Monday, September 27, 2010

Apple Festival Sunday Service

Morning Worship – September 26, 2010
Apple Festival Sunday
A Service of Song and Thanksgiving
Lectionary for next Sunday:
Lamentations 1:1-6; Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10


Instrumental Prelude

Greeting by Pastor

Invocation (in unison):
God our Redeemer, draw unto us as we draw unto you in worship. We have pushed ourselves in service to you this week, and we give you thanks for all our many blessings. Now open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our spirits to encounter your will for us this day. Transform us with the truth of your love and grace, in the name of the one who loved us and gave his life for us. Amen.

The Entrance

*Introit “Softly and Tenderly” (see insert)

*Call to Worship: Psalm 91:1-6, 11-16 (no refrain) UMH 210

*Opening Hymn #600 “Wonderful Words of Life”

Prayer of Confession (in unison):
Gracious God, you lavishly bestow the gift of your love. Forgive us, we pray, when we don’t recognize your gifts; when we think we are entitled to your generosity; when we constantly ask for more; when we do not hear the cries of those around us. Teach us the ways of godliness. Grant us a spirit of contentment that we may be grateful for your provision and share what you give. As we are blessed by you, so may we be a blessing to others, in the name of your matchless gift, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

(A short period of silence will follow.)

Words of Assurance

Anthem by our Choir

*Greeting One Another with the Peace of the Lord

Time for Children of All Ages

Proclamation of the Word

New Testament Lesson: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

*Gospel Hymn #156 “I Love to Tell the Story” (vs. 1, 3, 4)

The Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

Response to the Word of God

Congregational Hymn Sing

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

Silent Prayer followed by Pastoral Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer

The Offering of Our Gifts


*Prayer of Thanksgiving

Sending Forth

*Sending Hymn #64 “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

*Dismissal with Blessing

*Hymn of Blessing #673 “God Be with You”

Instrumental Postlude

Monday, September 20, 2010

Speaking Truth

Sermon for 9.19.10
Jeremiah 8.18-9.1; Psalm 79.1-9; 1 Timothy 2.1-7; Luke 16.1-13.

Please pray with me from today’s psalm: Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake (Psalm 79.9). Amen.

From today’s Epistle: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.”

There are words of hope and comfort for us at the end of the sermon, but first I have some slogging to do. Please bear with me!

Our psalm this morning announces that the world has trashed the inheritance given us by God and defiled God’s holy temple. These words refer to conditions in ancient Israel, but I think most of us would agree that God’s gifts to us are not fully loved and that God’s holy laws are often broken, even though these gifts and laws are our sacred inheritance. In Luke, we have the story of the estate manager who cleverly uses his last days on the job to swindle his master. At the end of the passage, we are told bluntly that we “cannot serve God and wealth.”

Scandalous use of inheritance, scandalous use of responsibility. These readings are asking us to think about a wiser use of blessings, of our gifts, our time, talents, and service. No wonder they are sometimes used to launch a discussion of annual giving and the dreaded “M” word. Rather than doing that, let’s consider that such passages are asking us to think about speaking truth to a misuse of power or a misuse of assumed power. As such, the readings certainly ask us to think about stewardship—and that leads us straight to what is most important, namely our relationship with God.

Let’s start with that manager who is the steward of his master’s estate. The money and the deals he’s working with are not his. They have been delegated to him by a superior who expects that he will make the best returns possible. (You can see where Jesus is going with this so far.) But the steward has been caught in dishonesty and is being sacked. He doesn’t seem to desire confession, repentance, or contrition. In fact, he continues his dishonest behavior, brokering deals with debtors, while he has the power, to insure that he will have friends on the outside later. The final twist is the master’s commendation of his shrewd behavior. I’d bet that the master is pretty shrewd himself. Even though his steward’s behavior has cost him assets, it seems that he is intrigued and impressed by the other’s sheer, gutsy cleverness.

People really struggle with this parable, as you can imagine. Why is dishonesty being applauded? And then why do the next verses condemn dishonesty? And in what way does all of this build to a warning that money pulls us away from God? Does it always?

