Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church, Pastor Cinda Harkless, Barboursville, West Virginia July 19, 2020
Call to Worship Christine Longhurst, re:Worship
Come and worship,
everyone on earth,
everywhere the sun shines.
Let’s praise God together!
For listening when we call,
answering our prayers,
forgiving our mistakes,
and providing what we need.
Let’s praise God together!
Come and worship,
everyone on earth,
everywhere the sun shines and the rain falls.
Let’s praise God together!
Hymn One Bread, One Body Text and Music: John B. Foley, SJ, 1978
One bread, one body, one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing which we bless.
And we, though many, throughout the earth,
we are one body in this one Lord.
Gentile or Jew, servant or free,
woman or man, no more. Refrain.
Many the gifts, many the works,
one in the Lord of all. Refrain.
Grain for the fields, scattered and grown,
gathered to one, for all. Refrain.
Prayer of Confession
Lord of abundance, compassion, and mercy, when we see the overwhelming needs of your world, our spirits deflate. Sadness, despair, anger, guilt, and fatigue overwhelm us.
We know we are the body of Christ in the world, but, relieving pain and suffering seems impossible.
We confess to turning our heads, we confess to weak resignation, we confess to indifference, oblivious to the ways we may contribute to the sin of injustice, or fail to show up when we are called on to help.
God, save us from ourselves and our rationalizations. Tune our hearts to your control, that we may respond in faith and commitment, working to alleviate circumstances and systems that would do harm to your beloved community.
Forgive us when and where we fail, remove any wicked way in us, and restore us to right relationship with you, made possible through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Response Take, O Take Me as I Am.
Text and Music: John L. Bell, 1995, WCRG, Iona Community
Take, O take me as I am;
summon out what I shall be;
set your seal upon my heart and live in me. Repeat.
Assurance of Pardon
The Lord is just in all ways, and kind in what God does. God is near to all who call upon him, who come in repentance, turning away from sin and turning toward God’s grace.
Friends, believe the good news of the gospel: in Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. Be at peace.
Scripture Reading Matthew 14: 13-21
The Morning Message
Here we are on the first Sunday of August. Our usual and customary practice at Kuhn is to celebrate Communion on the first Sunday of the month. Since we can’t be together to do that, I wanted to set aside a time to at least think about the role of bread in our lives. Bread commands center stage in the story of our faith, both the Christian faith and the faith of our forebears, the Jews.
I love bread…when I was a kid, driving past Heiner’s bakery could send me into ecstasy. My Brownie troop toured the bakery once and I was so disappointed. They gave us all little packaged cupcakes, which most of the girls just raved over. But, I was hoping for that warm, yeasty bread.
Bread. I love it and I struggle with it. There are some diet plans popular today that call for the elimination of bread and all grain products and other starches. I tried that once for several weeks. It did work, but, I was miserable and I made everyone around me share in that misery.
It’s still a choice for me. But, my daughter is gluten intolerant. My son-in-law has celiac disease. These are very serious conditions. It can take a long time to diagnose. In the meantime, people with these issues can become extremely sick. Healing comes with the elimination of gluten and all wheat products. It’s hard to plan meals around zero wheat products. Do you know how many food items have wheat in them?
My son-in-law had a death in his family last week. I made a shepherd’s pie for them. I could make that dish in my sleep. But, when I started gathering the ingredients, I realized I would need to make some substitutions.
Bread was Ed’s mother’s specialty. She grew up making it daily for her large family. She was one of ten children. When she made bread, she made loaves, rolls, monkey bread, sticky buns, fried apple pies, pepperoni rolls. She would mail those to her kids when they were in school away from home. We haven’t had a loaf of that good bread for a few years now and we all miss it and we miss her.
In Bible times, bread was a food that was made daily. Bread made early in the day was much favored over that which was several hours old. You can understand why: no preservatives, no ziplock bags to keep it fresh. No Kroger.
So, today we have this beautiful story of Jesus preaching to a crowd hungry for the good news of the gospel. In time, they grew hungry for dinner, too, but, all the shops were closed. So, gathering up a meager few loaves and fishes, Jesus prays over them, and miraculously, a feast results, baskets and baskets full.
