Call to worship
We worship the God who inhabits our world and indwells our lives.
We need not look up to find God…
we need only to look around…
into the eyes of another.
We need not listen for a distant thunder to find God…
we need only to listen to the music of life…
the words of children…
the questions of the curious…
the rhythm of the heartbeat.
We worship the God who inhabits our world,
who indwells our lives.
Hymn How Firm a Foundation
Text: John Rippon; Music: American folk melody
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in God’s excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
to you, who for refuge, to Jesus has fled?
“Fear not, I am with thee, O, be not dismayed,
for I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I cause thee to go,
the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
for I will be near thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
The soul, that on Jesus, has leaned for repose,
I will not. I will not, desert to its foes.
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no, never forsake.”
Prayer of Confession
God, you know us better than we know ourselves.
You know our thoughts,
and you love us still.
Forgive us when we don’t believe such love is true or possible.
When we wonder how you could love us just as we are,
when we forget our intricate construction,
that we are fearfully and wonderfully made… in Your image!
Remove from our minds every thought that keeps us from You.
Break down the walls,
push aside the pride,
and help us trust anew.
You know our hearts
and You love us still. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Nothing is impossible with God.
There is no place you can go.
No end of the earth to which you can run.
There is nothing on earth or beyond death
that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
You are forgiven and freed to live in God’s infinite love, grace, and peace. Amen.
Scripture Reading Genesis 28: 10-19a
The Morning Message “Building Spiritual Cairns”
Summer is travel and vacation season. For some, the beach beckons. For others, the great trees of the forest wave them into the respite of cool and shade and musical streams and waterfalls. For still others, it’s a time to take the kids and grandkids to historic places, landmarks where something important happened in the life of the nation or state, or family.
Ed remembers the summer his parents took him to every county in the state, where they stood him by the black and white historic marker sign and snapped a picture for their photo album.
A friend of mine took a trip out west recently and you could feel the sense of awe in her Facebook posts as day after day she filled it with pictures of snow in July, the magnificent Rockies and Mount Rushmore.
Memories are important to us. Can you close your eyes and remember your first car? Your first date? The day you walked across the stage to receive your diploma? The feel of a newborn baby in your arms?
A wave of nostalgia can wash over us at the thought.
But, not all memories are good ones and we have a tendency to avoid or shove out of sight those things that remind us of painful times. One day Sarah Beth and I were driving thru Milton, and passed the old middle school. I pointed toward the building and said something like, “We’re in your old stompin’ grounds. You had a great time there.”
To which she whipped her head around to face me and said something like, “Eat rocks! I hated that place!”
And then there are the thin places, the holy moments of our lives, when the distance between this world and the next is as close as a whisper. We know that God is always near, but there are holy moments when the gossamer veil is lifted and we are standing in God’s presence in an intimate way.
In today’s Genesis text, Jacob receives a vision, a holy visitation, following an act of cunning and cowardice. He has hurt his brother and father in his selfishness. His cover story is that his mother has sent him off to find a decent wife, but, in truth, Jacob is running scared, as if putting distance between himself and his despicable behavior will save him.
On his way toward Haran, Jacob came to a place to rest for the night. Scripture says he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head and lay down to sleep.
And he dreamed there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching into heaven, and angels of God were going up and down on it.
And he dreamed the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and bring you back to this; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Then Jacob woke up and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” It frightened him. It would frighten anyone to have an experience this intense.
Jacob took the stone that he had used as a pillow, and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on it. He anointed it, set it apart, and called the place Beth-el, even though the place was called Luz at the time. Kind of like re-naming 16th Street Hal Greer Blvd. or 20th Street for the victims of the tragic Marshall University plane crash.
“Beth-el” means place of God in Hebrew. This was a holy place, not just to Jacob, but to his descendents and all the children of the earth forever.
Jacob is no choir boy. He is narcissitic and self-serving. He has lied and cheated and schemed his way thru life. He is a scoundrel and the last person we’d think of as deserving God’s attention. But, God runs him to ground, so to speak, hotly pursuing Jacob, to tap him for holy work.
