September 22, 2024
Proverbs 31.10-31 — A capable wife
Psalm 1 — Those who follow God’s ways are like trees growing near water, bearing fruit and never failing.
James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a — Contrasting selfish desire with “gentleness born of wisdom.” Conflicting desires within us cause the conflicts between us.
Mark 9.30-37 — The first must be last; the greatest must be a servant. Welcome the child.
Clearly the passage celebrates the wisdom, strength and industry of a woman who manages the estate and runs the family business and is not just a “helpmate.” Her attention is not on her own well-being alone, but that of her whole household. Given this woman’s energy, initiative and command, it’s clear that when a stay-at-home mom is asked if she works the answer is Yes. The description is a healthy corrective to our socially rehearsed images of a wife (and women in general) as subservient, passive and powerless.
The image of the life of the wicked is of one’s life efforts being chaff that are blown away by the wind. The image of righteousness is being deeply rooted in the continual grace and life-force of God. The former experience life-fruits being taken, blown away, while the latter experience grace being given, flowing toward them. Dwell on this image of being deeply rooted, nourished by the stream of God’s grace that continually flows and feeds your soul, unseen, underground….
I see the psalm has built an opposing team of the wicked, sinners, and… scoffers. Hm. It seems scoffing has become a major political movement these days…. But as I imagine those scoffers I find myself sitting there scoffing at them. Oops. Busted. Maybe we’re being invited to be less judgmental, even of the wicked.
Our typical dualistic way of thought is to imagine that we are among the righteous, while the wicked—“those people”—sit in the seat of scoffers, and are are hauled off to perdition by God’s police/angels. But what if the poem is all about us? I delight in God’s word, and I also follow the path of wickedness. Maybe the psalm isn’t about God sweeping away those sinners like chaff in the wind, but God removing my sin, getting rid of my own faults—and they disappear like chaff blown away in the wind! Even when the judgment is about me, it’s all grace!
Here’s another word of warning to the scoffers. Just being “right” doesn’t count for anything. There is a kind of fake wisdom that sounds smart but is motivated by selfish ambition. Real wisdom is about relationship. Whoever is wise is gentle and respectful. If political discourse has given way to a whole lot of scoffing, James’ antidote is being “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” How’s that for a debate strategy?
“Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind…. You want something and can’t obtain it, so you engage in conflicts.” Social disorder comes from inner disorder. This doesn’t mean that social movements can’t cause upheaval and even “disorder.” If the established order is unjust, God would have us disorder it, like Jesus upending the dealers’ tables. But we have to do it out of gentleness born of wisdom, not selfish ambition.
“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” If you preach on this be mindful of those who’ve been trying to draw near to God for a long time and don’t feel God drawing anywhere near them. God is near to us, but we actually seldom feel it. Sometimes our discouragement comes from our wanting the feeling more than trusting the presence. Even when you feel God is absent, God is there. In fact that discomfort you feel is God in you, reaching out for relationship. Our feelings, including the sense that God is near or far, are fleeting, imperfect, and conditioned by our whole life history. Don’t count on them to have the whole picture. When Jesus quotes Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he hasn’t been forsaken: God is as near to him as ever, right in him. When you draw near to God, in whatever way you’re given to do so, God does draw near to you, even if you can’t tell.
We are quick to jump on the disciples for being so dense, arguing about who’s the greatest. But of course we do it all the time. We’re not necessarily vying for 1st place, but we’re comparing ourselves, measuring ourselves on some scale, judging according to some binary spectrum of good and bad, worthy and unworthy. Jesus upends the spectrum: top must be bottom; first must be last and servant of all. See if you can get to that lowest spot, lower than drug dealers and terrorists, lower than Jesus. Then Jesus does away with the scale altogether. “Welcome a child.” So, maybe: be less”great” than the child, be servant of the child, be less important, less powerful than the child. Be here for the child’s sake, not your own. Be vulnerable, powerless, receptive, without status—and welcoming to all those who are like that. Greatest? Not even close. Off the charts. Jesus does away with the chart. Trashes the measuring tape. And that, children, is truly great.