We are wowed by that. But, we might want to look back a few verses to see what was going on with Jesus that day. He had just learned of the hideous death of someone he loved, his cousin, John, the Baptist. In his grief, Jesus withdrew, probably to have some moments to himself to grieve this loss.
But, the crowd followed him. He would not rest yet. No, he would bear witness to their suffering, their pain, their diseases, their needs. And then he gave them bread.
But, he wants them to understand the deeper meaning: he is the bread that can truly satisfy them. In the gospel of John, Jesus actually calls himself “the bread of heaven.”
Jesus offers them food. He offers them himself. He offers us himself.
Jesus still reaches out to those who are hungry and offers them a place at the table. We enter into the graciousness of Christ through the act of eating and drinking with our fellow believers. We receive something of the real presence of Christ through the Sacrament of Communion.
You can’t get much closer to something than when you eat it. Taste, touch, smell and sight remind us, teach us, who God is, and who God’s Son is… the very bread of life.
When we eat and drink, anytime, we should be aware of the providence of a God who started a relationship with human beings in a garden rich with food. We should recall that God called his people to follow him to a land flowing with milk and honey. We should remember the people of faith whose food was scarce and yet, God provided a way through it with a little flour and a little oil, with manna and quail, with fish and bread, and the best wedding wine.
But, when we eat, we take a risk. We have chosen to participate in a kingdom way of life.
We can no longer eat and forget.
We can no longer eat and walk away.
We can no longer eat and go on unchanged.
We can no longer eat and not be concerned about those who can’t.
We seem to be smack in the middle of the summer of our discontent. Summer started around the middle of March and who knows when it will end. The human need around us is monumental. There is no Covid crisis in our town that I know of, there are no violent demonstrations in Barboursville, West Virginia, but there is need, fear, grief, illness, family conflict, addiction, hunger…who will fill all the hungry hearts in our community? Who will fill your hungry heart?
It has been said that at the end of World War II, in the refugee camps for orphans and dislocated kids, the children couldn’t sleep. Of course, they couldn’t sleep. They had been through a real live hell. But, the adults who cared for them found that after they were fed the evening meal, if they would give the children a piece of bread, just to hold, they would drift off. It was their holding bread. There was more to eat if they were hungry. This was bread to hold, to remind them and to connect them to a great truth…that morning will come, there are grown-ups who cared, and were watching over them to keep them safe, and there would be more to eat when they woke up.
Ghandi said there is so much hunger in the world that God comes to earth as bread.
Oh, my friends, we need that bread, don’t we?
One of my cousins is a nurse who works with newborns who enter this life very sick due to their mothers’ drug use during pregnancy. She is their holding bread.
A colleague of mine worked night and day following the harrowing floods a few summers ago in southern West Virginia. He organized relief efforts of all sorts, but, housing was his primary focus. He placed people in homes, hotels, apartments, campers, trailers, and tents. He was their holding bread.
For years, two friends of ours drove to a federal prison early every Sunday morning to meet with prisoners, lead a Bible study, and pray. They became the inmates’ holding bread.
This week, our youngest grandson spent some time with us. He stayed overnight. He has been having trouble sleeping, no doubt because his life has been upended since the onset of the pandemic. He has lived in three places and was enrolled in three day care centers in two different cities. No wonder he is having sleep terrors. We were prepared for a long night. We were ready to be his holding bread.
We were surprised and relieved that he slept pretty peacefully. He did wake much earlier than we usually do. So, we tucked him into bed with us and we all caught a few more Zs. We were satisfied with that.
But, the surprise came later in the day when we took him to join his mom and dad and the rest of the family. They had just come from the funeral of a family member, the patriarch in fact. A hard day for anyone.
Mommy, Daddy, and Grand Daddy all came out to meet us. As his father lifted the sleeping two-year-old from the car, we could see the grief and pain of the day melt from all the adults’ faces. One little squeeze was all it took.
And a little child became their holding bread.
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
As the crowds followed Jesus, eager to be filled with hope, we come to this time of worship, seeking to nourish our souls. We are so burdened by the unstable nature of our lives due to the pandemic. Our hearts are filled with concern for family and friends, for our country and our world. Will we ever be normal again? What does normal even mean today?
Fill us with a word of hope and truth that we might not sink into despair, but, look to you for comfort, strength and peace.
