WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Claire Stiles, liturgist
When we step back and recapture what around us is truly awe-inspiring – like babies and sunsets and storms and rivers and life and art and bird music – then we will feel enough love for our world not to want it violated, by non-peace, by violence. There is a way to truly love our world, that is to rediscover its wonder.
CALL TO WORSHIP Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-1855, Denmark
God in heaven, when the thought of you wakes in our hearts,
Let it not wake like a frightened bird that
Flies about in dismay, but like a child waking
From its sleep with a heavenly smile.
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
MODERN READING Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864
SERMON Treasured Rev. Kim P. Wells
The Olympics are taking place. Did you know? Do you see it in your newsfeed? Do you hear about it on the radio? Are you watching the events on TV? Have you seen Suni Lee and her gold medal winning routines? Did you watch as Florida wonder Caeleb Dressel took the gold? Again and again and again! And how about Florida’s Bobby Finke winning the gold in the 800 meter AND the 1500 meter freestyle events? Pulling ahead in the last of 30 lengths of the pool? Did you see Danusia Francis from Jamaica and her 11 second routine living her Olympic dream?
We can certainly count on the Olympics for moments of compelling competition and glory! We appreciate the hard work, the countless hours training, the sacrifices made. The effort and commitment. Every athlete at the Olympics has worked incredibly hard to get there.
While I am not a sports fan, I don’t even watch the Super Bowl, I do love the Olympics. I enjoy watching the events. I like hearing the interviews. I enjoy learning about the host country. My family knows not to expect much from mom during the Olympics. I know that the Olympics is fraught with issues among them sexism, corruptions, politicization, doping, commercialization – and it is especially contentious this year, during the pandemic, but I still love the Olympics.
As I think about all I have seen so far – the stunning opening ceremonies with the amazing drone display and Imagine, and the mimed symbols for each sport in the Olympics, and the Japanese pianist who played, the creative commercials, the incredible competitions and athletes – there is one image that has really taken hold and stayed with me. There is one salient moment. The scene in the high school gym in Seward, Alaska when Lydia Jacoby, 17 years old, won the gold in the 100 meter breaststroke. The explosion of joy. The unrestrained elation. The raucous celebration. The sheer abandon of the scene. All those teenagers overcome with happiness for their friend. I could watch that clip over and over and over again.
The sense of community, of love, of support, of these usually self conscious teen agers simply bursting with joy as their friend’s dream comes true. It’s not even their success or their accomplishment or their dream. Which is what makes the joy so pure. Their delight is for someone else. It’s selfless joy. There is no benefit to them in her win. And yet they are overcome.
It is that kind of joy. That abandon. That characterizes the Kindom of Heaven. We heard about it again this morning in the story of the pearl. Another parable. A story with many facets and meanings. A story that is told to help us see something of the realm of God. Something so compelling it eclipses everything else. Period.
In the story, there is the merchant, searching. Looking. Desiring. And finding. Yet in the story before, a worker stumbles upon a treasure in a field. So, it can be sought, it can be stumbled upon. In the pearl story, there is no drama, like in the story of the rich young man. It’s not portrayed as an agonizing sacrifice. The disciples, too, left home, family, and job, to follow Jesus. There is no protracted analysis in this story of the pros and cons. Weighing the potential consequences and outcome. All of these practical considerations just fall away. There’s no saying no.
The commonwealth of God is an all encompassing reality of social, economic, and religious values that encompass the personal good and the communal good into one glorious whole. No fragmentation. Or distraction. Or dilution. It’s a full immersion experience. Not dipping the toe in.
And to be honest, we’re not good at that, these days. We keep our lives balanced, compartmentalized, time for family, time for work, time for re-creation, time for religion, time for exercise. Like a boat with carefully stowed ballast to keep things even to avoid tipping or being swamped. And we have planners and apps and calendars and monitors on our phones to tell us how we are doing keeping everything properly aligned. FYI, there is none of that in the story of the pearl. The experience of the realm of God, of Divine Love, simply eliminates all of those calculations.
