.

Then there comes to us that occasional joy in knowing we are a forgiven and loved people . . . who, in turn, are able to love a little and offer our own forgiveness . . . if but once in a while.

And looking back, we know it's God who has given this special feeling to us.

Somehow, you'd think we'd want to spread the news. The news of God's good, undeserved grace in a world that seems so graceless.

Outside of church we don't talk that much about God. We talk about politics. We talk about the weather. And we certainly talk about sports. But talk about God—not so much.

We feel kind of silly and tongue-tied. But listen, God wants us to name God’s name in our conversations, so folks will know that God is . . . and believe. So stammer and blush . . . but dare to speak.

“Between the foolishness of speaking and the grace of God . . .” is a good place to live, dear friends, for it’s only a step away from the Kingdom.

Peace and love,

Frank

Prayers of Intercession

P Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world. Gracious God, your word has been sown in many ways and places. We pray for missionaries and newly planted congregations around the world. Inspire us by their witness to the faith we share. Hear us, O God.
C Your mercy is great.
P Reigning God, we pray for our nation’s leaders. Increase their desire for justice and equality. We pray for our enemies. Bridge the chasms that divide us and guide authorities to a deep and lasting peace. Hear us, O God.
C Your mercy is great.
P Abiding God, care for all who are in need. For those who are doubting, renew faith. For those who are worrying, provide release. For those who are struggling, ease burdens. For those in fear, give hope. Hear us, O God.
C Your mercy is great.
P Renewing God, revive your church in this place. Nourish and nurture the seeds you have planted, that we might grow as disciples. Replace what has been depleted. Sustain our ministries and deepen relationships with the wider community. Hear us, O God.
C Your mercy is great.
P Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
C Amen.

Song: “Come to the Table”

Come to the table of mercy, prepared with the wine and the bread. All who are hungry and thirsty, come, and your souls will be fed. Come at the Lord's invitation; receive from his nail-scarred hand. Eat of the bread of salvation; drink of the blood of the Lamb.

Lord’s Prayer

P Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:
C Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen

Blessing

P Live your lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him,
and abound in thanksgiving;
and the blessing of the holy Trinity, one God,
be upon you and remain with you forever.
C Amen.

Dismissal


P Go in peace. Christ is sending you.
C Thanks be to God.

Pentecost 5, July 5

Call To Worship (based on Song of Solomon 2:11-13)

P The winter is past, the rain is over and gone.

C The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

P The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.

C Arise, all who are beloved by God, and speed into his presence.

Collect

P Lord, your world is beautiful. Your people are beautiful. Your word is beautiful.

C There is something for all of us, if we will just listen, look, and breathe.

P Certainly there are challenges, problems that come with every age of our life and every season on the earth, but you never promised any different.

C Thank you Lord for new tomatoes and old shoes, twining vines and rustic porches.

P Thank you for everything we see in this world.

C Amen.

Prayer of Confession

P God in all seasons of our life, it seems there’s no pleasing us.

C You give us green fields, stately trees, blue skies, and captivating winds, and we won’t laugh.

P You wrap the same beauty across the dignity of a cemetery and we won’t cry.

C There’s just no pleasing us.

P Our church children play the pipes, making noise during worship to let us know they’re alive and some folks scowl.

C There’s just no pleasing us.

P You paint a tapestry in the world and within the pews and we seem to find fault.

C Thank you for trying, Lord.

P You are more accepting of us than we are willing to accept each other.

C Amen.

Prayer of the Day

P You are great, O God, and greatly to be praised. You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Grant that we may believe in you, call upon you, know you, and serve you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

C Amen.

Song: “God Bless Our Native Land”

1 God bless our native land;
firm may it ever stand
through storm and night.
When the wild tempests rave,
Ruler of wind and wave,
do thou our country save
by thy great might.

2 So shall our prayers arise
to God above the skies,
on whom we wait.
Thou who art ever nigh,
guarding with watchful eye,
to thee aloud we cry:
God save the state!

Psalm 145:8-14

You are merciful, Lord! You are kind and patient and always loving.
You are good to everyone, and you take care of all your creation.
All creation will thank you, and your loyal people will praise you.
They will tell about your marvelous kingdom and your power.
Then everyone will know about the mighty things you do and your glorious kingdom.
Your kingdom will never end, and you will rule forever.
Our Lord, you keep your word and do everything you say.
When someone stumbles or falls, you give a helping hand.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-17, 25-30

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
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.”

Reflection

Believe it or not, it is July already! We are in the middle of “vacation season” . . . however vacations may look and feel much different this year due to the coronavirus. That said, vacations are wonderful opportunities to, as we say, “get away from it all.” A period of time, set aside from life's daily difficulties, when we unburden. Where there are usually alarm clocks, there is sleeping in until ten. Where there are usually bran flakes at breakfast, there are now jelly-filled doughnuts. The daily grind is replaced with the arduous task of unfolding the canvas chair on the beach for the afternoon nap. God bless vacations . . . a marvelous, annual unburdening. Vacations can be difficult. Some 50 years ago, for two summers, I was the chaplain on the Floating Chapel. It was a summer campground ministry on the chain of lakes in Eagle River, Wisconsin. My job was to everyday cruise around the chain of lakes in a pontoon boat visiting families in campgrounds and conducting five outdoor worship services on Sunday mornings. Don't laugh. Campgrounds need chaplains. I ministered to thousands of family campers and resorters who were attempting to “get away from it all.” Yet many of these families were jumping out of the stress of the daily-work frying pan into the vacation fire. There were sullen teenagers who wanted to be anywhere except at the beach with their dull parents, not to mention sunburn, wood ticks, and the peculiar stress of having nothing to do but “have a good time.” One of the biggest challenges was refereeing family fights among “happy” vacationers. Have you ever tried to have a marital argument in a tent? Sometimes vacations relieve us of one burden only to place upon us another. In this morning's gospel lesson, Jesus needs a vacation. In the Galilean cities, he has experienced rejection. In great fatigue and desperation, Jesus blows his top—admonishing all who rejected him, “To what shall I compare this generation? You are like a bunch of children!” It wasn't one of Jesus' better moments. But he was tired, tired of rejection, exhausted by hard work without results, dog tired, dead tired. He needed a break, a time to unburden, a vacation.

Reflection (continued)

The Gospel continues, “At that time Jesus said" (at that time, right after he reveals his own exhaustion), "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 . . . 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.” These are some of the most beloved of all Jesus' words. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens . . .” Here is an invitation to vacation, sabbatical, Sabbath in the deepest sense of the word. In even the most invigorated life, there comes that day when our noble career in teaching means just one more lecture, our interesting job in sales just one more dingy airport; about three in the afternoon, our dedication to the joys of parenthood is reduced to feeling that we would do anything to get away from the kids. As William Willimon wrote, “Burnout is the accepted social disease of our age.” And sometimes religion is a burden. Going to church, reading the Bible, family devotions can become tiresome, no more than a duty, a habit, kept going by inertia rather than commitment. Many a pastor has been known to pray, “Lord, help me through another Easter.” or “Oh, it Christmas again? Four services in one week? Well, let's get it over with.”

The blessing of religion can become a burden when religion is reduced to should, ought, must, a series of heavy, impossible commands. There are those who spend their whole lives getting over the damage done by religion. So . . . in the midst of all of this, Jesus says, “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 . . .” Wait a minute. Did Jesus say, “Yoke?” Do you find it surprising that Jesus offers tired, burdened people what they seem least to need?

What labored, heavy-burdened folk need is a vacation, not a yoke. A yoke is a work-instrument used to help oxen pull together. Jesus' yoke may be “easy” and his burden “light”; but a yoke is still a yoke, and a burden is still a burden. Just when we expect Jesus to offer us a vacation, he offers us a yoke different from the one around our necks. Instead of escape, Jesus offers tired people new equipment. Whatever the deliverance Jesus offers, it is not deliverance from responsibility or accountability. Luther noted that only Jesus could say, “Come to me all you who are heavy burdened” in one breath and “I will place around your necks a yoke” in the next breath.

Jesus dares to speak of giving us rest by placing his burden upon us because he knows that the issue in life is not "we shall be burdened" but rather which burdens we shall bear. Jesus appears to have no interest in unburdening us so that we can be free, or liberated, or self-esteemed, or all those other modern infatuations that are themselves such debilitating burdens. Jesus lifts one burden off our backs so he can place another, removes the harness we forge for ourselves so that he can place around our necks his own yoke.

Jesus' idea of a good vacation is not “getting away from it all” but taking us someplace where we are given something significant to do, namely, participation with him in his ministry to the world. The old hymn says it well, “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.”

May you be delivered from all of your burdens and freed from all yokes. And, in their place, may our Lord give you a burden worth bearing and a yoke worth wearing. Make me a captive Lord, then I shall be truly free.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

P Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world. We pray for the church. Sustain us as we share your word. Embrace us as we struggle to find our common ground. Lift up leaders with powerful and prophetic voices. Free us from stagnant faith. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P We pray for the well-being of creation. Protect the air, water, and land from abuse and pollution. Free us from apathy in our care of creation and direct us toward sustainable living. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P We pray for the nations especially the United States and Canada, celebrating their nationhood. Guide leaders in developing just policies and guide difficult conversations. Free us from patriotism that hinders relationship-building. Lead us to expansive love for our neighbor. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P We pray for all in need. For all who are tired, feeling despair, sick, or oppressed. Take their yoke upon you and ease their burdens. Give your consolation and free us from all that keeps us bound. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P We pray for this congregation. Shine in this place that we might notice the ways your love transforms our lives. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C Amen.

Song: “This Land Is Your Land”

Chorus
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Verse 1:
As I went walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me that golden valley
This land was made for you and me. Chorus

Verse 2:
I roamed and I rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
While all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me. Chorus

Verse 3:
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me. Chorus

Lord’s Prayer

P Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

C Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen

Blessing

P Live your lives in Christ, rooted and built up in him, and abound in thanksgiving; and the blessing of the holy Trinity, one God, be upon you and remain with you forever.

C Amen.

Dismissal

P Go in peace. Christ is sending you.

C Thanks be to God.

Pentecost 4, June 28th 2020

Call To Worship

P God is not the God of security.

C God calls us to risk so that all may have had the chance to hear the message of love and salvation. Collect

P In plenty and in want, in fullness and hunger, Lord you have dealt bountifully with us.

C In gratitude we accept the lessons of our difficulties as well as the blessings of that measure of prosperity that is ours.

P Call us to share your blessings with all nations.

C Amen.

Prayer Of Confession

P Lord in our concern for our own salvation we can lose sight of the need to give the cup of cold water in season.

C We preserve our salvation by faith against the world so well that our faith becomes dead, and no longer pleasing to you.

P In this age of instant communications we are very aware of the ills of the world.

C Protect us from compassion fatigue.

P Blow the embers of our love to new life so that we may continue to minister to the physical needs of others in your name!

C Amen.

Prayer of the Day

P O God, you direct our lives by your grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

C Amen.

Song: “Jesus Loves Me”

1 Jesus loves me! this I know,
for the Bible tells me so;
little ones to him belong,
they are weak, but he is strong.
Refrain
Yes, Jesus loves me,
yes, Jesus loves me,
yes, Jesus loves me,
the Bible tells me so.

2 Jesus loves me! he who died
heaven's gates to open wide;
he will wash away my sin,
let his little child come in.
Refrain

3 Jesus loves me! he will stay
close beside me all the way;
when at last I come to die,
he will take me home on high. Refrain

Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me. And anyone who welcomes me also welcomes the one who sent me. Anyone who welcomes a prophet, just because that person is a prophet, will be given the same reward as a prophet. Anyone who welcomes a good person, just because that person is good, will be given the same reward as a good person. And anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will surely be rewarded.

Reflection

Pastor Susan Langhauser tells this story:

Ernie Hinojosa began a new congregation in San Antonio. The place was doing so well, far better than Pastor Ernie had dreamed, that one day he found sanctuary in his office and prayed to God: “I’m too young, I’m not strong enough or wise enough or mature enough to do this!” To which God very clearly replied, “Ernie, what made you think it was about you? It’s not about you; it’s about me. This is my work.”

Pastor Susan adds:

I was so struck by that line, “What made you think it was about you?” That I have placed the phrase on my screen saver in the office and at home, and wish that I could tattoo it inside my eyelids, because I need to be reminded of that truth so often. What made you think it was about you? Over the course of my 45 years in ministry, there have been those occasions, albeit, very uncomfortable occasions when I have had to remind a parishioner, “It’s not about you.” Perhaps they were complaining about the time of a worship service or a new liturgy or a contemporary translation of scripture or some new ministry. They might have stormed into my office to voice their discontent. After listening to what was often a loud and somewhat animated tirade, I would assure them that I could hear that they were upset. And then, as gently as I could, I would remind them that, “It’s not about you.” That is to say, Such and Such Lutheran Church does not exist, solely for your benefit. There are hundreds of other parishioners . . . many of them like the time of the service or the new liturgy or whatever. Ours is a corporate ministry . . . a shared ministry. Truth be told, the encounter didn’t always end well, however, there are those times when pastors are called upon to speak the truth. To tell people what they need to hear . . . but probably what they do not want to hear. What Jesus had to say was exactly what God wanted him to say, but it was never easy, and rarely popular. Jesus spoke the truth, even when it was not what the people wanted to hear. In Matthew’s tenth chapter, Jesus has called his disciples, given them authority and sent them out to do God’s work. Today, in three short verses, we hear about their rewards. When I hear the word, “rewards,” I immediately think about bonuses: perks . . . frequent-flyer miles . . . coupons of some sort.

But just as well as we know that in Eden we were the created and not the Creator, we know that the cost and reward of being a disciple is that we must surrender to the fact that it is not about us. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “What the Bible tells us over and over again—what our lives tell us—is that the only reward for doing God’s work is doing God’s work. Period.” So what is the “good news,” the truth about being a disciple? Let’s face it, “What’s in it for me?” is not a biblical question!

Reflection (continued)

We don’t come and join a community of faith just for programs and services. We don’t “consume” relationships. Did you ever ask “What’s in it for me if we become friends?” or “What’s in it for me if I fall in love with you?” or “What’s in it for me if we have a child?” or “What’s in it for me if I do the right thing?” We just do these things and none of them are about us! So why do we long so for relationships which are not about us? The truth is—we yearn for a spiritual connection to God and a communal connection with our neighbor. We are stuck together to want the right things, those things that God wants, those things that are a reflection of how God desires us to be. Slavery to rewards, though, is very seductive. Slavery to rewards abound in our culture, where we continue to measure success in money and status and position—even when we know better. When we baptize our children, included in the baptismal liturgy are these words:

“Jesus has set us free from the bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life.”

And we put great credence in the words of Jesus:

“Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me . . . Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, will find it.”

Let me close with a contemporary fable:

There is a story about a women’s Bible study group that had chosen to study Malachi 3:3, which says that God “will sit as a refiner, a purifier of silver.” Not really understanding that concept, one of the women volunteered to go discover the process of refining silver. She made an appointment and upon arriving at the silversmith’s shop, was escorted to the place of refining. The smith held the piece of silver right in the center of the flames. The woman thought about what that might say about how God deals with us, and she asked the smith, “Do you have to hold the silver in the hottest part of the fire?” “Oh yes,” he replied. “If I look away for a moment it could get too hot and be destroyed. If I don’t let it get hot enough, it will not become pure and therefore workable for my purposes.” “But how do you know when it’s refined?” asked the woman.

The silversmith replied, “When I can see my own image in the silver, I know it is pure.”

If the reward of doing God’s work is simply doing God’s work, then let us do it until the moment when the Creator’s image can be seen in us. At that moment we will know for certain, it is most definitely not about us.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

P Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world.

P God of companionship, encourage our relationships with our siblings in Christ. Bless our conversations. Shape our shared future and give us hearts eager to join in a festal shout of praise. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of abundance, you make your creation thrive and grow to provide all that we need. Inspire us to care for our environment and be attuned to where the earth is crying out. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of mercy, your grace is poured out for all. Inspire authorities, judges, and politicians to act with compassion. Teach us to overcome fear with hope, meet hate with love, and welcome one another as we would welcome you. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of care, accompany all who are in deepest need. Comfort those who are sick, lonely, or abandoned. Strengthen those who are in prison or awaiting trial. Renew the spirits of all who call upon you. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of community, we give thanks for this congregation. Give us passion to embrace your mission and the vision to recognize where you are leading us. Teach us how to live more faithfully with each other. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of love, you gather in your embrace all who have died. Keep us steadfast in our faith and renew our trust in your promise. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C Amen.