Barbara Brown Taylor says Jacob is on no spiritual quest; he has simply pushed his luck too far and left town in a hurry. He is between times and places, in a limbo of his own making. He stops in a place that isn’t distinctive at all, or so he believes. And it is here that God comes to meet Jacob. Our colorful history and misdeeds matter not one bit when God decides to call, when God comes pursuing us. Taylor writes, “Jacob is nowhere, which is where the dream touches down…not where it should be, but where he is.”
In this text, and in the Matthew text, God demonstrates an extraordinary capacity for grace. Here he reaches out to a man with a checkered past to set him on a path that leads to a future that will define a whole culture, race and religion. In the Matthew text, God allows the weeds to grow alongside the good wheat for a time, though they are detrimental to the crop and deserving of a bonfire.
Which brings me to a couple of ideas I’d like us to take away this morning:
One is the idea of nearness and distance. Jacob’s place in his family of origin is damaged thru his own sinfulness. Being in close proximity becomes dangerous for him and he runs away. He is cut off from his own family and faith community and yet, through the mighty acts of God, Jacob becomes the link between their long history and their deepest hopes for the future. Later on in Jacob’s story, he will be re-named “Israel.” No matter how alone he may have felt, and even before he knew it, Jacob belonged to something greater than himself. He tricked his brother and father to gain an undeserved birthright and is now the one through whom the entire human family will be blessed.
But, let’s remember that Jacob is not an entirely new person. He is flawed and so are we have devoted our lives to love and serve the Lord, we sin. We commit acts that harm others and we fail to come to the assistance of those who need us.
Day by day, I am reminded of the chorus of a little song that witnesses to that reality:
“Grace grace, God’s grace.
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, grace, God’s grace.
Grace that is greater than all my sin.”
The other idea I want to lift up is the question of place, of the distance between God and human beings. All of our texts today testify to the very present nature of God. God is with us. Always. And everywhere. There is nowhere we can go to escape, hide or hope God forgets about us or gives up on us. This is our great good news.
Sometimes the presence of God overwhelms us. These are the thin places the Celts talked about. These are the moments that shape us, that tell us who God is and who we are to God.
Maybe these times are so profound that we feel compelled to do something to set them apart. We set up memorials. Like Jacob took his stone pillow and set it up as a monument.
My friend, David, says the little chapel that is secreted away on the ground floor of Trinity Episcopal Church is one of those places for him. It is a place that he experienced a vivid experience of God’s presence and love.
For me, it’s the moment the mountains come into view at the intersection of Black Mountain Road and Cherry Street in Black Mountain, North Carolina. It always takes my breath away.
Do you know what a cairn is? It is a pile of rocks set up as a memorial to a special person or place or moment of importance. Cairn is a Scottish word. Cairns have been made since prehistoric times.
In modern times, they are used as monuments, but they could also mark a burial site. They have been used for ceremonial purposes, to mark trails, or for use in astronomy.
Friends of mine recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary by hiking a favorite trail, reflecting on their life and love in all its challenges. Then they built a cairn to remember this milestone, and their hopes for another forty years and to give thanks to God.
How would you build your cairn? What experiences do you want to remember forever? How do you want your family and friends to remember you? Where have you encountered God…where has God run you to ground?
This red brick building on the corner of Main and Park in Barboursville is a cairn of sorts. It is the testimony to the faith and vision of the first church members. A lot has changed since then. A few more stones have been added to the first pile. What are they? Where are they? Who carried them to this site and worked them into form and function?
Some of us have been overwhelmed by nostalgia in recent weeks. The Beverly Hills property has come under contract and will soon be sold. There are some cairns in and around that building as well as this and every church home. Some of my favorites are the hand-painted dishes in the curio cabinet in the parlor. Some of the church women went to Fenton glass and learned to paint on china. The women have all joined the Church Triumphant since, but on the rare occasion that a relative visits, they make their way to the parlor to check and see if we still have Mother’s plate. The tears always come as they stand looking at a tangible connection to a spiritual presence. And, the gap is closed.
Today, I invite you to come build a cairn. Take up a rock or more and let’s leave a memorial to this day and to our God who has been with us for over one hundred years, in our work and in our play, in our joys and in our sorrows, in our disappointments and in our dreams and in what is still to come.
Prayers of the People and the Lord’s Prayer
Lord God, of heaven and earth,
we praise you with thanksgiving and joy,
for you create and sustain and redeem all things.