Sit us down, as Jesus seated the multitude. Calm us down, as Jesus reassured the disciples. Lift us up, as Jesus encouraged others to reach out in compassion. Give us hearts of confident faith, dwelling gratefully in your presence. Place your healing hands on the places, people, and circumstances we name now in our hearts…praying as Jesus taught us saying, Our Father…Amen.
Blessing 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Go out into the world in peace. Have courage, hold fast to what is good.
Return no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak and help the suffering.
Honor all people.
Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Call to Worship
We gather together in your presence with expectation,
hungry for an encounter with you,
eager to hear your Word.
Open our eyes and ears to the presence of your Holy Spirit.
May the seeds of your Word, scattered among us this morning,
fall on fertile soil.
May they take root in our hearts and lives,
and produce an abundant harvest
of good words and deeds.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ,
our teacher and our Lord. Amen. Christine Longhurst, re:Worship
Hymn Seek Ye First Text and music: Karen Lafferty, 1971
Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you. Allelu, alleluia!
Ask, and it shall be given unto you;
seek, and you shall find,
knock and the door shall be opened unto you. Allelu, alleluia!
You shall not live by bread alone, but by every word
that proceeds from the mouth of God, Allelu, alleluia!
Prayer of Confession
Loving Lord, you watch over us all our days. Help us to feel your presence today. We confess that we have allowed a host of concerns and frustrations to compete with your word and will for us. Remind us that you are not the author of confusion, but of peace. Guide our thoughts, strengthen our bodies, inspire holy intentions within us, that we might be faithful to you and gospel-bearers to our neighbors and families, strangers and friends.
Response Take, O Take Me as I Am Text and Music: John Bell, 1995
Take, O take me as I am; summon out what I shall be.
Set your seal upon my heart and live in me.
Words of Assurance
Hear the good news- while we worry and fret, God is at work in our lives and in our world, that we might have a taste of God’s blessed kingdom, the realm of justice, freedom, mercy, and peace. Believe in the good news of the gospel: in Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.
Scripture Reading Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The Morning Message
The twenty-third Psalm is perhaps the best-loved and most-often recited of the psalms. I probably use it at every funeral, usually dropping out myself so that I can hear the gathered community recite the familiar words. It becomes both prayer and affirmation of faith together and is a beautiful reminder of the loving and intimate relationship with have our Lord.
The Psalms are an important part of the Hebrew Scriptures. They are used in Jewish and Christian worship today. In our New Testament Scriptures, there are numerous references to Jesus as both Shepherd and Lamb of God. So, we have a tendency to see this psalm though a Christian lens.
Years ago, I had what I would call, a transformational experience, with Psalm 23. It was during the year I was an intern in Clinical Pastoral Education at a local hospital. All Presbyterian ministers seeking ordination in the Presbytery of West Virginia are required complete a unit of CPE.
On-call duty came twice a month. It was a sixteen-hour shift beginning at 4:30 in the afternoon. From midnight to 9 in the morning, the on-call chaplain was the only chaplain in the house. Some nights were slow and others terribly hectic and too often traumatic.
One evening, the head nurse of one of the units called seeking my help. One of their patients was an elderly woman with dementia. She had been hospitalized for pneumonia and had come down with a case of MRSA which you know is an extremely dangerous type of staff infection. It was important for the patient to rest which she would not do. She wasn’t sleeping in spite of medication to help her sleep. As a result, she was becoming more and more difficult to control. She was an escape artist, leaving her room and wandering around the unit putting herself and other people at risk. She would not cooperate, would often become combative, and the staff was about at their wit’s end. They needed help.
So, I arrived to find the situation pretty much as I described here. Trying to communicate with someone you've never met can be a challenge and this was going to take extra effort on my part. She had dementia and I had minimal experience with that. I prayed my standard prayer for difficult situations: "Help!"
There were some get-well cards on the bulletin board in the patient's room. I pulled them off and asked her if she had looked at her cards. She shook her head. I sat with her and read them and talked about the people who cared for her and read their names. There was a church name added to many of the cards. She may not remember but here was a witness that she was a beloved member of a family of faith, a lamb of God’s own flock, a sheep of God's own fold.
