OT 33 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

November 13, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Isaiah 65. 17-25 God promises a new Creation, a world of justice and mercy, in which people are not abused or exploited by others, and all live nonviolently.

Psalm 118 celebrates God’s power hidden in the world, and how God’s ways are contrary to our ways: “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!”

In 2 Thessalonians 3. 6-13 Paul addresses a church that had come to expect Christ’s return, and God’s ultimate transformation of human history, any day now. Paul tells them to be patient, but instead of idly waiting for the reign of Christ in the world, to actively help the church to prepare for it.

In Luke 21. 5-19 Jesus warns admirers of the temple buildings that the temple will be destroyed. (It was, in 70 C.E.). The implication is that not only the building, but the whole religious institution needs to be transformed into something new. This will be a time of great conflict, so Jesus warns his followers to remain faithful and trust God.

Preaching Thoughts

The New Creation
       Jesus had an apocalyptic outlook: that God would radically transform the human story by intervening in our history, taking apart the world we have built and creating a new one, a new Creation. It’s tempting to want to know when and how this would happen. When Jesus was asked he said “It’s not for you to know the times or the seasons.” This may be not just because we don’t know the day, but because there isn’t a “day.” It’s all the time. God is always transforming the world.

First comes the end
       People who take apocalyptic images literally always seem to end up with pretty violent theologies and narratives with beasts and firestorms and raptures that leave most people abandoned by God and a lot of them dead. Nonsense. Some misguided folks in both fiction and real life think they can “bring about the apocalypse,” or at least bring about the conditions that trigger it, as if they can speed up the timetable. Again: nonsense. The transformation of the world is God’s work, not ours, and it is pure hubris, folly and downright evil to pretend we have that power. In fact the methods of such folks always seem to include the very violence, domination, fear and demagoguery that God condemns. Jesus’ advice is not to go on some rapture-happy rampage, or to nudge global warming to trigger the end times. It’s to love. Jesus does not want us to abandon what he’s been teaching us all along about forgiveness, nonviolence, loving enemies, offering healing and living in gentle trust and joy. It will be harder to stay faithful to lives of mercy when the world is getting rougher, but that’s exactly what Jesus is training us for.

The beginning of the end
       Until recently I avoided literal talk about the “end of the world,” focusing on God’s continual re-creation. But these days, as we face climate change, war, Trumpism, the renewal of talk of nuclear conflict, the loss of species, the violent persistence of white supremacy, and other dangers—well, these are unprecedented, and I can imagine the collapse of civilization as we know it. We may or may not escape any of those threats. (The “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves” in v. 25, just beyond today’s reading, is a pretty straightforward description of climate change.)

Getting honest
       
I know, it’s scary to talk about the actual end times. But let’s get realistic. As pastors and prophets we can talk about the possibility of the collapse of human culture, for the same reason Jesus and Paul did: we need to face reality and make faithful choices. This means:      
Accept the possibility of great loss. God will not swoop in and rescue us any more than they did for Jesus. God accompanies us, blesses us and redeems us, but does not manipulate human history. We may not be able to escape our own destructiveness, and pretending won’t help, so we’d best get honest about that..
Embrace our grief and fear, and honestly lament. In Lament we give voice to our sadness, remember our trust in God’s grace, place our grief and despair in God’s hands, and braid our sorrow with hope. (see my comments on lament on OT
Acknowledge our choices and make our commitments. We don’t have to fall in line behind the false saviors (v.8). We can “bear witness” (v. 13) and “make up our minds” how to (v. 14). Maybe major collapse is coming. If so, we need the spirituality of the Beatitudes more than ever. In times of loss and chaos, love is the only hope.

By your endurance
       Now is the time for preachers to start talking about the end times. We need to be realistic about the future. We need to be motivated to work for justice and healing while there’s time—so maybe it won’t be the end! We need to be prepared. And we need to be faithful. If indeed we are facing the possibility of chaos and collapse, what better way to address it does God have but to send out people full of love, courage, hope and gentleness? Whether we have 5000 years to go or 50, we can be loving to the last sad day. If it is indeed the last day we and those around us will need love, lots of courageous love. “By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Holy One, we come into your house with joy.
All: Beloved, we live in your presence with awe.
In the shelter of your temple we find rest.
In the beauty of your presence we find grace.
We seek your blessing, your Word, your fire.
We bless you. We love you. We worship you.

2. (From Isaiah 12)
Leader: O God, we thank you:
for though you were angry with us,
your anger turned away, and you comforted us.
All: Surely God is our salvation;
we will trust, and will not be afraid,
for God is our strength and our might;
God has become our salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Holy One.
Call on God’s name; make known God’s deeds among the nations;
proclaim the exalted name of the Righteous One.

Sing praises to God, who has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel
.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of peace and beauty, in the midst of the world’s chaos we turn to you. With anxiety all around us we open our hearts to your grace. Beneath the noise of this world, speak your quiet, steady Word to us. Even in the tumult, we are listening.

2.
Eternal God, in the chaos of this world we seek your steadfastness and listen for your unchanging grace. Speak to us, and call us forth into your new creation, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Beloved, we come into the temple of your grace
and offer you our lives as a sacrifice.
In the name of Christ, our Savior,
forgive us our sins, remove from us
everything that diminishes life and love,
and perfect us in love,
that we may be a perfect offering for you.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

Response / Creed / Affirmation

       Gracious God, we are your creation, made in your image. We belong to you. We give you our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will.
       Loving Christ, you healed and taught; you fed and forgave. You gathered a community of justice and radical hospitality. For your justice you were crucified, but by the grace of God you were raised from the dead. We offer ourselves to die and rise with you, to live and work for healing and justice in your name. We commit our lives and our gifts to your service.
      Holy Spirit, you give us life. In gratitude we give our lives to you. Fill us with your courage and compassion. Grant to each of us the gifts we need, each in our own way to bear witness to your love in this troubled world, for the sake of the wholeness of all Creation, in the name and the spirit of Christ.
       Bless your church, that by your loving presence in us we may faithfully proclaim your gospel in all we do. We consecrate our gifts to your purposes, and commit ourselves to you and to one another for the sake of your ministry in and through us. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God of Peace,
when all about us is chaos
we root ourselves in your peace.
We fill ourselves with your love.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)


All Through Your Life      (Tune: AR HYD Y NOS – All Through the Night )

Dear Beloved, God will bless you all through your life,
Love’s own gentle hand caress you, all through you life.
You are made by God’s designing, with the holy Presence shining.
Grace will be your silver lining all through your life.

Journey hand in hand with Jesus all through your life.
Walk with him who heals and frees us all through your life.
Like him may you be forgiving, generous and freely giving.
Risen, new, receive your living, all through your life.

May the Holy Spirit lead you all through your life,
guide, protect, renew and feed you all through your life.
In the light of our redeeming, with divine compassion gleaming,
be a light for others, beaming all through your life.


Savior, in this Holy Darkness (Tune: PICARDY, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence)

Savior, in our longing darkness,
waiting in our deepest night,
come and grace our hunger and yearnings;
for we live by hope, not sight.
Christ, we long for you. Come bless us.
Help us all to walk in the light.

Savior, in our lonely darkness
come to us who inwardly mourn.
Raise the love that lies a captive;
mend the cloth that has been torn.
Come to us, O God, with holy love:
wake us with the light of morn.

Savior, in our wounded darkness,
shadowed by our evil ways,
fear and anger and injustice,
violence that shutters our praise,
come, O Christ, and heal our broken lives
with love’s gentle, dawning rays.

Savior, in this deepening darkness,
how we long to see your face!
Yet you move, unseen among us
with your mercy and your grace.
Give us eyes of faith to see you,
hidden in each time and place.

Savior, in this holy darkness,
no one sees the flight of the dove.
No one hears the song of the angels.
Yet there shines a lone star above.
Grant this joy, to know your presence here.
Come and fill our hearts with your love.


When darkness and unknowing      (Tune: O Sacred Head)

When darkness and unknowing weigh down our hearts with fear,
oh, loving gentle Jesus, you draw your dear ones near.
You feed us with yourself, Love, and dwelling in our soul
you lead us by your light, though we cannot see the goal.

When evil and oppression make threat to bend your will,
you gather your beloved in peace and gentle still.
You feed us with compassion: your very life you give,
so gentleness will also become the way we live.

Despite our fear and violence the gentleness you’ve shown,
your mercy in the darkness, becomes our hope alone.
You feed us with your loving, and ban the evil powers,
and give us your compassion, so your peace may be ours.

OT 32 – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

November 6, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Haggai 2.1-9 the prophet offers a vision of hope: that God will help rebuild the temple that was destroyed in the Babylonian invasion, with more splendor than before.

Psalm 145 proclaims the basic creed of the Old Testament: that “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, with compassion for all Creation.” God upholds those who are falling, provides for life, and hears those who cry out.

In 2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-17 Paul writes to people who are hearing that Jesus has or is about to come back. He says that before the Coming of Christ, there will be a great disturbance: one who has no love for God will “declare himself to be God”— but, Paul says, stay firm in what you know to be true; stay faithful.

In Luke 20. 27-38 some Sadducees, who do not believe in resurrection, try to trap Jesus in speculation about the afterlife: in the resurrection, which man will be the husband of a woman married more than once? Jesus straightens them out: there’s no marriage in the afterlife. Resurrection is not about human institutions, even marriage. Nor is it about the afterlife: God is the God of the living, not the dead.

Preaching Thoughts

End times
       New Beginnings As we approach the end of the church year the scriptures begin to focus more on the End Times. Some of it is generically “teleological,” that is, focused on where we’re going. Some of it is specifically apocalyptic, that is, focused on a particular narrative about the end times: that at some point in time there is some great conflict in human culture, the culmination of human history, and God intervenes and reveals (the meaning of the word “apocalypse”) God’s true intent for human life. God takes apart all the legos of the universe and rebuilds a new earth and a new heaven. Most apocalyptic literature, both ancient and modern, seems to focus more on the taking apart of the legos (“the end of the world!”) rather than the New Creation. In the Book of Revelation the demolition takes up 15 chapters, the New Jerusalem 2. Maybe that’s just because when you feel like you’re in the early stages of the Apocalypse that stuff feels cathartic. But despite all the impressive monsters, explosions and special effects, the emphasis is on the New Creation. But it’s hard to get past the distractions to focus on the New Creation, the Realm of God.
       Resurrection One hurdle to overcome, made worse, not better, by the lectionary, as in today’s Gospel reading, is our conflation of the Reign of God with the afterlife. When Jesus talks about the Reign of God he’s not talking about being dead. He’s talking about abundant life. He’s talking about living in harmony with God’s loving sovereignty. To make matter more confusing there’s the mystery of resurrection. When either Jesus or Paul talk about dying and rising they mean surrendering our lives to God in this life, who gives us new ones in this life. Jesus, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12.2).: Paul: “We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6.4). But today’s reading takes us off track, and on a day emphasizing the New Creation, points resurrection not toward new living but toward being dead, toward the afterlife. … sigh… OK, we’ll go there. But Jesus will jerk us right back into this life.
       The afterlife… and before Some doctrinal snipers try to trap Jesus with a trick question, and of course he dismantles the trap. In the afterlife, which man is the husband of a woman married more than once? None of the above. They don’t marry. The premise of the question is flawed, because they’re not really dead. “They cannot die any more” (v. 36) because they’re been resurrected, because God is the God of the living, not the dead—speaking of which, how are you living? Wow. Slick. See? Jesus takes their question (and the lectionary’s misdirection) about the afterlife and slips out of the afterlife right back into the beforelife, into right now and how we are living newly created lives lives today.
       The Coming of Christ    Paul tries to do the same. He wants to dissuade the folks in Thessalonika from speculating too much about the future (oh, boy, here comes Hollywood and their special effects again). This is partly borne by disappointment that Jesus hasn’t come already… and it will only get worse. His argument is: don’t worry, that day will be obvious. You’ll know it when you see it. Meanwhile, how are you living? He goes on to talk about living the life of faith—this life—not the future. We have hope in a future blessing that we can’t imagine. Rather than obsess with trying to get a sneak preview, Paul says, just live faithfully. That is you sneak preview. The promise is enough for us to go on, to live faithfully right now, even facing challenges.
       The end…now    “Today” is the key word. Paul and Jesus both direct our hope in future blessing as energy to motivate us to live the New Life right now. The New Creation is unfolding among us this moment. It’s not something we have to die to see. When we give our lives to God (and sometimes when they’re jerked out of our hands) God gives us new lives.The “end of the world as we know it” is simply the turn of the page from one chapter to the next. God is already creating the world new. Christ comes all the time. Christ enters our life and changes it, brings about the end of that life, at least that aspect of it, as we knew it, and we start a new way of living. Over and over. This dying-and-rising is the gospel’s constant promise and invitation for each of us. And for our churches. And for The Church.
       Now…the end. Of course there’s also the other dimension: the actual end of human civilization as we know it. It’s strange to even name it, but this becomes a more real possibility the more we fail to address violence, poverty, climate change, war, Trumpism, the renewal of talk of nuclear war, the loss of species, the violent persistence of white supremacy, and other dangers. For more on that see my comments next week’s texts (OT 33, Nov.13, 2022).