We thank you for making us in your image,
and sending Jesus, your Son, whose life of love and mercy is the pattern for our lives.
We thank you for your energy behind all things,
for your Spirit to inspire us in this season of challenge and change.
Strengthen us in the days ahead,
show us how to adapt to new ways of worship, service, and fellowship.
We pray for those who lead this and all the nations of the world, that they may work for the well-being of the people entrusted to them, with hearts, minds, and intentions to improve the lives of all the world’s peoples;
for teachers and others whose plans for the fall cannot yet be confirmed;
for those in the healing professions, that they remain healthy, alert, and dedicated to their patient;
for all whose incomes have been diminished or lost as a result of the pandemic;
for families trying to cope with the stress of caring for restless children during a long, hot summer;
for young people, that they may not be tempted by destructive activities when boredom sets in;
for the poor, the hungry, those seeking shelter, the sick, the forgotten;
for those we lift now, who are in need of your presence and love and care…
Eternal God, keep us in the embrace of your care, that we mayserve you faithfully, with cheerful hearts, praying as Jesus taught us, saying, Our Father…Amen.
Go now, with your hope set on Christ.
Let the Spirit guide you.
Let your righteousness shine like the sun
until darkness and light are one.
And wherever you go,
whether you scale the highest heavens or plunge to the depths,
may God’s presence be known to you,
may Christ Jesus welcome you into his embrace,
and may the Spirit assure you that you are beloved.
Worship services will resume at Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church, 955 Main Street, Barboursville, WV, on July 12, 2020, at 11:00AM. Weather permitting, we will meet outside. Safety precautions will be observed, including the wearing of masks and physical distancing.
We will continue to offer worship through the church website for those who prefer to remain at home at this time.
Prelude This Is My Father’s World Text: Maltbie D. Babcock
Music: Franklin L. Sheppard
Photography: Ed Harkless
Call to Worship Psalm 68
Come, sing praises to God!
Rejoice in God’s presence,
for he is our God:
Father to the fatherless,
and the defender of all who need protection;
the One in whom the lonely find a home.
and the prisoner finds release!
Hymn His Eye is on the Sparrow Text: Civilla Durfee Martin
Music:Charles H. Gabriel
This hymn is based on Matthew 10:29-30 and Luke 12:6-7, inspired by a woman who had endured much illness. It was first sung in public at the Royal Albert Hall, London, during an evangelistic service in 1905. Glory to God, 2013, Westminster John Knox Press
Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion. My constant friend is he;
his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
“Let not your heart be troubled,” his tender word I hear,
and resting on his goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
though by the path he leadeth, but one step I may see:
his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
when song gives way to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to him; from care he sets me free:
his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
Old Testament Reading Proverbs 6: 20-22
Gospel Reading Matthew 10:24-39
Lloyd Watson was the 10th of 14 children growing up on a farm in Oklahoma. He was drafted in 1943 at age 18. His unit crossed the English Channel into France in December 1944 and he was soon thrust into combat. His unit relocated to Belgium when the Battle of the Bulge began. Sgt. Watson was a mortar platoon leader, battling the aggressive German defensive. He recalled how, under heavy shelling, he and a fellow Oklahoman began digging their foxholes, getting their first glimpse of the horrors of war in the dead lying all around them.
Giving a speech at his local public library many years later, he credited growing up on the family farm for being able to survive the German attack. “My dad was a strict person, not severe, but strict. He would send us out to do a job, and we didn’t dare come back in and say this happened or that happened, or I just couldn’t get that done. We used our ingenuity to overcome the problem and see that the job got done.”
Maybe you can identify with this story. I sure do. My siblings and I were always expected to help with household chores and maintenance, inside and out, in good weather and bad, and excuses weren’t tolerated. Lloyd Watson’s point about ingenuity really struck home. That was one of my dad’s favorite occupations…he loved a challenge and would study it, research it, talk to others about it, and then in exaggerated, and sometimes painfully slow detail, explain just exactly how we were going to approach the project. He had a favorite saying, which I’ll clean up for church: “Well, we can do that, but it’s gonna be a real-----!”
In today’s text, Jesus prepares to send the disciples out into the mission field. He levels with them: it will be hard work. They will encounter opposition and even violence. But, regardless of the challenges, he expects them to get the job done.