Song: “Open the Eyes of My Heart”

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
Open the eyes of my heart
I want to see You
I want to see You
To see You high and lifted up
Shinin' in the light of Your glory
Pour out Your power and love
As we sing holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy
Holy, holy, holy,
I want to see you

Lord’s Prayer

P Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

C Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen Blessing P Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God, the creator, ✙ Jesus, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter, bless you and keep you in eternal love.

C Amen.

Dismissal

P Go in peace. Christ is with you.

C Thanks be to God.

Pentecost 3, June 21st 2020

Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and to all who provide fatherly love.

Call To Worship (Psalm 86:1-4)

P Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.

C Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you.

P You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long.

C Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Collect

P Lord, in the dry places of our lives you know what troubles us, even before we ask.

C You answer our call and we have not yet called.

P There is no place we can go that you will not be waiting for us.

C We praise you for your faithfulness. Amen. Prayer Of Confession

P In losing we gain, in dying we live.

C We step into the darkness, sure of your guiding hand in our lives.

P When we falter, Lord, please catch us, and set us on the right course again.

C Amen Prayer of the Day

P Teach us, good Lord God, to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, except that of knowing that we do your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

C Amen.

Song: “We Are Called”

1 Come! Live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom,
to live in the freedom of the city of God.
Refrain
We are called to act with justice,
we are called to love tenderly;
we are called to serve one another,
to walk humbly with God.

2 Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless
so hatred and blindness will be no more.
Refrain

3 Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign, and we'll walk with each other
as sisters and brothers united in love.
Refrain

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39

P Disciples are not better than their teacher, and slaves are not better than their master. It is enough for disciples to be like their teacher and for slaves to be like their master. If people call the head of the family Satan, what will they say about the rest of the family?

Don’t be afraid of anyone! Everything that is hidden will be found out, and every secret will be known. Whatever I say to you in the dark, you must tell in the light. And you must announce from the housetops whatever I have whispered to you. Don’t be afraid of people. They can kill you, but they cannot harm your soul. Instead, you should fear God who can destroy both your body and your soul in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows.

If you tell others that you belong to me, I will tell my Father in heaven that you are my followers. But if you reject me, I will tell my Father in heaven that you don’t belong to me.

Don’t think that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came to bring trouble, not peace. I came to turn sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. Your worst enemies will be in your own family. If you love your father or mother or even your sons and daughters more than me, you are not fit to be my disciples. And unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples. If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it.

Reflection

She was my first love. It was many summers ago on a hot June day that we said good bye. Our time together had come to an end and I was the saddest person on the face of the earth. She was so beautiful . . . and I cried for an hour after our last embrace. Her name was Mrs. Kemp She was my kindergarten teacher. It was one of those big lessons of life that one learns early on . . . nothing lasts forever. Kindergarten was just about the greatest thing I had ever experienced and I sure didn't want it to end. We spend much of our time trying to assure a sense of permanence in almost all aspects of life. We like everything to be the way it has always been.

That is why Jesus' familiar but oft misunderstood words in Matthew's Gospel sent shock waves amongst the disciples as he instructed them. If you tell others that you belong to me, I will tell my Father in heaven that you are my followers. But if you reject me, I will tell my Father in heaven that you don’t belong to me.

Don’t think that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came to bring trouble, not peace. I came to turn sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. Your worst enemies will be in your own family. If you love your father or mother or even your sons and daughters more than me, you are not fit to be my disciples. And unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples. If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it. Can you imagine? Jesus said that before he was through, even families might be at odds with one another. That is, if one is to fully embrace the message of Christianity . . . it could even push you away from those whom you love. It is a scary message that Jesus delivers to the disciples (and us).

The "prince of peace" says: Don’t think that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came to bring trouble, not peace. Not exactly words of comfort from sweet Jesus meek and mild. If these words make you uncomfortable, just imagine how the disciples felt. They were still pretty new at all of this. Couple of them were probably thinking it might be time to review the contract.

If there is a "problem" with this lesson, the problem clearly lies with the hearers and not Jesus. Jesus never promised that things would be easy or simple or convenient. And most of us prefer our own fabrications of permanence over God's plan. And yet these words which shatter our illusions and make us feel uncomfortable shouldn't be all that startling to us.

Reflection (continued)

There are many who are discontented with the present and are tempted to recall the past as the ideal . . . and thus the past becomes permanent. It is one of the great games of life in which we all participate. The message: Jesus' harsh words jolt us into the realization that we cannot create our own permanence. The stock market is unpredictable; and death strikes us all. Jesus' words and the message of his birth tell us that the only ultimate in our lives . . . is God's love for us. It is God's love that not only shows us love . . but how to love. By giving up our lives . . . our desperate, futile attempts to capture meaning in our lives through our bank accounts, our jobs, or our appearance. By not lifting up these things as the ultimate necessity for our existence . . . opens the possibility for God’s love to work within and through us. Broken relationships can be healed, honest words of love and encouragement can be spoken, fences can be mended. And our capacity to love grows as we give instead of trying only to receive.

There is a trend today toward a kind of nostalgic preoccupation with the past and especially with the family of the past. There is a great danger in this for as we idealize the family of the past, we tend to gloss over all of those things that made families of the past just as dysfunctional the families of today. We fool ourselves by believing that if we can just get this family thing together . . . all will be right with the world. If we could just turn back the clock, everything we will wonderful. But the Prince of Peace challenges us to look a little more carefully. When we do this, we will not see some idyllic Norman Rockwell world, rather we will be confronted by the world we live in. We will see countless millions of refugees in Darfur and the Sudan. We will see the homeless and the hospitalized. We will see the hungry and the mentally ill and the marginalized. The Prince of Peace reminds us that our family is the world. The “trouble” Jesus brings comes from his mouth to remind us that our family includes refugees, hostages, the lonely and the hungry. When God became incarnate—God in human form—he did not join the monks at Qumran but headed directly for the lunatics, the simpletons, the blind, the maimed, the lame and the deaf; the women and the children. To follow Christ is to reach out to the family of the world. It is to lose ourselves as we claim that which is permanent. Permanence is an illusion. Love is real. And it is love that cries out to be shared. Jesus did not come to bring peace, he came to bring trouble. The kind of trouble that cuts through all the phony veneers of life and exposes the true core of our being. The kind of trouble that pierces our very souls and allows for the possibility of God's wondrous love to do its work within us.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

P Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world. Expansive God, you bring diverse voices together to form your church. Open our hearts and unstop our ears to learn from one another, that differences might not overshadow our baptismal unity. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Protecting God, sustain and keep safe all who work to defend others across the world. Revive and strengthen organizations dedicated to caring for refugees and migrants while their homelands struggle for peace. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Loving God, you promise to be with all who are persecuted for your sake. Guide all who speak your word of justice and console any who are tormented or targeted for being who they are. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Compassionate God, you are with us and we are never alone. Bless all fathers and father figures who strive to love and nurture as you do. Comfort all who long to be fathers and all for whom this day is difficult. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Reigning God, you bless us with guides and caretakers in the faith. As we give thanks for those who have died, increase our care for one another until we walk with them in newness of life. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C Amen.

Song: “This Little Light of Mine”

1 This little light of mine, I'm goin'-a let it shine; this little light of mine, I'm goin'-a let it shine; this little light of mine, I'm goin'-a let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

2 Ev'rywhere I go, I'm goin'-a let it shine; ev'rywhere I go, I'm goin'-a let it shine; ev'rywhere I go, I'm goin'-a let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

3 Jesus gave it to me, I'm goin'-a let it shine; Jesus gave it to me, I'm goin'-a let it shine; Jesus gave it to me, I'm goin'-a let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Lord’s Prayer

P Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

C Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever.
Amen

Blessing

P Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
God, the creator, ✙ Jesus, the Christ,
and the Holy Spirit, the comforter,
bless you and keep you in eternal love.

C Amen.

Dismissal

P Go in peace. Christ is with you.

C Thanks be to God.

Pentecost 2, June 14th 2020

Call To Worship (based on Psalm 89)

P I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever.

C Your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

P Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.

C For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord?

P Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

C Blessed be the Lord forever. Amen and Amen.

Collect

P Lord, we approach your throne in joy, coming into your presence with purpose and praise!

C Accept the offering of our hearts and minds in the Spirit in which they are given.

P Bless us and magnify our weaknesses for your work in the world.

C Amen.

Prayer Of Confession

P Lord, hear our prayers.

C We are your faithful people, struggling, but with your help, abiding still in your love.

P Lord, hear our prayers.

C We cry aloud to you and our community of faith hears. Strengthen us in the body of Christ as we seek to minister to each other.

P Lord, hear our prayers.

C We rely on you for wisdom and guidance, and for the peace that passes understanding.
Amen

Song: “Gather Us In”

1 Here in this place the new light is streaming,
now is the darkness vanished away;
see in this space our fears and our dreamings
brought here to you in the light of this day.
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken,
gather us in, the blind and the lame;
call to us now, and we shall awaken,
we shall arise at the sound of our name.

2 We are the young, our lives are a myst'ry,
we are the old who yearn for your face;
we have been sung throughout all of hist'ry,
called to be light to the whole human race.
Gather us in, the rich and the haughty,
gather us in, the proud and the strong;
give us a heart, so meek and so lowly,
give us the courage to enter the song.

3 Here we will take the wine and the water,
here we will take the bread of new birth,
here you shall call your sons and your daughters,
call us anew to be salt for the earth.
Give us to drink the wine of compassion,
give us to eat the bread that is you;
nourish us well, and teach us to fashion
lives that are holy and hearts that are true.

4 Not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away—
but here in this place the new light is shining,
now is the kingdom, and now is the day.
Gather us in and hold us forever,
gather us in and make us your own;
gather us in, all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bone.

Prayer of the Day

P God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself. Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy, we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

C Amen.

Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:1

Jesus went to every town and village. He taught in their meeting places and preached the good news about God’s kingdom. Jesus also healed every kind of disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them. They were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “A large crop is in the fields, but there are only a few workers. Ask the Lord in charge of the harvest to send out workers to bring it in.” Jesus called together his twelve disciples. He gave them the power to force out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and sickness.

Reflection

All through high school and for most of my college years, I worked at a clothing store in downtown Kenosha—the Leader Store. We carried everything—clothing for women, men and children. We sold all of the Girl Scout and Boy Scout uniforms in addition to outfitting all of the Catholic school uniforms. We also sold yard goods. Back in the day . . . the early 1900's . . . the building had originally been a movie theater and a dance hall. The main floor is where we sold the clothing, the yard goods were on the mezzanine and the third floor was the former dance floor which had been converted into the stockroom. It was my kingdom! I was the stock boy paid the tidy sum of a buck ten and hour. At the Leader Store, if you purchased a pair of trousers or a new suit coat, it was altered free-of-charge while you waited. In a corner of the massive third floor was a compact alteration room occupied by two middle-aged women. They were a marvel to behold as they hemmed trousers or reconstructed a sport coat—each with a lit cigarette firmly planted in their lips with just enough ash hanging precariously over the new garment to cause a young stock boy to be concerned. I worked at the Leader Store on and off for more than seven years eventually working my way up to sales clerk on the main floor. I got paid more, but clerks had to join the union so it never felt like much of a raise. At the Leader Store, my favorite time of year was our annual sidewalk sale in July. The boss would have me drag out arms full of unsold clothing that had been stashed in some forgotten corner of the cavernous stock room. By the way, we didn’t have an elevator so every piece of clothing and the shipping cartons in which they arrived had to be carried up or down three flights of stairs. The sale was always held on the last Saturday in July. I had to arrive at the store by 6:00 a.m. Over a nearly two hour period of time, I carried down bundle after bundle after bundle of clothing: shirts that had gone out of style 20 years earlier, pajamas with bizarre patterns, trousers from a by-gone area. In all fairness, there were a number of more up-to-date, contemporary items. But so much of it seemed like clothing that must have been popular when Truman was president. Nevertheless, all of it went out on the sidewalk. And, then at precisely 8:00 a.m. the sale commenced—with a flurry. It began with a frantic mob of people feverishly searching through mountains of garments. It was almost as if they had been naked for a lifetime and had never set their eyes upon actual clothing. Year after year, it was a spectacle to behold . . . a sea of frantic humanity. By noon, most of the clothes had been completely picked over. And what remained at the end of the day? You guessed it: 20 year-old-shirts, bizarre patterned pajamas and old trousers. Okay, Frank, this is an interesting story, but what on earth does it have to do with the gospel lesson for today? A lot, actually.

Reflection (continued)

I was only 15 when I began working at the Leader Store. Most 15-year-olds aren’t pre-occupied with stories from scripture and how to apply them to day-to-day life. Most 15-year-olds are dreaming of a driver’s license and wondering about that cute brunette in home room. Most 15-year-olds aren’t reflecting on how a particular life event reminds them of a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Eleven years later, at the ripe old age of 26, I was ordained. One of the first sermons I ever preached was on the passage from Matthew. It talks about sheep without a shepherd . . . confused and helpless. What do I know about sheep? I’m a city boy. Nobody in my neighborhood had sheep. The family behind us had a few chickens for eggs and the Savaglio’s next store raised pigeons, but nobody had sheep. I remember wrestling with this text in my study in Bayfield County. What did I know of helpless and confused sheep? Nothing. But I did know about helpless and confused bargain hunters on a hot Saturday morning at the Leader Store. I could still see them in my mind’s eye and this text from Matthew came alive for me . . . maybe for the very first time. In the midst of the chaos of life, Jesus was a calming presence. For each of us, there have certaainly been those moments when we have felt overwhelmed by a crowd, perhaps even helpless and scared. That is when we need a gentle touch. In the New Testament, the Greek word is, karis, meaning to caress with grace. He saw the crowds and had compassion on them. When considering the importance of compassion, Henri Nouwen wrote: “Compassion is daring to acknowledge our mutual destiny so that we might move forward all together into the land which God is showing us. Compassion also means sharing another’s joy which can be just as difficult as suffering with them. To give another the chance to be completely happy and to let their joy blossom to the full. Thus compassion removes all pretensions, just as it removes false modesty. It invites you to understand everything, to see yourself in the light of God and to joyfully tell everyone you meet that there is no reason to fear; the land is free to be cultivated and to yield a rich harvest.” There was much work to be done. Jesus couldn’t do it all alone, so he empowered his disciples. They were ordinary but they found their greatness through Christ. They were diverse in temperament and gifts. Some led; others followed. And what did Jesus give his disciples? There were no magical powers to cure disease; no secret formula to exercise demons; no smooth way of talking. Jesus gave his to disciples no other power than the authority of divine love. Jesus loved the common people because he knew them to be uncommon. Just like us. We have been called and empowered to labor in the fields. The harvest is, indeed, plentiful, but the laborers are few. People are in need . . . hurting . . . disconnected . . . unloved. They need the love and compassion and grace that only God can provide. We have been called and empowered to labor in the fields. May God grant us the compassion necessary to reap the harvest.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

P Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world. Holy One, you bring us together and call us your own. Guide your church, that we might be a holy people. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Holy One, we have created divisions you will not own. We pray for an end to the violence that presently plagues our cities. Raise up leaders who work to develop lasting peace and reconciliation. Encourage organizations and individuals who care for all. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Holy One, you care for those who are harassed and helpless. Protect and defend those who are abused. Heal those who are sick. Feed all who hunger. Empower all whose voices go unheard, and help us respond to the pressing needs of our neighbors. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Holy One, you provide a plentiful harvest of gifts and resources. Prepare us to labor and gather the fruits of this congregation, that we might discover new ways of living. Minister to us in our work, that we do not lose heart. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Holy One, you bring all people to yourself. We give thanks for the holy people who have gone before us. Sustain us in your mission until the day you bear us up to join the saints in light. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C Amen.

Song: “I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me”

1 I'm so glad Jesus lifted me.
I'm so glad Jesus lifted me.
I'm so glad Jesus lifted me,
singing glory, hallelujah! Jesus lifted me.

2 Satan had me bound, Jesus lifted me.
Satan had me bound, Jesus lifted me.
Satan had me bound, Jesus lifted me,
singing glory, hallelujah! Jesus lifted me.

3 When I was in trouble, Jesus lifted me.
When I was in trouble, Jesus lifted me.
When I was in trouble, Jesus lifted me,
singing glory, hallelujah! Jesus lifted me.

Lord’s Prayer

P Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

C Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever.
Amen

Blessing

P Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God, the creator, ✙ Jesus, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter, bless you and keep you in eternal love.

C Amen.

Dismissal

P Go in peace. Christ is with you.