Call to Worship
Leader: Creator God, we praise you
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
Blessed are those whose delight is in the Word of God.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
who bear fruit in season, and whose leaves do not wither.
Grant us the gift of gentleness born of wisdom.
God, we draw near to you, who draw hear to us.
We root ourselves in you. We submit ourselves to you. We worship you.
Leader: Abba God, loving father, we are your trusting children.
All: Hold us in your love.
Amma God, loving mother, you give us life.
Raise us up with courage.
Living Spirit, Holy One, you breathe into us your beauty and wisdom.
Send us into this world with your love.
We seek you. We fall into your arms. We worship.
Leader: Loving God, heart of our being, you encompass us in grace.
All: Praise be to you! Alleluia!
Loving Christ, you embrace us in love and forgiveness.
Praise be to you! Alleluia!
Holy Spirit, you fill us with your humility, compassion and self-giving.
May our whole lives be praise to you. Alleluia!
Leader: Creator God, mighty and powerful, we praise you.
All: You reign over us in love.
Crucified and risen Christ, tender and powerless, we thank you.
You reach out to us in love.
Holy Spirit, divine energy within and among us, we worship you.
You fill us with your love.
May we be present to you in our worship now, and in all our lives. Amen.
Leader: Creator God,
All: you are enough.
we need no other.
Breath of Life,
you satisfy us. We rest in you.
We worship you with praise and gratitude. Alleluia!
Loving, steadfast God, the world is large and brutal. We feel like children, small and vulnerable. Hold us in your steady arms like a strong mother. Guide us like a wise father. Speak to us and raise us up as your wise, loving, gentle children. We pray in the presence and power of our brother Jesus. Amen.
Leader: God of grace, Holy Child, you come among us small and tender.
All: Open our hearts to welcome the child that is your Word.
Your voice is small, easily drowned out by those who would be great.
Open our ears to hear your Word.
We so easily betray and deny you, and turn from you, hidden in the “little people.”
Open our hands, to serve you in humble love.
Grant us your wisdom, that we may live in faith, through Christ. Amen.
God of peace, still our anxious hearts. Calm our wandering minds. Relax our tense hands. Open our waiting souls. Speak to us your Word of Life, and give us your Spirit. Amen.
God, you welcome the child within us,
the tender, the unsure,
the still small voice.
You welcome the child among us,
the vulnerable, the overlooked,
By your grace, help us
to attend to your children around us,
and to honor the child within us,
in the spirit of Christ,
who welcomes us as his own children. Amen.
God, we want to follow powerful leaders, but you call us to follow the Crucified One. We want to be great but you invite us to be children. We want easy lives, but you shepherd us into dying and rising. Give us courage. Give us faith, Give us the gentleness born of wisdom. Speak to us and renew us as your trusting children. We pray in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
you welcome the child within us,
longing for your lap.
you receive us,
and we abide in your embrace.
1. Psalm 1 – Paraphrase A
There is a quieter voice
than that of your appetite;
a deeper way
than getting what you want;
than your cynicism.
Follow the deeper way
and you’ll discover happiness:
find delight in each moment
as a word spoken by God.
Be mindful of the simple path;
every breath, be mindful.
You will be like a tree
rooted near flowing streams.
Your fruitful life will nourish the world;
your leaves will never wither;
your living will be always rich.
The oblivious heart does not survive;
it is chaff blown away in the wind.
It cannot stand up to scrutiny.
Its babbling is silenced
in the congregation of your heart.
God is your path. Stay on it.
Any other gradually fades
and goes nowhere.
2. Psalm 1 – Paraphrase B
Deep joy is yours.
Don’t ask anyone else for it.
No one can lead you to it.
You don’t have more than anyone else.
Find your delight in God’s grace.
Be mindful of it each moment.
Then you are like a tree
rooted near life-giving streams
that bears fruit in its season
whose leaves are always vibrant with life.
