Photo by Tamar Dolev. Sunset from Norfolk Island. Feel free to use it. If you want to know more about this beautiful island, then visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norfolk_Island
by Barb Hedges-Goettl ‘God Almighty, we give you thanks for your creation and care, for the words and witness of those who have gone before us, and of those who live the Christian life alongside us. We thank you for your steadfast, eternal presence, even when we do not see, hear or follow you.
You sent your son Jesus to reveal you love. Through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, you reveal to us the way, the truth and the life– not just at the Transfiguration on the mountain, but in this very time and place through the bread and cup you give us to share. And so we praise and thank you with these people in this place, and with all your people across every time and place.
By the work of your Holy Spirit, reveal to us that we eat together at the very table of Christ Jesus. Make us one with you and with each other.
Through this holy meal, teach us to know and follow your way. Ground and settle us in your truth, and make us sharers of your abundant and eternal life.
[Confirm what we know. Reveal to us what we do not know. Fill us up with whatever we lack. Keep us faithfully in your service until we feast together in your eternal kingdom.]
Following Christ Jesus, himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we do what he commanded us to do:
Like him, we take bread, and having given thanks, we break it and give it to the disciples, saying, as Christ Jesus did, “Take, eat, this is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
And, also like Jesus, we take the cup, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Prayer of Confession
(from Psalm 51:1-4, New Living Translation adapted by Barb Hedges-Goettl) Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Forgive me, O God. In your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Forgive me, O God Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. Forgive me, O God For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Forgive me, O God Against you, and you alone, have I sinned. Forgive me, O God I have done what is evil in your sight. Forgive me, O God
Opening Prayer/Confession of Faith
by Barb Hedges-Goettl
We gather together as the church
When we can’t summon our “Jesus-loves-me” smiles
When we are not feeling happy or better
When traditions don’t seem to suffice
When we know all too well that we are ashes and dust
Then God calls us to return to God.
We gather together as the church
When we are not sure how to come before God
When we miss being in our building
When we miss being with our community
When all seems strange and uncertain
Then God calls us to return to God.
We gather together as the church
When we need to lament
When we are a grieving people, a weeping people,
When we are dependent on God for help and healing
When we seek God’s Kingdom until that Kingdom comes
Then God calls us to return to God.
We gather together as the church
Because God creates in us a clean heart, a new and right spirit within us
Because God restores to us the joy of salvation, sustaining in us a willing spirit
Because God does not cast us away, or take God’s holy spirit from us
Because God restores to us the joy of God’s salvation, sustaining in us a willing spirit
we gather together as the church.THANKS BE TO GOD!
COME EAT WITH ME by Rob Douglas. Eugene, OR: RESOURCE Publications, 2018. Ix + 137 pages.
In this easy-to-read book, Rev. Rob Douglas focuses on God’s invitation to “Come eat with me” to explore hospitality and the roles of consummate host and ultimate guest. Douglas notes that God and Jesus take on the roles of guest and of host at the meals described in Scripture. For the followers of Jesus, participating in God’s table means entering deliberately into a relationship with God as guest but also taking on a commitment to serve as host: providing hospitality, welcoming strangers and providing spaces for people to grow and develop. In taking up these themes, Douglas provides content from authors addressing hospitality while providing his own insights and conclusions.
Douglas alternates between chapters that imaginatively re-tell biblical “meal” stories and chapters providing illustrations and broader messages drawn from those re-tellings. For example, the first chapter is titled “Invitation to a Garden,” with the subheading “How God the Maker, the consummate host, prepared the table immaculately for his first guests.” This chapter provides a fictive re-telling of the story of Adam and Eve, closing with the chapter and verse references for those who want to read the biblical version. The second chapter, “Finding Annie,” tells the story of Annie McDonald’s experiences of institutionalization as a child with a disability and her journey to attaining a college education and becoming a speaker and author. Douglas draws on Annie’s story to illustrate his concern for God’s invitation as being an invitation to a relational community, not an institutionalized meal. He further illustrates this concept with his interpretation of the story of Cain and Abel’s offerings.
