Sunday Service 2.21.2021

GATHERING MUSIC       Sancho from Cervantes Portraits                HKJ

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                        Claire Stiles, liturgist

Unless the widening gap between the rich and poor is arrested, and if possible reversed, the very peace and stability of any society will be seriously jeopardized.

Akin J. Omoyajowo, contemporary Nigerian bishop

PRELUDE                                   De Colores                     Spanish trad.

OPENING PRAYER                                    Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582

MUSIC                             Pues Si Vivmos                              Haugen

SCRIPTURE READINGS 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.  

John 14:1-4 and 1 John 4: 19-21

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.

MYSTIC READING              A Seed of Love                       Teresa of Avila

REFLECTION                     Teresa of Avila                     Rev. Kim P. Wells

What could a Catholic nun from Spain who lived inthe 1500’s possibly have to say to us today? Her times were so different than ours. Her concerns and context so alien from ours today. Surely it was a simpler time without all the complexities and

distractions that we face. Ah, to just have to pray in a convent all day! How hard was that?

Yes, like mystics of every age, Teresa of Avila is known for cultivating the life of prayer. She may be best known for the image of the interior castle or mansion. In her book with that title she begins by telling us, “I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.” She goes on:

“Let us now imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions, some above, others below, others at each side; and in the center and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.”

Teresa then outlines 7 rooms that lead to the center, which is flooded with light, and where there is intimate communion with the Divine. It’s a beautiful path of contemplative prayer. But, hey, we have apps for that kind of thing today.

So what is it about Teresa that may speak to us? I find her story compelling and illuminating. She was born in Spain to a comfortable family. It was in the aftermath of the triumph over the Moors. So the Catholic church was clamping down hard on compliance with its authority. The Inquisition was in

full force. The society was very class oriented.

People with money had power and got favored treatment in all settings. In her youth, Teresa herself was popular. She was attractive, lively, winsome, charming. Her family and friends took delight in her. So how does she end up going from being a privileged child to a persecuted nun to the patron saint of Spain, all within in her lifetime?

Well, Teresa’s mother died when she was a teen and that rocked her world. And her family was of Jewish heritage and converted to Catholicism to avoid the

Inquisition. So they were extremely devout. And something significant, a traumatic experience, occurred in her teens and we don’t know the nature of the situation. Teresa became very sick, actually several times in her life, with illness that threatened to kill her and lasted for many months. Somehow, through all of this, Teresa made her own path. A path that I believe still speaks to us today.

For one thing, despite the highly stratified society and the strict hierarchy of the church, Teresa had an egalitarian heart. Even her book Interior Castle, is a way of prayer that is accessible to everyone. You don’t need a special guilt prayer book or a priest or to seclude yourself away from day to day tasks for long periods of time. A luxury many cannot afford. So this is a way of prayer that can be practiced by anyone.

She begins with the assumption that every single person, as a human being created in the image of God, has this precious castle within. She tells us, “Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it. We don’t remember that we are creatures made in the image of God. We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.” This is not a special gift only for some. It is not associated with money or success or piety. Everyone has this castle within and everyone has access to this castle through what is referred to as mental prayer. We might say contemplative prayer. In other words, it does not require a certain prayer said by a certain authorized person. It is not mediated by the institutional church. It is a process for uniting with God that is available to literally everyone. She describes it this way: “Mental prayer is, as I see it, simply a friendly intercourse and frequent solitary conversation with Him who, as we know, loves us.” She makes things very accessible to everyone.

Another way we see her egalitarianism is in the way she ran her convents. It was the custom for wealthy women who entered the convent to offer large dowries to the convent. This was a source of revenue for running the convent and supporting the Catholic church. Those who donated more money got better, more spacious quarters, domestic assistance, more perks, so to speak. Teresa did not agree with this. She felt that everyone was equal in the eyes of God so when she couldn’t affect reform in the convent she was in she set about founding a new convent in which everyone had the same accommodations and food and work and seclusion.

No exceptions.

Teresa felt that money and wealth got in the way of people being treated equally as they should be because everyone was equally beloved in the eyes of God. We are still struggling with this today – in society, in the justice system, in schools, in health care, in the church, in basically every sector of our culture. Money talks!

This is something that the church as well as society needs to be keeping in mind today. We have an underclass, an invisible-to-most class of people in this country that are not part of the mainstream. Teresa sought to eliminate those divisions, especially in the church. She comments: “How friendly all men would be one with another, if no regard were paid to honour and money! I believe it would be a remedy for everything.” Amen to that! Teresa sheds the light of the equality for us today. And we need to follow that light.

Teresa also has a word for us about materialism and consumerism. She saw not only how money undermined equality, but she saw how material wealth could become an impediment to intimacy with God. Material concerns, appearances, a sense of self importance, these things got in the way of pursing union with God. And since she grew up with wealth and comfort, she spoke from experience. Later in life when she has come into her own, after her second conversion and her dedication to founding new convents, she comments, :Thank God for the things that I do not own.” She saw the pitfalls and problems associated with wealth and class and how they could distract from wholeheartedly giving your life to the pursuit of Love.

We certainly need to be reminded of this today. Yes, we have the highest standard of material wealth ever known in human history, but what is the state of our connection – to each other, to Divine Love, to Creation, our beloved Mother Earth? All of these relationships are suffering while our material standard of living increases. These two things are not unrelated. We are seeking from material comfort what it cannot provide – love, connection, intimacy, emotional security. And that pursuit of more and better and newer is distracting us from what does satisfy – connection and relationship. And all of this is fueled by capitalism and the lie that we will all benefit materially and that will make our lives better.

Teresa knew better. She tells us: “Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds.”

In her convents and monasteries, the monks and nuns had what they needed, and they provided this for themselves and each other. There was no favoritism based on status or wealth. It was a model embodying God’s inestimable love for each and every person. This is a message we need to be reminded of today.

Teresa offers another important insight for us today. She was a big proponent of self-knowledge. In her Interior Castle, she advocates exploring the many rooms and mansions that eventually lead to the Divine center. Countless rooms, really. And Teresa is very much an advocate for exploring them all. She places a high value on exploration, asking questions, getting to know oneself, and Christ and God, intimately. She very much promotes self knowledge, self awareness, and self discovery. For women as well as men. But she cautions: “It is of great importance, when we begin to practice prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.” This kind of independent thinking was not encouraged in her time especially for women. But she seems to feel that in getting to know yourself, you are coming to a better understanding of God and God’s grace and generosity and strength in your life. You see better what God is doing for you. And can then have a greater appreciation for God’s love, its breadth and depth. So she believed that self-examination would lead you closer to God. She believed people should explore, examine and investigate their own hearts. Don’t just take the word of an outside authority, a priest. Don’t just adhere to theological dogma presented by the church. Explore and examine for yourself. Know yourself.