C Thanks be to God.

Trinity Sunday, June 7th 2020

Call To Worship

P We thank you for this living community, Spirit of God, where we are loved, comforted, challenged, and nurtured.

C We thank you, Creator God, for the world where you have planted us.

P We thank you, Son of God, for the redemption which comes to us through your cross and resurrection.

C Parent, Child, Spirit . . . One God.

P Loving God, before we ever stood in the midst of this community you knew we would be here.

C Before we spoke what was on our mind, your Spirit was moving in our midst, calling us to care for each other in your name.

P Like your disciples we stand before you on the mount in Galilee, amazed, astonished, even doubting, but determined to be your witnesses.

C Help us in our healing that we might heal others.

P Open our hearts to the possibilities of ministering both within and beyond our congregation.

C Challenge us to take your message to all people, and to receive from all people as well.

P Lord, our joys and our concerns we offer this morning as we seek your will for our lives.

C These things we pray in your name. Amen.

Prayer Of Confession

P Lord, your Spirit burst into our history at Pentecost, strengthening us as your people for great things.

C In this season of Pentecost we ask to be inspired so we might give all of our lives to your ministry and service. Hallow our efforts and use them for your work in the world.

P Thank you, Lord, for telling us in your word that your work was so vital that you included the doubters in the great commission.

C We are all needed, all loved, all cherished.

P We come to the mountain of resurrection to stand in your presence, but are prepared to return to your hurting world to share your healing and salvation.

C Amen.

Prayer of the Day

P Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C Amen.

Psalm 8

Our Lord and Ruler, your name is wonderful everywhere on earth!
You let your glory be seen in the heavens above.
With praises from children and from tiny infants, you have built a fortress.
It makes your enemies silent, and all who turn against you are left speechless.
I often think of the heavens your hands have made, and of the moon and stars you put in place.
Then I ask, “Why do you care about us humans? Why are you concerned for us weaklings?”
You made us a little lower than you yourself, and you have crowned us with glory and honor.
You let us rule everything your hands have made.
And you put all of it under our power—the sheep and the cattle, and every wild animal, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and all ocean creatures.
Our Lord and Ruler, your name is wonderful everywhere on earth!

Song: “Come, All You People”

1 Come, all you people, come and praise the Most High;
come, all you people, come and praise the Most High;
come, all you people, come and praise the Most High;
come now and worship the Lord.

2 Come, all you people, come and praise the Savior;
come, all you people, come and praise the Savior;
come, all you people, come and praise the Savior;
come now and worship the Lord.

3 Come, all you people, come and praise the Spirit;
come, all you people, come and praise the Spirit;
come, all you people, come and praise the Spirit;
come now and worship the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus' eleven disciples went to a mountain in Galilee, where Jesus had told them to meet him. They saw him and worshiped him, but some of them doubted. Jesus came to them and said: I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth! Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.

Reflection

Today is the only Sunday of the church year when we commemorate—lift up—a theological concept. This is the day when we consider the one God who is known to us in three different ways—as Father (parent) . . . as Son (child) . . . as Holy Spirit (energy). It can be a difficult thing—delving into the endless intricacies and problems of explaining a doctrine. And this particular doctrine seems to be an almost impossible thing to believe. It can be a difficult thing to believe something that is impossible to believe. That’s how it was for Alice . . . of Alice in Wonderland fame.

"One can't believe impossible things," said Alice to the White Queen. "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."'

Many think that the Trinity is the kind of thing that the White Queen believed before breakfast—impossible and absurd. It's easy to get that impression from the Athanasian Creed: And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, and another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. That should be incomprehensible enough for anyone.

Reflection (continued)

Trinity Sunday begs the question: "Who is God?" or "How do we name the unnameable God?" Moses asked this question in awe before the bush that burned but was not consumed. "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" And God’s answer: “Just tell them that I am.” One of the Christian answers to the question, "Who is God?" is that God is Trinity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or Creator, Word, and Spirit. Augustine explained the Trinity in terms of love. The Trinity, he wrote, is the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that binds them together. Another theologian explained the Trinity in terms of communication: God is silence, monologue, and dialogue. God—the one God—is made known to us in three separate yet connected entities . . . we call this combination the Trinity. How does it all work? I haven’t the slightest idea.

There are great scholarly works which delve deeply into the mystery of the doctrine of the Trinity . . . which dissect it and examine it . . . which attempt to understand that which is not totally understandable. And do these writings help us to better understand God? I don't think so. Please hear me, I'm not saying that scholarly endeavors are not important, especially when it comes to our examination of scripture. One of the great realities of our faith must be that some aspects of faith are a mystery. And that's alright . . . as a matter of fact it's wonderful. God understands our need for variety. So it is that God is made known to us in different ways and forms. Three uniquely different facets, but all part of that which sustains us. Given a specific circumstance of life, we may feel the need to draw closer to one dimension of the Trinity over another. One time it may be God, the loving parent; another God, the Son, the child; still another God as Spirit/energy. And when we have a need to connect with one of these dimensions of God, we don't care how it works . . . just that it works . . .that God is there for us . . . in different forms . . . different persons. All three sustain us . . . all three feed us. Distinct, yet the same. Separate, yet one. This day that is set aside to commemorate the Holy Trinity is not a day to get bogged down with heavy theological debate. It is a day to simply rejoice and give thanks and praise God. To praise the one God who loves us so much that this God is made known to us in different ways and forms. This is a day to acknowledge unashamedly that some things about our faith are a mystery . . . that we don't have all of the answers. And that, too, is okay. For God is greater and wiser than we . . . it is not our time to know all of the answers. The essence of the Trinity is that as God is made known to us . . . in whatever form . . . we are fed / sustained. Blessed be such a God as this. Amen.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

P Called into unity with one another and the whole creation, let us pray for our shared world. God of community, you form us as your church. Guide our bishops, pastors, deacons, and all the baptized in sharing your life-giving good news with all the world. Strengthen us to be bold in our proclamation. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of creation, you called everything into being. Sustain this world with your renewing care. Inspire us to see waterways, plant life, birds, fish, insects, and mammals and call them good. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of counsel, all authority belongs to you. Encourage the leaders of this and every land to seek peace, equality, and unity. Instill wisdom in advocates who work toward justice in often ignored communities. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of care, you created us in your image. Help us see your likeness in one another. Open our eyes to see and attend to all who face oppression and suffering. Console, heal, and nourish all in need (especially). Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P God of compassion, you comfort us in our grief with the promise of the resurrection. We give you thanks for the saints of all time and in our lives. Hear us, O God.

C Your mercy is great.

P Receive these prayers, O God, and those too deep for words; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C Amen.

Song: Come, Join the Dance of Trinity”

1 Come, join the dance of Trinity,
before all worlds begun—
the interweaving of the Three,
the Father, Spirit, Son.
The universe of space and time
did not arise by chance,
but as the Three, in love and hope,
made room within their dance.

2 Come, see the face of Trinity,
newborn in Bethlehem;
then bloodied by a crown of thorns
outside Jerusalem.
The dance of Trinity is meant
for human flesh and bone;
when fear confines the dance in death,
God rolls away the stone.

3 Come, speak aloud of Trinity,
as wind and tongues of flame
set people free at Pentecost
to tell the Savior's name.
We know the yoke of sin and death,
our necks have worn it smooth;
go tell the world of weight and woe
that we are free to move!

4 Within the dance of Trinity,
before all worlds begun,
we sing the praises of the Three,
the Father, Spirit, Son.
Let voices rise and interweave,
by love and hope set free,
to shape in song this joy, this life:
the dance of Trinity.

Lord’s Prayer

P Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

C Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen Blessing P Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God, the creator, ✙ Jesus, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter, bless you and keep you in eternal love. C Amen.

Dismissal

P Go in peace. Christ is with you.

C Thanks be to God.

Pentecost, May 31st 2020

Call To Worship

Creator God, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. May the glory of God endure forever; may God rejoice in God’s works — who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke. I will sing to God as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to God for I rejoice in the Lord. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord! Amen.

Prayer Of Confession

Like the rush of a mighty wind, Spirit of God, you arrived, but you are not simply a mighty wind. Like tongues of fire you descended, but you are not simply tongues of fire. We struggle with the language of eternity, attempting to see what you were like without knowing exactly what you are. When we attempt to put you in a box, Spirit of God, to claim we understand all mysteries, we trivialize you. Those gifts God gave to us we should bring humbly together in the same Spirit of love. Each of us is different. God loves us all the same. What matters is that God gave courage to timid disciples and sent them into the world. Send us as well! Amen.

Collect (based on Psalm 104)

Lord, with all your creatures we look to you to give us good things in due season. When you open your hand, we are filled with your glory. When you hide your face, we are dismayed; renew us this day in our time of offering, as we seek to mirror the generous bounty you have shared with all of creation. Our God paints with many colors, yet we sometimes expect that all God’s servants will look and act the same. Merciful God, we ask your forgiveness for our intolerance. May we embrace the rainbow you have painted in your church. Amen

Song

“They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”
We are one in the Spirit, We are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, We are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity, May one day be restored
Chorus
And they'll know we are Christians, By our love, By our love
Yes, they'll know we are Christians, By our love
We will walk with each other, We will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, We will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news, That God is in our land
Chorus
We will work with each other, We will work side by side
We will work with each other, We will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity, And save each one's pride
Chorus
All praise to God, From whom all things come
And all praise to Christ Jesus God’s only son
And all praise to the Spirit, Who makes us one
Chorus

Acts 2:1-4, 12-20

On the day of Pentecost all the Lord’s followers were together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting. Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there. The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak. Everyone was excited and confused. Some of them even kept asking each other, “What does all this mean?” Others made fun of the Lord’s followers and said, “They are drunk.” Peter stood with the eleven apostles and spoke in a loud and clear voice to the crowd: Friends and everyone else living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I have to say! You are wrong to think that these people are drunk. After all, it is only nine o’clock in the morning. But this is what God had the prophet Joel say, “When the last days come, I will give my Spirit to everyone. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams. In those days I will give my Spirit to my servants, both men and women, and they will prophesy. I will work miracles in the sky above and wonders on the earth below. There will be blood and fire and clouds of smoke. The sun will turn dark, and the moon will be as red as blood before the great and wonderful day of the Lord appears.”

Reflection

Earlier this week, I was feeling smug. It was only Monday morning and I was already pretty much set for today. The liturgy was prepared. The sermon was written and I had decided on the music. It was Monday morning and I was feeling smug and looking forward to Pentecost with a fun, light-hearted sermon. Then it happened. George Floyd died in police custody. At first, I thought it would be fitting to add a suitable petition to the prayers, but as this week has progressed . . . I realized that would not be enough. Major American cities . . . including Milwaukee are on fire. Thousands of people have been marching and protesting for days. And in light of such events, the church cannot remain silent and cloistered as if none of this happened. Yes, it is still Pentecost Sunday, but it is also a day that we come face to face with our demons . . . the racial divide in this country being front and center. Pentecost is when fire came to earth and turned the world upside down. And in so many ways our lives have been turned upside down these past months. In the midst of a serious global pandemic, a scab has been ripped off of the festering wound of racial inequality. Now before I get to far along, I need to clarify a few things.

Reflection (continued)

First of all, I’m an old white guy . . . living in the early stages of my seventh decade. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve endured a lot. But I have no idea what it is like to live as a man of color in this country. No idea. As I have said in many a sermon, the instant that I was pulled from my mother’s womb as a white male born into a middle class family in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1949 . . . I was immediately propelled to the head of the line enjoying all of the privileges of my “station” in life. For me, it was simply the luck of the draw and I did nothing to deserve it. Secondly, we need to be ever so careful with assumptions and stereotypes. For instance, not all cops are bad. We need the police. We need law enforcement officials. They are not all out to get us. My grandmother was a cop—the first policewoman in the State of Wisconsin. I cherish her memory and her service. However, you couldn’t pay me enough to be a cop. So much of their time is spent dealing with some of the rough, underbelly of society. They see and hear things that no one should have to. They are called names, spat upon, seldom thanked and under-appreciated. And just like there are lousy doctors and poor teachers and lackluster clergy, there are bad cops. Unfortunately, in any profession or calling, it only takes one or two bad actors to stain the reputation of the entire group. We still don’t know everything that happened leading up to the death of George Floyd. Apparently, he had been accused a passing bad money. He was in some kind of medical distress. There was, perhaps, a scuffle. However, the picture of him lying on the ground, handcuffed, with three police officers pinning him down is not good. I do not know what it is like to be a man of color in this country. But I do know of systemic racism. I do know about uneven playing fields. I do know that not everyone gets a fair shot. And I certainly understand the rage. But, like so many, I do not condone the senseless, destructive violence. However, the rage is there and it must be addressed . . . it is not going away. So, in light of all of this . . . on a beautiful Pentecost Sunday . . . how do we respond? What do we say? We turn to scripture. We consider twenty-sixth verse of the twelfth chapter of 1st Corinthians: “So if one member suffers, all the members suffer . . . if one member is honored, all the members rejoice.” What does this mean? Simply stated, we are in this together. And that brings us to the gift of the Spirit—the Pentecost event. It is through the gift of the Spirit that we can begin to better understand our relationship to God. In his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed, Luther wrote, “I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord . . . but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with its’ gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.” This is really helpful! The word “enlighten” simply means to make something clear . . . to help understand. And “sanctify” (we don’t really use that word much any more) means to help one grow in faith and love. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies. The Spirit works in many and varied ways. The Spirit works through the church as it carries out its tasks. For some it is very dramatic, but it doesn’t have to be. For most it is very subtle . . . an inward sense of security with God, a presence that is quietly felt but not seen. There are high points in our experience of the Spirit: a worship service at summer camp; the day one is confirmed, the baptism of an infant . . . all special times . . . all beautiful moments. The best thing about God's Spirit is that it is constant and steady. The Spirit is always with God's people, even when people don't feel the Spirit emotionally. Okay, that’s nice you’re thinking, but what about now? What does all this “spirit” talk have to do with what’s going on today? Plenty! Now, more than ever, we need to be open to the Spirit. With the Spirit’s help, we need to listen . . . really listen to our black and brown sisters and brothers. And not just some superficial, feel-good, one-time kind of thing. We need to listen, to ask questions, to understand, to learn, to feel and to get comfortable with uncomfortable. We need to be open . . . truly open to change. We need to commit ourselves to seeking justice for all of God’s children. We need to pray for understanding and discernment. The Holy Spirit is Holy energy. We need to do more than simply bask in the light of the Spirit. Let us be about fostering better communication. Let us be about bolding professing our faith. Let us strive for holy justice.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need. We call on your spirit of healing. Bless nurses, doctors, midwives, chaplains, counselors, and hospice workers as they care for those in need . . . especially during these difficult days. We pray for all who long for comfort (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. We call on your spirit of friendship. Give us a spirit of welcome to those whom we meet. Surprise us daily with unexpected grace, that we rejoice in every blessing you send. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. We call on your spirit of righteousness. Wherever we as a people are divided, unite us. God of Heaven and Earth, you created the one human family and endowed each person with great dignity. Aid us, we pray, in overcoming the sin of racism. Grant us your grace in eliminating this blight from our hearts, our communities, our social and civil institutions. Fill our hearts with love for you and our neighbor so that we may work with you in healing our land from racial injustice. With changed hearts, let us move our feet to action. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. We call on your spirit of hope. As you have led your saints in all times and places, stir in us the desire to follow their example, leading us from death to new life in you. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn

“Breathe on Me, Breath of God”
1 Breathe on me, breath of God;
fill me with life anew,
that I may love all that you love
and do what you would do.
2 Breathe on me, breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until with you I will one will
to do and to endure.
3 Breathe on me, breath of God;
so shall I never die,
but live with you the perfect life
of your eternity.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24th 2020

Collect

Threefold One,
relationship in unity,
love given and received
through all the ages long:
give us that unity
which is not enclosed
but alive and accepting
with the open heart of love;
through Jesus Christ, the glory of God.
Amen.
~ Father Steven Shakespeare

Hymn: “In Christ There is No East or West”

1 In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one community of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

2 In Christ shall true hearts ev’rywhere
their high communion find;
his service is the golden cord
close binding humankind.

3 Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate’er your race may be.
All children of the loving God
are surely kin to me.

4 In Christ now meet both east and west,
in him meet south and north;
all Christly souls are one in him
throughout the whole wide earth.