Later chapters address flexibility between being host and being guest (Abraham and Sarah and their three guests); empowering people to host (Elijah and the widow); a meal of emancipation (Passover); a unique meal with boundaries (quail and manna in the wilderness); hosting God (building the portable ark of the covenant); invitation to a new land (Joshua’s entry into the Promised Land); Jesus as host and guest (the wedding at Canaa); Jesus as the guest of an unworthy host (Zacchaeus); principles of guesting and hosting (the story of the great banquet); God the host shows grace and creativity (feeding of the 5,000); Jesus invites a traitor and his friends to dine (Last Supper); Jesus as host and guest (the Road to Emmaus); a meal invites greater commitment (Breakfast on the Beach); eating together across boundaries (Peter and Cornelius); and God’s ultimate bridal feast (the Final Banquet).
Douglas wrote his book to help those considering the Christian faith and to provide new perspectives to those who are already Christians. For the former, reading the actual Bible passages themselves would be an important counterbalance to the more fanciful re-tellings of the book. For the latter, familiar stories may yield new fruit. In particular, the flexibility of the roles of host and guest as taken up by God and Jesus and their followers may provide some needed food for thought. Pastors may also find the re-tellings, illustrations and thematic expositions helpful for sermon-writing.
An article I wrote some time ago about a boy with disabilities whose communion meal consisted of grilled cheese and apple juice. I am beginning to think about what this means in our bring-your-own or use-what-you-have communion.
How is that all are included in the body of Christ? The above worship proverb of the World Communion of Reformed Churches focuses on the participation of those who may be labeled “disabled” in corporate worship. However, the more basic question may well be the full, conscious and active participation of all persons in the communion of the church–a communion that goes beyond corporate worship to the heart of what it means to belong to Christ Jesus.
The question of being a part of communion and all that it means was a crucial one for the worship class I taught recently. One student in the class raised the question of the role of communion for her autistic son, whom we will call Ethan. Ethan, who was about ten years old, was not a regular attendee at corporate worship. Instead, the church was providing a special Sunday School class for Ethan and a few others during the worship service.
The whole host of questions that arise about the best arrangement in such situations is beyond the scope of our discussion here. In this particular case, the Sunday School class seemed to be a better placement for the students than attending worship. Ethan’s mom was not questioning this arrangement; instead, she was asking about how Ethan is part of communion.
With regard to Ethan’s literal participation in the sacrament itself, one of the barriers is obviously his absence from worship itself. It is not unusual for someone to bring the Lord’s Supper to those who are teaching during worship. This practice could be expanded to include the provision of the sacrament to the students in the special Sunday School. This communion could follow the model used when providing communion to others who are not present at worship, such as those who are homebound. Thus, rather than simply stopping in the Sunday School room with the elements, during or at the end of the church’s worship service the pastor and/or some congregants could share with the Sunday School class a brief message appropriate to them along with the words of institution, the elements, and a prayer and/or a song.
Suggesting this potential solution, however, revealed additional barriers to communion. Ethan’s mom noted that the list of things that Ethan will eat is rather limited. The closest he will come to eating plain bread and drinking grape juice is grilled cheese and apple juice. Some worship aficionados might compare Ethan’s preferences to the teenage desire to celebrate the sacrament with chips or cookies and soda. In this situation, however, providing elements specific to Ethan’s condition is more akin to providing gluten-free bread for those who are gluten intolerant.
While grilled cheese and apple juice do not, as one participant in the conversation in class noted, represent “the church’s communion,” this response places the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Communion ultimately does not belong to the church, but to Christ Jesus who is the host. The accent note of the question of Ethan’s involvement in communion is not what the elements or the church’s communion should be, but on the availability of Christ Jesus to Ethan. Thus, the communion offered (or not offered) to Ethan goes beyond the bread and the cup–or even grilled cheese and apple juice, to the question of whether Ethan is a part of the body of Christ.
On the level of Christ Jesus’ open invitation to join with him in communion, Ethan is included. Jesus offers himself to and for Ethan and his Sunday School class. Jesus eats with them, as he did with a wide variety of people during his earthly ministry. While the church is more comfortable if those partaking of communion can verbalize what it is they are receiving, the provision and partaking of food can also be seen as providing its own self-evident meaning. Food offered and partaken signals fellowship, communion, and relationship. It represents an action of sharing, of gift and reception. Persons with disabilities and elderly folks with limited language and/or cognition are able to participate in the meal and hence in its underlying meaning.