This stood her in good stead as she faced the challenges of her time and context. When she lived, the Moors had been driven from Spain and the Catholic church was reasserting its dominance. The Inquisition was in full force. Think McCarthyism or Salem Witch Trials. Teresa’s parents were of Jewish heritage and had converted to Catholicism to avoid the Inquisition. But they were still suspect. So Teresa was watched. And she was investigated. She wrote several books to explain her life and activities and beliefs to the church authorities. They also did not like it that she wanted to found more strict convents. She was challenging social and religious norms. Besides this would cost money, money that would not be going to the current interests of the Catholic church. The church was also suspect of people who had visions or ecstatic spiritual experiences. This kind of manifestation can be a threat to the established power structure. Were these visions from God or the devil? This had to be determined. And Teresa was known for her manifestations because they sometimes occurred in a public setting. She wrote in a letter to her brother:

“You should know that for more than eight days I’ve been in such a state that, if it were to continue, I would not be able to attend to business. Since before I last wrote to you I’ve begun having raptures again, and they’ve been a problem because they’ve happened several times in public, and even during matins. It is no use resisting them, or pretending that nothing is happening. I get so embarrassed that I want to hide, anyplace at all. I pray wholeheartedly to God to stop making this happen to me in public, and you have to pray too, because it’s a real nuisance, and it doesn’t seem to help me at all in prayer. Lately I’ve been seeming almost as if I were drunk.”

Wouldn’t a mystic be grateful for these ecstatic occurrences? Isn’t this the prize of mysticism? Wouldn’t this give a mystic cache? Maybe. But not if it attracts the attention of church authorities who already find you suspicious for a variety of other reasons. So Teresa was not welcoming of her public ecstasies.

But when challenged, Teresa could explain herself, fully and freely, because she knew herself. She had explored her heart and her mind. She knew her loyalties. She knew her devotion to God. And she could speak of these things. She was not hemmed in by the ideas given to her by others, including the church. And because her explanations were so sincere, and honest, and humble, who could argue?

It was all about the love of God and showing that love and living that love. What could church authorities say to a mere woman who declared: “The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and to do that which best stirs you to love.”

This is another aspect of her teaching that speaks to us today. Today everyone is so busy and distracted that they don’t take time to think, to explore, to know themselves. We accept the messages that society sends us about who we are. About what matters. About what is right. And leave it at that. For all of our freedom, we are really caged in our thinking. Teresa advocates thinking for yourself. Knowing yourself. And not just blindly accepting what society or the church is indoctrinating you to think.

Another thing that we see in the life of Teresa is engagement with the world along with devotion to prayer. She did not just stay in her cell all day. She did not remain cloistered in the convents that she founded though she provided that opportunity for others. She follows her own path. She listens and does what she is supposed to do with her life. She finds balance, of a sort. Doing what God wants, entirely, and accepting that even though it kept her very busy!

Teresa was an itinerant traveler in Spain, seeing to her convents and monasteries. There were issues and conflicts and problems that had to be dealt with. It was like running a business with franchises. And on top of that, Teresa had suffered from ill health since she was a young adult. She had bouts of sickness that sometimes lasted years. And there were her books to write. And responding to the Inquisition. And keeping in touch with friends, colleagues and family. So she was very busy. At one point she confronts God about her busy-ness:

“How is it, my God, that you have given me this hectic life and so little time to enjoy your presence. All day, people are waiting to speak to me, and even during meals I have to keep talking to people about their concerns and needs. During sleep itself I am still thinking and dreaming about the problems that wait for me tomorrow. I am doing all this for you, not for myself. My way of life is more tormenting than reward, and I only hope that for you it is a gift of love. I know you are always beside me, yet I become so busy that I forget you and ignore you. If you want me to keep up this pace, please make me think about you and love you, even during the most hectic activity. If you do not want me to be so busy, please release me from it and teach me how others can take over some of my responsibilities.”

Well, it may the 21st century, but certainly many of us can relate to that! And why was she so busy? I would suggest two reasons. First, Teresa herself tells us: “Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love for they enkindle and melt the soul.” She was committed to love. To showing love. To living love. To giving love. And there was much need in the world for love then as there is now.

But I don’t think that is the sole explanation for Teresa’s business. I think it was also her personality. She was well-suited to being engaged in the world. She was personable, charming, a good communicator, and self-effacing. She was very good at seeming cooperative and innocent, as women were acculturated to be then, and maybe now. She won over the church leaders and her detractors. She herself said, “God save us from gloomy saints.” I don’t think Teresa was gloomy! By the time she wrote Interior Castle, near the end of her life, she was known as La Santa of Spain, the saint of Spain, and revered by even the king.

So Teresa loves, she is intimate with God, she serves others, on terms that do not deny her individuality and personhood, but that honor her uniqueness. As she told others: “Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.” I think it is that trust that led to her remarkable life and that shows us a path for the living of our days.

Really to me it is her life itself as much if not more than her specific teachings on prayer that shines with wisdom for us today. How she manages sickness, piety, conflict with the church, gender bias, relationships, and engagement with the world. She is really a marvel! She surrenders her life to God, not to be made weak but to be made strong. She once said, “You pay God a compliment by asking

great things of Him.” Well, I think Teresa was giving God a lot of compliments!

May the same be said of us! Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sources used for this reflection and service:

Woman Prayers: Prayers by Women from Throughout History and Around the World, Mary Ford- Grabowsky

Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul, Cathleen Medwick

The Harper Collins Book of Prayers: A Treasury of Prayers Through the Ages, compiled by Robert Van de Weyer

Invincible Spirits: A Thousand Years of Women’s Spiritual Writings, complied by Felicity Leng

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila, translated and edited by E. Allison Peers

Under Her Wings: Spiritual Guidance from Women Saints, Kathy Bence

Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics, Carol Lee Flinders

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, Mirabai Starr

UNISON READING             A Love Song                          Teresa of Avila

Majestic sovereign, timeless wisdom, Your kindness melts my hard, cold soul. Handsome lover, selfless giver, Your beauty fills my dull, sad eyes.

I am yours, you made me. I am yours, you called me. I am yours, you saved me. I am yours, you loved me. I will never leave your presence.

Give me death, give me life. Give me sickness, give me health. Give me honour, give me shame. Give me weakness, give me strength. I will have whatever you give. Amen.

MUSIC                             Pescado de Hombres                         Gabarain

MISSION STATEMENT 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   Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory                      Follow Me                                           HKJ

        Prayer of Dedication                             Teresa of Avila, adapted

Christ has no body now but ours. No hands, no feet on earth, but ours. Ours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Ours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Ours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER       Wendeyaho           Native American/HKJ

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Holy One, our only Home, hallowed be Your name. May your day dawn, your will be done, Here, as in heaven. Feed us today, and forgive us As we forgive each other. Do not forsake us at the test, But deliver us from evil. For the glory, the power, And the mercy are yours, now and forever.  Amen.

*BENEDICTION (unison)                                           Teresa of Avila

Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing dismay you. All things pass God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. Those who have God find they lack nothing. God alone suffices.

*POSTLUDE         Don Quixote from Cervantes Portraits                HKJ

Sunday Service 2.14.21

This post contains the bulletin, music, and sermon from Sunday’s service.

GATHERING MUSIC      Come Down, O Love Divine     Vaughan Williams

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                   Sherry Santana, liturgist

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us. . . achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address In honor of Lincoln’s Birthday Feb. 12, 1809

PRELUDE                 Where Charity and Love Prevail                    Benoit

CALL TO WORSHIP                                                             

At the center, Love. In the beginning, Love. Throughout Creation, Love. From prophets and preachers, Love. Through Jesus, Love. From the church, Love. In you, in me, Love. In love, God.

SCRIPTURE LESSONS

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.   

John 15:11-13 and Romans 13:8-10

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.

