Homage

           On entering the house,
           they saw the child with Mary his mother;
           and they knelt down and paid him homage.

                           —Matthew 2.11


Grown men, powerful figures,
people with authority. Kings, even.
Bowed down. On their knees.
(King James says they fell down.
Says they worshiped him.)
Prostrate. Face to the dust.
Men of power, on the floor
for a peasant child, a toddler.

Stay there a moment.
Before the hymns,
the impressive gifts,
the pious symbolism,
stay in this silent moment of worship.

Let the authority in you
kneel down before the ordinary,
the poor and plain.
Let the wisdom in you
attend to the small,
bow before the simple.
Let the power in you
fall down—fall down—
in humble honor
of the fragile and tender,
the vulnerable, the meek.
In the little ones, not in the mighty,
is the glory of God.
Kneel, wise one,
and worship.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Another road

           Having been warned in a dream
           not to return to Herod,
           they left for their own country by another road.
                           —Matthew 2.12


For the oak trees New Year’s Day is just another day.
For the chickadee we have not turned a new year.

But we humans are creatures of hope;
we dare to believe that today is new,

that from this day forward
we can begin anew,

forgive and be forgiven,
learn, and unlearn some things,

step out of old ruts into new adventures,
new ways of being.

God, give me courage to start over,
to start, to be open to new ways,

to risk, to begin anew,
to go by another road.

May the new year bring healing of wounds past,
gratitude and trust in the present moment,

and abundant grace and blessings
in what lies ahead.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Baptism

           When Jesus had been baptized,
           just as he came up from the water,
           suddenly the heavens were opened to him
           and he saw the Spirit of God
           descending like a dove and alighting on him.
           And a voice from heaven said,
           “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

                           —Matthew 3.16-17


Awaking this morning, you rise
out of the waters of Creation.

Today you walk across the Red Sea. You will drown,
and come to in a new place.

The heavens are torn open forever.
You can get there from here:

Heaven has spilled out into this world.
Live this day as if you are in heaven.

You are God’s Beloved, radiant with the image of God.
You belong, and have no power to remove yourself.

You are immersed in Christ, who heals you,
who accompanies you, who dies and rises in you.

You brim with Spirit, humming within.
Let her live in you. Let her sing. Let her fly.

Let her love in her infinite way. You can give,
for you have abundantly received.

Christ will go about the world now, healing and teaching,
blessing and serving, in your hands and ears and eyes.

The fire with which God will change the world
glows within you. Tend it.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

The Baptism of the Beloved

Jesus came down to the water, down
to where we were, his feet pierced
by the sharp stones of our hearts,
his heart pierced by our cries.

Jesus went down into the water,
immersed in this mystery we are immersed in,
down, into bottoms, into dreams,
John’s hand on his shoulder the whole time.

There he swam like a fish deep
through the springs of your life,
through the vaulted sky of water,
through the Flood, the blood-thick water.

Spring at the bottom of a well.
Underside of a boat in a storm.
A jug of wine-red water, turning. Water
so dense with God you could walk on it.

You could see him moving like a sound
down there, like a current,
like an angel or a shark, like the spirit
brooding over the waters.

He troubled the waters.
Walked through the waters.
Drowned in the waters,
until it flowed with his blood.

Buried at sea, he wrestled
with frenzied swine, with Leviathan,
and Jonah’s whale, and all manner
of monsters that haunt your murk.

Was swallowed by them all,
and in their darkest innards
they were powerless to avoid
digesting him body and soul.

Three days under.
Silence.
The cry of a bird.
John breathed deep.

In a moment the water gave him up
and when he rose, fresh like a baby,
tears flowed down our cheeks
like the Jordan river.

__________________
Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light
www.unfoldinglight.net

Pentecost Sunday

May 28, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Acts 2.1-21. The disciples experience the Spirit so powerfully that Luke describes them as if they were on fire. They go into the streets of Jerusalem and begin talking about God’s love to people from all over the known world, each in those people’s native languages. Peter explains the event by quoting the prophet Joel’s vision of God pouring out the Spirit on all people of every age, gender and social station.

Psalm 104 praises God’s Creation and care for all creatures. “When you send forth your spirit they are created.”

1 Corinthians 12.4-13 speaks of the many ways that the Spirit lives in the members of the Church through varying gifts.

John 7.37-39. Jesus’s Spirit is a life-giving stream that flows to us (“Come to me and drink”); this stream, by the grace of the Spirit, also flows from us to others.

Preaching Thoughts

Speaking in tongues
I’m intrigued that the Pentecost story of “speaking in tongues” is about communication—the disciples speaking in other people’s languages (“tongues”) to communicate the gospel they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to communicate—and yet within twenty years “speaking in tongues” was understood not as speaking in known languages for the purpose of communication but in ecstatic utterances that were meaningless, even to the speaker, with out interpretation. I wonder how that reversal came about? I think the pentecostal challenge is not to experience ecstasy but to communicate the good news in ways people understand—which is not in our religious language, or even in words, but in love and justice.

That involves more listening than talking: paying attention to people and their lives, their context, their needs, and listening to them, to what they experience and need and ask for—a kind of “listening in tongues.” Pentecost invites us to check our tendency to center ourselves, our desire that others “speak our language,” our temptation to impose our own values on them. Sometimes the most pentecostal thing we can do is affirm people as they are, rather than ask them to conform to our standards and expectations. Pentecost invites us to assume God has been with them in their journey, even if it’s very different from ours.

The Holy Spirit
It’s helpful for us to personify the Spirit, to imagine the Holy Spirit as, well, a spirit—a sort of invisible “someone” who comes to us and acts upon us. That’s cool, as long as we remember we’re anthropomorphizing a member of the Holy Trinity, that is, God, who is not a god, but beyond all gods—the Mystery of Love that gives rise to all being, that is Being itself. The Holy Spirit is not some ghost, but God in us. In both Greek and Hebrew the word for wind, spirit and breath (and hence life) is the same: ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek. The Holy Spirit is the living energy of God (which is love) in us. When we love, that’s God doing God’s thing.

Jesus says “I am in God, and you in me, and I in you (Jn. 14.20). Sounds a little spacey, but it’s literally true. God is infinite; we are within God. The Holy Spirit is our inter-penetration, our inter-being. Jesus was both human and divine; so are we.

We speak of the disciples “receiving “ the Spirit at Pentecost, but they already had it. They were born with it. (Joel says the Spirit is poured out on all flesh.) And just to make sure, Jesus has breathed on them in John 20. But Pentecost is the moment when the spark catches fire and they burn with it, overcoming their fear and grief. Acting in the power of the Holy Spirit isn’t some ecstatic experience, but simply being a vessel for love. It’s not our love, our effort, but God’s. We let the Spirit, God’s love in us, do its thing. That’s what enables us to do things that seem beyond our capacity or expectations—like communicating love in languages we haven’t studied.