On the level of the local church body, Ethan and his Sunday School class are also included. The message that Ethan and his class are part of the communion of God, and are invited to eat with Jesus, should be primary to whatever meal practices used. This ultimate message of being part of the fellowship of God is of greater importance than the elements used to convey that message. Actively sharing communion with this group of youngsters may mean offering Ethan or his whole class a bite of grilled cheese and a sip of apple juice as their communion fare.
Conversation with the Sunday School class during its communion meals, whatever the fare, could focus on communion themes. Such themes include the idea that Jesus eats with all of us, a lesson perhaps aided by having a picture or doll of Jesus present for the conversation and meal. Another lesson could focus on the idea that we all eat together, a concept that could be aided by photos or videos of Christians communing the world over. The lesson that, like Jesus, we help feed people, could be taught by helping with a feeding program. The reality that the Lord’s Supper is a thanksgiving meal, a party meal, and a memorial meal could each be enacted through how the meal is laid and celebrated. The fact that the meal marks us as God’s people could be indicated by sharing other tokens representing the local church’s fellowship.
Since communion is a meal of the church, on occasion the church body should participate in the Sunday School class’s communion and, vice-versa, the class should participate in communion during the community’s worship. Communion of the class and the worshiping body should include the chance for the congregation to receive from and with the Sunday School class a growing awareness of the myriad of meanings and expressions of this embodied experience of Christ Jesus’ living presence. The very embodied nature of the sacrament makes participation and non-participation loud and poignant bearers of the message of who is a part of this communion and who is not. Let us make sure Ethan and his classmates know that they are a part of this communion, of this fellowship, of this body—the body of Christ Jesus.
Using the Message version of Psalm 10and Rise Up in reference/deference to Andra Day – Rise Up [Official Music Video] [Inspiration Version] h
1-2 God, are you avoiding me? Where are you when I need you? Rise up, Lord! God, lift up your hand! Full of hot air, the wicked are hot on the trail of the poor.Trip them up, tangle them up in their fine-tuned plots. Rise up, Lord! God, lift up your hand! 9 They mark the luckless, then wait like a hunter in a blind;When the poor wretch wanders too close, they stab him in the back. Rise up, Lord! God, lift up your hand! 11He thinks God has dumped him, he’s sure that God is indifferent to his plight. 12Time to get up, God—get moving. The luckless think they’re Godforsaken. Rise up, Lord! God, lift up your hand! 14 But you know all about it—the contempt, the abuse..16 Search and destroy every sign of crime. Rise up, Lord! God, lift up your hand! 16God’s grace and order wins; godlessness loses. 17-18 The victim’s faint pulse picks up; the hearts of the hopeless pump red blood as you hear their cries. Rise up, Lord! God, lift up your hand!
When one of you says, “I’m on Paul’s side,” and another says, “I’m for Apollos,” aren’t you being totally infantile? Who do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. 1 Corinthians 3:4-5 (The Message)
The pastoral is political because power is a fact of life and Christians, including pastors, are called to address that power. When people-in-the-pew think of being political, they frequently think about being partisan. The pastor-in-the-pulpit must be guided by the understanding that what we preach is the Gospel, not the GOP or the Democratic Party—not to mention that a church that is partisan ways endangers its tax-exempt status!
The U.S. today faces the question of who/what is our telos, our end, our goal. This is a time to honestly examine who we are and where we are going. While sometimes we are urged that “we are better than this,” somehow the “this” is still here. While we wish to deny it, “this” is nonetheless the current version of who the U.S. is and what the U.S. is doing (and not doing). At this time, this is who we are. And if this does not accord with our founding documents and our aspirational goals, one or the other needs to change.
Do we believe that “all [people] are created equal”? Do we believe that everyone should be both protected by, and subject to, the law? Do we believe that certain basic rights belong to all people, even if they are not like us and/or not US citizens?