Call to Worship

1. [from Psalm 145]
Leader: Great is the Holy One, and greatly to be praised; God’s greatness is unsearchable.
All: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
O God, you are good to all, and compassionate toward all your creatures.
All your creatures will praise you, Beloved, and all your faithful shall bless you.
God, you are faithful in words, and gracious in deeds.
You lift up those who are falling, and raise up those who are oppressed.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
We thank you! We praise you! We worship you!

2.
Leader: Loving God, you create us in love
and you re-create us moment by moment.
All: You love us in this world and in the next.
Holy One, transform us by your grace.
Resurrect us to new life,
now and always life, by your grace.

3.
Leader: Loving Creator, you fashion us in beauty.
All: We are in awe of you.
Beautiful Healer, you transform us with light.
We praise you.
Abiding Mystery, you raise us daily to new life.
We give you our thanks, and we worship you.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

God of grace,we do not know what awaits us in the future. But we know it is in your hands, and we trust you. We open our hearts to your presence as we worship, that you may receive us with grace, transform us by your Spirit, and raise us to new life, this and every day, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Beloved,
you are married to us in this life,
and married to us in the next.
We give you our hearts,
as they are now and as they shall become,
that you may raise us up
to new life in Christ.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Loving One, all of our loyalties and all of our loves are gathered into you. You are our Love, our Spouse, our hope. Be with us now and always, that we may be faithful to you, and live in love, by the grace of your Spirit in us. Amen.

All Saints Day

November 1 or 6, 2022

Lectionary Texts

Today’s texts celebrate the lives of the faithful and God’s care for them. In Daniel 7. 1-3, 15-18 the prophet has a vision of four beasts representing four oppressive kings—but the kingdom won’t be given to them, but to God’s “holy ones.”

Psalm 149 begins in praise of God, and then moves to a call to vanquish those oppressive kings.
     —or—
Psalm 150 is a song of praise to God, for all God’s mighty deeds, calling for joyful music with every kind of instrument.

Ephesians 1. 11-23 says God will redeem us, and gives us the Holy Spirit as a promise. The author prays that the eyes of our hearts be enlightened, so that we can know the hope God offers us, and the riches of God’s gift, and the greatness of God’s power, which raised Christ and placed him in authority over all things.

In Luke 6.20-31 Jesus promises God’s grace for those who are poor, hungry, mourning and persecuted, and woe for those who are comfortable. God gives us grace freely and abundantly, irrespective of our effort or “deserving.” But when we seek power, security and honor, we miss out on God’s gifts. In this radical trust of God’s grace, we dare to love even our enemies.

Preaching Thoughts

All Saints
       In the Roman Catholic tradition each of the saints of the church has their feast day. We protestants know a few of them: St. Valentine on Feb. 14, St. Patrick Mar. 15, St. Nicholas Dec. 6. (Wait. Then who’s on Dec. 25? St. Stephen.) On All Saints Day, Nov. 1, we remember all the saints. On Nov. 2, All Souls Day, we pray for the faithful departed—those who have died, especially in the past year. In Protestant churches we typically combine both: on All Saints Day we remember all the saints of the church and of our own lives, those who have died, especially those who have helped shape our life and faith. We honor them so we may be drawn into their numbers, so we may be sanctified, made saints, by love. So the lectionary scriptures refer to “all the saints,” “God’s holy ones,” the “assembly of the faithful,” inviting us to join them in living faithfully.

Daniel

       The rich and powerful think they own the land but it doesn’t actually belong to them. It belongs to the earth. The rich and powerful think they own the Empire but they don’t. They think they own the world but they don’t. They may own things, objects, real estate. But they don’t own life. In his desert temptations Jesus confronts the attractive illusion of “ruling the world,” and rejects it. It’s an illusion. What’s actually real can’t be owned or controlled. God invites us to abandon the illusory world of control and dominion and instead to be present to this real life, in this present moment. Because here, in this moment, all of life—infinite and eternal—is gathered and shines. No one can own that. But to those who are open, it is given. Not to own but to belong to. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the entire Empire of God.

Psalm
      The lectionary for All Saints Day includes Psalm 149 probably because of its reference to the “assembly of the faithful.” But the praise in vv. 1-5 degenerates (as our own behavior does, often) into a call for executing judgments in vv. 6-9. It may mean overthrowing unjust tyrants, as in the Daniel vision—which will require some explaining, since it reeks of violence, vengeance and retribution. You might prefer to stick with the pure praise of Psalm 150.

Ephesians
       Read Ephesians slowly. Every phrase is a gem. For me Ephesians is the Psalms of the New Testament. Every sentence deserves a sermon. And almost every paragraph can be made into a prayer, or a affirmation, or a litany of praise.

(Click here for a downloadable copy of my paraphrase of the Letter to the Ephesians.)

Luke
      The Beatitudes are the snapshot of what it means to be a Christian. The energy in each of these teachings is the grace of God that flows through us and defines us, empowers us and makes us blessed. It displaces our obsession with ourselves, our powers, our accomplishments, our social standing, and our deserving. It is not any of these things, but God’s grace alone, that is the true meaning, power and worth of our lives. This is a spirituality that renounces the ego’s fixation on power, security and belonging (reflected in Jesus’ temptations). All of these come from God as gifts, and can’t be earned or hoarded. There is a resurrectional energy to the beatitudes: a flowing upward from poverty to the empire of God, from weeping to laughter, from rejection to affirmation, from vulnerability to power. To be a “saint” is not to be an exceptionally good person (though that is good). It’s to live by the resurrecting grace of God, to live the Beatitudes.
      Matthew’sBeatitudes are part of the Sermon on the Mount, a sort of visual parallel to Moses on the mountain with the tablets. Luke has Jesus on a plain, a low place, down with the ordinary people. Matthew’s Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn.” Luke’s says “Blessed are you who are poor, you who weep....” It’s more personal. And while Luke’s Jesus blesses the poor, in Matthew it’s the poor in spirit. Matthew’s allows for a lot of interpretation of what “poor in spirit” means, but it sidestep, or at least softens the issue of actual poverty. Luke nails it. Luke’s audience may be more lower class than Matthew’s. I think Jesus would be OK with either version, and may have preached both in various settings. The point is the same: reliance on our own wealth is hollow; reliance on God’s grace is life-giving.
      Luke has only three beatitudes, not Matthew’s eight—accompanied by three woes. The woes remind us that God’s justice is not all loveliness and light. As in the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55) not only are the lowly raised up but also the mighty are brought down (1.52). True justice requires reparations, both take and also give. The rich are going to have to share. The woes are not curses or God’s punishment or retribution, they’re just observations of the way things work. Woe to the rich not because they’re evil, but because they have already received the consolation they’ve sought. When life gets tough all they’ll have is the money they cling to—not God’s love. This doesn’t mean they can’t have God’s love, just that it’s not what they’ve sought. Woe to you who laugh or are full, not because it’s bad to be happy, but because life will turn; it always does. And when it does, you’ll need to know and trust that blessed are you who weep or hunger. And woe to you when everyone speaks well of you. If you haven’t worked for justice hard enough to make some enemies, get to work.
      The Sermon on the Plain/Mount is Jesus’ clarion call to a spirituality of radical dependence on God’s grace. It’s also a clear call to nonviolence. It’s not passiveness (turning the other cheek, as is well known, was a powerful and even potentially disruptive act of resistance), nor is it just being nice. It’s radical trust that God’s grace works beyond our own powers. It’s also tied to his call to love radically. Even as we resist injustice we love the people caught up in it, perpetrators and victims alike. (As we do we discover that we’re all victims.) Our “enemy” is actually not the other person, but the system of domination.
      “God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” There’s Jesus’ theology in a nutshell. Does God only love the people that love God? Heck, no; even gangsters to do the same. God loves their enemies, even the most evil. We receive that love, trust that love, and pass on that love. Be merciful, just as your Abba-Amma God is merciful.

Call to Worship

1. [Ephesians 1.11-14]
God’s will, which is always fulfilled,
is that that we, who began by hoping in the Love that Fills the World,
would ourselves live lives that radiate that love.
When you first heard this wonder—
your wholeness that you see given to you in Christ—
and when you first trusted this love and opened yourself to it,
it poured into you. God’s Spirit changed you.
Now you yourself are part of God’s promise.
The Spirit in you is the first bit of God’s redemption of the world.
That is God’s glory, God’s praise.
In gratitude, then, let us worship.

2.
Leader: Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the realm of God.”
All: We give thanks for your grace in all our circumstances.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”
We open our hearts to your spirit, that you may fill us with your love.
Love your enemies, and pray for those who abuse you.”
Change our hearts, O God, and by your grace in us
help us become the saints you create us to be.


3.
Leader: God of love, we gather surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.
All: Blessed and upheld with all the saints, we praise you.
We come at Christ’s invitation, with the poor and the outcast.
Healed and made new with all the saints, we thank you.
We shine with the gifts of your Spirit.
Gifted and anointed with all the saints, we serve you.
In gratitude and joy, with all the saints, we worship you!


4.
Leader: God of all the saints, you surround us with a cloud of witnesses.
All: We give you thanks. May your Holy Spirit sanctify us and perfect us in love.
Risen Christ, you come to us in the humble and the rejected.
We give you thanks. May your Holy Spirit sanctify us and perfect us in love.
Holy Spirit, you live and breathe in us,
so that we too may be your saints for the sake of the world.
We give you thanks. Holy Spirit, sanctify us and perfect us in love,
in the spirit of Christ. Amen.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Loving God, we thank you for the saints who have gone before us, who have shown us the way of love. May we learn from them, and by your grace in us shine with the light of your glory. Speak to us, and sanctify our lives for your purposes, that we too may be your saints, now and in eternal life. Amen.

2.
God of grace and mercy, we give thanks for all the saints who have gone before us. We open our hearts that you may fill us with the light that filled them, that we may live with the love they lived with, that we may take our place among the communion of saints who serve you, blessed and led by your Word in Christ. Amen.3.Eternal God, we give thanks for those you have guided by your Spirit, who have been teachers, lovers and healers in our lives. We open our hearts and minds to your Spirit, that we too may be perfected in love by your Word of grace, the presence of Christ, and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
God, we confess we often act only on our own behalf,
not as agents of your holy purposes for love, healing and justice.
Forgive our selfishness, heal our fears,
sanctify us for the work of love,
and renew in us the holy light of your spirit,
that with the eyes of our hearts enlightened
we may fulfill your delight,
according to the mystery of your power in us.

2.
God of love,
we pray for our enemies,
for those who oppose or disturb us,
for enemies of justice, enemies of you.
We pray for your blessing for them,
and when it is hard to pray thus, for us.
Forgive our sin, heal our fear,
and bless us that we may love our enemies,
do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.
You who are merciful, make us merciful.

Readings

1. Ephesians 1.11-23, my paraphrase

This is our destiny, God’s will, which is always fulfilled:
that we, who began by hoping in the Love that Fills the World,
would ourselves live lives that radiate that love.

1.13-14
When you first heard this wonder—
the good news of your life made whole in Christ—
and you entrusted yourself to it, the Holy Spirit changed you.
So now you know that God’s hopes for you will be fulfilled,
since you have already been turned into holy people.
You belong to God.
You are God’s “Alleluia!”

15-16
Friends, I have heard of your deep trust in Jesus,
the Beloved, the Anointed of God,
and of your love for all the saints,
so I never cease giving thanks for you
as I remember you in my prayers.

1.17-23
I pray that God—
the God the Beloved, Jesus Christ, showed us,
God our beautiful Life-Giver—
may give you a spirit of mindfulness and wisdom
as you deepen your openness to God,
so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened,
you will have the hope God has for you.
May you live in wonder and trust
of the gifts we all receive as God’s Beloved.
May you feel in your bones
the immeasurable greatness
of the power of love when we trust it.
This is God’s power in us.
Love is the power that raised Christ from the dead,
the power that orders the universe,
the power above all human systems,
every rule and authority and dominion,
and above every seen or unseen power,
force or value you could imagine.
God subjects everything to love.
And we—we are the embodiment of that love,
which conquers everything, and fills everything,
and completes everything.
We are the body,
and Love is what makes us alive.

(Click here for a downloadable copy of my paraphrase of the entire Letter to the Ephesians.)


2. (Based on Luke 6.20-27)
Leader: Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.”
All: We release all that we possess,
that we may have you alone.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “
We hunger for justice,
and trust that one day we shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”
Knowing all shall be made well,
we weep with all who mourn,
especially victims of Covid, racism, war, and gun violence.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude you.”
God grant us courage even when reviled to resist injustice,
to stand with the marginalized, and to trust your blessing.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
God grant us love and courage to be merciful,
just as you are merciful,
in the spirit and the company of Christ.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1. [Ephesians 1.11-14]
We give thanks for we have been given an inheritance,
destined by God’s will, which is always fulfilled,
so that we trust in the Love that Fills the World,
and that we live lives that radiate that love.
We behold the wonder of our wholeness, given to us in Christ;
and we trust this love and we open ourselves to it,;
and it pours into us. God’s Spirit changes us.
We are part of God’s promise.
The Spirit in us is the first bit of God’s redemption of the world.
This is God’s glory, and God’s praise. Alleluia.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God of infinite love,
we are poor in Spirit,
but your Realm of love is ours.
Make us holy
in the opening of our hearts
to your grace.