Matthew includes this story in his gospel to encourage the early Christian missionaries. These new believers were going out into the world and would face abuse and rejection. Matthew wants them to know that the good news is God is with them and will equip them for their work.
A few months ago, we were planning a trip to England. The Coronavirus put an end to those plans. But weeks before the scheduled trip, we began to pack, laying out shoes and jackets and counting pairs of socks, and making sure we had European electric adapters.
Jesus tells his trainees how to pack. They are to travel light. No bag, no money, no belt, no extras. But before he sends them on their way, he huddles with them awhile, and they share a moment of deep communion.
There was, in that time, a rabbinic form of teaching called, “string of beads.” This involves the teacher giving a series of proverbial statements, admonitions, and advice, strung together along the thread of a single theme. The beads Jesus strings, in this text, are instructions about succeeding in getting the job done when the disciples carry the gospel message into the world on their own.
Here are a few of those sayings. Remember, his objective was to assure them that they could fulfill their mission, even when faced with adversity or worse.
Some of these statements are rightly called “the hard sayings of Jesus.” There’s a sermon or three about those. Because it seems Jesus is saying that the disciples have to turn their backs on all they’ve known and loved and depended on, all they have worked hard to acquire or achieve, to be faithful to Jesus. Leave your family, behind. And your creature comforts, and your corner office with a view, and your platinum American Express Card.
In the days of the early Church, these missionaries had a singular purpose: to announce that the kingdom of heaven, that they had expected for generations, had arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It was important that they have as few distractions and as little baggage as possible. This is the purpose, in some faith groups, in pastors, priests, and nuns taking vows of poverty.
All these statements speak to the circumstances they will encounter and how faithful people are to address them. These statements are strung together like beads on a thematic thread. Jesus wants his followers to wear these beads around their necks as they leave the community that has inspired them and strengthened them and bound them together, as they go into the hostile world.
A few years ago, we lost a beloved member of our extended family. Bob Zopp. Bob was my brother-in-law’s father. Bob, or Coach Zopp, as he was better known, was well-loved and respected in the Greenbrier Valley. He coached a number of sports, but his best-loved game was football. He was head coach at Greenbrier East for many years. He loved young people, and many a testimony was shared during Bob’s lifetime that credited him with guiding one student after another into a life of faith and integrity and purpose. He loved teaching and the school environment so much that he worked as a substitute teacher well into his 80s.
Bob was a devoted supporter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He worked with others to make summer sports camps available to young people. He traveled for the organization and became friends with people whose names you hear on Sunday afternoon TV in the fall.
But, none of that changed Bob, or turned his head. He was a humble man. Because his identity began with a simple truth: he was a child of God and a sinner saved by grace. And his response to that grace was a full and joyful life. He laughed easily and often. He had a light countenance.
At Bob’s memorial service, we opened the bulletin, and there, in Bob’s hand, were words pf instruction that he kept in his well-worn Bible. At the top was written:
“How to become a Christian.”
Express sorrow, or repentance, for your sinfulness.
Ask Him to forgive your sins.
Invite Jesus into your life as Savior and Lord.
Thank Him for entering your life.
Commit yourself to live for Him.
This was Bob’s string of beads. His call and his creed. His purpose.
What is on your string of beads?
Pastoral Prayer Concluding with the Lord’s Prayer
Good and gracious God, you have reached out to us in our distress and lifted us up. You give us new life and we are thankful. For some the past week has been good, but for others, it has brought trouble, disappointment, or hardship. We ask for a sense of your loving presence to accompany all your people, dear Lord. Heal our wounded spirits, calm our troubled dreams, bring peace to the unsettled, especially in those places where there is great division and violence.
This day we lift to you the names of our fathers and those who have been like fathers to us. We thank you for their faithful lives, their generous spirits, their patience and support. We pray, too, for those who have not lived up to the role of father. Help us to forgive any human failing and remind us that you are our heavenly parent, in whose image we are made and for whom we live each day.
We lift to you those who are in need, in body, mind or circumstance. Bear with us, Lord, as we find our way through this difficult time in our nation and in the wider world. Guide our steps as we plan our return to the church for worship. Increase in us compassion, humility, insight and understanding, looking to the example of Jesus, our brother, who taught us to pray, Our Father…Amen.