CONTEMPORARY READING                                             Nancy Mairs

Ordinary Time: Cycles in Marriage, Faith, and Renewal

SERMON                                A Trinity                        Rev. Kim P. Wells

So, evidently, we humans have a fetish for things in threes.

There is the rule of three in writing. Three characters or three events make a more
interesting, satisfying story.

There is a rule of three in computer coding. I can’t understand the intricacies, but
if something happens twice, it is ok, but if it happens three times, something needs
to be changed.

There is a rule of three in statistical analysis. There is a rule of three in aviation
used to calculate descent. There is a rule of three in economics. There is a rule of
three in the military – one third of the forces active in the conflict, one third
preparing to enter the conflict, and one third of forces recovering from the conflict.
In art and photography there is a rule of three. A space is divided into a grid of
nine squares. Items of interest in the image are placed along the grid lines or at the
intersection of grid lines. This gives the composition greater tension, energy, and
interest. Russian philosopher George Gurdjeiff proposed a law of three. The
active, passive, and neutral states, all of which are necessary for growth and
change. There is a rule of three in the religion Wicca. Whatever you do returns to
you three fold.

There is a Roman phrase for the obsession with three, as there is for most things,
omne trium perfectum, which means everything that comes in threes is perfect, or
every set of three is complete.

As Christians, we know the importance of threes for we are the religion of the
Trinity, a concept which gradually developed in Christianity and was widely
accepted by the 4th century. Maybe the early church leaders knew the Latin phrase
and wanted to make Christianity complete, or better yet, perfect! Anyway, here we
are with our penchant for threes!

In the scripture we heard from John this morning, well, three things jumped out at
me from these three verses. And we note that it is significant that these verses are
placed among the final teachings of Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John.
When this gospel was written, around the turn of the first century, everyone knew
what had happened to Jesus. That he was crucified and was conceived of as
resurrected. They knew he was killed by the authorities and died a gruesome,
excruciating, humiliating death. And here, the writer of John tells us that on the
eve of his death, among his extensive teachings, Jesus reminds his closet friends,
of three things, right here together in these three verses.

In the first verse that we heard, we were told of Jesus saying, “I have said these
things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
Joy. The night before he is to be killed, knowing that Judas will betray him, Jesus
speaks of joy. He tells his disciples that the whole reason for it all is joy. He
doesn’t tell them these things to save them from hell. He doesn’t tell them these
things so they will be miserable and burdened with suffering and pain. Jesus tells
his friends that his intent, his goal, is to impart joy, full, complete, and abundant, to
his followers. Joy. Like the story of wedding in Cana when Jesus turned the huge
vessels of water into wine. The best wine. That was Jesus’ first sign in the gospel
of John. A party. So it should be no surprise that Jesus is reminding his disciples,
on what might be a dismal night, it’s about joy. As much as there is. As much as
you can hold. As full as you can imagine. Joy. Following Jesus is about joy.
Christians shouldn’t go around pointing fingers or looking like someone is
pinching them. We are to be joy-filled people.

Joy. That sense of gratitude and awe. That underlying trust that all shall be well.
That creation is wondrous. That life is fundamentally good and to be relished and
treasured. Joy. That assurance that we are who we are, we are doing what we are

here to do, we are living fully and freely with all of our wonder and weakness, our
fortitude and failing. Joy. The delight and amazement at the twists and turns of
life’s path. We are here to experience joy.

Then in the next verse, Jesus tells his friends, “This is my commandment, that you
love one another as I have loved you.” No long list of do’s and don’t’s. No law
code for determining guilt or innocence. One rule. One law. One commandment.
Love. Enemies. Friends. Strangers. Neighbors. Love. And how has Jesus loved
his friends? He has cared for them. Taught them. Had fun with them. Fed them.
Forgiven them. Comforted them. Prayed with them. Argued with them.
Observed religious rites with them. Healed them. Embodied equality and
mutuality with them not patriarchy and hierarchy. Served them. Saved them. With
Jesus love really means sharing the commonwealth of God together. It is
community. It is solidarity.

In this loving, there is joy. Joy is found in the deep connection and compassion
that goes with loving. We feel joy when we are are with those we love. Loving
also unites us in our common humanity and we find joy in that primal bond.
So, in these three consecutive verses from John, we have one verse about joy. And
one verse about love which connects to the verse about joy. Yes, there are joy and
love but there is a third component to the fullness and abundance that Jesus desires
for his followers. Here is the third verse: “No one has greater love than this, to lay
down one’s life for one’s friends.” Sacrifice. Self giving. Yes, Jesus is about to
lay down his life for his friends. But in this teaching, we are reminded that this is
not just a one time gesture. It is a model for all those who will follow Jesus. Jesus’
followers are to be willing to lay down their lives for others. To put the well being
of others, the community, ahead of their own lives. This is not a devaluation of the
self. It is not denigration. It is not debasement. Actually, it is the the honoring of
the self and human life with the highest dignity, value, and worth.

Human life is of such value, it is so sacred and holy, that any sacrifice, even of
one’s own life, is to be offered willingly for the sake of the protection and care and
wellbeing of another human life. So precious is our humanity.

To know great love, and with it great joy, to know the fullness of love and joy, this
third component is necessary. Sacrifice. Self giving. The offering of one’s self to
others. These three things love, joy, and sacrifice together frame the life of
discipleship and we see them together in these three verses, among these last
teachings of Jesus. So we have a holy trinity in these few verses that can serve as
a foundation for living abundantly. We could call it a love triangle. But these three
things, joy, love, and sacrifice go together like the three legs of a stool that hold up
the seat, or the three locks of hair that form a braid. All three are needed, they
function together, they are interdependent. With joy, love and sacrifice are close
by. With love, joy and self giving are woven in. With sacrifice, love and joy are
incorporated. All three, together, supporting and enriching the living of our days.
Recently I read a story in the paper about a couple that fell and love and got
married in spite of the challenges of the pandemic. They planned one wedding
scenario. As it turned out, it was not possible because of covid. They planned a
second scenario. The wildfires got in the way. They finally got married on Jan. 6,
outdoors in Frisco, Colorado, where it was 0 degrees and they had the snowy
Rocky Mountains for a backdrop. Who was at the ceremony? The two women
getting married and their dogs!

We’re told: “So although they’d always wanted to get married next to water, they
settled for ice. There were no guests, just their two miniature Schnauzers shivering
at their feet. The couple [who live in San Antonio, Texas] chose to get married
there partly because the state allows paw prints (as well as handprints of young
children) on marriage licenses. ‘We’ve been fixated on getting married in
Colorado because we love our dogs.’”

The couple have been together for 10 years and have had many ups and downs in
their relationship. They have been thoughtful and honest about discerning the
issues they have faced in trying to get along with each other. In discussing how
they have met those challenges, we are told, “They sought advice from song lyrics
and the Sunday sermons at Oak Hills Church, a nondenominational church in their
neighborhood. ‘What brought us closer together was going to church,’ Ms Bishop said.” [“At Zero Degrees, Joining Two Together as One,” Lois Smith Brady, New
York Times, 1/24/21]

Going to church? That surprised me. Yes, I know that the divorce rate is lower
among people who go to church. [There may be many reasons for that. . .] Yes, I
know the benefits of going to church for strengthening a relationship. Church
helps to make each person a better person, more whole, so that contributes to a
better relationship. But, somehow, it was surprising to read that in the newspaper.
But just think about it. As we have talked about it this morning, this threesome of
joy, love, and sacrifice that Jesus offers his followers, this is a solid foundation not
only for life, but for a long term loving relationship. There will be joy. That fills
and nurtures the soul. There will be love. That sustains and fosters growth
through acceptance and affirmation and honesty. And, there will be sacrifice, self
giving, getting over, working through, adjusting, helping out, supporting. This is
the Christian view of loving relationships that sustain and enrich the living of our
days. So it should not be surprising that people seek insight and healing for their
relationships in church.