In 2018, the Presbyterian Church (USA) endorsed a Statement of Honest Patriotism. It begins with a statement of support for those who work in public service (career employees, elected officials, members of the judiciary) as part of God’s design for creation. It then lifts up truth as a core value for both citizens and Christians. This truth is often complex. This truth rejects sensationalizing conflicts and demonizing other human beings and peoples (including those doing such demonizing). It supports the fundamental right to vote, and condemns voter suppression through gerrymandering and restrictive voter registration, vote-by- mail, and poll site availability. The freedom to disagree about what is true and false, is protected by our freedom of speech. This does not mitigate the responsibility to hold those who speak accountable for truthfulness.
Freedom of speech means having access to information in a variety of ways from a variety of sources. Hate speech is excluded, as it seeks to silence others’ voices. Censorship and data suppression are prohibited. The First Amendment likewise supports peaceful protests, which must not be subject to the overreach of federal forces or the police.
The question of who/what is our telos is not just a question for the electorate. It is the crux of Christian preaching. If we believe that Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, and did not discriminate against certain kinds of neighbors (see the “Good Samaritan”), then we must do the same. As one seminary’s media campaign put it, love your _____________ neighbor: your gay neighbor, your liberal neighbor, your fascist neighbor, your black neighbor, your Asian neighbor, your poor neighbor, your rich neighbor—any kind of neighbor you have, love them!
If we begin our journey by believing that all people are created in God’s image, then we need to treat them as such. When tempted to treat someone badly (even if that impulse is the result of them in turn having treated someone else badly), we should think about if we would treat God that way.
Knowing that each person is created in God’s image, then justice becomes a mandate. As Cornel West stated, “Justice is love in public.” While in many cases justice would be an improvement over what we’ve got, justice could in fact be the low bar. There are instances in which justice is not enough, in which some kind of making-up-for-what-has-been-lost or taken is in order. It’s like the graphic of equity versus equality—children of varying heights need different sized boxes to see through the fence to the baseball game. Giving them all the same height box won’t do it.
So while partisan politics remain out-of-bounds for preaching, the principles that undergird decision-making, the values that we hold that make us vote the ways that we do, should be shaped by God. And that is what we set about to do by preaching. That preaching—and our practices—should match what God requires of us—to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. And so the pastoral is political—but not partisan. Please, God, make it so.
Cover photo: An aerial view of protesters gathered near the makeshift memorial in honor of George Floyd, marking one week since his death (Minneapolis). Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images.
We are using the 2020 Presbyterian Women’s Horizons Bible Study for our Summer Series: Into the Light: Finding Hope Through Prayers of Lament, a $10 resources with 9 lessons. This is week 2 on lamenting together; week 1 was intro to lament.
Singing the Lord’s Song/being in communion when separated and in times of darkness
How do we sing the Lord’s Song when our world’s violence makes any thoughts of even one peaceful Sabbath a pipe dream? When you’re in such a dark place that you wish death on somebody, maybe even yourself? When our people and communities are broken, divided by illness, grief, spite or sheer vengeance? When your own church’s communion – much less the world’s – seems impossible?