Baptism
Pentecost is a great day for baptisms, baptismal renewal, Confirmation, and receiving new members. People often conflate baptism and confirmation. Those who believe in “adult baptism” see it as a way to affirm one’s faith. But baptism, like birth, isn’t something you do; it’s something you receive. Baptism is a symbol of God’s unconditional love of the person being baptized—whether or not they like it, or understand it, or even know it. (That’s why we baptize babies.) Confirmation is the act in which we respond—we confirm our baptism; we accept our divine belovedness and vow to live in harmony with it. We can only be baptized once, since our belovedness is permanent, eternal and unchanging, and isn’t dependent on the pastor or church or denomination that pours the water, nor on the person receiving it. But we do need to continually re-affirm our baptism, to re-commit ourselves to the vows that were made at our baptism. Pentecost is a great time for baptismal renewal services. See a service of Baptism/ Baptismal Renewal/ Confirmation here.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Breath of Life, raise us up.
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Wind of Grace, carry us always.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Light of God, show us the way.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Spirit of God, make us one.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Flame of Love, send us forth.
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Alleluia!

2.
Leader: Spirit of Creation, you call us into being.
All: Spirit of life, you breathe your presence into us.
Spirit of love, you fill us with blessings for others.
Spirit of Christ, you breathe us into the world.
Spirit of God, be our life and our power.
Spirit of God, make us your Body, the Body of Christ.

3.
Leader: In the beginning the Spirit brooded over the waters.
All: Come, Holy Spirit, come.
God formed a human from the dust from the earth and breathed into it,
and it became a living person.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
John said, “I baptize you with water but one is coming
who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Jesus said, “The water that I will give will become in you a spring of water
gushing up to eternal life.”
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Jesus said of the Spirit, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Alleluia.

4.
Leader: Eternal God, by your Spirit you create us.
All: Risen Christ, you breathe your Spirit into us.
Holy Spirit, with each breath you give us life and love.
What beauty! What power!
You pour out your grace on us, like rain on thirsty land.
Your spirit is a well within us, gushing up to eternal life,
and flowing our of our hearts.
You are our breathing, our loving, our life.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5. (Jn. 7.37-38)
Leader: Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me.”
All: God, we are thirsty for you.
“Let the one who believes in me drink.”
We come to drink deeply of your Word,
your presence, your grace.

“As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart
shall flow rivers of living water.’”
Flow in us, God, with your love,
and by your grace flow through us
into the world. Amen.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Heavenly Lover, you who are the Spirit of love, breathe in us. Create us. Fill us with your life. Fill us with your love. Fill us with the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

2.
Breath of God, wind that blew over the sea at Creation; breath that brought to life the human form, made of the dust of the earth; Spirit that led Jesus through all his days: breathe life into us now; re-create us, and fill our bodies and souls with your Word of life, your song of blessing. We breathe deeply of your presence. In the secret language of the heart, speak to us. Amen.

3.
Holy One, Light of Love, Sun of Life, Blaze of Heaven, we turn to you like flowers to the sun to receive your light. Draw near to us and set us afire with your love. We are the lamp and you are the flame; we are the lighthouse and you are the light. Shine in us, until we are pure light, pure love, pure life! You are the river and we are your riverbank. Flow in us so that we may bear your grace to all the world in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

4.
Gracious God, you are our breath. Give us life, and ewe will praise you. Light of God, we come to shape ourselves to be vessels of your love. Give us grace, and we will serve you. Holy Spirit, you are our Wisdom and our life. Speak to us, and we will listen. Amen.

Listening Prayer

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

1.
Spirit of God,
you breathe in us.
You make us alive.
In the stillness we breathe
and you enter us.
You come in and out of us
with life-giving love.
We breathe you in and out,
and we give thanks.

2.
You have said to us who thirst
to come to you and drink.
O Love, we drink deeply of your presence.
You said out of our hearts shall flow
rivers of living water.
O Love, flow in us
with life for all Creation.

Prayers

1.
Graceful power, move in me.
May my living give language to your miraculous ways.
May my words express your goodness,
my actions reveal the abundance of your blessing.
Spirit, be the nerve that moves me as your body
to do your will, that all that I do
might clearly embody your grace
and be your living example.
May all whom I meet be given to understand
in the language of their hearts
your loving presence.
Amen.

2. [May be led by two readers.]
Rejoicing in the presence of the Spirit, let us pray for the church, the world, and all of God’s creation.

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle the flames of our witness to God’s presence.

We pray for the leaders of the church and all the people of God, that together we might live the gospel, and reach out to those with needy hearts. God in your mercy… you hear our prayers.

Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
We pray for oceans and sky, for rivers and deserts, for lakes and forests, for mountains and grasslands. God in your mercy…

Come, Holy Spirit, and pour out your justice on all nations.
We pray for countries wracked with violence, for soldiers and civilians, for peacemakers and relief agencies. God in your mercy…

Come, Holy Spirit, and give hopeful visions to the young and life-giving dreams to the old.
We pray for those whose lives are wracked by fear, for those who feel distanced from your light, and for all those in need in any way, especially…. God in your mercy…

Come, Holy Spirit, and guide us in our work.
We pray for firefighters and scientists, for midwives and custodians, for writers and housekeepers, for parents and students, for all who live out the gifts of the Spirit in their lives. God in your mercy…

Come, Holy Spirit, and bind us to the communion of saints who have gone before us.
We remember with thanksgiving all those who served and witnessed by your power, especially… God in your mercy…

Into your hands, O God, we commend ourselves and all for whom we pray, trusting in your abundant mercy. And now with the confidence that is ours in being sons and daughters of God, we pray to the One we call Abba, Father, the prayer of Jesus:

Poetry


           A sun within

I’m wondering how to love
such a big tough world,
where to find the strength to bless
the unending mass of the poor,
the problematic, the people who
annoy me. But You say to me,
“You don’t need to find anything.
You only need to breathe deeply
of this fire within; receive
what you have been given. You have
perfected your simple costume,
your blank demeanor.
But something deep within you roars:
not a flame, but a sun,
a wind that sweeps vast cities clear,
a heaving sea. Don’t you feel it?
The light seeps out through your joints.
The great tide swells
with every pulse of your heart.
You weary yourself trying to contain it.
Lie still for a moment in the sun
of God’s passion for you, the single flame,
the only light, that fills all things,
that loves each soul, until you catch fire.
Open your eyes, and let it stream from you.
Your heart is not a cistern. It is a river.
It is the sun. Wake up, for it is rising.


             Pentecost Prayer

Fire of God,
be my light.

Heat of God,
be my fuel.

Furnace of God,
purify me.

Blaze of God,
be my upward leaping.

Flame of God,
be my breath.

Wind of God,
be my steady leading.

Spirit of God,
may I burn with your love,

your passion to spread mercy
in this flammable world.


             Pentecost prayer

Holy Spirit,
River of love, divine delight,
flow through me.
Flame of sun, burn in me.
Wind of heaven, breathe in me.
Tongues of strangers, speak in me.
Love of God, sing in me.

Lead me beyond myself,
to return to you in the other,
to love you in my stranger,
my foreigner, my enemy.

Burn with your fire in me,
that it may be mine.
Breathe yourself into my life,
that it may be yours.
I am your song, and your singing.
I am your candle; you are my flame.

Holy Spirit,
love the world
in me.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
[From 1 Corinthians 12, Jn. 3. 5-6]
[Try experimenting with various ways of responsive readings in addition to Leader and Congregation. This merely an example.]
         Left side: No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
         Right side: Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
         Men: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit in all people. To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
         Women: The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
         All: We are the body of Christ, and each one of us is a part of it.
         