Unfortunately, our patriarchal society sends very different messaging about loving
relationships. In social media, pop music, advertising, and celebrity culture, we
see a twisted view of loving relationships. It’s about what I can get, what is in it
for me, how I will benefit, how my needs will be met. There is no holy trinity of
love, joy, and sacrifice in the contemporary idealization of love. We just see an
iteration of the capitalist self serving mentality of competition, acquisition and
conquest.

In the book, Love the Way You Want It, Robert Sternberg, a psychologist and
professor of Human Development at Cornell University, says this: “If I were asked
the single most frequent cause of the destruction of relationships. . . I would say it
is selfishness. We live in an age of narcissism and many people have never learned
or have forgotten how to listen to the needs of others. The truth is, if you want to
make just one change in yourself that will improve your relationship – literally,
overnight – it would be to put your partner’s interest on an equal footing with your
own.” [Quoted in All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks, pp. 162-163]. And, incidentally, Sternberg is also known for the Triachic theory of intelligence, the
Triangular theory of love, and the Three process view. [Wikipedia] Evidently,
Sternberg is captivated by threes, too!

Yes, concern for others. And their needs. In Christianity, we would even go on to
putting the needs of the community, and of others, ahead of the concerns of the
individual. Because when the community is healthy, the people in the community
are more likely to be healthy.

Laying down your life for your friends. For others. It wasn’t just something that
one person, Jesus, was to do one time, as part of God’s grand scheme of salvation.
Jesus is remembered for teaching his beloved friends and followers that this was
their calling, too. To lay down their lives. Because Jesus knew that we can only
experience the fullest joy and the deepest love when we are willing to lay down our
lives for others.

Friends, this Valentine’s Day we are reminded that we are here to love. That is
what we are created for. We are created in the image and likeness of the God of
love. Loving is our job. Our calling. Our life’s work. We are here to know joy
and to take delight in the richness and fullness of the human experience. That is
our birthright. And we are here to serve, to live for others, to give ourselves away
with passionate abandon. These all go together. Love. Joy. Sacrifice. A holy
trinity. Embodied in the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus. Guiding his
followers to abundant life.

And this Feb. 14, for a Valentine’s treat, sacrifice your healthy diet and find joy in
chocolate trinity ice cream. Chocolate three ways: fudge swirl and fudge cups in
chocolate ice cream. You’ll love it!

Amen.

UNISON PRAYER                                                          Frank Topping

Lord, your harvest is the harvest of love; love sown in the hearts of people; love that spreads out like the branches of a great tree covering all who seek its shelter; love that inspires and recreates; love that is planted in the weak and the weary; the sick and the dying. The harvest of your love is the life that reaches through the weeds of sin and death to the sunlight of resurrection. Lord, nurture my days with your love, water my soul with the dew of forgiveness, that the harvest of my life might be your joy.

MUSICAL OFFERING       Wondrous Love                 Sacred Harp/HKJ

MISSION STATEMENT 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       Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory                      Ubi  Caritas                                     HKJ

       Prayer of Dedication                                       Dawna Markova

May we learn to open in love so all the doors and windows of our bodies swing wide on their rusty hinges. May we learn to give ourselves with both hands, to lift each other on our shoulders, to carry one another along. May holiness move in us so we pay attention to its small voice and honor its light in each other. 

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER              Have This Love  HKJ

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Holy One, our only Home, hallowed be Your name. May your day dawn, your will be done, Here, as in heaven. Feed us today, and forgive us As we forgive each other. Do not forsake us at the test, But deliver us from evil. For the glory, the power, And the mercy are yours, now and forever.  Amen.

*BENEDICTION                        Andrew Harvey, inspired by Ibn Arabi

Whatever way love’s camel takes May that be my religion, my faith.

*POSTLUDE              Now Praise, My Soul, Our God               Prätorius


ANNOUNCEMENTS

Ash Wednesday Ahead: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17 this year.  There will be a beautiful fireside service held on the church grounds that evening at 7:00 p.m.  Bring a chair if you can.  Masks will be worn and there will be physical distancing.  It will be a meaningful start to the journey into Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the celebration of Easter.  

Lent Ahead This week, the season of Lent begins.  Like a seed in the ground during the winter months, Lent is a time of preparation for the new life that we celebrate at Easter.  The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days not including Sundays.  It is traditionally a season of repentance; a time to turn your life back toward God, Spirit, Divine Love, however you envision that.  The Lenten season at LUCC this year will be a time to reflect with women mystics of centuries past and consider the wisdom they offer for our walk of faith today.

Next Sunday:  Worship will be held in the sanctuary with an indoor/outdoor arrangement so that the congregation may sit inside and outside.  Physical distancing and masks will still be required.

Sunday Service 2.7.21

This post contains the bulletin, music, and sermon from Sunday’s service.

GATHERING MUSIC         When Peace, Like a River          ~ P. Bliss

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE           Colleen Coughenour, liturgist

Grandfather, Look at our brokenness.

We know that in all creation Only the human family Has strayed from the Sacred Way.

We know that we are the ones Who are divided And we are the ones Who must come back together   To walk in the Sacred Way. 

Grandfather, Sacred One, Teach us love, compassion, and honor That we may heal the earth And heal each other                                                     

Ojibway Prayer

PRELUDE  Rejoice greatly, o my soul, and forget all misery and torment ~ G. Boehm

CALL TO WORSHIP                                                Pat Mathes Cane

We join with the Earth and with each other, With our ancestors and all beings of the future, to bring new life to the land, to recreate the human community, to provide justice and peace, to remember our children, to remember who we are. . . We join together as many and diverse expressions of one loving Mystery, for the healing of the Earth and the renewal of all Life.

SCRIPTURE LESSONS

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.  

2 Kings 5:1-19a and Mark 1:40-45

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.

SERMON                           If You Choose                 Rev. Kim P. Wells

A recent issue of the New York Times [1/24/21] included this story entitled “A House Divided” in a section called Tiny Love Stories. These stories are submitted by readers:

Years ago, I was in Wisconsin visiting Mom. One night, slightly intoxicated, my brother laid
into her and me with hatred of the president she and I supported. Stunned, we left. Politics have divided our houses since. Mom called one recent night: My brother has the coronavirus. Shaken, I debated reaching out. Would he want to hear from me? Next morning, I heard about a congressman whose son had died by suicide and the support he got from Democrats and Republicans during the insurrection in Washington. I texted my brother and his wife with inquiries, well wishes. Only his wife replied. [Wendy Lukomski]

This short, heart breaking story cries out with the desperate need for healing in our society. There are so many divisions and conflicts that are sapping our life. Draining our energy. Causing damage and harm. Yes, there are political divisions. We are also beset by the the ravages of centuries of racist policies. I read an article this week about the deep divisions within the environmental movement between large, white-led environmental organizations and usually smaller movements led by indigenous people and people of color. There is the
ever present hostility between the haves and the have nots. There are divisions based on ethnicity, language, culture, education, and class. And all of these things have social impacts, spiritual impacts, as well as physical impacts. The opioid crisis and
addictions are demolishing lives and families. People continue to suffer from mental illness exacerbated by many factors in contemporary society including lack of access to needed
treatment. The cases of HIV/AIDS are on the rise among people of color here in St. Petersburg. And on top of it all, we can add our need for healing from Covid and the many inequities this pandemic has exposed.