REFLECTIONS ON THEME: The readings this week offer a fascinating juxtaposition of ideas. The Old Testament and Psalm readings all explore the pain and humiliation of God’s people when they are defeated, conquered and exiled, and as they long for forgiveness restoration and salvation. Even Psalm 37 deals with similar issues, albeit in a more generalised way, speaking of the pain and confusion that arises when destructive or evil people prosper, and the difficult work of faith and patience in God’s action on behalf of those who trust God’s ways. The New Testament readings, on the other hand, explore the impact that a life of simple, ordinary faith can have, and the attitude of humble servanthood which expects no undue reward for simply living faithfully. In essence, both Testaments are saying the same thing this week. In a world where bad things happen to good people, and where it often appears that the lawless and ‘godless’ get the best, it can be tough to live in faith and faithfulness. Justice can take a long time to come, and it can be tempting to use any means – however undesirable – to achieve what we long for. This applies even when our goal is to manifest God’s reign. However, as we live in faithfulness, and pass our faith on to others who come after us, the small, ordinary acts of goodness and justice that we do each day, the small faithful commitments to our convictions that we renew each day, really do ‘move mountains’ and change the world, little by little, into a place where God’s salvation is visibly revealed.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE: GLOBAL APPLICATION: In the light of the huge challenges facing our world – hunger and poverty, human rights abuses, unequal distribution of resources, human trafficking, dread diseases, environmental degradation, conflict and war – it is easy to get frustrated and impatient, and it is extremely tempting to embrace any strategy that gets results. The danger here, though, is that we can too easily become what we seek to overcome, and our efforts, which may appear successful in the short term, leave us in deeper trouble in the long term. Two important principles that the lectionary offers us this week are 1) the power of small acts of goodness and justice, and 2) the need to think systemically and long term, waiting at the “guard post on the wall” (to use Habakkuk’s image) to observe, nurture and cooperate with any manifestations of God’s reign that emerge. In the world of big business, big politics, and powerful lobby groups, such long term thinking can be frustrating, but, as demonstrated by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela (it must have taken faith to spend 27 years in jail and then still embrace dialogue as a valid process to end apartheid) such faithful, consistent and just living does result in significant change. What long term commitments to justice can you embrace or renew in your community this week?
LOCAL APPLICATION: Perhaps the best focus, on the local level, this week, is the power of small, ordinary, “everyday” acts of justice. When we refuse to live according to the expedient, self-centred, materialist values of the society around us, it may appear to have no impact, and we may feel like we become nothing more than a laughing stock – a people in exile, suffering for what may sometimes feel like foolish and ineffectual convictions, while those around us “live it up” and succeed. The promise of the Scriptures, though, is that such alternative living does have an impact – a significant one – and also has lasting value – becoming the heritage of faith and goodness that is passed down through generations and across communities. The reassurance this gives is that our suffering is not in vain, and that our faithfulness is useful to God. In our “instant gratification” society, such perseverance and endurance is hard and counter-cultural, but is a powerful witness to the Gospel. Where has your church’s commitment to “everyday justice” grown tired or weak? In what ways do you need to renew your commitment to persevere? What alternate living choices do you need to make or renew together? To whom can your faith heritage be passed on? What can you do to inspire and sustain small, long term, commitments in your community this week?
שָׁדַדshâdad, shaw-dad’; a primitive root; properly, to be burly, i.e. (figuratively) powerful (passively, impregnable); by implication, to ravage:—dead, destroy(-er), oppress, robber, spoil(-er), × utterly, (lay) waste.
Psalm 137: Complex Communal Laments
Journal of Biblical Literature
Vol. 127, No. 2 (Summer, 2008), pp. 267-289 (23 pages)
Imagine the 267N5 Imagine the act of decapitating little children or infants against the edge or corner of the wall of Jerusalem. Something that is supposed to protect is now employed to behead. The violent and traumatic visual image of such a repeated act goes beyond anything we can comprehend.
Mock-simha; fake song of victory over enemies
275 Why would Ps. 137k accentuated by laments & curses, be place in the midst of these 0135-137] Thanksgiving and praise psalms? This is a bold but unconventional editorial move that proposed to give thanks and praise through lament laden with honest feelings of enmity. Thhanksgiving and praise arise not only from positive elements in life. Rther the true mark of these practices if finding the courage & strength to praise & give thanks when there is nothing worthwhile or praiseworthy. 176 Brueggemann says that Ps 137 is marked not by despair but by hope. However, we cannot move into this hopeful realm all too quickly without allowing the pathos to resound and have its rightful place. The ? is, Can those in Babylon, both the first wave and the second wave of forced migrants collectively voice “Hallelujah” or “Thanks be to God” in the midst of their most difficult time? The answer seems to be complex.
278 by the waters of Babylon; by the irrigation canals where the Judean royalty and religious leadership were put to work maintaining/desalinating the canals.
280 weeping willows crying for those who hung the harps
v.3 wordplay beween captors, tormenters & hung
282 For there our captors asked us for the words of a song, but our tormenters asked for mirth, ‘Sing for us a Zion song!’
283 Captors, Babyonians, may be separate from torments, who may be fellow-laborers who are not Jewish.
284 Bookends: Forget/do not remember
Musician wiling to forgo righthand instrument & mouth/tongue for praising God
The Christian Century, July 2-9, 1997, pp. 630-632.