Prayer of the Day

O God of glory, your Son Jesus Christ suffered for us and ascended to your right hand. Unite us with Christ and each other in suffering and in joy, that all the world may be drawn into your bountiful presence, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm: Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

Let God arise, and let God’s enemies be scattered;
let those who hate God flee.
As smoke is driven away, so you should drive them away;
as the wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
But let the righteous be glad and rejoice before God;
let them also be merry and joyful.
Sing to God, sing praises to God’s name; exalt the one who rides the clouds;
I Am is that name, rejoice before God!
In your holy habitation, O God,
you are a father to orphans, defender of widows;
you give the solitary a home and bring forth prisoners into freedom;
but the rebels shall live in desert places.
O God, when you went forth before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth quaked, and the skies poured down rain, at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
You sent a bountiful rain, O God;
you restored your inheritance when it languished.
Your people found their home in it;
in your goodness, O God, you have made provision for the poor.
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
sing praises to the Lord.
You ride in the heavens, O God, in the ancient heavens;
you send forth your voice, your mighty voice.
Ascribe power to God,
whose majesty is over Israel; whose strength is in the skies.
How wonderful you are in your holy places, O God of Israel,
giving strength and power to your people! Blessed be God!

Acts 2:42-47

They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together. Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.

Reflection

Four people—one writer and three businessmen—were sitting at a dinner table with Bishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner and great advocate for racial equality in South Africa. As they sat finishing their dessert, one of the men asked this bishop, who has done so much in the name of justice, what they could do to promote world peace. Bishop Tutu gazed into the distance, thought for a moment, and then answered in a quiet voice. He said simply, "You must care." A very simple answer from a man of great accomplishment, a man of great Christian faith. One might have expected him to speak of organizing demonstrations, of registering people to vote, or of boycotting companies that are involved in fueling the spiraling arms race. But no, that comes later. First of all one must care in one's heart. The most profound statements of truth that we find in the Bible are also very simply stated. Such as . . . You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to honor our mothers and fathers. Following the simple truths of the Bible builds the foundations of happy and peaceful lives. The very essence of our faith can be summed up in the simple words "love" and "caring." But how easy it is to let love and concern slip out of our lives! It is so easy to feel helpless to change the world . . . so easy to throw up our hands in despair because we can do so little about the myriad of problems that threaten the very existence of our world . . . problems such as starvation in Africa, violence or global terrorism . . . or a world wide pandemic. And . . . it’s true, there really is very little that each one of us can do to solve these problems. Even if we give away all that we have . . . even if we spend all our time working for a cause, it is likely that we will have only a very small impact. And so . . . in the face of this frustration at not making a real difference . . . many people simply step aside and do nothing. The fact of the matter is that if we are going to make a difference in the world, if our love and concern are to have any impact, then we must live and work together in community. That’s what these few sentences from Acts is all about. It is about how we can live together in love and peace in our families, in our church, in our nation, and in our world. It is about how we can accomplish great things for God.

Reflection (continued)

After Jesus had left his disciples and ascended into heaven, his followers had to immediately go about the business of proclaiming the Gospel to the world. They had been charged by Jesus to carry his message to all nations. Given their modest backgrounds, you can imagine what a tremendous, even unbelievable challenge this must have been. But first of all, they had even more difficult business to attend to . . . they first of all had to learn to live together. I think it is important for us to consider how these followers of Jesus were able to accomplish this. Even though they lived some two thousand years before us, they experienced the same kinds of problems and personality conflicts that we today experience in our homes, in our families, and at work. The disciples came from very different backgrounds. Some, we know, were fishermen. One was a tax collector. It is likely that another was a carpenter, and others may have had different professions. We know that they argued amongst themselves about who was the greatest and who would sit at the right hand of Jesus in the Kingdom. Peter was known for his temper . Bottom line: the disciples were not all that different from us. They had different personalities, a variety of opinions and on occasion their egos clashed. Had it not been for the love of Christ that bound them together, and had it not been that God had chosen them for this higher calling, they probably would have remained alone. By themselves they would have continued to live life the way most of us do . . . arguing, doing their daily work, for the most part doing nothing more than taking care of themselves, their families, and their personal concerns and interests. But because their lives had been transformed by God, these very ordinary individuals were able to rise above their personal conflicts. As they grew both in faith and love, they began the Church which was to change the course of human history. It was God’s love that empowered them to live together as a family. We read that in their life together they did those things which we are called to do in our families. If we practiced these faithfully . . . peace and harmony would come to every home. So . . . what did they do? First of all, they broke bread together; that is, they had their meals together. What is so outstanding about that? Well, studies have shown that in modern-day America, few families sit down and eat the evening meal together. The varied and busy schedules of family members make suppertime little more than a series of trips to the refrigerator. Dinner is eaten in front of the television set, rather than around a table listening to the events in the lives of mother, father, and children.Some observers have commented that this manner of feeding ourselves has contributed to problems in many families. The second thing the disciples did is that they had "all things in common." That is, every person gave and then took according to their need. In other words, they shared. They did not do that which happens in so many relationships: They did not say, "This is my money; this is my car, my house, my furniture." Because everyone shared everything, no one was deprived and everyone had all they needed. Because the disciples shared, they did not become overly attached to personal things. There is one more thing our New Testament family did that enabled them to live together. The most important part of their life was the spiritual dimension. Together they prayed and worshiped and praised God. We need this powerful presence in our homes. More than ever before, we need God's love at the center of our lives together. As they are able, families need to worship together in the community of faith so that they may be drawn together in a common spirit of love and commitment. What the church is all about is helping people to understand and participate in the vision and faith of the Christian life. Our children need to become engaged with parents and other adults who have strong moral character, people of faith who know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. By worshiping together, we learn from people who know from experience that God is real, and that God's love makes all the difference in the world. Most of all, we need to be guided by people who care . . . people who care about something other than themselves . . . people who believe that God’s love can make a difference not only in our homes but in our world. And the Church is one of the few places today where you can find that kind of person. That is why our presence at worship is so important to our spiritual well-being. Once again, we have come together that we might share a vision and an understanding of a better world . . . a better way of life for women, men and children. We can choose to live our lives as a New Testament family, or we can allow the course of our lives to be determined by things that are not of lasting value. The choice is ours. May we be people who share . . . people who care. In the name of our loving God, we pray. Amen.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need. O God, call your people to be one, as you are one. Unite your church in the truth of your gospel, the love of our neighbor, and the call to proclaim your reign to all people. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Breathe life into your creation. Guide your people as we explore the mysteries of the universe. We pray for the work of scientists and mathematicians whose skill enriches our understanding. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Make your justice known among the nations of the earth. Protect the vulnerable. Redirect those who use violence and greed as weapons. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Come to the aid of your children. We pray for those engulfed in grief, those without supportive families, and for all who are isolated, powerless, or afraid, that all may rest their anxieties in your care. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Give courage to all who embark on new ventures. We especially remember this day those who risked their lives to serve in our armed forces. Grant safety to those serving at home or abroad, and assure them of your never-failing strength. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Raise all your saints to eternal life. Until that day, we give you thanks for the faithful examples of those who have listened to your voice and now rest in you. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn: “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”

1 Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the unity of heart and mind
is like to that above.

2 Before our Father's throne
we pour our ardent prayers;
our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.

3 We share our mutual woes,
our mutual burdens bear,
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.

4 From sorrow, toil, and pain,
and sin we shall be free;
and perfect love and friendship
reign through all eternity.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10th 2020

Collect

Generous God, whose way is love,
whose truth is searching,
whose life is freely given in Jesus Christ our Lord:
as you have opened for us
your house of many rooms,
so we may make a place
for the rejected and unloved,
and share the work of peace;
through Jesus Christ, the image of God.
Amen
~ Father Steven Shakespeare

Hymn: “Lord God, We Praise You”

1 Lord God, we praise you,
now the night is over,
active and watchful,
standing here before you;
singing, we offer prayer
and meditation; thus we adore you.

2 Monarch of all things,
fit us for your mansions;
banish our weakness,
health and wholeness sending;
bring us to heaven,
where your saints united
joy without ending.

3 All-holy Father, Son,
and equal Spirit,
Trinity blessed,
send us your salvation;
yours is the glory, gleaming
and resounding through all creation.

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Give us grace to love one another, to follow in the way of his commandments, and to share his risen life with all the world, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Psalm: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness. Incline your ear to me;
make haste to deliver me. Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your name, lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,
for you are my tower of strength. Into your hands I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth. My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.”

Gospel: John 14:1-14

Jesus said to the disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

Reflection

Like newborn babies, be hungry for nothing but milk—the pure milk of the word that will make you grow into salvation, 3now that you have “tasted that our God is good.” ~1st Peter 2:2-3

Today is one of those days that is what can be called a preachers dilemma. According to the church calendar, it is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. We are still basking in the glow of the resurrection and today's Gospel points us to some great truths of the faith. However, on the Hallmark Card calendar, it is Mother’s Day. I will use a few verses from 1st Peter to consider motherhood.

A number of years ago, the Search Institute of Minneapolis asked what or who had the most positive influence on people’s religious faith. An overwhelming majority answered: “My mother”. I know that would have to be my answer to such a question.

In the late 1980's, Pastor Edward Snider wrote what, at the time, was considered shocking. His thesis was that God loves us like a mother . . . that the love that God has for us is like motherly love. It's an interesting phrase which I would like to further explore.

God the Father is a dominant image for mst of us. The Lord's Prayer begins, “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” The Parable of the Prodigal Son is about a father and his two sons. We usually think of this story as representing how God relates to us. I, personally, am the father of two daughters. We do not have any sons. Does this mean that God sees daughters as being somewhat less than sons. Not at all!

For God also loves us with a mother's love. In fact, motherhood may be more descriptive of God's, love than fatherhood. In the text from 1st Peter there is a statement comparing Christians to newborn babies who crave their mother's milk . . . in this case representing the pure milk of the Gospel. As a mother feeds a new baby milk from her own body, the text points out that God feeds us the milk of the Gospel for our salvation. More than that: God has fed us God’s Son. That's the meaning of the third verse, “you have tasted that our God is good.” This statement is clearly a reference to communion.

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Reflection (continued)

In ancient times, in many early Christian churches, after a convert was baptized, there was a special ceremony. A cup of water, a cup of milk laced with honey, and a cup of wine were given to the newly baptized. The water symbolized baptism; the milk and honey the nourishing power of the Gospel to help the Christian grow and mature in the faith; and the wine symbolized the Lord's supper. All three stood for the spiritual nourishment God offers all Christians. In baptism God receives us as new children. In baptism God becomes our mother in a special sense—nourishing our spirits and lives with the ancient formula of milk and honey—feeding our spirits that we might grow in faith. But, the main ingredient of motherhood is not filling our need for food and drink or even our need for clothing and shelter. The main ingredient of motherhood is love. The love of a mother is an undying love that never quits. A mother's love is a refusal to quit loving us even when we don't deserve love. It is loving us when we deserve rejection and condemnation.

His name was Harold. He was a friendly, jolly sort of man who always showed up at family gatherings. He enjoyed the special times with brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. But, Harold had a problem: alcohol. He was seen by many as the black sheep of the family eventually living on the street for a time. His sisters and brothers rejected him and they kept their children away from Harold. But, there was one member of the family who always welcomed Harold when he came around. Of course, it was his mother. This angered her other children. They talked about how she loved Harold more than any of them. In the language of treatment, Harold's mother was not an enabler, that is she did not help to facilitate his illness . . . but she did love her son. She cried for Harold and grieved his life. The rest of the family couldn't understand all those tears for someone as worthless and responsible as Harold. They said, “Harold is only getting what he deserves, why is she carrying on so?” Of course, they asked the question as brothers and sisters not as a mother. Mothers know about loving a daughter or a son no matter what the condition, no matter how bad the situation. And fathers can also love in this way for such love is beyond the boundaries of male or female.

And God loves us in the same way. God loves us with that same unyielding, unending love. God loves us with a mother's love for her child. Remember the story of Adam and Eve. They were given a direct command not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They ate the fruit. Cast from the garden; the woman would experience great pain in bearing children; the man would have to battle thorns and thistles to harvest food from the field. But then, after all the curses and anger, we read: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” This angry God, this God whose word had been disobeyed, worried about the comfort and need of his rebellious children. And so he provided them with clothing to ward off the cold and the weather.

In this same way our God loves us. As a mother loves her child, God loves us! God's love never quits. God's love endures in the face of rebellion; just as a mother's love endures. Our hearts go out to all who, because of this pandemic, are unable to visit their mothers today. Please know that God shares your pain. We pray that you will soon be reunited.

Until then, may we thank and praise God, our loving parent, this day and all days. May we also give thanks for those persons, be they male or female, who in this life have given us motherly love. Amen.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

Build us up, mothering God, as living stones united in your spiritual house. Continually strengthen your church as it is sent forth to proclaim your love. We pray especially for new congregations and those in redevelopment. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Humble us, creator God, as part of your creation. Fill us with respect and awe for the world you have made, including volcanoes, ocean currents, tropical rainstorms, glaciers, and other forces that both destroy and create. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Align our ways to your love, O God. We pray for countries, leaders, and other organizations as they prepare places for those seeking refuge and safety. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of healing and rest, help those whose hearts are heavy and weighed down by many troubles. Comfort their suffering, ease their distress, and carry their burdens (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Nurturing God, we pray for those who tend and teach young children, for the safe pregnancies of expectant parents, and for families who struggle with infertility and miscarriage. We give thanks for all who have shown mothering care, and we remember all for whom this day is difficult. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Generous God, you call into your brilliant light all who have died. Give us faith to take hold of the promise of your eternal life. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Hymn: “Now the Green Blade Rises”

1 Now the green blade rises
from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many
days has lain;
love lives again,
that with the dead has been;
love is come again like
wheat arising green.

2 In the grave they laid him,
love by hatred slain,
thinking that he would
never wake again;
laid in the earth like grain
that sleeps unseen;
love is come again like
wheat arising green.

3 Forth he came at Easter,
like the risen grain,
he that for three days in
the grave had lain;
raised from the dead,
my living Lord is seen;
love is come again like
wheat arising green.

4 When our hearts are wintry,
grieving, or in pain,
your touch can call us
back to life again,
fields of our hearts that
dead and bare have been;
love is come again like
wheat arising green.

Fourth Sunday of Easter May 3rd

Collect

Life abundant,
God of grace,
you call us by name
to live without fear:
in peace may we resist
all who kill and despoil your people,
that their hearts might be turned
to the only source of life;
through Jesus Christ, the gateway.
Amen
~ Father Steven Shakespeare

Hymn: “The Lord’s My Shepherd”

1 The Lord’s my shepherd;
I’ll not want.
he makes me down to lie
in pastures green; he leadeth me
the quiet waters by.
He leadeth me, he leadeth me
the quiet waters by.

2 My soul he doth restore again,
and me to walk doth make
within the paths of righteousness,
e’en for his own name’s sake;
within the paths of righteousness,
e’en for his own name’s sake.

3 Yea, though I walk in death’s
dark vale,
yet will I fear no ill;
for thou art with me, and thy rod
and staff me comfort still;
for thou art with me, and thy rod
and staff me comfort still.

4 My table thou hast furnishèd
in presence of my foes;
my head thou dost with oil anoint,
and my cup overflows.
My head thou dost with oil anoint,
and my cup overflows.

5 Goodness and mercy all my life
shall surely follow me,
and in God’s house forevermore
my dwelling-place shall be.
And in God’s house forevermore
my dwelling-place shall be.

Prayer of the Day

O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen

Psalm: Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Gospel: John 10:1-10

Jesus said: “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.”

Reflection

I don’t know about you, but I have a morning routine. First thing in the morning, I get the coffee going next I feed Addie and take her out. Once back in the house, I grab a cup of coffee, settle into “my” chair and turn on the morning news. Of course for the past number of weeks, the news has been dominated by COVID-19: statistics about how many have the disease and how many have died as well as stories about the valiant health-care workers. These are followed by stories of businesses that have been shuttered and restaurants finding creative ways to provide curb side service. Needless to say, our lives have been turned upside down by this invisible virus. Yet, almost lost in the news cycle of this past week was a tragedy that, in any other time, would have sadly been the top story of the day—a mass shooting on Milwaukee’s North side.

An angry, serial offender shot and killed five members of his extended family—four of them were teenagers. We have become painfully immune to such acts of violence as they are almost commonplace daily occurrences. On this fourth Sunday of Easter, we still bask in the glow of the resurrection. How are we to respond to such things? What can be said about such tragedies that hasn't already been said?

We can have a conversation about guns and social justice and prison reform and a lot more. But at its’ core the basic problem is love or more correctly a lack of love. It's about not feeling connected to the community. When people have lost that vital connection with each other, they lose hope. And when hope is lost . . . anything can happen.