Well, that took about ten minutes and I hadn't made much progress in settling her down. She was still up and down and in and out of the bed. I hadn't signed up for this, but here we were.
Reading seemed to help a little. But, what to read? There were no magazines in the room or books. A thought as clear as day struck me: open the drawer in the bedside table. Of course! Thank God for the Gideons! They place Bibles in every patient's room.
I pulled out the Bible and asked the woman if it would be ok if I read to her awhile from the Bible. She quite enthusiastically responded that yes she would like that. So far, so good. We're communicating. She's not trying to get out of the room. She's starting to quiet down.
"What would you like to hear? '" I asked her.
" Oh, it doesn't matter," she said.” It’s all good”
Ok, here goes. I turned to Psalm 23 and began to read those beautiful words from the King James translation, hoping she might recognize them. I slowly read about the Lord making a resting place for us in lush green pastures. The patient leaned back on her pillows. I read about the Lord leading us beside still waters. And she pulled up the covers. I read about the Lord restoring our souls and protecting us even in the valley of the shadow and her eyes closed. And by the time I reached the verse that declares goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, her body had completely relaxed. And when I reached the end, the promise that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever, she was asleep.
I've raised three kids. I know better than to think the baby is sound asleep at the moment they close their eyes. You have to rock a little longer, hum another verse, give a few more pats...and then sneak out the door unnoticed.
So, having read Psalm 23, I continued to Psalm 24 and 25 and I can't really remember when I stopped, because the sense of peace that had settled upon that room and patient was indescribably beautiful.
Friends, we may not be in that particular situation today. We may be oriented in the
present and not causing problems for those trying to care for us. But, we have all come to worship today in search of the Good Shepherd, the one who leads and guides and comforts and restores our souls. The pandemic continues. We are under orders to wear masks in public and that is a point of controversy. There is no consensus about how to return to school. We stand in line to be admitted to the grocery store. We miss our family and friends. My grandson cried this week, and his mom asked him why he was sad. He said he missed his friends. He just turned six. Six year-olds learn to climb trees and catch lightning bugs and play hide and seek with their friends. I’m sad for him.
Psalm 23 calls to mind simple images of pastures, flowing water, a dark valley, a table, to explain how God accompanies believers through real difficulties. It is quoted and consulted over the span of our lives, becoming part of the fabric of our spirits. We return to it again and again through all the seasons of our lives.
I'm going to read the psalm once again. And. as I do, I invite you to sit back and relax. Visualize the green grass, the quiet stream, the banqueting table, the anointing oil, the abundance of God's blessings prepared for you.
This is an image of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is like a quiet stream, a family feast, salve on a painful wound.
And...the kingdom is like someone coming to your rescue. The kingdom is like a name signed to a 99 cent greeting card. The kingdom is like the eyes of a saint closing in peace.
What is the kingdom of God like to you? Even in these stressful days, even though we are unsure and unsettled, the kingdom is here and you are its witness.
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
God of beginnings and endings, as the summer heat deepens and the pandemic continues, we ask for your wisdom. Do not let us give in to our fears, but inspire us with your Spirit. Show us the new things you are doing that we might join you in them. In all the upheaval and pain, the loss and uncertainty, may we be aware of new possibilities revealed by this era. Grant us the courage to not only see the cracks in our society, but give us the faith to repair them for the sake of all your children.
Confident that the Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness, we ask you to guide those in leadership positions as they make difficult decisions for our schools and communities.
Hear our prayers for those on our minds and hearts…
We pray for ourselves and for this, your Church, that we might persevere in the present circumstances.
We boldly pray as Jesus taught us, saying, Our Father…Amen.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13
Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church
955 Main Street
Barboursville, West Virginia
July 19, 2020
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship
I will bless the Lord at all times; the praise of God shall ever be in my mouth.
I will glory in the Lord; let the humble hear and rejoice.
Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord;
Let us exalt the name of God together.
you have taught us through Christ
that love fulfills the law.
May we love you with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength,
and may we love our neighbor as ourselves.
As we gather for worship, we pray for our loved ones who are in need of your care…
We pray for our new and remaining officers who have responded to your call to service.
We pray for our community, our nation, and all the nations of the world, that health, freedom, peace, dignity, and security may be enjoyed by all your children,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who taught us to pray saying, “Our Father…Amen.”