As you go from here, remember that
we are sons and daughters of God.
We have been adopted into God’s family,
and have become God’s heirs, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus.
So, go in peace and confidence,
in the love of God,
by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.. Amen.
Prelude There Is a Redeemer Text and music: Melody Green
Call to Worship 1 John 4:9, 10
In this is love,
not that we loved God,
but that God loved us
and sent God’s Son into the world
so that we might live through him.
Hymn Lord, Speak to Me that I May Speak
Text: Frances Ridley Havergal; Music: Robert Schumann
Lord, speak to me that I may speak
in living echoes of your tone.
As you have sought, so let me seek,
your erring children lost and lone.
O teach me, Lord, that I may teach
the precious truths which you impart,
and wing my words that they may reach
the hidden depths of many a heart.
O fill me with your fullness, Lord,
until my very heart overflows,
in kindling thought and glowing word,
your love to tell, your praise to show.
Prayer of the Day
you have called us to serve you,
yet without your grace, our efforts are insufficient..
Grant that your Holy Spirit
may direct our hearts in all things,
and lead us in the ways of peace,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and forever. Amen.
As we move into the summer, I am taking a brief detour from preaching from the lectionary texts. For today, I have selected some verses from the Psalms and Paul’s letters to the early Church to guide our thoughts.
When I was in seminary, a long time ago, I spent some time each summer on the campus in Philadelphia. We sometimes took field trips. One day we rode the train into center city Philadelphia.
One of the first things I noticed was that the other passengers were largely quiet. Many had their faces hidden from view by the morning paper.
As we were walking from one place to the next, a classmate came along beside me. He was one of the international students from Romania. Very friendly. Full of energy.
He made a comment that I seemed to have left my smile back in the dormitory. That was pretty much accurate. Being in such a big city is intimidating and I was trying to pay special attention to our route in case, heaven forbid, I got lost.
He said, “Let’s try an experiment. When we pass the next person, we will smile and see if they smile back.”
I was game and played along. On a sunny summer day in center city Philly, on a busy sidewalk, we looked into the eyes of those we passed and simply smiled.
The results were mixed. No. That’s not right. It was disappointing…few people smiled in return or even acknowledged our presence. Now maybe there was a reason they were so somber and disinterested. Maybe some were not feeling well. Maybe they were under pressure at work. Maybe there was trouble at home. Maybe…
We have had to adapt to changing circumstances in these past several months. You may not have found much to smile about. I’m sorry about that. Because we are not together on a weekly basis, we are all feeling a little down. Human beings, after all, are created to be together.
I have done a little research this week and I want to share with you the results.
Smiling can transform our outlook. Psychologists and scientists have argued for years that emotions can be regulated by behavior. We usually think the opposite to be true. That we smile in response to being happy. And that is so, but, scientists say we can also create happiness by the simple act of forming a smile.
When a person smiles, it triggers physiological changes in the brain that cool the blood. This helps control our mood, and we are likely to experience a feeling of happiness or satisfaction. We can interpret this as changing our inward emotions by changing our outward expression. What we feel in our hearts comes out in our behavior, and how we act over time is what we become. Consistently reminding ourselves to smile throughout the day may eventually change our hearts. When our hearts change, the way we encounter the world changes. We see life as less intimidating and more like an opportunity that awaits us.
Louis Armstrong use to sing, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”
He was onto something. Neuroscience has shown that merely seeing a smile, or a frown, activates mirror neurons in the brain that mimic the emotions. When someone smiles at us, we smile back, and vice-versa.
This theory has caught on in a number of industries, including the hospitality business. I am told that at Walt Disney World, employees are to adhere to the “10/5 Rule.” When employees are within ten feet of a guest, they must make eye contact and smile. When they get within five feet of the guest, they must say, “Hello.” The guests almost always return the greeting. No wonder it’s called the “happiest place on earth.”
Why do I share this today? Because for several weeks past and many more into the future, we have been wearing masks in public to help control the Coronavirus. Our smiles can be covered up, if we smile at all. Under that mask, you may be experiencing all sorts of thoughts and feelings. Anger, fear, anxiety, irritation. Masks are hot, they mess up your makeup, and the elastic bands can leave the fragile skin behind your ears abraded.