Under 50 years old : God says: “Here is my servant community whom I have chosen, the ones I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on them, and they will proclaim justice to the nations.”
         Over 50 years old: The Spirit of the Holy One is upon us, for God has anointed us to preach good news to the poor. God has sent us to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the grace of God.
All: Alleluia! Holy Spirit, be in us the light of God for the world. Alleluia!

2.
[Based on Romans 8. 2, 11-17]
We rejoice, for the power of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the power of sin and death. Since the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in us, then that same Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies also. So we belong not to our separate lives and desires, which are doomed, but to the one life of the Spirit. For all who are led by the Spirit are children of God. The Spirit does not restrict us, or shove us back into fear. The Spirit is our connection with God, as God’s children. When we cry, “Mommy! Daddy!” it is that very spirit in us crying out. So in the Spirit we are siblings with Christ: we suffer with Christ, and we are glorified with Christ.

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

We thank you God, for in the beginning
you gathered up dust from the earth and breathed your breath into it,
and it became a living being: us, your people.
When we were lost and enslaved
your pillar of fire led us to freedom through the wilderness.

When we were defeated and lifeless
your wind brought life to our dry bones.
In our need you sent Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit.
So we sing praise and thanks to you,
with all Creation breathing together:


            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ,
who taught and healed, who fed the hungry and included the outcast.
He breathed upon us his Spirit,
renewing your Covenant to be with us always in love,
and empowering us to love as he loved.


     (The Blessing and Covenant)
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

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,
one in your grace and aflame with your love,
for the sake of the world, in the name of Christ.


     [Spoken or sung]
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 / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us. / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In gratitude we give you our lives, symbolized in our gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. May your Spirit always flow through us, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us. / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In this meal you have poured yourself into us, and filled us with your Spirit of love. Send us into the world to convey your love to others, that they also might know your powerful works. We pray in the name of Christ. Amen.

3.
Spirit of Life, flow through us. Flame of Love, burn in us. Holy Presence, shine in us. May our whole lives be a song of praise for you, in the name of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

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


Bearers of Light (Tune: Morning Has Broken)

God, how you love us, hold us and bless us,
reign from above us, lead us by hand
Call us to healing, bound by your Promise,
your Word revealing, by your command.

Great holy giver of life and wonder,
deep like a river your blessings flow.
Gladly we give you praise and thanksgiving:
gifts we will give wherever we go.

Baptized, anointed, filled with your Spirit,
we are appointed bearers of light:
for liberation, servants of justice,
bringing the nations joy and delight.


Breath of God (Tune: Londonderry Air – “Oh Danny Boy”)

O Holy One, Creator of the stars of night,
whose dust we are, created with your light,
now breathe your spirit into us and give us life;
give us new hearts that beat with your delight.
Our dust and ashes, Love, we give in faith to you.
Receive our lives, our sin, our wounds, our death;
and raise us up with Christ from death to life by grace.
God, may we be your love and you our living breath.

Breathe into us the breath of your compassion, God,
the breath to sing your praise in all we do,
the breath to run the race of justice, long and far.
Breathe, holy breath: empower and renew.
O be the grace that fills our lungs, reviving us;
O be the wind on which our hearts can soar;
O be our life, our beauty and our living breath.
O Spirit, come breathe in us now and evermore.


Fire of Love (Tune: HOLY MANNA)

Holy Spirit, you have gathered us as on that Pentecost
when you gathered Christ’s disciples and their fears and doubts were lost:
breathing life into their souls, and shining out of every face,
you sent them into the streets to tell of God’s amazing grace.

Each aflame with your compassion, eager that your praise be sung,
fearlessly they filled the streets to tell your news in every tongue.
So we ask you, by your life within us, giving us new birth,
send us out to spread God’s love in Jesus’ name to all the earth.

Holy Spirit, you have granted gifts to each, in our own way,
so that we might serve you as we live and work and share and pray.
By your pow’r we love our neighbors, work for justice, act with peace,
reach the lost and serve the lowly: so your work will never cease.

Holy Spirit, energy of God that links us soul to soul,
by your grace we are the Body of the risen Christ, made whole.
Be the breath that lifts our singing; be the wind that fills our sails;
be the fire of love among us ‘till the Reign of God prevails.

Holy Spirit, Burn Within Us (Tune: BEECHER, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling)

Holy Spirit, Sun of Heaven, source of light and warmth and power,
fill us and transform us like a seed that turns into a flower.
Kindle in your willing people joy’s bright spark, compassion’s flame.
Set us all afire to bear your loving light in Jesus’ name.

Holy Spirit, burn within us, radiant with your healing grace.
Give us brand new ways to meet and love the stranger face to face.
Help us find new ways of caring. Help us set new, daring goals.
Give us brand new languages to speak your love to seeking souls.

Holy Spirit, let your fire consume us, changing us at last.
Let us rise like light emerging from the embers of the past.
May the star of pure compassion shine within and set us free.
Holy Spirit, make us all your flame that burns eternally.


Holy Spirit, Wind of Heaven (Tune: Joyful, Joyful)

Holy Spirit, Wind of Heaven, Breath of Life, our warmth and light,
Power of Creation, bringing hopeful dawn from darkest night:
you have birthed us, you have borne us; you have blessed us all our days,
now you fill our lungs with singing; how you fill our hearts with praise!

Holy Spirit, flame of passion, you who brought your Church to be,
re-create us as your Body, holy in our unity.
Fill us with your fierce compassion, gentle courage, trust and peace.
Lead us all to love each other; make our sad divisions cease.

Holy Spirit, Dove descending, mind of Christ within us all,
speak your wisdom, move among us, help us hear your inner call.
Be the only pow’r that moves us; be our life, O singing Dove!
Holy Spirit, come, revive us! Fill us with your heart of love!


Spirit of God (Original song)

Spirit of God, bright Wind, breath that bids life begin,
blow as you always do; create us anew.
Give us the breath to sing, lifted on soaring wing,
held in your hands, borne on your wings.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit, come.

Spirit of God, bright Dove, grant us your peace and love,
healing upon your wings for all living things.
For when we live your peace captives will find release,
held in your hands, borne on your wings.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit, come.

Spirit of God, bright Hands, even in far-off lands
you hold all the human race in one warm embrace.
No matter where we go you hold us together so,
held in your hands, borne on your wings.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit, come.!…

Spirit of God, bright Flame, send us in your holy name,
with power to heal, to share your love everywhere.
We cannot fail or fall or know defeat at all,
held in your hands, borne on your wings.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit, come.!…

Spirit of God in all, we gladly hear your call,
the life in our hands that sings, the power of your wings.
Born of your grace we rise, love shining in our eyes,
held in your hands, borne on your wings.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit, come.!…

Ascension Sunday

May 21, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Ascension Day

Acts 1.1-11. Jesus’ final instruction s to the disciples 40 days after the resurrection, and his ascension

Psalm 47 rejoices that God has “gone up with a shout” and sits on the holy throne.

Ephesians 1.15-23. A prayer that you may receive “a spirit of wisdom and revelation… with the eyes of your hearts enlightened,” so that you might know the greatness of God’s power, the power with which God raised Jesus from the dead.