Eucharistic Prayer

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

1.
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
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.
We thank you, God, for you create us in your image,
make covenant to be our God, and set us free from all that oppresses.
You give us a world, an empire of grace,
to which we belong, that this world can’t take from us.

You call us as your saints, and show us the way in Jesus.
You have given us saints, young and old, women and men,
who shine for us with the way of love, who in your Spirit gather with us now.
Therefore we sing with all the saints, with every living being and all Creation.
[Sanctus]

Blessed are all who come in your name,and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He taught and healed, he fed people and set them free.
He gathered a community of those who desire to live by your grace,
who would sanctify themselves for the work of love.
He sought justice, and for that he was crucified,
but you raised him from the dead,
that he might continually embody for us
your Covenant to be with us in love eternally.

[The Blessing and Covenant…]

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a living and holy sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation]

Pour out your holy Spirit on these gifts of food,
that those who receive them may experience your love and grace.
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 Holy Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,

though poor in spirit, blessed by your grace;
though ordinary people, sanctified for lives of love,
for the sake of the wholeness of the world,
in the name and the Spirit of Christ,

[Amen]

____________________

2.
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
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.

Blessed are you, O God, Creator of all and all that is to come.
By your grace you have given us life and made us a people.
You rescue us from all that enslaves us,
judge the forces of oppression, and offer freedom to all people;
and you sanctify us for the work of bringing justice to all people.
You have surrounded us with saints,
women, children and men who have rejoiced in your grace,
shared in your work of redemption,
and shined as teachers and examples in the way of faith.
You have gathered us into the community of the redeemed,
and given us as a light to the nations.
Therefore together with the whole communion of saints,
and in union with all Creation, we sing your praise:

[Sanctus]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who brought good news to the poor,
who lifted up the downtrodden and gathered the outcast,
and who called disciples to follow
in the holy way of compassion and joy.

Even in death his gift was love and light.

[… The Blessing and Covenant …]

The crucified Christ you have raised to life,
so that we might walk in newness of life.
In his dying and rising
you have sealed the lives of your saints.
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)

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.
Gather us in unity of heart,
sanctify us for the work of justice and healing,
and send us in the power of your Spirit,
poor in spirit and rich in your grace,
loving our enemies,
for the sake of the healing of the world.
(Amen.)

____________
* 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

God of love, you create us in your image, claim us as your beloved, sanctify us as your witnesses, and include us in the great communion of saints. Send us into the world as agents of your love, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the spirit and the company of Christ. Amen.

Prayer after Communion

1.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Together with all whom you have made holy by your grace, send us into the world to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. May we shine with the light of your grace now and in eternal life. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. In your Spirit you have bound us together with all your saints as one body in Christ. You have sanctified us, set us apart for the sacred work of the healing of the world. Send us out in love, for the sake of the world, in the name of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. In the mystery of this meal, by your presence within and among us, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we are made holy, one Body, with all the communion of saints. May this gift work within us, that by your grace we may be perfected in love and live as your saints, for the sake of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.


Benediction

(Ephesians 1.17-22)
I pray that the God Jesus reveals to us, the glorious Giver of Life,
will give you a spirit of wisdom and perceptiveness,
so you may know God more deeply.
I pray that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened,
so the hope God offers us will fill your hearts.
May you know the riches that God’s beloved ones inherit
and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who trust,
the very power by which God raised Jesus from the dead,
and seated Christ at God’s right hand in the realm of the infinite.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Blessed       (Original song)

Dear God, receive me anew, mourning and poor in my soul,
hungry for what makes me whole.
Bless me by making me simple like you.
Blessed are the ones who have nothing but God,
for God and God alone shall fill their lives.

Mercy please grant me anew. Make my heart pure by your grace,
humble, that I may see your face.
Bless me by making me gentle like you.
Blessed are the ones who have nothing but God,
for God and God alone shall fill their lives.

Courage please give me anew, peace in the world to make,
and to suffer for your Gospel’s sake.
Bless me by making me faithful to you.
Blessed are the ones who have nothing but God,
for God and God alone shall fill their lives.


For Your Saints        (Tune: Joyful, Joyful)

God, we thank you for your saints and for their time among us here,
In their faith, their service and their ready smile we’ve felt you near.
In their steadfast love of others and their persevering grace,
we have known your living presence; we have seen your human face.

God, we thank you for the faith that lifts our hearts and lights our way,
for your hidden, healing presence walking with us day by day.
As we face death’s shadows, still we walk with courage and with love,
persevering in the faith that you have granted from above.

“Children, I will never leave you or forsake you,” you have said.
You have been our helper, God, so there is nothing that we dread.
By your grace that never fails us, guide, sustain and lead us on,
‘till we step with grateful hearts into the light of heaven’s dawn.


God Bless the Saints (Tune: Blest Be the Tie that Binds)

God bless the saints we’ve known,
who loved us through the years,
who shared our struggles and cherished our joys
and held us and wiped our tears.

God bless the teachers and guides
whose wisdom brightens our days,
whose courage lifts our struggling hearts,
and shines your light on our ways.

God bless the quiet ones
who serve in humble ways
without their seeing the fruit of their faith,
yet live in prayerful praise.

God, help us be your saints
who trust your loving grace,
that we may be a holy blessing
in our own time and place.


Heart of Heaven (Original song)

There’s a heart in heaven that knows you,
and speaks your name in love from heaven’s throne,
that has laughed and labored here beside you,
and says, “I know your journey as my own.”

There are eyes in heaven that adore you,
and weep with joy at the beauty of your soul,
for they see the courage of your living,
and share your deepest yearnings to be whole.

There’s a tear in heaven that remembers,
there’s a deep, weary sigh that understands;
there are gentle, wounded hands that know the struggle
to do the work of God with human hands.

There’s a voice from heaven within you,
a spring of life-giving water flowing free.
Let it flow, let grace and peace shine in you
with heaven’s loveliness for all to see.

Oh, the heart of heaven is within you,
the universe embraces you in love,
for the humble One who walks beside you
is the One who rules the sun and stars above.

OT 31 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost

October 30, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Habakkuk 1.1-4, 2.1-4 the prophet is discouraged by the injustice that he sees. But though it seems hopeless, God’s vision will be fulfilled: it is a vision of how things will actually turn out (“wait for it; it will surely come”). The righteous are those who “live by faith,” that is, they trust this vision of God’s grace.

Psalm 119. 137-144 celebrates God’s truth—using many metaphors: God’s word, law, ways, commands, statues, promise. God’s wisdom gives us joy and guides our lives.

In 2 Thessalonians 1.1-4, 11-12 Paul thanks the people of the church for their increasing love for each other, and prays that Christ will be glorified in them.

In Luke 19.1-10, Jesus invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus, a tax collector, as if they are relatives. In the context of Jesus’ acceptance of him, Zacchaeus experiences a dramatic turnaround in his life.

Preaching Thoughts

Habakkuk
       There is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. Why doesn’t it get any better? Amid news of war, racism, climate change, Trumpism, the loss of species and so many other threats we can feel the prophet’s despair. “Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble?” Habakkuk’s promise might seem to be that everything will turn out OK, but it’s not that simple. Everything may Not turn out OK. (It didn’t for Habakkuk’s folks: he may said these things as Babylon was advancing on Jerusalem.) The prophet’s message seems deeper: even if things don’t turn out all right, everything will be all right.
       The righteous live by their faith. Habakkuk invites us to dig deeper for the foundation of our faith: not just that things will eventually be as we want them to be, but that God is present and active in the world no matter what. It’s so easy to latch onto a false hope that God will “make things right” in the end. But that may not happen, at least not in our limited vision and time frame. What will happen is that God’s vision for the world will still guide us and give meaning to our lives. Gods vision extends beyond human history, and it is on that scale that the ultimate reconciliation will happen—and is now happening. Hope for the future is not wishful thinking but trust in what God is already doing, unseen. And faith is living according to that hope, living out love and justice, healing and joy, no matter what. We’re invited to trust God’s grace even in the gloomiest of times, and shine with God’s light even in the thickest night. That’s how the righteous live by their faith.

Luke
      Jesus doesn’t seem to be “passing by.” He might even be seeking Zacchaeus out. He invites himself to Zachaeus’ house. Sometimes we think we’re seeking God, trying to get a glimpse of God, when it’s actually God who is seeking us. How does Jesus invite himself into your life? Why do you think he does that? How does he enter into your living, your home, your heart? When he enters, what happens?
      Zacchaeus’ story is about how Jesus changes lives. And it portrays Jesus’ radical acceptance of everybody, without judgment—even despised tax collectors. His mission to “seek out and to save the lost” is not about religious conversion but inclusion: establishing kinship even with enemies.
      Jesus’ relationship with Zacchaeus is enough to discomfort everybody. To righteous Jews camaraderie with a tax collector is grumble-worthy. To those of us who take comfort in Jesus’ attention to the poor, we’d rather see him visit the poor widow. And to most of us we’d rather not talk about giving away our money. (Ever notice this? Almost all our pictures and images of Zacchaeus are of the little guy up in the tree. Not the guy giving away his money. We’ll go for cute above challenging any day.) Jesus seems to see the goodness in Zacchaeus before any of us do. In this story Zacchaeus subverts everything we think we know about rich people in the Gospels. He is eager to see Jesus, quickly and willingly invites Jesus to his home, and offers generous repayment to the poor. It might be that though he was despised Zacchaeus never was a bad or selfish guy. That’s our judgment. (Technically in the Greek Zacchaeus doesn’t say “I will” give that money, but “I am” giving. As if he’s been that generous all along!) If I start this story by thinking nothing good can come of Zacchaeus till Jesus gets hold of him, I am the one whom stands guilty of sin. Maybe I need to be as generous with my forgiveness and acceptance from the beginning as Jesus is.
      The outcome of Jesus inviting himself to Zachaeus’ house is deep generosity and justice. Is that the outcome of our encounter with Jesus? What holds us back?
      We marvel at the apparent change that comes over Zacchaeus. How does this come about? What might it have felt like for Zachaeus, climbing up the tree? Climbing down the tree? Walking with Jesus? Maybe this is a story of a greedy person who becomes generous because first it is a story of a lonely person who is befriended.
      This is the first time since chapter 2 that Luke talks about “salvation,” after talking about it so much in the first two chapters. He apparently wanted to show us salvation as God’s free and unwarranted gift of love, forgiveness, healing and inclusion in the divine circle—first, for 17 chapters, before we get ideas about right belief and “getting saved.” Now he can use the word without losing us. Salvation comes because Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham, not because he’s a good person. It’s the lost who are saved.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Creator God, for life and beauty we praise you.
All: Joy and gratitude!
Loving Christ, for grace and mercy, we thank you.
Joy and gratitude!
Holy Spirit, in your life-changing power we worship you.
Joy and gratitude! Alleluia!

2.
Leader: Eternal God, like Zacchaeus we are too small to see you.
All: But we want to see you. We want to greet you!
So you come to us, and invite us into your presence.
You come to us in Christ, and you call our names.
You come to us in scripture and in prayer, and you change our lives.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Loving God, as Jesus came to Zacchaeus’ house, you come to us; you bless us; you change us. We open the homes of our hearts to you and we welcome your gracious presence. Speak to us, and transform us by your Spirit. Amen.

2.
Spirit of Life, Jesus came to Zacchaeus and called his name. You are present with us now. Call to us, draw us closer to you, and change our hearts, in the spirit of Christ. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, like Zacchaeus we long to see you, but many things get in our way. Help us now to set them aside, to look past all the obstructions and distractions, and look only to you, and listen to you. As your scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed, open the eyes of our hearts and the ears of our souls, so that we might hear your Word, and be changed. Amen.

4.
Holy One, we are bound up by our fear and self-centeredness. But Like Zacchaeus we want to see you, so we draw near, each in our own way. And you receive us. Invite us, Lord. Spend time with us, speak to us and change our hearts with your Spirit. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor:
The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of gentle mercy,
we confess our sin,
for it has become a burden to us
that we cannot bear.
Receive us, forgive us,
relieve us of our burdens,
and set us free. Amen.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

2.
Pastor: The grace of God be with you
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word and deed,
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
Gather us in your loving arms;
have mercy on us and forgive us,
that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways,
by the grace of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
We believe in God, maker of all things, provider of all things, who loves all people. We follow Jesus, in whom salvation has come to us: he sees us for who we are, heals the wounds of our hearts, and makes us new. In his death and resurrection we see the deepest truth of life. We live by the power of the Holy Spirit, that empowers us for self-giving love. We give thanks for the Church, the Body of Christ; and for the gift of forgiveness, the power of resurrection and the mystery of eternal life. Amen.

2. (based on Habakkuk 1, 2)
Leader: O God, destruction and violence are before us;
strife and contention arise.
All: Why do we keep seeing wrong-doing?
Why doesn’t justice prevail?

There is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
Give us hope, for you are at work.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Give us faith to endure, and to face toward that day.
Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
Give us love, to live by our trust in you.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
1.
Holy One, your vision is true,
your will is certain, your delight is sure;
but it comes about slowly.
Open our hearts to trust, to listen,
and to live in faithful love.

2.
Generous Jesus,
you invite yourself into our lives.
We climb down from our plans.
We invite you in.
You bless us, and change us.