Congregational Meeting to Elect Officers Karen Gold, Clerk of Session
Time With Young Disciples
Scripture Reading Matthew 11:28-30
The Morning Message
Ordination and Installation of Officers
Affirmation of Faith From A Brief Statement of Faith, PCUSA, 1991
All: We trust in God the Holy Spirit, everywhere the giver and renewer of life.
The Spirit justifies us by grace through faith, sets us free to accept ourselves, to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church.
Women: The same Spirit, who inspired the prophets and the apostles
rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, engages us through the Word proclaimed, claims us in the waters of baptism, feeds us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, and calls women and men to all ministries of the Church.
Men: In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear voices long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
All: In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve God in our daily tasks
and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,
praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Presenting the Gifts of Our Lives and Labor
Prayer of Dedication
Lord, as wildflowers bloom on the side of the road and birds sing in the summer dawn, we rejoice in the beauty of creation, grateful that it nourishes and refreshes us even in these ever-changing, uncertain days. Receive our offerings, bless and use them, that they may be used to reveal your glory, beauty, goodness and grace, especially in those places and for those people who need it the most today. Amen.
As you leave, you may deposit your offering in the place indicated.
Go out into the world in peace.
Hold onto what is good.
Return no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, and help the suffering.
Honor all people.
Love and serve the Lord your God, rejoicing in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
As we depart today, please keep visiting to minimum for everyone’s health and safety.
Liturgical elements for today’s service are from The Presbyterian Outlook, Jill Duffield, Editor.
The session has called a meeting of the congregation today for the purpose of electing five members to the office of Ruling Elder and one member to serve as Trustee.
Those to be nominated for Ruling Elder are: Kevin Dennison, Nancy McIntosh, Jon-Tyler Roach, John R. Thomas, and Merritt True.
To be nominated as Trustee is Steve Gold.
Ourselves: John Cooke; Berman Noe; Larry Nikolaus; Sue Yoak; Nancy McIntosh; Connie Morgan; Linda Keefer; Joan and Johnny Sharp; Maren and the Foster Family; Laura Fry; Francis Walters; Jane Brown; Sue Yoak; Berman & Helen Noe
For Our Loved Ones: Mike Harbour; Darell Meadows; Joe Kelley; Bill Keyser; Valerie Flesher; Alice Steuart; Family of Betty Gilkerson (Anna Haddox); Sallie Willis (Donna Thomas); Ted Henry; Joan Cassidy (Tim); Janet Reed (The Minichans); Watt Shields (Steve Gold); Barbara Harris, Aaron (Linda Keefer); Casie Harbor (Peggy Roach); Jenka Lockwood (2nd Presbyterian); Susan Breitzig; Bill Herrold; Barb Bias; Jim Stuart; John Lemaster; Gary Wayne Cassidy (Tim); Jim Sacconi (Kay Adkins); and Mark Scarberry
23 Steve Gold
Call to Worship Luke 4:18
The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor
and release to the captives.
In times of weakness and in our hour of need,
your’s is the strength by which we carry on,
the shoulder we rest our head upon.
When our load is heavy and too much to bear,
your’s are the arms stretched out to help us,
the grace we depend on.
In times of weakness and need,
your voice is heard,
This is grace divine,
the path we tread to wholeness,
of body and spirit,
the path that leads to you,
and to whom we offer our sacrifice of praise. Amen.
John Birch, Faith and Worship
Hymn This Is My Song
Text: Lloyd Stone, Georgia Harkness
Music: Jean Sibelius
This is my song, O God of all the nations.
A song of peace, for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight, too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
So hear my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.
This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms,
thy kingdom come, on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
and hearts united learn to live as one.
So hear my prayer, O God of all the nations,
myself I give thee; let thy will be done.
Scripture Reading Ephesians 2:11-22
The Message “Walls”
The world is full of walls. Everywhere we go, there are fences, gates, security check points, toll Booths - all aimed at keeping order and often to keep something or someone in and something or someone out.
We need walls: walls in our homes to protect us from wind and rain and extreme temperatures; walls to assure us of privacy: fences and barn doors to keep livestock safe and predators out; walls to indicate separate spaces, define ownership and assign responsibility.