Luke 24.44-53. A shorter account of Jesus’ ascension.

7th Sunday of Easter

[Ascension Day, 40 days after the Resurrection, is May 18, but may be observed Sunday the 21st. Regardless of other textual choices, include at least one version of the ascension story.]

Acts 1.6-14. The ascension story.

Psalm 68.1-10, 32-35. “God, parent of orphans and protector of widows, has given the desolate a home to live in.”

1 Peter 4.12-14; 5.6-11. Blessed are you who are persecuted for your faith. Discipline yourselves. Cast your anxiety on God. Resist evil. God will restore you.

John 17.1-11. Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, that they (we) may know God, and that they be one.

Preaching Thoughts

    The story of the Ascension, like that of the Transfiguration, is highly symbolic. Treating it as a historical fact that proves a certain point (like that Jesus is divine) is not as fruitful as letting it be a story that invites our wonder. The story offers layers of “meaning” and significance.
   We still cling to the ancient worldview that God is “up” (NFL players point to the sky when they score. Why not point to the ground, or their hearts?) Given that geography, for Jesus to ascend implies he’s gone”up” to be with God on the throne—that is, to rule over all Creation. Jesus has ascended to the “heavenly places:” not the sky, or the afterlife, but the place of power at the heart of all things. Love is actually sovereign, even if it’s unseen.
    For those concerned with the physical body of Jesus after the resurrection, this seems to present a puzzle: now where is Jesus? But he has told them: In you. In Luke 24.48-49 and Acts 1.8 Jesus has charged them to continue his ministry and promised the Spirit (in John 20.22 he has already breathed his spirit into them). So it’s not just a story about Jesus: it’s a story about us. Jesus is the spirit; they (we) are the body. On Pentecost the disciples will discover that gift with amazing power. The Ascension makes way for the community to become the physical body of the risen Christ.
    This is also a story about grief and transition: the disciples now have to live without Jesus in separate physical form. It reflects a lot of the change, grief and uncertainty in the early church, and in the church these days.
    It’s raises the question of how we live out our faith without the reassurance of Jesus’ physical presence with us. Much as we might wish he were ”here” in that way, we have to learn to accept his presence in a different form.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: God of glory, something has happened.
All: God of love, something has changed.
Christ now reigns overall the world.
Christ now reigns over all our hearts.
All our minds.
All our lives, and all our choices.
Christ, ruler of all that is, come rule over us.
Draw us up in your love, and make us your Body,
for the sake of the world. Amen.


2.
Leader: Despite the world’s chaos,
All:
love is the root of all.
Over and beneath men who fight for power and influence,
love is the greatest power.
Though death looms and evil prowls,
Christ, risen from the dead, is in every time and place.
God, the God of love, is with us.
We worship in gratitude and joy.

3.
Leader: Eternal God, you reign over all the universe.
All: Praise to you for your wondrous love!
Christ, you have ascended and are enthroned over all things.
Glory be to you, who are above all powers and authorities.
We praise you. Reign over us, and make us your holy people.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

4.
Leader: Loving God, you sent Christ to us, to love us and lead us.
All: Alleluia! We are blessed, and we thank you for your love!
But he was crucified at the hand of our own fear and selfishness.
Alas! We are sorrowful, and we confess our sin to you, and ask your forgiveness.
In grace you raised him from the dead.
Alleluia! We are saved! We praise you for your grace!
You have lifted him up into the heavenly places.
Alas! We are afraid, for now we are without him: he has gone away from us again!
You have seated him at your right hand in the realm of power.
Alleluia! Christ rules over everything, over every force that frightens us.
We can relax!
Christ is the head of all things for the church, which is his body.
Alas! Then we must get to work, and risk dying and rising as well!
In Christ you grant us a glorious inheritance, and call us to hope.
Alleluia! With all our mixed feelings we come to worship, to give you our lives,
to follow the crucified, risen and ascended Christ. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Everliving God, your eternal Christ once dwelt on earth, confined by time and space. Give us faith to discern in every time and place the presence among us of the One who is head over all things and fills all, even Jesus Christ our ascended Sovereign. Amen.

2.
Loving God, Creator of all things, you have raised Christ to rule at the heart of the human story, present in all beings, through the Spirit of love to bless us, keep us and lead us in your ways. May your Word may be made flesh again in Scripture, in our worship, and in all our lives and in our living. Open our hearts, God, and speak to us. Amen.

3.
Eternal God, Christ, who rose from the dead, rises in our hearts with love. May Christ, who has ascended to the heart of all things, ascend in our minds and hearts, and rule with grace. Amen.

Listening Prayer

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

We do not look up into the sky for Jesus.
We look to love.
May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened,
that we may see and give thanks,
that though we don’t see
we may give our hearts.

Poetry


        Enlighten the eyes of my heart

God, enlighten the eyes of my heart,
that I may see clearly what is your true and beautiful will;
and even if I may not see your will,
that I may see what is true and beautiful;
and even if I may not see that,
that I may see what is.

Enlighten the eyes of my heart,
that I may be open to your light.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
Ephesians 1. 15-23
      We do not cease to give thanks to you, O God of our Beloved Jesus Christ, our glorious Father and Mother! We pray that you may give us a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know you better. Enlighten the eyes of our hearts. Help us embody the hope to which you have called us. We thank you for the richness of the gifts we inherit from you with all the saints, our sisters and brothers. We celebrate the incomparably great power you give us when we entrust ourselves to you.
      By that same power, you raised Christ from the dead; by that mighty strength you seated Christ at your right hand at the heart of all things, to reign over every force and every system, every rule and every power structure, every law, both human and natural, in this world and in the next. You placed all things under Christ, whom you made to be head over everything—especially the church, which is Christ’s body.
      Therefore by your Spirit and your abundance that fills everything in every way, we devote ourselves to be the presence of Christ, to embody your love in this world. Alleluia!

Eucharistic Prayer

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your 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,
and covenant to be with us in love.
You judge the forces of injustice,
and call us to join you in freeing your children from all oppression.

You gave us the gift of Jesus, who was crucified by the powers of evil.
But by the power of love you raised Christ from the dead,
and set Christ, the Body of your Love, to rule at the heart of all things.
Therefore with all Creation we praise you with joy and gratitude:


            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He loved and healed and taught and fed the hungry.

He was taken by the forces of injustice,
subject to the powers of this world.
But by the great power of your grace
you raised him from then dead,
victorious over death, over evil, over the powers of this world.
Christ is no longer in one time or place, but present in all things.
The living Christ embodies your covenant to be with us 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, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

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,
clothed with power from on high, the power of love,
witnesses to your grace from here to the ends of the earth,
for the sake of the healing of the world, to your glory.

     [Spoken or sung]
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 / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Even as Christ left the disciples, still he filled their hearts. You have opened the eyes of our hearts, so that we seek you in one another and in our love. Send us into the world to be your witnesses, to give flesh to your Word, and to trust your reign of power and grace. We pray, as we serve you, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Loving God, we treasure this mystery, that Christ is no longer in one time or place, but in every time and place. May your Spirit give us grace and courage to be your witnesses, to the ends of the earth, in the steadfast company of Jesus. Amen.