Eucharistic Prayer

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
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.

Generous God, we thank you for your grace.
You are not merely passing by. You seek us out.
You have invited yourself to our home, entered into our lives.
You come with grace and forgiveness, with blessing and joy.
Our lives are changed, and we celebrate.
We feast on the generosity of your heart,
and sing your praise with all Creation.

     (Sanctus)

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He enters into the lives of the poor and the lonely.
In our awkwardness and loneliness he befriends us.
In our greed and selfishness he changes us.
In our sin he saves us.
In his dying and rising he invites us to become new people.
     (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.
By your grace salvation has come to this house.

Therefore, remembering 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)

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.

In gratitude we give of ourselves and our goods;
we give of our lives, for the sake of the mending of the world,
in the name and the company of Jesus.
     
(Amen.)

____________
* 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

1.
Gracious God, in gratitude for all you have given us, and in faithful stewardship of what you have placed in our hands to share with the world, we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. You have received us into your love; now send us out as changed people to serve you for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, you have given us rich gifts: the grace of your forgiveness, the blessing of your presence, the treasure of your abiding Spirit. We give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Prayer after Communion

God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You enter our lives with grace. May we enter this world with love, with humility, gratitude and generosity, in the power of your Spirit. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)


Setting the Table        (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

Christ, you have seen us and called us with grace, and
come to feast with us in our earthly place.
You eat with sinners! We welcome you here,
grateful for love so abounding, so clear

God, you have saved us so that we may live
new lives of grace; so now grateful, we give
freely our treasure and gladly our hearts,
with generosity that your love imparts

Spirit, you bless us with infinite gifts:
healing that frees us and power that uplifts.
Grateful, we give you our hearts and our gold;
Lord, there is nothing that we would withhold

Lord, you forgive us our fear and our greed, and
free us to share with all others in need.
We set this table with joy and with care,
saved, blessed and grateful, and happy to share.


Zacchaeus’ Song (Tune: I Come with Joy)

1. Lord, send me out into the world to share all I possess.
My generosity shall be— the faith that I confess, the faith that I confess.
2. For you have given me such gifts, grace infinite and deep,
that I can only share them all. — There’s nothing I will keep.
3. And let my giving change me, Lord, to make me more like you:
to let your blessing flow through me, — creating me anew.
4. My life will not be known by what I have, but how I share,
courageously, with trust in you,— with love and joy and care.

OT 30 – 20th Sunday after Pentecost

October 23, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Joel 2.23-32 rain and abundant crops following years of locust infestations are a symbol of God’s forgiving and renewing grace. Despite our past sins, God pours out God’s spirit on everybody alike—without exception.

Psalm 65 celebrates God’s abundant blessing. The creation of the world, the abundant provision of the earth, and the forgiveness of our sins are all equally great signs of God’s grace.

In 2 Timothy 4.6-18 an old pastor, a follower of Paul, reflects back on the lonely struggles of their ministry, and what it means to keep on doing God’s work even when other people abandon or resist you.

In Luke 18. 9-14 Jesus tells a parable about two people at their prayers: a Pharisee, who would be thought of as a good person, and a tax collector, who would be labeled as a “bad” person. Which one gets closer to God? Surprise!

Preaching Thoughts

Joel
     I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Note the inclusiveness: not just Christians: everybody, male and female, old and young, rich and poor. Despite our past sins, God pours out God’s spirit on everybody alike—without exception. What might it mean in your context to “dream dreams… see visions… prophesy?”

2 Timothy
     I have fought the good fight. Or, in less combative terms, “I have stayed in the struggle.” It’s not over, of course. The “fight” or “race” is not some campaign, but simply the long, hard work of staying faithfully loving and working for justice in a world that resists those things. Being kind in a rough world. Staying hopeful when things are bleak. We don’t need great accomplishments to know that we’ve lived good lives. We just need to “keep the faith”—stay loving, no matter what. The author knows it’s not his own merit that enabled him to persevere: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.” When we live in harmony with God, in all our struggles God stays with us and takes care of us. Our confidence is not in our own faith but in God’s guidance and protection.

Luke
     Tax collectors worked for the Romans, were usually corrupt, and were looked down on. Although we have come to think of Pharisees as “bad guys” because of their opposition to Jesus, they were actually well-respected, deeply devout, obedient believers. Jesus himself may have been a Pharisee. This story includes a prayer that is like actual prayers that are preserved from Jesus’ time. One said, “I thank you, God that you have not made me a sinner, or a slave, or a woman.” It’s true that all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. But humility doesn’t mean thinking of ourselves as less than others. It means avoiding comparing ourselves at all, trusting that everyone is equally worthy and beloved. Humility means being human, knowing we belong in humanity, neither better nor worse than others, but simply a member. Humility doesn’t require us to be self-denigrating; it means being honest about our gifts and our flaws, without needed to compare ourselves.
     The Pharisee’s prayer is entirely self-centered. The tax collector goes home “justified” not necessarily because their prayer is more humble, but because it’s an opening to God, a desire for relationship—and maybe even change. Again we’re challenged to move our prayer from asking for things to being present for God and listening.
    The tax collector prays “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” In Mk. 10.47 Bartimaeus cries, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Rooted in both these prayers is the Jesus Prayer which is widely known in the Orthodox tradition: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” For those who have a hard time with doctrinal terminology, I like “Jesus, Beloved, have mercy on me, for I need you.” Either way it’s a great prayer for repeating like a mantra.

Call to Worship

1. (from Ephesians 2.4-10)
Leader: God, you are rich in mercy.
All: With great love you have loved us.
Though we were dead in our sins
you have made us alive together with Christ.
By grace we have been saved.
We are what you have made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which you prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Alleluia!


2.
Leader: God, not by our strength,
All: but by your grace we come.
Not because of our righteousness,
but in your grace, you love us.
Not by our effort,
but by your Spirit in us, our praise overflows.
We thank you. We bless you. We worship you.


3. [from Psalm 65]
Leader: Loving God, by awesome deeds you have delivered us.
All: O you who answer prayer! To you all hearts shall turn.
Hope of the ends of the earth, you have established the mountains.
O you who answer prayer! To you all hearts shall turn.
You visit the earth and water it. The river of God is full of water.
O you who answer prayer! To you all hearts shall turn.
Your footsteps overflow with richness. All Creation sings for joy.
O you who answer prayer! To you all hearts shall turn.

4.
Leader: Eternal God, you who create the universe by your Word, we praise you.
All: You who fashion the world with your hands, we thank you.
You who shape the world by your love, we greet you.
You have made all things wonderful,
and you have made us, your beloved,
truly wonderful.
How can we not then fall in love with you?
Though our hearts get mangled and our lives get twisted ,
still we are your wondrous creatures, and you love us.
Alleluia! Come, Holy One.
Claim us and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!


5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: The river of God is full of water.
Awaken our hearts, and open them as vessels to your grace.
We drink deeply of your love.
May the river of life flow through us;
may we send forth streams of mercy.
Alleluia! Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, O God
,
and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

6.
Leader: O God, you who speak to us in prayer, we turn to you.
All: We still or hearts, that we may hear.
We open the window of our spirits
that your light may flood in.
We open the door of our hearts,
that we may receive you and attend to you
with all our powers of adoration and love.
Speak to us, for your servants are listening.
Alleluia! Make us yours forever. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of mercy, we come before you with all our sin, and all our beauty. You receive us with such deep love. We open our heart to you now. Speak your Word to us and transform us by your grace. We pray in the name and the company of Christ. Amen.

2.
God of all creation, you visit the earth and water it, and make it glorious by your grace. We thank you for your love, and we open our hearts to your grace, that by your Spirit alive in us we may live lives of humble praise. Amen.
3.
God, you have promised through your prophet that you would pour out your Spirit on all living beings. Pour out your Holy Spirit on us now that in hearing and proclaiming your Word, in prayer and song, word and silence, we may hear your voice, receive your Spirit, and be changed into the image of Christ. God, be merciful to us, and grant us your grace. Amen.

4.
Loving God, we do not pretend to know your will, nor do we seek to understand your mysteries. We only want to draw nearer to you. Be present with us, and let us receive new life. Speak to us, and let us hear. Touch us, and let us fall in love. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God is with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, we open ourselves in honesty to God.
God of love, help us to see ourselves with the eyes of love,
to see all that is in us that is loving,
and all that is not loving.
By the grace you show us in Christ,
forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
Leader: Rejoice, for God has mercy upon us in our sin, and holds us close to God’s heart.
All: O you who answer prayer! To you we turn our hearts.
Now we are the Body of Christ, and each of us is a member of it.
It is no longer we, but Christ who lives in us. To you we surrender our lives.
God has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us.
God of love, we receive your Spirit and its gifts, for the sake of the world.
There is one Spirit but many gifts, many ways in which we are precious to God.
Beloved, by your Spirit in us, help us to forget ourselves and look to your grace,
to see and to put into service your gifts in us, for service to the world,
in the name and the grace and the companionship of Christ. Amen.


2.
      We give our hearts to you, O God, creator of all that is and all that is to come. You made all things by your Word, and declared them good. You breathed your Spirit into all humans and declared them very good.
     We give our hearts to you, O Christ, Living Word of God, love made flesh. You taught and healed, and brought people out of the prisons of judgment into the mystery of love. You announced the Reign of God among us, and you gave your life in compassion and forgiveness. God raised you from the dead, and you live among us still, awakening us, calling us to love.
      We give our hearts to you, O Holy Spirit: you make us one body in Christ, your Church. You give each of us gifts which are precious for the mending of the world. We serve by your grace, trusting in the power of love. We open our hearts to your grace to transform us. We devote our lives to you, that we may continually love you and love our neighbors more deeply, in the name of Christ, for the sake of the healing of the world. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Jesus, Beloved,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.
Jesus, Beloved,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. You have poured your Holy Spirit into us; now pour us out into the world as the embodiment of your love. We pray, as we serve, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)


God, Be Merciful to Me (Original song)

God, be merciful to me.
With empty hands and open,
I turn to you for mercy.


Heart of Heaven (Original song)

There’s a heart in heaven that knows you,
and speaks your name in love from heaven’s throne,
that has laughed and labored here beside you,
and says, “I know your journey as my own.”

There are eyes in heaven that adore you,
and weep with joy at the beauty of your soul,
for they see the courage of your living,
and share your deepest yearnings to be whole.

There’s a tear in heaven that remembers,
there’s a deep, weary sigh that understands;
there are gentle, wounded hands that know the struggle
to do the work of God with human hands.

There’s a voice from heaven within you,
a spring of life-giving water flowing free.
Let it flow, let grace and peace shine in you
with heaven’s loveliness for all to see.

Oh, the heart of heaven is within you,
the universe embraces you in love,
for the humble One who walks beside you
is the One who rules the sun and stars above.

OT 29 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost

October 16, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Jeremiah 31.27-34 the prophet promises restoration after a time of calamity. And he announces God will establish a new Covenant: not a legal code that can be written down, but a faithful relationship that is alive in our hearts. In this relationship we won’t be accountable for ancestors’ misdeeds according to an honor code, but only for our own.

Psalm 119. 97-104 Celebrates God’s Word and its life-giving power for us. Each line uses a different image for God’s Word: law, statutes, precepts, etc., but they are not “rules:” they are God’s promises.
   —Or—
Psalm 19 says all Creation sings God’s truth. The psalm celebrates God’s Word, or Covenant, or “law”—not legal requirements, but a faithful relationship that we are invited to enter. We are not even aware of the ways we betray faithfulness to the Covenant, so we pray, “Clear me from hidden faults.”

2 Timothy 3.14 – 4.5 encourages us to be faithful in speaking the truth, even if people want us to say only what they want to hear.

In Luke 18.1-8 Jesus encourages faithfulness in prayer with a story of a callous judge who won’t hear, but finally responds to a persistent widow who pleads for justice.

Preaching Thoughts

Jeremiah
     Here is the real meaning, if not the origin of the phrase, of “learning by heart.” Our Covenant with God isn’t a set of rules, it’s a faithful relationship.There are no commandments you can post on the Courthouse wall, just a commitment in our hearts. Like a marriage. It’s hard for some folks to imagine God not actually having any laws. No rewards and punishments. No judgment, no heaven or hell as payback. Just love. Somebody actually said to me once, “Then why be good?” I asked him about his marriage.

Psalm 119
     Each of all 176 verses of this psalm refers to God’s Word, with a dozen different expressions: commandments, teachings, ways, precepts, promise, statues… It’s tempting to think of legal “laws,” but again God’s “laws” aren’t rules to be followed. They’re eternal and absolute principles that exist, like the law of gravity. God’s laws are things like love, justice, unity, forgiveness, giving-and-receiving, wholeness and healing, and so on. To really get the sense of the psalm, substitute “love” for each occurrence of the euphemism for “law.” That’s what it’s getting at. “Obeying” God’s laws doesn’t mean being subservient to some demand, expectation or requirement; it means living in harmony with God’s grace. This psalm is a prayer seeking to be in harmony with God, living in the way of love.

