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                     

Sunday Service 1.17.2021

This post includes the bulletin, the sermon, and the music for the service.

GATHERING MUSIC       Medley: God’s Eye Is on the Sparrow, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, Precious Lord Take My Hand

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

There will be a congregational meeting to take action on the budget on Sunday Jan. 31.  The time is yet to be determined.  The meeting will be held on Zoom. 

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                         Claire Stiles, liturgist

Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968

PRELUDE Medley: Roll Jordan Roll, Hold On, Steal Away

OPENING SENTENCES                                 Dr. M. L. King, Jr., adapted

In the final analysis, says the Christian ethic, every person must be respected because God loves them. The worth of an individual does not lie in the measure of their intellect, their racial origin, or their social position. Human worth lies in relatedness to God. An individual has value because they have value to God. Whenever this is recognized, ‘whiteness’ and ‘blackness’ pass away as determinants in a relationship and ‘son/daughter’ and ‘sister/brother’ are substituted.

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.

Amos 5:21-24

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.

A Reading of the address ‘The American Dream’ by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Christy Martin

This address by Dr. King was given at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, an historically Black university, on June 6, 1961.  It was selected for this Sunday because of the themes which tie in to the presidential inauguration this week.  Christy read an abridged version.  She shared with the congregation that her grandparents were present when Dr. King gave this commencement address.

Here is a link to Dr. King delivering the original speech:

Sharing From the Congregation

The congregation discussed the questions:  What is your dream for America?  What needs to happen to realize that dream?  What can you do to make that dream a reality?

LITANY OF RE-DEDICATION    

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a strong voice for peace. This is what he said:

“Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.   Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

To this dream, we re-dedicate ourselves.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the power of love. This is what he said:

“When I speak of love. . . I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. . . We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation.”

To this dream, we re-dedicate ourselves.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream of justice and peace for all people. This is what he said:

“Justice for black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. Nor will a few token changes quell all the tempestuous yearnings of millions of disadvantaged black people. White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo.”

To this dream, we re-dedicate ourselves.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an advocate for the oppressed. This is what he said:

“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers and sisters.”

To this dream, we re-dedicate ourselves.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was committed to the full expression of democracy. This is what he said:

“The problem of race and color prejudice remains America’s greatest moral dilemma. When one considers the impact it has upon our nation, internally and externally, its resolution may well determine our destiny. How we deal with this crucial situation will determine our moral health as individuals, our cultural health as a region, our political health as a nation, and our prestige as a leader of the free world. The shape of the world today does not afford us the luxury of an anemic democracy. The price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro is the price of its own destruction. The hour is late; the clock of destiny is ticking out; we must act now before it is too late.

To this dream, we re-dedicate ourselves.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in the moral principle of love. This is what he said:

“To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can be done only by projecting the ethics of love to the center of our lives.”

To this dream, we re-dedicate ourselves.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of action. This is what he said:

“We must move past indecision to action. . . If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

Let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world.

MUSICAL OFFERING            We Shall Overcome

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                      Medley: Go Down Moses, There Is a Balm in Gilead, Deep River

 Prayer of Dedication                                    Dorthy Walters

Moment to moment we ask, what is happening? The sound of shattering everywhere, is it the world, fragmenting at last, or our own hearts cracking, the final break-up of ice?

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER       There’ll Be Peace in the Valley

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Peshita Syriac-Aramaic translation

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.

*BENEDICTION

*POSTLUDE                      Life Every Voice and Sing; Lead Me, Guide me

Corona Sabbath 42 Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath.  This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19.    We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to Luke 2:22-40.  Mary and Joseph fulfill the dictates of their religious tradition following the birth of a child.  They offer two turtle doves instead of a lamb indicating that they are poor.  In the course of the story, Simeon offers testimony that echoes the Magnificat, the song of Mary after the visit of the angel Gabriel.  

When the day came for them to be purified, as laid down by the Law of Moses, the couple took Jesus up to Jerusalem and presented him to God.  For it’s written in the Law of our God, “Every firstborn heir is to be consecrated to God.”  They likewise came to offer in sacrifice “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” in accord with the dictate of the Law of our God.  