To use the imagery of today's lesson: Jesus was the Good Shepherd—that is—he is one who greatly valued the gift of the sheepfold . . . the community. And in direct, yet simple, words and ways he modeled for us what community should look like . . . how it should feel. We are to value one another. We are to encourage and lift-up those persons for whom we care. We are to love unconditionally. And the struggle of being human is that so much of this is so difficult for us but it’s not impossible.

Let me share a true story: A number of years ago, a man by the name of Tommy Waites found himself, once again, in jail in Montgomery, Alabama. This was not a new experience for Tommy. He had a long history of ending up on the wrong side of the law: armed robbery . . . aggravated assault . . . auto theft . . . drugs. You name it and Tommy had probably done it. From early on Tommy's life was trouble. His youth was spent in and out of foster homes and juvenile detention facilities. As he got older, Tommy, spent more time in jail than out of jail.

Reflection (continued)

And so it was . . . that, a number of years ago, Tommy, once again, found himself in jail. Over the years he had learned not to expect much, if anything, from life. It is simply how things would always be.

And then one day while Tommy was sitting in the common area in the Montgomery jail, a couple of men stopped by to visit with the prisoners. The men were from a local church. Tommy had their number. Just a couple more do-gooders working on their heavenly merit badges. Tommy didn't have time for such nonsense. But these guys were different. One of the men stopped by the table where Tommy was sitting and started up a conversation with Tommy: you know, a regular conversation. It wasn't all of that Jesus and God talk . . . but regular guy stuff . . . sports and kung foo movies.

That was their first visit. The men began to visit Tommy on a regular basis; they got to know him and he got to know them. Again, they had regular conversations. Oh, they told Tommy they were active in their church, but there wasn't any of that strong arm, pushy religious talk. Eventually, Tommy was up for parole. The judge wasn't inclined to grant it because Tommy's track record was terrible and he didn't have any where to go . . . except back to the old neighborhood and the old trouble.

It was at this point that the two men intervened. They told the judge that Tommy could work as a custodian at their church and that they would be responsible. Defying all reason, the judge agreed.

The next thing he knew, Tommy was pushing a broom at Frazier Memorial Methodist Church on the northwest side of Montgomery . . . a congregation of over 7,500 members with a staff of 40!

The members of Frazier welcomed Tommy as one of their own. They got him a small apartment near the church. A few retired teachers spent many evenings tutoring him so that he could get his high school diploma. Eventually, he even started taking a few classes at a local technical college.

Most importantly, Tommy Waites, a man who had spent a life time pushing God away . . . let God into his life. He was transformed. It is what we call amazing grace.

In 1997, I attended a conference at Frazier Memorial Methodist Church. It was my great privilege to hear Tommy share his story with a group of 300 pastors. When he finished his story, there was not a dry eye in the house. For Tommy’s story is a real story about a real person and a real God.

Tommy Waites eventually became a member of the ministry team at Frazier Memorial Methodist Church. He headed up of their jail ministry.

Tommy was saved from his life of crime and violence, because two men cared. They didn't just talk about God's love . . . they lived it . . . they modeled it . . . they shared it.

We may never know what drove a man to murder five people in Milwaukee. I can only assume that he has never experienced unconditional love. People who know and feel loved do not commit such acts of violence.

And the message for us is perhaps painfully apparent. Amidst the hubbub of our lives as we toil to secure a better life for our children and our families . . . as we scurry about to one more meeting or soccer game . . . as we forgo yet one more family meal together . . . are we really making a better life for ourselves?

Do you have a relationship with the Good Shepherd? Do you feel his unconditional love? If you do . . . praise God! If you don't . . . there is still time . . . but not all the time in the world.

Again, may we use the gift of these quiet days to truly examine our lives and our souls. May we know that God loves us . . . unconditionally. And then may we, in turn, share that same love with all whom we meet. In the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the God of love, we hope and pray. Amen.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

Creating God, we praise you for those who maintain and operate farm equipment, for those who plant and harvest crops, for local farmers’ markets, and for those involved in agriculture of any kind. Strengthen their hands as they feed the world. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Guiding God, no one should be in want. Bid the nations to return to your paths of righteousness and inspire our leaders to walk in your ways, so that all may have the opportunity to live abundantly and sustainably. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Comforting God, you carry us tenderly. We pray for those who walk through dark valleys overshadowed by anxiety and overwhelmed with suffering (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Nurturing God, you desire justice for the hungry. Bless advocacy work, food pantries, and feeding ministries in our congregations. May none of our neighbors lack for basic needs. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Everlasting God, your beloved have heard your voice; you have called them by name and guided them to your side in death. We thank you for their lives of faithful witness. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Hymn: “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us”

1 Savior, like a shepherd lead us;
much we need your tender care.
In your pleasant pastures feed us,
for our use your fold prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
you have bought us; we are yours.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
you have bought us; we are yours.

2 We are yours; in love befriend us,
be the guardian of our way;
keep your flock, from sin defend us,
seek us when we go astray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
hear us children when we pray.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
hear us children when we pray.

3 You have promised to receive us,
poor and sinful though we be;
you have mercy to relieve us,
grace to cleanse, and pow'r to free.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
early let us turn to you.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
early let us turn to you.

4 Early let us seek your favor,
early let us do your will;
blessed Lord and only Savior,
with your love our spirits fill.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
you have loved us, love us still.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
you have loved us, love us still.

Third Sunday of Easter, April 26th 2020

Call to Worship

Lord of the gathering feast, you walk with us on the shadowed road: burn our hearts with scripture’s open flame; unveil our darkened eyes as bread is torn and shared and from the broken fragments bless a people for yourself; through Jesus Christ, the host of the world. Amen ~ Father Steven Shakespeare

Hymn: “Day of Arising”

1 Day of arising,
Christ on the roadway,
unknown companion walk with his own.
When they invite him
as fades the first day,
and bread is broken,
Christ is made known.

2 When we are walking,
doubtful and dreading,
blinded by sadness, slowness of heart,
yet Christ walks with us,
ever awaiting
our invitation: Stay, do not part.

3 Lo, I am with you,
Jesus has spoken.
This is Christ's promise,
this is Christ's sign:
when the church gathers,
when bread is broken,
there Christ is with us in bread and wine.

4 Christ, our companion,
hope for the journey,
bread of compassion, open our eyes.
Grant us your vision,
set all hearts burning
that all creation with you may rise.

Prayer of the Day

O God, your Son makes himself known to all his disciples in the breaking of bread. Open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in his redeeming work, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

The Lesson: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the people: 36"Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" 38Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him." 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day when Jesus had appeared to the women, two disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

17 And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad.

18 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?"

19 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,

20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

21 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.

22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

23 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.

24 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."

25 Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"

27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

29 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.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

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

32 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?"

33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

34 They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!"

35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Reflection

I wonder . . . if Jesus were still around today . . . do you think he would do television commercials? Please understand, I don't take mean any disrespect . . . but I guess years ago when Sir Lawrence Olivier began selling Polaroid cameras, I figured that almost anyone was fair game for doing commercials. If we would use this morning's Gospel lesson as a basis for such a commercial, we could perhaps see Jesus doing one of those hidden camera interviews where people don't figure out who he is until the end. Or, again, one of those older American Express credit card commercials that began with the person saying, “Do you know who I am?” There are certain people whom we recognize specifically by what they do or their position in the community. If we see them in a different setting, we may not know them at all. On a number of occasions I have bumped into people at the market or hardware store who weren't sure if I was the pastor because I didn't have on my robes and black shirt. And more than once, a parishioner has blurted out, “Pastor, I didn’t recognize you without your clothes on.” Only to think again about how that sounded.

In defense of Jesus' followers, they thought he was dead and buried. They had heard the story of the women who had visited the empty tomb . . . but it was pretty far-fetched. So they listened to this stranger who they encountered on the road. There was something different about him but they just couldn't put their finger on it. And then they sat down to share a meal—and he broke the bread and blessed it—and they recognized him. It was Jesus!

Reflection (continued)

This lesson poses an interesting question for us: How do we recognize Jesus—if we recognize him at all. Do we see him in church and no where else? Are we able to find him at work or in our homes? Is he recognizable when were at play?

The followers of Jesus did not recognize their friend because they were not looking for him. It was only in the breaking of the bread that all became clear. If we would list one great common denominator for the church, it would be that meal, that communion, that coming together, the eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving. This morning I would like to share just a few thoughts concerning this important sacrament of our church while acknowledging that, during these days apart, the church is fasting from communion. Nonetheless, we look forward to the day when we will once again gather around the altar and share the Holy meal.

At the outset it must be noted that all Christian churches do not celebrate communion in exactly the same way. For many centuries Christians have been discussing the doctrine of the “real presence”. The question: “In what way is Christ present in the sacrament?” has engaged the attention of the church in age after age. When some denominations talk about “real presence” they are saying that the bread and wine are, indeed, changed into flesh and blood while still appearing and tasting as wine and bread. We, in the Lutheran church, also talk about a real presence but in a broader sense. God is really present at the communion table both in the bread and wine themselves as well as in the breaking and pouring.

Luther in his Small Catechism, said that it is not just the eating and drinking that are important but also the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”. Jesus was known to his friends in the breaking of the bread. He is known to all of his disciples in the action—the breaking and pouring. This means that it is not simply what we place on the altar that is important but rather what we do with ourselves and with all of God's gifts.

It means that God continues to enter into human life—lives on and is made known—in the word spoken, in the meal laid before a stranger, in the sacrifice made. God’s coming into our lives truly takes place in the act and the deed.

Our God is a broken God. It is the broken loaf and the poured out cup that represent the outgoing, active love that God really is. You and I will come to know God most fully in our moments of brokenness . . . the moments when we open up ourselves and our lives to one another, when we share what we are and have . . . when we have learned to love, to listen, and to give.

Our God is known to us and to others in our breaking of this bread. God is also known when we, too, find ourselves and our lives broken: when things go wrong, when we are defeated, when life threatens to overwhelm us, when we have sinned and know it, when we are forced to admit that we have failed. Then, too, God’s holy presence is with us, and we can know the healing that God alone can give.

Whenever women and men have learned to break open their lives to the divine presence, be it in their strength or in their brokenness, and to pour out themselves on behalf of others, God is there. God doesn't save us from brokenness or make us immune either to suffering or sinfulness, but God is with us in our brokenness, that we and our lives may be healed.

God never promises to save any one of us from a disaster, but God does continue to be with us as we and others seek to carry on our lives and work.

It is a banquet. The service of communion is both a banquet of bread and wine of food and drink and a summons to a life of breaking and pouring or of being broken and poured out in the spirit of him whose life and death we commemorate. We are to live “in remembrance”, certainly, but we should also live in recapitulation. “Go and do likewise,” says Jesus as he pours the cup and breaks the bread.

William Stringfellow, noted theologian, began his career by working as a lawyer in East Harlem under the auspices the East Harlem Protestant Parish. He wrote years later about an unusual encounter he once had on an East Harlem street: “I remember one afternoon going to the northern part of East Harlem to visit an old woman who was having difficulties with the welfare authorities. The matter took several hours to settle, and by the time I was returning to East 100th Street, it had turned rather cold. I had gone out in the afternoon, when it was warmer, dressed only in a shirt, chinos, and sneakers, but now that the weather had changed, I was shivering from the cold. About two blocks from my tenement, a boy I knew called out that he wanted to ask me something. As we talked he saw that I was freezing to death and so he took off his jacket and gave it to me to wear. The boy was an addict and I happened to know that the clothes on his back were virtually the only ones he had. He had pawned everything else. Sometimes, when his clothes were being laundered, he would have to stay in the house because he had nothing to wear, unless he could borrow something from someone. But he saw that I was cold and gave me his jacket. This is what is known as a sacrament. It was a pouring out; a giving of oneself.”

“He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.” The key to God’s presence will not be found in selfishness, defensiveness, or bitterness, but rather in givingness.

God will be found in the midst of God’s people only when we have learned to take these words with utmost seriousness: “This do in remembrance of me!”

We eagerly await the day when we will, again, share this meal together. For now, be patient and lean on God.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

For those whose hearts are fervent with love for your gospel, that they are empowered to tell the story of your love in their lives and to show hospitality in response to this love. Loving God, hear our prayer.

For the diverse natural world: for jungles, prairies, forests, valleys, mountains, and for all the wild and endangered animals who call these spaces home, that they are nurtured and protected. Loving God, hear our prayer.

For broken systems we have inherited and that we continue to perpetuate, forgive us. Restrain the nations from fighting over limited resources. Redeem us from the cycles of scarcity and violence. Loving God, hear our prayer.

For all who call upon your healing name, give rest. Stay with us, and walk with all those who are hungry, friendless, despairing, and desiring healing in body and spirit (especially). Loving God, hear our prayer.

Create in our hearts a yearning to rest in your promise of eternal and resurrected life. Give us thankful hearts for those who have died, even as we look forward to the hope of new life with you. Loving God, hear our prayer.

With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Hymn: “You Satisfy the Hungry Heart”

Refrain
You satisfy the hungry heart
with gift of finest wheat.
Come give to us, O saving Lord,
the bread of life to eat.

1 As when the shepherd calls his sheep,
they know and heed his voice;
so when you call your fam'ly, Lord
we follow and rejoice. Refrain

2 With joyful lips we sing to you
our praise and gratitude
that you should count us worthy, Lord,
to share this heav'nly food. Refrain

3 Is not the cup we bless and share
the blood of Christ outpoured?
Do not one cup, one loaf, declare
our oneness in the Lord? Refrain

4 The myst'ry of your presence, Lord,
no mortal tongue can tell:
whom all the world cannot contain
comes in our hearts to dwell. Refrain

5 You give yourself to us, O Lord;
then selfless let us be,
to serve each other in your name
in truth and charity. Refrain

Second Sunday of Easter April 19th

Good morning! Last Sunday was Easter. On the church calendar it is now the Easter season. We will celebrate Easter for seven weeks . . . a week of Sundays! I pray that you are safe and well. You are loved! Blessings on the new day . . .

Call to Worship

Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end, you break through the locks of gated communities and hardened hearts: accept our doubts, heal our desire for certainty and, by your Spirit’s gentle touch, make us a people forgiven and forgiving; through Jesus Christ, the Giver of Peace. Amen. ~ Father Steven Shakespeare

Hymn: “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing!”

1 Good Christian friends, rejoice and sing! Now is the triumph of our king! To all the world glad news we bring: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

2 The Lord of life is ris'n this day; death's mighty stone is rolled away; let all the world rejoice and say: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

3 Praise we in songs of victory that love, that life, which cannot die, and sing with hearts uplifted high: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

4 Your name we bless, O risen Lord, and sing today with one accord, the life laid down, the life restored: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and eternal God, the strength of those who believe and the hope of those who doubt, may we, who have not seen, have faith in you and receive the fullness of Christ’s blessing, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm: Psalm 16

1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.”

2 All my delight is in the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people.

3 But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied.

4 I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods, never take their names upon my lips.

5 O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot.

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a rich inheritance.

7 I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me night after night.

8 I have set the Lord always before me; because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the pit.

11 You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

19 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.”

20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 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.”

26 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.”

27 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.”

28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 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.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.

31 But 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.

Reflection

In his 1968 memoir, A Mass for the Dead, William Gibson writes of that time when he picked up his late mother's gold-rimmed spectacles and her faded, dog-eared prayer book. He sat in what was once her favorite chair. He opened the book and tried to hear in those words what she must have heard. He placed her spectacles on his own nose and tried to see what she must have seen in that book. He reached, in desperation, for the slender thread of her faith, once so alive, so real, so meaningful. And Gibson writes that he did not see what she had seen; he could not hear what she had heard. The man tried to stoke the fires of his dead mother’s faith but it never works that way. Every person must discover a faith of their own.

Faith is something that we must discover for ourselves. No husband can come trailing in on the coattails of his wife's religion. No student is more spiritual because her father is a preacher. No one will have a strong and vibrant faith because their grandfather was a member of the church council. Please don’t misunderstand . . . this does not mean that we do not share in helping one another. In our baptismal liturgy parents and sponsors are entreated to “faithfully bring their children to the services of God's house, teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments . . .”

Reflection (continued)

But each person must travel their own road and must discover their own personal faith. There are a great many things in this world that we must do for ourselves and faith is one of them.

This is why, I guess, I've always been drawn to Thomas. Of course, he is often referred to as “doubting” Thomas . . . a very unfair assessment.