Psalm 19
     The heavens are telling the glory of God. All of Creation is expresses God’s Word. Not words, but Word—Truth. Every created thing, even the passage of time from night to day, is God speaking.
     The law of God is perfect. Again, as in Psalm 119, God’s “laws” aren’t requirements; they’re the basic and absolute principles of life as God creates it. They don’t constrict life; they create it, bless it, and empower it.
     Who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults. When we define “sin” as knowingly breaking God’s commandments we make two mistakes. One is that God’s laws can’t actually be broken. You can’t break the law of gravity. You can ignore or abuse God’s grace but you can’t get around it. The other is that we can follow all the rules and still never actually love God perfectly or love our neighbor as ourselves. We have no idea the ways in which we fail to love perfectly and live in perfect harmony with God’s grace. No idea. I treasure the wisdom of this prayer. I know I’ve missed the mark a million times. Forgive me for the ways I’ve sinned I don’t even know. And help me see better.
     Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you. This is not a request for God to be lenient but for us to be faithful. The hope is to effect our faithfulness, which is fickle, not God’s acceptance, which is absolute. Many preachers say these words before they begin a sermon. My hope is that they’ve said them, continually, while they wrote the sermon. The beast way to pray this prayer is in silence, letting God offer the words and meditations.

2 Timothy
     Continue in what you have learned… Give thanks for what you have been taught, and “from whom you learned it,” some of whom signed up for it and some of whom never knew they were teaching you. And give thanks for “how from childhood you have known….” Whether or not you’ve known them from childhood, none of us ever becomes a full-blown Christians all by ourselves. We’ve been taught, led, accompanied. Give thanks for that community! Give thanks for that odd old Sunday School teacher who told you strange stories when you were a kid, and maybe got it all wrong, even the stern teacher who practically scared you away from Jesus for life. They were part of the gang, part of the gift. And give thanks for the “sacred writings,” some of which were pure truth and some of which were one generation’s bad attempt to reach God. They’re all part of the gift.
     All scripture is inspired. It doesn’t mean it was dictated by God. Doesn’t even guarantee it’s the truth. It just means the Holy Spirit was active in its writing. It’s part of Holy Spirit’s story. I think of scripture as the community’s shared reflection on what it means to be God’s people. It includes lots of perspectives —it was written by dozens of people over hundreds of years. Some of the community’s reflections turn out to be inadequate or even wrong. Many of them contradict each other. But they’re all part of the journey, al part of the community (including us) engaged in actively discerning God in the world and how to live in harmony with God. And the point, note, is not so that we believe the right stuff, but that we love, that we are “equipped for every good work.”

Luke
     A parable about their need to pray always. And by praying we usually mean asking for stuff. So, yeah, if even the mean-hearted judge acquiesces, won’t God? Yes. But. Who is who in this story? Who, though told “do not judge,” judges anyway? We do. Who cares for neither God not humans? That would be us. And who continually pleads for justice? That would be God. The judge does not represent God in this story; the widow does. Prayer is not making demands: it’s listening. God has to come to us again and again pleading for justice, in humble, powerless form, in the poor , in the sick and rejected, in the orphan and the widow, in the peasant hung on a cross. And still we don’t listen. But God will wear us down with her insistent coming, until we relent. O we need to prayer—listen—always and not lose heart, that is, not lose our love, our willingness to listen.
    Funny how the role reversal tricks us, huh? Judge? Must be God. Poor widow? Can’t be God. Check that every time you read the Bible. Or the news.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: God of justice, you brought us up out of slavery into a place of freedom.
All: We thank you and we praise you.
God of mercy, you have given us your law;
you have given us gifts of wisdom and power to order our world according to your grace.
We bow to you, and pray that we may so order our lives.
God of truth, you speak your Word to us; you raise your voice in our inner hearts.
Help us to listen.
Speak to us now, and shape us by your love, that we may do your will. Amen.


2.
Leader: Creating God, by your Word you bring all things into being.
All: Speak, for all the universe listens.
In Christ you have spoken your love to us.
Speak, for your people are listening.
Holy Spirit, your Word unfolds in us, and gives light.
Speak in us, for we are listening.

3. [from Psalm 19]
Leader: The heavens are telling the glory of God! Holy One, all Creation speaks your Word.
All: There is no human speech, yet the whole universe proclaims you.
God, your truth is perfect, reviving the soul.
We desire your Word more than gold.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear us from hidden faults, and do not let selfish ways have dominion over us.
Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts
be the kind that are delightful to you,
O Love, our rock and our redeemer.


4.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
The turning leaves remind us of your glory;
they sing of the beauty of your love.
Help us to turn to you, God,
and so reveal our deepest beauty.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, in this world of hurt we cry to you: hear our prayer.
God of love, speak to us, and give us grace to listen.
God of truth, help us to hear the truth, and to live accordingly. Amen.

2.
God of patient love, we confess that we often lose heart, and forget to pray. Speak to us in scripture, in our hearts and in one another, for we are hungry for your Word. Amen.

3.
God of grace and truth, your Spirit breathes in scripture, so that it is fruitful for teaching, for training in love, for equipping us for every work of love. Open the eyes and ears of our hearts to see your presence and hear your Word, so that we may do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with you, in the name of Christ. Amen.

3.
Eternal God, all Creation sings your praise. Every day is a word from you. You speak to us in quiet, even silent ways. Help us to listen with the ears of our hearts; help us to hear and be created again. We pray in the name and the spirit of Christ. Amen.

4.
Gracious God, we bring our many prayers to you, and cry out for you to hear us. But first, we will listen to you. As your Scripture is read and your good news proclaimed, help us to listen and to hear. Speak, Lord, for your children are listening. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
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 gentle mercy,
we confess our sin;
for our brokenness,
known to us and unknown,
keeps us from loving perfectly.
Receive us, forgive us,
transform us,
and set us free to live by your grace alone. Amen.

[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

2.
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Loving God, your Word is our life.
But we have not listened;
we have not given attention to your voice;
we have not followed your will or answered your promptings.
Forgive us, change our hearts,
and help us to listen. Amen.

[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

3.
Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of truth,
you have spoken your Word to us and in us
but we have not listened to you.
We have not been mindful of your presence,
or attentive to your voice.
Forgive the hardness of our hearts.
Have mercy on us, heal us, and create us anew,
that we might live by the power of your Word
and in the light of your grace.
We open our hearts to you, God.
Come, and be present.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
Leader:
We hear your voice, O God, calling us to justice and compassion.
All: You will not give up on us. We are listening.
We hear your voice, O Christ, calling out to us among the poor and the rejected.
You are continually coming to us. We are listening.
We hear your voice, Holy Spirit, deep within us.
You give us hearts of compassion that we do not want to lose.
Help us to do justice, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with you. By your grace, God, we are listening.

2.
Leader: Eternal God, all of Creation sings your praise.
All: Every day is your Word, and every night discloses your truth.
Creation does not use words, but it reveals your grace.
Your truth is our very being; your Word gives us life.
Your promises are more precious than anything in our lives.
Your Covenant is our life itself.
Help us, then, to pay attention.
Give us grace to let go of everything and listen.
Help us to attend to what is hidden, to hear what is silent.
For in the voices that are silenced, in quiet pleadings,
you speak your truth and you lead us to justice.
God, if we listen humbly and faithfully, we hear your voice.
Alleluia! Living Christ, speak to us,
and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!


3.
We trust in God, Spirit of life, Creator of all that is and all that is to come; who surrounds us and fills us; who speaks the Word of life in us; and so we listen. We listen to Jesus, Revealer of God, our brother and teacher; who lived in prayer, and in love. Listening to God’s voice and doing God’s will, he gave his life in love; but God raised him to life that is eternal; and so we follow him. We follow in the power of Holy Spirit, God alive in us, for the sake of the healing of the world. We trust in the power of love, the call to forgiveness, the reality of resurrection, the gift of the universal Church as the body of Christ, and the mystery of eternal life. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Loving God, Patient One,
we set aside our judging,
knowing with such certainty;
instead we listen for your presence,
your humble, unassuming, quiet voice
that never gives up on us.
By your grace, we listen.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Help us to listen for your voice, to hear your cry for justice, to discern your Word, and to humbly follow, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

I Wait for Your Will      (Original song)

I wait for your will.
I wait for your will, O God,
for your loving will,
your life-giving will.
I wait for your will, O God.

1. All I desire to control
I let go and place into your hands, my God.
2. Heal and protect and provide.
Hear me and stay by my side.
3. You are my wisdom and strength.
I will do your will alone, my God.
4. Help me to listen and wait,
trusting your Spirit to move, my God.


Listen       (Original song)

(verse 1, Transfiguration version)
“This is my dear Beloved Son,
the Light of Life, my Chosen One.
And so I ask by grace, by choice,
you listen for his gentle voice.
/
(verse 1, Elijah version)
“Not in the earthquake, fire or wind
will you find me, your faithful friend;
but in the silence is my Word:
it is not spoken, but is heard.
/
“For when you listen and attend
in silence deep, you meet your Friend,
whose voice no words can catch or hold,
and yet whose love is clearly told.

“And listen well with love’s deep art,
to what is in your neighbor’s heart,
for there I dwell, and there I speak;
and there I hide, for you to seek.

“My glory shines in every face
of my beloved human race.
So listen well with wond’ring care:
behold my glory shining there.”


My Heart Is Open      (Original song)

I listen for your Word. My heart is open.

I hunger for your Word. I listen for your voice.
I hold the silence, Love, so you may gently speak to me.

Show me your ways, O God, teach me, O Holy One,
and lead me in your path. For you I listen all day long.

I listen for you, Love, and in your Word I hope.
More than the watchers wait for morning, God, I wait for you.

I listen for your Word. My Heart is open, open.

OT 28 – 18th Sunday after Pentecost

October 9, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Jeremiah 29.1-7 the prophet writes a letter to the Israelites who have been taken into exile in Babylon. He urges them not to think they have been helplessly deported, but sent for the purpose of ministry: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” God commands us to care for the people around us, even if they are foreigners or “enemies.”

Psalm 66 proclaims God’s gracious care even in adversity (“we went through fire and water, yet you have brought us out…”). In gratitude, the Psalmist says, “I will make an offering.”

In 2 Timothy 2.8-15 Paul celebrates our life in Christ and calls us to be faithful (“If we have died with him, we will also live with him”), trusting Christ’s faithfulness to us. He encourages us to be good workers for God.

In Luke 17.11-19. Jesus heals ten lepers and sends them to show themselves to the priest (to fulfill the law, and perhaps as part of their healing, and a prophetic witness). But only one of them, the one who is a Samaritan, a despised enemy, returns to give thanks before going away. Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine?

Preaching Thoughts

Jeremiah
      The prophet gives voice to two realities in us. One is that we are here for a purpose, that we have not just “ended up”where we are but that there is some divine intent. This doesn’t mean God “planned” for you to be where you are, doing what you’re doing, but that the universe can use you where you are. That Spirit can flow through you in whatever situation you find yourself.
      The other is the sense that we are in exile. We don’t quite belong. The story of the Hebrew Bible is mostly about God and seeking to be faithful to God, but it is also about seeking to find belonging. We are the people of a “wandering Aramean,” called to go to a foreign land and settle there. Abraham and Sarah wandered in and out of various places, seeking, achieving and losing belonging. Israel was enslaved in Egypt, and rescued, and yet still wandered for 40 years, seeking a place of belonging. God gave laws “so that you may dwell in the land I have given you.” The Babylonian exile repeats the theme again: we are not where we belong.
     The image of exile speaks to our own experience. We’re not necessarily “at home” where we are, in our location or in our culture or in our bodies or our relationships. Sometimes those of us of a certain age feel like strangers in the 21st century. Sometimes you look around your marriage and realize you’re not in the garden any more. Or you watch the news and think, “This is not the country I thought I lived in.” And sometimes you observe your life, or your job, or even just look in the mirror, or feel your knees talking to you, and think, “Wait. Who have I become?” It can be quite profound—that I’ve lost touch with who I’m supposed to be. There’s an element of estrangement, of not quite belonging, or trusting you belong. And Jeremiah says that’s OK. Just seek the welfare of the situation life has put you in. Your belonging is to a greater reality, a more vast energy, than the little plot of what was familiar to you when you were young,and beyond what you can likely discern. God’s use for you exceeds your understanding. Just be willing to show up, be present where you are, and keep shining the light.
     Jeremiah’s message is both comforting and discomforting. It’s reassuring to know we’re of use to the universe no matter what. But it can be less comforting to know there’s sense of loneliness and alienation that’s a part of life. It’s only when we accept this that we are again reassured, that the feeling of exile is a normal human thing, and that our feelings of exile don’t define or limit who we are, why we’re here or what we have to offer. I think one of the fundamental issues of being human is to deal with our capacity to choose to be something other than ourselves, to be in exile from our true selves, and the work—the real struggle, sometimes—to get back to being ourselves, to have a fruitful conversation with our inner sense of exile. That struggle involves three actions: seeking to continually move toward a more authentic being, and to recognize that we never quite make it, that we never fully overcome our alienation from what God envisions in us, and to make our peace with that. To know that even as exiles in our own being, we have purpose, and awkward as it sometimes feels, that’s where we “belong.”