Suggested Songs

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

Christ Has Ascended (Tune: Morning Has Broken)

Christ, you have gone now into all Being,
into all people, all time and space.
Open our eyes, then, that we may see you
risen and living, shining with grace.

Christ you have changed now, hidden in daylight,
always before us, here in plain sight.
We look not skyward, but to our neighbor,
every face shining with God’s pure light.

Christ, you expanded, so that your Spirit
is not yours only, but with us all.
Still our companion, you will be with us,
no matter where we follow your call.

Christ, in your love you rule all creation;
justice and mercy shine as you rise.
We are your Body, breathing your Spirit,
light of your rising clear in our eyes.


Love Is Enthroned (Tune: Finlandia)

O, risen Christ, who once appeared among us,
you have ascended! Loud we sing your praise.
Though we may see no shadow of your nearness,
you have not gone; your loving presence stays.
You are no longer in one time or place,
but in all things, to radiate your grace.

Christ has ascended, reigning now above.
Love is enthroned at the Creator’s side.
All powers on earth are subject to Christ’s love,
who is our history’s unseen, gentle guide.
Though evil try to make this world its home,
Love is its Lord, and love shall overcome.

Go in the peace of Christ who is our Lord,
and gently heal, amid the fear and strife.
For we who eat and drink the living Word
are now Christ’s Body, and Christ’s earthly life.
We may not see the journey or the end,
but Christ still reigns, our ruler and our friend.


You are the Nerve Tune: Finlandia)

O God, your Christ is risen in your people.
On earth Christ has no body now but ours.
We are the flesh and blood of your compassion:
moved by your Spirit, with its loving powers.
God be our heart, and we will be your Body,
serving in love in all our days and hours.

We are your feet, that go with joy to others
to share your love, the gospel we confess.
We are your eyes that see what is and may be,
that see each person’s need and loveliness.
We are your hands, that work with strength for justice,
your hands that shelter, heal and feed and bless.

Love, move in me, and guide me by your Spirit,
even when I don’t see or understand.
My life is yours, to be your living Body,
that I may love and serve at your command.
This is my life, my purpose and my power:
you are the nerve, and I your willing hand.

6th Sunday of Easter

May 14, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Acts 17.22-31. Paul mentions an altar he has seen in Athens, dedicated to “an unknown God.” But God can in fact be known, if we “search for God, and perhaps grope for God and find God.”

Psalm 66.8-20 thanks God for being present even in the midst of our sufferings.

1 Peter 3.13-22. (I encourage you to include vv. 8-9 too) Do not be intimidated when you suffer for your faith. Be gentle, and be ready to explain your hope. This we do in the spirit of Christ, who suffers with us. Baptism unites us with the resurrection of Christ, so that we can indeed live in the spirit of Christ, to whom all powers are subject.

John 14.15-21. Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit, an “Advocate” (the word refers to a defense attorney), and promises his presence: “I will not leave you orphaned…. I am in God, and you in me, and I in you.”

Preaching Thoughts

Acts. Paul characterizes faith as “searching and groping for God.” People brought up on the notion of faith as certainty need to hear this. This doesn’t mean God is hiding from us, but that we are not well trained in finding God. God is not far off. After all, we are the very offspring of God; in fact we are within God, “in whom we live and move and have our being.” Faith is not superstition in some unknown heavenly manipulator, but a seeking, loving relationship with Love, a continual reaching out.

1 Peter. The writer cautions us against the arrogance of folks who whine about a “War on Christianity.” As Jesus reminded us, anybody who obeys God will be persecuted by society that wants us to obey the rules of capitalism, nationalism and individualism. Expect to “suffer for doing what is right.” And in responding, stay true to Christ’s spirit of nonviolence: “Do it with gentleness and reverence.” And, in verse 9, “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.”

Gospel. The nickname Jesus uses for the Spirit is “Advocate,” basically a defense attorney. (Actually that’s John’s word; Jesus was unlikely to have used Roman legal language) This is in sharp contrast to the notion we have of God as Judge. God is not judging us; God is on our side, for us against the judgments of the world. (“The world does not know the Spirit…” “The stone the builders have rejected…”)

“I will not leave you orphaned.” What an evocative image, not only for disciples who probably did feel orphaned after Jesus’ death, but also for us who often feel distant from God, or out of touch with Jesus. Jesus expresses parental love for us, knowing how alone we may sometimes feel. The Spirit is subtle, and invisible to much of the world—but not far off or hard to “search and grope for.” Because the Spirit is Love. And love is God. To quote the ancient hymn, Ubi cáritas et amor, Deus ibi est: “Wherever there is love or compassion, there is God.” Whenever you love– a spouse or lover, a child or parent, a friend or stranger, a dog or a sunset, any and all love—that is God, right there. “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love.” It’s in love that Jesus reveals himself to us (v. 21). As long as we love, we are not orphaned.

“I am in my Mother/Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Here is the mystery of the Trinity, and the mystery of faith. We are all in God. God is infinite. Therefore everything—everything—is within God. We not only draw near to Christ, we are in Christ. Christ is not only beside us; Christ is in us. It is the risen Christ in us who gives us our life: “Because I live, you also will live.” And we will live with the same love he had. Even when we feel most orphaned, most alone and lost, we are still in God, in Christ, and loved by God (v. 21).

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: God of grace, be with us.
All: Spirit of truth, be within us.
Spirit of love, we are searching for you, reaching for you.
Christ, who loves us, come to us, and do not leave us orphaned.
We are in you, as you are in God.
Be with us and within us. Even in the mystery, be with us.

2.
Leader: God, in you we live and move and have our being.
All: We are your children, and we praise you.
You do not leave us orphaned, but Christ comes to us and dwells with us.
We are your Beloved, and we thank you.
You are in us, and we are in you, and your Spirit works through us.
We are your Body, and we worship you.

3.
Leader: Loving God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
You, O God, are holy, and we worship you.
You love us, and though you are veiled in mystery, you reveal yourself to us.
You send your Spirit to be with us,
so that we know that we are in you, and you are in us.
You created all things, and from one Being you made all peoples.
You made us to reach out to you and to find you.
And we do find you, for in you we live and move and have our being.
Alleluia! Send your Spirit upon us now,
and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

4. (Ps. 66.16, 20)
Leader: Come and hear, all you who worship God,
and I will tell what God has done for me.
Blessed be God, who has not rejected our prayer,
or failed in steadfast love to us.
Jesus, you promised your Spirit, who helps us to do your will.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

5.
Leader: Christ is Risen!
All: Christ is risen indeed!
Light of Christ, rising in glory,
chase away all darkness, illumine our way,
and lead us to the heart of God.
O Crucified and risen Christ,
reveal yourself to us now in our worship.
Open the eyes of our hearts to your love;
open the ears of our souls to your presence,
that we may find ourselves in you,
an find ourselves in love.
Amen.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
Spirit of truth, we search for you. Spirit of love, we long for you. Spirit of life, we hunger for your grace. You who dwell within us, speak to us. You in whom we live and move and have our being, speak to us. Beyond words, enfolded deep in the mystery in which we dwell, speak to us. Amen.