When you’re wrapped up in your own desires
it doesn’t turn out this way.
You’re like a leaf that’s already fallen off,
Folks like that resist the truth.
Their lives are never accompanied.
Let God be your eye, your compassion.
Let the other ones go their way.
Prayer of Confession
Pastor: God of mercy, trusting in your grace, we confess our sin to you and to another.
All: You come among us in the small and vulnerable,
but we have turned away from them for more important things.
Your Spirit speaks within us, a tender child,
but we ignore you for louder voices.
You ask us to be as a child, small, receiving, and vulnerable;
but we have sought dominance and strength.
Forgive our sin, heal our fear, and make us once again
the trusting children of God.
[Silent prayer … Words of grace….]
Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of love, we confess we have wanted to be “great,”
to better than others, superior, and safer.
Give us trust in your grace, to be “least,”
to be humble, trusting and loving.
Give us faith not to control, but to receive.
Forgive our sin and renew our hearts.
Children of God, hear the good news that we know in Christ:
that your sins are forgiven entirely,
and you are set free to live by the Holy Spirit as a child of God,
now and always, in the name of Christ. Thanks be to God.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
1. [Philippians 2.5-11]
Leader: Have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though divine,
did not cling to equality with God.
All: Christ became utterly empty,
born a human, choosing the place of a slave.
In complete humility Christ became obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted Christ
with a name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God, the Giver of Life.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
God, you who are mighty and infinite,
and yet who serve us humbly, we praise you.
You who create the universe create us in love;
you give us your Spirit.
You come among us as a child,
and yet with the power to save us.
You set us free from oppression,
and call us to humbly serve the lowly and the outcast.
When we sin your forgive us,
and humbly offer us new life.
You come among us in Christ, not as a ruler but a servant.
And so in humble gratitude, together with all Creation,
we give you thanks and sing your praise.
[Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
[or alternate version]
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He loved, he taught, he fed, he healed,
he embraced the lowly and the outcast.
He offered his Realm not to the powerful but to children.
Though of divine nature he did not cling to status
but emptied himself and became a servant.
He became vulnerable to death, even death on a cross.
But you raised him from the dead,
and by your glory the One who was last became the First.
(The Blessing and Covenant) *
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
rooted by the streams of your love and bearing fruit,
humbly welcoming and serving all,
with the gentleness born of wisdom,
guided and upheld by your Spirit,
for the sake of the healing of the world.
[Spoken or sung]
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / After Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for
the mystery that you give yourself to us /
this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.
… By your Spirit in us may we be deeply welcoming of all, especially the most vulnerable, in the name of Christ. Amen.
… We open our arms to you to come among us as a child. By your Spirit in us may we humbly welcome and serve all people, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
…Receive us with love, bless us with grace and use us according to your will. Help us by your Spirit to let go of our desires and attachments and live in gratitude and generosity for the sake of your desire for the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
… You who have welcomed us, bless us with your grace that we may welcome the vulnerable, serve the lowly, and work for healing and justice alongside Jesus, who finds the lowest place, and blesses it. May our lives be praise to you Amen.
(Click on titles to view songs on the Music page.)
I Take Up my Cross (Dialogue between soloist & congregation)
Refrain: Letting go, I am held. I take up my cross and follow.
1. Jesus, you call to me, and draw me into your life.
2. Christ, I leave all behind, to follow you in love.
3. I yield my life to you, for you alone are God.
4. Loved with your costly love, I’ll suffer for the sake of love.
5. Christ, make my one desire to be to serve you in love.
We Welcome the Child [Original song]
We welcome the child among us.
We welcome the tender ones.
In our embrace we meet your grace,
your gentle love divine.
Welcome to those who are fragile, a safe healing place to belong,
a shelter from harm, a comforting arm, a refuge where you may grow strong.
Welcome the child within us, the small, timid voice in the night,
her wonder and fear at the world so near, the child of your love and delight.
God, you are a child among us, no power or might or control.
By your gentle part you soften my heart and make me a more loving soul.