Psalm
     v. 4 “All the earth worships you.” It’s easy to affirm that the created world worships God simply by being. Mountains and flowers praise God simply by being mountains and flowers. A harder step for us to take is to trust that the created world includes us: that we worship God simply by being—especially when we do our best to be the authentic individuals and community God creates us to be, rather then the ones we pretend to be. Again we are invited to confront our sense of exile.
     v. 6“You turned the sea into dry land.” This is obviously a reference to the exodus, a partner to the theme of exile. Biblically it is God who rescues us from both. As we recount “what God has done” (v. 5) we’re invited in particular to be mindful of what God has set us free from. As clearly as the ancient Israelites remembered their liberation from slavery, as clearly as an alcoholic remembers how long they’ve been sober, we should be mindful of how God as set us free and has “kept us among the living” (v. 9). How have you been set free?
     v. 10 “You have tested us.” The psalm expresses Israel’s suffering as God’s intentional action; it may be more a function of fate, as well as consequences of Israel’s actions. But the underlying message is that God didn’t abandon the people. We may have gone “through fire and through water” (v. 12) but God has been faithful to us and brought us through. What has God brought you through?
     v. 12 “You have brought us out to a spacious place.” It’s a lovely image of deliverance: being brought out to a place where we have room to grow, room to be ourselves, room to play.

2 Timothy 2
     v. 11-13: The saying is sure:
If we have died with Christ, we will also live with Christ;
if we endure, we will also reign with Christ;
if we deny Christ, Christ will also deny us;
if we are faithless, Christ remains faithful
(for Christ cannot deny Christ’s own self).

     It’s hard to know how to handle this ancient hymn. Will Christ deny us? Peter did, but Jesus didn’t deny him. The saying seems to assume that for Christ to remain faithful is to be faithful to some principle—that there is reward for affirming Christ (that is, I guess, being Christian) and punishment, or at least withholding of blessing, for not doing do so. This arises, I think from the Christian sense that we need to convert people. But I think for Christ to be faithful is specifically to be faithful to us, not to some principle. That’s what love is. That was Jesus’ message. The saying tries to paint Christ’s relationship with us as symmetrical but it isn’t. That’s the whole point of grace. In fact we are faithless, and Jesus is faithful to us anyway. In preaching this I don’t think we can pretend the hymn doesn’t say this, or that it means something else. I think we just have to acknowledge that it’s there, and, with the help of plenty of other scripture, disagree with the image of Christ denying us.
     
Luke
     It can be easy to take God’s grace for granted. We are often among the “other nine” who forget to offer thanks. This story is about gratitude, and also privilege. The one who does return to give thanks is a Samaritan—one of the bad guys. The more privilege we’re given, like by being white, middle class, well-educated, straight Christians, the easier it is to assume we’re the center of the world, and that we deserve good treatment from life. Tragedy happens to other people. Privilege engenders entitlement. But those who are routinely marginalized know not to expect such privilege, and are more acutely grateful for every blessing. Though we can’t deny our privilege, as we can be mindful that everything, even what society says we “deserve,” is actually a gift. Sometimes we just forget to give thanks. This story asks of us the same question the Psalm does: How have you been healed? Are you grateful?
    Gratitude is not a feeling. It’s a practice. It’s the action of taking stock of what we’ve been given; letting go of all our sense of entitlement; and receiving those blessings as unearned, unwarranted gifts, the overflowing of God’s delight. Truly beholding them as unearned sometimes leads us back into deeper repentance of our sense of entitlement, which deepens our gratitude. It’s not that blessed people are grateful. It’s that grateful people are blessed. The more grateful we are, the more we experience things as gifts, and discover deeper joy.
    The other nine are, of course, going to show them selves to the priest, as both Jewish law prescribes and Jesus has told them to do. The one Samaritan has departed from what he was instructed to do. Maybe sometimes our true heart leads us to step aside from prescribed religious paths to a more direct encounter with Christ.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: What wondrous gifts our Creator has given us!
All: God, we are in awe, and we praise you!
What amazing love Christ has offered us
Christ, we are healed, we are changed, and we thank you!
What blessings and powers the Holy Spirit has given us!
You have given us new life1 We turn to you in gratitude,
to give you our thanks and praise, to give you our lives!


2.
Leader: Creator God, for the gifts of Creation
All: we thank you.
Loving Christ, for the gift of your grace and your presence
we thank you.
Holy Spirit, for your power in us, giving us life and love
we thank you.
We praise you. We worship you. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: Eternal God, Source of all life, for all Creation, and for your grace,
All:
with grateful hearts, we thank you!
Risen Christ, for your tender love, your healing touch, your dying and rising,
with grateful hearts, we thank you!
Holy Spirit, for your mystery, for your beauty, for your power in us,
with grateful hearts, we thank you!
For our grateful hearts, we thank you!
May our lives be a prayer of thanks and praise!


4.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: God of abundant grace, we thank you!
Christ, you who have died and risen, we greet you.
Christ, our brother, our savior and our Chief, we thank you!
Holy Spirit, you fill us with life and love, with power and beauty.
You fill us with compassion and gratitude,
with thanksgiving and awe. We thank you. Alleluia!
Arise, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!


5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
Glory be to you, O God of all Creation.The turning leaves remind us of your glory;
they sing of the beauty of your love.
Help us to turn to you, God,
and so reveal our deepest beauty.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

6.
Leader: Loving Creator, we praise you.
All: Gentle Healer, we thank you.
Faithful Redeemer, we adore you.
Beautiful Savior, we worship you.
May our hearts always overflow with gratitude.
Alleluia. Amen.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love and mercy, you have blessed us in so many ways. We thank you. We come to you in gratitude and humility and offer our lives and thanks, knowing even in our giving we receive. Speak your Word to us, that we may live our thanks all our days, in the name and the Spirit and the presence of Christ. Amen.
2.
God, when you have spoken to our hearts it has given us joy. We are grateful. So we listen again. Bless us, that we may receive, be changed, and serve you. Amen.

3.
God of love, we come before you distracted, impatient and blinded by our desires. Open our eyes to the wonders you bestow upon us. Open our hearts to the miracles you work among us. Open our ears to your Word now as you speak to us in scripture, and in our hearts. Amen.

4.
God of infinite grace, fountain of life, you shower abundant blessings on us. You are a waterfall of blessing, a ceaseless spring of delight, the sun of mercy. Your Word is an infinite gift. Your presence is our eternal home. With gratitude we open our hearts to your Word, to your presence, to your grace. In joy, we look for the presence of Christ. In trust and gratitude, we listen for your voice. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

1.
Pastor:
The grace of God be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Gracious God, we have been tried and found wanting.
In the light of your Spirit we give thanks for our blessings,
repent of our sins,
and ask your grace for our struggles.
By the grace that we know in Christ,
forgive us, heal us, and perfect your love in us.
[Silent prayer … The Word of Grace]

2.

God of gentle mercy, we confess our sin,
that we have not lived in perfect trust and gratitude,
compassion and joy.
Our hearts have been broken and we have lived in fear.
Forgive us and heal our hearts
in the name of the crucified and risen Christ. Amen.

3.
….
We confess we have tended to ourselves,
and not to the welfare of the place we have bee sent.
Forgive our sin, heal our fear;
open our eyes, widen our gaze,
deepen our trust and strengthen our compassion,
in the Spirit and grace of Christ.



Readings

A prayer of thanks
Leader: Creator God, for the gifts of Creation, for earth and sea, sky and stars,
for plants and animals and all living creatures, and for food that you give us,
All: we give you thanks!
For the gifts of beauty, for art and music, for literature and drama, for the beauty of each culture and every language,
we give you thanks!
For the gifts of community, for all those who have come before us, for those who have taught us and provided for us, for all those who have helped us in our life’s journey,
we give you thanks!
For family and loved ones, for love that has not failed us, for friends who have stood by us in hard times,
we give you thanks!
For the gift of Christ, your love embodied among us, and for the gift of faith, for our traditions, for scripture and teachings of wisdom, for the whole Body of Christ, all people who seek union with you throughout the world,
we give you thanks!
For your grace, walking with us each moment of our lives, for your forgiveness and your guidance, for your blessings even in the hardest of times, and your abiding presence, for your amazing love poured out into us and through us,
we give you thanks! May we always be grateful.
May our lives be songs of humble, joyful praise!

Response / Creed / Affirmation

     God of abundance, we thank you for your gifts! You have created all things by your Word, and created us in your image. We are in awe, and full of wonder.
     Christ, our healer, teacher and savior, we thank you for your gifts. You have gathered us into a community of hope and compassion. You have given us your blessing and offered to us your wisdom. You have filed us with you Spirit and your love. You died for us, and rose that we too might die and rise in faith. So we follow you with trust and gratitude.
     Holy Spirit, you give us gifts with which to serve God and our neighbors. You make us into one body by the grace of your presence, with the power to forgive. Trusting in the mystery of resurrection and your presence within us, we devote ourselves to you, Holy One, in courage and compassion. And in all things, we thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Loving God,
every moment has been a gift,
every moment.
And we have taken them for granted.
We have been healed and held,
blessed and beloved.
Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.

Eucharistic Prayer

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding 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.

Creator God, we thank you for the gift of Creation.
For your love and grace, we thank you.
For setting us free from all that oppresses,
and healing us of all that wounds us, we thank you.
For calling us to join you in resisting injustice
and mending the world, we thank you.
For making us one in your Spirit and gathering us here, we thank you.
In gratitude we come to this feast of thanks,
singing your praise with all Creation.

     (Sanctus)

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who gave gifts of food and healing,
of love and attention, of acceptance and delight.
For his love for us, we thank you.
For his steadfast companionship, we thank you.
By the powers of injustice he was crucified,
but you raised him from the dead, and we thank you.
In inviting us here to his table he embodies your forgiveness,
and your Covenant to be with us always in love.

     (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)

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.
Your Spirit make us one, and we thank you.
Your Spirit gives us gifts and healing powers, and we thank you.
Your Spirit sends us into the world
to love, to heal and to share your delight, and we thank you.

(Amen.)

____________
* 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

1.
Gracious God, in gratitude for all you have given us, and in faithful stewardship of what you have placed in our hands to share with the world, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will, for the sake of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Give us hearts of gratitude that overflow in generosity, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen

Prayer after Communion

God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. As in this ordinary meal we have seen your presence, so every moment is a miracle of grace. Fill our hearts, heal our fears, lift our spirits, and guide our feet to follow in your ways with gratitude and delight, in the Spirit and company of Jesus. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

God, We Thank You      (Tune: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling)

God, with grateful hearts we thank you for your blessings and your grace,
gifts of life and all Creation, gift of all the human race.
For your boundless love and mercy, your forgiveness, given free,
Loving One, we praise and thank you—singing, living joyfully.

For your healing, for your wisdom, guiding us through all our days,
for each person and their varied gifts, we give you endless praise.
Give us grace to thank you, God, for grace that hides in everything.
Give us eyes and ears to notice; give us grateful hearts to sing.

May we come to life in wonder at the gifts that you bestow;
and in generosity of hand and spirit overflow.
Blossoming in gratitude, God, may we gladly serve and give,
praising you in all we do, with thanks throughout the lives we live.

World Communion Sunday

October 2, 2022

Suitable Texts

Scriptures abound that lend themselves to World Communion reflection. Examples:

Isaiah 56.3-8. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

1 Corinthians 12.12-27. You are the Body of Christ

John 17.20-23. “That they all may be one.”

Preaching Thoughts

It seems paradoxical to preach that in the Eucharist we are in communion with all Christians around the world when Communion itself is among the things that divide us. I usually insist on respecting multiple interpretations and traditions, but here’s a place where I’ll step out and say the traditional Roman Catholic teaching is just plain wrong. Jesus clearly shared food with everybody—sometimes 5000 at a time—including believers and unbelievers, clean and unclean, righteous and sinners, Jews and gentiles. It’s just plain wrong to insist that one must belong to a certain sect (yes, all denominations are sects) to partake of the Eucharist. I see no biblical warrant for it, but exceeding evidence to the contrary. Paul says, “All who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” This is often interpreted to mean you’re supposed to see the physical flesh of Jesus in the bread and wine. But in the context of everything Paul is talking about, that is, the church, I think he means discerning the body of Christ—the community, the whole. The bread, and the complete self-giving it symbolizes, lead us to be mindful of the whole human community Jesus died for, including people of every tradition, denomination, sect, religion, belief system or unbelief. I think central to Jesus’ and Paul’s gospel is the radical inclusiveness of God’s love and the profound oneness of the human family.

Psalm 137 is the lectionary psalm of the day. Our discomfort with the violence of the psalm’s passion invites us to look at our discomfort with the suffering of others, especially those we don’t identify with. (We white folks seem more deeply touched by the plight of white Ukrainians than that of Asian Uyghurs or Rohingya.) World Communion Sunday, celebrating our unity in Christ, invites us to enter into the suffering of others, even foreigners, even enemies, because they too are our kin, members of our own body. This is the meaning of taking up the cross: to enter into the suffering of the world.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Creator God, Mother and Father of us all, your children worship you.
All: People of every tribe, nation, language and culture praise you!
Risen Christ, your sisters and brothers around the world give thanks to you.
People of every kind and status, in every hut and cathedral sing to you!
Holy Spirit, you make us one, the Body of Christ, throughout the World.
Loving Christ, we come to your table to be together with our sisters and brothers.
May there be unity among us. May we be one in the love and faith of Christ,
one in the Spirit, and one in ministry to all the world, to the glory of God. Alleluia!