2.
Loving God, you have created us to reach out to you.
So we reach out, in love and need.
Speak to us, stir in us, so we may find you and know you. Amen.3.
God of love, though you are infinite and unknowable, yet you make yourself known to us. You come to us in love, reveal yourself to us in love, and give us your Spirit of love. We open our hearts to you now. Speak to us, stir in us, so that we may know you, so that Christ may be in us and we in Christ, even as Christ is in you. Amen.

4.
Gracious God, Jesus promised us his Spirit, and returned from death to give us his Spirit. Open our hearts now, so that as we listen to your scriptures read and your good news proclaimed, we might receive your Spirit, grow in our love of Christ, and be moved more deeply to obey his commandments of love. Amen.


Listening Prayer

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

Infinite God, Eternal Love,
Christ is in you and we are in Christ,
and Christ is in us.
By your Holy Spirit
we hold this space within us
for you to be,
and for us to behold.


Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
(Acts 17.24-27)
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Sovereign of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples built by hands. God is not dependent on human hands, as if God needed anything, because God alone gives all people life and breath and everything else. From one person God made every nation of people, that we should inhabit the whole earth; and gave us times and places where we should live. God did this so that we would seek God and perhaps reach out for God and find God, though God is not far from each one of us. For in God we live and move and have our being. Alleluia.

2.
(1 Peter 3. 8-22)
Dearly Beloved, siblings in Christ, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
By the Spirit in us we will not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, repay with a blessing. It is for this that we were called—that we might inherit a blessing.
Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit.
By the Spirit in us we will turn away from evil and do good; we will seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of God are on you, and God’s ears are open to your prayer.
By the Spirit in us we will abide with God.
If you suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what others fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as your Chief, your Power, your Leader.
By the Spirit in us we are ready to account for the hope that we have; ready to do it with gentleness and reverence.
Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
We would rather suffer for doing good than to suffer for doing evil.

For Christ also suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.
He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. Alleluia!

Eucharistic Prayer

Click here for eight settings of the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen to familiar tunes suitable for the Easter season.

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Eternal God, you are the Love that breathes us into being.
We live in you, and your “Yes” lives in us.
You are in Christ, and Christ is in us, your Spirit flowing through us.
You create us; you set us free; you walk with us into new life.
So with all Creation we sing your praise.

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He taught us to love, and showed us love.
He gave us his commandment to love.
For his love he was crucified; but you raised him from the dead.
He dies not lave us orphaned, but comes to us
and reveals himself to us.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)

As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

Jesus promised you would send the Advocate to be with us forever,
the spirit of truth, to abide with us and be in us.
Therefore 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.
Christ is in you and you are in Christ and Christ is in us,
in the bread, in the Spirit, in the love.
By your grace may we love Christ,
and keep Christ’s commandment to love,
for the sake of the healing of the world.


     [Spoken or sung]
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 / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) We have feasted on the Body of your love. You are in us, and we in you, one in Christ. Send us into the world to love, as the body, the healing hands of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You promise to be with us in the bread of our daily lives. Send us now into the world to be mindful of your presence, and, by the power of your Spirit living in us, to keep Christ’s commandment to love, according to your grace, to your eternal glory. Amen.

2.
Loving God, thankful for your grace, we love you and desire to keep your commandment of love. We are in you, and you in us; by your Spirit in us help us always to love, to bless and to serve in the name and the constant presence of Christ. Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter

May 7, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Acts 7.55-60. Stephen, one of the early followers of Jesus, is stoned to death for his faith.

Psalm 31.1-8. A song of trust in God. We pray, “You have taken heed of my adversities,” and so we trust God: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Like Jesus, Stephen quotes these words as he dies.)

1 Peter 2 .2-10. We are “living stones, built as a spiritual house” for God. We are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, so that we might proclaim the mighty acts of God, who called us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.”

John 14.1-14. Jesus says there’s room for everybody in God’s house. Thomas asks Jesus the way to God and Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Preaching Thoughts

1 Peter’s claim that we’re a royal priesthood is not unique to us Christians. It reflects Exodus 19.6, spoken to the Jews: “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Our mission is to be priests: not to convert people but to be their connection with God: to pray for them, and to mediate God’s presence to them. The text describes our transformation—receiving mercy, becoming God’s people—but it’s not for our sake: it’s so that we will proclaim (live out) the good news. It’s not a favor; it’s an assignment.

John 14, the funeral chapter. Everybody wants “in my Father’s house there are many mansions” at their funeral. But, as usual, Jesus is talking about being alive, not being dead. Yes, the afterlife is sweet. But not yet. Is “God’s house” just the afterlife? I think not. Psalm 23 promises I’ll live in God’s house all my life. This life. I think God’s house is God’s presence. Where God is. The present moment.

Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Among Jesus’ ”I am” statements, this both says something about Jesus and who he is, and also, because it quotes God saying “I AM” in the burning bush, it implies that who he is is of God… or maybe even that he is God. And so it also says something about who Jesus thinks God is. Maybe it means God is not a lawgiver who demands our obedience, but a life-giver who invites our intimate relationship, a God who is our truth, who is our way, who is our life.

Jesus says “No one comes to God but through me.” Jesus is responding to Thomas’ question about “the way.” He wants to know the method for getting to God. Jesus says “There is no method. I am the method. You don’t need certain practices, or certain beliefs about me. You need to be in relationship with me.” It’s about a living relationship in which we listen, trust and follow. It’s daily attentiveness. Like being married, it’s not just about having the ring; it’s about the little daily actions in which we live in love with Jesus.

We come to God “through” Jesus, that is, by participating in his life. Jesus says that we who follow him will do the same things he does. (v. 12). “No one comes to the Father except through me” does not mean that no one can come to God except by being a Christian. It means that we can’t know God without living lives of love.

Jesus says, “I am in God, and God is in me.” This is not only the raw materials of our image of the Holy Trinity, it’s also the raw materials of the spiritual life. Sharing in the love of Jesus, we come to know ourselves to be not just close to God but in God. The secret is that we’re in God whether or not we know it or feel it.

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: God, in your house there are many dwelling places—
room for for all your Beloved.
All: We belong to you.
Christ, you prepare a place for us and come for us and take us into yourself.
We come to you.
We are in you, and you are in us, and we are in Christ.
We worship you. Alleluia!

2.
Leader: Loving God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Christ, our way, lead us in the path of love.
Christ, our truth, open our eyes to what is.
Christ, our life, come and renew us.
Make us a part of you, so that we may share in your life.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

3.
(1 Peter 2. 4-10)
Leader: Come to God! For God has called you out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. Once you were not a people but now you are God’s people. Once you did not know mercy, but now you have received God’s mercy.
All: We worship you, O God.
God has chosen what is rejected by mortals: you are chosen and precious in God’s sight. You are living stones being built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, through Christ.
We thank you, O Christ.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of God.
We serve you, O God. In the grace of your Spirit we offer ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice, a gift to you, which you accept through Jesus Christ. Alleluia.

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, you have called us out of darkness into your divine light. You have chosen us. You have done mighty acts in our lives. We remember with gratitude. We thank you. We listen for you life-giving Word, that we might proclaim your good news in all we do. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, you have given us your Word in Creation, and in Scripture. You speak your living Word to us in our hearts, and in the presence of the risen Christ with us. Help us to listen, to hear, and to be made anew. Amen.