Here we are, with all our technology and medicine and social science, and we may be in as much in need of healing and restoration as people at any time in history!

In the two stories we heard this morning, we see a God that desires to be an agent of healing in the world, in the human community. We see the Divine intention toward wholeness and restoration. We see the power of God directed toward healing. And this commitment to healing is not just for the healing of one group of people, one tribe, or nation, or religion. And it is not just directed toward people who may be considered worthy in some way.

First a look at Naaman. He was a general in the army that had just vanquished the Israelites, God’s chosen people. Naaman had prisoners of war from Israel as slaves in his house. And yet the God, with a soft spot for the lowly and forgotten, is also dedicated to the healing of the high and mighty Naaman.

And in the story from Mark, a man with leprosy came up to Jesus. What do we know about someone with leprosy? They have had this frightful condition inflicted upon them as divine punishment. That’s why someone had leprosy. They have sinned. They were bad. They were unclean. And yet, God is dedicated to the healing of this person with leprosy.

So neither Naaman nor the person encountering Jesus have any reason to be favored. To get special treatment. They are social outcasts because of their condition. Isolated – think AIDS, or Covid. But they are not outcast with God. The healing power of the Divine is channeled to these two very different people, showing us God’s intention for the healing of
all of humanity. While these stories are very different, in both we see the a God of love committed to universal, unconditional healing, wholeness, and well-being for all of creation.

In these two stories, we also see two very different responses. Let’s look at that for a moment. Naaman is prestigious and powerful. A person of privilege. From the upper echelons of society. And he hears from his wife, who hears from her serving
girl, a spoil of war, an Israelite, that there is a prophet in Samaria. The implication is that this
prophet can heal Naaman’s leprosy. Well, Naaman must have been desperate, or his wife must have been persuasive, because he pursues this source of healing – this nameless holy one, in another country, the country he has just defeated in war. Naaman is humbling himself, groveling, really, to even entertain this idea. But he does it. Off to Samaria he goes. Probably begrudgingly. He gets past the idiot king (no wonder they lost the war!) who doesn’t even realize they are looking for Elisha, and finds the prophet. And what does the prophet do when confronted by this auspicious official from the conquering Empire? He sends a messenger out to Naaman who tells him to wash 7 times in the Jordan River. Well, Naaman can’t get over the affront that this prophet didn’t even appear personally, didn’t
give any incantation, or waving of the arms, or sacred chants. Naaman, accustomed to special treatment, is insulted. Offended. He’s ready to turn back for Damascus with his largesse in tow.

The servants intercede again. They soothe his wounded ego and national pride. And they get Naaman to head to the Jordan River. Where he immerses himself 7 times. And sure enough, he is healed. Cleansed. His skin is restored like that of a youth! Then, Naaman dedicates himself to the God of Israel, taking dirt from Samaria back with him to Syria so that he can worship the God of the land of Israel.

Yes, things turn out ok, but Naaman is not exactly a willing participant in this healing. He has to be nudged along. His pride, and power, and prestige, and privilege threaten to get in the way of his healing. They are obstacles to his being made whole. And his humble servants help to guide him toward the healing and relief he so desperately desires. They help him over the hurdles erected by his sense of self importance.

In contrast, the healing in the story from the gospel of Mark is very different. The person with leprosy, an outcast, ritually unclean, socially unwelcome, has heard about Jesus. And he goes up to Jesus of his own accord, no nudging or urging required, and he presents himself, in his humility and vulnerability, with complete trust, and then leaves the rest to Jesus. IF you choose. . . If you are willing. . . And the power of the God who desires the healing of all of humanity and creation, works through Jesus to heal this person with leprosy. This man is willing, eager, accepting. There is no pretension or hubris or self importance in the way. He’s not concerned about the optics of this episode. He simply surrenders in trust. And goes on his way rejoicing.

And notice Jesus. The healing occurs when Jesus touches the person with leprosy. First of all, by touching someone who is ritually unclean, Jesus risks making himself ritually unclean. He also risks getting the dreaded disease of leprosy which was thought to be highly contagious. Regardless of all of this, Jesus touches the person. This touch could contaminate Jesus. Instead, what happens is it uncontaminated the person with leprosy. Instead of making Jesus unclean, it makes the man with leprosy clean. The divine power of healing reverses the expected outcome. What is spread is healing not sickness. Community not isolation. Wellness not suffering. Reconciliation not separation.

However we may image God or conceive of God, our tradition is grounded in a God of Love that is focused on the healing of humanity and creation. And we can resist that healing and allow obstacles to get in the way. We can allow our money and privilege to insulate us from our need for healing. We can let our status and pride make us resistant to being made well. We can make the process harder. Like Naaman.

Or we can get on board, trust, surrender, like the person in the story of the healing encounter with Jesus. We can help facilitate the healing of the divisions and conflicts and pain in our lives and our world.

This Black History month, we have much to reflect on related to the healing of racial policies in our country. Locally, Rev. JC Pritchett, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance here in St. Pete, sent out several documents this week from the archives of the City. One was a letter dated March 24, 1936, from a committee appointed by the Mayor to, and this is a quote, “recommend a district for the segregation of the colored people” of St. Petersburg. The letter outlines the suggested area and includes a map with the area blacked out.

Later this year, a memorial will be dedicated to those who were lynched in Pinellas County. There were two documented lynchings and there is additional information implying that there were others. John Evans was lynched in St. Petersburg on Nov. 12, 1914 just by Tropicana Field and Parker Watson was lynched en route to the county jail in Clearwater on May 9, 1926. The memorial will bear witness to racial terror in Pinellas County.

These are just two examples of extensive racist policies and behaviors that have caused immeasurable pain, damage, and devastation to this community and to our nation at large. How will we heal? I am not meaning to imply that the process will be easy or painless. The process of forgiveness, of atoning, of changing attitudes and policies, of speaking the truth, of creating equity, of redressing past wrongs, of transformation, of letting go of false narratives, it’s a messy business. But it leads healing.

I have had to deal with a messy physical healing in my own life and I have had to learn first hand that healing can be fraught. I had surgery on my heel Aug. 24 and was supposed to be up and running, literally, by Oct. 24. Well, It’s February 7, and here I sit before you, confined to a knee scooter and likely facing a third surgery. It has also been a mind-bending education in the disfunctionality of the health care industry. This journey has been a daily reminder of the difficulties of societal healing and transformation. Yet, the process must be undertaken, step by step. I asked my doctor what would happen if I did nothing to address my heel situation. She told me it would result in amputation. There is no other way. We must pursue healing. In the stories that we heard this morning we are assured that God, Divine Love, Spirit, is dedicated to healing; our physical, social, and spiritual healing as well as the healing of creation. The healing process is part of the flow of creation, of life. At the heart of the universe is the power of healing and restoration! Naaman and the person with leprosy who encountered Jesus engage the healing process very differently, but the God of healing at the center of both stories, is constant, persistent, and unrelenting.