2.
Leader: Creator of the universe,
All: you bring forth all Creation, and we belong.
You give birth to all peoples;
you create one human family, and we belong.
You feed us with your love;
you make of us one Body in your Spirit, and we belong.
So we come, people of every race and nation and tribe and people,
to worship together and to feast on your love. Alleluia!


3.
Leader: Creator of all things,
       All: we praise!
Of earth and sky, the seas and stars, and all living beings,
       we praise!
Loving Mother and Father of all people, nations and races,
       we adore!
You whose arms hold Koreans and Bolivians, Rawandans and Inuit,
       we adore!
For Baptist and Orthodox, Methodist and Moravian, Congregational and Coptic,
       we give thanks!
With all your Beloved we gather at your table to feast with our siblings in Christ,
one in the Body of Christ, one in your love.
       We worship, we receive your grace, and we give of ourselves, for the sake of the world.
       Alleluia!

4.
Leader: Glory be to you, O God of all Creation.
All: Thanks be to you, O Christ, for our salvation.
You have saved the people of all nations and races!
People of every color and heritage praise you in every language.
Gather us as one family at your table, Love;
in your Spirit, make us one.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5.
Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You alone are holy, and we worship you.
You gather us as one people around the world:
one in Christ, one in your Spirit,and one in our worship of you.
We give thanks for the gathered community,
and for your presence among us!
Alleluia! Make us one, God! Make us one! Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, like a loving mother who has prepared a wonderful meal, you call all of your children to your table, to share together, to be at peace with each other, to tell our stories, to nourish one another, and most of all to feast on your grace. Feed us with your Word, that we may truly be children of God. Amen.
2.
God of all Creation, we gather at your table with your children of every nation. We thank you for your loving presence, for your Church across the globe and for the Spirit that unites us. As we listen, our sisters and brothers around the world are listening in uncounted languages. May we all hear your Word, hear your love, in the Spirit of Christ. Make us one, Love; make us one. Amen.

3.
God of love, like a loving mother who has prepared a wonderful meal, you call all of your children to your table, to share together, to be at peace with each other, to tell our stories, to nourish one another, and most of all to feast on your grace. Feed us with your Word, that we may truly be children of God. Amen.4.
God of love, your children around the world are listening to you now in many languages. Speak to us in truth that is deeper than words, in presence that is deeper than what can be seen, in love that is deeper than understanding. In scripture, in proclamation, in prayer—speak to us as you do to all your Beloved, from within Amen.

5.
Gracious God, at this moment, Christians around the world are gathered at this very table. We are among sisters and brothers in every land. Open our hearts and minds to your presence in the Body of Christ around the world. Help us to hear, to belong, and to gather others to your table. Speak to us: we are your children, and we are listening. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

God, we give thanks
for the diversity and unity of the human family,
and for your grace in the ways ways we honor that gift.
And we confess the ways we resist our unity,
resist our diversity, judge those who are not like us,
and ignore our siblings.
Heal our fear, forgive our sin,
and renew in us your loving Spirit.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

     We give our hearts to God, Creator of all people, Mother and Father of us all.
     We follow Jesus Christ, who embodied God’s infinite love for insiders and outsiders, and who created a community of love, not doctrine. In his Spirit we are are all one Body, members of one another. In his death and resurrection we witness the triumph of divine love over human divisions. In the breaking of bread together we celebrate the wondrous diversity of the Body of Christ, and we enact his vision of our unity and our companionship.
     We live by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s love in us, moving in us as a body, the orchestra of God, whose music is most beautiful when we are in harmony with each other. By that spirit we seek healing and justice for the whole human family and all Creation.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Holy One,
we are most holy when we are in you,
not cut off by ourselves.
Bring us into unity with you
and the whole Body of Christ,
that we may hear your Word
and live in your love.
Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]

1.
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.

Blessed are you, O God, Creator of all things,
ruler of the world and all that is to come.
By your Word you have created all people in your image.
Though we have all gone astray, each on our separate way,
you have freed us from bondage;
you judge the forces of division and evil,
and destroy the powers of oppression.
By your Spirit you have created your church, one people,
the Body of Christ, united throughout the world in your grace,
and you call us to be reconciled in Christ.
As you draw us to your feast this day, you call all your children;
we are one with them, and we honor them here around this table.
Therefore with the faithful around the world we sing as one voice:
[Sanctus]


Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your beloved Son, your Christ:
he formed community, welcomed the outcast,
and planted a mustard seed of faith in each of us.
He has broken down all dividing walls
and made us one in his love;
for in him you have established with us
an eternal covenant of reconciliation.

[… The Blessing and Covenant …]*

In the death and resurrection of Christ
you have freed us from all that separates us
from one another, and from you.
And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a holy and living sacrifice in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:

[Memorial Acclamation]

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 Holy Spirit on us,
that we maybe for the world the Body of Christ,
made one not by our faith but by your love,
one Body around the world,
one in you, and one in ministry to the world,
in the name and the live of Christ.
[Amen]
________________

2.
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.

Creator God, you have made the whole universe
from a single batch of dough,
and all humanity from one lump of dust,
breathing your one Spirit into us in our many forms,
many colors, many languages.
You continually create us as one, set us free from our divisions,
and walk with us into new life that is not like our captivity.

And so we celebrate with this Bread of Liberation, Bread of Unity.
       As many grains are made into one loaf,
       you make us into one Body in Christ.

We thank you for Jesus, who embodied your loving presence
and called us to our natural unity,
bringing back the outcast, restoring the forgotten.
For challenging our proud divisions
he was crucified by the forces of separation,
but he was raised by the power of unity and oneness, the power of love.
       In his life, death and resurrection we behold your grace,
       and we give thanks.
[The Blessing and Covenant…] *

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
As often as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection until he comes again.
       Remembering these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
       we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
       as a living and holy sacrifice,
       in union with Christ’s offering for us,
       as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
       Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

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 Holy Spirit on us,
       that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
       one in your love, one with each other, one in Christ,
       and one in ministry to all the world
       by the power of your Spirit alive in us.

     
(Amen.)

____________
* 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 after Communion

God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. As many grains are made one in a loaf of bread, you make us one Body in Christ by your love. Send us into the world to love courageously and to serve humbly, for the sake of the healing and harmony of all Creation. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Children of the Heavenly Mother    (Tune: Children of the Heavenly Father)

Children of the Heavenly Mother,
gather gladly with each other,
for you call us to your table
bringing gifts as we are able.

You have held us and caressed us,
washed and taught us, healed and blessed us;
now you cherish and adore us
and you set this table for us

You have birthed us, and have freed us;
with your body now you feed us.
In this grace, O loving mother,
we are one with one another.

So we praise you, heavenly Mother,
Holy Spirit, Christ our brother,
All Creation sings together
honor, thanks and praise for ever.


O Faithful God [Tune: Finlandia]

O faithful God, whose steadfast love is sure,
O Loving Father, Mother kind and strong:
your Covenant forever will endure;
you bind us to your heart our whole life long.
No matter how rebellious is your child,
in you we are brought home and reconciled

You hold us, God, in kinship with each other.
We have been loved and held when we would run.
We all are siblings, all born of one Mother;
though we would flee, you join us all as one.
Our deepest wounds come from our deepest love,
and so our highest hope for life above

So teach us God, to bravely love each other,
for all belong within your house of grace,
to give our enemy, who is our brother,
our steadfast mercy, and a wide embrace;
for in our love, though we be right or wrong,
we know the grace to which we all belong.


One Loaf      (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

Like wheat that’s made into one loaf of bread,
we are one Body with Christ as our head,
grateful for grace guiding us from above,
we are one people, one Spirit, one love.

Spirit, you live in us, in each and in all,
giving us each gifts to answer your call.
Your gift is in every soul, every heart,
each of us needed to offer our part.

Give us the faith, God, to go where you lead,
act as your loving and kind mustard seeds.
Send us in love to this world so in need,
spreading your good news in word and in deed.


Your Hands and Your Face (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God of all holiness, baptized in you,
we are your Body: your presence shines through.
We, poor in spirit, are blessed with your own.
May our lives shine forth with your grace alone.

We who with Jesus do mourn with the world
shall see your banners of deep joy unfurled.
We who are hungry for love freely shared
feast at the banquet that you have prepared.

May we be merciful and pure in heart,
your gentle peacemakers, doing our part.
Dying and rising, we do not fear loss,
sealed with your Spirit and marked with your cross.

Blest and beloved and baptized to serve,
we are your Body and you are our nerve.
Not by our effort, but by your pure grace,
may we be your hands and your human face.


Your Holy Feast (Tune: Oh Danny Boy)

Oh healing Christ, you bring us to your table here,
to share with you, and all the ones you love.
We come as one, alike forgiven, healed and dear.
Oh come and bless us, Spirit, tender Dove.
Oh, make us yours, your servants and your lovers.
Oh, make us one, united here in you.
Oh, make us new: the Red Sea lead us over,
and set us free to walk in harmony with you.

We come to eat the bread of peace you offer us.
We come to drink your resurrecting wine.
We come to feast upon your presence here with us,
and so become your Body as we dine.
So make us whole again, and be our living breath.
Make us your hands, and you will be our nerve.
Oh, risen Christ, we join you, rising up from death,
and by your side we’ll go, made new, to love and serve.



OT 26 – 16th Sunday after Pentecost

September 25, 2022

Lectionary Texts

In Jeremiah 32.1-15 Jerusalem is under siege, but Jeremiah buys some land as an act of hope, trusting that the time will come when peace is restored.

Psalm 91
celebrates God’s protective care that shelters us, even when there is danger all around.

1 Timothy 6. 6-19
warns against the love of money, invites us to practice contentment, and encourages us to live faithfully with trust in Christ, whose dominion is eternal.

Luke 16. 19-31
is a parable of a man so obsessed with his own wealth and comfort that he can not see the poor, either in this life or the next.

Preaching Thoughts

Jeremiah
      Hope is not just wishing for something in the future.. It’s trusting in what is already present though unseen. The prophet trusts God is at work and will restore Jerusalem. Hope is different from wishing in that it is an action, an investment in the hoped-for future, helping to make it present.

Psalm
     It’s hard not to read into this Psalm our desire to avoid suffering. If I’m God’s faithful believer, surely God will protect me from suffering, right? That was the very temptation Jesus had to wrestle with in the desert. The devil quotes verse 12: “Angels will bear you up lest you even stub your toe.” Of course Jesus rejected that temptation—and sure enough, he wasn’t saved by any angels when he was crucified. So is the promise “no evil shall befall you” a hoax? Because if it doesn’t mean that, then what in the world does this Psalm mean? Maybe it’s about more than physical comfort. You can suffer and still remain intact. You are beloved, and your personhood, your being, your soul is protected, even if your body or your reputation is wounded or your situation is miserable. I think it may be only in our deepest suffering that we can discover this mystery: that you can be both suffering and whole, both wounded and beautiful. You may get hurt, but God will keep your soul safe.
      Indeed we are more than our bodies. We identify so deeply with our body that we come to think we are our body, assuming that “I” am what’s inside this bag of biology. Paul calls that illusion “living by the flesh.” But we are more than that. We’re part of the Body of Christ. Living by the Spirit we’re aware that we’re not just isolated individuals but a community. You is always “you-all.” When we give our hearts to God, to the Love at the center of existence, we become part of eternal life—something infinite and eternal and essentially invulnerable. It doesn’t me we won’t get hurt. (The cross reminds us.) It means we can’t be destroyed. (Resurrection reminds us.)

1 Timothy
     It doesn’t say money is the root of all evil. It says love of money is the root of all evil. Money is a useful tool. But do you use your money to love yourself or your neighbors?

Gospel
     Who do we “see”? The rich man does not see Lazarus as a human being in his own right, as a peer, a brother. He probably doesn’t see him at all. And in the afterlife he sees him only as a servant. The rich man sees only himself and his his own needs. Jesus seems to notice people that others ignore. He often asks his disciples, “Do you see this person…?” And tells them, “Go and look….” What are we missing? Who are we not seeing?
     Who are you? The rich man has no name; he’s just labeled according to his possessions. But, unique in all Jesus’ stories, the poor man has a name! Lazarus. When he dies he’s treated with care and honor, carried by angels, but the rich man just dies, period. It’s as if Jesus is painting a complete and compassionate picture of the poor man as a whole human being, and letting the rich man define himself, in starkest terms, by his money. We often define ourselves by various possessions, attributes, activities, career, or or history—a banker, an athlete, a murderer, a poor man—but Jesus sees us as souls, individuals with stories, hopes, beauty, wounds and worth. How do you judge people? Who do you think you are?
       Family. The rich man is concerned only for himself, and finally, sort of for his brothers, but his circle of care expands no farther. Lazarus has no “brothers,” but he has a family: “Father” Abraham cradles him, presumably with everybody else. We can have as wide and deep a family, a circle of care, as we want. When our sense of family includes the poor, despite our having to share in their suffering, there is heaven itself. How great a family do you want?
     Hunger. Our fears (of scarcity and loss of control, for example) and our desires (for comfort & security, for control) shield us like the rich man’s gate from our deepest hunger, which is not for things, but for sharing life. The rich man is starving for faith—for a life of compassion. How hungry are you for a life of compassion?
     The chasm. In Jesus’ time you were simply born rich or poor. People didn’t change economic levels. In life a gate separates the rich man and Lazarus. There is no law that the rich man must feed the poor. (Jesus’s hearers would be surprised that he was tormented in Hades!) So the “gate” between him and Lazarus is one of tradition and social norms. But he chooses to hide behind it. In death a “great chasm” is fixed between them. I don’t think it’s a natural gap: it’s the (formerly) rich man’s poverty of compassion. He can’t cross it to experience blessing in the “bosom of Abraham” until he can cross the chasm of his own lack of compassion. What divides you from those who are poor or suffering?
     If someone rises… Abraham says, “If people do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Here’s Matthew’s cut against people who deny the faith: Jesus rose, but people don’t believe him. But more generally, it’s a critique of folks who just won’t listen. If you won’t listen to scripture and learn with humility and openness, you aren’t going to learn anywhere.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: God of abundant generosity, you bless us.
All: We are rich in your grace.
Loving Christ, you bless the broken and the needy, and you come to us.
We are poor in spirit.
Holy Spirit, you rouse us, you open our eyes, you stir us to compassion.
We open the gates of our hearts to you. Come in, and be our love.