3.
Loving God, Jesus said we come to you through him. By your grace we enter into his love, receiving his mercy, open to his healing, being built into his house, made into his royal priesthood. We are in Christ, who is in you. Bless us, and make us your people, in the name and the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Listening Prayer

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

Christ, our way,
lead us.
Christ, our truth,
illumine us.
Christ, our life,
bring us to life.
Make us your people.
Amen.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

1.
(John 14.1-14)
      We believe in God, creator of all that is and all that is to come, in whose house are many rooms; and who prepares a place for us, so that where God is, we may be also.
      We trust in Jesus, who is our way, and our truth, and our life. Through him we have seen God, who lived and worked in him.
      We live by the Holy Spirit, who lives and works in us; so that we may do the works that Jesus does, and even greater works; so that God may be glorified. Alleluia.

2.
(1 Peter 2. 4-10)
      We worship you, O God. We come to you in gratitude, humility and praise. For you have called us out of darkness into your marvelous light. Once we were not a people but now we are your people. Once we did not know mercy, but now we have received your mercy.
       We thank you, for you choose what is rejected by mortals; and by your grace we are chosen and precious in your sight. As if we are living stones you build us into a spiritual house through Christ.
       We serve you, O God, For you have made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, your own people, in order that we may proclaim your mighty acts. By your Spirit in us, we offer ourselves as a gift you. Alleluia.


Eucharistic Prayer

Click here for eight settings of the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen to familiar tunes suitable for the Easter season.

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]

God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.

Loving God, at your table Christ prepares a place for us.
We come to your table, grateful for our belonging.
In your house there are many rooms,In your house we have many roommates,
siblings who are also God’s beloved people.

We come as one.
You set free your people and invite us all
to your table of justice and mercy, your feast of grace.
You covenant to be with us in love always,
and so we gratefully sing your praise,
together with all who are in the many rooms of your house:

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
Christ, you are the way, the truth, the life.

We come to feast on the truth, to follow the way, to embody the life.
You draw us to yourself, so that where you are, we may be.

     (The Blessing and Covenant)

As we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

God, you are in Christ, and Christ is in you,
and by your Spirit we are in Christ.

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,
doing the works of Christ, with our hearts unafraid,
for the healing of the world


     [Spoken or sung]
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 / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have made a place for us in your heart. Give us your grace to make a place for others, that they may know their belonging and your love. We pray through Jesus Christ, your Beloved and ours. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You are our way, our truth, our life. By these gifts, we pray that you will live in us, for the sake of the healing of the world. Send us out in the name of Christ, to do his works, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Suggested Songs

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

Many Rooms (Tune: Finlandia)
(John 14.2,6)

We give you thanks, O loving God, Creator,
for in your house are many rooms to dwell.
Your Christ prepares a place for all your people,
where we belong, are made one, and made well.
Give us your life; make us your holy people,
to shine with light, and your good news to tell.

We give you thanks, O Loving Christ, companion,
You are the truth, you are the life, the way.
For when we share in love’s divine communion,
we are by grace alive in every way.
Grant us to love, with you in blessed union,
love be our faith, our truth, our life, our way.


O Christ, My Way      (Tune: The River Is Wide)

O Christ, my truth, my life, my way,
I give my heart to you this day.
I give myself, yes all of me,
that where you are I too may be.

O Christ, my way, the path I take
is love alone, for your love’s sake.
O be my heart, my strength and nerve,
that I may love and bless and serve.

O Christ, my truth, in you I see
the God who dwells in you and me.
But God remains yet far above
until I live in humble love.

O Christ, my life, I give my heart,
for when in you I take my part
and share your love, your work and strife,
I share in full your risen life.

4th Sunday of Easter

April 30, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Acts 2.42-47 describes the life of the early church, and the Christians’ care for each other. They studied, worshiped, ate and served together, sharing all their possessions.

Psalm 23 celebrates God’s care for us as a shepherd for their sheep… and as a host welcomes, protects and provides for guests.

1 Peter 2.19-25 encourages us to endure suffering, entrusting ourselves to the care of Christ, who is the shepherd of our souls.

John 10.1-11. Jesus speaks of himself as a shepherd whose sheep follow him because they know and listen for his voice.

Preaching Thoughts

It’s nice to think of being personally shepherded by Jesus. But it’s not all about our own smug comfort in green pastures. Jesus doesn’t call us just for our sake. It’s to follow him— going somewhere: from town to town, healing and proclaiming grace. People certainly gained benefits from being among the early Jesus-followers. But they also worked, prayed and shared for the sake of the community. Jesus isn;t trying to shepherd us to heaven. He’s shepherding us into the world, to serve with love.

It’s also tempting to believe that in Jesus’ care we’ll encounter no pain, difficulty or loss. Oh, yeah? The calm, idyllic, pastoral 23rd Psalm leads us right out of green pastures into the valley of the shadow of death. Good Shepherd Jesus doesn’t promise ease and comfort: he promises his loving presence even in awful times. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” To follow Jesus is to take up a cross, not a lawn chair.

Jesus’ image of the good shepherd is one of mutual intimacy. “The shepherd calls his sheep by name … and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” He knows them personally, by name. Jesus encourages us to believe in a God who knows us, understands us, and believes in us, who doesn’t just react to us according to the formula of laws and requirements. And the sheep know him well enough to recognize his voice. The point of our faith is not to believe some stuff about Jesus, but to know him like a friend, to engage in a living relationship. I think that’s what it means when he says “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” In our relationship with Jesus we enter into a place of rest and belonging, of nurture and empowerment. And we follow him. We know him well enough to listen to him. Preachers will need to talk about what it means to “know the shepherd’s voice,” to recognize what leads us to life, to love, toward intimate connection with the world; and what it means to listen to Jesus, to be open-hearted to ways we may be nudged, attentive to where the “voice“ of Jesus is in our lives: in praying with scripture, interacting with people, observing nature, reflecting on our own inner life….

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Abundant life doesn’t mean abundant possessions or interesting experiences. It means being fully alive, in a free giving-and-receiving relationship with God and the world, receiving all life has to offer, connecting with the presence of God in all things. It means all of life throbs and hums in us, and we are part of all living things. It means not being deadened. It means death has no dominion over us. It means that life overflows in us and can’t be diminished, controlled or taken away. (I don’t think it means anything different from “eternal life,” life that can’t be taken from us.) I think of Luke 6.38: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” I think of John 4.14: “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

The Psalter, Epistle and Gospel all show us God or Jesus lovingly shepherding us. Acts shows us what we’re like when we follow the shepherd. We study, worship, share and pray together, we practice awareness that leads to awe, and we reach out to others. Again, it’s not just for our own sake. This passage provides a template with which to look at your own congregation. Do we do all this? Where are we strong? Where are we weak?

Call to Worship

1.
Leader: Shepherd of mercy, you provide for us and protect us.
All: Shepherd of love, lead us in your way.
Shepherd of justice, you gather your flock, and care for the lost and neglected.
Shepherd of love, lead us in your way.
Shepherd of our souls, you guide us toward your own heart, and we follow.
Shepherd of love, lead us in your way.
In gratitude and trust, we worship you. Alleluia!