In these past several months we've seen visible and invisible walls erected to protect the public from catching the Corona-virus. We’ve seen stations set up for temperature readings at the entrance to schools and hospitals. We've been advised to wear masks. Wearing a mask is a sort of wall - a barrier between one person and the next to diminish the likelihood of spreading the disease.
Walls can be both literal and figurative; walls can even have a spiritual nature. Walls can be helpful and walls can lead to grief, division and violence. All walls serve a purpose; but not all walls serve the purposes of God.
In this Ephesians passage, we read that ·'Christ has ·'broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. It's difficult to imagine how this can possibly happen, especially today, when hostility seems to be the bread and butter of human relating and living.
Pastor G. Kevin Baker says, if we are really honest with ourselves, then we have to acknowledge that we may have contributed to this wall-building. He says we have built many walls, not out of bricks and mortar, but out of the raw material of sin and division. Then we've cemented them with the mortar of name-calling, labeling and prejudice.
That's a harsh statement and it may be offensive to us. I don’t call people names and neither do you. I think we keep our prejudices to a minimum. But, let’s dig a little deeper into the text.
A poor application of the Torah is what created this wall of hostility mentioned in the text. In the growing Christian community, there was hostility between the circumcised insiders against the uncircumcised outsiders. Gentile converts had less status than Jewish converts. Perspective and power shift depending on what side of the wall a person is standing. So, the circumcised probably had privileges, or had a stronger voice, than the uncircumcised, even though both groups were now part of the Christian community. This led to conflict and fracture. The Christian community should not be divided by such walls of hostility. It is an offense to God and denies the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus.
I don't have to remind you of this: for months this nation has been consumed by an explosive issue: immigration. It has created great debate and angst among the citizens. Everyone here probably has a well-reasoned opinion about how it might be resolved. But, we lack one significant ingredient that should be a part of the conversation: unless I'm wrong: none of us is an immigrant and we lack the experience of being the alien, the outsider.
Being an American citizen is taken for granted far too often. I learned this as a child in school and it was reinforced at home: value your citizenship. It is a gift to honor and protect and pass on to the next genera ti on. To become a citizen can be a long, complicated and expensive process. One of my daughters made it a part of her life’s work to help immigrants become naturalized American citizens. But, in the US today, it has become a controversial process.
While we cannot solve the immigration situation, maybe we should examine the walls that are erected between Christians. I read an article yesterday that described the way many denominations, including ours, split over the Civil War and how long it took to reconcile and reunite. We have the benefit of hindsight and can correctly call these divisions a scandal to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who broke down barriers and welcomed everyone to a new way of life in his kingdom. But I doubt we could be so clear-minded in the throes of that era.
What about our era? There are walls still. We don’t have to look very far to find friends and families who have suffered terrible conflicts and estrangement because they interpret scripture differently, or join churches that have different standards for leadership and ordination. This can result in calling each others’ faith and practice defective.
How then can this word from Ephesians help us? The unity referred to here is not manufactured by human hands busy trying to promote multiculturalism and tolerance. The peace described here is not just a ceasing of conflict or the absence of violence. The hope alluded to is not merely a hankering after international experiences or cross-cultural encounters.
Here, unity, peace and hope are not things at all. They are a person. Christ is our peace. In his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall. In Christ's death on the cross, peace has been achieved and hostility has been crucified. Jesus is the singular wrecking crew that demolishes division and gifts us with unity, peace and reconciliation.
What do these gifts look like for us?
Well, I discovered how one community is receiving the gift and passing it on.
Jeff Richards is an evangelist for the Presbytery of Sacramento. He started the Word Hose, with the intention of dismantling the things that separate the church from the rest of our lives. In other words, to present the church in a way that relates to the life of our neighbors, family and friends. He strives to reach people who may have written off the church or who have never been interested at all.
The Word House meets in houses, pubs, and coffeehouses. People seek to make worship, fellowship, mission and discipleship integrated, not segmented, activities.
Worship takes place in a living room or a public space and begins with people checking in with one another. Richards says "people are pretty open about their struggles and pain." They may talk about what’s important and relevant and learn to listen to fellow members and visitors.