In a recent editorial in Christian Century, Peter Marty Talks about being centered. He refers to the 1943 book, On Being a Real Person, by Harry Emerson Fosdick, America’s premier pastor of the mid 20th century, that talks about what it is like to live with a “loss of centrality.” Marty tells us: “A scattered individual lacks wholeness and consistency. Multiple selves compete for attention within. Internal fragmentation makes for no serenity. ‘The fundamental sin of our being is to be chaotic and unfocused. . . The primary command of our being is to ‘get yourself together.” [See editorial by Peter W. Marty, in Christian Century, 7.28.21] Amen to that! And I fear we are far more fragmented now than we were in the 1940’s when Fosdick wrote his book.
We have so many more competing activities and relationships and commitments. With supposedly more money and more free time, there simply seems to be more to do. More options. More opportunities. More distractions. And then introduce the internet and social media and our many devices and the fragmentation just escalates exponentially. We are chaotic and unfocussed. We are falling apart, or being pulled apart, and trying to keep it together. Some of this. Some of that. Limits on this. Make sure to include that. It’s an endless battle. An every changing realignment. As we seek to keep things under control, find the optimal balance. Often without a true center.
In his editorial in Christian Century, Peter Marty goes on to discuss priorities and this I found very interesting. He tells us: “The word priority has been in the English language for at least 600 years, and for most of that time it meant simply the very first or prior thing. Only in the last 80 or so years have we pluralized it to priorities. The suggestion that we can have multiple first things may actually indicate that nothing ends up being our priority. To speak of a ‘top priority’ only serves to confuse.”
I found that very insightful. We live in a time of extreme fragmentation. We are being pulled in many directions. We receive so many messages about who we are to be and what we are to do and what we should look like and where we should go on our next vacation and what we should eat and how we should spend our money and how we should behave and what should matter to us and on and on and on. All of this fragmentation. Pulling us apart. While as Fosdick reminds us, the primary command of our being it to get ourselves together.
And that is what we see in the story of the the merchant and the pearl. Only one thing. No fragmentation. And the Psalmist talks about this many times in Psalm 119: “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” [v. 34]
The kindom of God is the one thing. It is the reality of goodness and love for all of creation. It is all encompassing. Complete. All of our experiences and feelings and desires are incorporated into this one reality. And while we may be engaged in many relationships and activities everything is part of a unified reality of Love. The realm of God, the Kindom of Heaven is the antidote to fragmentation and falling apart or being pulled apart. This story gives us the image of one pearl. Priceless. Precious. Beautiful. With no contention or competition. Just sheer joy.
I’ve seen that kind of joy. Here. At church. More than once. Like the first Sunday we came back for in person worship, outside on the lawn, after 8 months of the covid shut down. It wasn’t like the exuberant, ecstatic expression of joy in the gym in Seward, Alaska after the Jacoby’s win. But the feeling, the look in people’s eyes, the glow, the charged energy in the air, as we sat outside . . . It was pure, unadulterated joy. I can’t remember what the service was about or if the mic worked or what the weather was like. And none of that matters. Really. All I can remember is the intense joy of the experience of the kindom of God. The one true thing. We have been given the treasure. The pearl.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.
UNISON READING Dongxia Shi, China
In the dawn
You walk toward me
When I am confused
You shower me in Love
In the darkness
You bestow light
When I am hesitant
You show me Your Words
In my days
You grant a mission
When I am weak
You lend me Your Power
You are by my side
When I am suffering
You offer me the Cure
You increase my strength
When I am in pain
You grace me with Peace
In all my life
You leave your footprints
When I am empty
You give me Your All
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
MORNING OFFERING and COMMUNION OFFERING
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Prayer of Dedication Bruno Manser, Switzerland
The power of creation
Giver of life —
Guide us on our way.
Where there is pain —
Bring comfort. You!
Where there is hunger —
Bring food. You!
Where there is quarrel —
Bring love. You!
All of us together!
PREPARATION FOR COMMUNION
You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar. Please observe physical distancing.
CELEBRATION OF HOLY COMMUNION
Communion Prayer- Savior’s Prayer
Our Creator, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.
Blessing the Bread and Cup
Sharing the Meal
* BENEDICTION Asian Proverb
Pearls do not lie on the seashore,
If you desire one you must dive for it.
For the safety and comfort of all, please wear a mask. Thank you!
Circle of Concern: Earl Waters, Bill Parsons, Dave Radens, Richard Wiggins and family, Carol Shores, Sherry Santana, William Owen-Cowan, Jen Degroot, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, Janet Hall