Thomas was simply inquisitive. Belief was never easy for this man. He was forever asking questions, challenging decisions, and wondering why.

One cannot look at Thomas’ story without being impressed with his stark honesty. He called things as he saw them. In the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus talks about a house with many rooms, “ . . . where I am going you may come too.” It is Thomas who asks, “Lord, where you are going; how can we know the way?” Or . . . if we were to put it another way, it might sound like this, “Man, what are you talking about!?! I think I would like some more clarification.”

And, of course, in the lesson for this second Sunday of Easter, we can almost hear Thomas, “You know guys, this is quite a story you're telling me. I mean come on! I need some proof . . . like seeing the nail marks before I'm going to believe. Just say’in.” Honestly, would any of us have responded differently?

Thomas was honest with himself and with his feelings. And, what we learn from Jesus is that God readily accepts us with all the questions we have. Which is a very cool thing. I wonder if this is not a word for the Church today—to be more honest with one another and with God.

Thomas was open and flexible. When Jesus called Thomas to follow him . . . he was open to the possibility. And . . . even though he was not present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples, “eight days later” he was with them. As incredible as their story was, Thomas kept an open mind. Maybe he thought to himself, “Okay, it is a weird, strange story, but I know this guys. They don’t make up stuff. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is something to all of this. I better not be hasty.” Think of how much courage it must have taken for him to return to that upper room.

And think of how many people you know who have given up on the church. People who haven't remained open and flexible. We must learn the lesson that Thomas learned. We must be willing to accept the light that comes.

In John's gospel we read that Jesus comes to the brash and impatient. He gives himself to the doubters. He seemed most at home with those whom much of the world calls sinners.

Thomas received the Christ that came to him. He saw the wounds and beheld the scars and whispered the great confession, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas received the light that came his way and, in the process, discovered a faith of his own. He was an honest inquirer. He was open and flexible. He was accepting. He received the light.

I have often commented on this Sunday following Easter that this day when things get back to normal . . . at least as far as our church calendar and worship schedule is concerned. Of course these recent days have been anything but normal. And for some days to come, we are not sure what “normal” is going to look like.

So may we make the best use of this time. May we use this time to examine our faith. And may it be our faith. We cannot find our own convictions by looking through someone else's glasses. And if we're not sure how to go about this process of faith-discovery, why not let Thomas be our guide—our model.

If we are honest and struggle with our questions, if we are open and flexible, the light shall come and we shall see. May it be so!


Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Uplifted by the promised hope of healing and resurrection, we join the people of God in all times and places in praying for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

Open the doors we close, O God, when we fear those who worship you in different ways. Guide us to unity and harmony so that we may come to respect and cherish our commonalities. Loving God, hear our prayer.

Open the paths we ignore, O God, when we prioritize financial gain and convenience over listening to the groaning of the earth. Inspire all to care for the world you have made so that living things might thrive. Loving God, hear our prayer.

Open the rooms we lock, O God, to those who live without a homeland or place of safety. We pray that generous nations offer refuge and peace for all. Loving God, hear our prayer.

Open the hearts we close, O God, to the cries of those in pain. We pray for those isolated physically or emotionally, those separated from loved ones and all in need especially Harriet, Skylar, Kate, Ron Blair, Diane Choinski, Ginny Derong, Sandy Habrat, Kathy Jones, Jim Laack, Evelyn Manthei, Lois Paulsen, Shirley Flores Perez, Duane Rehrer, Zaida Reyes Perez, Laurelle Rendon, Kathy Slavens, Dennis Studer and Emma Waite. We pray also for the men and women serving in our military. We pray for these and all whom we name before you in our hearts . . . (silence for reflection) . . . . Loving God, hear our prayer.

Open the ways of healing, O God, bless the efforts of doctors and nurses, healthcare professionals, first responders and relief workers, especially those who find themselves in harm’s way. Loving God, hear our prayer.

Open the way to eternal life, O God, as we remember those who have died in faith. Free us from the fear of death, that we embrace the peace you have promised. Loving God, hear our prayer.

With bold confidence in your love, almighty God, we place all for whom we pray into your eternal care; through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Hymn: “We Walk by Faith”

1 We walk by faith and not by sight; with gracious words draw near, O Christ, who spoke as none e'er spoke: "My peace be with you here."

2 We may not touch your hands and side, nor follow where you trod; but in your promise we rejoice, and cry, "My Lord and God!"

3 Help then, O Lord, our unbelief; and may our faith abound to call on you when you are near and seek where you are found:

4 For you, O resurrected Lord, are found in means divine: beneath the water and the word, beneath the bread and wine.

5 And when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light we may behold you as you are, with full and endless sight.

Easter Sunday, April 12

Greeting

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Hymn: “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today”

Jesus Christ is ris'n today, Alleluia!
our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
unto Christ, our heav'nly king, Alleluia!
who endured the cross and grave,
Alleluia!
sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains which he endured,
Alleluia!
our salvation have procured; Alleluia!
now above the sky he's king, Alleluia!
where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!
praise eternal as his love; Alleluia!
praise him, all you heav'nly host,
Alleluia!
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia!

Prayer of the Day

Let us pray together . . . God of mercy, we no longer look for Jesus among the dead, for he is alive and has become the Lord of life.

Increase in our minds and hearts the risen life we share with Christ, and help us to grow as your people toward the fullness of eternal life with you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen

Psalm: 118:1-2, 14-24

Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good;
God’s mercy endures forever.
Let Israel now declare,
“God’s mercy endures forever.”
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and has become my salvation.
Shouts of rejoicing and salvation echo in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly!
The right hand of the Lord is exalted!
The right hand of the Lord acts valiantly!”
I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord.
The Lord indeed punished me sorely,
but did not hand me over to death.
Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter them and give thanks to the Lord.
“This is the gate of the Lord;
here the righteous may enter.”
I give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and you have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
By the Lord has this been done;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10

1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Reflection

A blessed Easter morning! Yes, I know, it feels weird and strange and surreal. Agreed. All of that and more. But you know what? It’s Easter! And Easter is so much bigger than what we’ve been going through these past weeks.

We may not be physically together this Easter but in no way does that lessen the importance of this day for something absolutely magnificent happened on that first Easter morning! Something incredible, unbelievable, unimaginable, incomprehensible! But thank God, God is not bound by our sense of the credible, the believable, the imaginable, the comprehensible. No! God's doings always exceed the boundaries of our imagination. God's actions always go beyond the limits of our understandings. God was God. God is God. God will be God!

And yet, in spite of the sheer unutterable beauty and glory of this blessed resurrection morn and the unspeakable wonder of Christ's living presence, as theologian Hans Küng reminds us, "Nothing compels us to believe." It is just that "there is much that invites us . . . Jesus' words, Jesus' behavior, Jesus' fate, Jesus' life. . ." all do invite us and urge us and welcome us—but do not force us or compel us to believe.

Reflection (continued)

But we have to stake our commitments, our beliefs, our very lives on something or someone. As one author put it, "Either life has no meaning . . .or . . . it is sacred." I like that.

On Easter morning, we glory in the presence of holy mystery. The week called "holy" has given way to a new week and a new time. But what a week we have just endured.

It began with pageantry and celebration. Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king. The good times, however, are often fleeting.

By Thursday, Jesus was betrayed and handed over to those who would end his life. Friday was awful and dreadful and terrible. How else could one describe death by crucifixion?

Saturday was the worst . . . so very lonely. They ached to see him face to face. They longed to talk with their Lord and friend. To hear him, to see him, to touch him. It was so lonely.

And then Sunday, the first day of the week. Can the incredible news be true? Is the tomb really empty? Is he alive? Will he come again? Is life after death possible?

Friday to Saturday to Sunday is a paradigm for life. This is life in microcosm—as Jesus knew it—as you and I know it. The real problem is that far too many of us spend too great a portion of our lives in Saturday . . . in the emptiness and loneliness of Low Saturday, caught between Good Friday and Easter, between agony and life.

And it's those in-between times that really get to us. Those times when we feel trapped between Friday and Sunday, between crucifixion and resurrection, between question and answer, between darkness and light, between death and life . . . it's those in-between times that often get to us and often get us.

Since last Easter, I'll bet you've had a Dark Friday and a Low Saturday. You may have lost by death or brokenness someone very, very special to you. You may have suffered agony on the cross of some struggle or rejection or betrayal. You may have had some dark night of the soul. You've felt bitter, forsaken, beaten, broken, a failure. There may have been those moments when the blows of life really battered you down. And, Lord knows, we may all be feeling a bit like this as we’ve lived out these past weeks.

But all is not lost . . . there is Good News . . incredible news . . . wonderful news! We don't have to stay down in that Low Saturday state of mind.

Do you remember what Jesus did when Judas came and pointed him out with a kiss? Jesus didn't stay down and beaten and betrayed. He said, "Look, my betrayer is at hand. Rise. Let us be going."

Get up. Let's be on our way. We don't have to stay trapped in the in-between times. Easter morning is God's way of saying something that desperately needs to be said about the world in which we live.

Life is sacred. And Christ is with us in the real world of our lives. He is not separated from life. Life has meaning . . . it is sacred. It is precisely because life is sacred that, for the time being, we remain apart in hopes that we may soon be together again.

On this incredible morning, we stand before the mystery that is the resurrection and become aware all over again of how very, very much God loves us.

The poet/priest says it for us:
There is someone among us called love.
Someone called the Christ,
come to greet us, to meet us, to love us.


Easter blessings be yours. Amen.
Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Gathered at the empty tomb, let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of God's creation.

God of every Easter, invigorate the church with the good news of death to sin and resurrection to new life with Christ. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of Easter everywhere, charge and challenge leaders of all nations to be servants and peacemakers. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of Easter healing, we pray for those who have asked for our prayers: We pray for these and all whom we name before you in our hearts . . . (silence for reflection) . . . Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of Easter people, hear the prayers of this congregation on this and every day. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Good and gracious God, we ask all these things and whatever else you see that we need with a sure and certain hope in your goodness and mercy, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Hymn: “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds”

1 Now all the vault of heav'n resounds
in praise of love that still abounds:
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Sing, choirs of angels, loud and clear!
Repeat their song of glory here:
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

2 Eternal is the gift he brings,
therefore our heart with rapture sings:
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Now still he comes to give us life
and by his presence stills all strife.
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

3 Oh, fill us, Lord, with dauntless love;
set heart and will on things above
that we conquer through your triumph;
grant grace sufficient for life's day
that by our lives we truly say:
"Christ has triumphed! He is living!"
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

4 Adoring praises now we bring
and with the heav'nly blessed sing:
"Christ has triumphed! Alleluia!"
Be to the Father, and our Lord,
to Spirit blest, most holy God,
all the glory, never ending!
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Holy Saturday, April 11

Collect for the Day

Lord, you dwell within the limits and press beyond them all for borders are nor borders with you and death is a gateway to life: take us to the thin places where hearts are thrown open wide, feet sink into earth and the sky sings a new song: through Jesus Christ, the passion of God. Amen

Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Reflection

Today is Holy Saturday . . . the in-between time. The time in-between crucifixion and resurrection. The time in-between death and life.

In confirmation class, we teach the students that Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human. The Apostles’ Creed reminds us that after he was crucified, Jesus “descended into hell” . . . that is, the hell of death . . . the hell of purgatory—the anguish of humanity.

On this sacred day, the church holds a vigil. Usually beginning at sundown, the vigil can last for hours. The liturgy begins outside where the worshipers gather around an open fire. Each person lights a candle from the fire and processes into the church perhaps singing a hymn.

Once inside the church, the liturgy continues with twelve appointed readings from the Old Testament . . . each one followed by a sung response and a period of silence. A number of the lessons deal with deliverance and water (creation, Noah and the flood, parting of the Red Sea) as traditionally this was the night when new converts were baptized. Next are readings from the New Testament and a homily (sermon).

Reflection (continued)

Following the homily, if there are no baptisms, all gathered affirm their own baptisms. This may include asperges (a fresh cedar bough is dipped into the baptismal font and water is sprinkled on the worshipers) as an act of recalling the waters of baptism. The service concludes with communion.

The traditions and practices for the Easter Vigil vary greatly and might include a more elaborate meal following communion as well as additional readings nd long periods of silence. In some churches, vigil is kept until sunrise at which time the congregation welcomes the new day with an Easter sunrise service celebrating resurrection.

On Holy Saturday, in the midst of our deepest darkness, we gather with our sister Mary Magdalene to keep vigil. Like her, we come with hearts that are broken and minds that still do not understand. Like her, we are afraid: what can the death of the one she called "Rabbi" and whom we call "Lord" mean for us? And like her, we are also met with surprise and wonder: the veil of darkness is lifted by the light of a solitary candle, and a voice rings out with a message of good news: "This is the night in which heaven and earth are joined—things human and things divine."

If you listen carefully to the Easter proclamation, it isn't some night "long, long ago" in which God's saving power is made known; it is this night! This is the night in which we, like Mary, hear the risen Christ call our names, adopting us once again into that procession of saints who stand by the river of life. This is the night in which not just characters from the past but we ourselves pass over from death into life with Jesus Christ. This is the night where we retell God's stories of deliverance, sing the ancient songs of praise, renew our baptismal vows, and share in the feast of victory for our God. On this night, salvation is happening before our very eyes!


Peace and love,
Frank

Good Friday, April 10th

Peace to you on this solemn day . . . this Good Friday.
Please take time today for prayer and reflection.

John 19:17-27

And he carried his cross to a place known as “The Skull.” In Aramaic this place is called “Golgotha.” There Jesus was nailed to the cross, and on each side of him a man was also nailed to a cross.

Pilate ordered the charge against Jesus to be written on a board and put above the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The words were written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.

The place where Jesus was taken wasn’t far from the city, and many of the Jewish people read the charge against him. So the chief priests went to Pilate and said, “Why did you write that he is King of the Jews? You should have written, ‘He claimed to be King of the Jews.’”

But Pilate told them, “What is written will not be changed!”

After the soldiers had nailed Jesus to the cross, they divided up his clothes into four parts, one for each of them. But his outer garment was made from a single piece of cloth, and it did not have any seams. The soldiers said to each other, “Let’s not rip it apart. We will gamble to see who gets it.” This happened so that the Scriptures would come true, which say,


“They divided up my clothes
and gambled
for my garments.”


The soldiers then did what they had decided.

Jesus' mother stood beside his cross with her sister and Mary the wife of Clopas. Mary Magdalene was standing there too. When Jesus saw his mother and his favorite disciple with her, he said to his mother, “This man is now your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “She is now your mother.” From then on, that disciple took her into his own home.

Reflection

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble,
tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”


The words of this familiar old spiritual searches our hearts. Do we know what happened? In the end . . . who was there? Who was there at the foot of the cross?

John's gospel records only four names: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary, the wife of Clopas; a third Mary, Mary Magdalene; and the last, John, the beloved disciple.

Only four were present with Jesus as he suffered and died . . . only four.

There was Mary, the mother of Jesus. An older woman now, she had followed her son's ministry from the very beginning. As she stood there at the foot of the cross, perhaps she recalled those memories that are precious only to a mother. She most certainly remembered the visit by the angel and the miraculous birth. In one sense, he was not really her son . . . he belonged to all mothers and fathers . . . to all people.

Reflection (continued)

From the cross, Jesus was keenly aware of her own suffering as he charged John to take care of her as he would his own mother. As she looked at the body being crucified . . . the body she had carried, given birth to, nurtured and comforted, tended when sick or hurt . . . she knew that she could not give him life again. She could only be there with him in the midst of the pain.

Next was Mary, wife of Clopas. Common belief has it that she was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. So this is Jesus' aunt. She was there with her sister and her nephew . . . she was present for them in the midst of their suffering . . . as well as her own.

Then there was John, the beloved disciple. He was part of the "inner" circle . . . those disciples of whom Jesus seemed especially fond. John was one of the few who witnessed, first-hand the raising of Jairus' daughter and the Transfiguration. He had been asked to watch with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. And he stood watch at the foot of the cross . . . he risked everything to stay with his Lord and friend. John, alone, was the only one of the twelve who was willing to face his own cross as the cost of discipleship.

And finally, there was Mary of Magdala. She was not a relative; she was not a disciple. But she was one whose life would never again be the same . . for it had been transformed by the man hanging from the cross. There was little she could do to repay him for literally giving her life back to her. But, she' could wait. She could share with Jesus the strength of human friendship and human love. Maybe she couldn't do much . . . but she could be there; sorrowing with him, taking his part, sharing his pain.