Then they look at scripture. People are encouraged to ask questions, learning from the history and the characters, and exploring how the text applies to their own lives. They are asked, '' How are we part of God's story?"
Once a month, the church hosts a pot-luck meal that begins with an Invitation to the Table. Communion is literally celebrated as a meal taken together.
Fellowship extends beyond the social hall. The members go out into the community together, to a restaurant or to have coffee, or hang out downtown or in the local park.
As for mission, it takes place with organizations that already exist in the neighborhood. They seek places where God is already at work and join God there. Many work with children having limited resources. They also go out into the streets to take hot drinks to the homeless. They have hosted Christmas gatherings for families who don’t have homes.
Discipleship is very important to Word House. It is about sharing what's going on in your life and how it relates to God. It's socializing and connecting with people and sharing God's love, inviting them into genuine faith and life.
The Word House represents a trend away from the '•bigger is better'" mentality and toward smaller, deeper community. We see this trend when consumers move from patronizing big-box stores to supporting farmers' markets and microbreweries.
People who long for a spiritual life are moving away from the slickly-programmed, performance-centered mega-churches they grew up in, to small, intense, and highly relational communities. As one of thousands at a mega-church, it can be difficult to have much of a voice about the direction of the church. But at Word House, the participants are part of creating each service and the vision of the ministry.
They strive to live out what we call "·the priesthood of all believers:·
I know you're wondering if this church without walls ministry can be sustained. Richards says he can't imagine needing a bigger space even though the church is growing. The hope is that new groups would be spun off existing ones, similar to the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC. He says there is no plan to buy or build a meeting place. Buildings often outlast their usefulness and churches sometimes exist to maintain bricks and mortar rather than ministry. Word House hopes to avoid that trouble.
The Presbyterian Church is still promoting an initiative called 1001 New Worshiping Communities· Christians near and far away are reading their culture, their neighbors, and their communities, to understand their spiritual needs. There is a great deal of de-constructing barriers in order to make way for the household of God, a household built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God."
May Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church be such a place... a holy temple ... a dwelling place for God.
Pastoral Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
On this weekend, when we celebrate the founding of this nation, we come seeking your blessing.
Rule the hearts of your servants and all those in authority,
that they may do justice, love mercy, and walk in the ways of truth.
Bless and defend all who work for our safety and protection,
and shield them from danger and adversity.
To all nations grant unity, peace, and concord;
and provide their citizens with dignity, food, and shelter;
grant abundant harvests, strength and skill to conserve earth’s resources, and wisdom to use them well.
Enlighten with your Spirit those who teach and all who learn;
come to the help of all who are in peril, need, or trouble;
protect all travelers.
Show mercy to all prisoners and captives.
Strengthen and preserve those who live as families;
protect all children, and comfort the aged, the bereaved and the lonely;
defend the refugees and the homeless, the unemployed, and all who are in despair.
Heal all those who are sick of mind, body, or spirit, and give skill and compassion to all caregivers.
Instill in us a conscience that makes us aware of our sins; forgive us when we have done wrong or failed to act;
strengthen us by your spirit and hold us fast in the fellowship of your Church.
We boldly pray as Jesus taught us, saying, Our Father…Amen.
Shine, O Lord, upon the homely mosaic of West Virginia’s land: upon her steep-hewn hills and angled draws, her maple-strewn valleys and ridges clad in mountain rhododendron.
Shine, Lord, upon her citizens, armed only with freedom, scrappers all for such measure of dignity as fearlessness and faith may win.
Shine, O God, into those deep recesses where Thou hast abundant riches, that those who dig in the earth, and those who watch for their return, may know the radiance of thy light and the safety of thy love,
Bright be cleaning fire of Thy truth in the hearts of the people, and in the public weal of their common life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Washington National Cathedral, prayed for the week starting March 1, 2020
Worship services will resume at Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church, 955 Main St., Barboursville, WV, on July 12, 2020. Weather permitting, we will meet outside. Safety measures 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.
A congregational meeting will be held at the beginning of worship on July 12, for the purpose of electing the next class of Ruling Elders and a church Trustee. The nominees for Ruling Elder are Kevin Dennison, Nancy McIntosh, J.T. Roach, and John R. Thomas. The nominee for Trustee is Steve Gold.
May God bless all those who graciously accept the call to Christian service