2.
Leader: Loving God, shepherd of our souls, we come to you.
All: Tender Christ, companion on the way, we follow you.
Holy Spirit, guide among the shadows, we depend on you.
Loving God, shepherd of our souls, we listen for your voice.
In stillness… in hunger… in hope… we listen.
Loving God, shepherd of our souls, we come to you.

3. (Psalm 23)
Leader: Loving God, Shepherd of our hearts, by your grace we lack nothing!
All: You give us rest in green pastures;
you lead us beside still waters; you revive us.
You lead us in paths of justice for the sake of your will.
Even though we walk through deathly shadows, we are not afraid,
for you are with us:
your Word and your presence are our safety.
You set a table for us: abundance in the face of all that would diminish our lives.
You shower us with your delight.
Our lives overflow with your grace.
You accompany us with goodness and mercy all our days.
So we come to live in your house, O God,
now and our whole lives long! Alleluia!

4.
Leader: Loving God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Jesus, gentle shepherd, you have brought us out of death,
and led us in green pastures of life, beside still waters of blessing.
Alleluia! Shepherd us, dear Savior, and lead us into life.
Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

1.
God of love, Shepherd of our souls, we listen for your voice,
the voice that speaks the world into being,
the voice that calls our secret name,
the voice that leads us to abundant life.
Speak to us. We are listening, ready to follow. Amen.

2.
So many voices clamor for our minds, so many noises.
God of love and truth, you speak beneath them all.
In the stillness, we listen.
For your grace, we listen.
For your voice, we listen.

3.
Loving God, Gentle Christ, Life-Giving Spirit, you shepherd us from death to life, from loneliness to community. You know us, and you speak to our deepest hearts. Even deeper than our conscious thought, something in us knows your voice, and responds. So we listen, God, for your Living Word. Speak to us now, and always, and lead us to life. Amen.

4.
Gentle Shepherd, you guide us and protect us and nourish us. You gather us as one flock; and we find grace in one another’s companionship. Your voice leads us to abundant life; your steps lead us in serving. Speak to us now, so that, recognizing the voice of love, we might follow. Amen.

Listening Prayer

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

Jesus, gentle Shepherd,
you speak with the voice of life,
the voice of love.
You call us each by name.
We listen,
and we will follow.

Poetry


      Haunt me

Holy Mystery,
may your voice haunt me all this day,
your blessing cling to me like a smell,
your beauty drip through my veins,
your hand be my own shadow beneath me,
your Way be the light I walk through,
your heart the path I travel,
your Word the breath I take
your blessing my world.
Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

Click here for eight settings of the Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen to familiar tunes suitable for the Easter season.

[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
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.

Beloved, you are our shepherd. You lead us beyond our fears and wants.
You lead us to drink of deep springs, to rest in green pastures.
You restore the breath of life in us.
Feed us with your grace, O God, and lead us in your ways.
[silent prayer]
In Christ you have accompanied us with love and tenderness.
Gentle shepherd, we thank you for your love and presence.
You walk with us even in the valley of the shadow of death, and lead us to life.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
[silent prayer]
Gracious Host, you have set for us a table of rich and luxurious blessing,
and invited us together with all your beloved, even our enemies.
You make us one in this feast. Our cup overflows.
Pour out your Spirit on us, and on these gifts, that our hearts may overflow with your grace.
Your goodness and mercy be with us always.
In your loving care, listening to your voice of life, following you in all we do,
may we live in the house of your love every day of our lives.
[silent prayer]

     (The Blessing and Covenant)

________________________

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.

We thank you, O God, for from the beginning you have shepherded us
and given us all that we need.
You have fed us in the green pastures of Creation.
You have led us by the waters of your Word.
You have restored us with the breath of your Spirit.
You have led us in the paths of justice for your name’s sake.
You have led us from captivity to freedom, from fear to compassion.Therefore with all Creation we sing your praise:

            [Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
        Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
        heaven and earth are full of your glory.
        Hosanna in the highest.
        Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
        Hosanna in the highest.
               [or alternate version]

Even in the shadows of death you have been with us.
Your Word and your Presence, they comfort us.

[… The Covenant and Blessing … ]

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of our faith:

             [Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
        Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
                     —or—
        Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
        Christ will come again in glory.
             [or alternative]

You prepare a table for us, and invite even our enemies, and make us one.
You anoint us with your joy.
The cup of blessing that you give us overflows.
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.

May goodness and mercy fill us all our days.
May we dwell in your presence now and in eternal life. Amen.

     [Spoken or sung]
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 / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
1.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In gratitude for all you have given us we give you our lives, symbolized in these gifts. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. Shepherd us by your gentle Word; lead us to follow you and to do your will, for the sake of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.

2.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have led us beside the still waters of your peace. You have fed us in the green pastures of your grace. You have led us in the paths of your love. Shepherd us as we go into the world, following your voice, living by your Spirit, sharing your love. Amen.

3.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) You have led us in peace and fed us with grace; our cup overflows. Grant that we may always listen for your voice and follow, into the world, serving our sisters and brothers, whom you love so much that you would lay down your life for them. We pray in the name and the Spirit and the company of Christ. Amen.

Suggested Songs

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

Dear Gentle, Watchful Shepherd (Tune: O Sacred Head Now Wounded)

Dear gentle, watchful shepherd, you lead us as we graze,
and guide, us when we wander, to find again your ways.
And when we stray in darkness, alone and lost and weak,
unseen, you still are with us, your dear ones whom you seek.

We pray for those who struggle through life all on their own,
who find no path to guide them, who think they are alone.
You fold them in your mercy in every lonely place,
and with your hand upon them you bless them with your grace.

O lead us, loving shepherd to seek the last and lost,
to love them with your passion, and serve at any cost.
Send us to find the lonely, forgotten and ignored:
it’s there that we shall meet you, our saving, healing Lord.


Jesus Our Shepherd          (Tune: Morning Has Broken)

Jesus, our shepherd, gently you lead us
to these green pastures’ sheltering place.
By the still waters guide and refresh us;
gather and feed us here with your grace.

Jesus, our shepherd, gently you bless us,
granting us peace and life-giving breath.
Through the dark valleys still you are with us.
Lead us to new life out of our death.

Jesus, our shepherd, gently you call us.
We hear your voice and follow with you.
Lead us to serve you, loving each other,
always receiving life that is new.


Lead Me, My Shepherd (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

Lead me, my shepherd, in paths that you show.
Not by my own will, but yours, may I go.
By the still waters of baptism’s grace
dear God, renew me, and show me your face.

Love, may your rod and your staff be my guide.
Even in death’s shadow walk by my side.
Help me to listen, to trust and obey,
going wherever you show me the way.

Dearest companion of blessing and weal,
you who provide and forgive me and heal,
still now, I listen and wait for what’s true:
your voice that leads me to life, and to you.


Psalm 23 (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)

God is my shepherd; I have all I need. God
Makes me lie down in green pastures to feed.
By the still waters God gently will lead.
Love, you’re my shepherd. I have all I need

Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I
fear not, for you are as close as my breath.
For you are with me, your staff and your rod
they are my comfort, my shepherd, my God

You set my table before all my foes. You
pour out your blessing; my cup overflows.
Goodness shall be with me wherever I roam,
and I will live with you, my Heart, my Home.