But, maybe you will have an experience like Rev. Susan Sparks of New York City. When she and her husband donned masks and back-packs and set about to grocery shop one day, they passed many similarly-attired people. Most wore flat expressions. But, one young woman looked right at them and smiled. And both Susan and her husband smiled back. They didn’t even think about it. It was a natural response.
Now, if the girl was wearing a mask, how did Susan know the girl smiled? Because she “Smized.” If you’ve ever watched “America’s Next Top Model,” “smize” means smiling with your eyes.
And in this era of Covid 19, this era of wearing masks, and adapting to contingency plans, when we are under advice to maintain a safe distance and not engage in any public displays of affection like handshaking or hugging, what could be more important to our mental health, to our spiritual heath, than to smize?
So, smize, and I will bet that the whole world will smize with you.
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
God of goodness and grace,
we give you thanks for all things, especially your love that has been poured into our hearts through your Holy Spirit.
Nothing is too wonderful for you.
You brought the whole creation into being and set us in it. You promised your fruit to those with withered dreams.
The fulfillment of your promises came in your Son, Jesus, who revealed your love and compassion for all the world,
proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,
healing the sick and broken of all that afflicts them.
In the fullness of love, he gave his life for us and made a way for us to join him in your realm.
Forgive our wayward and foolish ways and turn us toward our Savior in gratitude for grace given.
Today we thank you for occasions of joy in our community: for birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings. We give thanks for the smaller, quieter blessings revealed every day. We pray for the sick, the tired, the poor and helpless. Equip us, your hands, feet, and voices on earth, to help meet the needs of our neighbors near and far.
Wrap you comfort around the hearts of the troubled, the bereaved, the worried and fearful ones, and assure them of your abiding presence.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name and for his sake, saying, Our Father…Amen.
The Lord seeks willing workers for the harvest.
Therefore go out into the world;
proclaim the good news of the nearness of God;
call all who will hear to wholeness, to life, to God’s Shalom.
And may God pour love into your hearts;
may Christ Jesus open the way of grace to you;
and may the Holy Spirit work through all things
to build you up in endurance, character, and hope. Amen..
Postlude Though I May Speak Text: Hal Hobson; Music: Irish Melody
Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church Barboursville, West Virginia Trinity Sunday June 7th, 2020
Call to Worship Carmina Gadelica, Vol. III
Bless to me, O God,
each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me, O God,
each sound mine ear hears.
Bless to me, O God,
each fragrance that goes to my nostrils,
the Three that seek my living soul.
Bless to me, O God,
each taste that goes to my lips,
each note that goes to my song,
each ray that guides my way,
each thing I pursue,
each lure that tempts my will.
The zeal that seeks my living soul;
the Three that seek my heart;
the zeal that seeks my living soul;
the Three that seek my heart.
*Hymn Morning Has Broken
Glory to God, Gaelic melody; Text: Eleanor Farjeon
1 Morning has broken like the first morning;
blackbird has spoken like the first bird.
Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning!
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word!
2 Sweet the rain’s new fall sunlit from heaven,
like the first dewfall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
sprung in completeness where God’s feet pass.
3 Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning!
Born of the one light Eden saw play!
Praise with elation! Praise every morning!
God’s recreation of the new day!
Scripture Reading Genesis 1: 1-2:4
Today is Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most difficult concepts to explain. So, I will simply say that God the Creator, whom some call Father, some call Mother, God the Son, Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit, have existed together from before the beginning of the created world. We can hear this in the Genesis text and in the gospel lesson. The term “Trinity” does not appear in Scripture. It is a concept that took shape in the early Church to explain the relationship of God and human beings in those three distinct ways.
Today also focuses our attention on the creation story, the work of God, accomplished in the span of six days, as explained by the author of Genesis. The seasons of the year are some of our best evidence of the creative power of God. My husband is an amateur photographer. To be a good photographer, you have to have a good eye, recognizing the play of color and shape and position, dimension and all those factors that together form an image that draws attention. He likes taking pictures in nature, and loves shooting waterfalls.
When I am with him on one of his adventures, if I am not cold or wet, my mind often recalls these words describing the Creation, how vast and expansive and magnificent it all is. All the elements of nature having their genesis in the mind of God. All of it. And I can’t even raise a blade of grass without the mind of God to give it its form and function and life. We try to capture it thru a camera’s lens.