In the face of racism, the climate crisis, covid and all the rest, we have so much trauma to heal from, why would we want to resist in any way? We need to learn to embrace our vulnerability and humility and accept the paths of healing that are being opened to us and shown to us. Because we can’t afford the time, the energy, the effort, the cost, of resistance. We must choose the healing path for ourselves as individuals, for our communities, for our nation, and for the web of life.

Make no mistake. God is moving toward healing. Regardless of our stance. Jesus is the vaccine of unconditional, universal Divine Love. And he wants to save us. And make us well.

When the man with leprosy appears before Jesus, he declares: If you choose, you can make me clean. Moved with compassion, Jesus responds, I do choose.

Embraced by the God of healing, are we going to resist, like Naaman? What will we choose?
Amen.

UNISON PRAYER                                        Rita J. Donovan, adapted

Lay your hands gently upon us, let their touch render your peace, let them bring your forgiveness and healing. Lay your hands, gently lay your hands.

You were sent to free the broken-hearted, You were sent to give sight to the blind, You desire to heal all our illness. Lay your hands, gently lay your hands.

We come to you through one another. We come to you in all our need. We come to you seeking wholeness. Lay your hands, gently lay your hands

MUSICAL OFFERING              In You We Live ~ HKJ

MISSION STATEMENT

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      

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory               I look to thee in every need               HKJ

       Prayer of Dedication                                        Anonymous

How would it be if just for today we thought less about contests and rivalries, profits and politics, winners and sinners, and more about helping and giving, mending and blending, reaching out and pitching in? How would it be?

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER      Balm in Gilead ~ African-American

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Our Father-Mother, who is in the heavens, may your name be made holy.  May your dominion come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us today, the bread we need; and forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors; and do not put us to the test, but rescue us from evil.  For yours is the dominion, and the power, and the glory forever.  Amen

*BENEDICTION

*POSTLUDE        Basses et Dessus de Trompette ~Clérarmbault

Sunday Service 1.31.21

GATHERING MUSIC    They that Wait Upon the Lord

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                            Earl Waters, liturgist

Desire nothing but God: seek for nothing but God: and you shall taste of peace: you shall taste it in defiance of the world.

Francois Fenelon (1651-1715)

PRELUDE               Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

CALL TO WORSHIP                      Dag Hammarskjold, 20th century

“God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.”       

MUSICAL OFFERING     I Waited for the Lord              Mendelssohn

MODERN READING                           Thomas Merton, 20th century

SCRIPTURE LESSON

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.

Isaiah 40:21-31

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.

SERMON                      The Great Beyond                Rev. Kim P. Wells

Date: January 31, 2021 Outdoor worship

Scripture Lesson: Isaiah 40:21-31

Sermon: The Great Beyond

Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

I don’t know about you, but maybe you, too, almost hesitate to ask someone how they are doing these days. I mean, you could get almost anything for an answer. Like, I have 8 close relatives and friends who have died of covid. Or, I lost my job and my unemployment and health care have run out. I’m afraid I’m going to lose my home. Or, Well, for the first time in my life, I have had to go to a food bank so that I could feed my kids. Or, My special needs child has to go to school in person and my mother who is elderly and has complicating health factors lives with us and I am so afraid she will get covid. Or, I’m not safe at home but don’t have the means to make other arrangements. I mean, there is just so much pain and heartache, so many challenges and choices these days, our lives just seem fraught. And many of our typical avenues of support are not available to us because of the pandemic.

Life always has its seasons of difficulties but this seems worse than most. And sometimes we just get pulled in a downward spiral, a swirling eddy, and we can’t see our way clear. The ongoing pressure takes its toll.

But then we human beings have a proclivity toward being, well, self absorbed. A celebrity makes a fashion faux pas and you’d think the world was coming to an end. An infantile president can’t accept the results of a free and fair election. A bad grade on a test and we think we have ruined our future prospects for all time. It’s easy to put on blinders and only see our own problems. And to let that view control our reality.

This is why humanity has always looked to the heavens, to the stars, to the gods, to a larger reality to help us keep our egotism in check. To balance our selfish myopia.

In modern times, this perspective is shared with us by those who have been to space and have literally seen Earth in all its beauty from afar. Retired astronaut Scott Kelly spent a full year in space on the International Space Station as well as making other trips into space on the space shuttle and on shorter stays on the ISS. He certainly has had the opportunity to see Earth from a bigger perspective. And he has experienced life with its disappointments and challenges from that grander, more comprehensive remove. In the book Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Kelly talks about his experiences as an astronaut. He tells us about what it is like to look at the Earth from the International Space Station:

“One of my favorite views of the Earth is of the Bahamas – a large archipelago with a stunning contrast from light to dark colors. The vibrant deep blue of the ocean mixes with a much brighter turquoise, swirled with something almost like gold, where the sun bounces off the sandy shallows and reefs. Whenever new crewmates come up to the station for the first time, I make a point of taking them to the Cupola (a module made entirely of windows looking down on Earth) to see the Bahamas. That sight always reminds me to stop and appreciate the view of the

Earth I’ve been given the privilege of seeing.” [Endurance, p. 73]

Well, most of us will probably never see first hand that view of the Bahamas, or of the Earth, but Kelly, and sages throughout the ages have encouraged us to take a larger view, to see a bigger picture. And we have access to images as well as descriptions of a larger reality – real and metaphorical – to help shape our world view and give context to our experience. We heard one such insightful description today from the prophet Isaiah.

In the passage we heard from Isaiah, the people are stewing in their troubles. They feel abandoned by their God. They have forgotten the teachings of their faith

tradition. They are mired in self pity.

And what message does the prophet bring them from God? God reminds them of what they already know. And have been taught. And need to remember. Their God is so much bigger than their immediate troubles. God has stretched out the heavens. Human rulers are like vapor to God. Like dried grass. God is responsible for the stars and planets. God’s power is limitless and unsearchable. And the Hebrew people with their problems – are like, well, grasshoppers in the scheme of things. Now that proclamation could reorient your self absorption.

While we may have different notions about God, and what those three letters symbolize, still it is a main function of our faith, of religion in general, and of the way of Jesus, to help us to know that we are part of a larger reality. A bigger picture. That encompasses the Big Bang and all that was before and has come after, and that will go on, beyond our planet, our solar system, our milky way, our comprehension.

With this kind of larger perspective, we open ourselves to seeing our own lives and our challenges from a truer perspective and with greater clarity. Whatever our

circumstances, we still can see the grandeur of creation and nature. We still can see the scope of reality and the miracle that we are part of it at all. And we still can appreciate how we are connected and related to the rest of life and reality. We can see our pain in a larger context and appreciate the suffering of others. We make a connection to a bigger picture. We find our place in a greater reality.