2. [ Ps. 91]
Leader: O Holy One, we live in the house of your love,
in the shelter of your presence.
All: You are our refuge, our belonging, our home!
You guide us safely around dangers beyond us and within us.
Your mercy is our shelter. Your faithfulness is our security.
People around us may get anxious; thousands may get frantic;
but we do not fear. You bear us up on unseen hands.

You are with us, and you give us your own life.
We return to you. We surrender to you. We worship you.


3.
Leader: Generous Creator, you give us life abundantly.
All: You shower us with riches. How can we not praise?
Christ our brother, you show us grace among the world’s neglected souls.
You have blessed us beyond our deserving. How can we not sing?
Spirit of Truth, you hide in glory among the human race.
You call to us. How can we not share?
Come, Love, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!


4.
Leader: Loving God, we are hungry for your word.
You invite us to your table, to feast on your grace.
So many around us are hungry for food.
You invite us to share our table, that we may feast on grace.
Nourish us with your Spirit, that we may serve you faithfully.
May our lives be a generous feast of love and gratitude.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Merciful God, you provide for us a place of belonging, a home in the arms of your love. Safe in your grace, we open our hearts to your Word of life. Speak to us, transform us, and empower us with your love for this world. Amen.

2.
God of love, Holy Oneness, you who are wholeness and life and truth, we open our hearts to you. Dulled by our comforts and our privilege, we ask you to open our eyes, stir our hearts, and move us to do your will. Speak to us and awaken us with your Word. Amen.

3. [ I Timothy 6.6-19]
God, you who dwell in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to you be honor and eternal dominion. You give life to all things; and we want to take hold of the life that really is life. Speak your Word to us; call us to your side, so that we might keep your commandments and be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, in the Spirit of Christ. Amen

4.
God, you are our light and our day.
Open the windows of our minds,
that your dawn may pour in.
Open the eyes of our hearts,
that we may see, in beauty and truth. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Pastor: The grace of God be with you.
All: And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
God of mercy,
we confess our sin:
that our vision has failed,
our compassion has waned,
and we have not lived
the lives of love you intended.
Forgive us, heal us,
and restore us in Christ. Amen.
Silent prayer … The Word of Grace

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
      We trust in you, God, creator of all things, provider of life. You create us in your image, covenant to be our God, walk with us all our days, set us free from all that diminishes life, and lead us toward your Reign of Grace.
       We follow Jesus, your Christ, the embodiment of your love and presence. He healed and taught, fed the hungry and gathered the outcast, and announced the good news of your forgiveness. He noticed and named the poor, welcoming them into your family of grace. For his witness he was killed by the powers of oppression; but you have raised him from the dead.
        We live by the Holy Spirit, your resurrected love in us. In gratitude and humility we devote ourselves as the Body of Christ to love, mercy, reconciliation and justice. Open our eyes to know your desire for us, that we may live for the sake of your Reign of Grace, in the name of Christ, now and always. Amen.

2.
     We put our trust in God, creator of all that is and ruler of all that is to come, who loves all people, and whose mercy is not bound by our fears and prejudices, but is infinite and absolute.
     We give our hearts to Jesus, the Christ, God’s Word of love made flesh, who taught and healed, who noticed those whom others did not see and included those whom others did not want. He created a community of grace, redemption and transformation. He was crucified and raised from the dead, and lives among us still, calling us to lives of grace and mercy.
     We are vessels of the Holy Spirit, God’s compassion in us. We serve as one church, the Body of Christ. We honor the neglected mystery that all people eat at one table. Knowing we are poor in spirit, we follow Christ’s call to love, and devote ourselves to lives of compassion and justice, looking toward the day when all of God’s Beloved gather as one in peace, abundance, and joy. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

O Love, Most High,
you are our shelter.
Under your wings,
safe from the terrors of the world,
we rest in you.
Hold us in the great silence of your Word.

Eucharistic Prayer

[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding 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.

Generous God, we thank you. For all of life is a feast of your abundance.
You feed us with beauty and grace.
You call all your children to your table.
Here we eat with rich and poor, insider and outcast, with gratitude.
When we lose our way, when we become selfish, you bring us back.
Here at your table all are cherished, the feted and the forgotten,
the familiar and the foreign, together singing your praise:

     (Sanctus)

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ
who fed the hungry together with the rich.
He prepared a feast of grace and belonging
and invited everyone as one family to the table,
the table of life.

     (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)

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,
with food for the hungry and love for the outcast,
for we are all siblings in one family,
gathered at the table of life.
All thanks and glory be to you, God,
Parent and Provider of us all.
     
(Amen.)

____________
* 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

1.
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Open our eyes to the needy among us, and send us, in true poverty of spirit, to share with them, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. Fed by your love, may we reach out to all our siblings and provide them a place at the table, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

3.
God of love, in your grace you make us all one family, rich and poor, near and far. Send us forth with compassion for all our siblings, that we may invite all and share with all the feast of your abundance. Amen.

Prayer after Communion

God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Open our eyes to your beloved poor among and around us, mindful that we are poor in spirit and fed by your grace, eager to share the sacrament of generosity, and grateful that we are all your beloved children. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

Do Justice      (Original song)

“Do justice, love mercy,
walk humbly with your God.”
Oh, help us humbly live your justice,
your love, your mercy.


Feast on Mercy (Original song)

May not my comfort cloud my eyes to see the needy at my door.
But, poor in spirit, may I rise and feast on mercy with the poor.

Poor Christ, I confess: I cling to all that I possess.
Open my eyes to see the poor who bear your image to my door.

May my privilege and place not blind me to my need for grace.
With empty hands I come, for I am sure with grace, O God, you feed the poor.

As one who by your hand is fed I hunger now to share your bread.
To see that justice for the poor is done, for at your table we are one.


Open My Heart      (Tune: Open My Eyes)

Open my eyes that I may see everyone ‘round me lovingly,
shedding my labels, habits and fear, see with a heart that’s true and clear.
Patiently, God, may I behold each blessed life as it unfolds.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine.

Open my ears and let me hear unspoken stories, unshed tears.
Help me to hear with love shining through stories that no one’s listened to.
Tenderly, God, help me to hold what is within each person’s soul.
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine.

Open my heart and grant me love, mercy for those I’m heedless of.
Help me to know each person I face as one you bless with gentle grace.
Lovingly, God, please make me more mindful of those whom we ignore.
Open my heart, illumine me, spirit divine.

OT 25 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost

September 18, 2022

Lectionary Texts

Today’s readings lament the state of our world, but find hope in God, whose values are radically different form the world’s.

Jeremiah 8.18 – 9.1 is a lament, an expression of anguish, but also of hope, and not despair, for God’s grace always prevails. Jeremiah laments the ruin of his people, because they are not faithful. Is there a balm, a source of healing, in the land?

Psalm 79 laments that God’s people are subject to injustice, and cries out, “How long, O lord?”

1 Timothy 2.1-7 invites us into prayer, trusting that God really want us to share in God’s love and see the truth clearly.

In Luke 16.1-13 Jesus tells about a manager who is about to be fired. He cooks his masters’ books, reducing the amount others owe him—and the master commends him.

Preaching Thoughts

Jeremiah
     “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.” It’s ambiguous whether this is Jeremiah or God talking, but since the prophet speaks for God, it’s both. God is not mad at us; God grieves for us that we can’t seem to get it right. God is not one who punishes us, but who lets the consequences of our choices fall where they may. We are not being destroyed; we are self-destructive. The image here is not one of God bent on vengeance but a God who laments. “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears…” Again, is this Jeremiah or God? It’s both. What brings us back from the hell of our own making is not God’s anger (which only pushes us farther away) but God’s deep grief for us, because God loves us.

Gospel
     Yep. Weird story. Jesus has a few. A little background helps. Jewish law prohibits charging interest. But Jew or Gentile, rich landlords charged exorbitant rates, often hiding what amounted to interest in other “fees,” padding their income in many ways. Jesus’ audience would assume this would be the case in this story, and also that the steward probably added a cut for himself. When he reduces people’s debts, he might simply be eloiminating his own cut; he might be cutting out the (prohibited) interest, which the landlord can’t really argue with; or he might actually be reducing the principle owed. Jesus doesn’t specify. In any case, the steward is surely reducing his own take as well as that of the landlord. But in reducing the debt of the poor, he’s not just using shifty bookkeeping to make friends; he’s enacting justice. He’s helping out the poor. It’s an odd sort of Robin Hood kind of help, but it does favor the poor. Jesus might be engaging his hearers in a critique of an economic system that habitually preys on the poor.
     When Jesus says “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,” I don’t think he means to be sly or greedy for your own benefit; maybe he means the opposite: to use money in ways that benefit other people. A lot of our wealth is “dishonest.” Will we use it for selfish means or for the benefit of others?
     This is also a story about forgiveness of debts. From the beginning (see Luke 4.19) Jesus has preached and practiced the Old Testament principle of Jubilee in which debts are forgiven and slaves freed (Leviticus 25). From “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors” to “Father forgive them,” Jesus emphasizes forgiveness of every kind of indebtedness. In the Realm of God nobody owes anybody anything. Maybe this is a story about someone working toward that, even in a compromised situation.
     Let’s turn this into an allegory about God for a moment. All of us owe God a lot. Everything, in fact. But Jesus comes along as a steward of God’s grace and says, “What do you think you owe God?” Well, change that. You don’t owe God. It’s a gift. Jesus commends stewards of God’s grace who go around declaring forgiveness.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Creator God, for your infinite grace we praise you.
All: We praise you!
Loving Christ, for your amazing love we thank you.
We thank you!
Holy Spirit, in your life-giving power we worship you.
We worship you! Alleluia!

2.
Leader: Over the chaos of the world, God, you reign in peace and grace.
All: You who are the foundation of the world, we turn to you. Mercy!
Into the pain of our lives, Christ, you come with healing and redemption.
You who are our wholeness and our hope, we turn to you. Mercy!
Amidst suffering of this world, Holy Spirit, you bind us together in one Body.
You who are our unity and our compassion, we turn to you. Mercy!

3.
Leader: In this world there is beauty, and there is injustice.
All: Brokenhearted God, you weep for us.
In this world there is selfishness and greed.
Generous God, you forgive us.
In this world there are people who lift up holy hands in prayer.
God who desires all to be made whole, we join them;
we offer our supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings;
we worship you in trust and gratitude. Amen.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Creator God, you speak the world into being. By your life-giving word you heal us and make us new. Speak your word to us now, lead us in the way of your grace. Amen.

2.
God of love, you weep for the hurt of your people, for our injustice and greed. We are broken but you desire our wholeness. We bind one another with indebtedness of many kinds, but you proclaim forgiveness. Speak your Word to us, that we may see not as the word does but as you do: with mercy and grace. May we be good stewards of your love. Amen.

Prayer of Confession

Leader: God, the Holy One, the Compassionate One, cries out:
“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
Listen, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land.”
All: We lament our selfishness, our hate and our greed.
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt;
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.”
We lament our violence. Our injustice breaks the heart of God.
“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?”
God cries out for justice and healing yet we do not respond.
Yet there is a balm in Gilead. The grace of Christ still lives among us.
We cry out for your grace, O God.
We open ourselves to you: heal us, forgive us,
transform us, and fill us with your light.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

       We give our hearts to God, Creator of all that is, who holds all things in her heart, whose faithful compassion is infinite.
       We follow Jesus, our brother, our teacher and our friend, who embodies God’s love, who taught and healed and gathered a community of compassion for the world. For his love he was crucified, and on the cross he shared the pain of all humanity. But in love God raised him from the dead, and he lives among us still, accompanying us within divine grace and redeeming even our darkest suffering.
       We live by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s love in us, in whose grace we weep for the world, serve the hurting, and live as signs of God’s mercy. We live as One, the Body of Christ, in the power of forgiveness, the mystery of Resurrection, and the gift of eternal life. We devote our lives to bearing the heart of God, that we may make this wounded world more gentle and hopeful, in the Name of Christ. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

God, you desire that all be made whole,
and that we come to the knowledge of the truth.
We open ourselves to your presence,
your Word, and your healing.
Amen.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending

1.
Gracious God, we give you these gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Send us into the world as messengers of your forgiveness, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.