Did you notice as we read this text, that when God completes his work each day, leans back and considers the result, God pronounces it “good.” The day God created man and woman, God pronounced them “Very good.”
In the last week or so, I have been troubled by what feels like to me, that we, the human race, have ignored the gifts that God so carefully designed, human beings, and have become adversaries of one another. Widespread restlessness, born of racial injustice, anger and pain, have come rushing like the mighty wind of Pentecost, across this nation.
And I wonder what God feels when his children are at war with one another in this way? Tearing asunder what God so lovingly wrought. The creation God pronounced “good.”
What has been identified as a race-based murder, has prompted a week of protests, some peaceful and inspiring, and some that erupted in grievous violence. We have heard words seldom used in our time: curfew, tear gas, rubber bullets, riot gear. What has become of our nation? Where do we turn for help, for reconciliation, for peace?
A public figure being interviewed this week says she tells people to be hopeful. This world God created is good, very good. That has not changed. God still creates. God still redeems. God still comforts and sustains. We will emerge from these conflicted times and hopefully be better citizens.
But, she was asked, where do we find hope? She says hope is found where it always is, between faith and charity (love.) We recognize this from the love chapter in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
“Faith, hope, love abide, these three. But the greatest of these is love.”
So, with faith as our sure foundation, and acts of love our goal, where do we start to turn this around?
I found these words by Rev. Stephen Bryant of the Upper Room Ministries helpful:
He writes, “The call of Christ leads us to share in his life, his suffering, and his ministry, to do each day what he would do in our place. And he asks the question we are all asking, “Where do we begin?”
What would Christ do in our place today?
He suggests three practices:
As Ed and I watched the news this week, all 25 hours a day of it, we kept saying to each other, “We’ve been there.” Usually with students. Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Atlanta, Columbia, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, where our daughters live, and other U. S. cities all the way to Los Angeles. We prayed for the protesters, that they would be safe and not act in ugly and destructive ways. And we did the same for the law enforcement officers. We witnessed violence and we saw evidence that animosity is thinly disguised and can easily erupt with little provocation.
This is no way to care for the world God created and called “good.”
When our grandson visited a few weeks ago, he loved standing at our patio doors and watching for wildlife from the woods behind our home to show up. Baby bunnies, birdies, as he called them, a lizard.
We don’t have a bird feeder, so we made an impromptu one for Thomas-bread crumbs scattered on the top rails of our deck. For hours, he would watch with anticipation, and when a forest friend showed up , he would jump and bounce and point and call out trying to have a conversation with them. Waving at them, hoping to coax them to come closer. Pure delight.
We have a lot to learn from children. Thomas seemed to know instinctively where hope was. Right there between faith and love. And as a result, he delighted at the appearance of creatures unlike him, who navigated the world unlike him. Who didn’t speak his language. But it was all good. It was very good.
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
God of our past and our future,
we come before you with grateful hearts,
trusting that you will walk with us through all the seasons of our lives,
including this strange time of illness and isolation,
and his dreadful time of unrest, sadness, grief, and anger.
You are still the God of history and God of the world you made and pronounced good.
Hear us as we pray for your world and the people who dwell in it:
We pray for all those who face danger and despair,
those who suffer the effects of the pandemic,
those who are hungry and hurting while the world is distracted,
those people who have been abused and places damaged by the current unrest and violence,
all who have no say, no agency, in the direction of their lives,
those who will be called on to repair breaches of all kinds,
We pray for those whom we hold dear to us…
We pray for all those working to relieve suffering everywhere.
We pray for ourselves, our eyes freshly opened, that you will forgive our sins of hatred, oppression, and injustice,
and inspire within us renewed intention to seek the ways of the Prince of Peace, who taught us to pray, saying, Our Father…Amen.
May God bless you this week,
from morning’s waking til night’s folding.
Bless your comings and your goings,
the spinning of your labor and lives.
May the ones you meet, even those with whom you compete,
be the better for it.
God bless thius week.
God bless this journey
God bless your work and your leisure. Amen.
William John Fitzgerald, A Contemporary Celtic Prayer Book, Assisting Christians to Act, Chicago, IL, 1998.