Scott Kelly intentionally connected himself to a larger reality when he went into space so that he wouldn’t become beset by his challenges and woes. For him, this

meant turning to the struggles faced by others. For those moments when he would feel sorry for himself, Kelly brought the book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible

Voyage by Alfred Lansing which chronicles the 1914 attempt at a trans antarctic expedition led by Ernest Shackleton. The experience of these explorers, ironically,

on Earth, reminds Kelly of a larger reality. Kelly tells us that he “reflects on what these explorers went through almost exactly a hundred years before. They were

stranded on ice floes for months at a time, forced to kill their dogs for food, and nearly froze to death in the biting cold. They hiked across mountains that had been

considered impassable by explorers who were better equipped and not half starved. Remarkably, not a single member of the expedition was lost. . . . When I read about their experiences, I think about how much harder they had it than I do. Sometimes I’ll pick up the book specifically for that reason. If I’m inclined to feel sorry for myself because I miss my family or because I had a frustrating day or because the isolation is getting to me, reading a few pages about the Shackleton expedition reminds me that even if I have it hard up here in some ways, I’m certainly not going through what they did.” [Endurance, Kelly, p. 76-

77] It helps to have a bigger picture. To know that you are part of a larger reality.

And when we think about what the prophet Isaiah had to say to his people, we notice that he doesn’t stop with extolling the magnificence of God. The prophet also extols God’s power to lift up, to strengthen, to sustain. We are told that God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait on God shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not get weary, they shall walk and not faint. The intention is that we will be literally uplifted by the power of this magnificent, mysterious, incomparable God.

When we are mired in our individual problems, consumed with self pity, we are cutting themselves off not only from the larger reality of which we are a part, but we are separating ourselves from the very source of strength and power that will see us through our despair and anguish. When it is only about us, it is just that, only about us. And we isolate ourselves from the love, the connection, the power, the sources of strength and inspiration that we need to make it through. That’s one of the problems with a small reality, a small world view, with a self obsessed reality. You become cut off from what is life giving, life sustaining, and life affirming. Our faith calls us to incorporate the power of the universe into our reality. And it affirms that that power is not only around us but within us.

Our faith teaches that all of life is sacred and holy. It teaches that we are created in the image of God, however we may imagine God. Our faith teaches us that our bodies, our flesh and blood and bone, are temples for the Holy Spirit, for Divine Love. Yes, we are sacred beings in a holy world.

Jesus embodies the perfect balance between living in the reality of God, and not being self-consumed, while also honoring the holiness of each and every life. He shows us how to integrate the grandeur and majesty and awesomeness of the reality of God with our day-to-day lives. Grasshoppers, ok. They have their place, too. They fed John the Baptizer. And they played a part in the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. Everything, even the grasshopper, has its place and is part of the reality of God.

The problems come when we try to deny this larger reality around us and within us. Then we limit ourselves. And cut ourselves off. And isolate ourselves. And can become fearful, and insecure, and violent. We disrespect the lives of others, and thus of ourselves as well. We close the taps to hope and joy in our lives.

The message we heard today is a message of hope and joy for those who are experiencing despair. When they embrace a small reality, they are cutting themselves off from the sources of strength and renewal that will bring them through their current anguish and grief. We are invited to be part of a reality bigger than me, bigger than we.

And it is this reality that offers us the resources to come through: In this reality, the faint are given power, the powerless are given strength, to mount up with eagle’s wings, soar to the stars, to run, to walk and not faint. How we need that strength for the living of our days. Through this pandemic. Through this time of racial healing.

Through this season of creating global community. Through the crisis of climate change. As well as through the challenges of our daily lives, dealing with life and death and jobs and homes and food and fractured relationships and aging and education and debt and all the rest of the challenges we face.

Again, Astronaut Scott Kelly helps us to see a bigger picture. Scott’s sister-in-law is former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was shot in a mass shooting in

Tucson, AZ on Jan. 8, 2011, just about 10 years ago. When the shooting occurred, Scott was on the International Space Station. He was asked to make a statement to the public about the shooting. Here is some of what he said:

“I’d like to take some time this morning to recognize a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Tucson shooting tragedy. First, I’d like to say a few words.  We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems inviting and peaceful.

Unfortunately, it is not.

“These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another. Not just with our actions, but with our irresponsible words. We are better than this. We must do better. . . .

“Those of us who have had the privilege to look down on the Earth from space get the chance to take a larger perspective on the planet and the people who share it. I

feel more strongly than ever that we must do better.” [Endurance, pp. 303-304]

While we may never personally see this Earth from space, we have prophets, like Isaiah and Scott Kelly, to remind us to take a larger view of our reality and to see the possibility and promise for our lives and our future together. Amen.

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 PRAYER                                                      David Coleman

Thanks be to you, God awesomely distant thanks for the searing of shooting stars the colours of the planets in the night sky the space and power beyond our perceiving which sparkles in the sky of our lives with your caring.

Thanks be to you, God uncomfortably close giving life to dead dry things — the dance of pure stillness, the beat of our hearts, is your doing.

Thanks be to you, God known in a body who blessed as he lived who raised up our life to be gathered as one, reaching out for the kingdom.

MUSICAL OFFERING     Stars and Planets Flung in Orbit

MISSION STATEMENT 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       Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory                Don’t You Get Weary  

       Prayer of Dedication       

Brother Roger Schutz, Taize, 31 July 1969

Tiredness, since rising. Could I have forgotten what are the sources of refreshment? Entrusting cares and opponents to God sets free new energy – enables us to look beyond situations, and beyond persons. It is then, perhaps, that we touch a fragment of eternity?

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER 

And I Will Raise You Up on Eagle’s Wings

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos, focus your light within us—make it useful. Create your reign of unity now; Your one desire acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms. Grant what we need each day in bread and insight. Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strand we hold of others’ guilt. Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds us back. From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all; from age to age it renews. Amen.

(Peshita Syriac-Aramaic translation)

*BENEDICTION

*POSTLUDE         God Moves in a Mysterious Way

Sunday Service 1.24.21

GATHERING MUSIC      

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE               Barbara Donohue, liturgist

For people with darker skins, or of a different religion, or a minority sexual orientation, there is always the threat of violence that is bred by hate.

We must stand up to that and say, “no more!” We Americans must develop better hearts and minds in our common civil life. If not, the axe of hate will be laid to the tree of liberty.

A Meditation on Martin Luther King Day 2020, Old Verger

PRELUDE                          

CALL TO WORSHIP                                from the Iona Community

O God, who called all life into being, The Earth, sea and sky are yours. Your presence is all around us, Every atom is full of your energy. Your Spirit enlivens all who walk the earth, With her we yearn for justice to be done, For creation to be freed from bondage, For the hungry to be fed, For captives to be released, For your realm of peace to come on Earth.

SCRIPTURE LESSON

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.

Mark 1:14-28

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.

SERMON            Transformation or Destruction     Rev. Kim P. Wells

Date: January 24, 2021 Outdoor worship Scripture Lesson:  Mark 1:14-28 Sermon:  Transformation or Destruction Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells                        

This exorcism is Jesus’ first miracle in the gospel of Mark. His first sign or act of power in the gospel. And it’s not some tame healing. He’s not giving people food. It’s not water into wine like in the gospel of John. Mark, the first gospel, the shortest gospel, gets right down to business. Jesus’ first flashy coming out is a confrontation with a manifestation of the power of evil.