And so, we have four . . . who for those few hours were all there was of the church, all there was of keeping faith. Of the many things that can be said about Good Friday, we often forget about the presence of those at the foot of the cross and the gift of being present.

Of course, on this Good Friday, we will not join together in solemn worship. A terrible virus has robbed us of that opportunity. In the last few weeks, thousands have died. Most heart-wrenching is the sad fact that, in their final minutes on earth, they are denied the comfort of family or close friends. It is simply too dangerous to expose others. But, they do not die alone. So many have been comforted by the dedicated and compassionate hospital angels . . . the care-givers . . . the nurses and the doctors. We need to continue to lift up in prayer these countless people who are, at this very moment, endangering their own lives to be there for others. In the final moments of life, it is such a presence that provides a witness beyond words.

On more occasions than I can count, it has been my privilege to sit at bedside holding the hand of one who is making the journey from this life into the next. It is a moment of grace; it is a time of faith and a time of peace.

Even in his dying, Jesus taught us. It is compassion that binds us to life. Compassion enables us to see in others our own brokenness and our own healing; and urges us to seek the fullness of life for others as well as ourselves. Ultimately we are saved only by others: by compassion, by love.


Be safe, my friends.

In peace and love,
Frank

Maundy Thursday, April 9th

Today we begin the Triduum . . . the three days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

These are special and sacred days for the church. Traditionally, these are days when we gather together for prayer and scripture and communion and contemplation. Of course this year, we pray alone. Nonetheless, we are still the church! Be safe and know that you are loved!

John 13:3-15

Jesus knew that he had come from God and would go back to God. He also knew that the Father had given him complete power. So during the meal Jesus got up, removed his outer garment, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He put some water into a large bowl. Then he began washing his disciples' feet and drying them with the towel he was wearing. But when he came to Simon Peter, that disciple asked, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You don’t really know what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “You will never wash my feet!” Peter replied. “If I don’t wash you,” Jesus told him, “you don’t really belong to me.” Peter said, “Lord, don’t wash just my feet. Wash my hands and my head.” Jesus answered, “People who have bathed and are clean all over need to wash just their feet. And you, my disciples, are clean, except for one of you.” Jesus knew who would betray him. That is why he said, “except for one of you.” After Jesus had washed his disciples' feet and had put his outer garment back on, he sat down again. Then he said: Do you understand what I have done? You call me your teacher and Lord, and you should, because that is who I am. And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you.

Reflection

You have heard it said, “Clothes make the woman or the man.” Or perhaps, “You are what you wear.” We may laugh off these old sayings but you and I are perhaps more influenced by clothing than we think. Flashy, expensive clothes impress us. So do uniforms as well as specialized occupational and professional clothes.

Why do we quickly reduce our driving speed when we see a uniformed police officer? Why do judges wear robes? Why are we more apt to believe or trust medicine ads on TV if the person holding the pills is wearing a white lab coat?

Clothing has an effect on us. We even use clothing to classify people according to their occupation. People do what they wear. In the broadest sense, the work force has been divided into blue collar and white collar workers. These divisions and distinctions have an impact on us. We often react to people because of what they wear or drive and how they live. We make judgements about them on that basis. As often as not we're wrong, but we do it anyway. And to be concerned about such things is not uniquely modern. The people of Jesus' day were just as much aware of such distinctions.

Reflection Continued

Jesus gave his disciples (and all of us) a gigantic signal when he took that basin of water and began to wash feet. It was the night that Jesus and his disciples ate their last meal together. And Jesus acted out what he had been teaching them for three years. He did it with clothing and water. Over the years, Jesus had said things about serving—in a dozen different ways—in a dozen different places.

Maybe it was a parable about seating arrangements at a banquet or maybe the story about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Again and again, Jesus taught them lessons of humility and service. So what did the disciples do after they ate that beautiful, meaningful, mystical Last Supper? They began once again to argue and bicker about who was going to be the greatest.

Unfortunately, by that time, there was no time left. On the last night of his life, it was too late for words. Without speaking a word, Jesus began to act out a lesson in humility. He began with clothing. He took off his cloak and his robe. It was the uniform in which he had spent three years teaching—the clothing of his preaching and healing. He stripped off that uniform of his lordship and laid it aside. He stood there before them naked, stripped to the waist, with no uniform at all.

While the disciples argued amongst themselves, Jesus changed into the uniform of the lowest household slave. He wrapped himself in a towel. And his clothing became their bath mat. He wore . . . he actually became that on which they would wipe their feet. He acted out his own lesson as he became least of all and slave of all.

As Jesus went from disciple to disciple, it was almost as if he were baptizing their feet. Some of the disciples merely submitted. Others didn't fully understand, but they let Jesus go ahead anyway. He washed their feet which he then wiped on his towel, that is, on himself.

And then he came to Peter. Peter wanted no part of it. He thought he should be washing Jesus' feet. It was then that Jesus spoke, “Peter, I want to wash you in my ministry; I want to wrap you in my towel of service. I want to share my serving and my servanthood with you.” Peter quickly caught on but wasn't satisfied with just foot washing. He wanted to be washed all over. Again, Jesus spoke, “No, just your feet and you will be clean all over.”

Peter was given a lesson in symbol and sacrament. If a little washing was good, then why not a lot? Symbol and sacrament don't work that way. Washing didn't come from the basin but rather from the heart of Christ to the heart of Peter. The water was just a symbol—a sacred sign. The same is true of those few drops of baptismal water that once washed you and me into this great enterprise.

And it's true of those tiny sips of wine and those tiny wafers of unleavened bread. They remind us again and again that, as Jesus served, we must serve.

As he was obedient unto death, we ought at least be obedient in life. May it be so. Amen.


Peace and love,
Frank

Palm Sunday, April 5

Procession with Palms

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna to the Son of David.

Let Us Pray

Mercifully assist us, O Lord
God of our salvation,
that we may enter with joy
upon the contemplation
of those mighty acts whereby
you have given us life everlasting;
through your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Processional Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11

1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples,

2 saying 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.

3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately."

4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 "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."

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them;

7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.

8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

9 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!"

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?"

11 The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

Blessing of Palms

We praise you, O God,
for redeeming the world
through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Today he entered the
holy city in triumph
and was proclaimed
messiah and king
by those who spread garments
and branches along his way.
Bless these branches
and those who carry them.
Grant us grace to follow
our Lord in the way of the cross,
so that, joined to his
death and resurrection,
we enter into life with you;
through the same Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Hymn: “All Glory, Laud and Honor”

Refrain, All glory, laud, and honor
to you, redeemer, king,
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.

You are the king of Israel
and David's royal Son,
now in the Lord's name coming,
our King and Blessed One. Refrain

The company of angels
are praising you on high;
creation and all mortals
in chorus make reply. Refrain

The multitude of pilgrims
with palms before you went;
our praise and prayer and anthems
before you we present. Refrain

To you, before your passion,
they sang their hymns of praise.
To you, now high exalted,
our melody we raise. Refrain

Their praises you accepted;
accept the prayers we bring,
great author of all goodness,
O good and gracious King. Refrain

Prayer of the Day

Everlasting God, in your endless love for the human race you sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take on our nature and to suffer death on the cross. In your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Psalm: 31:9-16

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble;

My eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly. For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed.

I am the scorn of all my enemies, a disgrace to my neighbors, a dismay to my acquaintances; when they see me in the street they avoid me. Like the dead I am forgotten, out of mind;

I am as useless as a broken pot. For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is all around;

They put their heads together against me; they plot to take my life. But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. I have said, “You are my God.

My times are in your hand;

Rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.”

Gospel: Matthew 26:14--27:66

The Betrayal by Judas.

14 Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests

15 and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver,

16 and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. Preparations for the Passover.

17 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?”

18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”’”

19 The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover. The Betrayer.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve.

21 And while they were eating, he said, “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”

22 Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?”

23 He said in reply, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.

24 The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

25 Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.” The Lord’s Supper.

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

27 Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you,

28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.

29 I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.”

30 Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Peter’s Denial Foretold.

31 Then Jesus said to them, “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’;

32 but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.”

33 Peter said to him in reply, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.”

34 Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

35 Peter said to him, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And all the disciples spoke likewise. The Agony in the Garden.

36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

37 He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.

38 Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.”

39 He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

40 When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?

41 Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”

43 Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open.

44 He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again.

45 Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners.

46 Get up, let us go. Look, my betrayer is at hand.” The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus.

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests and the elders of the people.

48 His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him.”

49 Immediately he went over to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and he kissed him.

50 Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.

51 And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear.

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

53 Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?

54 But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?”

55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me? Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me.

56 But all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. Jesus Before the Sanhedrin.

57 Those who had arrested Jesus led him away to Caiaphas[y] the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.

58 Peter was following him at a distance as far as the high priest’s courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome.

59 The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death,

60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward

61 who stated, “This man said, ‘I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.’”

62 The high priest rose and addressed him, “Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you?”

63 But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

64 Jesus said to him in reply, “You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven.’”

65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy;

66 what is your opinion?” They said in reply, “He deserves to die!”

67 Then they spat in his face and struck him, while some slapped him,

68 saying, “Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?” Peter’s Denial of Jesus.

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”

70 But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about!”

71 As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus the Nazorean.”

72 Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man!”

73 A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.”

74 At that he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately a cock crowed.

75 Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.” He went out and began to weep bitterly.

Chapter 27 Jesus Before Pilate.

1 When it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.

2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. The Death of Judas.

3 Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver[aj] to the chief priests and elders,

4 saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? Look to it yourself.”

5 Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.

6 The chief priests gathered up the money, but said, “It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury, for it is the price of blood.”

7 After consultation, they used it to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.

Gospel (continued): Matthew 26:14--27:66

8 That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood.

9 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites,

10 and they paid it out for the potter’s field just as the Lord had commanded me.” Jesus Questioned by Pilate.

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.”

12 And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer.

13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?”

14 But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed. The Sentence of Death.

15 Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished.

16 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called [Jesus] Barabbas.

17 So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, [Jesus] Barabbas, or Jesus called Messiah?”

18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed him over.

19 While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him.”

20 The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus.

21 The governor said to them in reply, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They answered, “Barabbas!”

22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus called Messiah?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!”

23 But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Let him be crucified!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.”

25 And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”

26 Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged,[au] he handed him over to be crucified. Mockery by the Soldiers.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium[av] and gathered the whole cohort around him.

28 They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak[aw] about him.

29 Weaving a crown out of thorns,[ax] they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

30 They spat upon him[ay] and took the reed and kept striking him on the head.

31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him. The Way of the Cross.[az]

32 As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross. The Crucifixion.

33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull),

34 they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink.

35 After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots;

36 then they sat down and kept watch over him there.

37 And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.

38 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left.

39 Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads

40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, [and] come down from the cross!”

41 Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said,

42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.

43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

44 The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way. The Death of Jesus.

45 From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.”

48 Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink.

49 But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.

51 And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split,

52 tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.

53 And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.

54 The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

55 There were many women there, looking on from a distance,[bn] who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.

56 Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. The Burial of Jesus.[bo]

57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus.

58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over.

59 Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen

60 and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed.

61 But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb. The Guard at the Tomb.

62 The next day, the one following the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

63 and said, “Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said, ‘After three days I will be raised up.’

64 Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ This last imposture would be worse than the first.”

65 Pilate said to them, “The guard is yours; go secure it as best you can.”

66 So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.

Reflection

Jerusalem was going to be Camelot, and Jesus was going to be King Arthur at least that's the way Pastor Thomas Long once characterized the situation. The crowds were dreaming of trumpets, towers, tapestries, capes, sashes, long flowing robes, glimmering crowns, and sparkling silver scepters. The disciples would be knights at the round table, shining in their armor, using might for right battling to snuff out evil. And just like the popular musical, the rain would never fall until after sundown. By eight the morning fog will disappear. There would be a legal limit to the snow. July and August could not be too hot. It was going to be Camelot.

Five hundred years earlier, the prophet Zechariah said that one day there would be a day like this. This ancient promise was etched indelibly in the mind of a glory-starved nation. For half a millennium, they kept an eye out for David's successor to gallop into town and assume the throne. The orchestra was forever practicing, "Happy days are here again."

So . . . when Jesus decided it was finally time for the world's most anticipated parade, they were ready. As he rode like a conquering king into his capital city, tourists from all over Israel lined the street and cheered wildly. The crowds shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David, the promised one." They cheered until they were hoarse. They laughed and cried and danced and sang. The disciples thought it was the best day they had ever known, and they weren't far from the truth.

The crowd lining the parade route should be commended for their enthusiasm. They weren't just there because they loved a good parade. They were there because they wanted to believe. If this crowd had seen the faintest glimmer on the horizon, they would have gone looking for the pot of gold.

Many people, on the other hand, believe so little that they never even consider joining the parade. They're too preoccupied with the trivialities that they mistakenly think are important. We have to hope that if we'd been in Jerusalem that day, we would have joined in the celebration, but who knows.

The crowd that lined the road was filled with people whose routines could be interrupted. There were old men who had been making this Passover pilgrimage for over fifty years. There were children who didn't know exactly what was going on . . . but they were having a ball! There were people of all ages . . . people who believed at least enough to overlook the fact that Jesus was an outlaw sought by the authorities. They believed enough for a lump in the throat, goose bumps, and the wide eyes of wonder. If this was the one they had been expecting for so many years, then the big takeover was about to begin.

But all too soon . . . their hopes and dreams were destroyed. He was like no king they'd seen before. What kind of king walks to work, sleeps beneath the stars, lives among the poor, and fills his calendar with people for whom kings have no time? Whatever questions the crowd had were answered five days later when the grand marshal of the parade was nailed to a cross.

Like that Palm Sunday crowd, we too, are tempted to praise Jesus without following Jesus. We want to see what we want to see. We would like a Jesus who makes our lives easier. I have in my mind the Messiah I think I'd most enjoy following. You probably do as well. But, in order to follow, we have to give up our ideas about the path Jesus should take, and admit that his way leads to the cross.

There are many who try to live as Palm Sunday Christians, keeping a safe distance from the one they say they're following. It's simpler to set our own agenda. That's why our goals often reflect the popular ideas of what it means to be a religious success. The Christian community is tempted to skip the struggles and become the home of convention, caution, discretion and reasonableness.

The Church is tempted to line the road on Palm Sunday, but turn away when Jesus continues to the cross. We are tempted to be admirers rather than followers. However, Christ's church is not the fellowship of the comfortable, but of the cross.

To follow Christ can me to go against the grain: to tell the truth in a world that lies; give in a world that takes; love in a world that lusts; serve in a world that waits to be served; worship in a world that entertains and carry a cross in a world that crucifies those who love.

No doubt, this will be the strangest Palm Sunday. Today there are no parades . . . no packed churches. Today we worship apart from one another. But . . . today we can be comforted by memories of previous Palm Sundays.

Mary and I spent a month in Key West, Florida in the spring of 2017. It is one of our very favorite places on earth. When in Key West, we worship at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Duval Street. The former rector, Father Larry Hooper, is a good friend. It has been my great honor to preach there on occasion and even to serve as the supply priest a few summers ago.

Palm Sunday in Key West is incredible! For one thing, on the Sunday prior to Palm Sunday, parishioners are reminded to bring a few palm branches for their own yards for Palm Sunday. Here in Wisconsin, we have to order palm branches weeks before palm Sunday . . . sometimes at a hefty price. In Key West, you bring your own . . . very cool! At St. Paul’s, the Palm Sunday liturgy begins outside in the beautiful courtyard. The priest begins the liturgy with the familiar words, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. The gathered congregation responds, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The gospel is read, the palms are blessed and all begin singing the processional hymn, “All Glory, Laud and Honor” while parading around the courtyard and eventually entering the sanctuary. It is a grand beginning to a solemn week.

I will miss our being together this Palm Sunday. May you take time today for prayer and reflection. May you thank God for God’s good blessings. May you pray for those who are presently on the front lines combating this dreadful pandemic. Most importantly, may you remain hopeful. Be safe!


Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

As we return to the waters of baptism during this season of Lent, let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of God's creation.

We pray that the same mind be in your church as was in Christ Jesus; that we continue to bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who have asked for our prayers. We pray also for the men and women serving in our military. We pray for these and all whom we name before you in our hearts . . . (silence for reflection) . . . God of mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray that all of us, who desert, deny, or betray you, be forgiven; that during this Holy Week ears are opened to the life-giving story of your death and resurrection. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

Hold us in communion with the faithful witnesses who have gone before us, until that day when we join them at the feast that is to come. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

Good and gracious God, we ask all these things and whatever else you see that we need with a sure and certain hope in your goodness and mercy, through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Amen.