Maybe a number of sayings of Jesus were combined in this passage by disciples who didn’t want to lose a single word. It would be wonderful to be able to hear Jesus’ tone of voice. Maybe he was being sarcastic or ironic when he used the word “dishonest.” Maybe he was critiquing the economic system of his time with its exploitation by the wealthy of the poor or even middle class. Maybe Jesus was suggesting that there was no way to be honest in a system that was so brutally unjust. Maybe Jesus was speaking truth to power.

Here there is a bridge to our understanding of stewardship: We know about dishonest wealth in our society and we know about its effects on the poor and even not so poor. There are also those who must be considered ethically disadvantaged. How do we assess our actions now that we have no excuse for not knowing how they affect others, in sweat shops for example, on the other side of the globe? Jesus may even have been pushing further by showing us how a clever manager could undermine the landlord’s means of building his wealth. He’s a kind of Robin Hood, speaking truth by stealing from the rich to give to the poor. In God’s kingdom, after all, aren’t debts forgiven (“Forgive us our debts”) and aren’t slaves the equal of masters?

Maybe Jesus was sharing insights about means and ends. Maybe this is the way that Jesus was speaking truth to power. Think of an Andrew Carnegie: his wonderful philanthropy and the strike-breaking that helped build his fortune. Through the dishonest steward, Jesus may be asking us whether we are willing to say that part of our life can be peripheral to the Kingdom. What means do we use to accomplish good ends? What are our motives for the relationships we build? How are these relationships limited by the people we are willing to acknowledge as worthy of friendship?

And so we come to that famous rule: You cannot serve God and Mammon. That is true if by extreme love of wealth, we are pulled away from the serving love of others that witnesses to our love of God.

This truth leads to the beautiful passage from the letter to Timothy in which we are urged not only to prayer but to prayer for everyone, starting with those in high positions and moving right down the line. Lord knows we need it—all of us.

Sooner or later, prayer will draw us to the knowledge that God, revealed through Christ, wants every broken soul healed and loved. This is the true starting point of stewardship: using our heritage, our gifts and graces, our time, talent, and service to love as fully as possible; to bring the healing of comfort, support, and the power of God’s new life to everyone. That everyone includes each of us. Bringing healing to others brings it into our own hearts.

We are stewards, entrusted with life, companion creatures, and the world we share with all other life. Neither life nor planet is ours, although we seem to have a great deal of power over both. They are loans from God, given us to care for and enjoy in the very best ways we can. In creating us and all that surrounds us, God loved and loves us fully. So much so that God’s own goodness is also our most fundamental being. It is that which makes us, and it makes us whole.

The Anglican Bishop of South Africa and Nobel Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, writes that understanding our heritage of goodness “changes the way we see the world, the way we see others, and, most importantly, the way we see ourselves. The way we see ourselves matters. It affects how we treat people. It affects the quality of life for each and all of us” (7).[1] Treasuring the heritage that Bishop Tutu describes is stewardship.

And stewardship of God’s gifts goes further. God not only made us like God’s self but for God’s self. God’s Holy Spirit is within us and we are temples of that Holy Spirit. That means that the spirit of peace and of healing is within us also. We can call upon it. Doing so will fill us and our world with hope and joy. And there’s no telling where that will lead!

Let us pray with the words, once again, of Bishop Tutu:
My child, I made you for myself.
I made you like myself.
I delight in you….

You run everywhere looking for life,
Searching for the life of life.
All the while I am here.
I am as close as a prayer.
I am breathing in your breath….

Listen! For I have carved in you the heart to hear.
Listen and know that I am near.
I am as close as a prayer.
I am breathing in your breath.

Before you speak the word of worry or worship I hear you.
Before you sing your delight or moan your anguish I speak.
I am here.
I am as close as a prayer.
I am breathing in your breath….

With each breath you choose, my child, for you are free.
Will you breathe with me the breath of life?
Will you claim the joy I have prepared for you?
Will you seek me out and find me here?
Will you whisper the prayer?
Will you breathe in my breath? (16-7)


[1] Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, Made for Goodness and Why This Makes All the Difference (New York: Harper One, 2010).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Throwing Pots

Morning Worship with Holy Communion, September 5, 2010
Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Luke 14:25-33

Please pray with me: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of each of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

From the prophet Jeremiah: “Then the word of the Lord came to me: … Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

I’ve never used a potter’s wheel. Maybe some of you have or have handled clay enough to know that it can really give your hands a workout. It’s messy. It can push back and that also allows it to be molded and to take and hold a shape. So I love Jeremiah’s comparison of God to a potter. God can be imagined as a five-star general (the Lord of Hosts) or, in Matthew, as a mother hen longing to gather her chicks under her wings. But for us, this morning, God is a down-to-earth potter working at the wheel, working hard because some of the pieces aren’t turning out so well and badly need reworking.