Now, today when someone in authority confronts evil, real or perceived, their instructions and training often dictate that they eliminate this evil, often through an act of violence. They gun someone down who is perceived as evil. We see this in the movies over and over and over again. And sadly, in real life, too. This is our culture. This is the water in which we swim. When Dr. Martin Luther King was reflecting on the people who bombed his house, and could have killed his wife and his child, he concluded, “ . . . these men are not bad men. They are misguided . . . they have been taught these things . . . So these men are merely the children of their culture.” [The Radical King: Martin Luther King, Jr., edited and introduced by Cornel West, p. 11] This is the world we are still in. Perceived evil or threat is met with violence.

But this is not the way of Jesus. What does Jesus do when confronted with the presence of evil in an individual? We see it in this story of the exorcism.

He uses the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, of God, of Divine Love, to reclaim the life of this person who is wracked by evil. The evil is exiled from the person. The person is saved. It is an act of redemption and love. The evil is depriving the person of wholeness and healing. It is covering up, masking, the good in the person. It’s tormenting the person. But Jesus disempowers the evil so that the good can come forth. He ends the suffering of the person. What he does is transformative. He eliminates the evil and saves the life of the person. He doesn’t eliminate the life of the person. As we know from the powerful hymn, ‘Amazing Grace,’ with God, the wretch is saved, the lost are found, the blind see. There is redemption and transformation. Jesus wants us to be whole and joyful and to live abundantly. He loves us so much he wants to rescue us from evil and restore us to the image of God within us.

And Jesus doesn’t just talk a good line, he delivers. And the people in the synagogue notice. Jesus has power and authority. And he uses it to drive out what is harmful and what diminishes life. He uses it to save life. Not to take life.

So in our society in recent days and years we have seen many manifestations of the power of evil. And how are these confronted? Are they confronted by the power of love with the confidence that the power of love can drive out the evil? That was the philosophy and strategy of Dr. King. Confront evil with love. That is how to redeem the soul – of a person, of a people, of a nation. To use violence is simply to fight evil with evil. And that cannot produce lasting justice and peace. Only love can do that.

King followed Jesus and counted on the power of love and he invested himself in the power of love to drive out the evils of racism and poverty from our society and the people in it. He did not seek to eliminate the individuals who are racist and invested in the current economic system. He sought to disempower the evil within them and to transform them with love. And we need to keep that in mind today. Now, we need to actively employ that strategy in our personal choices, our relationships and in our civic engagement.

We saw glimmers of this redemption and transformation this week. We saw the evil of climate change denial being cast out as the Keystone Pipeline was stopped, and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was stopped, and the US rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. We saw the driving out of the evil of American isolationism – remember King’s image, we live in a world house.

The US is back in the World Health Organization. And we saw the driving out of the evil of ethnocentrism and jingoism, every person sacred, created in the image of God, with reforms to the US immigration system and the end of the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico.

These are much needed efforts at driving out the evils of denial, deception, and dehumanization. But Jesus shows us that this is not simply the work of public officials. He shows us that this is our work to do as well in our personal relationships and in our individual lives. We are to help bring forth the love and goodness in those around us by helping them to overcome the life denying forces that have power in their lives. Fear. Greed. Lack of self worth. Cultural messaging. These and many other forces are powerful in quelling love, goodness, and peace.

We are to be people of compassion and healing. People who, like Jesus, match our words and our actions. Giving up on no one. Reaching out in reconciliation and hope.

And as we look at the changes that are needed in our society, it is not only about the power of the gospel to transform the lives of other people, it is also about opening ourselves to being transformed by the power of love. The power of the gospel. Theway of Jesus. Allowing that which is evil within us to be driven out so that we might be transformed.

If Jesus were to come walking by and stand in our midst this morning, what evils might he see? What life sapping, tormenting forces might he be aware of? What would he find possessing us? Yes, right here. Among us. Within us. What would he want to drive out of us so that we might be healed and made whole?

In his commentary on Dr. King, noted scholar Cornel West observes: “. . .Dr. King understood radical love as form of death – a relentless self-examination in which a fearful, hateful, egoistic self dies daily to be reborn into a courageous, loving, and sacrificial self. . . The scandal of the Cross is precisely the unstoppable and unsuffocatable love that keeps moving in a blood-soaked history, even in our catastrophic times.” [The Radical King, p. xvi]

And if Jesus appeared here in our place of worship, in our holy hour of prayer, would we welcome his power and authority to redeem us? Are we open to allowing the racism within us to be neutralized? Allowing the white privilege to be driven out? Allowing the greed in us to be eliminated? Allowing the consumerism and materialism to be expelled? Allowing the violence in us to be driven out?

Allowing our apathy to be evicted? Allowing the fear we foster to be expelled? So that we might be transformed, made new? Or would we cry out, “What do you want from us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” If we want to see the world change, then as Gandhi said it, we must be the change we wish to see. Don’t expect it ‘out there’ unless you are willing to accept it ‘in here.’ (Gesture to the heart).

It’s interesting that after this story about the exorcism, people comment about Jesus’ authority. They see the power. But they are not raving about Jesus. It has brought him notoriety. Not necessarily popularity. That will come. With some of the people. Not all the people. Not the religious leaders who think they already have a monopoly on the power of God. They don’t need Jesus’ help, thank you very much. No evil in them or their system to be driven out.

It’s a gruesome scene, this exorcism. Jesus rebuking: Be silent, and come out of him. The unclean spirit, convulsing the person and crying with a loud voice. It is a struggle. A confrontation. Not at all comfortable for we who are conflict avoiders. We who are peace at any pricers. We who like our religion tame and serene. The elimination of evil, the freeing of life, can be a messy business. There will always be those who are threatened by redemption, by healing, by the power of love, by goodness, because these things cannot be easily manipulated or controlled. But make no mistake. It is clear in this story. Right upfront in the oldest gospel. The gospel is about freedom. Jesus frees people from the power of evil. Gives new life and hope. The gospel frees us from that which binds us, constricts us, limits us, and confines us. The gospel opens the door of the trap, the cage, and says, Come out! Be free. Be whole. Be well. And it is for us then to struggle for the freedom of others. To do the messy work. To use our power. The power of love.

We heard the powerful challenge of the gospel message spoken this week from the voice of Amanda Gorman, poet and prophet. In her poem at the inauguration, she began with this question:

When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

And at the end of her eloquent epic she answers that question:

When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Amen.

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 PRAYER                     Bill Wallace, Aotearoa/New Zealand

O God, who comes to us as disturbing comforter, shattering the rigid preconceptions of our minds and hearts, give us the grace to welcome your coming, to trust beyond where we can see, to have hope in the midst of chaos, to learn from our mistakes, to accept your forgiveness and to walk steadfastly in the way of Gospel gladness.

MUSICAL OFFERING           

MISSION STATEMENT 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      

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory                     

       Prayer of Dedication                             Margot Arthurton

If you can give You can live, And not count Nor mount up Another’s debt – You can forget And let Be . . . For we All must Trust – And to trust Is to give . . . And to give Is to live.

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER      

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Eternal Spirit, Earth Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that ever shall be, Father and Mother of all people, Loving God in whom is heaven: The hallowing of your name echo through the universe! The way of your justice be followed by all peoples of the world! Your heavenly will be done by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth! With the bread that we need for today, feed us. In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us. From trials too great to endure, spare us. From the grip of all that is evil, free us. For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen.

*BENEDICTION

*POSTLUDE