Now there lived in Jerusalem a man named Simeon.  He was devout and just, anticipating the consolation of Israel, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She had revealed to Simeon that he wouldn’t see death until he had seen the Messiah of God.  Prompted by her, Simeon came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child to perform the customary rituals of the Law, he took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, 

 “Now, O God, you can dismiss your servant in peace, 
 just as you promised;
 because my eyes have seen the salvation
 which you have prepared for all the peoples to see —
 a light of revelation to the Gentiles
 and the glory of your people Israel.” 

As the child’s mother and father stood there marveling at the things that were being said, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, the mother, “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that is rejected, so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.  And a sword will pierce your heart as well.”

There was a woman named Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, who was also a prophet.  She had lived a long life, seven years with her husband, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.  She never left the Temple, worshiping day and night, fasting and praying.  Coming up at that moment, she gave thanks to God and talked about the child to all who anticipated the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When the couple had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the Law of God, they returned to Galilee and their own town of Nazareth.  The child grew in size and strength.  He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was with him.  

Reflection from Kim

As this New Year begins, I think we need to hear the passionate voices of hope and promise that come to us in the stories of Simeon and Anna.  These faithful prophets herald the wonderful things God is doing in the world.  It is a powerful story of the spreading of the message of the gospel of peace and good will for all people.  Light to the Gentiles and to the people of Israel.  Light to the whole world.  The light of love, peace, joy, and hope.  Here among us.  Within us.  Around us.  This saving gospel of life!  Anna and Simeon see this and they celebrate with praise and thanksgiving.

Simeon and Anna remind us of how to be part of what God is doing in the world.  Watch.  Wait.  Be attentive.  Be expectant.  Be filled with desire.  Devote yourself to religious observance.  This is how we prepare ourselves to see what God is doing.  This is how we open ourselves to what is happening within us and in our world.  

But Anna and Simeon don’t stop with watching and waiting.  They call out what they are seeing.  They name salvation and liberation.  For all people not just their people.  They declare the unconditional, universal love of God.  They support and affirm and celebrate the presence of Divine Love.  They are excited and passionate.  

And as with any significant transformation, positive or negative, or some of both, there is a down side.  And in this wonderful story of the encounter in the Temple, that is taken seriously.  Simeon tells us that there are those who will not be pleased with the good news that comes into the world through Jesus.  The way of new life and love will be difficult.  For Jesus.  For Mary.  For others.  Simeon has a real world outlook.  The gospel has a political, social, economic dimension.  It is controversial.  Yet it is the way of healing and wholeness – for the world.

As this new year begins, in the midst of serious divisions on many fronts played out during a pandemic, the world needs Annas and Simeons to speak of the saving presence of Divine Love.  Within us .  Among us.  Around us.  Blessing the world.   We need people to help us to see the transformation and healing that is emerging in our midst.  So we begin the new year by calling on all Annas and Simeons.  Yes, that may even mean you.  An every day person of faith with open eyes and an open heart.  Waiting.  Expectant.  

And we can all be open and receptive to those around us who are inviting us to see the presence of Divine Love in the our lives and in the world.  Who are sharing the good news.  We can all be attentive to those who are passionately affirming and celebrating the way of love and justice that we see in Jesus.  

When we think back to Luke’s story of Anna and Simeon, we remember that Anna and Simeon, along with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, are devout and observant when it comes to their religious tradition.  So as 2021 begins, we want to remember to make regular religious observance part of our lives in the new year so that we position ourselves to experience and hear the Spirit.  It’s hard during covid, but participate in the church as best you are able, read scripture, pray, meditate, journal, sing [by yourself, of course], reach out to others from the church.  Exposure and contact with the church is an important context for discerning and celebrating the presence and power of Divine Love in our lives and in the world.  You may experience the testimony of a contemporary Anna or Simeon in the context of the church.  You may share your message of healing love for the world through the church.  

So as we journey into this new year, a year with many unknowns and much division, may Anna and Simeon be our guides as we seek consolation.  Amen.  

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)