Now a potter can obviously smash, discard, or at least smush down a faulty pot before it’s dried. But what draws me is the way Jeremiah presents God as a creative force in our lives. First, this God is a professional, fully engaged, intent on drawing a good vessel from the clay, one that is useful and beautiful. Every turn of that wheel must be watched. This is not aimless, casual, or part-time work. Secondly, the clay itself is not passive like water or sand. It offers resistance to the potter’s hand. It can also be flawed because of impurities or because it has not been worked enough, prepared, before the actual shaping begins.

The comparisons to God and us are all too obvious: God, as watchful potter, intends—longs—to shape us as vessels. God knows there is something of sterling quality in our clay. It is too valuable to be thrown aside and discarded, and so God reworks and reshapes “as seems good.” God is aware of the condition of our clay and will do God’s best to draw us in ways that we could not imagine or were not willing to strive for. Throwing pots requires constant discernment of the piece and response to how it is coming along. The work of God-as-Potter is to help us become vessels of divine love and justice. And our Potter’s Grace will reach us, often when we are at our lowest or least expect it.

But there’s still us, so practiced at resisting over and over again that shaping—and reshaping—hand, that watchful eye and often fast-turning wheel. Jeremiah’s words describe us too. In our personal and common life together, we can choose to hear and respond. Or, like the crowd Jesus tries to shock into awareness in Luke this morning, we can care less about discipleship and relationship with God than we do about our own concerns, our own individual lives, acquisitions, achievements.

I didn’t include our usual Prayer of Confession this morning, but our Invocation asks that our worship may be a longing to find God and ourselves through God. It is that longing and a joy in finding that shapes our time together into worship. This morning, we do not have special Words of Assurance either, but in our prayer after the holy receiving of Communion, we will thank God from the bottom of our hearts for the “mystery in which You have given yourself to us” as Creator, ever-creating and shaping our lives. Without the mystery of God’s ever-present love, we are lost—just so much clay. Without the mystery of God’s ever-present commitment to us, we cannot experience the release of forgiveness, or any relief of pain and sorrow. After all, God-as-Potter is not only willing to take creative risks and get all messy for our sakes. Through the Incarnation, God was willing to live as clay—though without sin. God was willing to live as clay the better to understand us and the more fully to shape and to draw out our stubborn, self-involved selves.

Finally, the mystery of God-as-Potter and the often-resisting stuff with which God is committed to work—that would be us—calls me to separate the redemptive work we are given to do as disciples from those moments of pure Grace that can truly be considered miracles. Miracles do occur and we are right to pray for them, but let us first do all that we can to transform our lives and our world by the hard spiritual work of discipleship—by the hard spiritual love of discipleship—by actions that are in fact within our power. It’s sometimes easier to long passively for a miracle—“Wouldn’t it be a miracle if….” than it is to allow ourselves to respond to the firm, guiding hand of our ever watchful, laboring, and loving Potter.

Hear now our concluding prayer by the theologian Jack Riemer (slightly altered):[1]

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end war;
For we know that You have made the world in a way
That man must find his own path to peace
Within himself and with his neighbor.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end starvation;
For you have already given us the resources
With which to feed the entire world
If we would only use them wisely.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God,
To root out prejudice,
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all people
If we would only use our eyes rightly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O God, to end despair,
For You have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope
If we would only use our power justly.

We cannot merely pray to you, O God, to end disease,
For you have already given us great minds with which
To search out cures and healing,
If we would only use them constructively.
You have already given us great hearts with which
To bring comfort and support to those who are ill
And to be present with them.

Therefore we pray to You instead, O God,
For strength, determination, and willpower,
To do instead of just to pray,
To become instead of merely to wish.


[1] Quoted by Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Anchor Books, 1981), 130-1.