In response to times of crisis, Leviticus urged the practice of holiness, and Deuteronomy stressed neighborliness. Unless the experience of loss is expressed, examined and understood, new ways of living are not able to emerge.
In our time of dislocation the church can offer ways of speaking and acting that the dominant society regards as subversive, but without which we cannot for long stay human. The church can 1) express sadness, rage and loss as an alternative to the denial that inevitably breeds brutality. 2) be a voice of holiness that counters the trivial commodity-centered world by the practice of disciplines that make communion possible. 3) be a voice of imaginative, neighborly transformation, focused on those in need. 4) express new social possibilities, rooted in the truth of God’s good news.
Before us is the choice between succumbing to a fearful self-preoccupation that shrivels the spirit or heeding God’s call to re-enter the pain of the world and the possibility of renewal and salvation. [Numbers added]
1: How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word What more can He say than to you He hath said To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled
2: Fear not, I am with thee; oh, 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
3: When through the deep waters I call thee to go The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress
4: When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine
5: 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
Call to Confession: Let us ask for God’s forgiveness for not believing God can handle whatever we are experiencing.
Prayer of Confession: When we are ashamed of how we feel and try to hid it from you, forgive us.
When we act like all is well when things are far from well, forgive us.
When we don’t believe that you love us no matter what, forgive us.
When we don’t believe that you love others no matter what, forgive us.
When we give up instead of listening for your call, forgive us.
When we cease to believe you are at work, forgive us. (Silent confession)
Assurance of Pardon: Throughout all time, people trust in God and are delivered; they cry to God and are saved; they trust in God and are not put to shame. Our God is with us in every circumstance, loving us. Thanks be to God for the Good News: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I fleefrom your presence?8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide meand the light become night around me,”12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing; Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us: The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him. (interlude)
That word above all earthly powers, No thanks to them, abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours Through Him who with us sideth: Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever.
The above reprinted with permission under ONE LICENSE #A-733426. All rights reserved.
Psalm 22:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. 10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
I’m not a complainer. I don’t mean to complain. I shouldn’t complain. I have nothing to complain about really. Stop whining and complaining!
We have all probably heard or even said one of these sayings. Complaining is often considered a weakness or personality flaw. Long-suffering without complaint is often held up as a virtue. Some Christians even believe that complaining is bad
or disrespectful and to “just suck it up and take it” is a Christ-like virtue.
Think of the Hymn: They crucified my Lord, and He never said a mumbalin’ word. They nailed Him to a tree and He never said a mumbalin’ word. They pierced Him in the side, and He never said a mumbalin’ word. The blood came trickalin’ down, and He never said a mumbalin’ word. He bowed His head and died, and He never said a mumbalin’ word. Not a word, not a word, not a word.
But then why does the opening of psalm 22 sound so familiar? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Maybe the hymnist had it wrong after all!
Jesus is the perfect model for our behavior in this life. He prayed, He healed,
He loved, He spoke out against injustice, He praised people for their faith.
AND He cried out in complaint.
The Bible has many complaints or “laments” as they are called. You find them in the stories of the Israelites, you find them in the psalms, you hear them throughout the book of Job, there is even a whole book called Lamentations, and we hear it from the mouth of Jesus as he hung upon the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cried out and breathed his last, but not until after he cried out in lament.
Rev. Lynn Miller, the author of the Presbyterian Women’s Horizons Bible Study for this year, which is titled “Into the Light: Finding Hope Through Prayers of Lament,” writes: the perceived absence of God is the heart of lament. Lament
is an emotional statement of sorrow or grief concerning an event in time – past, present, or future. “Lament is not whining” she writes. “(It) is not a pat on the head for people who are suffering or preyed on. Lament is not venting or blowing off steam.”
Instead, lament is communication with God that connects us to the world and the God who loves it and us. Lament helps us focus on actual situations. Lament is a prayer and lament is an opportunity to confess our faith in God whose promises are trustworthy. We lament IN ORDER TO HOPE.