Hymn: “Go to Dark Gethsemane”

Go to dark Gethsemane,
all who feel the tempter's pow'r;
your Redeemer's conflict see.
Watch with him one bitter hour;
turn not from his griefs away;
learn from Jesus Christ to pray.

Follow to the judgment hall,
view the Lord of life arraigned;
oh, the wormwood and the gall!
Oh, the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suff'ring, shame, or loss;
learn from him to bear the cross.

Calv'ry's mournful mountain climb;
there, adoring at his feet,
mark that miracle of time,
God's own sacrifice complete.
"It is finished!" hear him cry;
learn from Jesus Christ to die.

Early hasten to the tomb,
where they laid his breathless clay;
all is solitude and gloom.
Who has taken him away?
Christ is ris'n! He meets our eyes.
Savior, teach us so to rise.

Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 29th

Call to Worship

God of compassion,
you call us out of the bindings of death
on this, our resurrection day:
make us ready to surrender
the fear in which we hide
to step into your future
alive and unashamed;
through Jesus Christ, the life of the world.
Amen
~Father Steven Shakespeare

First Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1–14

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

3 He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."

4 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.

6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD."

7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.

8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live."

10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.'

12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.

14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD."

Gospel: John 11:1–45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."

4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again."

8 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?"

9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.

10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them."

11 After saying this, he told them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him."

12 The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right."

13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead.

15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him."

16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

21 Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him."

23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."

24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

27 She said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."

29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see."

35 Jesus began to weep.

36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!"

37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days."

40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me.

42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me."

43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"

44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Reflection

In the late summer of 2010, Mary and I accompanied a tour group to Germany. The main focus of the tour was to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau. We had assembled a small group from Trinity Lutheran Church on Washington Island. Given the small number in our party, the tour company paired us with a much larger group from Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis (which happens to be the largest congregation in the ELCA with 15,500 members). Mt. Olivet has seven pastors on staff! At the time of our tour, one of the pastors was a classmate of mine from seminary, Ken Kotzer.

The tour began in Munich. Over a ten day period, our bus covered many miles (oops! kilometers) as we traveled through Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland with the Passion Play being the much-anticipated highlight on the last day. On day eight of the tour, we left Innsbruck on a sunny morning and headed south through the Brenner Pass into northern Italy where we stopped for lunch in Bolzano. In a beautiful outdoor courtyard reminiscent of a scene from a Cary Grant movie, we dined on fresh pasta and salad. It was a grand day! All was right with the world!

Following lunch, we boarded the bus and headed northwest toward Switzerland where we would spend the next two nights in Lucerne. An hour or so into the trip, I began to feel ill . . . stomach ache ill. Without getting into great detail, let’s just say I knew that the sooner we got to Lucerne . . . the better. This is where things get kind of fuzzy. I do remember Terry Henkel (a retired cardiologist who lives on Washington Island) slapping me in the face like they do in the movies. Apparently I had passed out . . . cold. Even worse, when I came to, Mary and the others around me were wiping the contents of my lunch off me and themselves . . . as I had become violently ill. (Hopefully you’re reading this after you’ve had your breakfast . . . sorry).

As it turned out, others in the group became sick as well although none quite as dramatically as me. The culprit was food poisoning.

By now you are thinking okay, Frank, this is an interesting albeit somewhat gross story, but what does it have to do with the fifth Sunday in Lent? Hang on, I’m getting to that. Each morning on the tour, after we had all taken our seats on the bus, Pastor Kotzer and I took turns leading a brief devotion. Following my “incident”, my old friend, Pastor Ken referred to me as “Lazarus” for the remainder of the trip. (I should mention that after spending two days in Lucerne, when we again boarded the bus, my entire seat had been physically removed!) So, ever since that time, I have viewed the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from dead a bit differently.

Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent. It will be Palm Sunday next week and then after that Holy Week and Easter. You are reading this on your tablet or your phone or your laptop because you are unable to physically be in church. Our doors are locked. These have been strange days. As the days are now turning into weeks, we have become weary and uncertain as to what comes next.

The Lazarus story points us to a better day and reminds us that God’s love is universal. May we view the story of Jesus and Lazarus as a sign of hope. And, Lord knows, we could use a little hope right about now. And we need each other. Even if you are unable to visit friends and family “in person”, make sure that you continue to email or text or call. We need each other!

Ten years ago, on a bus ride from Bolzano to Lucerne, I became ill. There were some on the bus who thought that I had died! The man in the seat across the aisle was from Minnesota and was a former state senator. We were practically complete strangers. After I had been revived and somewhat wiped-down, the man across the aisle held out a large, black plastic garbage bag in the event I would get sick again. With a loving and assuring voice, he said, “Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll be your wing man.” Although I have long forgotten his name, I will never forget his simple act of kindness.

In these coming days, my we be wing-women and wing-men for one another. And may the love of God which passes all understanding be with you today and the days that are yet to come.

Peace and love,
Frank

Prayers of Intercession

As we return to the waters of baptism during this season of Lent, let us pray for the church, those in need, and all of God's creation.

You are the Lord: You have spoken, and you will act. Give your church confidence that in this life, you feed us with your word, and answer our every prayer. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

You breathe into our dry bones, and we live. We pray for the universe, the solar system, and our fragile planet; for all creatures that creep or swim or fly or run. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

You wept at Lazarus's tomb and weep with us when we mourn. We pray for those who have asked for our prayers: Harriet, Skylar, Kate, Ron Blair, Diane Choinski, Ginny Derong, Sandy Habrat, Kathy Jones, Jim Laack, Evelyn Manthei, Lois Paulsen, Shirley Flores Perez, Duane Rehrer, Zaida Reyes Perez, Laurelle Rendon, Kathy Slavens, Dennis Studer and Emma Waite. We pray also for the men and women serving in our military. We pray for these and all whom we name before you in our hearts . . . (silence for reflection) . . . God of mercy, hear our prayer.

You are the resurrection and the life. We pray for our congregation; for the very old and the very young among us; for those who are afraid; for those who are missing the company of others; for those dealing with the reality of isolation . . . that all may be safe. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

You are our Messiah and teacher. We thank you for giving us examples of faithful living in the saints who have gone before us. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

Good and gracious God, we ask all these things and whatever else you see that we need with a sure and certain hope in your goodness and mercy, through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Amen.

Closing Prayer

Merciful God,
accompany our journey through these forty days.
Renew us in the gift of baptism,
that we may provide for those who are poor,
pray for those in need,
fast from self-indulgence,
and above all that we may find our treasure
in the life of your Son,
Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Amen.

Sermon for Sunday March 22nd

Introduction

Collect
Creator and Healer,
root of all goodness,
working your Sabbath will
in the chaos of our life:
teach us the insight
that gives true judgement
and praises you
wherever you are found,
making miracles
from spit and mud;
through Jesus Christ,
the Son of earth.
Amen
~Rev. Steven Shakespeare

Prayer of the Day

Bend your ear to our prayers, Lord Christ, and come among us. By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen

Psalm 23

Loving God, you are my shepherd—
I want nothing more.

You let me lie down in green meadows;
you lead me beside restful waters:
you refresh my soul.

You guide me to lush pastures
for the sake of your Name.

Even if I’m surrounded by shadows of Death,
I fear no danger, for you are with me.

Your rod and your staff—
they give me courage.

You spread a table for me
in the presence of my enemies,
and you anoint my head with oil—
my cup overflows!

Only goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in your house, loving God,
for days without end.

Gospel: John 9:1–17

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.

4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes,

7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?"

9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man."

10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?"

11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight."

12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see."

16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided.

17 So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet."

Reflection

First of all . . . how are you doing? It has been a crazy week! Surreal, scary, upsetting and unbelievable. I pray that you’re doing okay; that you’re coping; that you know you are cared for and loved and valued.

I’ve been doing this pastor thing for 45 years now. And for nearly the entire span of these years, I am one of those quasi-obnoxious-work-ahead types. As the weekly lessons are prescribed well ahead, I try to write my sermons at least a week or two in advance. Why? Stuff happens. People get sick or there is an auto accident or some other unforseen tragedy. One can carefully carve out a proper amount of time on a Friday to write a sermon only to get that phone call. A beloved parishioner has been admitted to the ICU and is not expected to make it through the night. Unfortunately, in this line of work one always needs to be prepared for the unexpected.

I’m not telling you all of this to share great insights into my work habits. I’m sharing this because for the present time I need to do things differently. The coronavirus news is coming to us fast and furious in an endless barrage of changing protocols and closings and warnings. If I work too far ahead, whatever it is I have written for the coming week might seem out of touch with the reality of the present day. So for now, these are Sunday morning reflections . . . written on the day they are posted. Hot off the press!

With that out of the way, let us consider the lessons for this fourth Sunday in Lent. The story in John’s gospel recalls Jesus healing a man’s blindness. It’s a great story that offers important insights into the teachings of Jesus. A few weeks ago, I was planning to preach on this text, but much has happened since then. The appointed psalm for this day is the most well known psalm of all—the beloved 23rd Psalm. We need this today.

The translation included in this post is not the traditional King James version (sorry about that). I choose this for the very first verse, “Loving God, you are my shepherd—I want nothing more.” Of course we are familiar with, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Why did I choose this alternate translation? Instead of “I shall not want”, it says, “I want nothing more”. That is to say, we’ve got everything we need.

I know, I know . . . you’re screaming at me through your computer or tablet, “Everything I need!! Are you kidding me!! I’m stuck in the house! I can’t hug my grandchildren! I’ve been laid off!”. Believe me, I hear you. We all hear each other.

Within the short span of a week, so much of life has been reduced to the basics: food, shelter, maintaining our health (and for some accumulating more toilet paper than they could possibly use in two lifetimes). Daily activities have come to a screeching halt and within the four walls of our houses/apartments, we have been given a gift . . . time. Time to reflect on what is truly important . . . time to count our blessings . . . and, perhaps, time to re-connect with God.

For me, this day began like every other day. Around 6:00 a.m. I took Addie out. Addie’s our dog. It was still dark at 6:00 a.m. The air was crisp and still . . . and the robins . . . the robins were going nuts! What a glorious noise! It was as if a heavenly chorus was greeting the new day. I felt as if they were singing just for Addie and me. And I thanked God for the early morning gift of song. Even in the midst of this scary pandemic, may we greet this new day . . . a day filled with hope and possibility and love. May we trust in God and want nothing more.

Dear friends, I have no idea what these next days will bring. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. We are still community, even though separated for a time. And, if you need to talk, give me a call (414-308-3478).

For now be safe . . . wash your hands . . .

Peace and love,

Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Turning our hearts to God who is gracious and merciful, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

God of insight, open the hearts of the church and the world to all who testify to your deeds of power. Raise up voices in your church that are often silenced or overlooked due to age, gender expression, race, or economic status. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of insight, bring peace to all people and nations. Anoint leaders who seek goodness, righteousness, and truth on behalf of all. Frustrate the efforts of those who would seek to cause violence or terror. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of insight, you care for our needs even before we ask. Comfort those whom we remember before you today: Harriet, Skylar, Kate, Ron Blair, Diane Choinski, Ginny Derong, Sandy Habrat, Kathy Jones, Jim Laack, Evelyn Manthei, Lois Paulsen, Shirley Flores Perez, Duane Rehrer, Zaida Reyes Perez, Laurelle Rendon, Kathy Slavens, Dennis Studer and Emma Waite. We pray also for the men and women serving in our military. We pray for these and all whom we name before you in our hearts . . . (silence for reflection) . . . Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of insight, help this assembly lift up the unique gifts of each person who enters, no matter their physical capacity, cognitive ability, or sensory need. Help us to be creative and brave in making our facilities and our ministries accessible to all. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of insight, you call out to those who are asleep and awaken them to new life with you. We give thanks for your saints. Join us together with them as your children in this world and the next. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you; through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Closing Prayer

Merciful God,

accompany our journey through these forty days.

Renew us in the gift of baptism,

that we may provide for those who are poor,

pray for those in need,

fast from self-indulgence,

and above all that we may find our treasure

in the life of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday March 15th

Prayer of the Day

Merciful God, the fountain of living water,

you quench our thirst and wash away our sin.

Give us this water always.

Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth through Jesus Christ,

our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.

Amen.

The Lesson: Romans 5:1–11

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

2 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.

3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5 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.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.

8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Gospel: John 4:5–26

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink."

8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."

11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"

13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back."

17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband';

18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"

19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet.

20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem."

21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.

23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.

24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."

26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

Reflection

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was making a call on an elderly man who was dying of cancer. He and I both knew that I would soon be doing his funeral and so we were meeting to discuss his wishes and desires. We were sitting in the sun porch. He was smoking a cigarette and the TV was on in the background . . . he was watching the Today Show. At some point in the conversation, the image of the twin towers of the World Trade Center appeared on the screen. One of the towers had a large passenger plane protruding from it’s side. We assumed it was a very realistic preview for some upcoming action movie or TV show. Of course, it wasn’t long before we realized this was no movie . . . it was real.

At the time, I was the senior pastor of St. James Lutheran Church in Verona, a suburb of Madison. Facebook didn’t exist in 2001 nor did social media for that matter. We had no way of informing the members of the church that we were planning a service that evening. But we did what felt natural. At 7:00 p.m. we opened the sanctuary doors and people filed in . . . well over 200 in number. There had been no formal announcement of the service but somehow they knew we would be there and that they needed to be there as well. I began by telling everyone that we had never covered such a situation in seminary . . . there was no plan . . . no liturgy. It was a simple service. Using a George Winston CD as background music, the service alternated between long periods of silence punctuated with readings from scripture and prayer. The “formal” portion of the service lasted an hour or so with many people remaining well afterwards . . . sitting silently.

On September 11, 2001 we were caught off guard. Our world had been shattered and would be forever changed. It was an unsettling kind of time . . . but, as a nation and as a people, we have persevered.

For me, today, March 15, 2020 feels eerily a bit like 9/11. It is unsettling and much seems to be happening that is beyond our control. Unlike 9/11, the enemy is not human; it is an invisible virus. We are scared and worried and uncertain about tomorrow. And for so many people of faith, the sanctuary doors are locked and we are asked to observe social distancing.

So how are we to cope given the present isolation?

  • First of all, heed the warnings and admonitions by the knowledgeable medical and scientific folks. For a time, we need to remain apart in order that we can later gather together.
  • Second, don’t sit in front of the TV all day long streaming the endless barrage of news regarding the pandemic. Read a good book . . . call a friend or family member . . . take a walk outside (observing proper social distancing) . . . clean out that junk drawer that you have been meaning to get to . . .
  • Third, and definitely most important . . . know and trust that God is with us in and through the coming days. God provides the “living water” that enables us to cope with a myriad of challenges.

In the coming days, I will continue to post scripture, prayers and reflections. And, for those who are without access to laptops or tablets, let’s try to find a way to get such a resource to them. I fear that this interruption in our day-to-day living could last beyond just a few weeks.

And as always, may the peace of God which passes all understanding remain with you this day and always.

Peace and love,

Pastor Frank

Prayers of Intercession

Turning our hearts to God who is gracious and merciful, we pray for the church, the world, and all who are in need.

God of living water, send your church beyond boundaries to proclaim your grace. May its witness be a source of refreshment for thirsty souls. Strengthen our voices, that all people can know and believe that Jesus is truly the savior of the world. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of living water, open the hearts of leaders and authorities, that they hear the cries of the suffering and act with compassion toward them. Bring peace to disputed lands and bring reconciliation to people divided by race, culture, or nationality. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of living water, draw near to all who are ill especially those whom we remember before you today: Skylar, Kate, Ron Blair, Diane Choinski, Ginny Derong, Sandy Habrat, Kathy Jones, Jim Laack, Evelyn Manthei, Lois Paulsen, Shirley Flores Perez, Duane Rehrer, Zaida Reyes Perez, Laurelle Rendon, Kathy Slavens, Dennis Studer and Emma Waite. We pray also for the men and women serving in our military. We pray for these and all whom we name before you in our hearts . . . (silence for reflection) . . . Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of living water, renew us in the promises of baptism. Join us together in worship, fellowship, and sharing your good news. Embolden us to serve others and to work for justice and peace. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

God of living water, we thank you for those who endured suffering and who now boast in the glory of God. Pour your Holy Spirit into our hearts and give us peace as we live in the hope of our salvation. Hear us, O God. Your mercy is great.

According to your steadfast love, O God, hear these and all our prayers as we commend them to you; through Christ our Lord.

Amen.