The world is steeped in illness and economic distress. The world is suffering grief from the loss of hundreds of thousands, many who died without families saying goodbye. The world is dying from pollution and global warming. The world is shaking from racial injustice and bigotry and the suffering of the poor.
We have reason to wonder: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We have reason to lament! WE NEED TO HOPE!
So this summer, Barb and I will be reaching for hope through some of the laments of the Bible. And the first lament is one of the bleakest. “My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words
of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night,
but find no rest.”
Have you lost sleep these past weeks? Has the news in the papers, on the television, online or even over the phone from those we can’t be with unsettled your heart so much that you found no rest? It is time Church to raise our lament!
First, we need to address God, to take our complaint to the One with power
to rescue, heal, comfort and to change this world. We address God and announce the relationship between God and us, who are His people. We don’t address our complaint to God but to my God! The God we cry out to is the same God who is
in covenant relationship with us, the same God who claims us for His own, the God who loves us so much that we are called the children of God… AND SO WE ARE! God is our Father and we are calling on the head of our family in a time of distress.
Second, we describe our grievance or injustice to our God. We let God know exactly what is going on. In the psalm the one praying says “I am a worm, and not human; Scorned by others and despised by the people. All who seek to mock me; They make mouths at me, they shake their heads.” He is made to feel like a worm, like not even human. There are those even today who are treated like animals,
who feel less like “essential” and more like “disposable.”
I spoke to a Director of Nursing in a nursing home this week. She described the suffering of the past months and the heart-wrenching scenes of multiple deaths each day, the grief and exhaustion of the staff, and the ache of contacting families who could not be with the dying. So for this and for so many other reasons we pray a lament today to the God who is our Father. We cry out to our God who is family.
Finally, we include in our prayer of lament a statement of trust in God. Not a false trust or trust with no reason, but trust in God based on God’s saving actions in the past and trust in the relationship with God that still exists. Based on this trust we find HOPE that GOD WILL ACT! The God who always was and always is faithful!
The one praying the psalm says: “Yet is was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me YOU HAVE BEEN MY GOD. Do not be far from me for trouble is near and there is no one to help” and eventually the one prays:
“O my help, come quickly to my aid!”
We all have reason to trust in God whose Holy Spirit moved within us and
brought us to faith. We can all no doubt name times in the past when God acted
in our lives. In the eyes of the world my life, your life, our lives so far may look like the result of happenstance and chance. But when we look back in the eyes
of faith we can know times when God acted. God acted in my life, in your life,
in our lives to rescue, to comfort, to heal, to correct, TO GIVE HOPE.
God may seem absent at times but God is always with us.
His rod and his staff, they comfort us!
Or as Psalm 139 says:
Where can I go from you Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the mourning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
Even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Take heart people of God, HAVE HOPE children of our Father.
Call, confession, communion and commission beyond COVID-19
Social distancing as a way to flatten the curve of COVID -19’s spread has created many questions about how to maintain a sense of community while not physically coming together in one space. For Christians, though, the social distancing that resulted from the worldwide spread of a virus raised a pressing question: How do we understand ourselves as the church when we can’t meet in person?
John Calvin proclaimed that the marks of the true church are the gospel rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered. So, if the existence of the church is indicated by its worship, as Calvin said — the Word preached and the sacraments rightly administered — what does the current diaspora mean for the church?
I want to explore four traditional characteristics of church that, although most clearly expressed and reinforced when we gather together, can apply to the Christian life well beyond worship held in the church building.
The first is call, which is best experienced in the corporate Call to Worship that opens many a Sunday service. Presbyterians believe that God’s grace is “prevenient”; that is, that God acts first. The Christian life — and worship itself — is begun by God calling us to Godself, into God’s own kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:12) However, during a time of sheltering we are reminded that this call can happen every day, anywhere. Daily Prayer from the PC(USA) Book of Common offers this call in the form of prayer — morning, midday, evening and at the close of day — inviting us to a new rhythm of worship beyond a church building. How else can you open yourself to hear God’s call?
The call of God then leads us into confession — the telling of the truth about ourselves, about God, and about the relationship of the human and divine. “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope, for he who has promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). Our words express and form our faith, telling it like it is and shaping us for what is yet to be. This truth-telling includes the confession of sin and the responding assurance/confession of God’s mercy. It is truth told in our formal confessions of the faith (The Apostles’ Creed, the Brief Statement, etc.). It is truth presented in the ways the Word of God comes to us in worship and life — in song and prayer, in Scripture and preaching, in the witness of nature and of others. It is shared truths and traditions mutually accessible even when we are apart. Is there a prayer, song or other devotional practice you can commit to sharing at the same time as others?
Confession then prepares us for the element of worship traditionally defined as the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup — communion — although it includes the passing of the peace and fellowship time. Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). Without being able to break bread together or touch hands in a hearty shake, communion as the church takes on new expression. When I studied communion in the PCUSA, it became clear that all kinds of ways of receiving the elements were viewed as “communing together.” Just as God’s action among us is not hampered by particular models of participation in a communion meal, God is not hampered our inability to get together. The church is the church every time we choose to lean on one another, passing the peace by phone, text or computer. The church is the church when a simple table grace is said, asking God to join us all together in love and communion.
Lastly, the fourth characteristic of what church has always been about, still is, and will always be is commissioning. As the Father sent me, so send I you (John 20:21). In baptism we join Jesus’ disciple-making work of bringing Good News to all. Commissioning is for the work of the church in the world — no matter how we meet, where we meet or if we cannot meet together. How can we express our love of neighbor, and reveal that the church is strengthened by the very necessity of finding new ways to socially connect? What gratitude can we express to God, together or apart? How can we live out the call, confession, communion and commissioning not just as traditional Sunday morning rubrics, but as the very framework for being the church today?
The Rev. Dr. Barb Hedges-Goettl is a PC(USA) pastor who, with her husband Len, co-pastors a small neighborhood church outside of Philadelphia. She has a Ph.D. in liturgical studies, a path that began with an interest in what it means to be the church.
Inspire us to shed the comfortable accents of churchy insider talk.
Teach us to speak digital. Enable us to worship virtually. Fit our mouths to something strange, speaking through a mask of love–. Conjugate the Spirit in and through us. Empower our worry, like the worry of those who waited in the Upper Room so long ago, to lead us to the active voice of love—mostly verbs, present tense,
not passive voice–and not many possessive pronouns. Amen.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, Wind, Wind on the sea.You moved on the waters, you called to the deep, then you coaxed up the mountains from the valleys of sleep, and over the eons you called to each thing: Awake from your slumbers and rise on your wings. REFRAINYou swept through the desert, you stung with the sand, and you goaded your people with a law and a land, and when they were blinded with their idols and lies, then you spoke through your prophets to open their eyes. REFRAIN
You sang in a stable, you cried from a hill, then you whispered in silence when the whole world was still, and down in the city you called once again, when you blew through your people on the rush of the wind. REFRAINYou call from tomorrow, you break ancient schemes, from the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams, our women see visions, our men clear their eyes, with bold new decisions your people arise. REFRAIN
Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control, Our spirits long to be made whole,
Let inward love guide ev’ry deed; By this we worship and are freed.
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 (see end of bulletin)
Message Why the Spirit? Pastor Barb
Confession of Faith: The Brief Confession of Faith
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 and to love God and neighbor, and binds us together with all believers in the one body of Christ, the Church.
The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and 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.
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 the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.
In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
we strive to serve Christ 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!”
*Closing Hymn God, Bless Your Church with Strength!
God bless your church with strength! Wherever we may be, upbuild your servants as we work in common ministry. Urge us from fledgling faith to venture and to soar through open skies to sing the praise of Christ whom we adore (interlude)
2. God bless your church with life! May all our branches thrive, un blemished, wholesome, bearing fruit, abundantly alive. From you, one holy vine, in freedom may we grow; sustain us in our mission, Lord, your love and peace to show.
3. God bless your church with hope! Despite chaotic days, may we in darkness shine to light a pathway through life’s maze. May justice be our aim, and kindness ours to share; in humbleness oh may we walk, assured our God is there! (end)
*Charge and Benediction Pastors Barb and Len
Postlude The Lord Bless You and Keep You Julliard Christian Fellowship